Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Designer Double-Dip: Pooled Resources

Now I don't want to get anyone's hopes up too high because as it turns out, today's recycled costume didn't in fact show up in more than one movie. But it was reused, as I'll soon point out. If you don't already know, the lovely lady on the left is Gila Golan. Golan's life could easily have served as the basis of a movie itself (or at least a Lifetime network offering!)

Born in German-occupied Poland, she was found abandoned in a bundle at a train station, her Jewish parents striving to save her from an uncertain, and likely deadly, fate. Taken in by Catholic Poles who kept her hidden and alive through the war, she chose December 30th, 1940 as her birth date. She wound up after the war in a home for "lost" children and later emigrated to Israel as a teen in 1951, attending boarding school with plans to become a teacher. But she'd blossomed into a striking young lady and was photographed for a popular ladies magazine there. (Pic above-right is from later.)

Her attention-getting looks landed her in an Israeli beauty pageant, which she won! It is here that she first utilized the name Gila Golan (already the fifth name she'd lived under - the very first one unknown), to avoid offending the strictly religious folks who'd been assisting her to date. From there, she went on to compete in the Miss World pageant in 1960 and she almost won that, too, losing to Miss Argentina but coming in second. This led to a contract with Columbia Pictures as one of the studio's executives was in attendance with his wife! They fostered the young girl's career.

Soon spotted by director Stanley Kramer, he placed her in his all-star drama Ship of Fools (1965.) Thereafter, she was thrust into the limelight with a full-on publicity treatment.

This series of shots trumpeted her featured presence in the 1966 spy spoof Our Man Flint, with James Coburn. She was loaned out to 20th Century Fox for the film.

The deep-cut, black one-piece with mesh front was a bit provocative, but she wound up wearing an even briefer suit in the finished film...

In the final product, it was an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, red bikini she wore. The mesh number was used solely for advance promotion. But eagle-eyed viewers may have seen it someplace else!

The deep-cut mesh suit was worn by Pamela Tiffin in the Paul Newman detective thriller Harper (1966.) Much of Tiffin's screen time in the movie is spent poolside with Robert Wagner as seen above. This scene comes at close to the hour-and-a-half mark.

Far more famous, though, is the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, blue polka dot bikini that Tiffin wore earlier in the movie. Gyrating around on a diving board, she set hearts aflutter and was used in many of the promotional materials for Harper.

Tiffin had heretofore been seen mostly as sweet, pure ingenue types in movies like Summer and Smoke (1961), State Fair (1962) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965), among others. She longed for an image change and before long dove into it...

She moved to Italy, lightened her hair and pursued an entirely new career in European movies. She also, in the wake of a divorce, posed (only semi-nude) for Playboy in 1969. Though her new career as a comedienne in saucy Italian comedies was successful, she retired from the screen following a second marriage in 1974.

Golan's career as an actress was even more brief than Tiffin's. Despite a featured role in the Jerry Lewis comedy Three on a Couch (1966), she found parts scarce. She made the Italian comedy Catch as Catch Can (1967) with Vittorio Gassman and then the highly unusual but fun adventure The Valley of Gwangi (1969) - with James Franciscus - taking on stop-motion dinosaurs. This was the last anyone saw of her in the U.S. She remarried in 1969 and settled into being a mother to three, along with non-show business interests.

There were only two times that Golan appeared on American TV. Once was in Kraft Suspense Theatre in 1965 and then once on I Dream of Jeannie, as seen here (with Larry Hagman.) Her diving board is decidedly less elegant than the one Tiffin cavorted on! But amazingly enough, even this wrap-suit with belt was not original to the episode...

She had previously been poured into this very swimsuit for some campy Easter studio publicity stills! So this post is sort of a double-double dip!

Ms. Tiffin passed away in December of 2020 at age 78. Her 1974 marriage had lasted to that point and yielded two daughters. As for this mesh-front suit. One has to assume that it was from her home studio, 20th Century Fox, and not part of her Harper (a Warner Brothers project) wardrobe. Strangely, there is no costume designer credited for Harper, even though it features Lauren Bacall, Shelley Winters, Janet Leigh and Julie Harris! Someone had to dress these gals.

How else could it have fallen onto Golan's body when she was working at Fox instead of her home studio Columbia? Maybe someday I'll see it in a prior Fox film and learn its origins. As for Golan, she wed a Columbia board member (and magnate of the company who produces Geritol!), had three girls of her own and remained wed until her husband died of a heart attack in 1980. He (Matty Rosenhaus) incidentally was depicted very unflatteringly in a book about the David Begalman-Cliff Robertson embezzlement scandal of the late-'70s. (A description, by the way, his own grandson claimed was totally on the money!) She is still with us today at (a presumed) age 80. She reportedly wed again and lives in Florida, with interests in the music and religion of Judaism.


It didn't take long for one of my eagle-eyed readers to alert me to the fact that this storied swimsuit did in fact make at least one further appearance on-screen beyond what's been shown above. One year after Harper and Our Man Flint, the mesh-front article was utilized for television! As it was rather revealing for the time (showing an inversion of what people now lovingly describe as "side boob,") the teeny bow at the waist was snipped off and a larger, more skin-covering one was sewn into the chest of it!  The suit appeared in 1967 in an episode of Batman, a series produced by, natch, 20th Century Fox Television.

This particular episode is the (infamous) one in which Batman dons some yellow trunks over his Batsuit and surfs in costume! (The Joker catches a wave as well.) Judging from the inset with Burt Ward's Robin held captive, the surf might not be all that was up!

By this point in the series' run, Yvonne Craig was on hand as Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl. She's on the scene at the beach in the very suit detailed above. As this show was aimed at kids (with the added wit to keep adults invested as well), having her chest exposed that much simply would not do... hence the bow.

Someone there knew that this was going to make for some eye-catching publicity. She was photographed extensively on set.

Of course it's a matter of taste, but I daresay she filled out the little black number better than anyone else! Fans (and she has legions) probably bemoan the addition of that meddlesome bow. Holy Obscuring Detail, Batman!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

TinselTales: The Model and the Method Actor

If I'm being honest, I don't know for certain if the actor in question was really into The Method, but it makes for a catchy title and he did play one in a movie we dearly love here in the Underworld. This is one of countless startling incidents that have taken place over the years in Hollywood, where the drama off-screen often competes with, even exceeds, the drama on-screen!

Born January 6th, 1934 in New York, New York, Tom Gilson grew up to be a 6'4" aspiring actor. The first gig he landed was a bit in the Robert Wagner flick Prince Valiant (1954), but it didn't lead to further screen work. Back in NYC, he took part in the play Saint Joan, which starred Siobhan McKenna. In 1957, his Brylcreamed hair and pretty-boy face landed him a role on The Phil Silvers Show as Elvin Pelvin (which capitalized on the recent drafting of singing sensation Elvis Presley.)

1958 brought a pair of movies with further parts for him to portray. Young and Wild, though cheaper and more exploitative, gave him more to do. (Considering what was to come, this still featuring a shotgun being loaded, is a bit unnerving now.)

Check out all the incredible mannequins, I mean thespians, honing his or her craft for this shot...

His other film that year was 20th Century Fox's Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, which placed him as the love interest to Tuesday Weld.

Soon after, he signed with Warner Brothers as a contract player, which meant basically one thing; he'd be working all the time! The young men and women of this period were put to use in many films and many TV series. He was seen in The Threat (1960) as a henchman, but also popped up in other movies like This Rebel Breed (1960) and on shows like Bourbon Street Beat, Bat Masterson and Cheyenne, to name a few.

You'll never guess who the gal in the middle is, playing a character named "Wiggles!"

It was 1960's The Crowded Sky which would be his most fateful film. The crowded movie was brimming over with characters and plot lines and his was about a young Method actor who's flying to the coast to test for a role. In tow is his agent, Patsy Kelly, who has precious little patience for his self-generated agonies. (By the way, the young lady in that Rebel Breed lobby card one pic back is none other than a young Dyan Cannon!)

Meanwhile, we have Saundra Edwards, born March 12th, 1938 in Los Angeles, California. The dark beauty was of German-American and Cherokee descent. Married at 16 to her business manager, she was already mother to a baby girl when she landed the March 1957 Playmate of the Month spot in Playboy magazine! She was 19 at the time.

This being the earlier days of the fabled mag, she was mostly seen partially nude or semi-obscured, though there wasn't too much left to the imagination nonetheless.

The pictorial had her portraying a ballerina removing various layers of the costume seen on the cover. She would give birth to a son in 1959 at age 21.

The right people must have been observing the pics in between reading the articles because she was soon granted a Warner Brothers contract and was put to work with bits in movies like The Naked and the Dead and Auntie Mame (both 1958.) Like her fellow performers, she also wound up on most of the studio's series like Cheyenne, Maverick, Bronco and so on. Because of her half-Native American heritage, she was often cast as Indian maidens or other exotic creatures.

We find her here being embraced by Alan Hale Jr. in Up Periscope (1959), unbilled as "Grass Hut Girl."

But in 1961, she was cast as a stewardess in The Crowded Sky. Seen here with fellow flyer Anne Francis, they are collecting a ticker from Jean Willes. In between Francis and Willes, one can spot Gilson looking out a window.

When it's time to collect the tickets from Kelly and Gilson, Francis' hand is in just the right position to spoil us seeing the interested gaze that he is shooting the lovely flight attendant. The movie concerns what happens when a small navy jet and a large passenger plane collide in midair, but those weren't the only things colliding and creating sparks. Edwards and Gilson fell for one another. They had also worked on the same episode of Cheyenne in 1960.

As I noted earlier, Gilson plays a Method actor. He's totally unsure how to proceed with a part he's up for - a coward. He can't identify with it and has nothing to draw from.

He goes through a series of James Dean-ish contortions trying to determine how he will be able to properly express cowardice (while Kelly sits watching him, rolling her eyes!)

Once the planes clank into one another and a crash may be imminent, he discovers all too soon what fear is and finally has some appropriate feelings from which to draw his upcoming portrayal... if he lives through the disaster!

Edwards' participation in the movie is far less pronounced. We don't really get a decent look at her until after the collision. Even then she must share the screen with higher-billed Francis.

The elegant Edwards gives the passengers in the rear of the plane emergency landing instructions.

At the end of the ordeal, Gilson and Edwards share this very brief moment together as she pours coffee for Kelly and him. In real life, though, the two would enter a tumultuous relationship which culminated in her pregnancy and their (I won't say shotgun) marriage. Their child, Tom Jr., her third, was born five months after their marital union. (Some sources give the marriage and the birth as occurring on the same day. That's multi-tasking at its finest!)

Things seemed to have been on an uptick for Edwards as she was featured in A Fever in the Blood and had a decorative role in the expensive soaper Parrish (both 1961.) She was the put-upon wife of Hampton Fancher and step-daughter-in-law to Claudette Colbert, returning to the screen after a long absence. Unfortunately, Parrish marked the final time audiences would ever see Edwards on screen.

The marriage between Gilson and her was stormy. Gilson was rough, liked to drink and would often become confrontational as a result. ("Toxic masculinity" is a term that comes to mind.) There were several instances of domestic unrest between them. But on one occasion, when Gilson struck Edwards while she was holding their baby and he was hit, that was the last straw. She moved in with her sister and brother-in-law in Van Nuys.

With her own three young children (all 6 or younger) and her nephew in her care while her sister and her husband were out, Gilson called up. After verbally abusing her and threatening her on the phone, he came to the house where Edwards' brother-in-law had left her a loaded shotgun as protection. When Gilson refused to back away and continued to make threats, including killing her and the kids, she fired into his heart (from about a foot or less away) and he was dead. After only a half-hour of deliberation, the coroner ruled it a justifiable homicide.

Dead at age 28, Gilson's final film was Convicts 4 (1962), which starred Ben Gazzara, Sammy Davis Jr. and Stuart Whitman. He had TV appearances on The Gallant Men and The Dakotas in the can, which aired posthumously. A close friend of another rough & tumble actor, Steve McQueen, the soon-to-be superstar was a pall bearer at Gilson's funeral.

As for Edwards, then 24, she had to deal with the shattering reality of having slain the father of one of her three young children while still, despite all, being in love with him. Even cleared, the scenario harmed her position at Warners and her contract was allowed to lapse. She worked for a little while behind the scenes (in screen animal training) and reportedly was offered further film work (but only if she would send her children to boarding school in order to present an un-entangled public image.) Declining to do that, she ultimately faded into the general populace and passed away in 2017 at age 79.

The End.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Reunited: Abe and Mary in "Action!"

In 1938, the Broadway stage saw the debut of what would become a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Robert E. Sherwood, Abe Lincoln in Illinois. The three-act play focused on the famous President's life from childhood up to his final speech before heading off to the White House. A resounding success, it starred (somewhat controversially) Canadian actor Raymond Massey, seen here with on-stage wife Muriel Kirkland as Mary Todd.

Massey inhabited the part, not based on any extensive research into Abraham Lincoln, but rather using the script's characteristics in order to bring the man to life. Playwright Sherwood refused to sell the film rights to the play unless Massey was contracted to revisit the role on film. (Hilariously, Massey portrayed Lincoln a few times thereafter on stage, on film and on TV - even doing occasional personal appearances in costume - till George S. Kaufman remarked that he identified with the part so much that "Massey won't be satisfied until someone assassinates him!")

The real Mr. Lincoln.

Raymond Massey made up (with bump on his cheek) for Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), in which he was able to reprise his stage success. Though there is a certain resemblance, most notably in the tall, lanky frame, Massey had very dark eyes while Lincoln's were pale.

Though his Broadway costar Kirkland had appeared in a number of early-1930s movies, the role of Mary Todd did not go to her in the film. Instead, another actress made her "talkie" cinema debut in the part.

Essaying the role of future Mary Todd Lincoln was Miss Ruth Gordon! She'd done a few silent bits in 1915, but otherwise had not been seen on screen. The prolific stage actress had come to Massey's rescue in 1936 when he was in danger of losing the role of Ethan Frome opposite her because of his British-Canadian accent. She helped convince the powers that be to allow him time to shake it. In fact, her invitation to playwright Sherwood to see this play led him to think of Massey for his upcoming piece on Lincoln!

Ruth Gordon and Raymond Massey in the 1936 Broadway production of Ethan Frome. He was a towering 6'3" to her 5' even stature, but somehow they made it work.

The two became friends and thus enjoyed being reunited on Lincoln.

Gordon, who'd gotten her start as a lighthearted Lost Boy in Maude Adams' rendition of Peter Pan, was now portraying the driven, sometimes severe Mrs. Lincoln.

Costuming helped to put the illusion across, though the real deal was a bit more, shall we say, hearty...

Despite the play's success, the movie adaptation was a considerable box office fizzle. James Wong Howe's cinematography was Oscar-nominated (losing to Rebecca) and Massey was granted a Best Actor nomination, but James Stewart won that year for The Philadelphia Story. (Stewart had been beaten the prior year for his iconic work in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.)

One reason for the movie's lackluster performance could be that the year before it was released, John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln (with Henry Fonda in the lead) was a huge hit and so much of the material had already been covered at local movie houses.
Cut now to 1943. America is at war and Hollywood is turning out morale-boosting efforts one after another. Humphrey Bogart, fresh off the staggering popularity of Casablanca (1942) is headlining Action in the North Atlantic (1943), costarring Raymond Massey.

The two portray first mate (Bogart) and captain (Massey) of a merchant marine vessel transporting fuel.

In a dazzling opening sequence, a German U-boat torpedoes Massey's ship, creating a cataclysm of water and fire throughout.

Before long, it's clear that the only option is to abandon ship.

Surviving crew members begin lowering themselves in lifeboats.

Once they believe they are the last remaining men aboard, Bogart and Massey head to the last remaining boat, which is already being lowered. The actors had been discussing whose stunt double was the bravest and before it was all said and done...

...the two performers did their own leaps across to the lifelines, with fire licking the skies behind them!

The ship is sunk, but the Germans aren't done. They proceed to ram the lifeboat, too, causing the men to have to swim through fiery ocean water to a nearby raft. Here, they drift for eleven days! (These aren't necessarily "spoilers." All this takes place within the first half-hour of the film.)

After finally having been rescued after this harrowing ordeal, a gaunt Massey returns home for the first time in a while. There to greet him is his wife...

... li'l Miss Ruth Gordon!

The happy couple is elated to be once more in each others' arms. She is wearing fairly high heeled slingbacks and still struggles to reach her hubby's face.

Gordon is one of those people who seems never to have been young, but she does have an appealing, impish quality in her smile here. Both performers (born only months apart) were about 46 at this time.

I was struck by the peculiar was Gordon's hair was parted here (in what is really just an extended cameo despite her fifth billing.

Massey enjoys a hot, soapy bath...

...and then is tucked into bed by his adoring wife for a good long sleep.

The chemistry between these two performers is palpable and they share a couple of heartfelt kisses in the scene.

As a longtime lover of dogs in the movies, I was touched also by the scene of the family canine leaping over a fence, trotting up the stairs to get into Massey's room and finally taking his place under the bed to ensure that no further harm came to his master.

Massey is definitely not one of "my" actors, meaning I haven't ever felt particularly drawn to him nor intentionally followed his career. He seemed so often to be a sour, dour coot with the only variance from his frowning expression to be whatever makeup or costuming was applied. But he really was more than that in the final analysis. And his "type" was valuable in many movies.

This younger shot of him reveals a gentle handsomeness. Two of his children were performers in their own right, Daniel and Anna. One fascinating fact is that his real life divorce from their mother Adrianne Allen served as inspiration for the movie Adam's Rib (1949.) The Massey's ended up marrying his or her own divorce lawyers, who were themselves wed at to one another at the time! That last union continued up to his death of pneumonia in 1983 at age 86.

And who penned the script for Adam's Rib? None other than Ruth Gordon and her husband Garson Kanin! They were Oscar-nominated for their script, which tweaked the real life details of the situation to fit the pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. The statuette went to Sunset Boulevard that year. It was one of several such collaborations the couple worked on.

The highly unique (no, Linda Hunt, you ain't her!) Gordon wasn't seen in another movie after Atlantic for more than 20 years. When she came back, though, she came back strong. After her part in The Loved One (1965) was snipped from the release print, she played Natalie Wood's mother in Inside Daisy Clover (1965) and was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue.)

Then in 1968, she won the little gold man for her remarkable role in Rosemary's Baby. Her memorable acceptance speech included the hooty remark from the then-72 year old, "I can't tell ya how encouragin' a thing like this is." But it was. She proceeded to other memorable work including Harold and Maude (1971) and Every Which Way But Loose (1978.) Adored by her costars, she became close to Natalie Wood (seen at the 1966 Golden Globes in the lower right) and was Natasha Gregson Wagner's godmother. Gordon passed away of a stroke in 1985 at age 88, two days before Massey's birthday. All the connections I've mentioned between Raymond Massey and Ruth Gordon could be enough to end this post here, but there's still one more moment left!

In 1971, Gordon was the subject of the famous show This is Your Life, in which a celebrity is unexpectedly confronted with a career retrospective and a series of important guests. Massey, then 75 as was Gordon, was on hand to show his affection for his dear friend. Grinning from ear to ear the entire time, it was clear how much he utterly adored his diminutive pal. If you wish to view this program (which I recommend! I always love it), click here. Till next time!