Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Disastrous Dais

One of our recent purchases was a set of practically every Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, a TV special series that appeared from 1974 to 1984. First beginning as a half hour "Man of the Week" (or occasional "Woman") on the back end of Martin's long-running variety show, it eventually extended into its own one-hour format. At this point the honoree would be called the "Man of the Hour."

Actor-singer Martin would preside over a panel of invited guests who'd each take his or her turn at the mic(s) "roasting" the subject at hand with all sorts of jokes, jibes and humorous knocks, often throwing stones at Martin himself or any of the other celebrities who were on hand. Then at the end, the "honoree" would come up to the mic and throw back some of the shade that he or she was handed for the prior part of the show.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you know of my love of all-star casts, random stars being placed together and, of course, 1970s disaster movies. (It ain't called Poseidon's Underworld for nothin'!) Take this line-up for example.
Dean Martin in Airport.
George Kennedy of Airport.
Ernest Borgnine of The Poseidon Adventure.
Shelley Winters of The Poseidon Adventure.
Richard Roundtree of Earthquake.
Darren McGavin of Airport '77.
Telly Savalas of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.
Alex Karras of When Time Ran Out...
Then toss in Robert Stack of Airplane!...
...and Peter Graves, also of Airplane!
That's quite a disaster assemblage. Thus, it was particularly special to watch the 1974 roast of Telly Savalas (then of the hit cop show Kojak), which contained the very same above downright galaxy of '70s disaster stars. It was so much fun to see the dais filled up with these folks who are special to me, giving me a chance to see them interacting with one another outside their respective movies.
Martin, who was just four years off of the staggering box office success Airport, looks roughly the same as his troubled pilot Vernon Demerest. Martin, who played drunk throughout his variety show, did catch a bit of guff from critics when he accepted the role of an airline pilot, but he acquitted himself pretty well in the part.

Kennedy, who played the role of cigar-chomping airplane maintenance man Joe Patroni, even received a Golden Globe nomination for his part in the movie (the award went to John Mills for Ryan's Daughter) and proceeded to play the role (with increased stretching of credibility) in Airport 1975, Airport '77 and The Concorde... Airport '79. Pairing this with his costarring role in Earthquake, Kennedy was one of the kings of 1970s disaster cinema.

Borgnine's loud, brawny police detective Mike Rogo was practically unforget- table in The Poseidon Adventure, but he also appeared in the TV-movie Fire! and later in When Time Ran Out..., all produced by that Master of Disaster Irwin Allen.

Winters was even more memorable as heroic Belle Rosen in The Poseidon Adventure, winning a Golden Globe and even scoring an Oscar nomination, though the statuette went to Eileen Heckart for Butterflies Are Free. Winters later appeared in City on Fire, a Canadian all-star disaster epic.

Roundtree was something of a rarity for the disaster genre in that there weren't very many black performers given significant parts. His motorcycle-riding daredevil Miles Quade in Earthquake is thus rather significant.

McGavin, who could be a prickly costar to work with, turned in a charming perfor- mance as engineer Stan Buchek in Airport '77. McGavin's turn at the podium was cut from the broadcast, probably for time, along with Dan Rowan & Dick Martin as well as Alex Karras.

Karras' myopic, overweight appearance on this roast is a far cry from the mustached, made-over look he brought to his later acting roles including Paul Newman's oil-drilling pal Tiny Baker in When Time Ran Out... He later enjoyed a fairly long run on the sitcom Webster with his wife Susan Clark (herself a disaster movie veteran thanks to Airport 1975 and City on Fire.)

Graves and Stack turned their ordinarily stern, staid personas (from Mission: Impossible and The Untouchables, respectively) on their ears for the wacky Airplane!  Graves, as pilot Captain Clarence Oveur, kept a straight face while basically trying to seduce a young boy passenger with such come-ons as, "Have you ever seen a grown man naked?" or "Do you like gladiator movies?" He also appeared in disaster-flavored TV projects like SST: Deathflight and The Memory of Eva Riker. Stack parodied the severe, domineering Sterling Hayden of Zero Hour in his role of Captain Rex Kramer. He was a sea captain in Irwin Allen's Adventures of the Queen and appeared in the telefilm Murder on Flight 502.

At the time of this roast, though, both gents were still known for their straight (read: often wooden) approaches to their dramatic roles. This quality made them ripe for their parts in Airplane! (the same goes triple for Mr. Leslie Nielsen.) It was nice to see them free and cutting up during this roast at a time when such a sight was pretty rare in their cases.

All of the participants (including, as shown here, Borgnine and McGavin) had his or her turn laughing, thanks in part to jokes from people like Nipsey Russell, Foster Brooks, Don Rickles, Dom DeLuise, Phyllis Diller and Rich Little, but also no doubt thanks to some freely-flowing booze!

Winters, who'd worked with Savalas on The Young Savages, The Scalp- hunters and Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, alluded to something more than a working relationship with the then-hot sex symbol. She'd proceed to guest star on Kojak and appear with him again in The French-Atlantic Affair (as well as popping up in the z-grade comedy Backfire!, inspired by Airplane!)
Winters, surprisingly, had never acted with Kennedy, but in 1986 they both appeared in what was a bit of a throwback to the all-star disaster genre, Chuck Norris' The Delta Force. (Don't believe me? Names like Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Robert Forster, Lainie Kazan, Susan Strasberg, Bo Svenson and Robert Vaughn dotted the cast list!)

When Savalas had his turn to rebut, he noted the incredible special effects on Poseidon and how hard it must have been to capture that "tub" turning over (referring to Winters, not the ship!!) Winters picked up something - perhaps ice or some sort of debris - and laughingly flung it Savalas' way.

But it was all in fun. In fact, nearly every participant wound up laying a kiss of some sort on Martin and/or Savalas right after shredding him before the live audience.

As I say, some of the panel weren't given their chance to speak in the final cut of the special. McGavin, who was there no doubt due to the detective angle of Kojak, showed up wearing his hat from Kolchak: The Night Stalker, his spooky, short-lived, but fondly remembered show.
Not sure what Karras was doing there or what he had to say when he said it. His acting career was near its start and his role in Blazing Saddles was that same year. He never worked with Savalas until 1980 when they both appeared in Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story. He barely appears in the final cut of this roast (and the same clip of him laughing with his hand up to his face is shown multiple times.)

Roundtree was a burgeoning star from Shaft and its sequels Shaft's Big Score! and Shaft in Africa, but an attempt to make it a TV series fell flat with it being cancelled after seven episodes. (Something he was ribbed about here.) In 1979, he would work with Savalas in the star-filled, yet rather lowbrow, adventure movie Escape to Athena.

One last tidbit, not of a disaster nature. With the detective theme that pervaded this roast, Savalas was at one point given the treatment by a famous cigar-smoking, trenchcoat-wearing investigator.

Yes, at one point he was needled by none other than Columbo! Yet, this time out, the detective wasn't played by the usual Peter Falk. Another performer slid into the part, affecting all the legendary mannerisms, gestures, movement and whatever other body language, but unfortunately not completely rending the voice in a completely convincing way.

That's because his own voice was so incredibly distinct that there was hardly any disguising it. Columbo was played by iconic disc jockey and voice-over specialist Casey Kasem! He did a great job visually enacting the part. The director of the special deliberately never zoomed in too near for a close-up shot, so this is about the best view of him. Kasem, of course, provided the voices for many animated characters and kept radio listeners in thrall for decades with his American Top 40 broadcast.


Gingerguy said...

This show looks really fun. A far, far cry from the roast format that is shown on Comedy Central now. The most recent one toasted Rob Lowe and featured that barrel of laughs Ann Coulter. But this was a different time, and if I remember correctly seeing movie stars on tv for free was still a thrill.
I love all these folks from some of my favorite movies and shows. I loved Friday nights because Kolchak was on.
Richard Roundtree was super handsome. I have seen "Shaft" but didn't know there were sequals. I also live for that wig on Victoria Principal in the "Earthquake" shot.
I always learn something new here-Lainie Kazan was in a Chuck Norris movie, might have to check that out!

petercox97 said...

and to think, richard roundtree was ready to be the superhero black lightning before black lighting officially existed. i have always loved richard roundtree and i always will. my admiration of him hit its zenith when he bravely revealed his struggle with breast cancer. up util then and i may be missing some other notables, but hardly any men especially men of color were discussing breast cancer. i am still over the moon regarding the casting of richard roundtree on heroes a decade ago. i still watch the episodes featuring him every few months or so when i get a moment. lastly, back in the early 90s richard did the unthinkable and proved just what a renaissance man he truly is. he played part of a interracial gay couple on the charles dutton series, roc. even now it's rare for male actors of color to play gay in anything but a derogatory way so richard roundtree's matter of fact performance as a gay husband is both laudatory and remarkable. his shaft is iconic, but to me, mr. roundtree will always be more than the black dick who's the sex machine to all the chicks.

petercox97 said...

@gingerguy, i saw an episode of the carson show where victoria was promoting earthquake and carson, robert blake, and fernando lamas ribbed her unmercifully about that wig which i rather like on her. to top that off, blake and lamas leered and made inappropriate comments about her physique all through her segment. yes, i know it was the 70s and sexual harassment was de riguer, but i must give ms. principal props for mostly ignoring the boorish behavior directed at her every other second. blake was drooling at the mouth like some reject from a tex avery cartoon and lamas felt compelled to once again indulge his latin lover status. even before she came out on stage, lamas and blake were spewing a homophobic rant about how newman and redford had instigated an unsavory trend in their opinion of men riding off into the sunset with other men instead of the compulsory female attached to their hips.

Gingerguy said...

@petercox, agree the wig is fabulous and Ms. Principal was always a class act. I need to see "Mistress" again.

Poseidon3 said...

Hello, Gingerguy & petercox, thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflections on this somewhat atypical post. I was going to note it in the text, but neglected to, that Richard Roundtree clearly looked like he was in far better shape than anyone else present and his tuxedo was perfectly tailored to his fit physique. (I also think his stands the test of time better than most of the others, though I can't deny I get a kick out of the colored shirts, ruffles and so on.) I'm not as fond of Ms. Principal's "Earthquake" wig as you are and find it a bit pipe for the "picking!" LOL I loved her real hair on the abbreviated first season of "Dallas" but not long into the run she began cutting and coloring it in ways I tended to loathe (though she did at one point go to a full, thick, chin length bob that I thought was really attractive.) Peter, I either forgot or didn't know about Roundtree's bout of cancer. How awful. I agree with your take on his dealing with it! Thanks.

petercox97 said...

@poseidon, his public disclosure of his breast cancer is just one of the myriad reasons i love mr. roundtree. on heroes, he told peter petrelli that he loved him. it's not often that men of color on american television tell other men that they love them in any context. just that bit of character business made me fall hopelessly in love with roundtree's character charles deveaux who never really got to strut his hero powers, but was a looming presence during the first season. and truly, besides his brother nathan, there was never another male character that peter loved as much as charles deveaux not even his own father who was resurrected and betrayed peter.

petercox97 said...

@poseidon, oh, i know what i meant to say about victoria principal. back in the 80s a playboy writer accused her of being the apotheosis of whore hair. i'm often ambivalent about victoria principal, but the truth is that dallas went into rapid decline without her. after she was gone, bobby turned into a whore and slept with a new blonde every week. she was the perfect foil for j.r. and i didn't watch them all, but her television movies were usually a hot commodity.

Andrea said...

Oh, I love the Dean Martin Roasts! There's a few on YouTube that I watch from time to time when I'm in an old stars kinda mood (which is always!). They're in the same vein as old episodes of chat shows like Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin - a little cheesy but still a whole lot of fun. You know its scripted but it all still seems spontaneous. I especially love Foster Brooks' drunk skits which never fail to crack me up.

The older I get, the more prudish I seemingly become, so I can't fully get on board with the new roasts Comedy Central airs. Dean Martin's roasts were always good natured in their ribbing and never veered into vulgarities. Not so with the "new" ones. I can't be too disappointed as the Dean Martin era of comedy doesn't play well these days. Oh well!