Friday, March 20, 2020

Fond Farewell: Another Whitman Sampler

We paid tribute in depth to Mr. Stuart Whitman back in 2012, but with his recent passing (the day before Lyle Waggoner), we felt it appropriate to share a few more archival photos of the man whose screen work gave us so much pleasure. Whitman was ninety-two when he died on March 16th, 2020 of skin cancer. This is not one of our typical retrospectives because he and his career were already gone over here in detail These are just some pictures that help further highlight his appeal.
Stu had already been acting in movies for close to a decade when he costarred with newcomer Fabian in Hound Dog Man (1959.)
We've yet to see The Fiercest Heart (1961), but from the looks of things we need to. Soon!
Whitman gets cozy with Maria Schell in 1961's The Mark.
The sport jacket with no shirt look didn't catch on as a trend, but we're sure he rocked it! LOL
Whitman was Oscar-nominated for his role in The Mark as a man convicted of attempted child molestation who serves his time and is then suspected again. He stepped into the role when Richard Burton opted out. In an ironic twist, Whitman lost the Oscar to Maximilian Schell for Judgement at Nuremberg - Max was Whitman's costar Maria Schell's brother!
One thing that was nearly always present for the hirsute Whitman was that incredibly thick mane of hair, swooped over his left brow.
He had that burly, brawny quality that many found appealing (but which so many of today's fans, women in particular it seems, find appalling...)
Whitman was married three times and was the father of five.
He could have done nothing else is his long, varied career and I would still love him for Sands of the Kalahari (1965), a most unusual survival drama.
When a private plane crashes in the desert, the passengers are faced with brutal elements, hunger and other struggles. Whitman initially takes to the environment the best...
...but ultimately devolves into an animal not unlike the surrounding baboons.
If you like the Geico cavemen... Ha ha!
In any case, it's a gorgeously shot color film and he's yummy in it. (This would be considered "fat" by today's action star standards, but I'll still take it.)

As Whitman aged, he kept that unreal head of hair, almost to the end. (I'm less enthusiastic about the eyebrows, which managed to reach epic proportions over the years!)
Now we enter the area of When World's Collide which, oddly enough, was the very first movie Whitman appeared in in 1951. We have Whitman, Fabian and Stephen Boyd gathered together and all looking adorable. (Each man has been featured here.) But why were they together?!
A look at the door behind them tells me all I need to know... Hound-Dog Man, with Whitman and Fabian, was released in 1959. At the same studio, 20th Century Fox, Boyd was filming The Best of Everything, all about the world of secretaries at a publishing house. The name of the company? Fabian Publishing! Hence the photo op with two Fabians...
The chiseled, dimpled jaw and trademark hairstyle of Mr. Stuart Whitman. Rest in Peace.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Fond Farewell: Waggoner Rolls On...

One of our very favorite television shows as a child of the '70s was The Carol Burnett Show, with the rubber-faced star keeping us entertained to the nth degree through her nutty comic concoctions, aided by a stunning set of costars: Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway. When I was old enough to really watch the show, today's subject had already departed it. It was only through syndicated reruns that I ever saw Lyle Waggoner on the program, and in truth most of the ones he'd appeared in never made it to the pared-down 30-minute versions that were shown (and still are.) But what I saw, I liked. Then he began costarring in a different television series that I adored, so he became even more familiar to me. Today we pay photographic tribute to the career of Mr. Lyle Waggoner, a model of family, fitness and fun who enjoyed his time in the spotlight, but happily segued into another career when the time came to do so. He died March 17th, 2020 at the age of eighty-four following a bout with cancer.
Waggoner was born on April 13th, 1935 in Kansas City, Kansas. After service in the U.S. Army, he attended a technology school and played a role in a local production of L'il Abner. The 6'4" hunk was married at twenty-six and had been a door-to-door salesman of various products from encyclopedias to corn-cob holders when he decided he might need to give professional acting a try. Almost daily, customers would look at the man before them and remark, "You ought to be in pictures." In 1964, he turned a large profit on some salt (for ice melting) and picked up and moved to Hollywood. He was placed in MGM's New Talent Program after networking at a party filled with actors and agents. The eventual result was a role on Gunsmoke followed by a supporting part in a low-budget 1966 epic called Swamp Country.
The video release, long after the theatrical one, elevated his billing several steps above what it had been in 1966. Prior to these lesser acting gigs, Waggoner earned money as a model, putting that square jaw to use in a Schick razor ad and hawking other products for what was a great yearly take in 1965, $20,000.
The lean, handsome neophyte next popped up in Catalina Caper (1967) a hooty, campy, beach party type of mystery/adventure flick with Tommy Kirk starring.
Waggoner played one of the bad guys, his tall dark looks mostly lacking the sunny smile that would soon be his trademark.
Far more degrading was his "role" on an episode of Lost in Space, in which he was, literally, third alien on the right!
The tough times were far from over for the fledgling actor. He next found himself "playing" a virtual chess piece as an alien in the highly tacky and low-budget movie Journey to the Center of Time (1967.)
Waggoner was working, but not in anything worthwhile. The credits of this one didn't even get his name right, spelling it "Waggner!" 
In 1966, Waggoner had come incredibly close to winning what would be a game-changing part on TV, that of millionaire Bruce Wayne, who moonlights as Batman. He screen tested for the role (and God knows he had the chin for it), but it came down to Adam West and him for the part and West had a better grip on the comic elements of the deliberately cartoon-y show. Waggoner later acknowledged that he didn't have the chops at that time to essay the part properly. But things were about to get better...
In 1967, increasingly popular comedienne Carol Burnett was about to break through in very very own sketch and music series after a successful stint on The Garry Moore Show. Her producer husband wanted a handsome, "Rock Hudson-like" hunk for Carol to swoon over in skits.
Burnett flipped over the tall, beautiful Waggoner and he joined Harvey Korman and Vicki Lawrence as costars of The Carol Burnett Show.
Needless to say, Waggoner learned a great deal about acting, comic timing and practically everything during his tenure on the show (which was from 1967 to 1974.) Never quite zany enough to have developed his own wacky, running character, he was most often used as a straight man for the other cuckoos.
He did memorably ape then-hot Olympic swimming champion "Mark Spritz." (Mark Spitz, for you young'ns was our generation's Michael Phelps - and better looking from my point of view.)
In one sketch with Burnett playing a version of Charo, Waggoner performed in only a Speedo, with Spitz's mustache, medals, and milk on hand (Spitz was a spokesman for the American Dairy Association.)
He said nothing at all through the entire sketch, so that he could expel a mouthful of water (!) near the very end! Burnett did what many viewers might have liked to when she ravaged him on the TV host's (Steve Lawrence) desk.
He also played a humpy guard to a horde of Ben-Hur-ish galley slaves, flogging them to a faster pace until ancient Tim Conway shows up to wreak havoc.
Everyone acknowledges costumer Bob Mackie's sparkling and colorful confections for Burnett, but he also had fun dressing (or barely dressing!) Waggoner...
The show was famous for its moments in which the cast (usually egged on by the insane Conway) broke character and lost it in the middle of a skit. Waggoner had a memorable one of these instances when his WWII prisoner went up against Germany's greatest interrogator... The preposterous Conway whipped out a Hitler hand-puppet and threatened Wagner with it.
He began to hit Waggoner with "this club"...
...and then tried to "break him" (or break him up!) with an endless rendition of "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad." I regrettably let Tim Conway's passing go by without a tribute back in May of 2019, and he was a truly hysterical comic performer - particularly on this show. But let's be honest... I almost always go for the hunks!
Waggoner loved the folks at The Carol Burnett Show, but there simply wasn't enough for him to do, certainly little of much challenge, so he left in 1974 with Conway as a permanent replacement instead of frequent guest star. While on hiatus in 1972, he tried to branch out with a part in the decidedly offbeat horror movie Love Me Deadly.
In it, he played the ostensible leading man, romancing pretty blonde Mary Charlotte Wilcox. But she's got a secret. And it's a DOOZY! I will be watching and profiling this movie very soon. I'd never even heard of it until researching this post.
While he was still on Burnett, Waggoner had done several TV guest roles, comedic and dramatic, as well as a few specials and TV-movies. He also quite a lot of theatre (including "The Owl and the Pussycat" with Gilligan's Island's Dawn Wells!), but in 1973 he really took a leap of faith when he became one of Playgirl magazine's first celebrity centerfolds!
The married father of two drew the line at full-frontal nudity (and in its very early days, the magazine did not feature such in any case), but showed off a still splendid physique.
This, only one year after Burt Reynolds' infamous Cosmopolitan centerfold, was pretty much skin for a working actor to show outside a film role.
This alternate frame from the shoot shows a squintier smile, as he's about to laugh, versus the photo selected for the magazine (and another millimeter or two of personal space.)
That gorgeous body was still being put to use in 1975 when Waggoner filmed a pilot for a new TV series. He'd missed his shot with Batman, but when Wonder Woman came along, he was cast as her best friend and object of affection Steve Trevor, a plane crash victim rescued by the Amazons of Paradise Island.
I'm on record as being obsessed with Chris Pine, who plays Trevor in the new movies, but we weren't exactly starved of beefcake when it came to Waggoner, at least in the pilot. The series proper never gave us yummy scenes like this one!
Having helped to heal Waggoner, Wonder Woman (played by the divine Lynda Carter) returns with him to America in order to help him win WWII.
While he remained mostly buttoned up on the show, thereafter, at least he looked dapper in his uniforms and still had his square-jawed handsomeness on display.
After one season, the show switched networks as well as time periods! This time, the show was set in the mid-1970s and Waggoner was playing his own son, Steve Trevor Jr. Not only was the romantic angle played down now (how perceivably icky for slow-aging Wonder Woman to now go after her loved one's son...), but Waggoner slowly but surely kept winding up on the sidelines of almost all the stories. It led to tension and disappointment for the two remaining seasons on the air.
Wonder Woman was never a top ratings grabber, but it amassed a cult following that exists to this day. Waggoner finally had a signature role on a notable series, but the dynamic in which it began (with him being the "name" star opposite unknown Carter) and the way it emerged (with Carter losing her early baby fat and becoming a lean, tan, international sensation while his part decreased) did cause a certain amount of unhappiness. Happily, years later, the two were able to look back with fonder memories of the series and their time together.
Waggoner continued trying to branch out in new directions. In 1978, he'd played a small role in Darren McGavin's Zero to Sixty as a bartender to whom the star poured out his problems, often with a hand on him...
...only to find out that he was sitting in a gay bar, unbeknownst to him!
Having already embarked on a career steeped in a certain amount of camp, he helped solidify that standing by appearing opposite Zsa Zsa Gabor as rich passengers on the splashy new series Supertrain (which flopped incredibly.)
Waggoner made the familiar rounds on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island and, as shown here, joined Carol Lynley as a guest on Charlie's Angels. The forty-five year old was still in decent shape, but was about to do even better.
Waggoner had wed his wife Sharon in 1961 and the two eventually had two sons together. The two of them had always placed an importance on good health and personal fitness. As the writing on the wall with Waggoner's career became clear, he opted to supplement his occasional acting gigs with a successful business. He developed a movie location trailer company that became an industry leader. (That early success as a salesman was paying off once more.)
He and Sharon also were models of middle-aged physical fortitude.
In these 1980s photos from a beach-side event, they were arguably in the best shape of their lives.
Theirs was a long (sixty years!), very happy union in which it is nearly impossible to find photos of them together in which they are not clinging together and beaming with happiness. It's one of Hollywood's best kept secret marital success stories. Somehow, amid the craziness of the '60s, '70s and '80s and the temptations of Tinseltown, they held firm as a devoted, very satisfied, couple who were only parted when Mr. Waggoner passed away a few days ago.
Even with the success of Star Waggons, his trailer rental company, he continued to pop up on TV or in the occasional movie. In the notoriously awful 1984 flick Surf II, he played a sunglasses-wearing police chief. (BTW, the film's best joke is that there never was a "Surf I!")
The makers had deliberately set out to make the worst movie ever (though there is worse, believe it or not!) As Chief Boyardee (get it?), he never removed his sunglasses, which was probably a smart decision.
The powers that be in La La Land might not have had any great use for a handsome, in-shape silver fox, but he remained active and continued to pop up on the occasional show such as Murder, She Wrote or on various sitcoms.
One of his more memorable latter-day appearances was on the hit series The Golden Girls, in which he appeared as himself, a date of Bea Arthur's who - in a tale that winds up being one of Blanche's dreams - is competing for her affection with Sonny Bono.
He also took part in some of the reunions involving his old costars from The Carol Burnett Show. (In fact, he reportedly missed out on getting to film a cameo in the 2017 Wonder Woman because he was busy with a Burnett Show event - a 50th anniversary celebration - during the time it would be shot.)
One thing Mr. Waggoner never lost (including his fit and trim physique) was that winning smile.
Though he quit acting in 2005, he still was making personal appearances while in his eighties until his health became affected recently.
If you are a casino frequenter, you know that his handsome face shines out from two different Wonder Woman slot machines that have proven to be very popular. He is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.
We do mourn the passing of this genial gentleman with the handsome face, bright smile and winning attitude. Our condolences also go out to his adoring family who have had to say goodbye to him. We're so glad we had this time together...