The Intriguing Everyman: Cult Star Stuart Whitman

There is a rugged sensuality about Stuart Whitman with his thick black hair and that sexy cleft in his strong chin. I’ve been totally gone gaga over the man for as long as I can remember. Although he doesn’t possess the typical pretty leading man looks like Paul Newman or Marlon Brando, Whitman has an offbeat sex appeal that I’m drawn to more than the obviously handsome guy. Maybe it’s his commanding brows framing his deep drawn blue eyes. Or perhaps it’s his raspy suede voice one octave down from middle C and that outre cool swagger that gets me. I love the self-assured manner that he exudes in every one of his roles. There are over 180 films and television roles to his credit. It seems like he lived a very full life on his terms, and had a great appreciation for the ladies– lucky them! He was also long time friends with many of his working colleagues and that says a lot to me.

Stuart Whitman was born on Feb. 1, 1928, in San Francisco. He appeared in summer stock plays in New York until  the age of 12. After living in New York his family moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1940s. He graduated from Hollywood High School in 1945, then enlisted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for three years. While in the service he was secretly trained in boxing by his uncle, and won boxing matches as a light-heavy weight. After an honorable discharge he attended acting classes at night with the Michael Chekhov Stage Society and studied for four years.

He joined the Ben Bard Drama School in Hollywood debuting in the school’s production of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which ran for six months.

20th Century Fox scooped Stuart Whitman up while amassing new talent during the late 1950s.

In 1952, Stuart Whitman continued to appear in small roles in George Archainbard’s Barbed Wire and Tay Garnett’s One Minute to Zero. Universal signed him In December, 1952, which got him a tiny part in Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire with Barbara Stanwyck and The All American.

His most memorable and brave portrayals is of Kim Fuller in The Mark.

In The Mark, Stuart Whitman takes on the compelling, challenging role of Jim Fuller, who after serving three years in prison for the abduction and attempted molestation of a nine year old girl, is let out. Jim Fuller coming to terms with his past has gone through extensive therapy with psychiatrist McNally (Rod Steiger) and is released a reformed man, given a good job, and tries to acclimate himself back into normal society. He starts up a relationship with the company secretary Ruth (Maria Schell) who has a 10 year old little daughter. The ugly monster that is his past creeps up behind him and challenges his chance at a new life. While the film’s subject is still one of revulsion, the character of James Fuller is framed sympathetically, partly because he never went through with committing the crime. The film gives a well explained symptomology through Dr. McNally’s compassionate trained eye for uncovering the truth, and flashbacks aide us in seeing Fuller’s utter agony with what he contemplated doing. He stops himself from going through with the assault and vomits at the thought of it. He drives the little girl back to town where he is met with an angry mob. He asks to be locked up because he is sick.

The Mark explores without reservation the conflicted Jim Fuller, which in the cinema at that time breaks ground.He finds solace in his relationship with a sympathetic psychiatrist Rod Steiger. The Mark costars Maria Schell.

While the film is quite black & white with it’s Freudian brush strokes, the story is still compelling and Guy Green’s direction works well to light the flame under the kettle slowly. The Mark was released in a time in film releases where sexual ‘deviation’ was being experimented with at the cinema. Director Basil Dearden’s taut drama Victim (1961) starring Dirk Bogarde about homosexuality and blackmail, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) that deals with mental illness, homosexuality and cannibalism, and Lillian Hellman’s story directed by William Wyler The Children’s Hour (1961) that deals with the stigma of lesbianism.

Originally Richard Burton was cast in the part of Jim Fuller and the part of Ruth was to be Jean Simmons. And while Burton is of course one of those incredible actors who is laudable at dancing a waltz with complex and damaged, Whitman is profoundly adept at pouring out multitudinous levels of torturous self loathing and social anxiety in a plot full of minefields the protagonist can step on. The film earned him the Oscar nomination for Best Actor not only for his incredibly nuanced performance but partly for his brave and challenging accomplishment. The Mark features Whitman’s complex portrayal of a sexual deviant and a self reflexive man struggling to come to terms with his predilections while finding his way back into society again. There’s a good reason he was nominated for Best Actor… he deserved the award.

Excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

SC: What was the challenge for you in making THE MARK?

STUART WHITMAN: “I was doing a screen test at 20th with Lee Remick for a movie called The Candy Man which Tony Richardson was going to direct. And I got a telephone call from Kurt Frings my agent at the time. And Kurt tells me, “Don’t go back” ‘but I’m shooting right now I said. “Don’t go to the set.” He said “What do you mean?” ‘Don’t go back Just go home, pack a bag and catch the four o’clock to London this afternoon. You’re gonna shoot a movie in Ireland.” I asked “Well, what’s the name of the picture?” “Not to worry. Don’t ask any questions. Just get on the plane and go.” And I remember racing to the airport to catch the plane and running into the actor Dane Clark, “Where you going Stuart?” He asked me “ I’m off to do a thing called THE MARK” I told him, “but I don’t know anything about it.” THE MARK? He said “My God, I really wanted to play that role, Jesus Christ.” So that was the only indication I received that it was something special… Well Richard Burton was originally supposed to do my role in THE MARK but he was starring in Camelot and couldn’t get out of his commitment to do the play. So Kurt–who handled Burton and Maria School, the female lead in THE MARK and wonderful to work with-he squared me into the thing.”

“So they put me up in a hotel in London, and I had three days there before going on location to Ireland. Now when I arrived at the London hotel, all of these British reporters were asking me “What do you think about doing this movie?” ‘I haven’t read it” I told them “ I don’t know. Let me read it , then I will tell ya” So I got rid of all of the reporters because I really didn’t know what the fuck the movie was all about. And in my hotel room, when I finally read the script, I kind of freaked out. So much so that I was thinking to myself “Well, I could get sick and tell them that I can’t do the movie—I had all kinds of excuses that I was going to lay on ‘em so that I didn’t have to tackle this project. Then I thought, “Well, fuck it. If I”m in the right business or the wrong business I”ll know if I can pull this one off. And if I can I”ll be alright, But yeah it was difficult to do. And that’s when I first met Rod Steiger. Since Rod and I had a lot of scenes together, he said “you want to come over to my house and we’ll just run over the lines and get familiar with it?” “Absolutely” I said to him.”

After the dreaded Night of the Lepus, Whitman survived the blip in his momentum and proclaimed his comeback with multiple entertaining films and television roles, many that helped him attain cult status. Including Lawrence Harvey’s excursion into cannibalism Welcome to Arrow Beach, and master of horror Tobe Hooper’s sub-genre of horror films— the hillbilly slasher Eaten Alive starring Neville Brand and Carolyn Jones. My favorite is his performance as the love sick paramour of Piper Laurie’s in Curtis Harrington’s Ruby (1977). The underrated nightmarish ghost story and a great vehicle for Piper Laurie. Whitman brings that wonderful 70s sensibility to the film as he aches for his lover to return his affections.

Meg Foster and Stuart Whitman in Lawrence Harvey’s Welcome to Arrow Beach

Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun in Night of the Lepus

Stuart Whitman also stepped into the role of cult leader of People’s Temple Jim Jones with a hyperbolic performance in GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED.

Aside from some his more obvious diversions into the cult market, Stuart Whitman delivered memorable roles in films like director Monte Hellman’s Shatter 1974 where he plays an a cool character, an international hit man who is now himself a target. Whitman can slip into a diverse range of characters from sympathetic child molester, to homicidal cult leader/mass murderer, cut throats and heroes, urbane hitmen or a variety of sheriffs. From the 60s decade through the 70s Stuart Whitman’s roles ran the gamut.

Making his film debut in 1951 science fiction films uncredited in director Rudolph Maté’ and George Pal’s When Worlds Collide credited as Kip Whitman and in director Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Whitman gained popularity as a cult actor appearing in a variety of films The Girl in the Black Stockings (1957)  co-starring Mamie Van Doren and Anne Bancroft.

The 1960s were a  golden time for Whitman where he found himself to be one of the leading stars in Hollywood. Another outstanding example of his versatile acting ability is showcased in the intense crime drama based on New York gangsters — Murder, Inc. 1960 and the 1964 psychologically disturbing, psychotronic  Shock Treatment 1965. Whitman plays an actor Dale Nelson who is hired to locate $1 million in stolen money, so he gets himself committed to the institution run by Lauren Bacall. But finds himself immersed in the depths of insanity inside the asylum. Then there was the international assembled cast for the aviation extravaganza comedy Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines and the fantastic adventure film The Sands of the Kalahari.

Stuart Whitman in The Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

Murder, Inc. Year : 1960 USA Stuart Whitman Director: Burt Balaban.

Stuart Rosenberg’s directorial debut Murder, Inc (1960) co-starred Peter Falk in his explosive role as Abe Reles.

SC: Hey, I don’t want to forget about MURDER, INC.

STUART WHITMAN: “I did that while I was still under contract to 20th They said “you’re going off to New York to do this thing called Murder, Inc. So on the plane I’m reading the script, and I’m thinking “wow! What a role here… Abe Reles… And when I got to New York and they picked me up in a limo at the airport, they asked me “how did you like the script? “Oh God, I just loved it” And they said “we got an interesting young guy, a character actor named Peter Falk who’s gonna plays Abe Reles” “Wait” I said, “I thought that was my role” “No, no You’re going to play the kid in it.. with May Britt.. the love affair part of the story.” And I said “Oh shit, I don’t want to do it. SO I called up (Spyros) Skouras (president of 20th Century Fox from 42 to 62) and said “Now Mrs Skouras that’s not the role I wanted to do” No do it” he said.

Anyhow, Peter Falk and I were getting along, getting some good stuff into the picture but when they fired the director Stuart Rosenberg, we had a sit down strike between us actors. But then a full out strike was coming along, and 20th said “The strike is coming up, so we have to finish this picture right away—before it hits.” Well, the very day we finished the picture, the strike hit. But that’s why there are two directors credited on Murder Inc. Burt Balaban was the producer so when Rosenberg got fired he stepped in.”

Stuart Whitman was very physically fit and started doing a lot of macho-type movies around this time, like westerns Rio Conchos 1964 and The Comancheros 1961. Whitman has top billing in the well-cast western, The Comancheros, and maintains a glorious chemistry with Wayne. He plays a womanizing gambler who kills a nobleman’s son in a dual. He escapes the noose but is hunted down the honest Captain of the Texas Rangers Jake Cutter (John Wayne). It’s directed by Michael Curtiz, and both men exchange quick-witted dialogue. Inevitably the two become friends. Cimarron Strip 1967-68 was Whitman’s short lived highly charged 90 minute TV western which was his show starring as the serious Marshal Jim Crown. Episodes featured other great actors like Richard Boone, Warren Oates, and Robert Duvall. I read that Cimarron Strip was of Whitman’s favorite projects.

Stuart Whitman as Marshal Jim Crown in the television western series Cimarron Strip 1967-68

Stuart Whitman in Rio Conchos (1964)

Stuart Whitman and co-star John Wayne in Michael Curtiz’s The Comancheros (1961)

Stuart Whitman was so versatile he was able to stand astride both television and feature films from dramatic hits to film noir, horror and cult exploitation. Some of his most notable films are Ten North Frederick (1958), director William Wellman’s Darby’s Rangers (1958) co-starring James Garner. Whitman does a superb job piece of work as a ballsy American soldier who joins an elite group who are trained as special forces during WWII. Andrew L. Stone’s The Decks Ran Red (1958) co-starring James Mason and Dorothy Dandridge. 
The Longest Day (1962), The Comancheros (1961) co-starring John Wayne, The Sound and The Fury (1959) co-starring Joanne Woodward, the grand British comedy adventure spectacle Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Shock Treatment (1964) co-starring Carol Lynley and Roddy McDowall as a very disturbed gardner, René Clément’s The Day and the Hour (1963) co-starring Simone Signoret. Stuart Whitman plays an American soldier who is shot down behind enemy lines and is aided by the French resistance. Whitman directed one specific scene that Clément agreed to let him shoot. There is an impassioned chemistry between the sublime Signoret (a favorite actress of mine) and Whitman, as the two journey to escape the Nazi’s in occupied France. Clément is at his finest profiling war torn Europe, his focus on the stirring content and eloquent faces that populate his films.
Stuart Whitman in Darby’s Rangers (1958) – directed by William Wellman
Joanne Woodward and Stuart Whitman in The Sound and the Fury (1959)
Stuart Whitman holding Simone Signoret in a scene from the film ‘The Day And The Hour’, 1963. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
Le jour et l’heure (The Day and the Hour) Year: 1963 Director: René Clément -Simone Signoret, Stuart Whitman, Billy Kearns
Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément Simone Signoret, Stuart Whitman
Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément  Simone Signoret , Stuart Whitman
Whitman plays the compassionate prison guard who believes in rehabilitation not the death penalty in Convicts 4 (1962). His performance adds a real and humanist impact to the tense and confining spaces of the prison. There are also fine appearances by Rod Steiger, Sammy Davis Jr. and Vincent Price. Whitman felt at home in the western, he starred in Rio Conchos (1964), and then the turbulent psycho-drama An American Dream (1966) co-starring Janet Leigh and Eleanor Parker.
Night of the Lepus (1972) co-starring Janet Leigh and Rory Calhoun. Apparently Whitman felt that this low budget horror film was the decline of his career. Stuart Whitman was forced into taking the role in William F. Claxton’s ridiculous horror flick. In it, Whitman and Janet Leigh play zoologists who accidentally unleash giant bunny rabbits. The film is laughable and was partly responsible for the blemish on his career, though the film has attained cult status.
He managed to work with some of the most prominent directors, William Wellman, Frank Borzage, Don Siegel, Richard Fleischer, Michael Curtiz, Douglas Sirk, Jacques Tourneur and  René Clément.
After guest starring in dramatic television programs Lux Video Theatre, Four Star Playhouse, Zane Grey Theater and Dr Christian. He gained recognition in the lead role as Marshal Jim Crown in the successful Western television series Cimarron Strip that ran from 1967-68 on CBS. Other television appearances include Death Valley Days Highway Patrol 1956-57, Have Gun-Will Travel (1958), Bracken’s World (1970), Rod Serling’s Night Gallery episode Lindemann’s Catch and Fright Night.
He was in Circle of Fear (1972) The Streets of San Fransisco (1973), Quincy M.E., Knight Rider, A-Team, S.W.A.T., and Murder, She Wrote. He had a re-occurring role in Knots Landing. In 1988, he was featured in Superboy which lasted until 1992. Whitman played Jonathan Kent Superboy’s adoptive father.
Stuart Whitman and Chloris Leachman in Jonathan Demme’s Crazy Mama (1975)
Stuart Whitman and Eleanor Parker in An American Dream (1966)
Fred Williamson, Jenny Sherman and Stuart Whitman in Mean Johnny Barrows (1976)
1971: (L-R) Bradford Dillman, Carol Eve Rossen, Shelley Winters, Stuart Whitman appearing in the ABC tv movie ‘Revenge!’. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
Stuart Whitman appeared in various tv movies, City Beneath the Sea (1971), Revenge! (1971) co-starring Shelley Winters, The Woman Hunter (1972), co-starring Barbara Eden.
Donald Randolph, Tony Curtis, Richard Long, Stuart Whitman and Palmer Lee in “The All American” 1953 Universal ** B.D.M.

Under contract to Universal Stuart Whitman was still cast in minimal parts in 1953. The first with director Budd Boetticher’s The Man from the Alamo. Then he worked with Jacques Tourneur his crime thriller Appointment in Honduras. Then followed The Veils of Bagdad and Walking My Baby Back Home.

in 1954, he was still getting cast in small roles Charles’ Vidor’s Rhapsody, loaned out to MGM. Stuart Whitman appeared in Brigadoon. He performed on stage at the Coast Theater in Christopher Fry’s Venus Observed.

1955, Whitman maintained his brief images like the man on the beach in Curtis Bernhardt’s Interrupted Melody. Also that year, Whitman had a minor role in the serial King of the Carnival. In that same vein he appeared in Allan Dwan’s war drama Hold Back the Night.  Then came Budd Boetticher’s western Seven Men from Now in 1956 co-starring Lee Marvin and Randolph Scott.

Finally In 1957, Stuart Whitman’s film presence gained visibility in Gerd Oswald’s noir thriller Crime of Passion, and Reginald Le Borg’s War Drums. He got his first leading role in John H. Auer’s Johnny Trouble. Where Whitman plays Johnny Chandler a belligerent young man whom Ethel Barrymore believes is her grandson. Films that followed were Hell Bound co-starring Broderick Crawford and James Mason and Howard W. Koch’s psycho-sexual shocker The Girl in Black Stockings (1957).

Stuart Whitman as Prentiss in The Girl in the Black Stockings (1957)

Carolyn Jones and Stuart Whitman in Johnny Trouble (1957)

Also in 1957 Whitman had a notable role in the military series, Harbor Command based on the United States Coast Guard.

He had a recurring role as police officer Sgt. Walters on the television series Highway Patrol. Whitman  and his co-star Broderick Crawford hit it off and became friends.

He was cast in bit parts in film and stage productions. Then he finally had his breakthrough with the drama Johnny Trouble in 1957 co-starring Ethel Barrymore in her last role. Then he co-starred with Gary Cooper in Ten North Frederick (1958) Stuart Whitman co-starred with Dorothy Dandrige in the crime drama The Decks Ran Red in 1958 where the two kissed showcasing one of the first interracial kisses in Hollywood at the time.

STUART WHITMAN & DOROTHY DANDRIDGE Film ‘THE DECKS RAN RED’ (1958) Directed By ANDREW L. STONE
10 October 1958 CT2447 Allstar/Cinetext/MGM

Dorothy Dandridge and Stuart Whitman in The Decks Ran Red (1958)

excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

SC:You also starred with Broderick Crawford (they worked together in Highway Patrol) in The Decks Ran Red 1958.”

STUART WHITMAN: “Dorothy Dandridge, poor baby… She was previously married to one of the two Nicholas brothers {Harold} and their daughter, who was (brain-damaged), eventually had to be placed in a mental institution. And poor Dorothy was going through all of that turmoil while she was making the movie. A goddess, that’s what she was. “You know how Brod got that picture? Listen to this… Andrew and Virginia Stone both produced it with Andrew directing. And I said to them “who are you going to get to play this role (of Henry Scott)?” And they said, “Oh God, we’d love to have Broderick Crawford but he’s a drunk” And I said “Wait a second, if he tells you he’s not going to drink, then he won’t drink” No, they said. And I said “look. Call him up and talk to him. Tell him that I’m in the picture.” So they called Brod up and hired him. And just as I told them Brod didn’t touch a drop until the last day of shooting-then he let go But that’ show he got that job It was actually a good little movie. James Mason was an interesting guy, and we became fast friends. Oh God, he was a sweetheart. But Brod and he just didn’t get along.”

Came 1958, Charlton Heston left the William Wellman’s film Darby’s Rangers. It’s star James Garner took over the role and Stuart Whitman took Garners original character. Starting in production that year was Richard Fleischer’s western These Thousand Hills, and beginning it’s theatrical run was Ten North Frederick. Whitman remarked “many good things came from that”.

In 1958, Hedda Hopper wrote a piece on Whitman which said he could be the “new Clark Gable” :

This is a fresh personality with tremendous impact. He’s tall and lean with shock of unruly black hair and dark hazel eyes which harden to slate grey when he plays a bad man or turns on the heat in a love scene. When he comes into camera range, the audience sits up and says: “Who dat?”

The Decks Ran Red directed by Andrew L. Stone followed and according to Whitman, he got MGM to hire his friend Broderick Crawford with the condition that he remain sober during the shooting.

In 1959, Stuart Whitman replaced Robert Wagner in The Sound and the Fury co-starring Joanne Woodward and Yul Brynner. Woodward and Whitman would find themselves acting together once again in the taut thriller Signpost to Murder 1964. Also that year he appeared in an episode of the popular television show by writer/produced by Gene Roddenberry Have Gun-Will Travel.

Whitman finally started getting leading man roles in director Don Siegel’s Hound Dog Man. Whitman   played a rogue his “fourth heel in a row… I had a ball because the character was a real louse, everything hanging off him and no inhibitions. I like those kind of guys, I suppose because I can’t be that way myself.”

In 1960, he starred in the Biblical drama The Story of Ruth, replacing Stephen Boyd as Boaz.

Stuart Whitman in “The Story of Ruth” 1960 (Photo by RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

That year he co-starred in the darkly violent crime biopic Murder, Inc. Whitman had originally thought that he was to be cast in the Peter Falk role, but wound up playing the romantic lead instead. The film’s production was problematic from the beginning. Director Stuart Rosenberg was fired for taking too long to set up shots. After the actors’ strike the studio was pressured to finish the film so they hired Burt Balaban to finish production.

Then came 1961 and the role that earned him the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Stuart Whitman was frustrated with the kinds of roles he was getting. “I had been knocking around and not getting anything to test my ability” When Richard Burton dropped out of production of Guy Green’s The Mark, to take the part in the stage production of Camelot, Whitman was contacted by his agent, the actor not knowing the controversial content of the film, he flew to Ireland to read the script. Though it was a challenge he felt that he could tackle the role of a child molester, and he was right as he garnered the Oscar nomination for his performance. Whitman acknowledged that it “doubled my rating as an actor” yet  “I had a tough time breaking my image in that movie… it blocked my image as a gutsy outdoorsman.”

Whitman then starred in The Fiercest Heart filmed in South Africa. Then he appeared in Michael Curtiz’s religious biopic Francis of Assisi. Curtiz wanted Whitman, to appear in his next film The Comancheros. John Wayne had to negotiate with the studio to get Whitman released from a prior commitment with the studio. Stuart Whitman plays Paul Regret who escapes from the law but is eventually captured by Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (John Wayne).

1962, Whitman starred in Millard Kaufman’s crime drama Convicts 4 and was cast in the all-star feature The Longest Day (1962) The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view. 

Publicity Still from The Longest Day (1962)

Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément Stuart Whitman, Marcel Bozzuffi
Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément Stuart Whitman, Reggie Nalder

From Wiki: In 1963, instead of choosing any of these roles, Whitman played an American pilot in the French film René Clément‘s The Day and the Hour, shot in Paris and set during World War II. As described by Whitman, he got the part through Alain Delon, who he bumped into in an elevator at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Delon invited him to meet the director, and eventually worked out a way to loan him out from his studio contract. During the production of the film, Whitman disagreed with Clément on the direction of a torture scene. Whitman swore to Clément that he could handle it. After coincidentally sitting in a plane next to Sidney Buchman who co-wrote The Mark, they re-wrote the scene. Whitman directed the torture scene and hasn’t directed since. Whitman described Clément, as one of the finest French directors. He enjoyed the experience, saying, “I busted through at last and can now get an honest emotion, project it and make it real. You become egocentric when you involve yourself to such an extent in your role; your next problem is in learning how to turn it off and come home and live with society. It took a lot of time and energy to break through, so I could honestly feel and I’m reluctant to turn it off. Now I know why so many actors go to psychiatrists.”

In 1963, Stuart Whitman appeared in an episode called  “Killing at Sundial” of the first season of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. Whitman plays a Native American seeking to avenge his father who was hanged years ago.

1964, Whitman was cast in the expository psychological shiver as the unfortunate Dale Nelson who gets cast into the snake pit of Shock Treatment (1964). Then came the western directed by Gordon Douglas- Rio Conchos co-starring two other leading men Richard Boone and Tony Franciosa. Whitman said that he didn’t like the script, but producer Darryl F. Zanuck dangled the carrot of the lead role in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines in 1965.  After Stuart Whitman met with Richard Boone and director Douglas he agreed to take the part. Director Annakin had wanted Dick Van Dyke for the lead role in this aviation extravaganza but he had to to accept the studio’s choice and wound up being please with Whitman’s wonderful performance.

In 1965 he appeared in the director George Englund’s film noir Signpost to Murder co-starring Joanne Woodward. Signpost to Murder is perhaps one of Stuart Whitman’s most compelling performances. He plays Alex Forrester an escaped patient from an asylum – takes refuge in Molly Thomas’ (Woodward) house who has secrets of her own. This contemplative thriller with twists is an incredibly underrated psychological thriller and deserves more attention paid to it for its narrative precision.  There is an evocative score by master composer Lyn Murray that underlines the moody discord of the plot. Whitman is superb as the desperate man trying to free himself of being labeled insane, culminating in the emotional eruption of violence. “What a terrible way to live out the one life I have. Shut up. Shut off. Forever lost.”

He got the lead in Cy Endfield’s Sands of the Kalahari. Other actors considered for the role were Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum and Marlon Brando. Whitman had a horrendous time during the shoot, due to the extreme heat on location in Africa, and the baboons whom he had to fight with weren’t trained.  And finally the release of director Ken Annakin’s comedy centered around the aviation craze circa 1910 with an ensemble cast. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines with Whitman featured as the American participating in the race from London to Paris.

In 1966, Whitman starred opposite Eleanor Parker in Robert Gist’s An American Dream aka See You in Hell, Darling based on the novel by Norman Mailer. The film is a self-indulgent cynical journey as Whitman is suspected of killing his wife (Parker) who plays a miserable alcoholic. Whitman then appeared once again on the dramatic television series Bob Hope Presents  in the episode The Highest Fall of All. He played a suicidal stuntman with a death wish who is willing to do dangerous fall.

In 1967, Whitman came into American living rooms for the first time as U.S. Marshal Jim Crown, the lead character in the television western Cimarron Strip.

Stuart Whitman and Margit Saad in The Last Escape (1970)

1970, Whitman appeared in the episode “Murder off-camera” of Bracken’s World. Also that year, Stuart Whitman starred in The Last Escape and The Invincible Six. He was also in an episode of The FBI. 1971, Whitman acted in director Alexander Singer’s Captain Apache co-starring Carroll Baker and Lee Van Cleef.

Whitman plays a psychic who is hired by Carol Rossen to find her missing husband in the Grand Guignol made for television thriller Revenge! starring Shelley Winters as a twisted vengeful mother who is holding Bradford Dillman captive in her cellar. He appeared in another made for television sci-fi adventure The City Beneath the Sea. In 1972, he plays a hardened, solitary sea captain who catches a mermaid in “Lindemann’s Catch”, an episode of Rod Serling’s horror/fantasy series Night Gallery. Serling wrote the episode and Jeff Corey directed.

City Beneath the Sea (1971) made for tv movie

Also in 1972 he appeared in Disney’s Run, Cougar, Run, and an episode of Fantasy Island called “Carnival/The Vaudevillians“. He did another episode of Night Gallery called “Fright Night” where he must take care of a mysterious trunk in an old family estate. Having a proclivity toward starring in horror he appeared in a television episode of Circle of Fear/Ghost Story called “The Concrete Captain co-starring Gena Rowlands. That same year he appeared in another television movie, The Woman Hunter starring Barbara Eden. Came 1972 Whitman appears as a hitman in “The Set Up” episode of The Streets of San Francisco, and the made for television film The Man Who Died Twice. He also appeared in Love, American Style, and an episode of Hec Ramsey called “A Hard Road to Vengeance.” Curtis Harrington’s Made for Television horror The Cat Creature (1973) co-starring Gale Sondergaard.

In 1974 he took to the horror stage again appearing in the outre creepy and violent Welcome to Arrow Beach co-starring Lawrence Harvey and Joanna Pettet about a veteran who craves human flesh. Harvey who directed had asked Whitman to play the lead role, but he told him he didn’t want to play a cannibal but he’d play the deputy because he wanted to work with Lawrence Harvey.

In 1975, he had the lead role in Call Him Mr. Shatter, and an episode of Cannon called “Man in the Middle”. He co-starred with Fred Williamson in Mean Johnny Barrows. That same year he starred in Jonathan Demme’s exploitation film Crazy Mama co-starring Cloris Leachman. Several generations of women go on to be outlaws robbing banks so they can reclaim the farm in Arkansas that was taken away from them by the bank. Whitman plays Jim Bob who is along for the ride with Melba (Cloris Leachman). In Mean Johnny Barrows (1975) Whitman co-stars as a crime boss with Fred Williamson.

In 1976 he starred in the television series S.W.A.T. episode “The Running Man” and then he took to the Italian action genre working with director Alberto De Martino in his giallo feature where Whitman plays Capt. Tony Saitta and co-stars with John Saxon and Martin Landau in the very slick mystery Strange Shadows in an Empty Room. He appeared along side Rod Taylor and Elke Sommer in Treasure Seeker. He acted in television’s Harry O with friend David Janssen and Ellery Queen. He played the sheriff in Tobe Hooper’s nasty horror gorge- Eaten Alive.

In 1977, television called Stuart Whitman once again to appear in Quincy, M.E. in the highly charged episode “Hot Ice Cold Hearts” He appeared in one of my favorite horror films starring the great Piper Laurie. He starred in J. Lee Thompson’s The White Buffalo co-starring Charles Bronson.

In 1978 Whitman appeared in several television miniseries, The Pirate written by Harold Robins and The Seekers. He also starred in Delta Fox.

Around this time, Whitman collaborated twice with director René Cardona Jr.. In 1979 he starred as Jim Jones in the powerfully disturbing, Guyana, Cult of the Damned. The second film was Los Traficantes De Panico, also known as Under Siege.

“A lot of big people told me I was the number one man the networks wanted,” said Whitman. “I always wanted to play a cop with a heart, a guy who would use every possible means not to kill a man,” he said. “TV has needed a superhero… and I think Crown can be the guy.”

The Los Angeles Times did a profile on Whitman around this time, calling him “an actor of growing importance in a business that needs stalwarts to follow in the steps of the Clark Gables, Gary Coopers, and John Waynes… Whitman is like a finely trained athletic champion – a modest but self-assured chap who seems to know where he is going.”

“I’ve done lots of different parts since I left Hollywood High School and City College”, said Whitman in a 1960 interview, “so the sudden switch didn’t bother me too much. I hope 20th Century Fox will keep the roles varied and interesting.”

“I didn’t need to act to make a living, but I had a real passion for it,” he told writer Nick Thomas. “I just loved to act.”

Whitman described himself to Hedda Hopper as “a real American – have a little bit of English, Irish, Scotch and Russian – so I get along with everyone.”

“I went to so many schools—26 in all!—that I was always an outsider,” he later recalled. “It wasn’t until high school that I could really read . . . I always sat in the back of the room.”

Whitman’s early love for acting came through when he did three summer stock plays in New York when he was 12, but “nobody took that seriously,” he said.

“I reached a point where I said, ‘What are you going to do with your life? You got to get something going.'” he said. “I decided I wanted to spend most of my time on me. So I decided to develop me and educate me.”

According to John Gregory Dunne’s “The Studio,” Whitman was suggested for the title role in The Boston Strangler by John Bottomly, the Massachusetts assistant attorney general who prosecuted Albert DeSalvo. Instead, the role went to Tony Curtis.

Whitman had turned down a number of offers to star on television series over the years, including Mannix and Judd for the Defense. “I wanted more diversity in acting,” he said. “I felt I would limit myself.”

Whitman admitted, “I’m the type who must work constantly.” In the early 1970s, he worked increasingly in Europe. “I left Hollywood because it was getting to be a mad mess!” he said. “There are only about two really good scripts going around and they always go to the industry’s two top stars. I thought that in Europe, something better might come my way—and it did! I’ve made mistakes in the past, but I kept bouncing back. I always thought that an actor is destined to act, but I now realize that if you do one role well, you get stuck with it!”

Stuart Whitman retired from film and television after 2000 after his final appearance in The President’s Man.

Awards and honors Included on the Hollywood walk of Fame (1998) Nominated Best Actor Academy Award, The Mark (1961) Winner (cast member) Western Heritage Awards, The Comancheros (1961)

“The Comancheros” John Wayne, Stuart Whitman 1961 20th Century Fox

“I was filming Francis of Assisi 1961 In Italy with director Michael Curtiz IT was wintertime and a hard shoot And near the end of the film, Michael said “Stuart take a look at this script. It’s called The Comancheros” I read it over and said ‘boy, there’s a role in there that I’d love to be in” And he said I’d love to have you in it. I’m directing it. But the studio has got somebody else cast for that particular part. But we don’t start filming for another month, so when you get back to Hollywood see if you can get on the picture. I’d like to have you. “When I got back, I asked the studio and they said No you can’t do it We’ve got it all sewn up. So I called up Kurt Frings and told him what Curtiz said to me “Well he said “go see the Duke at Paramount He’s on Stage 17 Go talk to him.

Anyhow I worked my way into Paramount went to Stage 17 and when I got there (Wayne) was just going off to his dressing room. So I followed him in— “and Michael Curtiz wants me in your next picture. I really want to do it but the studio is putting up some blockage there. So I hung around there with Wayne for part of the day. And at the end of the day he asked me, “you really want to do the picture huh? Okay You’ve to the job. That’s how I got The Comancheros.”-Stuart Whitman

IMDB Trivia:

Alfred Hitchcock considered him, along with Cliff Robertson, Robert Loggia and Tom Tryon, for the role of Sam Loomis in Psycho (1960), but the role went to John Gavin.
Was a light-heavyweight boxer while serving the United States Army. Ironically, it was his role as a prizefighter in the play “Dr. Christian” that brought him his first leading role in a movie, playing Johnny in Johnny Trouble (1957) opposite Ethel Barrymore.
Was close friends with David Janssen.
In 1960, MGM toyed with the idea of doing an all-male remake of The Women (1939) which would’ve been entitled “Gentlemen’s Club.” Stuart Whitman would have been cast as (Oliver, the bartender who spills the beans about the illicit affair).

Another The Decks Ran Red co-star Whitman commented on was Dorothy Dandridge, who was going through a divorce and had to institutionalize her mentally ill daughter. Whitman was impressed with her strength and described her as a goddess.

Whitman told that when he first met Peter Falk on the set of Murder, Inc., they had differences but eventually became friends. Whitman found The Mark director Guy Green difficult to work with, finding him demanding and too strict, but they became good friends afterwards. On the set of Sands of the Kalahari, Whitman said he became best friends with fellow cast members Stanley Baker and Theodore Bikel, while he didn’t click with Jim Brown at first, they too became friends.

S.W.A.T. – Season Two – “The Running Man” 12/2/75 Stuart Whitman
FILM CLIPS HERE:
Cimarron Strip television show
Johnny Trouble 1957 as Johnny
 
Darby’s Rangers 1958 as Sgt. Hank Bishop
Ten North Frederick 1958 as Charley Bongiorno
The Decks Ran Red 1958 as Leroy Martin
The Sound and the Fury 1959 as Charlie Busch
Murder, Inc 1960 as Joey Collins
The Mark 1961 as Jim Fuller
The Comancheros 1961 as Paul Regret
Convicts 4 (1961) as Principal Keeper
The Day and the Hour 1963 as Capt. Allan Morley
Shock Treatment 1964 as Dale Nelson
Signpost to Murder 1964 as Alex Forrester
An American Dream 1966 as Stephen Richard Rojack
The Invincible Six 1970 as Tex
Captain Apache 1971 as Griffin
Revenge! 1971 tv movie as Mark Hembric
Night Gallery 1972 Capt. Hendrick Lindemann (segment “Lindemann’s Catch”)
The Streets of San Fransisco 1973 episode: “The Set-Up”) (1973) as Nick Carl
Shatter 1974 as Shatter
Crazy Mama 1975 as Jim Bob
Mean Johnny Barrows 1976 as Mario Racconi
Strange Shadows in an Empty Room 1976 as Capt. Tony Saitta
Ruby 1977 as Vince Kemper

Filmography

This is your everlovin’ joey sayin’ goodbye Stuart Whitman… we’ll always have your eyebrows and that sexy voice of yours to enjoy!

Piper Laurie: The Girl Who Ate Flowers

Part of what mesmerizes me about the actresses I love is their distinctive voices. Piper Laurie’s indelible talent is, of course, what attracted me to her initially. But part of what grabs me in the gut is her uniquely soft, velveteen whispery voice that seems to come from a deep and delicate place. Such voices are capable of moving mountains. Piper Laurie may have started out as Universal’s young ingénue but what she manifested after breaking her chains from the studio that held her back, is a monumental ability to express herself with a depth of emotion. She is evocative, calm, almost solitary, and always remarkable in each of her performances.

Universal might have locked her into formulaic romantic comedies and hyperbolic adventures, something Piper Laurie herself felt restricted by, but even those films are still delightful viewing and she shines in each role. Unfortunately the label stuck to her name and made it impossible for the actress to get serious scripts. Universal forced her to turn down potential break out dramatic roles with their constrictive servitude. It wasn’t until she took to the stage once again — as she has when first starting out in drama class– and acted in 1950s television shows featuring extraordinary writing and directing, that she was able to shed the stigma of some of Hollywood’s insipid labeling. There were directors and producers who saw something more in Piper Laurie. It is infuriating that she was not given the role director Vittorio DeSica had chosen for her because of Universal’s narrow-mindedness and strangling contract. And it is frustrating that there are remarkable performances from 1950s dramatic teleplays and series that are just not available for viewing. The only performance that I can find is Piper Laurie as Kirsten Arnesen Clay in Playhouse 90’s Days of Wine and Roses directed by John Frankenheimer.

In April 2019 I had the incredible opportunity to sit down and talk with the great actress while at the Chiller Theater Convention here in New Jersey. There, in the midst of enthusiastic fans buzzing around like drones in a spectacle hive excited to see Carrie White’s sinister mother, sat Piper Laurie as beautiful as always. She exudes a gentleness and presence –an aura– that emanates from her smile beneath one of her signature hats. I stood there struck silent for a moment, nervously. I think I might have even trembled a bit, about to meet one of the great actresses I’ve revered for years. Amidst signing autographs and Carrie bobble heads, her smile greeted me peacefully. She was gracious and welcoming. After I told her that I thought she should have won the Academy Award for her nuanced and provocative performance as the damaged Sarah Packard in Director Robert Rossen’s The Hustler, she invited me to come and sit down and chat with her for a while. I found her to be extremely kind, witty, and in particular, quite feisty and honest.

Just like her incredible life story and eloquently written autobiography Learning to Live Out Loud: A Memoir (which she proudly informed me was written completely in her own words without the aide of a ghost writer). While I’ll give some snippets of what you’ll find in Piper Laurie’s captivating autobiography, I’d rather leave you to obtain the book and take the journey with her yourself.

The book details brutally raw and honest expository remembrances of her intense journey as a child, through her early experiences as the reluctant and lovely starlet in 1950’s Hollywood to finally finding the voice that she struggled to manifest for so many years because of pathological anxiety. She tells how Universal shackled her to a contract while she slowly grew more courageous wanting to only take good scripts and shatter the image of the vapid Hollywood starlet. The book includes wonderful anecdotes about the days of great actors and directors, the experiences of working in the Hollywood system, and the friendships she established while discovering her creative voice through it all. The book deals with her exploration into love from her first unfortunate encounter with Ronald Reagan to the tumultuous life long love affair with director John Frankenheimer.

I told Piper Laurie that I understand why so many people bring up the movie Carrie at these conventions– it stands to reason that there’s a thrill in the mythos of characterizations like that. But it was when I told her how much I loved her work beyond that famous iconic role, she held my hand looked into my eyes and told me with great and stately sincerity how much that meant to her. This is a piece of time in my life I will always remember with great affection and awe.

Throughout our conversation her soft eyes look straight into mine and her effervescent smile summoned a validation in me and we were having such a real and candid conversation. We talked about her performance in Until They Sail (1957), Robert Wises superior underrated film about four sisters during the war. She was thrilled to talk about it, that it was a good film but no one ever mentions it. Piper Laurie’s performance as Delia Leslie is extraordinary filled with layers of self preservation and boldness. Piper remarked about the wonderful actresses she got to work with in the film as it also starred Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine, and Sandra Dee. She told me it was how sweet Sandra Dee was and that it was her first film role. They had to build her up with a body suit to make her look older and more developed as her character aged. She was very appreciative to talk about the work she had done that she was proud of. [SPOILER ALERT] I told her how upset I was that they killed her off in the end of the film. In her humorous, feisty manner she responded, “They always seem to be killing me off in these things!”

Of course we talked a little about the phenomena that is her comeback role in Carrie (1976). She appreciated hearing that it was her performance as Mrs. White that was the true horror narrative of that film, and not the supernatural subplot. Even her orgasmic death scene where being crucified brought her a certain ecstasy emblematic of iconic death scenes on screen for generations.

Piper Laurie as Ruby Claire in Curtis Harrington’s Ruby (1977)

While fans were mimicking “they’re all gonna laugh at you” from Carrie (1976), I asked her about working with director Curtis Harrington and her work in his extremely atmospheric horror film Ruby (1977) where she plays the sensual torch singer Ruby Claire who ran with gangsters during prohibition and owns a drive in theater haunted by an angry ghost. She got such a kick out of me bringing that film up and told me she herself loves the film! In Ruby, Piper Laurie’s sultry performance is haunting, sexy, and the film is an off-beat gem. She said working with Harrington was a great experience and that he was wonderful to work with. She also agreed with me that Harrington has a particular sensitivity and sympathetic eye for the vulnerability in women much like Tennessee Williams. His characterizations of women in each of his films are very complex, for example Simone Signoret in Games 1967, Shelley Winters and Debby Reynolds in What’s The Matter with Helen, Julie Harris in So Awful About Alan, Ann Southern and Ruth Roman in The Killing Kind and of course Piper as Ruby Claire. “He was a gentle and lovely man during and after.”

I told her how much I loved her performance as Dolly Talbot in The Grass Harp (1995). After reading her autobiography I can see how she manifested the gentle quality of Capote’s ethereal character. In contrast, it’s ironic that a good many people remember the monstrous mother from De Palma’s Carrie –she still frightens horror fans to this day– when Piper Laurie can only think of how funny it was for her to be so mean. Who at first thought the film was supposed to be a comedy and how the director was deadly serious about her playing it utterly satanic right down to getting crucified by kitchen implements. She had to stop herself from laughing during the shooting of that scene.

To be honest, Piper Laurie as Toni Collette’s (Arden’s) mother in The Dead Girl 2006 is far more frightening than Carrie White’s mother could ever be. One is macabre and Grand Guignol, and the other too real and tragic to cause a shudder in your psyche. Having met her it’s even more of a revelation that she is an incredible actor to be able to manifest such horror when she is quite the opposite in true life.

I also mentioned her performance as Mary Highmark in Naked City Howard Running Bear is a Turtle (1963). Naked City is an Emmy Award-winning dramatic television series from the 1960s. It’s well scripted episodes, cinematography, and casting of the finest actors from stage and film was groundbreaking. And while this particular  episode is problematic in that actors who were not Native American were miscast in those roles, and they whacked a really awful black wig on Piper, her performance was the one illuminating aspect of the episode. When I reminded her of the show, she remarked, “Didn’t I dance on the table in that?” while she laughed with that distinctive voice of hers. I had to laugh as well, and tell her that she was very good in the role, but the wig was frightful. We had a good laugh about it. I joked that perhaps it was the same one they stuck on William Shatner when he played a Balinese man in the other disappointing episode from all the 4 seasons. Aside from her dancing –which was really painful to watch as she mimics a Native American dance the party goers are insensitively asking her to do an offensive impression of– her performance was poignant and powerful. She was surprised that I got that much out of it, in her words, “it didn’t age well” — the wig and the episode.

When I told her that I would be very respectful in the feature about her personal life, she joked about it saying that she would be disappointed if it wasn’t racy! That gentle beaming smile with that sassy sense of humor. I love Piper Laurie even more than I possibly could have before!

As time has moved on her talent has not only diminished she continues to recreate herself and grow even more beautiful with age.

Piper Laurie is a three-time Oscar nominee, nominated by BAFTA as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for best performance by an actress in ‘The Hustler’ with Paul Newman. Her career has spanned 7 decades. Piper Laurie earned three Oscar nominations for her portrayal as the tragic Sarah Packard in director Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (1961).

PIPER LAURIE INTERVIEW FROM 2012 TALKING ABOUT ROBERT ROSSEN’S THE HUSTLER (1961)

The character of Sarah Packard (The Hustler) is immortalized on the screen by an arresting performance by Piper Laurie (Kim Novak had turned down the role) who should have won the Oscar for Best Actress with her nuanced, and heart wrenching interpretation of the vulnerable loner and self-loathing Sarah. Director Robert Rossen has often dealt with the intricacies within the psychological landscape of his films. (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946, All the King’s Men 1949, Lilith 1964, Billy Budd 1962).

Sarah Packard is a complicated woman who has a tenuous connection to the world but allows herself to fall in love with Eddie who is driven to succeed and land at the top as the greatest pool hustler. Sarah is a lost soul longing for someone who will love her. She’s receives a stipend from her wealthy father, but there is no sign of affection or acceptance from him, his is non-existent. Eddie awakens desire in her, but he cannot deliver anything but his hunger and ambition to beat Minnesota Fats and attain the title. Fast Eddie destroys everything he touches. In order to really throw herself into the role of Sarah Packard Piper Laurie actually hung out at the Greyhound terminal at night.

Piper Laurie was also nominated for her portrayal as Sarah’s mother Mrs. Norman in Children of a Lesser God (1986) and quite notably as the fanatical nightmarish mother Mrs. White in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) But those who remember her best from that role may be surprised to learn that she overcame an equally turbulent childhood, including an anxiety disorder that left her unable to communicate as a child.

Once free of Universal’s iron grip she was able to take on roles in dramatic teleplays, performances in the theater and in films that would lead her to her signature artistry. Some of her most memorable performances were the stage production of The Glass Menagerie on Broadway, the original Days of Wine and Roses, in the film The Hustler for which she was nominated for the Academy Award.

After a hiatus from acting she reemerged in the iconic horror film Carrie in 1976 and had a major role in David Lynch’s cult television show Twin Peaks, Children of a Lesser God, Tim, and The Grass Harp. Piper Laurie is also skilled sculptor and director, and one of the industries most brave and talented originals.

“I’ve had a tough life sometimes, and a very rewarding one,” Piper exclusively shared with Closer Weekly in 2018. Who is “not frightened often by anything. Either I’ve been through it before, or I just know I will survive!”

Cheesecake pin up model Piper Laurie posing in hay. (Photo By Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

There are so many intricate details of Piper Laurie journey that it would be impossible to sum it all up in one tribute. Besides I’d like to leave plenty of the morsels and insights that are so well written in her book. I can’t think of a better way to tribute the great actress by allowing her to tell the full story in her own words. I cannot stress again the importance of getting this amazing autobiography and delving into the weeds with this brilliant woman who has a compelling story to share with us.

Piper Laurie was born Rosetta Jacobs on January 22nd, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. Her parents, Charlotte Sadie and Alfred Jacobs, who were of Russian Jewish and Polish Jewish descent. It wasn’t easy for her parents to raise two little girls in the middle of the Depression. After years of struggling to survive Rosy’s weary mother took her sister Sherrye,who suffered from a terrible case of Asthma, and Rosy to a Sanitarium in the Mountains called Reslocks a home for children in the northeastern part of the San Fernando Valley. Grandmother and mother dropped the two little girls off without goodbyes as Rosy felt everything go black, she had fainted. She was left their to keep her sister company for 3 years in the cold dormitory style home where there was no nurturing presence just steel handed guidance from unemotional guardians who inflicted more harm than good on the children in their care. With no contact with her mother except for a visit or two, otherwise the girl were left at the mercy of Reslocks.

“As for me, my exile had cultivated an imagination that grew like a giant sheltering flower. It was a lifetime gift.“

Though Rosy, then called Sissy returned home, the desperate love that she originally felt for her mother turned into something dark, and the years away drove a wedge between mother and daughter. “During the long years in the sanitarium I had felt like a motherless child. Three years after leaving it, my mother consume my lief. For better or worse, my life had become hers, and I didn’t know any other way to live it.”

As a child Rosy desperately loved her mother and suffered from an acute anxiety disorder that often left her in a fugue state when attentions were upon her. “People’s patient expectation caused me to panic.” The family moved to Los Angeles, California in 1938 where Piper attended Hebrew School and the shy Piper was enrolled in elocution and then acting lessons.

Piper’s passion for performing started as early as 2 years old when she heard a full orchestra play for the first time. Taken by the magnitude of the instrumentation, so moved she climbed onto her mother’s lap, frightened by the shear vibrations of it, but moved by it at the same time. Another time she saw Jane Withers perform “Out of what cloud had she come? Fantastic How did this happen? It was unfathomable to me that a child could get that kind of attention and adulation.”

Rosy’s first play at age 11 was in Guest in the House. It was her mother that suggested she be in the movies. She would devour the Technicolor musicals with Betty Grable and Alice Faye and the black and white comedies starring Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. When she was 14 she brought by her agent to Howard Hughes office as an offering but the two sat quietly, as he decided not to elect to add her to his list of conquest. Through both their silence, she began to realize her own isolation. She won a screen test with Warner Bros. took elocution lessons and eventually studied with German actress Hermine Sterler who taught her to lose her ‘tricks’ and find her sense memory to “be ‘specific’ about subtext and to be honest in every moment.”

Piper talks about going to see Judith Anderson in the production of Euripides’ Medea at the Biltmore Theater. “My eyes were opened that night and have yet to close… What moved me was her inner nakedness. I could hear her and feel her power. The whole experience of the play was life-changing for me. It was so clear-the beauty, creativity and epically the courage of the theater and the actors were what I wanted. My dreams were now being transformed into another vision, completely my own.”

She studied acting with Benno and Betomi Schnider at the Actor’s Lab “My concentration and imagination out of necessity and opportunity had developed so fully during my childhood. It was one of the gifts from those years.” She took classes with these great teachers for almost 3 years. Tony Curtis was the newest member of the acting class. He was under contract at Universal but had only done some bit parts. It was there she met classmate and friend Bob Richards. He directed her in a class in the Tennessee William’s one act play This Property Condemned. The play seem so “organic’ to her spirit.

She was offered a test option at Warner Bros after they saw her performance in the Schneider’s class. It was 1949 when they were ending all their contracts with their big stars. Shortly after she turned 17 her agent Herb Brenner showed the test to Universal. She was called in for an interview and did a performance from This Property Condemned. She came back and did a second performance in front of a crowded class of new actors. The handsome Richard Long was one of them who said “That’s the best piece of work I’ve ever seen in this room”

After, she signed a long term contract with Universal Studios and changed her name to Piper Laurie. It was her first manager Ted Raden who came up with the name. Her breakout role was in Louise with Ronald Reagan. With Universal, she made over 20 films starring opposite actors like Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power, and Tony Curtis. To build up mystique around the young actress, Universal Studios claimed she bathed in milk and ate flower petals. But failing to get serious roles, she broke her contract with Universal and moved to New York City. Two years there working in theatre and live television turned her career around. During this time she appeared in live television performances of Twelfth Night, Days of Wine and Roses, and Winterset, both presented by Playhouse 90.

The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951) Tony Curtis, Everette Sloane and Piper Laurie

Piper Laurie in The Mississippi Gambler

American actor Rory Calhoun (1922 – 1999) with actresses Piper Laurie (right) and Mamie Van Doren (left) in a publicity still for the 1955 comedy romance ‘Ain’t Misbehavin”. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Universal thrust their brightest new star into a regime with stylists and chaperones and cast in leading roles, sent on dates with some of the most handsome Hollywood actors for publicity. Her popularity and fresh allure attracted a myriad of fans and and men like Ronald Reagan Howard Hughes, Paul Newman, Tony Curtis and Roddy MacDowall including dozens of significant directors. Piper Laurie’s name appeared on movie marquees across America starring in hit Hollywood films of the 1950s like The Prince Who Was s a Thief, The Mississippi Gambler and Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1955).

She started to feel her confidence growing inside. Kirk Douglas was preparing to produce a movie and was looking for a young girl to co-star opposite him. Piper would be under contract with Kirk Douglas. Being an inexperience seventeen year old she was advised to wait for Universal. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity. But Piper Laurie says she regrets very little in her life, even her mistakes.

She was locked inside a prison away from her creativity, not realizing that Universal made low budget B westerns and programmers. She was given gems of advice like this beauty from the judge who witnessed her signing her contract. “Don’t ever let men know that you are smart.” She was thrown into a ‘boot camp’ of training to become their latest ingenue. Changing her clothes, hairstyles and makeup.

From the young dreams of a silent little girl Piper Laurie struggled to break free of the oppressive culture of the studio system with it’s inherent objectification of their female stars and holding them back from more substantive roles. She was uncomfortable and embarrassed by the shallowness of the quality of the scripts she was given and finally The courageous actress found her voice and sought out the artistic vision she had longed for since she was a child.

Her first picture Louisa, the entire cast embraced Piper warmly it was a charming part to play Spring Byington’s granddaughter who acted more like a teenager than she did. Edmund Gwenn would visit her in her dressing room to sing little songs with her. Charles Coburn would sit out on the soundstage puffing on his cigars and coaching Piper on her role.

About the film Louisa… “I couldn’t find any reality in what my character did in the script or in the words she used. Every line and moment for the girl seemed like a cartoon. It seemed to me that a real girl would be amused and appreciate her grandmother’s behavior. Perhaps in a more clearly stylized screenplay, I could have found a way to make this caricature of a teenager live. I kept trying to think of ways to make her real for myself, but it was a constant struggle on the set.”

The relentless publicity campaign. Fred Banker was the publicity man for Louisa. He had this idea based on one of the scenes in the film where Edmund Gwenn prepares a salad for the family. He tosses marigold petals from a centerpiece on the table into the salad. When Fred studied the scene he got the flash and called the wire services. “Universal’s new contract player-Piper Laurie-eats nothing but flowers,” and arranged exclusive interviews with the flower eating girl. She had to play along. At the commissary there she sat eating a meal that was an assortment of edible flowers prepared artistically on a plate. Piper said it was more interesting than her role in the movie! “Oh yes, they’re really delicious.” Ultimately she would go home dejected about pushing this lie every day. “My expectations to make art were beginning to crumble.”

Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie in No Room for the Groom (1952)

In the 1950s universal paired newcomers Piper Laurie and Tony Curtis old classmates from Benno and Bertomis acting classes they were in four movies together. Make Room For the Groom, The Prince Who Was a Thief and Johnny Dark 1954. Curtis had been very unkind publicly about his co-stars performances saying that he was the real draw. This was very hurtful to Piper Laurie and the two actors never became friends after that. 1950 Louisa is a delightful romantic comedy starring Spring Byington in the lead role as the Grandmother Louisa Norton who allows herself to be wooed by two gentlemen Edmund Gwenn and Charles Coburn. In Piper Laurie’s first role she plays Louisa’s granddaughter Cathy with a feisty spirit bringing plucky charm to her film debut.

American actress Piper Laurie, circa 1958. (Photo by Frederic Lewis/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

1950 The Milkman, 1951 Francis Goes to the Races as Frances Travers, 1951 The Prince Who Was a Thief as Tina, 1952 No Room for the Groom as Lee Kingshead, 1952 Has Anybody Seen My Gal as Millicent Blaisdell, 1952 Son of Ali Baba as Princess Azura of Fez / Kiki, 1953 The Golden Blade as Khairuzan- she has a wonderful chemistry with Rock Hudson, the two are quite funny together, it showcases Piper Laurie’s comedic sensibilities and IMO the affinity between Hudson and Laurie is far more cohesive than all her pairings with Tony Curtis together, Dawn at Socorro (1954) as Rannah Hayes, Johnny Dark (1954) As Liz Fielding, 1954 Dangerous Mission as Louise Graham. Again the chemistry between Rory Calhoun and Victor Mature is tenable in both Dangerous Mission and the surprising good western Dawn at Socorro and the romantic comedy Ain’t Misbehavin’. Both male stars make a great pairing with Piper Laurie.

Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie in Has Anybody Seen My Gal

Piper Laurie and Rory Calhoun in Dawn at Socorro (1954)

Victor Mature and Piper Laurie in Dangerous Mission (1954)

Piper Laurie in The Golden Blade (1953) with Rock Hudson

In 1953 The Mississippi Gambler Piper Laurie plays the beautiful Angelique ‘Leia’ Dureau She possesses have a great vitality a driving hunger to live life. In 1854, Mississippi riverboat honest card gambler Mark Fallon (Tyrone Power) wins young Laurent Dureau’s (John Baer) diamond necklace family heirloom. Fallon pairs up with Kansas John Polly (John McIntire) who go on a mission to clean up gambling and push an honest game on the river boats. At first he hires Angelique whose brother loses her diamond necklace in a poker game but she cannot deny the fiery chemistry between them.

Angelique: “May I ask you one question before I leave you abruptly , knowing how I feel about you why did you humiliate yourself by asking me to dance?”
Mark: “Oh a matter of courtesy If a man is going to ask a woman to humiliate herself then he should be willing to accept it first.”
Angelique: “I don’t understand”
Mark: “You and I are in love with each other. We always will be. We’ve known it since that first moment we met in St. Louis. I want you and your happiness. But you’re not ready for marriage yet and I won’t be until you can truly be happy with a man.

The Mississippi Gambler ended Tyrone Power’s marriage to Linda Christian. The film was originally a vehicle to pair the couple, but Universal Pictures pushed for their starlet Piper Laurie to be cast in the role as Angelique.

Piper Laurie plays a good time gal who marries the wealthy Rory Calhoun. This puts high society onlookers enraged that he should marry a showgirl. She should be a lady of quality. So she tries to stop causing scandals for her wonderful husband and get some culture. Piper Laurie is witty and does a great job fending off the old hens set on putting her down. Rowdy Club  girl including Mamie Van Doren crashes high society when wealthy older man falls for her (1955) Ain’t Misbehavin‘ as Sarah Bernhardt Hatfield. Piper was very proud of her singing and dancing. Her character shined and Piper was a natural at being very humorous, and graceful with the quick comebacks.

I’ve seen people ask her about Tony Curtis, and Rock Hudson but I think that her chemistry with Rory Calhoun is romantic sweet, sharp witty and a sexy delight to watch. They were able to shift gears in Dawn in Socorro and bring out a more serious deeper emotional connection in that picture. I for one enjoy seeing them act together. in Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1955). Rory Calhoun plays Kenneth Post who loves Sarah for who she is, but she tries to fit into the role of high society girl. Painting to understand the old masters etc. Reginald Gardiner as Anatole Piermont Rogers is hilarious. And Jack Carson is obsessed with protecting his friend from bad publicity is at his polished gruff best for this romantic comedy.

Kenneth Post- “Have you ever been to a psychiatrist?”
Sarah- “Just once, he gave me fifty dollars not to come back.”

During this time Piper Laurie met director John Frankenheimer in Los Angeles. She was dating Gene Nelson they had dinner with John and his wife Carolyn. He was a new director at that point, but he was up and coming right out of New York. She was told by Millie Gussie to go and observe John in action. She sneaked into a booth and watched John Frankenheimer direct with an “incredible display of an artist’s intelligence, combined with the speed and power of a tornado. Watching him was like seeing a thunder and lighting storm conducted by a musician.” He winds up directing her in The Ninth Day for Playhouse 90. It was one of Pipers favorite live shows. Written by Dorothy and Howard Baker, with a beautiful script, ‘lots of humor and humanity’ The cast was Mary Astor, James Dunn, Victor Jory, John Kerr, Elizabeth Patterson and Nehemiah Persoff. This was the first time John and Piper worked together.

In 1955 she was in Robert Montgomery Presents (TV Series)
 Stacey Spender
- Quality Town (1955).

All the exciting dramatic performances were happening on live television now. She then got a script for Robert Montgomery Presents it was an hour long dramatic broadcast from New York. It was a great script called Quality Town This would be a substantial and challenging role for Piper Laurie. Rehearsing for the live television show was a lot like preparing for a play.

Joseph Mankiewicz had seen the performance and deemed it some of the best acting he had seen on television. The two had a little memorable tryst back in those early days of Piper’s budding dramatic television career. Scripts for live television were coming in.

(1955) The Best of Broadway (TV Series) 
Billie Moore- Broadway (1955) … Billie Moore, 1956 The Ninth Day (TV Movie), 1956 Kelly and Me as Mina Van Runkel, (1956) The Road that Led Afar G.E. Theater, (1956) Front Row Center (TV Series) as Judy Jones, (1957-1958) Playhouse 90 (TV Series)
 Kirsten Arnesen Clay / Ruth McAdam – Days of Wine and Roses (1958) … Kirsten Arnesen Clay – The Ninth Day (1957) … Ruth McAdam, (1957) The Seven Lively Arts (TV Series)- The Changing Ways of Love (1957) 
(1957) Studio One in Hollywood (TV Series) as Ruth Cornelius- The Deaf Heart (1957). Director Robert Wise’s film (1957) Until They Sail
 as Delia Leslie Friskett, (1959) Winterset (TV Movie) as Miriamne, (1959) Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (TV Series) as Eileen Gorman- The Innocent Assassin. (1959).

Piper Laurie goes to New York. “We can’t afford to have a Piper Laurie and what she stands for in the play.” Humiliated she flew back to L.A.

She appeared in Studio One’s The Deaf Heart (1957) directed by Sidney Lumet, a poignantly beautiful one hour play centered around psychosomatic illness written by Mayo Simon about a woman who is the sole caregiver in a family of non hearing people. The play co-starred Vivian Nathan, William Shatner, Richard Shepard the great Ruth White and Fritz Weaver.

The next show directed once again by Sidney Lumet was challenging in that Piper Laurie would be playing three different roles in one play. The show was called —The Changing Way of Love. The first was Awake and Sing! By Clifford Odets co-starring Jason Robards Jr. The next vignette would co-star Rip Torn in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams.” The third act was called Three Empty Rooms by Reginald Rose co-starring Dick York.

By that time Piper was working on simultaneous projects including her role as Viola in Maurice Evan’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

With all of Piper’s extraordinary anxiety around performing “Sometimes my anxiety was eased when I was bold. I found my greatest strength and power when things were tough.”

“I had finally shed my life as a harem cutie and didn’t think twice when I expressed my outrage for the love of art.”

During the late 50s and early 60s Piper worked on Studio One in Hollywood’s The Deaf Heart 1957, The Seven Lively Arts’ The Changing Ways of Love (1957), Playhouse 90 The Ninth Day 1957 and Days of Wine and Roses (1958), Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse The Innocent Assassin (1959), , Play of the Week’s Legend of Lovers (1960), as Phoebe Durkin in G.E. Theater’s The Road That Led Afar (1956), Caesar and Cleopatra (1959), A Musket for Jessica (1961), Westinghouse Presents Come Again to Carthage, The United Stated Steel Hour Mission of Fear (1963), You Can’t Have Everything (1960).

Actress Piper Laurie acting in a scene from Caesar and Cleopatra with actor Maurice Evans. (Photo by Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Despite her growing reputation for being difficult she was still receiving offers for challenging roles. Director Mitch Leisen offered her the part in George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra for G.E. Theater. She had another encounter with Maurice Evans who had referred to Piper as a pariah the year before. Evans didn’t remember the debacle with Twelfth Night and was fine working with Piper again. “He was like a charming kitten.” Piper was gracious and made the effort to be open to working opposite him for a 30 minute straight run through.

After being complacent at Universal Piper started to swing out at anything that didn’t feel right to her, even if it was not seemingly important, it was the principal. She regrets having given director Ralph Nelson such a hard time on his Play of the Week show called Legend of Lovers Piper playing Eurydice starring Robert Loggia and Sam Jaffe. Piper Laurie was now empowered to speak her mind. She might have been earning a reputation in the industry as a difficult actress to work with but she had years of being compliant to make up for. Universal had unleashed a woman whose voice would not be silence. As Piper says in the title of her brutally honest autobiography, to speak out loud.

Frustrated, wanting to meet directors and producers who would take her seriously. Their perceptions came from the publicity, never even having seen her films. Finally her agent gave her a script, one he had to steal because the producers just thought she was a ‘glamorous bimbo’ It was a drama for G.E. Theater. The Road That Led Afar (1956) written by Hagar Wilde. And adapted from an original story by Lula Vollmer. She had to keep pushing her agent to fight with the producer who did not want to even consider her for the part of a young rural girl. She showed up for the reading wearing old jeans and no makeup. That night the producers called and said they were mistaken about her and she got the part. The show was directed by Herschel Daugherty. She co-starred with Dan Duryea who would play the older man who takes her for his bride and to live with his motherless children. The preacher is played by Edgar Buchanan who marries them. The role would be an entirely different role than anything from her past career, it would be a break from being her past. She felt blessed to have this role. She received her first Emmy nomination as Best Actress for The Road that Led Afar.

Then came a version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” (1956) directed by Ralph Nelson and co-starring Anthony Perkins filmed for CBS studios in Los Angeles. She was playing real people not contrived shallow characters.

Participating in the USO in Korea opened her heart and her eyes. “My empty person was stating to be filled. The Korean trip had opened my heart and my eyes. But when I go home and returned to the business of show business, it seemed I was wasting my life. The efforts made by my agent to get me some freedom to work at other studios, or on television or on the stage, were rejected. Even my requests for time off to work in Betomi’s class were denied. Universal kept refusing to loan Piper out to other studios though the press was unkind to her, she felt like she had ‘signed her life away’

Upon finishing Ain’t Misbehaving Piper Laurie was sent a new script for a low budget Western starring Audie Murphy. This was the last straw! She felt so unappreciated at this point that she had finally hit the wall. She had endured enough. She told her agent Mike Zimring that she’d rather go to prison than work for Universal any further. Even though the studio offered her more money she wanted out. Universal finally released her from the contract but imposed a penalty of $25,000 per movie, and she’d have to do one a year for three years. But now how was she going to put the image that Universal imposed on her, behind her and recreate her public identity.

Piper was asked to do a screen-test for The Goddess (1958) but she turned down the part it wasn’t the right timing for her as she was now pregnant, of course the part went to the inimitable Kim Stanley.

STAGE WORK:

Pat Hingle, Maureen Stapleton, George Grizzard and Piper Laurie in The Glass Menagerie

After that Piper Laurie became extremely selective about her work. After arriving in New York Piper’s first experience in Theater was two, one act plays written by Molly Kazan called Rosemary and The Alligators (1960) at the York Playhouse . Then she did The Glass Menagerie (1965). Tennessee Williams considered Piper to be one of the greatest actresses of all time. Piper was accepted into Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse. She appeared in The Destiny of Me at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (1992), Biography at Stage 73 (1980), Mornings at Seven (2002) and Zero Hour 2009/2010.

CLASSIC FILM & TV CAFE 2014 by Rick

Café:  You starred in several live TV dramas like the Playhouse 90 production of The Days of Wine and Roses with Cliff Robertson. How did live television compare to being on the stage?

PL:  It’s similar, but live television is much more extreme. It’s really walking on the high wire. I don’t think people today understand that when you did the show, not only could you not do it again, but it was going out on the air at that moment to everyone in the country. And whatever mistakes you made, that was it. You would live with it for the rest of your career. It was really chancy. It was a daredevil act. I was terrified and forced myself to do it, because I thought I should and thought I could. And it was very rewarding.

Frankenheimer was the ideal director for her new found sensibilities, brutally honest but sensitive and utmost he was imaginative. He then directed her in The Days of Wine and Roses (1958).

“On broadcast day we had a late call so I drove several hours away, through the rolling hills of the Valley, almost to the ocean. I was trying to deal with the terror that threatened to overwhelm me. I drove so far that I could not go farther without being late for the dress rehearsal. I was tempted to keep driving and miss the whole thing, this thing we’d been rehearsing and dreaming about for so many weeks. I looked around at the hills, breathless at the beauty of the world, and prayed for strength and guidance that my work could be part of it. The broadcast was that night. The countdown to air for a live show never gets easier. This was the time actors clung to whatever spiritual belief they had. I looked at Cliff across the room, in position for the first scene, and, with all the intensity I possessed, sent my energy across to him and asked him silently to play with me And I answered. The miracles of this show: Cliff opened himself so beautifully to me and on air we played together for the first time.”

New York Times review by Jack Gould-

“It was brilliant and compelling work…Miss Laurie’s performance was enough to make the flesh crawl, yet it always elicited deep sympathy. Her interpretation of the young wife just a shade this side of delirium tremens–the flighty dancing around the room, her weakness of character and moments of anxiety and her moments of charm when she was sober–was a superlative accomplishment. Miss Laurie is moving into the forefront of our most gifted young actresses.”

Piper Laurie was cast in stage play Handful of Fire (1958) opposite good friend Roddy MacDowall produced by Bob Lewis. Piper was eventually replaced which was devastating to her. Her good friend Roddy came over to comfort her. John Frankenheimer had worked well with Piper on The Ninth Day, he asked her to do Days of Wine and Roses (1958). She had never played a drunk scene in all of her acting classes. She visited AA meetings to research the mindset of being an alcoholic. Her performance in Frankenheimer’s teleplay is nothing short of raw and astounding.

Emmy TV Legends interview Piper Laurie about Days of Wine and Roses

When John’s marriage to Carolyn was over, he asked Rosie (Piper) to marry him. “Rosie I want to marry you! I’ve been in love with you for such a long time. I want us to be together.” Piper-“Slowly at first, and then completely, John became the love of my life.”

Though Montgomery Clift was one of the actors she would have most liked to perform with she turned down the film Miss Lonelyhearts filmed as Lonelyhearts (1958) a story by Nathaniel West. Monty Clift was friends with Roddy MacDowall whom Piper also knew at the time. Monty sought out Piper for the role even coming to her home. He tried to convince her to take the romantic lead opposite him in the movie. Piper wasn’t interested in the script, and Monty agreed but he was counting on both their performances to lift the script and elevate it to a high level. The film was considered a failure, she does often wonder if it was a missed opportunity. But there was no more compromising for Piper Laurie.

Continue reading “Piper Laurie: The Girl Who Ate Flowers”

Feature Guest Post: Aurora from Once Upon a Screen…

It is my honor to host this guest post from friend and blogger Aurora from the prestigious Once Upon a Screen… always known for her thorough, thoughtful, and witty reviews of diverse selections of classic film, television, and radio. For this month of Halloween Aurora shares with us a piece about one of my favorite figures of classic horror!

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)

Three score and five years ago the Gill-man stepped out from the murky waters of the Black Lagoon located in the Amazon’s Northern region. Defending his territory against human intrusion, the Gill-man, named Creature on marquis across the country, became legend spawning two subsequent feature movies and numerous appearances in media. The Creature, with tall sleek, humanoid frame, was Universal’s classic horror swan song, and he presented a fabled studio a lasting monster with unique elegance.

The adventure in Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon begins as geologist Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovers a fossilized webbed hand in the Amazon. Realizing the find is an important one, Maia leaves two locals to watch over the camp as he asks for support from the team at the marine biology institute in Brazil. The team is made up of Maia’s colleagues all of whom possess an impressive knowledge of the Devonian Period, which is commonly referred to as the age of fishes and occurred approximately 400 million years ago. Significant evolutionary changes is believed to have happened during the Devonian Period so it’s no surprise the group quickly decides to accompany Maia into the Amazon.

The group includes ichthyologist David Reed (Richard Carlson), a former student of Dr. Maia’s and an expert in the study of fish as is his colleague and love interest Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams as Julia). The money man is Mark Williams (Richard Denning), David’s boss and the one who green lights funding further study of the area where the hand was found. There’s a Dr. Edwin Thompson whose expertise is unclear, but who immediately recognizes the fossilized hand is that of an amphibian creature who spends a lot of time in the water. Thompson is a peripheral character, but he plays an important role later in our story as he is the only person attacked by Gill-man who survives.

Examining the fossilized hand at the Maritime Biology Institute: Dr. Reed, Kay Lawrence, Dr. Williams, and Dr. Thompson

On the small ship Rita, captained by Lucas (Nestor Paiva), the group is drawn to the Black Lagoon about which all sorts of scary stories have been told through the years, including ones about a half-man half-fish creature. Unbeknownst to the group the Creature, who is in fact half-man half-fish, has been watching them closely with eyes on Kay in particular. Once in the Black Lagoon, they are in the Creature’s territory and he’s calling the shots as we see when Mark and David dive for rocks. The Creature doesn’t hurt them, instead he lurks nearby watching the intruders.

Things are different, however, when Kay decides to go for a swim. The Gill-man, fascinated by the woman who likely looks unlike anything he’s ever seen, approaches her from below to create a dance in the water reminiscent of Tarzan and Jane’s decades before. Julie Adams called it a love dance during which you can feel the Creature’s heart. This one though makes one’s hairs stand on end with danger at hand as his fascination compounds. We are out of our depth and this fan cannot help the palpitations that increase in intensity as the swim advances. This is all thanks to James C. Havens who directed the underwater sequences, among the most memorable in the movies.

Gill-man covets Kay and she becomes his sole interest while he defends his territory against the others. Slowly, as we get to know him, our allegiances switch sides in support of the unique creature, as Marilyn Monroe’s does after she and Tom Ewell watch the picture in The Seven Year Itch. “All he wants,” she says, “is to be loved and needed and wanted.” Several messages in Creature from the Black Lagoon support an audience’s support for Gill-man and his environment. He is misunderstood as Marilyn states, because we are not the sole inhabitants of this planet, but somehow we are always intent on causing harm. The embodiment of that idea in the picture is Mark Williams who sees the Gill-man as a ticket to fame and fortune while automatically ascribing to the creature no feeling. Mark’s determination to capture Gill-man against David’s protestations causes Mark’s death and we are not sorry. This scientist’s intent is selfish, against the broader good.

The battle between Gill-man and the group on the Rita intensifies as the creature proves himself a worthy opponent by trapping the interlopers in the Black Lagoon. Efforts to free the boat are fruitless until David manages to render the Gill-man helpless with some kind of gas. By this point, however, the creature has escaped captivity, killed members of Lucas’ crew, severely injured Dr. Thompson, and eventually kills Mark who thought himself a match for Gill-man under water. It’s difficult to understand why anyone would deem himself a worthy opponent of a creature that took two actors to bring to life: Ben Chapman plays the creature on land and Ricou Browning and his impressive swimming skills portray him under water. Legend of horror Glenn Strange was considered for the underwater shots as the Creature, but he couldn’t swim.

As the remaining scientists struggle to free the Rita, Gill-man abducts Kay taking her to his lair resulting in an exciting climax, but which results in his demise. One cannot help but be saddened by the vision of the elegant man-fish sinking into the depths of the Black Lagoon, the end of an ancient creature that reminds us of the importance of our past. We are not alone and we are not better. Why do we always forget the first and think the last?

“It makes for solid horror-thrill entertainment,” the Hollywood reporter reviewer wrote of Creature from the Black Lagoon upon its original release. That is certainly true on several levels as the beauty and beast trope is as satisfying here as is the fiction in the science presented with screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur Ross, from a story by Maurice Simms. As is the case for many others, this fan thinks the Gill-man himself is the main reason to watch even though the story is well-adapted and entertaining. For kids who grew up in the 1950s, as David Skal states in his 2002 documentary Back to the Black Lagoon: A Creature Chronicle, the Creature from the Black Lagoon was the only monster that counted. Previous Universal monster heavyweights like Dracula, the Monster, and the Wolf Man had yet to appear on television, which is how the rest of us fell in love with them.

Audiences across the country first laid eyes on Gill-man on television when Abbott and Costello met him on an episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour. On February 21, 1954 in a parody of their many meetings with Universal monsters, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are in the Universal props department for the big Creature reveal. As expected, Costello is left alone with monsters appearing only to him when Ben Chapman as the Creature pops out of the chest to end the skit. No doubt audiences were impressed with this new monster, but that cannot compare to the thrills children must have felt when they watched Gill-man in 3-D in the local theaters that offered the new, if short-lived, gimmick along with the unforgettable score and high-pitched screeches every time Gill-man appears.

Bud Westmore, head of Universal’s make-up department took the credit for the creature’s look, but all historians credit actor, special effects designer and animator Milicent Patrick for truly discovering Gill-man’s legendary look. Patrick sketched the Creature and was referred to as “The Beauty Who Lives with Beasts.” Patrick took part in Creature from the Black Lagoon‘s World premiere in Detroit, Michigan on February 12, 1954 where special 3-D screenings were scheduled the following night at midnight. Audiences went crazy for Gill-man and the movie far exceeded studio expectations. On its wide U.S. release that March, Creature was offered in theaters across the country in 3-D and 2-D (flat) versions and it did so well that it remains the only 3-D movie to warrant a 3-D sequel, Revenge of the Creature, which began production in late June 1954. That one was followed by the flat The Creature Walks Among Us in 1956. (3-D Film Archive) It should be noted that as a classic Universal monster, Gill-man has (perhaps) the most interesting character arc in his trilogy of films than any of the other monsters.

From the day he stepped out beyond the Black Lagoon, Gill-man had the weight of four decades of Universal monster legacy on his shoulders and he nurtured that with gilled expertise. The future would honor him with great respect offering him everything from familial bonds as Uncle Gilbert on The Munsters to an Oscar for Guillermo del Toro’s homage in The Shape of Water. 

Narrator: In infinite variety, living things appear, and change, and reach the land, leaving a record of their coming, of their struggle to survive, and of their eventual end.

Except the Creature never ends.

Aurora

@CitizenScreen
Once Upon a Screen (aurorasginjoint.com)

Postcards from Shadowland Halloween 2019

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! The Uninvited (1944)

THE UNINVITED 1944

Directed by Lewis Allen (The Unseen 1945, So Evil My Love 1948, Chicago Deadline 1949) with a screenplay by Dodie Smith and Frank Patros based on the novel Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle.

The Uninvited is an extraordinarily superior ghost story (four years earlier Paramount released The Ghost Breakers  comedy with Bob Hope) about a composer Ray Milland as Rick Fitzgerald and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) who wander from their London flat and stumble onto a quaint estate on a cliff purported to be haunted. An estate that has lay unoccupied for twenty years. Their little dog Bobby chases a squirrel into the house and when they follow after him, they fall immediately in love with the place. Rick and Pamela are care free siblings who take life as it comes, Rick more cynical and Pamela who believes that “Life is not that cruel!”

They discover that the reason they are able to buy this Gothic Cornish seacoast mansion for such a reasonable price of 1200 pounds is that it’s owner Commander Beech (the wonderful Oscar winning character actor Donald Crisp)wants to rid himself of the tragic past attached to the place, and protect his granddaughter Stella Meredith(Gail Russell)from it’s evil legacy. Cornelia Otis Skinner plays a sinister character, Miss Holloway who is obviously obsessed with the late Mary Meredith (Stella’s mother) a la Mrs. Danvers, whose sanitarium is scarier than the haunted house which is inhabited by two ghosts, one benevolent and the other evil.

The Commander is all too eager to rid himself of the house that holds too many dark family secrets. He worries that his granddaughter “suffers with a general delicacy; she is not strong enough to make new friends. Stella is not going back inside that home.” Rick replies “Great Scott, you really believe the place is haunted!” 

One of the most haunting qualities about the film is the premier performance by the broodingly beautiful Gail Russell, portraying the sadly reflective Stella who is inevitably and eternally drawn to the house she spent her first three years in. The house represents all connections and memories of her mother who fell off the cliffs outside Windcliff. “She lived there for three years, my years… I love that house. It’s not right to hate it because somebody died there.”

Rick falls for the beautiful Stella, composing the exquisite melody Stella By Starlight written by Victor Young.

THE UNINVITED, Gail Russell, Ray Milland, 1944.

There are some wonderful scenes, with eerie mechanisms that work well to create a chilling and atmospheric moodiness. A flower that wilts by the touch of a cold unseen presence, the inextricable smell of mimosa, shadows and candle lit rooms, the family dog that runs away and the cat who refuses to go upstairs, and the nocturnal crying, uncanny mists, and a spooky séance. Paramount insisted on using shots of ectoplasmic manifestations of disembodied spirits, swirling luminous clouds that hint at the feminine form — in order to market the film as more of a commercial ghost story, informing the audience that these were real ghosts and not implied imaginary shivers. With the exception of The Haunting, Curse of the Cat People, The Innocents based on Henry James The Turn of the Screw and Dead of Night, the Hollywood true ghost story is quite rare and specialized, where the actual ghosts may be nightmarish, malevolent and sinister. And while The Uninvited is not as menacing as the other films, there is a sweetly romantic quality that earns it’s place among them.

Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited is a story of relationships, some healthy and others quite twisted. The mood is set by the voice-over-narrative beginning the movie juxtaposed to the visual display of wildly frolicking waves crashing over the rocky Cornwall shore reinforcing this haunting narrative: we are told of “haunted shores… mists gather, sea fog, eerie stories” Once we listen to the pound and stir of waves, all senses are sharpened” which will prepare us for the “peculiar cold, which is the first warning.” a cold which is “a draining of warmth from the vital centers of living.” – Gary J. Svehla Cinematic Hauntings.

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying you’re always invited to The Last Drive In!

Happy Birthday Barbara Parkins May 22

“The Raven haired sylph who walks in beauty like the night… Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright; Meet in her aspect and her eyes…” — Lord Byron

Barbara Parkins as B.A. in a scene from the film ‘The Kremlin Letter’, 1970. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty)

It is so easy to look upon Barbara Parkins’ exquisite beauty and make that the initial distinction you recall about her as an actress before recounting the roles she’s contributed to, the iconic roles that have heightened the dream factory of our cultural consciousness that is — film and television. As Betty Anderson of Peyton Place and Anne Welles in Valley of the Dolls. But beyond the glamour and the pulp and the melodrama and the camp, there is an actress who not only possessed an otherworldly beauty but a depth of character and quality. Who touched our hearts but was one of the earliest women to kick ass too! As Betty Anderson, she broke ground in a role that discussed women who began to reflect on their bodies being used as negotiable product for men, even in good clean small moralistic New England towns. And through a lot of painful, solitary self discovery learned to rely on her own self-reliance and newly mined self respect. Barbara Parkins was leading the way three years before Jane Fonda was flyin’ free up in space in 1968’s Barbarella.

I have always been drawn to Barbara Parkins, her inherent sensuality, sophistication, her dreamy voice. There’s a deep well of desire and poetry simmering below that obvious beauty. She brings that sensuality with her to every versatile role as an actress. And that is why I’ve been in love with her since the very first time I saw her.

Barbara Parkins was among the women chosen by famed photographer Patrick Lichfield to be included in his 1983 book, “The Most Beautiful Women”. Continue reading “Happy Birthday Barbara Parkins May 22”

Happy Birthday to Bradford Dillman April 14

Bradford Dillman in a scene from the film ‘Circle Of Deception’, 1960. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

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.

Actor Bradford Dillman (Photo by  John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

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.”

Continue reading “Happy Birthday to Bradford Dillman April 14”

Black Christmas (1974) Bob Clark’s darker Christmas Story “Filthy Billy, I know what you did, nasty Billy!”

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Directed by Bob Clark (Porky’s 1981, A Christmas Story 1983) Screenplay by Roy Moore (She Cried Murder 1973 tv movie) Cinematographer Reginald H. Morris (When Michael Calls 1972 tv movie, The Food of the Gods 1976, Murder by Decree 1979, Phobia 1980, A Christmas Story 1983)

Reg Morris’ cinematography brings the shadowy moodiness that was the atmospheric style of When Michael Calls a suspenseful made for tv movie in the early 1970s. Cinematographer Albert J. Dunk created Billy’s POV shots by rigging up a camera harness that would mount the camera on his shoulder as he walked about the house and climbed the trellis and attic ladder himself.

Ironically, Clark who has created a deeply dark and disturbing tale set during Christmas, is responsible for one of the most authentically nostalgic, witty and whimsical tributes to Christmas, the most beloved A Christmas Story. For a director to create the most splendid narrative that reminisces about a more innocent time, it remains a huge cult indulgence every Holiday Season, as we all collectively love to watch Ralph maneuver through the obstacles in his way of getting a Red Rider BB gun. Darren McGavin is brilliant as his old man whose expletives are still floating over Lake Michigan, and the soft glow of electric sex in the window from that fabulously kitschy leg lamp. We’ve got one giving off that soft glow as I write this.

Black Christmas stars Olivia Hussey as Jess Bradford, Keir Dullea as Peter Smythe, Margot Kidder as Barbara. Marian Waldman (When Michael Calls 1972 tv movie, Deranged 1974, Phobia 1980) as Mrs. MacHenry, Andrea Martin as Phyl, James Edmond as Mr. Harrison, Douglas McGrath as Sergeant Nash, Art Hindle as Chris, Lynn Griffin as Clare Harrison, Michael Rapport as Patrick,  and John Saxon as Lt. Fuller. As an interesting note-Nick Mancuso plays the caller/intruder/psycho.

Continue reading “Black Christmas (1974) Bob Clark’s darker Christmas Story “Filthy Billy, I know what you did, nasty Billy!””

What a Character! 2018 – Sassy Sisterhood: Eileen Heckart & Louise Latham

It’s that marvelous time again, when one of the most enjoyable Blogathons has come around, it’s the 7th Annual What A Character Blogathon. And the reason I adore it so much –it’s purpose is essential in paying tribute to the memorable character actors who have often added the sparkle to the cinematic sky of movie stars– they touch our lives so profoundly because of their unique contribution as the characters they bring to life!

I want to thank Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and Kellee Pratt of Outspoken & Freckled. for giving me the opportunity to once again show my sincerest love for the actors & actresses who are so discernible within the art of film, television and theatre. It is their unforgettable performances that make it a much richer, a more compelling experience — as they are as much the stars who inhabit the dream of art because of their singular personalities.

I’ve been participating now for 7 years, and it’s always a great expedition to delve deeper into the career’s of the people who I’ve found the most enigmatic, extraordinary and uniquely engaging. This year I’ve been excited to pay special attention to two remarkable women, Eileen Heckart and Louise Latham.

For years I have always thought of these two women together, as one of those odd associations–yet unexplicable– that makes you put certain faces or impressions together in your head. Another example of two actors that often seem to merge in that vast noggin of mine — I’m always thinking of E.G.Marshall and Eli Wallach together. Heck, maybe, next year I’ll do the same double feature for them. As I adore them both!

It struck me that I should pair Eileen and Louise as a kind of sisterhood, for both of their uniquely extraordinary styles stand out and somehow stand together for me. And an interesting confluence happened as I went on my more intensive journey of discovering of these two fine actresses. I found out that Eileen Heckart and Louise Latham appeared together in a rare episode of The Doctors and The Nurses an hour long television medical drama that ran from 1962-1965. In a macabre tale reminiscent of a Robert Bloch story — the episode is called Night of the Witch, about a woman (Eileen Heckart) who is tortured by the loss of her 6 year old daughter, and seeks her own brand of retribution from the medical staff she believes is responsible. The hospital receptionist who is cold and unfeeling is portrayed by none other than Louise Latham. The fascination I’ve had to see this performance led me to hunt down a rare copy and now I own it and have put together a sample of it here for you. It’s a rather long clip of the episode in honor of them appearing together. It showcases both their talents. I hope you enjoy the excerpt And I am praying that the television series itself will someday find a full release as it is worthy of being re-visited for it’s groundbreaking content, incredible cast and performances.

 

 

As in past What A Character Blogathons Burgess Meredith, Ruth Gordon, Agnes Moorehead, Martin Balsam, and Jeanette Nolan–each of these actors– had a way of elevating every single project they were involved in, making it just that much more fascinating, delightful, heart wrenching and unquestionably memorable because of their performance–no matter how small their presence, they changed the landscape and impacted the narrative.

It is my absolute honor this year to feature two of the most remarkable women whose legacy still lives on.

Continue reading “What a Character! 2018 – Sassy Sisterhood: Eileen Heckart & Louise Latham”

Playground of Dark Dreams: The Nightmare World of Dante Tomaselli

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

“Among contemporary filmmakers, Dante Tomaselli stands out as Roger Corman’s most direct heir, as his cheaply made cinematic tales of terror rely on stylized set pieces to produce creepy atmosphere.” 

André Loiselle, Theatricality in the Horror Film (Anthem Press) 

“I’m on fire to transcribe my nightmares through cinema and music. After creating four films and four instrumental albums, I’m pregnant with The Doll, my next horror picture and it’s clawing at my insides. The upcoming horror shocker concerns a haunting at a family owned wax museum in Salem. Co-writer Michael Gingold and I recently completed the screenplay and had a couple of false start-ups, like all my films have had – but I’m very close now to securing the proper funding. As a cult filmmaker, I don’t go to Hollywood for my financing. I live in a world where independent films are funded through private investors. It’s an unstable realm for sure and I plan to get to the point where I can fund my own films as well as other independent filmmaker’s works. As with all my projects, I’m purchasing and acquiring some of the special fx and props before actual official pre-production. Right now I’m working with a sculptor, Jason Bakutis, on the the doll itself…An antique porcelain doll. Jason created the eerie ancient tribal mask that Jimmy, the lead character wore in my last film, Torture Chamber. My projects may take years to mount but I’ve learned that if my intentions are pure and I visualize the film and soundtrack enough the universe has no choice but to open the gate. It’s just a matter of alignment. Every one of my films has been a struggle to create and if I would have given up then there would be no DESECRATION, no HORROR, no SATAN’S PLAYGROUND or TORTURE CHAMBER. I see THE DOLL looming when my eyes are open…or shut. The film is always projected like slides in my inner eye. Not to mention, the sounds…I tend to plan my actual soundtracks before filming. I did it on every one of my films. The sound…first. Which I guess makes sense since I have sound-color synesthesia. When I was younger and the very loud school alarm would go off – I’d see little grey spirals, like mini tornadoes, every time. The sound induced the patterns, the visuals. One time I saw what looked like three giant dragonflies hovering over the side of my house. There was bombing going on in the neighborhood and the explosive sound produced these strange blobs of color. I thought they were real flying giant-sized insects and I remembering running in terror. The sound of rain…I don’t need to see rain, just hear it…and it’s involuntary…I see little fiber optic dots, floating specks of light.” —Dante Tomaselli

I first stumbled onto Dante Tomaselli’s work when I purchased a VHS copy of Desecration from one of the oldest video rental houses in Madison Wisconsin, known for their extensive collection in Indie, obscure and art house films. I was struck by the artwork on the cover and the story seemed fascinating to me since I’m a classic horror film nut who will always remain faithful to the sacred classical horror genre style from Mid 80’s all the way back to the Silent Era.

One of the many things that strikes me about Dante Tomaselli’s work– is the Nightmarish Beauty that feels vintage. The Hallucinatory, Religio/Horror style is how he manages to create a perfect sense of place in his film’s surroundings, that is not only otherworldly in ordinary spaces but also possess a throw back to earliest horror films without being derivative.

There is a reminiscent atmosphere of older films as if he’s found a conduit to the good old days and his own appreciation for the classical style of horror film-making in his own work and succeeds in adapting it with an original flare on screen. The effective and evocative sound design is also something that creates another layer to Tomaselli’s films. Even the sets are meticulous, Tomaselli has a grasp of how to set the scene that hints at another time period. This is also what makes Tomaselli’s films more frightening than most contemporary horrors. Satan’s Playground truly has the authentic feel of a late 70s early 80s classic horror film, I mean he used a wood paneled station-wagon in Satan’s Playground, it doesn’t get better than that! not to mention his eye for casting special actors that fit his characters perfectly. The same goes for all of his other three feature films, Desecration, Horror and Torture Chamber.

In particular I have come to adore Irma St. Paule who sadly passed away in 2007. Irma has presence. She added something special to Desecration 1999 as Grandma Matilda and as the wicked Mrs. Leeds she was superbly macabre in Satan’s Playground 2006.

Dante Tomaselli has tapped into his primal dark spot, his id and found a way to connect the dots to the outer world. Upon re-watching all four of his feature films, I became reacquainted with some of the elements that drew me to his work in the first place. Tomaselli within all four works has created one continuous nightmare realm. A Möbius Trip of time and space. A string of interconnected events, interchangeable, with their own symbology and iconography. One connected journey with thematic threads that weave a familiar tapestry– painting the entire picture as a unified message, and an alternate realm that is woven together with pieces from the same puzzle. Hallucinatory, non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic, visceral, east coast Americana Gothic, a 70s vibe with raw simplicity, transcendental & primal horrors. There is a definitive pattern, a cyclical nihilist fate where none of the characters manage to survive their journey, their ordeal. There are no real protagonists, just puppets in a modern Greek tragedy.

Sound in Dante Tomaselli’s masterful works are extremely key to the aura of his work. He painstakingly sculpts each soundscapes that breathe, lo-fi undertows, waves and tones that shade the atmosphere along with his dynamic color palate. The use of color and lighting is also reminiscent of great horror films of the 1970s & 80s, I might add.

Tomaselli also prolongs his character’s sense of ‘outsider-ship’ The Outsider theme is also continuous throughout his work, in particular the gangs of children, forgotten and disaffected children, angry, having suffered at the hands of abuse and torture, they band together with their collective angst, as in Horror and Torture Chamber. While society is trying to cure them, or figure them out, or repress their identities, or force salvation on them –they are caught up in their private hell again and again.

And there is a perfect sense of place that Dante Tomaselli establishes in all his films…

As in the old abandoned house filmed in the Pine Barrens featured in Satan’s Playground, the simple woods, a place of the natural world becomes an almost unreal hellish domain. A rustic limbo-land. And what I’ve come to realize, but I must give first credit to my partner Wendy who watched this chilling film with me together once again, this haunted Halloween month is that Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule) and her demented kinfolk don’t even really live in that broken down abandoned place.

She gets the sense that the house really is empty, it’s uninhabited for real. She figured that they only appear when someone comes knocking at the door. Then the hellish realm opens up and they materialize, like phantoms, like demons. And you know what! –I believe she’s right.

Because getting to know Dante Tomaselli’s work, means realizing that there are dimensions, levels of hell here on Earth. The creepy Leeds clan are just like the elusive Jersey Devil himself, swooping in and out of the picture to take people out of this life! Even as poor Sean Bruno falls into the hole in the ground (much like Bobby in Desecration-again revisiting common themes) it’s like he is being sucked out of life and down into the bowels of hell, or falling into ‘nowhere’. And one of the most striking observations for me was Tomaselli’s use of Trees… trees representing the ‘natural world’. which Dante and I will discuss further into this post. There are trees uses as figures, as the embodiment of an elemental force in each of his four films.

From Matthew Edwards essay The New Throwback: The FIlms of Dante Tomaselli “…watching Poltergeist, how many people would feel comfortable keeping a doll of a clown in their room? In both Desecration and Horror, Tomaselli likewise uses familiar objects, or childhood toys, as a means of driving conflicting emotions.”

There are many moments of recurring iconography throughout Dante Tomaselli’s four timorous mind-blowing works of art. ‘The Devouring Mother Archetype”-Christie Sanford who is fantastic continued her demon mother entity in Desecration’s respective sequel Torture Chamber. In all four films, Sanford’s incarnation displays this rabid motherhood, not only with the symbol of a little boy trapped in a cage and the religio-horror aspect but her character Judy’s maniacal abduction of Paula’s (Ellen Sandweiss) baby, Anthony in Satan’s Playground, and then her violent Folie à deux relationship with the vicious Reverend Salo Jr. (Vincent Lamberti) and their treatment of Grace in Horror.

There is the re-appearances of the goat (a symbol of arcane Gods & supernatural significance), boils (damnation from hell) boy size cages, used in Desecration as the badly abused Bobby is imprisoned in one in his dreams, as is Jimmy in Torture Chamber. The torture rack used in Horror is brought back in Torture Chamber once again, illustrative of the themes of agony and punishment. There is a dark swirling, gaping black vortex, a circular menacing field that not only appears in Satan’s Playground out in the dark sky in the night time woods and we see it once again in Torture Chamber inside the castle structure. There are invisible bogs, holes to nowhere that Danny Lopes continues to get sucked down into, in Desecration and then again in Satan’s Playground. And of course there is Atmo Royce’s incredible artwork that Tomaselli commissioned specifically for his films, that are significant to each story. Even the puzzle that Grandma Matilda (Irma St. Paule) works on at the dining room table in Desecration has a story to tell, it also contains the grassy oubliette that Danny Lopes falls into.

Dante makes the lower-budget work to his advantage. Films with vast amounts of surplus funds wind up having no soul, yet Dante Tomaselli manages to convey what’s in his head by staying close to the art of intuitive style and not by using big money shocks. He is not restricted at all, but stays true to his vision.

I see Dante Tomaselli’s work as uniquely his own imaginary / hallucinatory vision. Dante’s collective works are like little filmic exorcisms, for childhood fears. Where the danger surrounds anyone who is young, and the adults become the monsters. Where religion becomes the monster, and where fanaticism, repression and abuse, drives people toward possession, damnation, and inevitably to Hell, or a hellish nightmare world where there is no escape nor salvation.

Yet on a very Americana landscape, with a truly east coast American Gothic narrative due to the fixation on suburban Catholicism, with Medieval emblems, Italian east coast Catholicism and the ordinary American family, the fixture of the church as in Desecration , Catholic idols and statuettes of the virgin Mary, all surrounding childhood fears, perversion of religion, fanaticism and madness. This all seems to manifested into these surreal nightmarish paroxysms on screen.

I also see amidst the imagery…agony, fixation, rage, desire, craving, cruelty, revenge, frenzy, hysteria and desolation, and outsider-ship as the proponents of the narratives, in Desecration (1999) Horror (2003), Satan’s Playground (2006) and ultimately Torture Chamber (2013).

There’s an authentic American angst about ours sins swallowing us up and spitting us out into Hell. In Dante Tomaselli’s dream world, there exhibits a charismatic starkness, which exposes us down to a raw nerve and makes us feel closer to what might be a more straightforward Hell, than the depictions from classical paintings and literature.

it will continue to brand Tomaselli a hallucinatory auteur and broaden his landscape a bit more, but does not scale back on the schadenfreude emotional shivers and psychic acrobatics that his earlier works cause the viewer to go through, definitely me for sure.

Dante Tomaselli was born October 29, 1969, in Paterson, New Jersey- is an Italian-American horror screenwriter, director, and electronic score composer. He studied filmmaking at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and then transferred to the New York School of Visual Arts, receiving a B.F.A. degree in Advertising there. His first film was a 23 minute short, called Desecration which was screened at a variety of horror and mainstream film festivals.

Later on, Dante Tomaselli expanded his screenplay Desecration into a feature length film and in 1999, the film premiered to a SRO audience at the prestigious Fantafestival in Rome, Italy.

The release of Desecration (1999) on DVD by Image Entertainment was praised by reviewers for its unique vision for a independent horror production.

“I’m just this guy from New Jersey who has odd visions. I do have an obsession with replicating childhood nightmares, fears, anxieties. With my films, I’m trying to construct some kind of nightmare where we experience the protagonist’s damnation.”

It’s no wonder that he’s “just this guy from New Jersey with odd visions” and a life long supernatural / horror aficionado considering himself as a ‘supernaturalist, NOT a ‘satanist’, who also happens to be the cousin of film director Alfred Sole the director who brought us the edgy , cult Catholic themed horror favorite , Alice Sweet Alice (1976) which I loved the atmosphere of dread and that iconic clear mask of the killer, the yellow raincoat… The entire vibe is memorable.

Dante’s 2nd feature film, is Horror (2003) began it’s initial filming in January 2001 in Warwick upstate New York, which was Tomaselli’s first commercial success, and has maintained a wide release on DVD.  Tomaselli also has a keen eye for casting the right people for her work. In an interesting & quite nostalgic maneuver the film cast celebrity mentalist/magician, Kreskin who maintained notoriety as ‘Amazing’ in the 1970s! Dante Tomaselli’s Horror was released on DVD in the United States and Canada by Elite Entertainment.

Tomaselli then made Satan’s Playground (2005), It stars 70’s and early-80’s cult-horror icons Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead), and Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). The film is set, and was filmed in, New Jersey’s infamous Pine Barrens Forest that truly has its own eerie mythology in real life.

In his fourth installment Dante Tomaselli released  Torture Chamber (2013) yet another of his nightmarish journeys exploring the imaginations of Hell and damnation. Torture Chamber had its World Premier at Sitges 2012 Festival in Spain.

Dante Tomaselli’s work is being featured in an excellent edited volume released by the outstanding publishing company McFarland — FILM OUT OF BOUNDS. There’s a chapter (pg. 112-125) titled: The New Throwback: The Films of Dante Tomaselli.

Twisted Visions: Interviews with Cult Horror Filmmakers by Matthew Edwards

From IMDb – About Dante Tomaselli’s musical compositions link below to his music company.

Dante’s Halloween Haunted Attraction

The director/composer’s first audio CD of electronic horror music, ”Scream in the Dark” (2014) was released by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio January 14, 2014. Its follow-up, ”The Doll” (2014) described as “a ghoulish experiment in fear,” was released on CD and Digital download by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio April 15, 2014. Tomaselli’s third dark ambient album, “Nightmare” was distributed by the same label January 13, 2015. TuneCore released his fourth and most successful dark electronic album, “Witches” March 24, 2017. Rue Morgue Magazine awarded Witches five skulls, “A meticulously crafted work…Tomaselli takes us on his most lurid sonic journey to date.” Rock! Shock! Pop! added, “Pulsing John Carpenter-esque keyboard work…Dante Tomaselli releases his fourth album of spooky soundtrack inspired instrumental music.” Videoscope Magazine’s music critic, Tim Ferrante stated, “All of Witches’ 13 tracks are praiseworthy…Each cut ignites theater-of-the-mind wonderment, fear and the spiritual world by deeply boring into the psyche…Tomaselli has produced a fiendish and furtive album for fans of ‘mood music’ of a different kind.” Dante Tomaselli’s Witches was nominated for Rue Morgue magazine 2017 album of the year.

Desecration (1999)

“You Will Burn in Hell!”

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. With cinematography by Brendan Flynt, film editing by Marcus Bonilla, Art direction by Michelle Lang, Production design by Michele La Rocca.

Stars Irma St. Paule ( 12 Monkeys 1995, Trees Lounge 1996, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her 2000) as Grandma Matilda, Christie Sanford (Horror 2003, Satan’s Playground 2006, Winter of Frozen Dreams 2009, Torture Chamber 2013) as Sister Madeline / Mary Rullo, Danny Lopes as Bobby Rullo, Salvatore Paul Piro (Joe’s Apartment 1996, Sleepers 1996, Night Falls on Manhattan 1996, The Sopranos (199), Find Me Guilty 2006, Satan’s Playground 2006) as Mr. Rullo, Vincent Lamberti as Brother Nicolas, Maureen Tomaselli as Sister Rosemary, Gene Burke as Father O’Leary, Ruth Ray as Reverend Mother, Helen Palladino as Mrs. Cannizzaro the psychic, Nora Maher as Sister Rita, Mary Fassino as Sister Veronica.

Desecration is an eerie psychological chiller about a young 16 year old boy named Bobby Rullo played by Danny Lopes. It also stars Tomaselli regular Christie Sandford as Sister Madeline/ Mary Rullo (Bobby’s mother) Sandford brings a certain ‘arresting presence’ to both characters.

The setting for Desecration is appropriately placed at St. Anthony’s Catholic Boarding School-St. Anthony is the Patron Saint of the Lost. And Desecration is the story of one lost boy’s journey through Hell! The film winds around a non-linear movement and flashbacks with soundscapes that are striking.

Bobby Rullo (Danny Lopes) is an outsider, a loner. He is emotionally scarred by his mother’s sudden death. Christie Sanford, simultaneously plays Sister Madeline and Bobby’s mother Mary. The two women it could be said are one in the same, both are Bobby’s tormentors.

16 year old Bobby Rullo suffers from a repressive and outright abusive Catholic childhood. He seems lost within the emotional turbulence since the unexpected death of his mother when he was five. 11 years later, at his Catholic boarding  school, while playing with a radio controlled plane, it collides with Sister Madeline causing blunt force trauma to her head and killing her instantly on the grounds of the school. It is deemed an accident, but Bobby is failing school and he is told to pack his bags and go home. Bobby quietly utters- “Some people are blessed and others are just cursed.”

It is only after he inadvertently causes the death of the nun, that it unleashes a series of brutal and supernatural chain of events. As a premonition, at the opening of Desecration, during mass, sister Madeline can not get her candle to light, she runs out of the room seemingly afraid and ashamed, as the other nuns stare at her. There is an expression of shock and of dread on her face as she is not meant to be blessed, but as Bobby says, some people ‘are just cursed.’

Bobby begins his journey through Hell, where he sees visions of the dead nun and his dead mother. Bobby’s descent summons demons, and evokes powerful childhood nightmares and primal fears.

Desecration acts as a set piece for our childhood fears, and the overpowering influence of abuse, fanaticism and repression, which wreak havoc on our innocence. Desecration is in effect a film you experience from the inside out. You’re not supposed to make sense of it. There is no sense to one’s madness or one’s descent into a nether regions of Hell while the gates open wider. The dead sister Madeline who becomes more grotesque with time as she is book-ended by demon clowns who stand at the ‘gates’. She taunts Bobby with visions of her lurking about the grounds.

Bobby is also mistreated by Brother Nicolas (Vincent Lamberti who is quite intimidatingly sinister in this role and as Reverend Salo Jr. in Horror 2003 with his well chiseled fiendish grin) who manhandles him and slips him a Valium to relax, a queer thing to do as an elder figure of the church. Bobby asks him, “Can priests take Valium?” With a menacing tone he tells Bobby, “priests can do many things…” 

Bobby becomes groggy, he begins to hallucinate, as he looks at the painting of a nun, it morphs into a blurry face like sister Madeline who appears to the Reverend Mother out on the grounds, faceless, then the painting of the nun becomes an unearthly skull. The use of Atmo Royce’s paintings is perfection, as a pinion to the surrealism of the film.

Bobby begins to hear the voice of a priest, “No description can be adequately revealed to the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked…” The sins of the mother, not the father  are exacted on the children. The transformation of the nun painting becomes a skull as its final transformation, turns itself into a clown’s face.

Bobby wanders the halls in a daze, he gazes through the window of the classroom door and sees brother Nicolas’ eyes burn demonic as he turns to look at Bobby. Finally as he makes his way back to his room, lights a candle and says his prayers, he falls asleep and vines and dirt begin to envelop the room. The earth and the natural world are trying to swallow him up. He dreams of sister Madeline in her most frightening incarnation standing at the entrance of a gate, in between a set of demon clowns. Sister Madeline is now trapped in Hell and Hell is coming for Bobby. He is marked for damnation by the evils of the world.

Bobby has only one person he can trust and that is his dauntlessly pious Grandma Matilda who is wonderful in the role. Matilda’s devotion to her Catholic faith drives her forward to try and protect Bobby from his mother, her own daughter Mary who is haunting and terrorizing him from the grave. Grandma Matilda is part of the supernatural events that were triggered by his killing sister Madeline. Madeline is grotesque in death, but Bobby’s mother was an abusive monster in life, and how he processes the abuse he endured as a little boy is dreaming of her having locked him in a cage. Bobby’s father mentions how he’d come home and find his hands and feet tied to the playpen.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is where Grandma Matilda is putting together a strange puzzle that is an odd painting of trees in the woods, almost a primitive style artwork. There’s is one piece left to fill in and suddenly it becomes Bobby’s face as he is about to sink into a hole, another premonition of things to come. Grandma Matilda also discovers her daughters spirit in the house, “She’s a here (with an Italian accent, though Irma St. Paule is from the Ukraine, she does a wonderful job as an old world Italian Catholic) She’s a here!!!”

There is also a great sequence where Matilda wants to consult the psychic she plays Bingo with to help try and find Bobby who is missing. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “I see a very deep hole” Matilda-“the hole in the puzzle” “Yes it is a puzzle” Matilda also asks if his mother Mary has him, Mrs. Cannizzaro is fearful of the energy she is picking up on, the psychic is afraid to proceed. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “Your daughter is using him to escape” “Escape from what?” “From Hell!”

Bobby is run through a maze of physical persecutions and emotions. During biology class he sees the dead nun, drive up in a hearse and beckon to him to get in. Bobby hates confinement, he complains that there are no locks on his bedroom door at the school. We see a flashback or dream/nightmare sequences that he was kept in a large cage in his bedroom as a little boy. The room is filled out with creepy toys, clowns and an even creepier giant Humpty Dumpty doll and balloons and a hovering mother who reeks of inherent sadism and evil, as she is holding balloons and a bottle of formula while he is trapped in the cage crying.

It is a disturbing image as we see Bobby at 16 years old, lying in the fetal position in the cage, his mother splashing the baby formula all over him and cackling. When Bobby tells his Grandma that he had the worst dream about his mother again, and wants to know why there aren’t any photographs of her around the house. It is Bobby’s father who doesn’t want any pictures of his wife in the house! We hear Bobby’s father (Salvatore Paul Piro, who is fantastic as Bobby’s ill-tempered father) talk about his wife having had a breakdown after he was born and that “She was sick!”

While running in the woods, surrounded by trees, (trees which I’ve come to learn are very significant as a trope in all of Tomaselli’s films) he meets up with his friend Sean who suddenly falls into a hole. Bobby can hear unholy growling coming from the abyss. Or is it Bobby himself who has fallen in the hole?

There are moments of the right amount of gore, when sister Rita is looking through sister Madeline’s art portfolio, she sees the dead eyed nun outside the window, then the statue of the Virgin Mary falls off the shelf. Suddenly, sister Rita is attacked by a pair of shears, and she is literally stabbed to death, by these ordinary scissors that are animated by an unseen force, her wrists and limbs slashed and her throat stabbed. Perhaps this horrifying moment is as evocative as a moment from Lucio Fulci, yet Dante Tomaselli never cannibalizes other directors work, the mood is quite original and very much his vision. An abject sequence of fright that is startling, with each frame of Desecration a photo-play in classical horror. There is such a raw absence of adornment with Brendan Flynt’s cinematography which is alternatively balanced with the surrealism of the nightmarish sequences.

Desecration is not only Bobby’s journey through Hell, it encompasses everyone in his orbit. His grandma Matilda told him, “you were an angel Bobby” but is this enough to save him from being damned?

Horror (2003)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli, with music by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Timothy Naylor, film editing Marcus Bonilla, Art direction by Maze Georges, production design by Jill Alexander, costume design by Nives Spaleta. And some amazing special effects, make up and evil pumpkin head puppetry by Monsters, Madmen and Mayhem Make-up Creations.

Horror stars Kreskin as Reverend Salo, Lizzy Mahon as Grace Salo, Danny Lopes (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Luck, Vincent Lamberti (Desecration 1999) as Reverend Salo Jr., Christie Sanford (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Mrs. Salo, Jessica Pagan as Marisa, Raine Brown as Amanda, Kevin Kenny as Kevin, Chris Farabaugh as Fred, and Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp 1983) as the Art Therapist.

Horror (2003), utilizes some of the same imagery as Desecration, in fact Danny Lopes plays one of the characters, a troubled delinquent teenage drug user named Luck.

Horror, is a visually striking masterpiece of well–horror, about a group of runaway teens who escape from a drug rehab facility. Luck (Danny Lopes) shoots and kills the guard and takes his gun and a huge bag of candy and magic mushrooms which the van of teenagers proceed to partake in on their way to the Salo farm. In another nightmarish odyssey the teens encounter demonic forces at the rural family farmhouse owned by two sadists who imprison their daughter Grace, inject her with drugs to keep her compliant. Reverend Salo Jr is a phony preacher and faith healer and possibly the pair are murderers who run an odd religious cult.

Like so many of the scenes in Horror, there is another powerful sequence where Grace is looking out her bedroom window at her father holding one of his fire and brimstone sermons in the snow, during the cold white light of day, while people with crutches and boils are gathered round in a circle. Her father looks up and points at her, and that singular moment sends shivers up my spine. Lamberti is absolutely menacing as Revernd Salo Jr. And while the scene takes place in broad daylight, there is a feeling of claustrophobic terror and dread because Grace is truly trapped.

There is a hint that they might have even abducted Grace (she finds a strange scrapbook of pictures, one with a little girls legs sticking out of a bag, I think that’s the impression I got), who are these people, are they the Salo’s victims and are these photos trophies?)

And are they keeping Grace drugged so that she will not remember her past before she was abducted. The opening scene illustrates a form of abduction, as she is knocked out and brought back into the house. I also consider the fact that her Grandfather who was a mentalist and could hypnotize people, bending their will to his might have played a part in her captivity. Did Reverend Salo Sr. brainwash her into believing that they were family? Grace seems to have a psychic connection to her Grandfather, but is that because he has imposed his will on her consciousness.

There are flashback sequences of the Amazing Kreskin performing his mentalist act, the presence of this nostalgic celebrity adds another vintage sensation that we’re watching an authentic older horror film from the 1970s decade.

From the starling opening of Horror, Grace is stringing Christmas lights up on the front of the quaint little house, when she is accidentally shocked by a live wire and burns her hand, and as she comes down the ladder, she is struck by a dark figure who puts her in a body bag, throws her over his shoulder and dumps her on a bed like a rag doll, while her mother (Christie Sanford) laughs with a streak of cruelty. Her abductor we come to learn is the Reverend Salo Jr. her own father. The scene is chilling and brutal in it’s old fashioned simplicity. Again, Dante Tomaselli manages to bring me back to that eerie & uncanny sensation you get when watching a good 70s horror flick.

My first impression of this sadistic couple and Salo Sr (Kreskin) was the name that instantly made me think of the nightmarish fascist torture film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) directed by Pasolini. I asked Dante if my association was correct and this is what Dante told me-I was looking for a name that conjured depravity and Salo matched the vibration of the characters” (Reverend Salo – (Kreskin) and Reverend Salo Jr. – Vincent Lamberti)

After the opening where the pale and melancholy Grace (Lizzy Mahon) is attacked by her father and back inside the house and injected with a hypodermic to keep her submissive because she is acting up again (meaning –being independent of their will only by leaving the house and decorating for Christmas), eventually the teenagers who have escaped cross paths with Grace and the terrifying circumstances at the farmhouse intersect.

There is the presence of a black goat who is fixated on Grace, coming into the house and gazing at her. There is also a goat headed hooded figure in the woods that attacks one of the teenagers, yet another chilling scene.

The two disturbing narratives begin to integrate into one converging nightmare. The teens had escaped with the promise that Reverend Salo Jr would lead them and its the beginning of a new life, while handing out magic mushrooms in their shopping bag of goodies and a pamphlet from the Reverend with words that say- the End is near, Famine and the Anti-Christ.

While the teens are tripping out on hallucinatory drugs, we are getting images of the abuse Grace has been subjected to, and the collection of cult followers who are ravaged by boils and become almost zombie like. In fact, the teens, Luck Amanda, Marissa, Fred and Chris succumb to their own nightmare out in the woods, surrounded by violent visions, drug induced or supernatural forces at work both are simultaneously true.

Once in the farmhouse the violence continues, and Grace has a vision of the painting of her Grandfather Reverend Salo Sr (the amazing Kreskin) morphing into a frightening visage, as she discovers a hidden room in the attic with church candles and an Iron Maiden! Is she hallucinating from the drugs or was this where she was subjected to a medieval style torture –we see her being stretched on a rack, screaming in pain until she passes out. The rack will be seen once again in Torture Chamber (2013). The duplicity of religious fanaticism and hidden sadism and child abuse is ever present in Horror.

Again Atmo’s artwork plays a stunning visual role in the film. The painting in Grace’s room morphs into a savage visage of Grandfather Salo The Reverend Sr. The use of paintings that metamorphose into horrible versions of their former image puts me in mind of the Pilot episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, in the first installment the wicked and murderously greedy Roddy McDowall kills his wealthy uncle (George Macready) and is then plagued by the painting that keeps changing to show his uncle climbing out of his grave and pounding at the front door of the estate, coming back in death to claim his revenge on his murderous bastard nephew. It’s one of my favorite episodes of the series.

Horror is an atmospheric & disorienting chiller, another hallucinatory journey that coils around you like a snake head devouring it’s own tail–where it begins and where it ends is like any nightmare, where reality melts into horror and is as visually frightening as nightmare one can have.

Satan’s Playground (2006)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Music by Dante Tomaselli, Bill Lacey and Kenneth Lampl. Film editing by Marcus Bonilla and Egon Kirincic, Art direction by Pete Zumba, Costume Design by Erika Goyzueta.

on the set of Satan’s Playground

Stars Felissa Rose as Donna Bruno, Salvatore Paul Piro as Frank Bruno, Danny Lopes as Sean Bruno, Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead 1981) as Paula, Irma St. Paule as Mrs. Leeds, Edwin Neal (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974) as Leeds boy, Christie Sanford as Judy Leeds, Ron Milkie as Officer Peters, Robert T. Zappalorti as cop/camper, Chris Farabaugh as stoner, Raine Brown as prostitute, Garth Johnson as Red Hooded man, Jesse Hodges as Lost Teen, Maureen Tomaselli as reporter, Emily Spectre as nurse, Paul LeRoy as truck drive/worshiper, Michael Ryan as the whipping boy and a slew of worshipers.

“SATAN’S PLAYGROUND is a supernatural shocker chronicling a family’s spine-tingling odyssey in New Jersey’s legendary Pine Barrens region. En route to a wilderness camping retreat, their car inexplicably breaks down. As darkness falls, panic sets in. Then the marooned family stumbles upon an ancient and seemingly abandoned house. And it is here that they meet the bizarre Mrs. Leeds who lives there with her equally unhinged children. Offering no assistance, she warns of a violent, unseen force lurking in the forbidding countryside. Soon, the family will encounter a supernatural evil older than the woods themselves. SATAN’S PLAYGROUND…a place where deadly myth becomes gruesome reality.”– review by LDMediaCorp

Satan’s Playground has the true feel of the late 70s early 80s, exuding an Americana Gothic atmosphere with the backwoods, the netherworld of the Pine Barrens that cinematographer Tim Naylor creates with Dante Tomaselli at the helm. The sense of isolation and dread taps into all those primal fears of strange and unmerciful families that are outliers in society who kill people as part of their family routine, as ordinary as doing the chores.

This theme as always worked in films like Tobe Hooper’s dark adult fairy tale about a cannibalistic family in  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), John Hough’s repressed, isolated murderous religious fanatics portrayed to the hilt by Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo in American Gothic (1987), or even a cult favorite of mine, about a psychotic family of outliers in Spider Baby (1967)

Satan’s Playground is as dark as a Grimm’s Fairy Tale… and perhaps my favorite of Dante Tomaselli’s films.

What is so frightening is that families like The Leeds seem to be able to circumvent the law and social morays for long periods of time, as primitive as rabid animals who kill with a blood lust and not merely for survival. Added to this is the mythology of the Jersey Devil who has haunted our nightmares from the Pine Barrens for decades. He lurks and preys on random characters in the film, who are unlucky enough to be out in the woods, swooping down and slashing them to death or carrying them off to some hidden lair. The flapping of it’s wings are present in Satan’s Playground, while the hooded Satanists who are seen whipping their human sacrifice seem to be the least of the dangers in the story.

The story, chronicles another nightmare journey of a dysfunctional family who are headed through the Pine Barrens to enjoy a family camping trip. En route to the wilderness of the wooded nether regions Donna Bruno (Felissa Rose) her husband Frank who keeps falling asleep at the wheel (Salvatore Paul Piro) their autistic son Sean (Danny Lopes) Paula (Ellen Sandweiss) and her new born baby Anthony, break down when their wood paneled station wagon gets stuck in the mud.

Paula hears the flapping of wings, but it’s Sean who seems to have the hyper awareness that something isn’t quite right, he has a keener senses about his surroundings, trying to point toward the danger, with no one paying attention to him, because the other members of the family are too busy airing their frustrations. As darkness falls, panic sets in and the need to seek help sends each one out into the night.

As each one goes looking for help, they stumble upon an abandoned house, boarded up and in obvious decrepitude yet each family member knocks on the door looking to use a phone. Satan’s Playground has the feel of a macabre fairy tale of hapless victims wandering into dangerous spaces, at the mercy of an evil in its most pure form.

Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule not the kindly Grandma she once played but in the role as a most wicked witch) opens the door.

Right from the moment we enter the strange house, the layout tells us there is something off kilter. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, the set design works incredibly well. It is here that each Bruno family member, one by one meets the otherworldly crone and the bizarre Leeds family. Mrs. Leeds boasts of her 13 children some who have died young, the rest worthless or developmentally disabled. She lives with her two unhinged children, the twisted Judy (Christie Sanford) who is mute and her son (Edwin Neal) who is also a violent psychopath.

Mrs. Leeds does fortunes to make money, or so she says. She offers no assistance and stalls while each Bruno keeps asking to use her phone. Mrs. Leeds warns of the violent unseen forces lurking in the forbidding countryside, not to mention the Satan worshipers. As she offers tea that is laced with some kind of drug, each one is knocked off by Judy who uses a large mallet or meat tenderizer. to brain her victims. Judy steals little Anthony, another childhood fear –of fiends coming in the night to steal children from their safe place. In Satan’s Playground there is no safe place.

The Bruno family comes face to face with inherent evil perhaps older than the woods, where they each face their own gruesome end. Does Mrs. Leeds even really exist in this world and is her 13th child, the Jersey Devil?

Torture Chamber (2013)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Music by Dante Tomaselli, Kenneth Lampl and Allison Piccioni. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Art design by Ian Salter, Costume design by Lisa Faibish

Torture Chamber stars Vincent Pastore (‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero in The Sopranos 1999-2007) as Dr. Fiore, Christie Sanford as Mrs. Morgan, Lynn Lowry (The Crazies 1973, They Came from Within 1975) as Lisa Moreno, Ron Millkie as Dr. Thompson, Carmen LoPorto as Jimmy Morgan, Richard D. Busser as Father Mark Morgan, Ellie Pettit as Heather, Raine Brown as Hope, and Danny Lopes as Ralph.

from Out of Bounds: “… a restrictive moral, a kind of reactionary “medieval’ Christian vision du monde sneaks in. And is truly frightening.”

In Torture Chamber the story is revealed through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. Its about a metaphysical bond between a mother and her two sons.

There are Medieval emblems like Christian statues, the Iron Maiden in Horror and the Rack in both Horror and Torture Chamber.

From Horror Movies.ca Torture Chamber is about a 13-year-old boy possessed by unspeakable evil. It’s probably the first serious independent horror film in a long time that’s in the vein of The Exorcist. The demon is called Baalberith, which, if you believe in demonology, tempts its host to blasphemy and murder,” he told the site. “Jimmy Morgan is a pyromaniac, horribly disfigured from experimentation with drugs. This Catholic boy’s family is crawling with religious fanatics. His mother believes he was sent from the Devil to set the world on fire. His older brother is a priest who tries to exorcise him. When Jimmy murders his own father, he burns him to death. Because of this, the troubled boy is sent to an Institution for disturbed youths. While there, Jimmy has a Charles Manson-like hold on the other kids from the burn unit. Together, they escape and Jimmy finds an old abandoned castle for shelter. That’s where the burned kids find a secret passage way that leads to a medieval, cobwebbed torture chamber.

Jimmy is a young boy who is a burn victim, badly abused by his fanatical religion mother (Christie Sanford) who in order to drive out his evil, subjects him to exorcism by his older brother who is a priest. When Jimmy escapes from the institution with other children who are burn victims, he wreaks revenge on his persecutors who then become the persecuted. Jimmy and his companions are a band of outliers to are hell bent on torturing their victims. Lynn Lowry as Lisa Marino who experiences her nightmares in flashback is a treat to watch, I’ve been a fan of hers since I saw her performances in Romero’s The Crazies (1973), the outre bizarre Sugar Cookies (1973) co-starring cult favorite Mary Woronov and Cronenberg’s They Came From Within (1975).

Again, Dante Tomaselli’s film is non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic , hallucinatory, the soundscapes are footprints that lead you to the torture chamber. It’s a visceral and disturbing journey of a young boys retribution. A Gothic, transcendental horror as is Dante Tomaselli’s  Desecration. Dante Tomaselli collection of films create a frightening world as he purges his scorn for religious fanaticism and hypocrisy.

Atmo Royce’s brilliant paintings from Torture Chamber (2013)

My conversation with Dante Tomaselli!

Joey – “I’ve seen TREES in all your films. They are a fabric of each film throughout each piece, trees seem to be very significant to you. Do they represent “a natural force”? and ‘elemental’ forces that go with the supernatural overtones…”

Dante Tomaselli-  “Yes, I purposely place trees…woods in every single one of my films. I think trees are beautiful beings and I can stare at them endlessly. I do see these entities as sacred and elemental forces…rooted in the earth itself. Whenever I’m scouting woods locations for my films, I walk around in a trance and try to find the trees that seem to be calling out to me. The different personalities…textures…energies…Landscapes are real important to me…I like for the atmosphere to dominate. The Tree of Life twists…what gave life now takes it away. When I was growing up I would go deep into the woods and get myself lost. Where I lived in New Jersey there were endless woods in my backyard and I’d spend many hours out there alone with time just dissolving. I’d let my imagination run free and fantasize all kinds of sadistic and surreal landscapes and horror scenes. Sometimes on these excursions I feared I would disappear and never return.  The trees were my refuge and represented safety and protection but at times, mainly in the dark, the same exact trees could be supremely frightening…their faces, energy…It’s chilling…a forest transformed into a place of evil…It goes against nature. That’s why that scene of evil woods in Wizard of Oz is so effective. You know, when I saw the trees come alive in The Evil Dead in theaters in 1983 when I was 13, it really pushed a button.  And to have Ellen Sandweiss, who endured the ultimate scary trees… starring in one of my films – well…I’ve come full circle.  For sure, in my independent movies I try to portray the woods as teeming with supernatural menace. In HORROR the woods were harboring the living dead or hypnotized souls…There are Satanists lurking in the Pine Barrens of Satan’s Playground, not to mention an invisible flying demon and…deadly quicksand. Torture Chamber’s abandoned castle was surrounded by whispering woods and there’s a burning gift leading to a glowing red hole to hell in the woods of Desecration.”  

Joey- “Sound is one THE most significant enticements in your films. I’m wondering about the use of ARTWORK, not just Atmo’s incredible paintings but artwork as Symbolism. Desecration and Horror used his paintings. But there was also Irma’s puzzle in Desecration, in Torture Chamber there was the tribal MASK and even in Satan’s Playground there was the painting of the goat. I’m sure there are more hints of this, but these stand out. What is the greater gist of why these elements were so substantial in your work?”

Dante Tomaselli- “I like to paint with sound. I like glacial, pristine sounds mixed with low throbbing tones. The music is 50% of the film’s equation and even when I’m sculpting a song on an album like Scream in the Dark, where I was going for an amusement park Funhouse, dark ride vibe, I aways wanted the soundscapes to depict the vision that I experienced in my mind.  I have to see something in order to score it. If I’m dry then there’s nothing at all but if the images are flowing then I’m fanatical about facilitating or scoring the vision. You can hear me cackling like a witch, that’s my own voice with no effects…in the first section of Dark Night of the Soul. To me, that track conjures the image of a violent storm cloud looming.  It’s all about regret…guilt. Someone did something deeply wrong…and now there’s the fear of what’s coming next. 

The paintings by artist Atmo Royce were commissioned by me. The images were straight from my screenplay, my imagination. I wanted a stern nun, a blurred nun, a skull nun and a clown nun. I wanted the images to have a Tarot card-like feel. They were to represent the desecration of religion…the hypocrisy, the flip side of faith where evil is cloaked in religion. Atmo Royce, who now lives in Germany also painted the changing preacher portraits for Horror which had a similar idea. I had an entirely different artist illustrate the changing pope portraits for Torture Chamber where Vincent Pastore is hallucinating while staring at a portrait of the pope in a homeless shelter. The painting by Mark Jones, commissioned by me, actually it’s pastel…it morphs into a grinning blood soaked character while we detect profane words on the crumbling walls. In all these cases, it’s about the Devil poking through. Evil winning.”

Joey- “Did you realize before hand or was it a natural progression to interweave identical symbols throughout each film. There are threads that connect all 4 films. There are sequences that re-haunt the next installment like one continuous dream. I will mention those in my piece, but I was curious if it evolved as each film opened up to you, or if this was something that was very purposeful before you even sat down to sketch out the framework of the films after Desecration?”

Dante Tomaselli- “I consciously set out to create an encompassing world of doom that is interchangeable from film to film; I see it as all one tapestry. I draw swirling mazes and I’m trying to construct a nightmare in which we experience the protagonist’s damnation. My films are never a celebration of violence. They’re really more about the sensitivity to violence. The confusion of being alive.”

SELECT REVIEWS OF DANTE TOMASELLI’S WORK

BLOODY DISGUSTING REVIEW OF TORTURE CHAMBER: DANTE TOMASELLI’S ‘TORTURE CHAMBER’ TAPS INTO ANCIENT FEARS

BLOODY DISGUSTING:DANTE TOMASELLI’S TORTURE CHAMBER REACHES THE SHORE LINE by Evan Dickson

FANGORIA REVIEW OF TORTURE CHAMBER BY CHRIS ALEXANDER

HORRORFUEL REVIEW of DESECRATION-BLU-RAY

Review of Torture Chamber by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava

Review of Torture Chamber -Justin R. Lafleur, Icons of Fright and

Desecration by Dvdverdict.co, plus Chris Alexander of Fangoria

Review of Satan’s Playground -Variety Magazine & Horror by John

Fallon of JoBlo.com

Review of Horror by Scott Wienberg, eFilmCritic.com and

Review of Desecration by Sean Abley at Chiller

Reviews of Desecration by Steve Puchalski, Sci-Fi Magazine &

Chas Balun, Deep Red Magazine

Review of Horror by Dennis Harvey, Variety Magazine &

Rob Galluzzo, Blumhouse.com

Review of Satan’s Playground by Jeremiah Kipp of Slant Mag

Review of Satan’s Playground by BeyondHollywood.com

from KINO LORBER REVIEW DESECRATION (SPECIAL EDITION ) RELEASE ON BLU-RAY

“A Code Red Release – One of the most original horror films in recent years, Desecration is an eerily dazzling and genuinely frightening psychological chiller about a beyond the grave relationship between a teenage boy and his long dead mother. Bobby, a 16-year-old loner, has been emotionally damaged by his mother’s early death and a repressive Catholic upbringing. The boy accidentally causes a nun’s death, triggering a chain of supernatural events and violent mayhem that leads Bobby into Hell to confront his mother. Powerful childhood demons are exorcised and unleashed as the gates of Hell open in this gripping, hallucinatory film. First-time feature film writer/director Dante Tomaselli has created an incredibly atmospheric and terrorizing film that he has described as “being in the psychedelic fun house.” With its mist-shrouded ambience, photography and trance-like soundtrack, the film, almost subliminally, creates an unsettling mood that crawls beneath the skin. A sensational young talent, Tomaselli has taken the horror genre in a new and exciting direction.”

IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT-DESECRATION

ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT FOR SATAN’S PLAYGROUND

The remake of cousin Alfred Sole’s beloved 70s horror masterpiece ALICE SWEET ALICE remains in development for now Dante is more focused on his upcoming feature  THE DOLL which is about a violent haunting at a family owned wax museum.

“I am planning an Alice, Sweet Alice re-imagining with my cousin (Alfred Sole). I am so completely focused on my next film, THE DOLL – which has a low budget ($500, 000)”

Hae Ree Choi is the illustrator on each of Dante Tomaselli’s albums!

SCREAM IN THE DARK (2014) Elite Entertainment

THE DOLL (2014) Elite Entertainment

NIGHTMARE (2015) Elite Entertainment

FANGORIA “NIGHTMARE SOUNDS” article by Tyler Doupé

WITCHES (2017) TuneCore

PERSONAL QUOTES

I am not a Satanist. I am a Supernaturalist!
I know my films reflect the fear of the end of the world or the end of my world.
I’d see multicolored streaks in the atmosphere. And I didn’t do drugs. Sometimes I could see sounds. They were different colors. I could taste color and touch sound.
I love performers from horror classics; I can’t help myself. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been given the opportunity to work with actors from landmark horror films. The trend needs to continue with me…and the possibilities are endless. Jamie Lee Curtis, can you hear me?
It’s ambient filmmaking…told through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. I was going for something completely out-there…not censoring myself…allowing my imagination to run wild.
I think I pulled the images from the dark pit of my childhood, my nightmares. Growing up, I had so many nightmares and was always wondering if what was happening was actually true. Or was it a dream? I didn’t use drugs. I know…that’s a shock. If anything, I was repressed and probably needed drugs to open me up. Everything I kept bottled up in the day would explode out of me at night. All of the negative debris of the day…it would all come popping up, so strongly in my nightmares.
I guess it has something to do with how I grew up, my background being Italian American and having two very religious grandmothers. But, really…I just think organized religion is a very scary thing. It gives me a feeling of paranoia. One group against another, thinking the other one is wrong and they are better, holier. Religion causes wars. It has a dark force that can’t be denied. Also, as you know, my cousin, Alfred Sole, directed “Alice, Sweet Alice,” the infamous Catholic slasher. I saw it at a very early age and it is forever embedded in my psyche.
In 1975, I was 5. In 83, I was 13. So, I got to see all these great horror movies, the golden age of true horror, while I was a little kid growing up. It was an incredible time to be a horror fanatic. I was like the boy in Romero’s Creepshow. My mother actually took me to see these 70’s, early 80’s movies because she knew how much I loved them. She enjoyed horror films too, actually. I’d cut out Ads from the newspaper, for movies like…It Lives Again, Prophecy, Phantasm, Invasion of The Body Snatchers and just…stare at them. I was in love with all of this stuff from early on.
I starting writing it right around the end of 1999, when there was all that end-of-the-world talk going on. I wanted to harness that feeling…that we all could be predestined for a horrible, violent death. The idea that the threat of violence can strike at any moment.

FURTHER LINKS

Film Out of Bounds

http://www.fangoria.com/new/torture-chamber-movie-review/

http://www.beyondhollywood.com/torture-chamber-2013-movie-review/

http://www.mondo-digital.com/torturechamber.html

http://www.avmaniacs.com/blog/2014/new-reviews/troy-howarth/torture-chamber-dvd-review/

http://www.rockshockpop.com/forums/content.php?3583-Torture-Chamber

Torture Chamber (review): Available on Region 1 import

http://www.examiner.com/review/crawl-into-the-torture-chamber

http://aisleseat.com/torturechamber.htm

http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/347435-movie-review-torture-chamber/

A link to Dante’s Music & Sound Design on Youtube

 

OGDENSBURG, NJ 06/04/2010 Dante Tomaselli on the set of “Torture Chamber,” a movie he is directing, at Sterling Hill Mining Museum. MICHAEL KARAS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Thank You for sharing your thoughts with me, Happy Birthday Dante Tomaselli, I anxiously await your next wave of hallucinatory chills & your brilliant machinations come to life in vivid color!-May we find peace and transcendence through art, Love Joey