Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Deja View - Travel Trauma

COVID19 shelter-in-place viewing has led to a reliance on satellite TV to bring obscure, potentially interesting things to my attention. (Yeah, I also have Netflix, but I watch precious little new material.) One of my high-def movie channels recently dredged up the 1973 western movie Showdown, which I swear I never even knew existed! It's stars, Rock Hudson and Dean Martin, are perhaps not my very favorite, but they are interesting enough to me that I wanted to see the pairing (and, they are, after all, members of the imaginary Disaster Movie Club.) While watching the opening sequence of the film, I was immediately struck with a sense of deja vu. What makes that all the more intriguing I will get to in just a moment...

As a train choo-choos its way across the western terrain, Martin is seen wearing a sheriff's badge and transporting a prisoner who's shackled to the overhead luggage rack. When the train is stopped by a pile of logs on the track, it's clear that a robbery is about to happen and Martin stands up to plead with the passengers to hand over their valuables to him for safe keeping. Something about this moment set off a bell in my head (oh, there are plenty up there... Ha ha!) Can you guess where I'm going?

Yes, I have to say that the way Martin stood in the aisle with the passengers on the train turned and looking reminded me of a similar moment in Airport (1970) when Martin, as the pilot of a passenger aircraft, was forced into pleading with a despondent man to resist setting off a bomb he's carrying which would blow the plane and everyone in it to smithereens! Both moments were featured in publicity stills for the respective films. Still not convinced? See below:






But what's more intriguing is that Showdown was directed by George Seaton. It was the final film of the seasoned director (who won an Oscar for writing Miracle on 34th Street, 1947, which he also directed.) He's seen here coaching Martin for the scene in question.

And guess what? Airport was also directed by Seaton! He's seen here on the set of that film giving direction to Martin, who he obviously enjoyed working with enough to bring him back for his next project. How nice for Martin that his blocking didn't wind up being demonstrably different for the first scene in Showdown! He'd already gone through the motions on Airport. Airport was, of course, a gargantuan hit that spawned three follow-ups while Showdown virtually descended into the nether regions. I hope you found this little moment in the cinema firmament amusing. I'll be back soon with something else that grabs me.

Double the Deano. Makes for interesting bookends.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Tinseltales: Murder "in the Family"

Archie and Edith Bunker. Television icons thanks to the unbel- ievable success of the Norman Lear sitcom All in the Family, which ran from 1971-1979 (thereupon followed by an augmented continuation, Archie Bunker's Place, until 1983, which was mostly without Edith.) Having segued through the loss of key characters such as daughter Gloria and son-in-law Mike, the show now had a new adolescent character called Stephanie in order to help generate new story lines. The episode, "The Return of Stephanie's Father" had the Bunkers grappling with the notion that their new little moppet was about to be reclaimed by her ne'er do well papa and taken to live in a derelict hotel.

Arriving at said hotel, Carroll O'Connor (as Archie) and Jean Stapleton (as Edith) are appalled. O'Connor doesn't even want to look at, much less smell, the place.

There's a careworn desk clerk checking people in by the hour rather than the night.

In the lobby are a couple of men of ill repute.

Finally, Stapleton and O'Connor are greeted by the tenant and soon try to find a place to sit and hash out the details of this sudden attempt at Stephanie's custody after having been in their care.

The desk clerk in this episode was portrayed by one Victor Kilian. Having begun acting on Broadway in the mid-1920s, he had proceeded to a film career (followed by much television) in an assortment of useful parts. At the time of this filming, he was just shy of 88 years of age.

The bum shown getting an earful from O'Connor was played by Charles Wagenheim. Wagenheim also acted on Broadway from the early-1920s to the late-1930s and then moved on to countless film roles. He then acted plentifully on television. He was nearly 84 at the time of this episode's filming.

The House of Frankenstein (1945)
Sadly, Wagenheim would not be among the viewers watching the March 25th, 1979 airing of this episode, "The Return of Stephanie's Father." On March 6th, he returned home to the Hollywood apartment he shared with his invalid wife to discover the young female nurse they'd hired to look after her going through their drawers attempting to steal! Caught in the act, she responded by bludgeoning the poor man to death (then calling to report that she'd "found him" that way.) Wagenheim's 50-year career included movies such as The Song of Bernadette (1943), The Spiral Staircase (1946), Executive Suite (1954), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959, as the thief who breaks into the factory below), Hello Dolly! (1969) and many, many others.

Blondie for Victory (1942)

I Escaped the Gestapo (1943)

Canyon Crossroads (1955)


Perhaps his most notable role of all, as the assassin in the famous umbrella sequence of Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940.)

But the horror doesn't stop there. Wagenheim was murdered on March 6th, which happened to be the 88th birthday of his recent costar Victor Kilian. Kilian had to have been distressed to hear of the murder of a recent coworker. But he didn't have time to fret... On March 11th, he too was found beaten to death in his luxury apartment! Like Wagenheim, he found himself at the mercy of a burglar or burglars who had intruded while he was watching TV. Five days apart, one mile away from one another, these longtime performers and recent coworkers were gone.

The woman who killed Wagenheim, ironically named Stephanie, was sentenced to only 8 years in prison for the senseless killing of the veteran actor. God only knows what she actually served after her voluntary manslaughter plea deal... There wound up being no direct correlation between the two killings.

With Patricia Hitchcock in Broadway's Solitaire.
Killian had worked on many, many movies including Ramona (1936), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Reap the Wild Wind (1942), Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and many others. It all came screeching to a halt when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy witch hunt in the early-1950s. However, he was able to resume a Broadway career (including a turn in Look Homeward, Angel with Miriam Hopkins and Andrew Prine) until TV came along with its employment opportunities.



In his day, Kilian could boast featured billing in movies like Bad Boy (1935.)



King of the Lumberjacks (1940)

Kilian got a late-career boost as the father of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a Norman Lear sitcom with a cult following.

As a lascivious old coot (and "The Fernwood Flasher!"), he made quite an impression on viewers.

This is indeed a more gruesome post than we might typically put up, but it is mere weeks from Halloween, after all, so the time is sort of right in a way.  What are the chances of these still-active, octogenarian actors meeting their fates in these awful ways after enjoying such long careers on screen? It just isn't fair. My mind was blown when I found out about this, though, and wanted to share.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Disastrous Demise: Are You Reddy for This?

We continue to see members of our beloved Disaster Movie Club pass on the next plain. It's inevitable, yet we still have wistful feelings about that collection of performers who had featured roles in one or more of our beloved all-star disaster movies of the 1970s. Miss Helen Reddy was an anomaly. Chiefly known as a recording artist, she only performed a handful of legitimate acting parts during her career. But the one she did in 1974 became strikingly (in)famous! Since we're dealing with a musician here, much of the content will be made up of videos. Apologies in advance for any annoying ads that have to be sifted through.

Reddy was born to show business parents (who toured on a Vaudeville circuit) on October 25th, 1941 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Her mother was later a working actress on Australian TV. Basically told that she was going to be a star, the reluctant Reddy instead broke away at 20 to marry an older man. Soon left as a single mother when the union dissolved, she found herself having to sing for her supper in order to survive! After winning a trip to New York City where she thought she was going to audition for a recording contract, she instead wound up struggling to make ends meet, finally singing in Canada where she was able to work without a permit.


She wed for a second time in 1968 to an agent who eventually helped to build her career in the U.S., though the union was stormy throughout (they wed three days after meeting!) He tirelessly prodded Capitol Records to allow Reddy to cut a single and they relented so long as he promised not to call them for a month. The B-side of that unsuccessful single ("I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar) became an unexpected hit in Canada and before long Reddy was gaining notice. A string of Top 40 hits, three of them #1, followed.

When the A-side, a cover of Mac Davis' "I Believe in Music" didn't knock 'em dead, the single was released featuring the more popular B-side.

There was "I Am Woman" in 1971, which caught on with the feminist movement and earned her a Grammy as Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Reddy notoriously thanked God "because She makes everything possible" in her acceptance speech. Reddy had co-written the song when she couldn't locate one that matched the message she was trying to impart.


The next #1 in 1972 was "Delta Dawn," which had been a Top 10 country hit for Tanya Tucker the year before.


In 1974, she scored another #1 with "Angie Baby." These songs are only a few of the numbers that Reddy had success with in the 1970s.


In 1974, Reddy was cast (along with everybody and his grand- mother!) in the big-screen disaster flick Airport 1975. Playing a young nun opposite Martha Scott as fellow sister, she had fresh-scrubbed appeal if not exactly Sarah Bernhardt-level acting prowess. (Curious, too, was the fact that the lady who championed the advancement of women's rights was portraying such a character!)

In the rear of the plane is a sick little girl played by Linda Blair (not as sick as she was in The Exorcist a year prior!) Her fretful mother Nancy Olson hovers over her as they fly off to meet with a new kidney that's been earmarked for the young lady. 

Reddy decides that she's going to go visit with her and before you know it, she's picked up Blair's guitar/ security blanket and is tossing off a ditty called "Best Friend" (which Reddy also penned.) Reddy was nominated for a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer - Female, but the award went to another member of the DMC, Susan Flannery of The Towering Inferno

The sight of singing nun Reddy, on the heels of Julie Andrews' Fraulein Maria and Debbie Reynolds' Sister Ann, became a ripe prospect for parody as you will see in a moment...

The brief sequence in which Reddy entertains the beatific Blair contains a few things to watch out for. Firstly, the female extra in the chair behind them... She has her own mini-melodrama going on throughout the film but takes a breather here to listen. Also, there is the unintentionally hilarious moment when the other passengers - and chief stewardess Karen Black - crane their necks to see what the hell is going on.

 
 
The Carol Burnett Show
wasted no time in parodying Reddy (along with many of the other folks found in the film) in a lengthy sketch called "Disaster 75." Below is just one of several moments in which Vicki Lawrence sings to the passengers on a crippled airliner.


In 1980, the hammer fell on the disaster genre with Airplane!, a hysterical movie which poked fun at many of the conventions of the trend, most especially those set in the air. In this instance, it took two people to parody Reddy's portrayal. Once was Maureen McGovern as a nun who carries a guitar:

But then when it came time for a song sung to the sick little girl, stewardess Lorna Patterson did the trick. This hilarious sequence features Jill Whelen (of The Love Boat) and Joyce Bulifant as the concerned mama. Note that the woman from Airport 1975 is in this movie, too! Now married and ill with food poisoning. And take note of the reactions from the passengers to the sudden singing. Ha ha! I thought Lorna sounded great on this song, apart from the comedy.

Reddy did not proceed to many more instances with acting, but there is the 1977 Disney semi-animated musical Pete's Dragon. Her role is substantial with plenty of singing and dancing, some of it with Mickey Rooney. One of the more memorable things to come out of it was the plaintive love song "Candle on the Water," which Reddy sings atop a lighthouse while hoping her long-lost fiancé will make his way back to her.


There's another sort of interesting career path-crossing with Maureen McGovern in that "Candle on the Water" was written by the same team who did "The Morning After" and "We May Never Love Like This Again," both of which won Best Original Song Oscars and both of which were made famous by McGovern. (And all three end with repeating phrases.) "Candle on the Water" was nominated, but lost to another sort of illumination -- "You Light Up My Life" from the film of the same name. Below we see Maureen (with her original nose) in the year between TPA and TTI..

 

I had gone many, many years without seeing Pete's Dragon. I was one of the kids who saw it on the big screen when I was 10 (and probably didn't care one whip-stitch about Reddy's missing love.) When I saw it again for the first time a few years ago, the song stood out very distinctly for me and I appreciated it a lot. Obsessive person that I am, I began watching countless versions of it and this one, from a high school choir, is my favorite. It takes a while to really build, but by the end is really pretty nice. (Jump to 1:50 - I tried to embed it that way but it wouldn't work...!)


By the time Reddy popped up at the deranged tail-end of 1978's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, flailing away next to Frankie Valli and in the midst of Carol Channing and Tina Turner, the superstar songstress couldn't know that her days as a top vocal artist were numbered. Her records were not selling as they once had and her marriage came apart amid drug abuse issues with her husband. An acrimonious divorce occurred in 1983. A few TV appearances came, followed by a successful string of stage performances in things like Blood Brothers and Anything Goes. By 2002, she announced her retirement from singing and went to live in Australia again. She also became a hypnotherapist (following a nearly lifelong interest.)

Despite the smiles, this union had a lot of ups and downs. Reddy later claimed that some of her concert appearances in the early-1980s were either canceled or prevented from being booked because of her ex's influence. A third marriage (to the drummer in her band) lasted from 1983 to 1995 before ending in divorce.

After a decade in retirement, Reddy sang at her sister's 80th birthday celebration, decided she liked what she heard, and made a brief return to concert stages in bother Australia and the U.S. She sang some of her hits along with other less familiar songs from her recording career which held a special place in her heart and which she felt deserved a bit more notice. Her fans enthusiastically greeted their once-dormant songbird. 

Unfortunately, not long after 2015, Reddy began to experience the onset of dementia and ultimately moved to the Samuel Goldwyn Center (formerly the Motion Picture Home and Hospital.) She passed away on September 29th, 2020 at age 78. She had developed Addison's Disease in addition to her other health concerns. Having lost two grandparents to dementia, believe me when I tell you that the end never comes soon enough in cases like this...! We salute the talented and inspiring Miss Helen Reddy, yet one more person who helped make disaster movies special to me during my own life.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Is That You, Patsy Ann??

The COVID19 shelter-in-place has brought with it a lot of television and movie viewing. Some of it has been wonderful, some of it less so. Most of it has been diverting at least. One of the true oddball flicks that made its way to my home screen is a very obscure biker flick called J.C., released in 1972. It was filmed, however, in 1970, which is rather key to an assertion I'm going to be making about it today...

The movie is dreadful, yet occasionally cannot help but be entertaining due to the sheer squalid ambiance and lack of skill in so many areas. The vanity project, if it can even be called that considering how he comes out appearing, was written, produced, directed and starred in by one William F. McGaha. To throw us off the scent a little from his hyphenated megalomania, he used the name Bill McGaha for his acting credit.

As the perennially pot-smoking, rarely-employed leader of a biker gang, McGaha treats the viewer to a series of eye-searing, jaw-dropping moments of personal exposure. Whether trundling around his house in some ragged tightie-whities or sitting on the toilet in even less (!), we see altogether too much of our "hero," a hog-rider with a Jesus complex. (Get it? "J.C.?")

You can thank me later for refusing to bring to you any photographic evidence from when he rolls over to reveal the torn and heavily-stained rear of these undies...

Somehow, this guy has managed to land a hot, blonde girlfriend who is devoted to him. (And also, somehow, McGaha managed to entice Pat Delany to play her!) Delany had amassed several TV guest role credits to this point, along with a low-budget flick or two, but would later portray the mother on a childhood favorite series of mine, Irwin Allen's Swiss Family Robinson!

But it didn't stop there. He also wrangled Joanna Moore to portray his sister. Moore had been a highly-active starlet of the late-'50s and 1960s, but by this time had begun to experience trauma in both her personal and professional life. A rocky marriage to Ryan O'Neal (which resulted in Tatum and Griffin) and an even more horrible divorce had led to depression and the abuse of drugs and alcohol. By the mid-'70s, she was in no position to maintain an acting career, though she did appear briefly a couple more times before receding from view completely. Still very pretty at this time, she was rigged with a very obvious, not to mention thick, wig!

For a movie shot for $11.78, McGaha somehow was able to enlist even a couple more name actors for this movie. One was Burr DeBenning, a very busy and useful actor of the late-'60s and 1970s who was on many, many TV shows and occasional movies. He just never landed that one iconic role to make him famous. (Strangely enough, he also worked for Irwin Allen on the failed pilot City Beneath the Sea as an amphibious man, a part that might have garnered attention had the show gone.) 

But, wait, there's more. As the town sheriff, he also got none other than extraord- inarily busy cowboy actor Slim Pickens. Now Pickens wasn't Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster, but he was present in many a prestigious or popular movie. So he must have said yes to practically anything! And, in truth, playing this bigoted, mean-spirited character was probably a nice change of pace for him. Pickens also later worked for Irwin Allen in the career-killers The Swarm (1978) and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979.)

None of these fine folks, however, are the reason for this post. I was just setting the stage for what I intend to share with you in a moment. In the story line, such as it is, McGaha takes his band of bikers back to his hometown in order to visit his sister. Their mere presence causes something of an uproar and it all goes downhill from there. While he is visiting, he is spotted by his onetime girlfriend, who dated him back when he was a clean cut player on the school football team. Her distress is evident right away. And my eyes bugged out of my head upon first glimpse of her...

From the nanosecond she appeared on screen, exiting a building and observing a dispute in the street, I became certain that I was looking at Morgan Fairchild. Yes, that Morgan Fairchild! In the intervening hours and days since seeing the movie, I have waffled from doubt to absolutely positivity and everything in between. One reason for doubt is that there is no record anywhere of this appearance. The name on the movie is "Judie Frazier" (a persona with no other known credits...) Another reason is, um, look at Morgan Fairchild here - the epitome of 1980s excess, hair to the gates of heaven and makeup for days... 

We're fully used to seeing Fairchild slathered to the hilt, with elaborately coiffed hair, dripping with jewelry and with an almost sedimentary rock level of makeup. This was one of the more clean-scrubbed pictures of her from her 1984 hey-day and even in this (which she described as a "non-glamorous" role in TimeBomb), its hard to see through the smoke and mirrors of lighting, makeup and styling. 

Note here, however, how her looks had already been changed since the early days of her TV career. One could almost get away with tagging this shot as early Shelley Long!

It would be easy to forget it and move on, but when I get a gut-feeling, I'm like a dog with a chew toy who will not give up! Could this compar- atively clean-scrubbed young lady possibly be an early incarnation of a 1980s soap sensation? Barring no expense, I boarded a plane to Norcross, Georgia, headed to the filming locations and began taking swabs of all the walls and furnishings that the gal may have touched back in 1970. This way I could collect enough DNA evidence to prove my case and correct imdb.com... Okay, maybe I didn't. But I'm still not done.




I thought the resemblance here was very strong. Not to the Morgan Fairchild we all know and love, but to the young Texan Patsy Ann McClenny, who decided at a young age to completely reinvent herself from a heavily near-sighted, mousey-brown child into a blonde bombshell. She also shed herself of her native accent and lowered the voice to boot.

Take a look at some early pictures of Fairchild, from the bleach-blonde sixteen year-old to the burgeoning actress, renaming herself and experimenting with hair and makeup to undergo a significant transformation. I mean, could God really have put that nose with that chin and that mouth and those cheeks on more than one young lady during this time period? Add in the height, the build, the favored side for the hair to swoop and that vague catch-eyed look of someone who can barely see in front of them (eventually corrected by contact lenses.)

Fairchild got her first taste of show business when she doubled for Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) in scenes which required driving a vintage car with standard transmission. (This at left is about as much as we ever see of her!) 

A couple of years later, fully making her way onto the screen.

In 1969, she kept things in a similar vein when she had a wordless role in A Bullet for Pretty Boy (released in 1970.) She played a very blonde girl who drove a vintage automobile for her gangster boyfriend. Now having been on-screen, albeit with no lines, she was even hungrier for a legitimate career as an actress.

The reinvention continued. But there is a gaping hole in her resume from the 1969 filming of Pretty Boy to her debut on TV as the villainous Jennifer Phillips on Search for Tomorrow. This is when I suspect she landed the role in J.C., used a stage name, then dropped that in favor of the more flamboyant Morgan Fairchild and headed to NYC to find her fame and fortune. (Trust me, you would not want J.C. on your resume and you would not want anyone to see the performance that the young woman - whoever she is - gives. It is overloaded with gestures and facial contortions that Fairchild learned to keep in check.)

Could the caterpillar on the left really have emerged as the butterfly on the right? Look at the pose, the head shape and features (along with some weight loss and the bangs to cover up any unsightly lines.)

There is the issue of the teeth to contend with. Thus, I went to New York City and had her dental records pulled (no I didn't...! LOL) But I contend that Miss F. certainly had some very discernible cosmetic dentistry performed. Take a look at these choppers. They bear the signs of tampering (and were updated/augmented again later to be sure.)

Compare those to this earlier photo in which her teeth more closely match the lady in J.C. The two front ones are uneven like the actress in the film, the bottom ones are similar and the canines are also very similar. (Note the easily-crinkled forehead, too.)

I looked at a LOT of Morgan Fairchild footage and photography as you can imagine and, as I said, I went back and forth time and again. But two pictures in particular, apart from everything else I've put forth, decided it for me. Obviously, I'm in no position to definitively state for a fact that "Judie Frazier" was really an emerging Morgan Fairchild, but for my own part, I am convinced. This photo from an early gig (with clearly better lighting & makeup) helps solidify my feeling. 

And this one clinched it for me. Wiped almost clean of the glamour she's known for and demonstrating some martial arts moves from the earliest days of her career, I see in that face and in that gaze the same woman who was in J.C. In fact, I just re-watched all of her scenes one final time and I am convinced it is she. Before you dismiss me, I'm the guy who dug up Roger Herren of Myra Breckinridge (1970), who had no further known credits in the wake of that debacle, in an old episode of Emergency! and had his imdb.com resume updated accordingly. See what you think in this link to the movie, which is even better in quality than the one I watched.

Is that you, Patsy Ann??

Moving on for just a moment to another costar of the film, I give you the staggering, near-constant presence of the boom mic! It is positively unbelievable how many times you can be looking at the screen and then, right on cue, the boom mic drops into position, most often directly above the performers' heads, dead center! These are but a few examples:







After a while, I would begin to sort of miss its hovering dominance over every other scene and begin to feel withdrawal symptoms, even resentment, if it wasn't there in place as I was expecting! Ha ha ha!


Well, I hope I haven't caused any sort of distress for Miss Morgan Fairchild in digging up this long-lost mess of a movie. 

She's since moved on from the face we all grew to know and love in the '80s anyway! A constantly morphing tribute to complete reinvention of self, if it indeed she, I doubt she would have too much trouble convincing people otherwise. But I remain a believer that there's a missing link in her filmography.