Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Be Our Guest: Volume Two

Yes, kittens... I'm back with another round of television guest appearances, in the hopes that you will find interest and/or humor in them. When you root through old TV shows, you never know what you'll find, sometimes just in the opening credits of those marvelous Quinn Martin crime shows (on the left here are Peter Strauss from The Streets of San Francisco in 1973, a few years prior to Rich Man, Poor Man, and Gene Hackman from The F.B.I. in 1967, just before Bonnie and Clyde led to a career take-off.) I've been busily scouring some of the classic TV shows I love in order to whip up another batch of familiar faces. For more on this subject, click on “TV Guest Stars” in the column on the right and you'll be able to view Volume One (once you've done that, you may have to go to the bottom and hit “Older Posts” if this one is too long to allow both on one page.) I'm sure this will ramble on in a dozen directions despite my efforts to streamline things. I apologize in advance for the schizophrenia!

As I said in the first post on this topic, it's always fun to see up and coming stars doing their thing prior to becoming famous. Likewise, it's captivating to see former stars making a late-career appearance on the small screen. With regards to the former, we'll start with a college football quarterback who eventually rose to fame on TV and in several movies, possibly the high point of his stardom occurring when People magazine voted him “The Sexiest Man Alive” in 1986. (He was only the second person to be given that title after Mel Gibson was dubbed such in 1985. It has since become an annual tradition.)

Back in 1977, though, Harmon was still struggling to make a mark in the acting biz. He had less than a dozen screen credits on his resume when he appeared on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries as a football hero who is blackmailed into throwing a big game. In this instance, he was portraying a kicker, not a quarterback. The series alternated between The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and this was a Drew episode. His earnest, All-American good looks served him well as the put-upon player who was framed for a murder and then forced to follow some bad guys' orders or be exposed.

In the same episode, the familiar strains of notorious announcer Howard Cosell can be heard giving the play-by-play of the football games! This was only one of several TV guest appearances Cosell made as himself, though he was still actively commentating on Monday Night Football and doing the announcing for the (wonderful) Battle of the Network Stars specials once or twice a year.

Just after this, Harmon was granted his own short-lived series called Sam, all about a police dog and his trainer. It was Jack Webb's final television production. From there, Harmon worked on the mammoth miniseries Centennial, landed a role in Comes a Horseman and was cast in the potential career killer Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. He survived that and proceeded to enjoy continued success on TV with Flamingo Road, St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope and his present hit, NCIS, with an occasional feature film role along the way.

Harmon's St. Elsewhere costar Ed Begley Jr. also did time as a guest star on episodic TV, though he'd been kicking around for a longer period of time. The son of a famous character actor by the same name, Begley began acting while still in his teens. He eventually landed roles in several of Walt Disney's lesser live-action films before concentrating more on television. He worked on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman for five episodes and then did this Starsky and Hutch episode. Though his resume is lengthy and he's scarcely ever been out of work, St. Elsewhere, which ran from 1982 – 1988, will likely remain his primary claim to fame.

Starsky and Hutch gave another young actor on the brink of primetime success a featured role. Gary Sandy played a troubled, drug-laden young man with a violent and deadly streak. He's exploited by a mentor/pusher who goads him into committing horrible crimes of assault and murder. Much of his screen time is spent staring blankly at a light bulb or viciously attacking someone. Within two years, he'd be appearing regularly on the hit sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, a show that made him, for a time, a household name.

Likewise, a young blonde actress named Suzanne Somers was a guest on Starsky and Hutch right before she became the center of a wildly popular sitcom (and then the center of a huge contract dispute!) Somers had popped up in several movies as little more than blonde, curvy decoration before guest spots on TV allowed her to speak some lines. One of her earliest roles was on an ep of The Rockford Files. She ended up doing three Starsky and Hutch installments in all, though. In this, the second of them, she was a stripper who spent most of her time languishing in the arms of the sleazy owner of the club. Later, she is coerced into arriving at an abandoned theater where a deranged killer (more on that later!) is waiting to do her in.

The year after this, Somers was cast in Three's Company, a risque (for the time) comedy about one man and two women sharing an apartment. Noted for being one of the shows that led to the term “Jiggle TV,” it was a smash hit until she and her husband decided to wring more money out of the enterprise by demanding a salary five times what she was making plus 10% of the series' profit. This kicked off an ugly and prolonged battle that left the show damaged and her career in turmoil. She eventually rebounded but never to the height she'd previously enjoyed, with Step By Step, a seven season sitcom, probably providing the most reliable source of acting work. She's had as much or more success with a series of diet books and exercise tie-ins (the Thighmaster anyone?)

Occasionally, a prime-time television show would allow a star from the soap opera world to make the jump, though this typically happened only to those who had really proven their skills in daytime. Elizabeth Hubbard had worked on The Doctors to great acclaim as Dr. Althea Davis from 1962 to 1969. In 1970, she departed the show in order to branch out into new horizons. She guest-starred on The Virginian in a heavily featured role as a chatty southern belle on the trail of some thieves and also on Marcus Welby, M.D. (as a doctor who falls for her fiery patient, Don Stroud.)

She also won a part in the film I Never Sang for My Father as Gene Hackman's understanding fiancee. The strong, but bleak, film didn't lead to anything else for her, though, so she was back on The Doctors again in 1970 where she stayed off and on until 1982, picking up an Emmy in 1974. Her more famous role of Lucinda Walsh on As the World Turns came in 1984 and she was with the show until its demise in 2010. For this riveting part, she was nominated eight times (!) for an Emmy, but never won. Fans who only know her as Lucinda can see a different side to her in the few TV guest roles she did, such as this one.

The sunny shores of Hawaii 5-O also gave a lot of fledgling actors a chance to cut his or her teeth. Erik Estrada, soon to become mega-popular on CHiPs, had worked in several low-rung features (including the Christian-financed The Cross and the Switchblade and The Ballad of Billy Blue) when he made his TV debut in a 1973 episode of the long-running series.

In it, he played the son of a local crime kingpin who takes pleasure in carrying on the family business until he falls for a young student (played by Irene Tsu.) The trouble is, the girl he loves is none other than the daughter of Hawaii 5-O's Chin Ho Kelly, a diligent and loyal upholder of the law! Check out the groovy shirts on Estrada and his on screen brother Richard Yniguez (later the star of his own brief show, Ohara.) Shortly after this, Estrada played the flight engineer in the camp classic Airport 1975 and then in 1977 landed his role on CHiPs. That gig kept him in the spotlight until 1983 and he stays busy even now, though obviously not with the same degree of prominence.

Speaking of the Airport franchise, there was an actress in that film (an uncredited passenger who, after disaster has struck, keeps hollering for a blanket) who had been kicking around since 1953 in various TV and movie bit parts. Despite possessing thespian skill, she just could not break through to the next level of popularity and fame. In 1969, she played a nurse on Hawaii 5-O who has been placed in charge of a newly blinded Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord.) She tries to train him to adjust to his blindness in case it turns out not to be temporary and, in the process, begins to feel herself becoming attracted to him romantically.

The actress is, of course, Marion Ross, who would very shortly enjoy tremendous success as Mrs. Cunningham on the nostalgic sitcom Happy Days. That show ran from 1974 to 1984 and made her a highly recognizable face. Afterwards, she kept working busily (and continues to act now at age eighty-two), with recurring parts on The Love Boat (as Captain Stubing's romantic interest and the mother of his daughter Vicki) and The Drew Carey Show (in which she played his mother, Beulah.)
Hawaii 5-O was a fertile training ground for actors and, as I've mentioned in the past, the working conditions could hardly be beat! Filmed as it was on location in those glorious islands, the performers' downtime could be spent lapping up the scenery and the local color. One actor right at the start of his long career was Christopher Walken. True, he'd been acting since childhood (billed as Ronnie Walken), but this was his stab at a serious career in the biz as an adult. He played a sailor who may be guilty of having killed a man in order to take the man's wife for himself. Before long, he was on to feature films (closing in on a hundred as of this writing!) with only the most sporadic appearances on television.

When it comes to the working conditions on 5-O, few had it better than Barbara Luna, a fit and trim actress who got to spend part of her appearance in this 1969 episode in the arms of a swimsuit-clad James MacArthur! MacArthur, despite the tropical setting, was most often buttoned up to the neck in a dress suit, but here was asked to go undercover as a Vietnam soldier on leave in order to sniff out an insurance racket. This gave viewers a rare and welcome chance to see him with less clothing on.

In the same episode, Luna's roommate is played by future “Hot Lips Houlihan” of M*A*S*H, Loretta Swit! She would make four episodes of the series (one a two-parter) before essaying her most famous role from 1972 – 1983. Now nearing seventy-four years of age, she hasn't worked before the camera since about 1998. Classic film fans will note in this shot the presence of brassy, blowsy character actress Barbara Nichols.

Her inimitable brand of (usually) kindhearted, but blunt and worldly, lady has pretty much gone by the wayside. 1957 was probably her banner year with roles in Sweet Smell of Success, The Pajama Game and Pal Joey. Do note the pink cigarette she's smoking! These were briefly an “in” thing for a while. Sadly, she was taken from us at the age of forty-six by a severe liver ailment. Believe it or not (and I find it difficult to!), Miss Nichols was only forty-one when she did this episode of 5-O! She only worked a few more years, her swan song being a bit in 1976's Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood.

George Chakiris was thirty-eight when he made his guest appearance on 5-O. A dancer from as early as 1951 (when he was but seventeen!), he broke through in 1961 with the phenomenally successful West Side Story. His role of Bernardo won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Oscar and he followed that up with several featured roles in films during the rest of the '60s. However, by the time of this show in 1972, his career as a significant star had virtually dried up, his last film having been the riotously bad The Big Cube with Miss Lana Turner. Still, he did quite a bit of television guest-starring before retiring in 1996. Now a semi-professional jeweller and silversmith, he will be seventy-seven in just a couple of days.

Much is written about the way actresses' shelf lives are more limited than their male counterparts and it's probably so. However, there are more than a few actors who run into similar circumstances. Often, when a good looking man starts to run aground in front of the camera, he'll turn to writing or directing. The young man shown here, Robert Drivas, was a fairly explosive young talent in the early '60s, scoring supporting roles on many shows and in the movies Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman and The Illustrated Man with Rod Steiger.

By 1972, however, he was finding it harder and harder to secure decent work. He turned to the Broadway stage (where he'd made a mark earlier as an actor) and directed several successful shows there (Bad Habits and The Ritz, to name a couple.) Sadly, he was one of the countless men felled by the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, dying in 1983 at only the age of forty-seven. Incidentally, as seen here, he had a sizeable scar on his torso, the cause of which I've never been able to find out. Anyone?? He had an amazing, hairy li'l body, but often in shirtless scenes would use something to obscure his right side. I couldn't love his swimsuit here any more if I tried.

Fans of the glory days of Another World might like this next one. Miss Beverlee McKinsey, legendary for her portrayal of Iris Cory on that daytime drama, made an early career stop on Hawaii 5-O. She played a wealthy, incredibly spoiled socialite who is playing a very deadly game with not one, but two, paramours. The two men, one a former boyfriend and the other an islander who now works for her, try to win her favor by drawing cards from a deck and committing whatever crime is listed on the back, be it theft, kidnapping, arson.

The stakes are raised when one of them draws the card to kill someone! Now that's a far way to go for a piece of her. Astonishing as she was on Another World (and later on Guiding Light as Alexandra Spaulding), she overacts insanely here, nibbling away at the scenery until there are barely any palm trees or yachts left on the island. I include this particular pair of shots of her with her boy toys because a) it's sort of rare to see her in a swimsuit and b) the one guy seems to keep allowing the leg of his shorts to gape open and I always like when that happens, even if one can't see anything! Ha! In 1992, an exhausted and frustrated McKinsey entered soap opera legend when she slithered out of her Guiding Light contract, perfectly legally, without even warning the top brass at the show, rarely to be seen again!

Before we depart glorious Hawaii, I've got one more guest star to share. This was 1969, a time when it was still (apparently!) acceptable for a Caucasian man to play an Asian on screen. An already uncomfortable bit of (mis)casting is made even more awkward by the fact that the actor is surrounded by supporting players and extras who were truly Asian or of island descent. The actor, Mark Lenard, was portraying a Japanese man who'd been on the island during WWII as an enemy agent and saboteur. He escapes from a mental institution and, believing it is still 1941, proceeds on with his original plan of destruction.

The actor, of course, was no stranger to prosthetic makeup applications. He'd already by this time played a Romulan on Star Trek and, more famously, come back to that series a second time as Sarek, Mr. Spock's father. He would parlay that single acting gig into a series of later appearances on TV and in several of the Trek feature films. (He also starred on Here Come the Brides with David Soul.) I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lenard in person in 1986 when he was the guest star of a play at the university I was attending. I had less than zero involvement with the production, but brazenly barged into the stage area during a rehearsal and waited until he was free in order to say hello. He couldn't have been warmer or more patient and accommodating. Incidentally, he was only half a dozen years older than his screen son, Leonard Nimoy. He died in 1996 at the age of seventy-two.

Now, back to Starsky and Hutch for a little bit. You remember I mentioned above that Suzanne Somers was being assaulted by someone in her episode. The someone in question was John Saxon, big-screen hunk of the late '50s and early '60s. He's shown here conversing with Paul Michael Glaser, David Soul and David Soul's bulging crotch. LOL! In the episode, he's a fiery ballet instructor who has a secret. His secret is that his dead lover is worshipped by him in a candle lit shrine and that, by night, he transforms himself into a deadly vampire, stalking and killed young ladies, often strippers. (I never said that Starsky and Hutch was on par with Masterpiece Theatre.)
Search the world. Go ahead, I'll wait. You will NEVER find a more preposterous sequence than the Martha Graham meets Isadora Duncan meets Solid Gold Dancer meets Peter Allen choreography sequence that Saxon's stunt double does in this program. For some reason, prior to killing people, the vampire decides he needs to swish and swirl around in his cape to blaring classical music! That the dancer posing as Saxon bears little resemblance to him only adds to the hilarity. It all boils down to a 1970s equivalent of a “hot mess.” Mr. Saxon is now seventy-five, but continues to work in low-budget film projects.

Some performers have an illustrious beginning, followed by failure. Some struggle for years and only achieve fame near the end. Our next guest, Miss Sylvia Sidney, had great bookends to her career. She was a successful leading lady in the '30s only to go through a considerable dry spell, but returned in the '70s to terrific acclaim, starting with a 1973 Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams. That role (as Joanne Woodward's mother) seemed to kick off a whole new chapter to her profession as an actress and she remained busy right up until the end.

In a 1976 episode of Starsky and Hutch, she played a seemingly sweet businesswoman (the head of a toy and novelty business. Do check out the oversize sunglasses on her desk that I would have paid to see her try on!) In actuality, she's a tough crime boss who doesn't even blink when planning to rub out someone in her way. I couldn't love her “Mrs. T” level of gold chain jewelry any more if I tried. And who could fail to be stunned by those ginormous eyes resting above the blood red slit she called a mouth?!

An actress whose screen career stretched over 60 years, but who never reached that top tier of stardom is Miss Nina Foch. Foch (pronounced like the first syllable of ocean, but with an F in front, “Foash”) began making films in the early '40s, eventually juggling them with many television projects. What she lacked in the type of beauty that was demanded of major silver screen actresses of her time, she made up for in acting prowess and a certain brand of classy confidence. One of her best-known roles (if not her best from an acting showcase standpoint) was that of Moses adoptive mother Bithiah in The Ten Commandments. By 1968, when she appeared on The Mod Squad as shown here, she was using TV to allow her to sink her teeth into various juicy parts (sometimes overacting them if the truth be told!) This one had her playing the mother of a newborn baby! At only forty-four, she might possibly have been able to have had one, but the truth is, she looked about a decade older than she was. She later emerged as a valuable acting teacher, but continued to appear on TV and in films until close to her death in 2008 at the age of eighty-four.

This same episode of The Mod Squad features a nurse who should be very familiar to viewers of a certain generation. Miss Isabel Sanford, though already over fifty, was just at the beginning of her TV career. She'd begun with a role in the film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier, playing a spunky servant. Within a couple of years of this Mod Squad ep (in which she seemed to have pink eye on the day of shooting!), she was cast as Louise Jefferson, Archie and Edith Bunker's put-upon next door neighbor on All in the Family. That led to the spin-off show that would make her extraordinarily famous, The Jeffersons. As “Ouisie” Jefferson, she brought delight to millions of viewers, usually at the expense of her exasperating husband George, played by Sherman Hemsley. The two rode that wave for eleven seasons until the series' cancellation in 1985. Miss Sanford died in 2004 at the age of eighty-six of heart disease.

Another future TV star who showed up on The Mod Squad early in her career was our next guest. Can you recognize her? (Click to enlarge.) This was one of the actress' very first gigs, though she would appear many times on most of the hit TV dramas of the day. There was even a stint on a hospital-oriented sitcom in 1972 called Temperatures Rising until she and most of the cast were written out in order to try to inject life support into the doomed program. Finally, a 1978 appearance on Dallas led to her most identifiable role.

Yes, this is Joan Van Ark, the eventual star of Knots Landing. Her twangy role of Valene Ewing, the mother of Lucy Ewing on the blockbuster primetime soap Dallas, led to a spin-off called Knots Landing, on which Van Ark performed for 14 years and 327 episodes. Since the series' cancellation in 1993, she has worked less and less, though she did toil on The Young and the Restless for a little while in 2004 and 2005. Now nearing seventy years of age (can it be true?!) she is often cited (sometimes right here in the Underworld) as a victim of bad plastic surgery. In her day, she was a pert, pretty young thing with a resonant voice (did you know she was the voice behind the 1979 animated Spider-Woman?)

The Mod Squad provided a bit role for another up and comer when it cast young Barry Williams as an agitated paper boy in a 1968 episode. Williams' first television gig was on an installment of Dragnet 1967, the color update of the original venerable cop show. In 1968, he was on five other shows besides Squad! The following year, he had guest shots on four other series from Adam-12 to Marcus Welby, M.D. That same year, though, marked the beginning of what would be a lifetime-long commitment. He played the eldest son on The Brady Bunch, a show that ran from 1969 – 1974, but which garnered a cult following that kept him and the rest of the cast coming back in one for or another for many years to come. Like many of his costars, there was a stifling level of association with all things Brady, no matter what he tried to do to escape it. (I saw him once in a touring production of The Sound of Music, playing Captain Von Trapp of all things!) Now in his mid-fifties, he makes occasional TV appearances and works on lesser-known film projects.

The ne plus ultra of “unknown actors who would later become famous” appearing on The Mod Squad comes with our next featured actor. Can you guess who he is? Appearing uncredited in this 1968 episode, but playing a Beach Patrol police officer, he had only been acting for about two years. It would be another five years before he won a role of any note (in American Graffiti) and even that was minor still. In fact, he had just about given up on the whole notion of acting entirely, devoting the bulk of his time to being a carpenter, sometimes for the construction of movie sets. However, in 1977, he would win a part that help lead to immense super-stardom and unbelievable box office success. Yes, the rather blank-faced policeman shown above, eventually emerged as Harrison Ford, blockbuster cinema star of the highest order and one of the leads in Star Wars! His jaw-dropping career only got hotter from there as he went on to play Indiana Jones and a wealth of other big-screen heroes. He's still working today, recently paired with Daniel Craig in the CGI-fest Cowboys & Aliens.

Like I said at the top of the page, television is often a docking point for stars on the way up or on the way down. Harrison Ford is a primo example of a star on the way up and the next person I bring you was in the twilight years of her career. In fact, there were just a couple more projects on her resume before she willingly withdrew from the public eye and wasn't seen ever again. I refer, of course, to Miss Joan Crawford. Crawford had watched as her rival Miss Bette Davis began to appear as a special guest on television (such as on Gunsmoke, reflected upon in volume one of this series of posts) and, though she had done a few things here and there in the '50s (such as this 1954 appearance on General Electric Theater), she hadn't turned to TV much herself. A foray onto The Lucy Show in 1968 had nearly done her in, but she had far better luck with 1969's Night Gallery pilot, directed by Steven Spielberg.

In 1970, her final feature film Trog left to flounder at drive-ins and low-rung movie houses, she grabbed the chance to work on the long-running and very popular TV western The Virginian. Such an event was deemed worthy of the cover of a Chicago TV schedule supplement. The Virginian (which Davis had worked on way back in 1962!) was unique in that it was a weekly series that ran for 90 minutes, giving it more time to flesh out its stories into almost mini-movies. Crawford, for what is almost her last hurrah (she would subsequently work on The Name of the Game – directed again by Spielberg – and The Sixth Sense), sank her teeth into a prominent, juicy role that contained most of the hallmarks of her astonishing career.

As the new wife of respected rancher and businessman Michael Conrad, she is fortunate that every clapboard house, barn and buggy seems to have that famous Crawford lighting, the beam aimed right at the eyes! The rest of her face can almost be damned so long as that strip of light hits her right across those legendary peepers.

Even when taken to her sick bed, her “hair” carefully arranged on the pillow like Cathy from Wuthering Heights, the Crawford lighting remains in place. At times, one can see glimpses of the amazing face she possessed in her hey day. Even at her age, she is sought after by at least one of the other men, getting a kiss on the lips that is followed by her trademark whallop across the face. She tears into her imposing and sinister Indian servant Natawista (whose name you must hear Joan pronouce before you die. Put it on your bucket list.) There's a ripsnorting fire that grants Joan the chance to emote tearfully and violently. Obviously noting the great success her pal Barbara Stanwyck had on The Big Valley, she opts to wear some black leather and gauchos, though it must be said that such articles did Stanwyck more favors than they do Miss Crawford. Likewise, she took a page from Stanwyck's book and is manhandled, kidnapped, hit, gagged and any number of other things, though Miss C. opted for a stunt double during some, if not most, of these things. Her garish makeup and larger than life persona don't exactly blend in with the western backdrop, but who gives a rat's ass? It's Joan F-ing Crawford and she's acting her head off for her loyal fans (then and now!) Thus, I leave you with more screen shots of this, the ultimate TV guest star, until next time, when I've sifted through more hours of classic TV and come up with further examples. I hope you enjoyed these!


christo said...

Great column. Jeez I appreciate your work. Good stuff on Dirk Benedict as well and the much earlier "the chase" material. Thanks for the efforts!

christo said...

P.S. I've been wathching season one of "burke's law" and what can you say about a show that has, on one episode alone, not only Martha Hyer but Gloria Grahame as well! [married to "boxer" Jack Carter!]

Poseidon3 said...

Thanks, christo, for your comments and for visiting The Underworld. I watched some of Burke's Law in reruns quite a few years ago and loved it! I even watched the short-lived revival of it back in the '80s. I miss those types of all-star shows. Thanks again!

Pantheon Zeus said...

great recap of Joan's last close-ups

Scooter said...

Had to take you advice to hear Miss Crawford's pronunciation of Natawista. Fortunately, The Virginia is on YouTube! She doesn't utter the name until 4:33 but as the episode opens, you get to watch Tim Matheson take a bath and then get hazed in said bath by two other men.

Poseidon3 said...

..And don't you know that said bathtub scene figures into a future post I have in the chute! The Indian servant appears again later in the ep, which is when she and Joan have a little tiff. Thanks for the link! I loved the bathtub scene, too.