Friday, February 3, 2012

Let's Get Some Brett!

By now, visitors to The Underworld know that when it comes to favorite actors, I lean toward tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed gents with strong features (their actual talent at acting coming in second, at best, to their looks!) Today's featured actor caught my eye years ago and, though he never became a top-tier star in America, he enjoyed a very successful career in Europe, where he made dozens of films in his own “act two.” Tan and brunette, six foot two and eyes of blue, he fits the bill for a tribute here. It's very likely that even if you don't recognize his name, his face has probably crossed your screen before as he's been quite a prolific performer over the last sixty years.

On June 20th, 1933, a Santa Ana, California builder and his wife welcomed Charles Oliver Hand into the world. Little Charles' uncle was the renowned, but controversial, WWII naval admiral William “Bull” Halsey and that name would later play a part in his life. For the time being, he took pleasure in learning horsemanship on his father's ranch, where the family spent much time, and in acting on stage as a child in local productions. The family having a steeped tradition in the U.S. Navy, he served there for a time in his late teens.

Now out of the service and still eager to consider acting as a profession, Hand went to work as a disc jockey and also as a page at the CBS television studio. There the lanky, chiseled nineteen year-old was spotted in 1952 by revered comedic star Jack Benny and his wife Mary and they got him connected with Universal Studios “New Talent” training school. David Janssen and Clint Eastwood were part of this collection of fledgling performers (as was Allison Hayes - later of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman fame - shown here with him in an acting exercise.) The young performers were shown the ropes of screen acting while being periodically put to use in the studio's output of movies and TV shows. From the start, he possessed a sort of furrowed brow, giving him a worried appearance, but a very pretty pair of blue eyes that sometimes peered out from the shadows.

Taking the last name of his famous uncle, Charles Hand morphed into Brett Halsey and began winning small parts, often uncredited, in various Universal Studios movies. The first was All I Desire, a period melodrama directed by the skillful Douglas Sirk and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Richard Carlson. Next came other bit roles in films like The Man from the Alamo, The Glass Web and Walking My Baby Back Home, all in 1953. In 1954, he made his TV debut in an episode of the Preston Foster series Waterfront.

This was the year of his first marriage as well. Miss Germany of 1952, Renate Hoy, had come to the U.S. for the Miss Universe Pageant and there she won a contract with Universal Studios herself. She and Halsey began dating and eventually wed. They had two children together, Charles Oliver Hand Jr and Tracy Leigh.
1954 also brought his first featured, credited film role. Ma and Pa Kettle at Home was one of a very popular string of movies about the title couple and Halsey played their son, an aspiring agriculture college student hoping for scholarship. More bit parts came that year including Johnny Dark and The Black Shield of Falworth, both with Tony Curtis who became a longtime friend. In 1955, he played a young man killed by the Revenge of the Creature (of Black Lagoon fame) and then had another credited part in the Audie Murphy war epic To Hell and Back, based on Murphy's own experiences as a WWII hero. That's him in the middle of the top photo and in the background on the right in the lower one. Murphy is at the far left.

By the mid-'50s, Halsey was balancing TV and movie appearances almost equally, the series including Brave Eagle, Gunsmoke (as seen here), West Point and Perry Mason. Movies included The Girl He Left Behind and Lafayette Escadrille (both with Tab Hunter) and Hot Rod Rumble, a teen rebel flick in which he played a peace-making good guy. In time, with the virtual collapse of the studio system, he departed Universal and worked for a variety of companies.

Despite having been under contract and having worked steadily for five years, he was still put to use in unbilled bits in pictures like Gunman's Walk (with Van Heflin and Tab Hunter) and I Want to Live! (with Susan Hayward.) Leading roles only came his way in less-expensive, less-important B-movies like High School Hellcats (1958), all about a female high school gang. The fantabulous poster for Hellcats is exceptionally striking, but makes a promise to the potential viewer that can't possibly be honored during the 69 minute running time of the pedestrian black and white film. At least these days, the campy qualities can be appreciated by a whole new audience.
Also in '58 was Submarine Seahawk, a war film about Halsey serving under a commander who's been ordered to locate some Japanese who have slipped out of the surveillance net. The crewmen aboard grow restless when the commander follows his orders to only locate them and not engage them in battle. These lit-from-below shots of Halsey, unlike many others taken during his career, highlight his pale eyes.
Another teens in trouble film followed in The Cry Baby Killer. Here for a change he played a nasty, antagonistic punk. The big draw now for this long-ago flick is the presence of Jack Nicholson in his very first film. He plays the title character, a mistreated teen who may be responsible for the deaths of several ne'er do well types, Halsey included.

Plenty of TV work came his way in the late-'50s including guest shots on Highway Patrol, Death Valley Days, Sea Hunt and Bat Masterson. In 1959, he joined a contingent of other English-speaking actors (including Van Johnson, Kerwin Matthews, Dick York and Larry Storch) in a jaunt to The Netherlands where they filmed the WWII actioner The Last Blitzkrieg. In it, Johnson and Matthews were improbably cast as Germans posing as Americans behind enemy lines and attempting to thwart what would later become known as The Battle of the Bulge. This was when he and Renate divorced and she retired from movie-making. She returned to Germany for a while, but ultimately returned to California where she remarried an attorney who specialized in Native American rights.

1959 was a busy year for Halsey as he had six films released in all and appeared on seven TV shows! He had the lead in the drag strip cheapie Speed Crazy. A more enduring (and slightly more expensive) movie was Return of the Fly in which he costarred with Vincent Price. The color film was a follow up to the big hit, The Fly and Halsey played Price's son, newly afflicted with the same transfiguring disorder Price's brother David Hedison had suffered in the first film.
His relatively brief appearance in The Best of Everything was a step up in quality as this was a well-heeled, office-set soap opera, produced with care by Jerry Wald. He played the shallow fiancee of Hope Lange who dumps her for another girl at the onset of the movie and then comes back later to re-instigate their romance.

He also faced trauma in the air and at sea with Jet Over the Atlantic, about a plane with a fire-causing device placed in its baggage compartment, and The Atomic Submarine, about the title vessel cruising the waters of The North Pole (set ten years in the future) in order to find out why a gaggle of other ships and submarines have vanished without a trace. The answer turns out to be one of a science-fiction nature (read: aliens!)

Finally, he costarred in the low-budget Blood and Steel, one of countless '50s films set in the Pacific islands during WWII and concerning Japanese occupation. Here, he and his fellow soldiers are aided by a native girl played by Ziva Rodann.

More importantly, on a personal level, during 1959, he worked as a guest on the short-lived TV series Five Fingers. It starred David Hedison as a secret agent working undercover as a talent agent! His secretary on the show was played by a curvy red-haired Italian actress named Luciana Paluzzi. He and Paluzzi began dating and were married in 1960. They had a son together, Christian, in 1961, though he would ultimately be given the last name of her second husband Michael Solomon. Also in 1960, Halsey played one of Four Fast Guns, then was a drifter who may have been responsible for the murder of waitress Joyce Meadows in The Girl in Lovers Lane and was one of several people caught up in Desire in the Dust, an overbaked southern melodrama with Raymond Burr, Martha Hyer and Joan Bennett. Halsey and Paluzzi divorced in 1962.
Prior to that, however, they would costar as newlyweds in what is probably my own favorite Halsey film, 1961's Return to Peyton Place. In it, he plays a character originated in 1957's Peyton Place by David Nelson. Halsey's rendition of the character bears little to no relation to Nelson's, though. He's a college graduate who carelessly marries an Italian girl (Paluzzi) he hardly knows and brings her home to meet his severely disapproving mother. The mother (played dazzlingly by a crotchety and disdainful Mary Astor) does everything she can think of to split the couple apart. (Paluzzi's casting meant that the role she played, as first depicted in the source novel, went from a social-climbing, gold-digging, American slut to merely a misunderstood Italian outsider!)
This is only one part of a cross-section of stories taking place in the surprisingly eventful little town. At a climactic town hall meeting, called to hash out the firing of the school principal whose stepdaughter has authored a scathing tell-all book about the small town, Halsey finally turns on Astor and gives her what-for. Viewers have to settle for this as the finale of the movie even though another, more dramatic, finish was filmed. I still dream that one day the original climax of Return to Peyton Place will be unearthed and made available for audience consumption. It involved a roaring fire at Astor's house, where Paluzzi is in bed recovering from a skiing accident. (That's what these concerned onlookers are seeing in yet another snippet of film missing from the final cut.)

For more on Astor's portrayal of Roberta Carter in Return, you can click on her name in the column to the right and find a little tribute to her. Mostly, I heartily recommend that you see the movie, even if only for her, because she is phantasmagorically wonderful in it!

As for Halsey, in 1961 he landed a regular role on a series of his own. Follow the Sun was about two freelance magazine writers based out of Hawaii (though the show was not filmed there.) He and Barry Coe had a secretary (played by Gigi Perreau, shown with him at right) and an investigator (played by Gary Lockwood) to assist them in their endeavors.

The glamorously-styled show afforded the chance to spot many beautiful female guest stars from Yvonne Craig to Joanna Moore along with veteran actresses Rhonda Fleming and Yvonne De Carlo. Even Jayne Mansfield was a guest on the show. Halsey is seen here with a prettily-shellacked Miss Stella Stevens. Below is a photo of him with Nita Talbot. When the series was cancelled after just one season in 1962, Halsey took a job in Italy, never dreaming that the one-shot deal would in time lead to a decade-long spate of employment there.

At this time, a burgeoning Italian film industry was paying handsome salaries to mid-level American leading men who would come and headline their projects, the result being a mutually-beneficial arrangement. Lex Barker, Guy Madison, Gordon Scott and a certain TV western star named Clint Eastwood were only a few of the actors who took part in this sojourn.

Halsey did the colorful adventure yarn The Seventh Sword before returning to Hollywood to film Twice Told Tales with his old pal and former costar Vincent Price. Price starred in all three of the featured Nathanial Hawthorne stories, but Halsey figured into only one, the middle one about Price's garden-confined daughter Joyce Taylor being treated so that her touch has a corrosive affect on anyone who receives it. The affliction is meant to protect her from the love of a man, but when Halsey falls for her, the theory is put into action.

Soon after, The Seventh Sword having turned out successfully, he was contacted again about working in three more Italian productions. Ironically, since his marriage to Italian actress Palucci was now ended, he settled in Italy where he began to make many films there and in other European countries. These films were shot mostly without sound, the dialogue and sound effects to be dubbed in later depending on what country the print was intended for. He proceeded to star as a swashbuckler, a spy or a western hero (putting his childhood ranching experience to good use) in film after film, only occasionally returning to the U.S. for domestic acting work.

In 1964, having traveled to Germany for one of these movies (Jack and Jenny, with Senta Berger), he met that country's singer and actress Heidi Bruhl through Lex Barker. They married and she went to Rome where she lived as his wife. Initially, she had intended to act there herself, but in the end she only did so sporadically and instead focused on her marriage to Halsey and bore two children, Clayton and Nicole. Halsey was now the father of five children (amongst his three wives.)

He rode out about a decade of working in the foreign industry, making a name for himself there (though in a couple of cases, he was billed under the name Montgomery Ford, rather than Brett Halsey, something that had to be confusing for some of his fans.) Like in most Italian westerns from this period, there was plenty of dirt and dust, but the contrast of a set of piercing blue eyes jutting out from the grit and grime (think Franco Nero and Terence Hill as well.) Among his spy films was this 1965 one shown below with Dana Andrews and Pier Angeli called Spy in Your Eye.
In 1968's Anyone Can Play, he was placed opposite a stunning gaggle of ladies including Ursula Andress (of the first real James Bond film Dr. No, below), Virna Lisi (on the right), Marisa Mell, Claudine Auger (of the James Bond film Thunderball fame on the left.) Ironically, Halsey's ex-wife Paluzzi had been the other primary Bond girl in Thunderball.) Interestingly, his name was nowhere to be found on the film's lobby cards even though he appeared several times and was quite well-known by then.
He continued to star in Italian movies, often western or costume adventure ones, but occasionally a contemporary drama might slink in. In the one depicted here, Four Times That Night (1972), he shows off his still trim figure (he was forty-six at the time) posed against a sleek, “mod” set. The story is a Rashomon-esque one, offering three different versions of what happened between Halsey and the sexy Daniela Giordano in her apartment one evening when her expensive cocktail dress was torn open.
In one version, Halsey walks around the corner, fully dressed, but then suddenly emerges stripped down to a skimpy pair of briefs and pursues her around the room before pouncing on top of her rapturously.

In another rendition, they are shown alternately taking showers in a futuristic-looking bathroom with her eventually joining him during his for a steamy love-making session. His modesty is protected by a strategically placed glare of light on the mottled wall of the shower stall. The stylish direction came courtesy of notable Italian director Mario Bava. Needless to say, of all his output of European movies, this one is probably my favorite.

Despite working steadily overseas, when Halsey returned to the U.S. in the early '70s, he discovered that his career from the viewpoint of Hollywood casting agents was practically nonexistent. He was able to land a role in an episode of Columbo (as a handsome golf pro suspected of sleeping with Ray Milland's wife Patricia Crowley), but otherwise was forced to work varying stints on the daytime serials General Hospital, Love is a Many Splendored Thing and Search for Tomorrow. He augmented this with guest shots on Alias Smith and Jones and Toma. In 1976, his marriage to Bruhl came to an end. In 1979, he wrote a novel The Magnificent Strangers, based on his experiences as an American actor making films abroad.

He worked on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Bionic Woman and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century among many other series. He is also notable for being the original John Abbott on The Young and the Restless before vacating the role for Jerry Douglas to take over. He then began a bi-continental career, flying to Italy for work in a movie or two there, then returning to the U.S. for occasional TV roles here. Often his Italian movies were exceedingly gory horror flicks (in at least one he played a vicious serial killer), albeit sometimes directed by leaders in the genre such as Lucio Fulchi. Other movies were political thrillers or low-budget actioners. Check out the ginormous television remote control he's wielding in this shot from one of his '80s movies! He would sometimes find himself alongside fellow stars-in-decline Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasance, Rutger Hauer, Omar Sharif and Elliott Gould. Still, the occasional prestige project could still pop up, such as when he was hired to play the small part of Diane Keaton's husband in The Godfather: Part III in 1990.
In '95, he played a senator in the Sela Ward TV-movie Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story and had a recurring part on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. In 1999, he joined Jaclyn Smith, Bruce Boxleitner and Chad Everett in the Canadian-made Free Fall, about the investigation of a place crash. He then embarked on a whole new career teaching acting to students at the University of Costa Rica's School of Dramatic Arts. In recent years, he has continued to take part in projects of diversity whether it's a guest role on Cold Case or a small role in an Italian production (a couple of times recently he has used his old moniker Montgomery Ford in these!)

Though there doesn't seem to be any specific record of it (the date, etc... or sometimes even a mention of it) on most of the usual websites, he is apparently married for the fourth time to Victoria Korda, the granddaughter of esteemed British filmmaker Alexander Korda. Some of his children have gone on to careers in show business. Christian, his son with Paluzzi, was a producer, Christian Bale's American Psycho being one of his projects. Clayton, his son with Bruhl, is a busy editor of TV series such as Big Brother.

Strangest and saddest of all, though, was his eldest son with Hoy, Charles Hand Jr. Changing his name to Rock Halsey and then to Rock Bottom (a moniker that prove prove to be only too apt), he was the head of an L.A. punk band called Rock Bottom and the Spys. (That's him on the left in this picture. You can see a resemblance to his dad, though his skin shows the ravages of his lifestyle.) Eventually becoming involved in the low-rung world of crystal meth and other criminal activity, he was jailed with a twenty-five year sentence after two prior convictions. In 2005, as he was about to be transferred to a less dangerous facility, he was attacked by two fellow convicts who slashed his throat and stabbed him to death. Most of the members of that band met an early end, be it from murder, suicide or fire.

As for Halsey, he has now been acting for six decades. It hasn't always been the most prestigious career, but unlike many of his contemporaries, he has endured. He was able to enjoy pleasant relationships with his former wives (though Bruhl died at only age forty-nine in 1991 of breast cancer.) Here, he's shown with Paluzzi and old pal David Hedison at a fan event in 2007. He enjoys living in Laguna Hills with his wife and occasionally attending autograph conventions or other nostalgia functions while still taking part in the odd movie or TV project. He is seventy-eight years old as of this writing.


Michael O'Sullivan said...

What a comprehensive post on Brett - I remember him well from his scene in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING and of course RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE, and that oddity THE GIRL IN LOVERS LANE. Have you got around to doing those other Fox boys Barry Coe (The 300 Spartans) or Fabian ? - Hound Dog Man or North To Alaska are certainly favourites of mine!

Michael O'Sullivan said...

Just to add that your post shows what a long busy career a good looking guy can have without attaining the major heights, though having ex-wives and children means one has to simply keep working ...

You are right too about the fire at the climax of RETURN TO P.P. - the trailer of it is on my dvd of the film and it shows the fire in the trailer! - but presumably they decided to finish the film quickly or cheaper by not including it!

Michael O'Sullivan said...

And again - and of course you have, I loved that Fabian tribute !

Poseidon3 said...

Thanks, Michael! Barry is yet to come (but he'll indeed be profiled in time!) One of these days I'm going to run out of hunks. I guess I'll have to go back over them again?! There are still a few left for the moment, though, thankfully!