Thursday, May 31, 2012

Here, Have a Graham Cracker!

During my fairly recent trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and nearby Sevierville, I couldn't resist the opportunity to browse through a local thrift store, ever on the lookout for something unusual. I came upon an old paperback book penned by someone I had only the very vaguest knowledge of, one of those old television fixtures who blazed a trail in her field which others could then follow. I forked over the hefty sum of fifty cents, primarily because the book featured a photo in it of the author with Miss Joan Crawford, thinking “oh, what the hell, maybe there will be something interesting in it.”

Imagine my surprise when I later picked up “There Goes What's Her Name: The Continuing Story of Virginia Graham” and found that I could hardly put it down! Virginia Graham was an ebullient, amusing and amused, unusually forthright woman who went from being a caring (but creatively unfulfilled) housewife and mother to a radio writer to a charity spokesperson to a television hostess to a household name. All the while, she endured a roller coaster of challenges that would have done in anyone less resilient. Two things, really, saw her through; her faith and her never-ending sense of humor.

As I pawed through the opening chapter or two (never once knowing what was in store since, as I said, the woman was almost completely unknown to me!), I knew I was going to enjoy her style of writing and, in particular, her sense of what was funny. We share practically the exact same idea of comedy; a self-deprecating take on one's self and a sturdy appreciation for the absurd. Ironically, I had recently told my best friend (who is female if that matters) that the reason we have been so close for so long and can laugh together to the point where everyone around us is jealous and wants us dead is because we both have a very strong sense of the absurd and can laugh at practically anything at any time. We also have always, ALWAYS, been able to laugh at ourselves. (Trust me, this trait can get one over many a devastating hurdle!)

Graham was born Virginia Komiss on the fourth of July (!), 1912 in Chicago, Illinois. Her father was a clothing store owner who saw the humor in everything and her mother was an exasperating woman who expected doom at every corner and who had immense trouble dealing with anything out of the ordinary. Virginia (who had an older brother named Justin) gave her mother plenty of reason to worry, whether it be due to her health or to her insistence on dancing to the beat of her own drummer. Virginia , as a youth, had survived typhoid, appendicitis, multiple broken bones and an accident that wound up robbing her of one ovary and a Fallopian tube.

She was born weighing ten pounds (four pounds heavier than her two years older brother) and had trouble maintaining the standard of beauty set by her slender mom. A cheerful overachiever and a tomboy, she put herself in peril in order to keep up with her brother and make her parents proud (though she did sublimate any and all negative feelings by eating.) At sixteen, already a grade school playwright, she had won a place on The Chicago Tribune as a cub reporter and was one of the first people on the scene of The St. Valentine's Day Massacre! Chicago at the time was a very violent city, riddled with crime and gangsters.

It surely won't be as funny to read this next story cold as it was for me to come upon it in the midst of all her other hilarious adventures and anecdotes (told in a conversational style that immediately envelops the reader.) When I got to this next tidbit while eating lunch in a local restaurant, I began to completely lose it and in trying to stifle myself (in order to avoid embarrassment!), I grew even more tickled to the point where choking grunts of laughter were joined by convulsions and pulsating tears streaming down both cheeks.

Having graduated early from high school, Virginia was too young yet to attend the University of Chicago and so was sent to a finishing school (National Park Seminary) where her lack of ladylike charisma and elegance stood out. When meeting boys in the lobby, an attendant would ring a little bell if a subject was brought up that was considered inappropriate. According to her, whenever she met a young man, it sounded like there was a fire drill in the building! She wrote that: “They even taught us how to eat a roll. You were never supposed to put a piece of bread into your mouth; you were supposed to get it close to your lips and then toss it in gently. Never having good aim, I had such a pile of bread in back of me the pigeons used to knock on the windowpane to come in.” In any case, the place taught her the importance of remembering people's names, a skill that would come in more than handy later.

While at the aforementioned finishing school, she slimmed down and then shocked everyone by having her hair bleached platinum blonde, like Jean Harlow. This changed her entire life by giving her the confidence to express her personality while also attracting lots of boys, something that had never happened to any great extent before. She eventually did earn a BA in anthropology from the University of Chicago (and ultimately a Masters Degree in speech and journalism from Northwestern University.) Her father had lost nearly everything during the Depression, but his optimistic outlook (and her mother's nest egg) saw him through. She helped him promote a new cosmetic product by going door-to-door to sell it, her effervescent personality doing most of the work for her.

Later, having moved to New York City, she met a man who ran a top costume business. Harry Guttenburg would become her husband from 1935 until his death in 1980. (That's them together in the above paragraph.) Having been under the belief that children weren't possible thanks to that prior operation, she was stunned to find out that she conceived a child while on her honeymoon! Her daughter Lynn (shown here) would be the pride and joy of her life, but while in the maternity ward, she was saddened to witness another child born with cerebral palsy and that feeling of great empathy and concern would stick with her.

Too restless and extroverted to exist solely as a wife and mother (with both a maid and a nurse on staff already!), she began to write radio commercials, eventually segueing into an on-air talent who provided recipes to listeners. The advent of WWII saw her volunteering for service in the Red Cross motor corps, where she learned to drive an ambulance and other vehicles (freeing the male drivers for service of their own.) After the war, thanks to a chance remark by a friend, she found herself helping to found the charitable organization United Cerebral Palsy, which began with only fourteen women and her.

She then proceeded to work as the hostess of fashion shows, her devastatingly wry and amusing commentary winning her countless fans (if not always the svelte, self-important models.) A fortune teller informed her that she should go by the name Virginia Graham rather than Guttenburg and she decided to use that moniker professionally.

Her own health was in danger, however. During her father's illness and subsequent death, she had put off some nagging symptoms and then, after having gone to several doctors who were unable to diagnose anything wrong, discovered that she was pregnant again. Following a miscarriage and the resultant examination, she was informed that she had cervical cancer! In the late 1940s, cancer basically equalled one thing: death. It was hardly ever mentioned aloud in mixed company and the very word struck terror in people. Virginia prepared for the worst, hilariously obtaining a release prior to surgery in order to have her nails done and her hair bleached because she refused to be laid out at her funeral service with hair “dark at the roots.”

She underwent lengthy surgery and thirty-five rounds of radiation treatment. Somehow, through her deep faith and never-faltering sense of humor, she emerged from the ordeal with remarkable ease. She forever after considered herself reborn on that day in 1951 and vowed to life her life with purpose. That would have to wait a while yet, though, because she wasn't even over her bout with cancer when her husband Harry's long-held family costume business was wiped out in a fire and a recent mishandling of the insurance meant that there would be no significant settlement. He had also endured a very severe and complicated operation of his own on his right hand. He then lost his beloved mother.

This was one blow too many and Harry had a complete nervous breakdown. It was up to Graham to see to the rebuilding and resurgence of his family business, something she knew next to nothing about. With the help of many friends and associates, the company was eventually restored and her husband was able to overcome his series of setbacks and run it successfully again.

Graham then did something that practically no one (certainly no one with any pubic persona) had ever done. She stood up before countless throngs of people and revealed her battle with cancer. She frankly explained and put a face on the disease which made so many people uncomfortable. She was so heavily involved in charities that she became a fixture on various telethons. Even though she received no monetary reimbursement for local telethons, she endured barbs from some of the media types who felt that she was far too emotional during them and that she was somehow making a living out of the diseases that she was actually raising millions of dollars for! In time, not because of lack of interest, but due to the backlash against them, she refrained from doing many (or perhaps any!) telethons.

Her tireless charity work led to an installment of This is Your Life, the broadcast of which led to 12,000 positive letters being mailed to the creator, Ralph Edwards. (Only one other guest, alcoholic singer Lillian Roth, had generated more.) She then became the host of a daily, syndicated, TV talk show called Food for Thought from 1956 to 1961. Simultaneously for part of that time, she also worked on a radio show called Weekday with Mike Wallace (later of 60 Minutes fame.) Wallace, weary of previous female cohosts, took delight in trying to mess her up during her segments on the program. He'd make noises, hit her cleavage with spitballs or paper clips and play any number of tricks on her right up to lighting her script on fire! Despite all this, they actually got on quite well and she, having always possessed a mighty sense of humor, would frequently break into giggles on the air. One time, with the aid of some of the technicians, she got Mike back.

She told him she was going to read a letter from a listener, something she always did anyway, but that this one was about a woman who feared her husband might be losing interest in sex. Wallace was highly reluctant to allow the piece, but she insisted it had been cleared by the station. As she began to read the letter (from someone to whom she gave the identity of Mrs. C. S.), Mike began his pranks once again and this time she called him a son of a bitch and proceeded to howl with laughter, making a mockery of the program while he struggled to hang on and turned white. What he didn't know was that the station was actually broadcasting a previously recorded (earlier that morning) version of her segment and that all of the shenanigans in the studio were completely contained therein. The pranks stopped after this! The whole thing is preserved in a hysterical audio tape that is available for listening below. If can you listen to this three-minute recording without at least smiling, you must be dead inside. Her laughter is utterly infectious!!

Virginia Gets Mike Back (on

 She claimed in her book that Wallace was making choking and gagging sounds during the prank, but I can't escape the feeling that he also somehow, through mouthing the words or writing it in front of her, suggested that Mrs. C. S. stood for “Mrs. Cock Sucker!” Don't ask me why... I just think that's what got her going so much. It's probably just my own dirty mind.

She also began to appear on The Tonight Show with Jack Parr, even working as a fill-in host for him at a time when having a female host on a late night talk show was completely unheard of. (Decades later, Joan Rivers would become embroiled in a huge debacle when she, after having filled in many times for Johnny Carson on the very same Tonight Show, opted to host her own show on another network when she discovered that she would not be considered as the host when eventually retired. The resultant failure of that show helped lead to her husband's suicide.) Graham is shown above left out on the town meeting up with a young Rock Hudson.

Incidentally, Jack Paar, a wildly popular host and conversationalist who penned several amusing books of his own, is someone who also shared my same basic sense of humor and who I was told more than once that I remind people of. I used to love seeing and listening to him on old game shows or other clips until I read one of his books and was disappointed to find an entire scathing and vitriolic chapter devoted to thoroughly trashing homosexuals. After that, I understandably lost most of my affection for him.

As an emerging talent, Graham now was invited as a guest panelist on To Tell the Truth, sitting alongside Tom Poston, Johnny Carson and our Miss Kitty Carlisle. Sitting sidelong with her gravity-defying hair taking up much of the airspace, she lobbed amusing questions at the contestants, one of whom was the man who invented the dance sensation “The Twist.” (She asked if there had been a lot of mosquitoes the summer he composed the ditty and developed the accompanying dance!)

Graham's next exercise was the most successful of all, though even it took a while to make it to the airwaves. She filmed a pilot episode in 1961 for a chat fest to be called Girl Talk, produced by a man from The Tonight Show. It's format included Graham hosting three other women, usually famous and from varied backgrounds and fields, who would discuss feminine viewpoints on a wide range of issues. Graham deliberately selected guests who might not ordinarily be found in the same room together, knowing that some zesty repartee would likely be the result. Sound at all familiar? The View is a modern-day approximation of the same general concept, only expanded by an additional half-hour in order to provide more information and entertainment. Barbara Walters, incidentally, was a guest on Girl Talk back in the day.

Girl Talk, which was finally picked up and put into first-run syndication in 1963, was a big hit, providing real-life catty sparks and interpersonal drama as opposed to the many scripted soap operas that were on during the same time frame. The program was taped at night, deliberately, with the belief that guests had a tendency to let their guard down a bit more in the evening than during the daytime hours. Graham occasionally had to deal with skirmishes if two women appeared on the same broadcast who had stringently different viewpoints or even, on an occasion or two, might be dating the very same man! (Seen below is Graham with guests Inger Stevens, Abbe Lane and Dr. Joyce Brothers.)

At left are Carol Channing, Marge Champion and the show's producer with Graham. One memorable episode pitted eclectic actress Hermione Gingold (Mrs. Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn of The Music Man) against Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique.” Gingold expressed her inability to follow the plot of the (non-fiction!) book and complained that she'd wasted a good box of chocolates, devouring them as she prepared to enjoy a good mystery novel that wasn't. Zsa Zsa Gabor also created her share of theatrics, raging on and on for a half hour only to realize that the laughs being generated by the audience were for a co-guest who, unable to get a word in, had managed to knit the better part of a baby sweater and was making all sorts of faces throughout! Below are Luise Rainer, Olivia de Havilland and June Havoc having a swell time.

Graham claimed that her hefty weight went a long way in making her accessible and non-threatening to female viewers as well as many female guests. Potentially prickly guests from Gloria Swanson to Dolores Gray to Agnes Moorehead made multiple appearances with the aforementioned Joan Crawford leading the way with at least seven stops at Girl Talk in all. Still, Graham was in no way a shrinking violet. She said all sorts of things that went against the conventional mores of the times including spouting the word “orgasm” on the air.

She seemed to know everyone on the planet and would only continue to meet and know new people, famous or not, as the years went on.  Graham spoke before thousands upon thousands of people in person and reached millions more through television.
She wrote another book, on beauty and self-improvement, called “Don't Blame the Mirror” in 1968.
If we're being honest, she was a drag queen's dream come true. The porcine face, spackled with as much make-up as it could hold, and the tidal wave of big hair paired with a raspy, brusque voice, statement clothing, over-the-top accessories and a plus-sized personality... If anyone today knew who she was, she'd be a perfect subject for an entertainer to imitate. Perhaps some do already in many cases and just don't realize who it is they look and sound like! (Catherine O'Hara did do an impersonation of her on SCTV back in the day.)

Graham also penned a celebrity cook book called “Tonight or Never,” which helped women win their husbands over through their stomachs. (As a college girl, she had used perfume called Tonight or Never and, according to her it was always “never” during a date until she turned blonde when suddenly it was “tonight!”) It is my belief that the negative for this shot of her was reversed.  I have included a version that is "corrected" on the right and now that I look at it it is clearly the way it should have been all along!

She left Girl Talk in 1969 while it was still successful in order to launch The Virginia Graham Show in 1970. Betsy Palmer took over the reins in her wake, though it was off the air within a year. Her own show was more a conventional talk show rather than a four-pronged chat fest. It ran until 1976. Here, she did more personalized interviews with everyone from Peyton Place's Ed Nelson (seen with her here) to Family Affair's Johnny Whitaker (seen with her below.) Below that, she interviews Darren McGavin (of Kolchak: The Night Stalker) and his wife Kathie Brown. 

That year, she appeared in a played called “Let's Hear it For Miss America,” appearing as the overbearing mother of a pageant contestant (played by real-life former Miss America Laurie Lea Schaefer.) Graham had first appeared on stage in 1964 in a play called Late Love and did many others over the years, including the musical Irene (program below.)

There was a local program called Virginia Graham's Famous Faces in which she interviewed celebrities on location or in large banquet halls, always with an eager studio audience and with her done up with lacquered, red nails, the wave of frosted hair, heavy makeup and plenty of chunky costume jewelry.

She was everywhere including magazine covers, though I am practically positive that this Ladies Circle cover shot is also reversed because I have never seen a photo of Virginia Graham from this period in which her hair was swept to that direction. People who are addicted to a certain look and who worship Aqua-Net the way she did rarely alter the overwhelming tide of their hair follicles by suddenly flopping it all in the opposing direction!

Graham also appeared on a local (and quite tacky) show called Celebrity Cabaret, singing the praises of Australian vocalist Samantha Sang, a protegee of The Bee Gees, who had one hit song (“Emotion”) in the U.S. in 1977. In 1980, her beloved Harry died, leaving her without her best friend and constant companion who she treated like a king and who loved her back like a queen. She would relate her challenging experiences with widowhood eight years later with the yet another book “Life After Harry: My Adventures in Widowhood.”

In 1982, she landed a recurring role on the daytime soap opera Texas, as an exuberant gossip television journalist named Stella Stanton. The series was short-lived (only airing from 1980 to 1982), but she was present for the finale, which centered around a gala New Year's party. (The series' cornerstone star, Beverlee McKinsey playing Iris Cory Carrington Delaney Bancroft Wheeler, left in '81 and a million viewers departed with her!)

In 1989, she popped up on Another World as herself, a sudden life-long family friend of Rachel Cory's who attends a big shindig and gives Rachel's enemy Iris (now played by Carmen Duncan) a piece of her mind. Look at all the Pepto-pink chiffon and crinoline in this shot!

As Miss Graham aged, she slowed down somewhat in her work, greatly enjoying the grandchild Jan that her grown daughter Lynn and son-in-law Sy had given her. In true, dramatic Komiss family style, Jan had been born after much pain, agony and suffering by Lynn as an “rh negative” baby and had to be given a complete blood transfusion before finally being permitted to head home from the hospital, but grew up normally and healthily. (Seen below is Graham, from years before of course, with her daughter and granddaughter.)

She found herself as a guest on that feisty little gnome/fireplug Dr. Ruth Westheimer's program Sexually Speaking, paired with, of all people, Nipsey Russell. It was a fitting tribute to the way she had arranged diverse guests on her own program, even though Russell had trouble shutting up and was constantly spitting out his little rhymes and “poems” that so few people were interested in hearing.

As a new dawn of TV talk shows evolved, many of the contemporary hosts and hostesses recalled how inspiring Virginia Graham had been. In the late-'90s, Rosie O'Donnell and Roseanne Barr (who was inexplicably Graham's favorite inheritor to the throne) had her on their shows, paying tribute to her genius for accessible conversation, pithy commentary and a pioneering attitude. In 1998, at eighty-six, Graham was still done up to the nines, nails, hair, jewelry and all, and was as sharp as a tack, tossing out bon mots at every opportunity.

On The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder, an older, frail, but still pulled-together Virginia Graham recalled her beloved father and how his immense love allowed her to fail at times, but never once rubbing it in her face with an “I told you so...” This built her character and taught her the way to approach life. Sadly, she was dead herself of a heart attack two months later.

Joan Rivers, also by then a successful talk show persona, remarked upon how influential and significant a person Graham had been. Her advice, back when Rivers was a stand-up comedian in a male-dominated arena, was that any time she was performing on camera, she should perform as if she were speaking to one person and one person alone, never a general mass of people. You can see the influence, good or bad, of Virginia Graham in Joan Rivers when you note the stiff, blonde hair, the emphasis on style, important pieces of costume jewelry and the ever-present makeup along with, of course, the frank personality, though Miss Rivers obviously carries this to a whole new level!

I know that I will read this book again and again because it is just that interesting and entertaining. I found myself repeatedly giggling and then a few pages later choking back tears. I love books like that. We didn't agree on every single subject (and the book was, after all, close to half a century old!), but I have always respected alternate viewpoints. I expect people to have a right to theirs just as I wish for the right to mine. What a joy it was to discover (and then, of course, research) Miss Virginia Graham! She is the epitome of what Poseidon's Underworld is really about at its core: digging up celebrities who no longer get their due and trying to expose them to a new audience.

I have been busy not only lounging at the pool reading this and other books, but also preparing for a public singing engagement this weekend at which I am doing seven songs in a half hour! So I apologize for there being a gap between posts. You know I will always be back as soon as I can with whatever I can cough up.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Come On In, the Water's Fine!

Here in the U.S. (at least in these here parts of it!), Memorial Day weekend signals the opening up of most swimming pools; cool, crystalline havens from the heat that have been closed since the prior September. I love the water and, in truth, most of the significant happy memories of my life have taken place there, so I wait with bated breath for pool season to arrive and can be found there during almost every decent day until they close the places down again after Labor Day weekend in September. Seen above is Richard Jaeckel in a splashy mood.

So, to kick off the holiday in style, I give you a variety of celebrities either taking a dip or thinking about it (maybe the water is still too cold!) Ronnie Reagan seems to be having a bit of a time getting his then-wife Jane Wyman into the drink here! This post had originally been geared towards strictly pool ladders (a publicity photo staple for eons), but I ultimately expanded it to include others facets of the locale. I hope you enjoy!

Pools and Hollywood go hand in hand. Here we have legendary movie icons Mary Pickford and her husband Douglas Fairbanks frolicking around in their pool at Pickfair (the estate that was named after themselves by using the first four letters of each of their last names.)

Another star of their era, John Gilbert, is having fun sunning himself by the water. Gilbert, of course, is the silent movie actor (and one-time fiance of Greta Garbo) whose screen career didn't make the transition to sound. Depending on who you believe, he either had a voice that was deemed unsuitable or (more likely) was blackballed by an antagonized Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, who disliked Gilbert considerably.

Ramon Novarro was another silent movie hero (he played Ben-Hur more than thirty years before the 1959 epic), but he was able to continue working when sound came in, just not to the same degree of success. A conflicted homosexual, he found it hard to play the Hollywood game. He eventually became a useful character actor until 1968 when he was horrifically murdered by two rent boys in search of (nonexistent) money in his house.

This next fellow is probably unknown to all but the most devout classic movie fans. Check out these period swimsuits! Grant Withers was a late-1920s and 1930s movie actor, the star of a few serials and later a busy character actor who figured into a bit of a scandal in 1930.

Twenty-six years old, he ran off to Yuma, Arizona with recent costar Loretta Young (then seventeen!) and the two eloped. He was not a Catholic, which caused her family to become apoplectic. The union was annulled by 1931. Ironically, their second movie together came out just as the marriage was being dissolved. The title of that movie? Too Young to Marry! (You see, Miss Loretta Young, long known for her devout attitude and demeanor, was really quite fast even from the start!)

Withers married at least three more times after that, but, as he aged, he developed agonizing back pain and also gained weight, which didn't help matters. Finally, in 1959 at age fifty-four, he took an overdose of barbiturates and ended his life. These two tragedies behind us, I will try to make the rest of this post less gloom and doom. We're supposed to be having fun!

Speaking of those old one-piece tank swimsuits, check out this shot of movie tough guy James Cagney; a rare shot of him in this sort of scenario.

Richard Greene, shown here, is best known for his starring role on the 1950s British TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, a job he took out of financial need, but which made him a star. He was in his late thirties then, an earlier, burgeoning film career having been interrupted by WWII. Back in the day, though, he was quite a handsome devil with a strong jaw and piercing eyes.

A famous photo shoot involving two hot stars of the 1930s (who were "bach-ing" it up at the time) featured Randolph Scott and Cary Grant, shown at left.
Here we have actor-director-producer Dick Powell lounging about the pool. Powell wins the prize for having refashioned his image over time in order to stay relevant and employed. Once a singing bandleader, then a crooner in movie musicals, he later became better known as the star of many detective films. Still later, he worked more behind the camera creating many television programs (which he also often acted in) and directing movies of varying quality. He was married to (third wife) June Allyson from 1945 until his death in 1963.

Another guy who went through several career permutations was Jackie Cooper. Known to my own generation for his craggy portrayal of Daily Planet editor Perry White in several Superman films, he had first been a phenomenally successful child actor. At nine, he was the first and youngest one to ever receive an Oscar nomination as Best Actor and the youngest nominee in any category until Justin Henry (age eight) was nominated as a supporting actor for 1979's Kramer vs Kramer. Incidentally, his Oscar bid (for Skippy) was lost to none other than the great Lionel Barrymore for A Free Soul. Notoriously, his despicable parents spent almost every nickel of the fortune he made as a busy child star.  Later, Cooper became a very successful TV director, winning Emmys for The White Shadow and M*A*S*H (on which he claimed that Larry Linville and Wayne Rogers were the only actors on the show NOT a pain to work with.)

Richard Jaeckel was shown at the top of this post making waves in the water. Here he is about to project himself off the diving board. Mr. J. was 5' 7”, but tightly packed. After getting attention for Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and especially Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), he enjoyed a fifty year career as a busy supporting actor (and happily married throughout to the same woman.) Sadly, though, he died of melanoma in 1997 at only age seventy; this after having had to declare bankruptcy and give up his home and most of his possessions.

Jaeckel, as demonstrated previously, had no qualms about careening into the water and floundering around.  Not so our next subject, comedian Danny Kaye.  Hopefully, he was just kidding around and not really that squeamish about getting in.

Here we have popular 1940s and '50s movie star Tyrone Power, jubilantly enjoying the sun while perched on a diving board. How fun is it that men of the 1940s were happy to wear such snug, abbreviated suits to swim in? Nowadays, too many guys are burdened down with fabric that harkens back to the cumbersome turn-of-the-century togs (and not the last century but the one before it!)

On that subject, here we have a couple more shots of Ronald Reagan at the pool. No, I'm not trying to press any political agenda here by including him so much! It's all about the men and the times and the fact that I found several pictures of him that fit today's topic.

1940s star Alan Ladd was wildly popular and in very good shape before alcohol and years of depression set in. Here, he uses the handles of the pool ladder for some calisthenics.

Buster Crabbe (the subject of a recent photo essay that showed off his youthful, hunky good looks) was a serial and western actor who had once been an Olympic swimming champion. He eventually went into business for himself selling pools and stayed fit throughout his life. I just love the (now) hilarious text on this postcard.

Few people know that before Roy Rogers was the do-right cowboy and devoted husband of Dale Evans (and even restaurant entrepreneur!), he was quite a busy and sought-after ladies' man! I still don't think I see it entirely, even in this rare shot of him in an abbreviated swimsuit (maybe I like more “calf” with my cowboys?), but sometimes the quiet and shy types can really turn on the heat when no one's looking!

One man whose sexual prowess was never in doubt was Argentine “Latin Lover” Fernando Lamas. Not only did he cause all sorts of eyebrow-raising sounds to emanate from Lana Turner's dressing room as they filmed The Merry Widow (1952), but his deliberate display of the family jewels (through impossibly snug pants) during the 1956 Broadway musical Happy Hunting sent costar Ethel Merman into fits of rage. (How dare he upstage “The Voice?!”) They were both nominated for Tonys nevertheless, but he lost to Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady while hers went to Judy Holliday for Bells Are Ringing.

Despite Lamas' endowment, he usually managed to keep things under wraps when wearing a swimsuit (the style of the day being to compress everything as much as humanly possible and by all means cover up the belly button!) At least he had fun with the fabric choices, as shown here. Lamas' fourth and last wife was Esther Williams (who'd been a firsthand witness to the sounds of his and Lana's ecstasy.) She was widowed when he died of pancreatic cancer in 1982 at age sixty-seven.  Of course, most of us are familiar with Fernando's famous offspring Lorenzo Lamas, shown below enjoying the refreshing water of a sparkling swimming pool.

Next up, Lex Barker is shown in a poolside photo-op with a curvaceous friend. His career having petered out in Hollywood (along with typecasting as Tarzan), he forged a significant one in Europe (primarily Germany) where he became quite a success.

One of my own personal favorite 1950s hunks is the eternally underrated Jeffrey Hunter. Like many of the men in this post, he's been profiled elsewhere here in more depth. The two color shots (and perhaps even the black & white one) are from the same day (and, I believe, from the same photo shoot in which he was taken by surprise from behind by Robert Wagner! That pic is shown in a previous post.)

Lots of things can happen at the pool. Take Robert Evans for example. A voice actor and marketing man for the Evan-Picone fashion house, he was lounging by the pool at The Beverly Hills Hotel one day when retired actress Norma Shearer spotted him and thought he'd be right to play her deceased husband (legendary producer Irving Thalberg) in the upcoming film Man of a Thousand Faces. (Recreated here!) Never a strong actor, he later went on to be a staggeringly successful producer and studio chief (at Paramount.) Married seven times to a string of desirable women, he is eighty-one at present.

Teen heartthrob Tab Hunter later wore swimsuits far more revealing (and tight) than this one, but those photos are already on his little tribute post here.

What is it with the gold medallion necklaces on these guys? We seem to associate that habit with the '70s and disco, but clearly such a thing was a trend in the '50s, too. Pat Boone could (and can) be really annoying, but there is no denying that in his prime he was a very nice looking guy. I love this color shot of him emerging from the water.

Happy li'l Stuart Whitman looks cute ascending from the pool as well.

Here's frequent Underworld personage Charlton Heston coming up for air, too. Again, all politics aside, he was the star of so many 1950s, '60s and '70s films that I love (and obviously the subject of countless photographs) that I can't help but include him when the topic fits.

Robert Stack has no desire to get out of the water and is content to enjoy a song on the radio and a soft drink.

1950s superstar Kirk Douglas is seen here cavorting with his sons. Michael (now famous in his own right) is up on his shoulders I do believe, though I can't be positive. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I've never found the (obviously in-shape) Douglas' body very appealing.

Eternally-tan John Derek is overdressed for a swim in those sweatpants so I don't know where he thinks he's going in this shot!

You know, Adam West always looked kind of meager and even a tad paunchy in his Batman suit, but here he demonstrates a perfectly fit and trim physique. I love his clingy, square-cut suit.

Few men were as captivating by the pool as French star Alain Delon. (He even made a movie called The Swimming Pool in 1969.) Plenty of publicity photos were taken of him cavorting in the water, some of which appear in his Underworld tribute.

After a hard day of canoeing, trudging through the forest and nearly getting killed by inbred homosexual rapists (in 1972's Deliverance), there's nothing more relaxing than winding up back at the location's motel for a bit of horseplay in the pool for Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight!

I'm not sure which at pool this shot of Michael Jackson was taken. It appears to date from the mid-to-late '80s.

Dynasty star Gordon Thomson plops down on the edge of his pool in this shot from the mid-'80s. (NotFelixUnger, where are you these days! This one is for you.)

The pool remains a picturesque place for stars to have their picture taken. Take Jean-Claude Van Damme dangling from the diving board during one of his early U.S. photo shoots.

Even non-stars (or wanna-bees) get in on the action, thus notorious O.J. Simpson houseguest and attempted actor Kato Kaelin was snapped emerging from the pool. Please tell me that he's at 14 minutes and 58 seconds by now...

More inviting is pretty-boy actor and action-movie star Paul Walker.

Rugged adventure movie hero Gerard Butler follows suit.

As we near the end of this parade of poolside paramours, I give you my favorite shot of the aforementioned Fernando Lamas. Note that he is holding himself above the water with his arms, not standing on the steps of the ladder! With his manly physique, gold medallion and tight suit, he ticks off all the boxes of what was best about 1950s men who were going for a dip.

Of course, if given the option, we prefer to do as Steve McQueen does here and dispense with a suit all together! However you spend your holiday weekend, even if it isn't a holiday for you, I hope it's a smashing one. I'll be back next week with more from The Underworld.