Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Guest Who: Reunited and It Ain't So Good.

In 1961, two of the THE most popular movie and TV stars were the tan, blond (and perhaps a bit bland!) Troy Donahue and the perky, blonde (and bubbly!) Connie Stevens. Not only had the two been appearing together on the hit series Hawaiian Eye (along with humpy Robert Conrad, as shown below), but they had also guest-starred together on a 1959 episode of Will Hutchins' western Sugarfoot and were now pairing up on the big screen as well!
There was Susan Slade (1961) in which poor Stevens was a knocked-up seventeen year-old forced to watch her mother Dorothy McGuire raise the baby as her own rather than invite a scandal. Donahue played one of Stevens' suitors, wondering what it was that made her fret so over her baby "brother."

Then there was Parrish (1961), in which Donahue played the stepson of a tobacco magnate who romanced three young ladies, one of them being sharecropping Stevens. (This time out, Stevens was preggers again! And again it wasn't Donahue's.) Yes, this was their year and, in many ways it was all downhill from here.

In Palm Springs Weekend (1963), they were touted as the stars, but their characters actually romanced other people instead. Donahue was after Stefanie Powers while Stevens juggled Robert Conrad and Ty Hardin (though a gal could face bigger problems!) Within just a couple of years, the wattage faded from their stardom and, though they continued to work, it was never with the same fanfare they'd enjoyed in the early-1960s.

In a 1978 episode of Fantasy Island, these teen dreams were reunited in a pretty loony and lame entry in what was already an often simpleminded show. Stevens and her pal (the omnipresent 70s playmate Barbi Benton) play showgirls who want to marry a couple of millionaires as their fantasy.

As part of their stay, they will also be headlining a new musical that is bound for Broadway, written by first-time composers Fred "Gopher" Grandy and Donahue! As these gents run through one of their numbers, Donahue is called upon to "sing" the female part in a ghastly falsetto!
Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) then introduces the guys to the gals. Naturally, Grandy is smitten with Benton and Donahue is taken with Stevens upon first sight. The ladies come enter the room, dancing in a rather rudimentary way, and yet are considered stunning talent...

As the gals are put through their rehearsal paces, the gentlemen are continuing to be enamored of their leading ladies. Donahue and Stevens share a tender moment when she strains her ankle and he rushes to her aide.

Villechaize has set up a cocktail party filled with millionaires for Benton and Stevens to choose from, and the girls are a hit, but something still seems amiss. Maybe because the rich guys are annoying and more than a little unappealing! Stevens was at a stage here when her mass of hair forever threatened to overtake the rest of her, yet - thanks to the scads of under-eye highlighter she favored - we still somehow make out her (overdone) expressions.

Finally, not long before the show is set to open its preview, Grandy and Donahue confess to the ladies that they are in love with them and want to marry them. Stevens and Benton are forced to let them down easy because, even though they like them in return, they came here to marry millionaires, not untried music makers without two dimes to rub together.
The (truly, truly abysmal) show goes on and the cast perform a number about getting married.
What no one but Villechaize knows is that the actor playing the priest in the musical is actually not an actor, but a priest for real!! So in the course of the production, each couple really does become wed! (Blood test? forget about it... License? meh...)

As it turns out, Grandy and Donahue are indeed millionaires as well! They are untried musical composers, but happen to be very successful dramatic playwrights and have come to Fantasy Island in order to live out the fantasy of producing a Broadway musical... All four of them depart on "de plane," happy as clams.
The Island TV reunion may (or may not) have been fun for the long-time costars, but it was bittersweet to see them reduced to some of the shenanigans they were called upon to take part in. We prefer to watch them in their hey-day when their creamy blond goodness provided jaw-dropping melodrama of the highest order and unintentional laughs that we the viewers didn't have to feel guilty about as we did during the ghastly installment of Fantasy Island. As seen here, they'd once enjoyed being awarded medals for popularity by Photoplay Magazine, but by 1978 were lucky to be recognized by anyone other than parents and grandparents on an episode of a prime-time TV series.

FYI:  A later reunion of these stars came about in 1983 when they were part of a week of All-Star Family Feud with their Hawaiian Eye compatriots Anthony Eisley, Poncie Ponce and Grant Williams. They later joined Edd Byrnes, Patrick Macnee and  Abe Vigoda on a 1984 Family Feud contest called "Battle of the Crime Fighters," shown here, wherein the quintet were called The Crusaders. I really think they both look better in 1984 than they had in 1978! 


Gingerguy said...

Boy is showbiz tricky-top of the heap to "Fantasy Island" and then game shows, but they both can sing "I'm Still Here". I saw all three of the movies Connie and Troy were paired in after reading about them here first. Of the three I loved "Susan Slade" but was very entertained by "Parrish". That movie also helped me win a trivia contest recently, as I knew Connecticut grew tobacco. I always had a thing for Robert Conrad in his hot Daddy phase of the '70's but he was GORGEOUS in "Palm Springs Weekend" (albeit as a tortured, creepy would be assaulter).
Agree 100% that both stars look better in the 80's, more like I am used to seeing them. Back then people looked their age, and Connie on Fantasy Island is probably only late 30's/ early 40's? Ed Byrnes looks great too, great head of hair. I knew who he was then from "Grease". Everyone seemed so old to me then ( thinking Fabian on Laverne and Shirley) and he's probably only 37 lol. Connie was also in the infamous "Grease 2" and the funny thing is she looked great in that, along with Tab Hunter, because they are styled ala 1960's. You are right Poseidon, they never had it so good after that.

joel65913 said...

Hi Poseidon,

I never quite understood the rise of the blonde and bland matinee idols both male and female that seemed to rage for a brief period in the late 50's/early 60's. Troy and Connie certainly exemplified them, along with Tab Hunter & Joey Heatherton, empty-eyed dreamboats whose emotional expressions ran from A to B. I have seen all three of their co-starring epics, I favor Susan Slade over Parrish since Karl Malden in the latter is just TOO much.

At least Tab Hunter tried to expand his range and Connie kept plugging away working her way through one bizarre hairstyle after another but never rising much above junk after her brief heyday passed, I can never unsee Scorchy!!

I don't remember this particular episode of Fantasy Island but I was only an occasional viewer. They both look like hell and that production number looks agonizing. Both truly do look far better a decade on. Connie does love her mountain of hair but at least it's fashioned in a flattering way.

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, I find Susan Slade to be so entertaining, too. I had never heard of it in my LIFE until one day I was reading an interview with John Waters and he noted it as his favorite movie of all time. That made it a must see just to know what made him tick and made watching the movie that much more fun. "Parrish" is just loonnng, but has its moments. The only reason to watch "Palm Springs Weekend" is for the clean hunkitude of its guys and perhaps the clothes and hair of the gals. I so enjoyed seeing Tab and Connie in "Grease 2" though Troy seems far more associated with her than Tab. (But tuneless Troy would have RUINED "Reproduction" while Tab makes it all the more bizarre and perverse.)

Joel, I have yet to see "Scorchy." I need to remedy that sometime! It looks delectably rotten. The "production number" in this episode of "Fantasy Island" is so, so bad that I couldn't even find words. And Troy is so awkward in it that it becomes extra painful!! Just perfectly horrendous. But it was sort of amusing that at the tail end, Mr. Roarke and Tattoo did a little dance routine together that I found strangely touching and nostalgic now that they're gone.

But the big news is that this weekend, TCM is unearthing "The Phynx"!!!!! A (bad) movie I have, literally, waited decade upon decade to lay eyes on!! Yay!!!

joel65913 said...


I also have long been wanting to see The Phynx and have dutifully set my DVR to capture that elusive beast. I am recording many of the Ruby Keelers they will be showing today, not really because of any great love for Ruby for I have little but because her allure has always mystified me and I figure if I see a more thorough sampling of her work I might be able to understand why she was so successful, albeit briefly.

petercox97 said...

I was never a big fan of troy donahue even before his character beat the hell out of sarahjane after discovering that she is biracial in imitation of life, but i have always loved connie stevens. her best performance for me was in the cbs miniseries scruples. she stole every scene and she looked fabulous.

Rick Gould said...

My Mom always referred to Connie as "Cricket," not only because that was a character she played,but because Connie was so chirpy! And our whole family would collectively roll our eyes when Stevens did those breathy Marilyn-esque Ace Hardware commercials!

But, Mom always gave Connie props for helping out ex-hubby James Stacey after he had that motorcycle accident that left him in a wheelchair.

DevilYouKnow said...

Try as I might, I've never been a fan of Donahue's. I think I said he was as bland as boiled potatoes the last time he was written up here. He has always come off as bored and awkward to me in every single role. I'm sure he was a nice guy and certainly went through hell when the studio system finally broke down in the mid to late 1960s but sheesh, it's hard to watch him. I still get him mixed up with Tab Hunter.

I have a soft spot for Connie Stevens. She's one of those good old well rounded entertainers who still has that studio system groomed air about her and seems like a real pro. I got some old fan mags/gossip rags from the 60s/70s and was mildly shocked to see how much coverage she got. She was right up there with Jackie O! For years I confused her with Debbie Reynolds for some bizarre reason. Imagine my surprise when I learned that they were both married to hop head Eddie Fisher (why total babes fell for, married and procreated with him is beyond me as he was never appealing and seemed like a real jackass. Debbie also said he was terrible in the sack!). There's a great old movie Connie was in from 1974 (?) called The Sex Symbol. It is clearly based on the life of Marilyn Monroe with Stevens as Monroe (or rather "Kelly") and Shelly Winters as a bitchy and sadistic Hedda Hopper-esque gossip columnist who loathes Kelly. It is one of most insane, over the top movies a la Valley of the Dolls. Some lovely soul sent it to me years ago (and hopefully it's still on my old computer) and I watched it in utter amazement because it is bananas! Just non stop melodrama of the highest order and Stevens chewing up every piece of scenery within a ten mile radius. If memory serves, she even does a nude scene! Oh, and Connie still has that huge mane of crazy blonde hair today and still rocks that (unflattering) white undereye highlighter. She also apparently has a skin care line called Forever Spring!

Poseidon3 said...

Petercox, I don't think I like Troy Donahue, but I tend to like Troy Donahue movies if that makes any warped sense. They are usually colorful, campy and lovely to look at in general, not to mention unintentionally amusing. Stevens, thanks to her perky, effervescent personality is an easy target, but I certainly don't dislike her. In fact, I once got tears in my eyes out of - I dunno... nostalgia? - when she popped up in "Grease 2" and was swinging her arms and dancing in the "Back to School" number!

Rick! Our moms must be similar in their ways. Do you know who Robin Strasser is? She was a longtime soap actress, perhaps best known as Dorian on "One Life to Live" but no matter what she was on or when she appeared, my mother would exclaim, "Oh, there's Rachel!" She had played the first Rachel on "Another World" and it mattered not that Victoria Wyndham played the role for eons longer. LOL Also, in my family, we always gauged a star's off-screen actions and weighed our fondness for them against that, so the James Stacy thing also rings true! ;-)

DevilYouKnow, see above for my remarks about Donahue. Early on I would get them confused (and Tab once had a funny quote about how they were mixed up... "People are always accusing Troy of being gay and me of being straight!"), but once I saw Tab a couple of times I FAR preferred him in looks, acting, etc... I find Tab SO much more handsome and appealing. Sometimes I want to feel sorry for Troy because he gets a bum rap quite often, but then I hear something hideous (like how he physically abused Suzanne Pleshette) and I lose my temporary sympathy for him. I would LOVE to see "The Sex Symbol" for sure... Must keep an eye out for that one. I made a (VERY) subtle secret tribute to Stevens beauty line when I wrote "her mass of hair 'forever' threatened to overtake the rest of her" I used that word just to please myself that I knew about Forever Spring! LOL No clue anyone else would really know such a thing. One time I truly felt sorry for Stevens was when I was reading (the truly loathsome) Eddie Fisher's second autobiography and he just wrote about her in the most horrible way throughout, even though they have children together. It seemed very, very ignoble and he was a true jerk anyway. She's well rid of him (as was Debbie, though she wound up with that thief of a husband who took her for untold $$$!)