Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Guest Who: "Vega$" Show Girls

What scarce free time we achieve in The Underworld is nearly always devoted to vintage movies or TV and we always try to share that which catches our eye (in the event that it may also please your own!) During some recent viewings of the Aaron Spelling-produced private eye show Vega$ (1978-1981), we got a small kick out of some of the ladies selected to make guest appearances, thus this entry in a long series of posts on the subject of TV guest stars. (At least once before, we hit on some of these folks as well.) Depicted here is the show's star Robert Urich and a gaggle of actual Las Vegas showgirls (grainy footage of who was shown over and over and over duing the series' run!)

In its first season, Vega$ was outfitted with an extensive supporting cast, rather unwieldy in truth, because they always had to somehow fit in a moment or two with each character. Shown here are Judy Landers (as Urich's ditzy secretary), Urich, Phyllis Elizabeth Davis (as Urich's girl Friday) and Tony Curtis (as owner of the Desert Inn and Urich's boss.) Landers was dropped by the second season, policewoman Naomi Stephens (not shown) was also dropped and Curtis was always recurring, actually, appearing less and less as it went on.

Shown here are Mission: Impossible's Greg Morris (as the local police chief), who was added early on and stayed, and Bart Braverman (as Urich's bumbling assistant), who remained with the show all along, too. Note the now-brunette hair of Davis. Before we begin the guest star parade, I want to mention that I did something a little different this time, which I hope might make it more fun. It was accidental at first, then purposeful thereafter. I'm going to show the guest with her face turned away so that you might attempt to guess her identity before the next, revealing, photo. So you may want to keep this in mind when scrolling if you wish to endure this. LOL

First up we have a female arche- ologist. The lady is inside a cave containing thousands upon thousands year-old American Indian cave drawings (this is assuming that Tori Spelling didn't wander on to the set and scrawl them on there while visiting daddy at work??) While in there dusting the place, she hears the sound of motorcycles outside and wanders out with her binoculars in time to see some bad guys making a getaway in the wake of a crime.

The lady archeologist is, of course, famed relic (sorry, I simply could not resist!) Joan Van Ark, later of Knots Landing! Prior to her lengthy gig on Landing, Van Ark made a ton of TV guest appearances, some of which have been noted here before. This was one of her very last ones before showing up on Dallas as Valene Ewing, which soon lead to her starring role on Knots Landing.

One thing that always sort of intrigued me what the choice of eyebrow delineation that Ms. Van Ark selected for herself... They were peculiarly thin, but also very straight across. Recently, I read that you can tell when a man has had a brow lift because male eyebrows are generally straight across/horizontal while women's tend to be arched. Not here! If you followed her show, she went in for some crazy-ass hair in the mid-to late '80s, but eventually resumed more subdued locks.

Next up, we have dim bulb Judy Landers taking "dance" classes from an instructor. They're actually "exotic" dance classes, intended for strippers because I believe Landers was about to audition for a role in something that called for a stripper, so she needed help. (She hardly ever wore many clothes on Vega$ to begin with, so God only knows what she was going to be taking off...!) So, anyway, the guest is the exotic dancing instructor.

The actress in question is Vivian Blaine, star of movie musicals during the 1940s and '50s. One of her key movie roles was in the 1945 State Fair, in which she was a big band singer who breaks Dick Haymes' heart. But her casting here is of interest for another reason.

Blaine had originated the role of Miss Adelaide, singer and Hot Box dancer (burlesque strippers) at The Kit Kat Club in Broadway's Guys and Dolls. She'd peel off bits of costume in songs like "A Bushel and a Peck" or "Take Back Your Mink." In 1955, she repeated the role in the movie Guys and Dolls, opposite Frank Sinatra, committing her famous solo "Adelaide's Lament" to film.

The way the episode was going, I wondered if they were ever going to throw the poor dear a close-up! They kept the focus mainly on Landers, but finally the camera did make its way to Blaine's then fifty-seven year-old face.

I don't know how many of you will be aware, but Miss Blaine was one of THE first - and most vocal - advocates for the awareness of AIDS and the need to offer support, education, compassion and funds to the disease which was claiming so many lives in her chosen business of entertainment. It took a higher profile celebrity (Elizabeth Taylor) to really get the movement started on a grand scale, however, but we salute Blaine for speaking up and out during a confusing, scary and controversial period. (Others who were lending their name at the time included Betty Garrett, Adele Jergens, Terry Moore, Virginia O'Brien, Mamie Van Doren, Marie Windsor and Jean Simmons.)

Here we see Urich approaching a Las Vegas costumer for the splendid shows performed there. I think this one will be a gimme to some of you due to the hair (and, alas, those who don't recognize the hair probably won't know her under any circumstances!)

The costume designer is played by the ever- elegant Miss Anne Jeffreys. Jeffreys seemed to be at virtually every Hollywood social event of the 1980s and her precisely coordinated and perfectly accessorized get-ups were often chronicled in Star Magazine's "What Were They Wearing?" two-page spread. I chose this shot with her eyes closed so you could see her make-up. This was 1979, still a while yet before the world got a glimpse of Joan Collins and her ultra-heavy eyes on Dynasty (which didn't hit their stride until about 1983 or 1984. Nor did Donna Mills' on Knots until about that time or maybe a touch sooner!)

Miss Jeffreys' character runs a high-stakes poker game out of her home, which Urich wants to observe as he's hunting down a killer and only has a sketch to go by. She was about fifty-six at this time. It's interesting how today's fifty-six varies significantly in a lot of ways (generally younger clothing, hair and so on...), but I do think she looks good.

Later, Urich heads to her house and she's heavily-swathed in a green chiffon number as she lets him in through the back, kitchen entrance. Did you know that the durable Miss Anne Jeffreys carried on a seventy-one year career before the cameras and is still alive and kicking today at ninety-four?? Good for her.

In our next episode, we find Urich placed in charge of escorting a Middle Eastern princess who is visiting the U.S. under threat of danger. This duty (of being a bodyguard) is outside his usual realm of expertise and he initially declines the job... until he meets her!

The pert young thing is played by Kim Cattrall, then only in her early-twenties! She's painted a deep brown, with her hair tinted dark to complete the effect. The man at her side, by the way, is Puerto Rican-descended actor Henry Darrow of The High Chaparral (1967-1971), who would later portray the Cuban cigar model Fidel Santiago on a memorably hilarious episode of The Golden Girls.

Cattrall is likely best-known for her run on Sex and the City (1998- 2004) as the sexually voracious and adventurous Samantha Jones (though my generation probably knew her best as the rather vocal object of desire of Boyd Gaines in the raucous Porky's, 1981!) On Sex and the City, she always had blonde hair, so, for fans of her on that, it's likely quite a surprise to see here here in "brownface!"

In the course of the guest appearance, she charms Urich almost immed- iately, causing him to undergo quite a bit of worry when, first, someone tries to kill her and then, later, she is kidnapped! As shown below, Cattrall enjoyed a variety of outfits in this guest shot, though her hair was always straight and usually very shiny throughout.
Now we move on to the next chick. This gal plays a young lady who'd once had a difficult upbringing in Las Vegas, then left for a while, only to return once more bearing the weight of a heavy secret.

You may recognize her as the daughter of Tippi Hedren, one Melanie Griffith (then twenty-three), sporting what might be her actual natural hair color (something we've seen precious little of since the 1980s dawned.)

Griffith comes back to Vegas and is greeted by her benefactor and virtual foster parent, played by semi- regular Will Sampson, but, before long, she's knifed to death in his hotel suite, with him facing the blame for her murder...

She, of course, went on to a string of leading lady roles in the cinema, notably 1988's Working Girl, for which she won a Golden Globe and earned an Oscar nomination (which went to Jodie Foster in The Accused.) Now fifty-nine, she still makes the occasional film, but recently popped up on several episodes of the Hawaii 5-0 redux (if you can recognize her!)

Incidentally, in this very same episode, Las Vegas fixture Lola Falana makes a cameo appearance as herself (being interviewed by '70s TV staple Laraine Stephens.) For reasons known only to her, she performs the entire scene as herself in this completely ditzy, wide-eyed, perfectly ridiculous manner that is more than a little head-scratching!

Next we come to one of TV's most hoary cliches, the cloistered nun suddenly having to be exposed to the outside world. In this case, she rents a room in a "no-tell" motel and doesn't seem to realize it...

The nun is played by, of all people, Camel-voiced Cassie Yates, then coming off a string of movie roles, but soon to become more situated in TV guest roles and telefilms. Her character has left the convent in order to track down a beloved (and bejeweled) cross, which was stolen by a bummed-out loser. This look was apparently considered light make-up in those days!

Urich has to explain to her why there are mirrors on the ceiling over her bed, before finally transporting her out of the flea bag motel and placing her in a room at the Desert Inn. He then assists her in her quest for the cross (as she lucks out at the slot machines and gaming tables, turning her loose change into enough money to pay her way through the adventure.)

At one point, she is forced to go undercover (or come out from being covered?) and show her hair and don secular clothing in order to ferret out the thief. This character, presumably due to the bantering chemistry that she and Urich established, returned in 1980 for a follow-up appearance.

Here we have a down on her luck runaway, being arrested for nabbing hotel guests' sandwiches and the fruit garnishes from their drinks in order to nourish herself (her pregnant self.)

You might not recognize this guest star even after clearly seeing her face!
Nevertheless, chances are that you have seen her or - almost certainly - have heard her before! She sort of has a chameleon-like face that changes from shot to shot based on the lighting.

This is Terri Nunn, whose character is being hotly pursued by a number of people, some of who aren't what they claim to be. Nunn guest-starred in a series of TV shows from Police Story to Barnaby Jones to Lou Grant and T.J. Hooker as well as appearing in Thank God It's Friday (1978.)

But her biggest claim to fame, by far, came when she revolutionized her looks and became the lead singer for the '80s pop group Berlin. Berlin had several big hits including "The Metro," "Sex (I'm a...)," "No More Words" and, especially, "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun (1986.) Nunn (and Berlin) is still at it. She is currently fifty-five.

Our next guest is a swimsuit designer (for Goddess Swimwear.) You can see from the silhouette that it is not Esther Williams, though she'd have been a fun choice to play this particular guest role...

The lady in question is played by the colorful Eve Arden, shown here with her son, the resistible Gary Crosby, and one of her models, Barbi Benton.

Someone is trying to sabotage her swimwear line and the planned poolside fashion show (which also features a bevy of synchronized swimmers in the pool, another facet that would have made Williams at home, though Arden is always enjoyable to watch.)

Arden appears in a variety of flowing, flouncy get-ups and, as always, is made up to the hilt.
I include this shot (of tardy Benton - who is ridiculously short compared to the other models - racing out to the pool to make it into the photo) because of the hilariously stiff and stationary extras who were placed next to the doors for atmosphere. Well, speaking of atmosphere, his skimpy swimwear did take my breath away for a moment!

Up now is a hot pop singer, headed to Vegas for a fabulous show.

Turns out this is Lisa Hartman (perhaps known better these days as Lisa Hartman Black, thanks to her marriage to country crooner Clint Black.)

In a series that was never lauded for its extreme taste- fulness, this has got to be one of the most seedy and trashy episodes. Hartman is seen bathing in a bubble bath before being dragged from the water by a rapist wearing nothing but a ski mask, who proceeds to molest her on camera! Urich has to convince her to report the crime, lest it happen to anyone else.

Hartman, who went on to play Neely O'Hara in the wretched miniseries Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls (1981), gets a bit of a dry run for the role here as she berates a wardrobe mistress over the cut and style of her revealing stage costume.

She winds up being kidnapped by the sicko, but rescued by Urich in time to hit the stage that night and perform her little fanny off to a roaring crowd of fans... This was a reunion of sorts for Hartman and Urich for, in between his hit series S.W.A.T. (which was cancelled prematurely due to an anti-violence on TV movement) and Vega$, he gave comedy a try on Soap and also on Tabitha, as love interest to Hartman's bewitching character (the grown up daughter from Bewitched!)

Now sixty, Hartman Black rarely acts anymore, but concen- trates more on her singing and her marriage to Black, whom she wed in 1991. After this Vega$ appearance, she continued to remain busy on TV in movies and on series until 1982 when she joined the cast of Knots Landing. Her character was killed off, but she was popular enough to return again as a lookalike, staying until 1986.

In this episode, the storyline concerned a Private Eye convention. One of the attendees, a female detective, was played by an actress we all know from her youth.

The lady in question is Heather Menzies, known for her role of Louisa Von Trapp in the blockbuster musical The Sound of Music (1965.) She's seen here with fellow guest star Gary Collins in the navy blue sportcoat.

Menzies, though, was a particularly special guest on Vega$ because she was married in real life to the series' star Urich.

The two of them had fun as she demonstrated self-defense techniques on her real-life hubby, flipping him and dumping him on his keister (in his li'l blue Nike gym shorts.)

Someone at the convention is bumping off detectives one by one, and Menzies is in danger herself! Of course, Urich is on hand to protect her the best he can. The two were wed from 1975 until Urich's altogether premature death from cancer in 2002.

The prior episode was not the first time that Menzies showed up on Vega$. She appeared the previous season as a pretty blonde police officer with her eye on Urich. (That one has a truly hysterical, "must see" finale!) She made a third and last appearance on the show in 1981. Miss Menzies-Urich is now sixty-seven and has not acted on screen since 1990, her last couple of gigs being opposite her beloved husband.
Now we come to the finale, the storyline focusing on an explosive women's right activist who is jailed for murder and must be defended by a tough, skilled attorney, the woman shown here with her back to us. I can't imagine this is anything but a gimme to the seasoned film fan...

Yes, the lawyer in question is played by Miss Shelley Winters. Though Winters had previously shown up on McCloud and Kojak and also took part in the miniseries The French Atlantic Affair (1979), it was still a rather rare thing to find her working as a guest on TV at this time.

For most of the episode, she's outfitted in some business- like suits, though always accented with chunks of jewelry, as she strives to clear her tempestuous client (played by Lynne Marta.)

The customary Winters line readings and facial expressions are in place, though she attempts to present a more straight- laced persona than usual. She also wears a steady variety of hats on the show, doubtless courtesy of producer Aaron Spelling's favorite costume designer Nolan Miller.

To that end (and the end of this post), I give you the divine Miss W. in a glamorous fur concoction that would have made even Dynasty's Alexis sit up and take notice! I don't think I have ever seen her so glitzed out. Winters never partook of any of the multitudinous 1980s primetime soap offerings, but this sequence shows us what it might have been like had she ever been tempted into doing a run on Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest or any of the others! (When she did finally turn to series TV on a recurring basis, it was, surprisingly enough, on the decidedly blue collar Roseanne.)


Rick Gould said...

Wow, I actually remember the episode with Cassie Yates, she reminded me of Shirley MacLaine in "Two Mules For Sister Sara," a brassy nun with eyeliner!

Amazing how network TV kept so many aging stars and up-and-coming stars busy for decades.

And it is fascinating how even in the '70s and '80s, actresses in their 50s actually looked their age...sometimes abetted by styles from the '50s and '60s!

NEVER understood Melanie Griffith's appeal and she is living proof that plastic surgery isn't always the fountain of youth.

And Tony Curtis. Love seeing him middle-aged BEFORE he went out and bought his white lion's mane of hair! Did you ever wonder where he bought those crazy shirts and jackets...from the Prince collection?

Cool mention about Vivian Blaine's AIDS activism...bless her!

Also, remember that short-lived sitcom Robert Urich did with Faye Dunaway?! It Had to be You? What fun it must have been to be on that set!

Cheers to another great piece!


Gingerguy said...

What an inspired wacky idea to begin with, and the reveals were super fun. I have been obsessed with the Landers Sisters for ages. Talk about T&A(and Audrey got to sing about it in the not beloved film version of "A Chorus Line")I was never hot for them (obviously) so got the camp straight off. Especially Judy. They were on a talk show once and Regis Philbin hilariously caught their Mom in a clear lie about their ages as she was showing pictures of them growing up. I never forgot that. Judy was also subtly named "Stacks" on BJ and The Bear.
Joan Van Arkeologist!!!! that is some comic casting and costuming, the pith helmet is lol.
Great detail about Vivian Blaine and her pioneering AIDS work, and loved to read also about Marie Windsor. Now I even love her more.
Maybe Miss Anne Jeffrey's got an advance look at "The Eyes Have It"? she was great looking and I totally remember her.
Kim Cattrall in "tropical makeup" looks like Lea Remini.
I thought Melanie Griffith was Lauren Tewes! and I thought Lola Falana was a man in that picture. What a shot!
Nuns and makeup-don't get me started. I had two Aunts that were Nuns so I always howled at the false eyelashes and mascara. This is pretty bad here on Cassie Yates, but nothing beats MTM's heavy drag face in "A Change Of Habit".
Teri Nunn from Berlin was the high school girl in "TGIF"? that is so funny I was just thinking about that movie the other day. I never would have connected the two.
I completely remember that Lisa Hartman episode, the costumer tells her that she is going to drive all the men wild in her skimpy outfit, right after she has been sexually assaulted, and she freaks out.
Last but not least-Shelley looks fabulous in her hats. My all time favorite one on her is the one she wore in "Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell" (think Mrs Gloompe in Willy Wonka). Boy was this fun, thanks a million for the show girl parade.

petercox97 said...

i will always say that no one in hollywood ever had such a startling transformation as did lisa hartman black. i remember her from tabitha and she was so cute, but abc didn't think she jiggled enough. then she went to cbs and performed in that dreadful valley of the dolls remake, but i still loved lisa. in fact, cbs must have loved her too, because just a few years later she was back as ciji dunne on knots landing and i fell in love with the character instantly. lisa could sing and she had this square jawed gorgeousness that was just what the doctor ordered. she had chemistry with everyone on the show and as much as i loved donna mills she never made a dent on ciji dunne or even cathy geary later because lisa always had such a sense of humor about the character she played. she was no longer naive tabitha from abc, she was a true hollywood star who could hold her own with anyone. and boy, did cbs love her. she was in almost as many movies of the week as lindsay wagner and jaclyn smith and that's saying something. i shall never forget she and joe penny in the operation where joe is a doctor who supposedly gives lisa an unnecessary hysterectomy, but the truth is that the doctor and the patient are colluding to defraud the hospital of millions for malpractice.

and last but not least, does anyone remember 2000 malibu road from 1992 where lisa played a high class prostitute who had been sexually abused by her stepfather? my god, that series was glorious and trashy in the best way. there isn't a woman, boy, man, dog, or cat that i wouldn't see dead in the street to have those rare episodes on dvd.

yes, i know this particular thread was about vegas, but i never really liked bob urich although i do appreciate his heroic battle with a debilitating illness.

speaking of debilitating illnesses, i'd like to give a shout out to lola falana who was a sex symbol at a time when women of color were not considered sexy or beautiful. although i do cringe that she was brutally ill-used in the klansman which starred o.j. simpson, cameron mitchell, and believe it or not burt lancaster as her adoptive father or uncle or someone. she was also brutally raped in the liberation of l.b. jones.

Poseidon3 said...

Rick, I'm so glad you liked this trip down the "Vega$" strip... I have to say I have never been a fan of Melanie Griffith, either (the monotone baby doll voice goes through me like a KNIFE! I also thought her awfully square-jawed to be this big "beauty"), but I recently watched "Night Moves" with her as a youth and sort of understood why she was considered a good young actress. "The Drowning Pool" is of interest, too. And I LOVE "Shining Through" in spite of itself. The surgery is just bad, but my GOD she lived such a rough life... I'd be afraid to see the result if nothing at all was done. Tony Curtis, what the hell was with those horrible wigs?!! His close-cropped 'do on this show was fine. But, you know, it's only been in (comparatively) recent years that men were considered okay to be bald/closely shorn. In the '70s, '80s and even the '90s it was all about hair and how much of it you could demonstrate! LOL I tried to watch the Faye-Robert show, but it was pretty wretched. I LOVED her then... her look, her clothes, but the show was tinkered with so much that it just never worked (and they made a bizarre couple!)

Hi, Ginge! I am more of an Audrey Landers person myself. Somehow Judy was just too much for me. I think she scarred me a little on "Madame's Place." LOL So funny about "Joan Van Arkeologist!" I intended to somehow tie in the Ark of the Covenant, but forgot. Ha! Yes, MTM's false eyelashes in "Change of Habit!" The old costumer lady that Lisa Hartman deals with was so peculiar!!! I wondered if she was a real dresser for the show... clearly a non-actress. Glad you liked this!

Petercox, I found the entire series "Tabitha" on DVD for a few dollars one time and was fascinated by it (it was good/bad all at once!) I totally forgot to note in this "Vega$" post that Robert Urich was her costar in it!! I'll have to find a way to drop that tidbit in now...! I've briefly mentioned that show here before (there's a tag in the right-hand column if you wish you click on it!) I completely recall that TV-movie with Joe Penny!!! It sort of spoiled the big reveal for me in "Malice" which came along 3 years later! I didn't watch "2000 Malibu Road." I was probably still reeling from the 1989 cancellation of "Dynasty" and not ready to invest in another primetime soap that was in danger of not continuing (which it didn't!) It sounds like it was quite something, though and has many enduring fans. I'd probably have watched had I known Brian Bloom was on it! I had the bad fortune to watch "The Klansman" once (during my Linda Evans phase) and do recall how trashy and tasteless it was. But wasn't it Richard Burton and not Burt Lancaster? Burton and Lee Marvin (a fatal combination!) were both reportedly drunk throughout the entire filming!

petercox97 said...


Well seen. I was thinking Richard Burton and was even watching him in this marvelous movie I found on for .95 that features Burton as a conflicted priest who may or may not be in love with one of his male students at an all-boy's Catholic school in England. Then again, I'm always thinking of Burt Lancaster and his fabulous physique. I was thrilled and shocked a few years ago when I quite by accident found a series of full-frontal physique photographs that Lancaster had taken before his mega-stardom. I already admired him and finding those nude pictures of him catapulted my idolatry of Mr. Lancaster into the stratosphere.

petercox97 said...

One more thought, speaking of Brian Bloom, I will always love HBO's Oz because it gave me Christopher Meloni in all his glory, but it also gave me Brian Bloom who I had watched on As the World Turns and never thought I would have the opportunity to see him nude.

Poseidon3 said...

I think I saw that Burton film ("Absolution," or another one?) years ago. For me, Brian Bloom was all about the eyes, but I did love seeing him in the "Oz" shower, too! Thanks.

Gingerguy said...

One last thing, Joan Van Ark is Joan Of Arc in Dutch. Someone had to point that out to me lol.