Untroubled good looks, faraway poise & self-control, with a sartyrial smile and brushed-aside sophistication – that’s Bradford Dillman
Bradford Dillman is one of those ubiquitous & versatile actors who you find popping up just about everywhere, and whenever I either see him in the credits or think about some of his performances, I am immediately happified by his presence in my mind and on screen. It’s this familiarity that signposts for me whatever upcoming diversion I’m in store for, will be something memorable indeed.
He’s been cast as a saint, a psychopath, elite ivy league intellectuals with an edge, unconventional scientists, military figures, droll and prickly individualists, clueless bureaucrats, or drunken malcontents and he’s got a sort of cool that is wholly appealing.
Bradford Dillman was omni-present starting out on the stage, and major motion pictures at the end of the 50s and by the 1960s he began his foray into popular episodic television series and appeared in a slew of unique made for television movies throughout the 1970s and 80s, with the addition of major motion picture releases through to the 90s. His work, intersecting many different genres from melodramas,historical dramas, thrillers, science fiction and horror.
There are a few actors of the 1960s & 70s decades that cause that same sense of blissed out flutters in my heart — that is of course if you’re as nostalgic about those days of classic cinema and television as I am. I get that feeling when I see actors like Stuart Whitman, Dean Stockwell, Roy Thinnes, Scott Marlow, Warren Oates, James Coburn, Lee Grant David Janssen, Michael Parks, Barbara Parkins, Joanna Pettet ,Joan Hackett , Sheree North, Diana Sands, Piper Laurie, Susan Oliver and Diane Baker. I have a fanciful worship for the actors who were busy working in those decades, who weren’t Hollywood starlets or male heart throbs yet they possessed a realness, likability, a certain individual knack and raw sex-appeal.
Bradford Dillman was born in San Francisco in 1930 to a prominent local family. During the war he was sent to The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. At Hotchkiss, senior year he played Hamlet. At Yale he studied English Literature and performed in amateur theatrical productions and worked at the Playhouse in Connecticut. Dillman served in the US Marines in Korea (1951-1953) and made a pact that he’d give himself five years to succeed as an actor before he called it quits. Lucky for us, he didn’t wind up in finance the way he father wanted him to.
Dillman enrolled and studied at the Actors Studio, he spent several seasons apprenticing with the Sharon Connecticut Playhouse before making his professional acting debut in an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarecrow” in 1953 with fellow Studio students Eli Wallach and James Dean. Dillman referred to Dean as ‘a wacky kid’ but ‘very gifted’.
He only appeared in two shows in October 1962 of The Fun Couple in 1957 with Dyan Cannon and Jane Fonda before the play closed in New York only after two days.
We lost Bradford Dillman last year in January 2018. I was so saddened to hear the news. And I missed the chance to tribute his work then, but now that his birthday is here, I feel like celebrating his life rather than mourning his death, so it’s just as well.
Bradford Dillman wrote an autobiography called Are You Anybody? An Actor’s Life, published in 1997 with a (foreword by Suzy Parker) in which he downplays the prolific contribution he made to film and television and acting in general. Though Dillman didn’t always hold a high opinion of some of the work he was involved in, appearing in such a vast assortment of projects, he always came across as upbeat and invested in the role.
“Bradford Dillman sounded like a distinguished, phony, theatrical name, so I kept it.”
[about his career] “I’m not bitter, though. I’ve had a wonderful life. I married the most beautiful woman in the world. Together we raised six children, each remarkable in his or her own way and every one a responsible citizen. I was fortunate to work in a profession where I looked forward to going to work every day. I was rewarded with modest success. The work sent me to places all over the world I’d never been able to afford visiting otherwise. I keep busy and I’m happy. And there are a few good films out there that I might be remembered for.”
Harry Lime (Orson Welles) to Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”
You’re EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ I gotta go set my Cuckoo Clock, see ya soon!
Bert I. Gordon is just TOO BIG to do in one short post. Hell, I never really do anything in a small way as by now you’ve come to know my style. The fabulous, hysterical, well-informed and outrageously amusing GoreGirl of Goregirl’s Dungeon one of THE BEST blog sites around, has given me the great honor of gracing The Last Drive-In with her enjoyable take of Mr. B.I.G. I thought it would be a perfect segue or Intermission between Part I and Part II of this special feature on the man who brought us giant sized menaces and campy diversions. So without any further ramblings from yours truly, I hand the stage over to the fantastical GoreGirl with her:
THE ABC’s Of B.I.G.
Back in July 2009 I did a feature called The Coop of Cthulhu: Five Horror Films that Feature Chickens where I cited Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods. When you are the new kid on the block in the world of blogging it takes some time to get yourself noticed; you are just a drop in an ocean as big as the world. It took a while before I received a comment of any kind, but the most exciting thing that happened to me that first year was receiving a comment from Mr. Gordon on the aforementioned post. When Jo asked me if I would like to contribute something for a feature she was doing on Bert I. Gordon I jumped at the chance. I was long overdue to cover some of the director’s work. In preparation for the feature I read his autobiography The Amazing Colossal Worlds of Mr. B.I.G. His nickname Mr. B.I.G. not only represents his name; Bert Ira Gordon but his love for giant creatures. Your lesson today is to learn your B.I.G. ABCs…
A is for Attack of the Puppet People. Attack of the Puppet People was made in 1958. Starring John Agar, John Hoyt and June Kenney; it is the story of a lonely doll-maker who creates a machine that shrinks people. His tiny prisoners inevitably attempt to escape their strange situation. Attack of the Puppet People has been a favourite since childhood. Born well after the film was released I enjoyed the 50s monster movies on Sunday afternoon television and than on video in the early 80s. There were countless films from the 50s with giant creatures in all shapes and sizes but very few had a premise with tiny creatures/people. The idea of which filled my childhood imagination with wonder. I would often daydream about shrinking my tattle-telling little sister.
B is for Beginning of the End. Beginning of the End was made in 1957. Starring Peter Graves and Peggy Castle; it is the story of a journalist who has discovered a species of giant grasshoppers created at an experimental state-run farm. She attempts to make her discovery public despite a government/military cover-up. Mr. Gordon discovered the difficulties of working with live grasshoppers; you can’t really teach a grasshopper to “act” and you cannot prevent them from eating each other either!
C is for The Cyclops. The Cyclops was made in 1957. Starring James Craig, Gloria Talbott, Lon Chaney Jr., Tom Drake and Duncan Parker; it is the story of Susan Winters who has financed a trip to Mexico to search for her fiancÈ Bruce whose plane went down three years previous. She arranges a small four seat plane and hires pilot Lee Brand. Accompanying Susan is Bruceís closest friend Russ Bradford and Martin Melville who hopes to find uranium. The quartet finds more than they bargain for when they discover the area is inhabited by giant animals. And that is not the only surprise that awaits the group. Although most of The Cyclops was made in and around Los Angeles, Gordon decided he would film several reels of footage in Tijuana to add in to the final product. Unfortunately while there he was arrested and his camera and film confiscated. Gordon avoided jail time by paying the arresting officer off but his film was exposed before it was returned to him, rendering it unusable.
D is for Kirk Douglas. Bert I. Gordon was hired by a Japanese Ad Agency to do a series of commercials with Kirk Douglas. The commercials, intended strictly for a Japanese audience were for a coffee product and were filmed in Kirk Douglas’ Beverly Hills home.
E is for Earth Vs. the Spider. Earth Vs. the Spider was made in 1958. Starring Ed Kemmer, June Kenney and Eugene Persson; it is the story of a giant spider found in a cave that is killed and brought to the gymnasium of the local high school to await a team of researchers. The creature as it turns out is not deceased and is revived by rock music! The giant spider wreaks havoc on the small town. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico was the perfect location shoot for Gordon’s Earth Vs. the Spider but there was one problem; he was not permitted to light the Caverns in any way. Apparently light fosters the growth of organisms that would destroy the cavern’s surfaces. Unable to film on location, he shot photographs to use as background plates.
F is for Food of the Gods. The Food of the Gods was made in 1976. Starring Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ida Lupino, Belinda Balaski and Ralph Meeker; it is loosely based on H.G. Wellsís book of the same name. A meteorite crashes near a small farm that causes a liquid to ooze from the ground. Some rats drink the liquid which causes them to grow to huge proportions. A group of various visitors including a man and his pregnant wife are forced to fight for their lives against the giant rats and a host of other giant creatures. The Food of the Gods was filmed on Bowen Island in British Columbia! Not only made in the motherland but in the province I live in. A former boyfriend’s family had a cottage on beautiful Bowen Island which I visited several times. Gordon built several miniature sets and hired several “rat-trainers” for the shoot. Windstorms and snowstorms made shooting difficult but the always inventive Gordon simply wrote a snowstorm into the story.
G is for Grand Prix. The Food of the Gods was awarded the Grand Prix du Festival International Du Paris Fantastique 1977 (Fantasporto).
H is for How to Succeed with (the Opposite) Sex. How to succeed with Sex was made in 1970. Starring Zack Taylor, Mary Jane Carpenter and Bambi Allen; it is the story of Jack desperate to get his lovely fiancÈe in bed before their wedding day and her refusal inspires him to purchase a book on seducing women. I have not seen Gordon’s foray into sexploitation so I really can not comment except to say; it appears from what I’ve read that there are no giant creatures in this film.
I is for The International Film Festival of Catalonia. Mr. Gordon’s career was honored in 1998 at The International Film Festival of Catalonia in Stiges Spain where thirteen of his titles were shown.
J is for Leroy Johnson. Stuntman and actor Leroy Johnson appeared in Gordon’s 1962 film The Magic Sword as Sir Ulrich of Germany. Needless to say the man performed his own stunts in pretty much every role in which he was cast.
K is for King Dinosaur. King Dinosaur was made in 1955. Although Serpent Island is listed as his first feature film in his autobiography; IMDB lists King Dinosaur as his first. A new planet called Nova is discovered in the solar system and two couples are sent to explore it. The planet is inhabited by creatures great and small including the titular creature. Made on a micro-budget King Dinosaurís simple effects were particularly troublesome. The iguanas were uncooperative cast members who refused to move. Gordon went to the local library to read up on Iguanas and found out that they go into a hibernation state in temperatures lower than 120 degrees. A few bathroom heaters fixed the problem and got the little actors moving.
L is for Ida Lupino. The lovely and talented Ida Lupino was featured in Gordon’s Food of the Gods as Mrs. Skinner; one of the last films she did before retiring from acting. Mrs. Skinner is the owner of the farm where a meteor landed that caused the animals of the area to grow to massive proportions. Poor Mrs. Skinner’s husband is eaten by giant rats!
M is for Magic Sword. Magic Sword was made in 1962. Starring Basil Rathbone, Estelle Winwood and Gary Lockwood; it is the story of George the son of a sorcerer who tricks his mother in order to conjure up a suit of armor, a horse and a magic sword. George sets out to save the princess who has been kidnapped by the evil Lodac. The princess is being guarded by a two-headed fire-breathing dragon! Gordon stepped aside on the effects in The Magic Sword and let Fox’s art department create the film’s two headed fire-breathing dragon. Gordon preferred that real fire was used instead of being added in the optical lab. While the creature was not as large as it appeared in the film, it was still one of the largest creatures to appear in one of Gordon’s films and required two men to operate its movements.
N is for Necromancy. Necromancy (aka The Witching) was made in 1972. Starring Orson Welles, Pamela Franklin, Lee Purcell and Michael Ontkean; it is the story of a witches’ coven in the town of Lilith headed by Warlock Mr. Cato. The local radio station in the town where Gordon filmed coincidently had the call letters CATO; perhaps a little black magic at play here? Okay probably not.
O is for Michael Ontkean. Michael Ontkean best known and beloved by me for his role as Sheriff Harry S. Truman in Twin Peaks appeared in Gordon’s 1972 film Necromancy as Frank Brandon.
P is for Picture Mommy Dead. Picture Mommy Dead was made in 1966. Starring Don Ameche, Martha Hyer, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Susan Gordon (her fourth appearance in a Gordon film); is the story of Susan who has recently come home after spending time in an asylum where she was recovering from the shock of her mother’s fiery death. Now living with her father and his new wife whose greedy intentions are less than noble. Picture Mommy Dead is the best film in Gordon’s resume and a real unappreciated gem with great performances. Hedy Lamarr was initially cast as Susan’s mother Jessica but was arrested the week before filming for shoplifting. Zsa Zsa Gabor was cast instead.
Q is for Faith Quabius. Faith Quabius appears in Gordon’s 1973 film The Mad Bomber as Martha; a personal favourite Gordon film of mine. Although Ms. Quabius has an itsy bitsy resume her last name starts with “Q”.
R is for Rathbone. The great Basil Rathbone played the evil wizard Lodac in Gordon’s 1962 film The Magic Sword. Although officially born in South Africa, Rathbone was raised in England. The Magic Sword was released in England under the title St. George and the 7 Curses and would receive a curious rating from the censors in England; a film that was intended to be for general audiences. The film had a problematic and almost non-existent run in the country.
S is for Satan’s Princess. Satan’s Princess was made in 1990. Starring Robert Forster, Lydie Denier and Caren Kaye; is the story of an ex-cop hired for a missing persons case whose clues all lead back to the sensual Nicole and a satanic cult. Satan’s Princess is Bert I. Gordon’s last film to date. Generally speaking Gordon uses closed sets and limited crew for sex/nude scenes but on the request of his lead actress Lydie Denier her husband was permitted to watch her perform a scene where she takes part in a Lesbian orgy.
T is for Tormented. Tormented was made in 1960. Starring Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders and Joe Turkel; it is the story of a man tormented by his dead lover, whom he could have saved but chose not to so he could marry another. Gordon is always working with a tight budget and schedule and often has to get creative to capture the shot he needs. In the case of Tormented a lighthouse was an important part of the plot, but it was not in the budget to travel with his cast and crew. Gordon simply shot footage of his ideal lighthouse in Salem, Massachusetts and melded it with his California footage. The magic of movies!
U is for University of Illinois. Bert I. Gordon was the special guest at the University of Illinois’ 20th Annual Insect Fear Film Festival February 15, 2003.
V is for Village of the Giants. Village of the Giants was made in 1965. Starring Tommy Kirk, Johnny Crawford, Ron Howard, Joe Turkel, Beau Bridges and Joy Harmon; is the story of a group of teenagers who steal the concoction of a brainiac kid that makes things grow to huge proportions. The teenagers ingest the goo and terrorize their community! This movie is a ton of fun and was Gordon’s first picture with AVCO Embassy. Look out for the adorable Toni Basil who was in charge of the film’s dance numbers!
W is for War of the Colossal Beast. War of the Colossal Beast was made in 1958. Starring Sally Fraser, Roger Pace, and Duncan Parkin; it is the sequel to Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). After the events of the first film a series of food truck robberies tip authorities off to the possibility that the Colossal Man is still living. After discovering him in a remote Mexican mountain range they drug and transport him back to America where he escapes and wreaks havoc. Although the horrifically mutated Col. Glenn Manning is the primary focus of War of the Colossal Beast; the character speaks just one word in the film “Joyce” his sister’s name.
X is for Xenonarc Lamp. This has absolutely nothing to do specifically with Bert I. Gordon, but I couldn’t find anything else for X. An Xenonarc Lamp is a high-intensity lighting device used in motion picture projection and eye surgery. Mr. Gordon was a film fan from an early age. At six his mother would drop him off at the local theatre and pick him up in time for dinner. He became friendly with the people who ran the theatre and was even allowed to sit in the projection booth and watch them change the reels. Sometimes if the reels broke during a film they would even let young Burt fix them; he learned to do this simply by observing. Gordon is a director through and through and cites the type of cameras he used often throughout his biography so this seemed like an appropriate “X” word.
Y is for Yacht; which Mr. Gordon planned to buy after he moved to Hollywood to become a filmmaker.
Z is for Zsa Zsa Gabor. Okay, officially this should be under “G” but come on we all know Zsa Zsa by her first name don’t we?! Zsa Zsa plays Jessica Flagmore Shelley in Picture Mommy Dead; the deceased mother of Susan Shelley whose horribly death by fire caused little Susan to spend time in a mental institution. Zsa Zsa celebrated her birthday on the set of Picture Mommy Dead.
*information for this post was taken from Bert I. Gordon’s IMDB page and his autobiography The Amazing Colossal Worlds of Mr. B.I.G. You can buy his book at his official website http://www.bertigordon.com
Orson Welles is the black Irish seaman chump Michael O’Hara who falls head long into a web of desire, subterfuge and murder, when he stumbles across (Everette Sloane) Arthur Bannister’s wife Mrs. Elsa Bannister (the exquisite Rita Hayworth) out for a carriage ride in the park one night. With one of the most staggering climaxes in Film Noir!
“I never make up my mind until it’s over and done with.”- Michael O’Hara