As most visitors to this site know, The Poseidon Adventure (1972) is a Top 5 favorite movie of mine, one that had such an impact on me as a youngster that it impacted my life more than a little. I'm not alone, for the film has inspired many fans to become obsessed with it, holding screenings, events, writing stage versions, making action figures, you name it! And the cast of the film (so long as they have lived, at least!) embraced the hysteria over this beloved disaster flick, with Shelley Winters, Stella Stevens, Carol Lynley, Pamela Sue Martin and occasionally Red Buttons and Ernest Borgnine taking part in many interviews and occasions pertaining to it.
One person, though, has been conspicuous in his absence and has even been reluctant to talk much about a movie that was a tremendous box office hit and a trend-setting pop culture touchstone, that being its chief star Gene Hackman! I've only heard him talk about the film one time (though I certainly might have missed other instances along the way) and that was to James Lipton on a 2001 installment of Inside the Actors Studio. It just couldn't be avoided when running down Hackman's list of career achievements.
When producer Irwin Allen and director Ronald Neame built the cast of Poseidon, they stacked the deck with performers whose acting ability had been validated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Ernest Borgnine had an Oscar for Marty (1955), Jack Albertson one for The Subject was Roses (1968), Red Buttons one for Sayonara (1957) and Shelley Winters the recipient of two! One was for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and a second for A Patch of Blue (1965.) (I'm told by someone who knows that Winters was VERY proud of this fact and even had "2Oscars" as her car license plate!) Director Neame had himself been nominated thrice (Yay! I got to use the word thrice!) while Allen had one on his mantle for Best Documentary.
In a brilliant, prescient move, Gene Hackman was selected for the leading role of fiery, driven, heroic Reverend Scott, though he bore almost no resemblance to the character as described in the Paul Gallico source novel. In it, the character was a more athletic, strapping, blond sort of hunk. (This is basically the reverse of what is most often done in page-to-screen adaptations!) Nevertheless, Hackman delivered a committed, at times blistering performance. And, during the filming of the movie, he won an Oscar of his own for the crime drama The French Connection (1971)! Thus, there was now a quintet of winners headlining the film and a cake was brought in to celebrate (with Neame seen here scolding Shelley for wolfing down a piece before anyone else could get his!)
So why, if the movie was a huge success and his acting career was fully validated was the leading man so "Hack"-ed off and resistant to acknowledging it? If Stella Stevens is to be believed, the problem stems from the fact that stylists on the film decided to try to make the most out of Hackman's thinning, albeit lengthy, hair by teasing it into a frizzy bird's nest/SOS pad. In the early-'70s, practically no one was bald except Telly Savalas and Yul Brynner. Every sort of comb-over, toupee and camouflage was enlisted to preserve the illusion of hair for those who were facing premature losses. In 1978's Superman, Hackman refused to be seen more than fleetingly as the legendarily bald villain, Lex Luthor! He had the character wear wigs throughout.
This problem on Poseidon is not something that Hackman could exactly march up to the producer and complain about, for Allen had virtually the same look going on his own pate! It's even possible that Allen somehow saw in Hackman an extension of himself and could imagine vicariously living out this daring, water-logged adventure through the actor with his very own hairdo...
In any case, it's a shame that Gene Hackman feels ashamed of the movie for whatever reasons he has. No, it's not some sort of deeply-meaningful drama or landmark story, but what a crowd-pleaser it was with legions of devotees. Today, of course, the whole male cast could have had shaved heads (and the requisite goatees to go with, of course!) and no one would have batted an eye!
"To Jon-I really enjoyed your blog! Love Joan" -- Dame Joan Collins (via autographed menu supplied by a mutual friend!) Photos of Menu & Joan
"Thank you for your nice message, and for the link to your blog. I had actually seen your blog before - a friend showed it to me a year or two ago. You clearly have an intense and wonderful passion for cult and genre cinema... Thank you for joining my page, and for sharing your passion for EARTHQUAKE and other films of that remarkable era in our industry. My husband would have gotten a huge kick out of it! With love, Monica"-- Monica Lewis Tribute to Monica
"Oh, and for those who are looking for fascinating, funny, often outré online reading about vintage, sometimes obscure, movies, TV shows and stars, try the blog, “Poseidon’s Underworld.” You’ll find everything from detailed and witty biographies to posts on how stars wore their clothes — or didn’t — as each show biz decade constricted or loosened up. Heavily illustrated and highly informative". - Liz Smith - Liz Smith - newyorksocialdiary.com
"I just discovered your profile about me and my career. I was flattered and very happy with the photos (some I had never seen) and your talented style of writing. As a gesture of thanks, I would like to send you a signed copy of my book. I think you would enjoy it. So if you would like one or a signed photo, let me know with an address I can send it to. - Sincerely, Mark Goddard" (via e-mail) Tribute to Mark