A Conversation with Television Icon 📺 Jerry Mathers

Jerry Mathers is an American Icon whose presence undoubtedly continues to contribute to our collective consciousness. Born on June 2, 1948 in Sioux City, Iowa, he started as a child model from the age of two, and that led to his television and show business career in live television in the early 1950s. Jerry first worked on the popular Spike Jones live show. Jones was an American musician and bandleader Spike Jones and his City Slickers whose signature concept The Musical Depreciation Revue was satirical arrangements of popular songs, loud and not-quite-jazz-music of the 50s featuring musical riffs punctuated with unconventional noises like gunshots, whistles, and outrageous farcical vocals. His drummer would use trash can lids as cymbals and the trumpet players would use toilet plungers as mutes. The slapstick gimmick was certain whimsical instrumentals would cue Spike to drop his pants revealing his very loud boxer shorts.

When Jerry Mathers was about 3 years old he would walk out on stage with a big sign and start pulling on Spike’s coat tails. The sign read ‘commercial’ to let him know that he had to take a break. Spike would chide him and shoo him away and then eventually go to the commercial. Working on the Spike Jones Show brought Jerry more work, because people saw that he could go out on stage with the irascible Jones and not get rattled.

Jerry’s Mathers’ first foray into television was his debut in 1950 for a Pet Milk commercial with Ed Wynn on the Colgate Comedy Hour. The set up: A huge bar room scene with cowboys fighting one and other and actor Ed Wynn tending bar. Jerry comes in through the swinging doors — amidst all the stuntmen brawling and breaking bottles over each other’s heads — in diapers, a ten gallon hat, six guns, and his big cowboy boots. One of the cowboys picks little Jerry up and sets him down on the bar where he pounds his little fist and utters his very first lines, “I’m the toughest hombre in these parts and you better have my brand” as Ed Wynn puts a can of Pet Condensed Milk on the bar! ( I wish there was an existing copy of this commercial )

Jerry as David Myer in This is My Love (1954) starring Linda Darnell

Jerry Mathers began to get cast in many early 1950s television programs, variety hours and early live dramatic shows. And in 1954, he made his film debut in This is My Love starring Linda Darnell and Dan Duryea.

Soon after appearing in a major motion picture his impish, precocious ways caught the eye of master director/storyteller Alfred Hitchcock who cast Jerry as Arnie Rogers for his mystery/comedy The Trouble with Harry (1955) starring John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine in her first role, and some of the best character actors– Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock and Edmund Gwenn. Next up at age 5 Jerry appeared with Bob Hope in two major motion pictures as Bryan Lincoln Foy, the black licorice lovin’ little rascal in The Seven Little Foys (1955) co-starring James Cagney and George Tobias. And he played the wonderful Norman Taylor in That Certain Feeling (1956) co-starring Eva Marie Saint, George Sanders and Pearl Bailey.

The Trouble with Harry official trailer:

Bob Hope was wonderful with Jerry Mathers in the hilarious scene with the cute little guy eating his black licorice both actors’ body comedy was spot on — Hope choreographed the scene brilliantly with Jerry. It was pure genius. Jerry’s tugging at Bob’s coat, kicking and screaming the whole way.

Bob Hope actually played a part in saving Jerry Mather’s life on the set of the vaudevillian biopic The Seven Little Foys. Back then they used candles to light the stage. Jerry was sitting up in the catwalk and the stuntman was supposed to put gasoline on the curtain so it would ignite and all the extras were supposed to panic and run out of the theater, with the stuntman dressed as Bob Hope climbing up and saving little Bryan Foy (Jerry Mathers) from the flames. Well, Jerry was sitting up on the catwalk when they accidentally put too much gasoline on the curtains, that caught fire. The extras who were supposed to be fleeing the theater saw all these  flames and actually did panic, and the stuntman dressed as Bob Hope got pushed out the door and no one realized that Jerry was still up on the catwalk but Bob Hope.

Bob courageously threw a blanket over himself and ran through the flames, grabbed a ladder, and got Jerry out safely. In another interview Jerry said that he remembers the flames but it was also dripping like raining fire fragments because the cloth as it burned was dropping off. It must have been terrifying! So thanks to Bob Hope for saving Jerry’s life. They couldn’t even use the footage from the first fire. They had to re-shoot the entire scene all over again, because there was too much smoke and flames and they couldn’t see Bob Hope climb up and rescue Jerry so the very next day they had to do it all over again with A LOT less gasoline on the curtains. They didn’t even use a stuntman, they shot it with Bob Hope who went up and got Jerry but the scene was a lot more toned down.

I found a small clip from the film which includes the re-shot recreation of the fire at the Iroquois Theater — with a little less gasoline this time!– and Bob Hope climbing the ladder and not a stunt man as planned. Hope is not only a comic genius, but courageous!

Jerry talks about Bob Hope –

“He was really a fun person to work with. I did That Certain Feeling with him too and actually I did The Seven Little Foys first and I had a very small part in that and he liked me so much that in the next one in his next movie I had a very very big part and it was with Norman Panama and Melvin Frank who were some great writers if you go back and look at some of the things they’ve done and they both directed, I think they were writer/producers but because there were two directors we would do some scenes twenty and thirty times and the one would come over and say you do it this way and then they’d come back and say okay now do it this way and you just kept doing it so as a child it was I imagine now as an adult actor I would even think its tedious. It’s a great movie. And he always made it fun. You know we’d sit there and do this same scene and he just made it so much fun as I say most people know him by seeing him on stage and he was just fun loving and just a great person to work with.

…Bob Hope was always seen as this very lovable person but George Sanders in a lot of his movies played, not villains but he had kind of an edge to him so when I first met him it was actually kind of scary and the other person.”

Among the other cast members he was very taken with Pearl Bailey who sung to him in the film, he liked her very much and thought the world of her.

 “She made the movie so much fun and her and Bob Hope used to clown around it was just so much fun to watch.”

Jerry Mathers in That Certain Feeling (1956)

Jerry Mathers in The Seven Little Foys (1955)

Other major motion pictures of the 1950s Jerry Mathers appeared in:

Men of the Fighting Lady (1954) and director Nicolas Ray’s Bigger Than Life (1956) starring James Mason and Barbara Rush. The gritty and obscure film noir The Shadow on the Window (1957) starring Philip Carey, Betty Garrett and John Drew Barrymore. And The Deep Six (1958) starring Alan Ladd.

“Our generation is the first to have grown up with TV. I’m one of the first kids that they watched grow up on television.” –Jerry Mathers

It was the advent of television. TV was something new, and it was all live studio work. Jerry Mathers explains that while there were child stars in motion pictures, there weren’t really any television child actors, so they thought they could pool from child models who were used to being out on stage and could follow direction.

Heinz 57 was sponsoring and premiering a lot of television variety shows and pilots and after a year or more of languishing it was actually General Douglas MacArthur who was on the board of Remington-Rand (Typewriters) who decided to option the series. The pilot for the show was initially called It’s a Small World.

There was a cattle call for the pilot show where over 5000 young boys of varying ages turned up to audition for the part of both brothers and their friends. His mom wasn’t sure she wanted Jerry to do a series. After many weeks of showing up for the grueling audition schedule, Jerry started to get a bit tired of the process of sticking around, saying his lines, and being told to come back the next day as they weeded out the potential actors for the series. It came down to the last 10 kids and the day he was supposed to show up at the casting call, he had his first cub scout meeting, so he didn’t want to go. Writers Joe Connolly and Bob Mosher both had big families and were used to the machinations of children. They noticed that Jerry was acting pretty fidgety on the rehearsal stage. He agreed to go to the audition only after his mother fixed it so they could go to the audition and his cub scout meeting right afterwards, Jerry even wore his cub scout uniform to the audition.

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, 1957-63, Hugh Beaumont (kneeling), Bob Mosher (co-creator), Jerry Mathers, Tony Dow, Joe Connelly (co-creator) (sitting), Norman Tokar (director) (kneeling), 1958, on-set

It seemed like it took forever watching each kid to go in and run their lines. Finally he was called in. Young Jerry went inside, said his lines and came right out in a short period of time. His mom asked why he was done so quickly, he told her that they asked him if he wanted to be there and he said “no,” he’d rather go to his cub scout meeting. That night they called and said he’d gotten the job! They’d rather have a boy that wanted to go to a cub scout meeting rather than be an actor. The producers chose him because they wanted a boy who possessed the genuine spirit of a real little boy.

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, Jerry Mathers, Hugh Beaumont, ‘The Black Eye’, (Season 1), 1957-63

And of course Connolly and Mosher just loved young Jerry every time he showed up for each exhaustive part of the audition process. Jerry Mathers is the consummate professional. He began his career at age 2, he took direction well, learned his lines perfectly, and gained immeasurable experience in the early infancy of television with variety shows and dramatic live performances. He is such an extraordinary actor and a natural talent that he makes you believe he wasn’t following direction at all, and somehow he had manifested Theodore ‘Beaver’ Cleaver as a very real character — a universally lovable little guy. And after listening to interviews and talking to the actor himself, he makes it clear that there was a little bit of himself in Beaver, and a bit of Beaver in Jerry Mathers. The skill involved makes you think that what you’re seeing is real, and that is an art. A lot goes into the process of creating, not only a believable and beloved iconic character, but a television series that will go on to last decade after decade. And as you will learn from my conversation with Jerry Mathers, that lovable little boy was very serious and focused on the craft of acting all while having the time of his life!

“You know, working isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be. I wonder why older people do it so much?” —Beaver Cleaver

On Friday October 4th 1956, months after the pilot aired, Leave it to Beaver debuted on CBS and began a legacy of the magic and innocence of childhood. The iconic television sitcom Leave it to Beaver is about an inquisitive and often unsuspicious little lad whose misadventures within the world of his suburban middle-class life symbolized the idealization of the American family during post WWII.

The first sublimely marvelous episode ‘Beaver Gets Spelled’ introduces Beaver and Wally navigating the tricky mechanism of kid vs school and authority. It includes a scene where they feign taking their baths by running the tub, dampening towels and throwing in some turtle dirt so it leaves a ring. The next episode ‘Captain Jack’ which made television history by featuring the first toilet shown on TV. Beaver and Wally send away for a pet alligator from the back of a comic book. In the 1960s, I ordered all sorts of things as a kid, including a giant rubber fly, sea monkeys, and x-ray glasses! It’s a quirky entertaining episode with wonderful moments — for instance when Ward accuses Minerva the cleaning woman of getting drunk on the job when she says there’s an alligator in the basement sink. In 1997 ‘Captain Jack’ was ranked number 42 in TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.

In 1957, radio, film and television writers/producers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher conceptualized a television show that would feature the family life of an average suburban couple and their young children. Connelly and Mosher met in New York City while working on the radio show Amos ‘n’ Andy, which they continued to be involved with after it moved to television in 1950. What set the show apart from other family sitcoms and domestic comedies of that time period like Ozzie & Harriet or Father Knows Best is that their show would be conveyed through the eyes of the children and not their parents, which introduced a new direction for a mainstream family genre, a series being told from the kid’s point of view. Leave It to Beaver is a thoughtfully lyrical insight of middle-class American boyhood.

Both Connolly and Mosher had kids of their own and actually got their inspiration for the characters, plot lines and dialogue from their own personal lives and conversations from their children. Most or all 234 episodes, 39 per year for 6 years, were taken from real life situations.

Joe Connolly collected stories in a notebook over the years with anecdotes based on things that really happened to family and friends, embellishing a bit along the way. “If we hire a writer we tell him not to make up situations, but to look into his own background. It’s not a ‘situation’ comedy where you have to create a situation for a particular effect. Our emphasis is on a natural story line.” -Joe Connolly

“The Haircut” episode, for example, is based on something that happened with Bob Mosher’s son who had to wear a stocking cap in a school play because he gave himself a terrible hair cut like the one Beaver gave himself with the help of brother Wally of course!

Even the name Beaver was inspired by a merchant marine friend of Joe Connolly’s during WWII. Both Connolly and Mosher became executive producers on the show having initially written all the earlier episodes. Later on they began accepting scripts from other writers.

The series cinematographers were Mack Stengler, who shot 122 episodes between 1958 and 1962, and William A. Sickner who worked on 37 episodes between 1957 and 1959, and later included Fred Mandl, and Ray Rennahan. The cinematographers often keenly lensed the series using angles that emphasized the world from Beaver, Wally and their mischievous friends’ perspective.

Director Norman Tokar, who had experience working with children, directed most of the episodes for the first three years and developed the characters of Eddie Haskell and Larry Mondello. Other directors involved in the series include Earl Bellamy, David Butler (who had worked with Shirley Temple), Bretaigne Windust, Gene Reynolds, and also Hugh Beaumont directed various episodes. Norman Abbott directed most of the episodes during the run of the last three years.

Leave it to Beaver is so memorable for us because it’s an allegorical journey of innocence and the magical world of childhood. Beaver is the ‘innocent’ while Wally is the ‘transitional’ character. Wally tries to explain to his brother what the world is really like, because he’s been out in the world longer. Beaver often looks to Wally for guidance as he tries to navigates the awkward and often perplexing situations he gets himself into.

Beaver grew up on the television screen, and we watched his trajectory of his adventures and life lessons through his perspective. The show shared the valuable and straightforward morals he learns about life, love, and friendship. And amidst all the shenanigans and mischief, Theodore ‘Beaver’ Cleaver is a very loyal, caring and kind little fella. Leave it to Beaver has touched fans’ lives immeasurably at the core of our collective hearts.

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, Jerry Mathers on-set, (1959), 1957-63

Not only is Leave it to Beaver known as the first television show to reveal a toilet on air but quite a few scenes occurred in the boys bathroom. There’s even an episode where Beaver allows a bum to come in and take a bath getting all sudsed up in Ward and June’s bathroom. Then he takes one of Wards best suits! It’s a crazy bit of trivia but tubs and toilets were what the censors took notice of!

Jerry has mentioned in other interviews as well as in our conversation that the environment on the set was geared toward everyone involved feeling like a family, and making sure that the crew’s families felt welcomed and included. Writers Joe Connolly & Bob Mosher visualized the series with a very conscious aim at representing the idealization of the American family and the American Dream of the 1950s but somehow they managed to narrate finely drawn messages within the framework of the story lines. They even contributed to The Munsters which was a way to invert the average All-American ideal using an unconventional family of monsters to introduce not so subtly, the idea of ‘difference.’

Leave It to Beaver was filmed at Republic Studios in Studio City, Los Angeles during its earliest run of Season 1 and 2. Then the production moved to Universal Studios for the last four seasons of the show. All the exteriors, including the façades of the two Cleaver houses, were filmed on the both studio’s back lots.

One of the intros for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was done on the set of the Cleaver home. The studio went around looking for places and they decided on the Cleaver living room. If you know the design of the house, and all the furniture – notice the foyer and as Jerry Mathers says- “It’s probably a murder mystery – but they actually filmed on their set (Leaver it to Beaver) one day…”

One of the significant elements of the series was the musical theme song at the opening of Leave it to Beaver and it’s incidental music throughout. Each episode was accompanied by whimsical, evocative and poignant melodies that help elevate the story lines in moments that invoked either the adventurous spirit, the curious imagination, or tap into the bonds of affection and kindness. The opening spirited theme song “The Toy Parade” was written by David Kahn, Melvyn Leonard and Mort Greene. For the rest of the wall to wall incidental music CBS utilized stock music from their Television Orchestra library, suggestive of shows from that decade and early 1960s. There are expressive melodies used in Leave it to Beaver that can be heard in the studio’s other shows, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The final season showcased one of my favorite composers Pete Rugolo who scored many television series of the 1960s.

Essentially the typical set up for each episode of Leave it to Beaver places Beaver or Wally or both boys in situations where they get into some sort of mishap or predicament. First they try to noodle their way out of it somehow by covering up or avoiding the issue, eventually coming before his wise but not infallible mother and father June and Ward for his/their admonishment. Often June and Ward would discuss their own shortsightedness in handling the boys, ultimately admitting that they have a lot to learn as parents. This is part of what makes the show so earnest and endearing. And the affectionate and often humorous chemistry Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont share comes across as real as can be.

Frequently Ward tries to impart some kernel of wisdom referring to classical myths and literary characters as models for teaching the boys moral lessons about making good choices, and solving problems. Ward often idealizes his own childhood, forgetting the various ways boys can get in trouble. He gives the boys Tom Sawyer to read, forgetting that the book is full of Tom’s bad habits and delinquency. Applying the logic to their own lives, for example when Beaver fights with Larry, and Ward tells him the story of Damon and Pythias, and the boys make a friendship pact that at first backfires on Beaver when Larry takes advantage expecting him to ‘die even’ for him by giving him his math homework. Ultimately, Wards story gets through to Larry, and the boys learn a valuable lesson about integrity, loyalty and friendship.

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, Barbara Billingsley, Jerry Mathers, Hugh Beaumont, 1957-63

One of the tenets of the show is emphasis on cleanliness and the importance of good grooming habits, manners, your appearance and caring for your personal belongings. Like not throwing your grubby socks under the bed or in contrast to June’s wishes that the boys take a bath, the two run the tub, dampen towels, and then throw some of Beaver’s turtle dirt in to create a ring.

While girls were still ‘creepy’, It’s a mischievous ruse that would eventually be left behind as Wally grew up and pampered and preened himself once he started to notice girls. Beaver’s awakening came a bit later, though he did have sweet crushes on Miss Canfield (Diane Brewster) and Miss Landers (Sue Randall), he wasn’t above coming up with great verbal scourges like telling Violet Rutherford “You do too drink gutter water” after she gives him a black eye and calling Linda Denison ‘a smelly old ape’ when the other kids accuse him of being her boyfriend.

And Leave it to Beaver dealt with issues that were pretty enlightened for it’s era. There was an episode that dealt sensitively with alcoholism as Beaver becomes aware of the issue within a very tender friendship with the house painter. There is a story line where one of June’s college friend’s son Dudley comes to spend time with the Cleavers. Wally is asked to befriend him and introduce him to his friends. Dudley is gentile and cultured, playing piano, and wearing an overcoat and fedora. He carries a briefcase to school which serves as fodder for Eddie Haskell to ridicule the young man for being an oddball. Dudley was an outsider, the idea of his difference was blaring and the show handled it to subtle perfection. It was a very interesting character as he represented a very ‘different’ sort of teenage boy.

There was also the episode that showed a Latino immigrant family whose little boy Chuey communicates with ease, without Beaver speaking Spanish embracing their new found friendship without prejudice, until Eddie Haskell injects his cruel joke laced with racism when Beaver asks Eddie to teach him a Spanish phrase to surprise Chuey with, Beaver innocently tells Chuey he has ‘a face like a pig’. Even the episode with Lillian Bronson as the local ‘witch’ who was really just an older woman living by herself in a spooky run down house was a lesson in not judging people by their appearance.

Then there was the episode that dealt with classism involving the Junkman’s kids. While June worries a bit that the boys will be playing in a dirty environment surrounded by garbage and rats and boys who might be rough around the edges — boys from the other side of town–  she learns that there is understanding and alternate wisdom to be shared from unexpected places and it teaches her not to judge people by their station in life, as they share endearing observations about June and Ward that impress not only Beaver and Wally who have a new perspective on their parents seeing them “through the eyes of the Junkman’s kids.”

Leave it to Beaver in it’s own innocuous way even Introduced esoteric themes of the supernatural in a humorous fashion with the episode Voodoo Magic where Beaver believes he’s inflicted a curse on Eddie Haskell by sticking pins and nails in his Raggedy Andy doll. It’s one of my favorites of the series. Ward in his calm and sagely manner even teaches Beaver than you can beat a bully like Lumpy Rutherford by not becoming like him. But Ward learns his own lesson when he realizes that he sabotages Beaver’s self-confidence when he is disappointed that he’s only playing a yellow canary in the school revue and not a bald eagle. His underlying dismay at his son representation of masculinity by playing a whimpy bird sends Beaver into a panic on the night of the show.

And Beaver catches the capitalist fever in Water, Anyone? when the water main is shut off, and he gets inside information from the water department guys digging up the road. Beaver proceeds to try and sell his jugs of water from his wagon to the neighborhood, inciting one of the local housewives to call Ward up and invoke the word ‘communism’ in her rant. It’s another of my favorites. And there’s more than one episode that shows Beaver’s sensitivity and caring for all creatures great and small.

After hearing Miss Landers recite a poem about trees, he is so moved that he goes to rescue the tree given to him on his birthday a few years back, that is still rooted at his old house. Beaver digs it up with the help of Larry Mondello and sneaks it back to replant it at his new house. What might seem like simple childhood exploits, there is always a small shining gem of wisdom within the narrative.

Some people may assess the show as syrupy or fluffy but the show is way more nuanced about unconditional love, acceptance, tolerance, difference and embracing the vast untapped qualities revealed by a child’s flourishing imagination.

“Give the shrimp a paddle!”

Therefore the show shouldn’t be constrained by 1950s standard. Uncle Billy and Aunt Martha who is an elitist, were single adults with no experience raising children, Billy is painted as sort of the ‘black sheep’ on Ward’s side of the family, a braggart and exaggerator who travels and doesn’t have a stable lifestyle and June’s Aunt Martha doesn’t seem to be in touch with how to raise boys in a contemporary manner, dressing Beaver in short pants that lead to him getting into a brawl at school. Even Mrs. Mondello has to raise the problematic Larry as her husband is always out of town and rarely taking charge at home, leaving her to scramble for advice, often looking to Ward to help straighten out Larry when he gets into mischief.

Of course Eddie Haskell is an archetypal anti social troublemaker who is the counterbalance to Wally’s clean cut, always follow the rules kind of idealized All-American boy.

The series offers us drunks, bums, effete males, bullies, fat shaming, and the emotional subject of divorce. A friend of Beaver’s from camp Konig spends the weekend. He is bought off by gifts and cash to keep him placated while he’s left alone amidst a hostile divorce, where the parents remarry every other year. This episode features another fine child actor, Barry Gordon who was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Nick in A Thousand Clowns on Broadway revising the role in the film in 1965.

Jerry Mathers is both fortunate and burdened — he will be forever associated with an eternal boy in the mind of the collective American audience. He will be typecast forever in our imaginations as a part of the cultural iconography of nostalgia for believed better by gone days.

Beaver is an ‘every kid’ and each episode is filmed almost like a fable. There is a sweet alchemy that creates a world that feels comfortable and comforting amidst an early suburban enchantment that is gratifying. Beyond the nostalgia there is an incredibly nuanced sentiment within the series and the performances — clever morality plays which are veiled in the everyday adventures that wind up mattering a whole lot.

There’s just wonderful ‘time period’ aspects to the show that are steeped in nostalgia. And you’ll hear expressions like ‘creepy”rat’ ‘gosh’ ‘grubby’ ‘wise-guy’ and ‘A hunk of milk’ or a hunk of anything really. The worries were whether you washed your feet, not throwing your dirty socks under the bed, not losing your library book and not playing hooky from school!

Or you could be like Beaver, climbing into a giant steamy cup of billboard soup, ditching dancing class, spitting off a bridge, building a club house, camping out in the yard during a torrential downpour, selling perfume that smells like an old catchers mitt, getting a black eye from a girl, and sneaking an alligator into the house…

I’ll just mention a few predicaments Beaver gets himself into, especially with the help of his best friend Larry. Beaver lets Larry talk him into drilling a few holes in the garage wall, and after Ward tells him if he doesn’t pay attention to the rules, they’re going to have nothing but trouble between them. So Beaver tells him he’s running away so Ward never has to be troubled with him hanging around there — no more. Of course he gets as far as Larry Mondello’s dinner table with three desserts while June is frantic and Ward won’t bend… at first!

The boys are so late to school for the third time in one week when a truck crushes their lunch boxes that they play hooky and wind up on a television commercial at the local grocery store. One day the boys smoke from the Austrian Meerschaum pipe Mr. Rutherford sends the family – first they try just some coffee grinds then used cigarette butts Larry collects from last nights’ company–they both get sick, and Wally is the one who gets blamed for smoking. Beaver believes Larry who tells him that Mrs. Rayburn has a spanking machine in her office closet then gets himself locked inside the school that night and needs the fire department to get him out — making himself a ‘most conspicuous’ character. Then the very next day he gets his head stuck in the iron fence in the park, making himself yet again that’s right — ‘conspicuous’.  I got my own head stuck in the wrought iron railing in our house when I was about his age. Let me assure you… It’s not fun!

Continue reading “A Conversation with Television Icon 📺 Jerry Mathers”

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! Deep End (1970)

“DEEP END” (1970)

If you can’t have the real thing– you do all kinds of unreal things.

I LOVE creepy British psycho-sexual thrillers of the 1970s – Goodbye Gemini (1971) with Judy Geeson and Martin Potter, Twisted Nerve (1968) with Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett, Beware My Brethren (1972) with Ann Todd, and The Night Digger (1971) with Patricia Neal and Nicholas Clay. And then there’s the non-conformist Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski with his portrayal of the seamy underbelly of a tawdry swinging London’s Soho at the end of the 1960s — Deep End (1970) similar to his other works – Le Départ (The Departure 1967) and Walkover (1965) all representative of a character disadvantaged by his social class inhabiting a bourgeois realm and in Deep End the story is about young Mike (John Moulder-Brown) set against a classist system that crowds him into a strange world that brings out his unstable burgeoning sexuality.

Like his colleague Roman Polanski, Skolimowski uses water in his films and here in Deep End especially- it is used as a liminal space where the characters may move in and out of reality. It’s significance here is a passage between childhood and maturity and life and death. All of the narrative is geared toward flow and not necessarily structured.

Actor, writer, producer and director Jerzy Skolimowski (King, Queen, Knave 1972, The Shout 1978-actor in Mars Attacks! 1996, Before Night Falls 2000) Here he directs and has written the screenplay with Jerzy Gruza and Boleslaw Sulik for Deep End 1970.

Cinematography by Charly Steinberger who creates a surreal and dreamlike landscape that lends itself to metaphorical interpretations of pubescent angst and awakening, set against a squalid London at the end of the 1960s. With a soundtrack by Cat Stevens using his song under the opening titles ‘But I Might Die Tonight’ and German band The Can with their song ‘Mother Sky.’

Skolimowski uses the recurring theme of the color red in much the way – red was used as symbolism as illustrated in the poster of the blood trailing downward, it reminds me of the same motif used by Nicholas Roeg’s adaption of Daphne du Maurier’s incredibly haunting  Don’t Look Now (1973) a particular favorite 70s horror of mine.

Deep End stars cherubic faced John Moulder-Brown (The House that Screamed 1970, Forbidden Love Game 1975) as Mike, Jane Asher as Susan, Karl Michael Vogler as the swimming instructor, Christopher Sanford as Susan’s fiancée Chris, Diana Dors as Mike’s 1st lady client- a ‘withered rose’, Louise Martini as Beata the prostitute, Erica Beer as the Bath’s cashier, Anita Lochner as Kathy.

The grotesque and creepily moving tableau- a seedy Bath house where Mike (John Moulder-Brown) a 15 year old towel boy who’s awakening sexuality is aroused by Susan (Jane Asher-Masque of the Red Death 1964, Alfie 1966) a beautiful red head who provokes and baits his distorted hormonal urges to the verge of madness. Mike is sexually inexperienced and obsessed with Susan until he transforms into a voyeuristic stalker.

Skolimowski’s film is uncomfortable, disorienting, oddly dark, curiously droll and off-kilter in the same way, Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) is with it’s similar eye for detail as cinematographer Steinberger focuses the camera on each particle and trace of the bath house which creates a nightmare world that this disturbed young man inhabits among the other weirdos. In a similar vein as Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) and Cul-De-Sac (1966). Skolimowski was a co-writer with Polanski on Knife in the Water (1962). The film is littered with subconscious outré and offbeat imagery and weird and unsavory characters and we can see a bit of influence from Polanski at work.

Skolimowski (left) and Polanski (right)

Jane Asher’s character of Susan, a slightly older co-worker turns Mike onto the secret world that goes on in the private rooms of the bath house where certain of the clientèle indulge in their deviant proclivities and are willing to pay for it. Among them is the blonde Rubenesque British actress Diana Dors who taunts Mike in a libidinous bizarre scene.

Skolimowski refers to Dors type of character as a “withered rose’ the presence of an older woman who once was famous for her sex appeal but is now pathetic as she tries to seduce much younger men or comparing herself to favorite male past times as seen with the Physical Ed teacher (Karl Michael Vogler) who was in reality older that Dors. And with Mike whom she taunts unmercifully.

Susan is not serious about her fiancée Chris, she participates in various private sexual encounters with clients at the baths, and gets perverse gratification out of turning on Mike, until he realizes that she is having a deeper affair with his former teacher.

“Mother’s Sky” is utilized in a great scene where Mike stalks Susan ‘the object of his fixation’ to a London Club, and then moves onto a seedy strip joint where his dreams become even more subverted when he sees the large cardboard cut out of Susan, then he meets an old prostitute, and finally we follow them to the London Underground where he confronts her. When Mike’s obsession devolves it ends with tragic consequences as the story plays out with the quivers of young sexual innocence that quickly turns from disturbing pervy fixation to the kinky shivers of death. John Moulder-Brown is so perfect at playing at radiating a damaged boyish psyche.

If you love to luxuriate in odd British psycho-thrillers like I do, then Deep End will certainly fulfill that fancy mate!

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying, stay out of the deep end, and bring your own towel!

Quote of the Day! The Hustler (1961) “You’re too hungry”

“A searching look into the innermost depths of a woman’s heart . . . and a man’s desires!”

The Hustler (1961)

Sarah to Eddie “You’re too hungry”

Director/Screenwriter Robert Rossen wrote the screenplay for Marked Woman (1937), They Won’t Forget (1937), Dust Be My Destiny (1939), Out of the Fog (1941), Blues in the Night (1941), Edge of Darkness (1943), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Johnny O’Clock (1947), Desert Fury (1947) and wrote the screenplay for Billy Budd. Rossen also wrote and directed All the Kings Men (1949), Mambo (1954), and the psycho-sexual labyrinth set in a mental institution in the early 1960s starring Jean Seberg-Lilith (1964) perhaps Rossen’s most dark and nihilistic vision of the human spirit yet. He directed John Garfield and Lilli Palmer in Body and Soul (1947). Robert Rossen was a pool hustler himself as a youth. Based on the novel by Walter S. Tevis.

Music by Kenyon Hopkins (12 Angry Men 1957, The Strange One 1957, The Fugitive Kind 1960, Elmer Gantry 1960, East Side/West Side 1963-46, Lilith 1964, television movies, Dr. Cook’s Garden 1971, Women in Chains 1972, Night of Terror 1972, The Devil’s Daughter 1973 and tv’s The Odd Couple 1970-73).

Robert Rossen is one of the most fascinating unexplored American directors, for his interesting viewpoint on alienation in the world and that constant elusive souvenir of the spirit one’s identity. Rossen has been quoted as saying that his favorite Shakespearean play was Macbeth. In it he said he found a “dramatization of the ambiguity of the human condition… man reaching for the symbols of his identity, rather than the reality, destroying yet finding himself in the tragic process.” 

In Rossen’s collection of works you can see the more aggressive symbols played out as the representations of male power, domination and violence as physical love. He told The New York Sun in 1947 that “Real life is ugly… but we can’t make good pictures until we’re ready to tell about it.”

Body and Soul (1947) written by Robert Rossen and Directed by Abraham PolonskyShown: back: William Conrad (as Quinn), Joseph Pevney (as Shorty Polaski) , John Garfield (as Charlie Davis)

After his gangster film Johnny O’Clock Rossen directed with the conventions of the crime genre Body and Soul (1947). Then Rossen directed The Hustler which used a breakthrough in technique and stretched the boundaries of social realism in the way Kazan had. The film like his All the Kings Men is still about the corrupt influences of money but on a deeper level it is driven by a darker motivation-the illusionary symbols of self worth, with George C. Scott’s character playing at Eddie’s weakness as a gambler and a seeker, like a devil daring him toward damnation. He is a sadist and ultimately seeks Eddies dependency and ruination and Sarah’s self-destruction.

Sarah tells Eddie “We are all crippled.” Sarah has the insight to see into the future yet she is beyond all the wounds inflicted in her life and can not forestall what will happen outside the confines of their little world that is her cluttered apartment. Sarah and Bert battle it out for Eddie’s soul. It is an ugly power struggle, and there are so many brilliantly executed frames that represent Rossen’s complex themes within The Hustler.

The film also co-stars Michael Constantine, Vincent Gardenia, Murray Hamilton and Myron McCormick who is always compelling in any role, plays Eddie’s devoted manager Charlie Burns who takes the journey with Eddie at first and winds up being pushed out by the hostile and rancorous Bert Gordon. Murry Hamilton is fantastic as he inhabits the coded gay character of the pretentious and effete gambler Findley.

The Hustler is a a moral allegory about life and the inter-relationships of miscreants, losers and lost souls struggling to find themselves in a gritty, unsatisfying world that permeates the world of the competitive underground sport of shooting pool. Fast Eddie has been working his way up to finally have a showdown with the reigning legend Minnesota Fats. The film is a restless contemplation merged with some dynamic scenes of maneuvering on the pool table.

The film opens with a smoke filled pool palace in Pittsburgh with a sign ‘gambling not allowed’. It’s a hangout for pool sharks, called hustlers. Paul Newman plays Fast Eddie, a smug young man who was born to take suckers for a ride, feeling that wood between his anxious fingers he can spot a ripe table waiting for him to swoop in for the kill. But Eddie with all his mythological ambition just doesn’t know when it’s time to quit. Eddie goes 25 consecutive rounds with the legendary Minnesota Fats and it appears like he’s got the marathon match in his corner pocket when he starts knocking back the whiskey, and can’t just take win with dignity he has to demolish Fats and allow his ego to drive the rest of the rest of the way home. The scene is shot in a dynamic half hour sequence using gorgeous black and white photography in cinemascope and Schüfftan‘s (who won an Oscar for his camera-work) eye for detail he honed on Fritz Lang’s surreal Metropolis, the film he developed special effects for. The sequence of this film is nothing short of riveting. The set up is mesmerizing as we are drawn into a timeless expanse as the different approaches to the game unfold, as pool stick meets ball, ball dances with ball and fills the pockets like cannon fire, while the spectators whose expressions are glued to every move as if in a trance.

Fats who is way more graceful and composed manages to win back his loot and leave the cocky and exhausted Eddie practically penniless. Eddie’s got a keen skill for the game but he doesn’t have self control or character. Bert Gordon played by actor George C. Scott tempts Eddie like Mephistopheles to sell his soul to him with the promise that he can not only make his dream come true of being the greatest, but to also avenge the ass kicking that he took from Fats. As cock-sure as Eddie appears, he has no fortitude and winds up abandoning his honor and his love for Sarah in order to seek the rematch with the Fat man.

Piper Laurie’s character Sarah Packard is a liberated forward-thinking woman who while bares the damages of life, is independent though alienated from the rest of the world because of her open wounds. She is trying to be a writer and drinks too much. She wants to be loved, and Eddie wants to be the best.

And so he sells his soul to Bert Gordon who is the films Faustian metaphor. The early 60s began an era of films that began to embrace controversial adult themed narratives, that dealt with race, class dynamics and the changing roles that were taking place with gender.

[Fast Eddie is bothered because Bert called him a born loser]

Fast Eddie: “Cause, ya see, twice, Sarah… once at Ames with Minnesota Fats and then again at Arthur’s, in that cheap, crummy pool room, now why’d I do it, Sarah? Why’d I do it? I coulda beat that guy, coulda beat ‘im cold, he never woulda known. But I just hadda show ‘im. Just hadda show those creeps and those punks what the game is like when it’s great, when it’s REALLY great. You know, like anything can be great, anything can be great. I don’t care, BRICKLAYING can be great, if a guy knows. If he knows what he’s doing and why and if he can make it come off. When I’m goin’, I mean, when I’m REALLY goin’ I feel like a… like a jockey must feel. He’s sittin’ on his horse, he’s got all that speed and that power underneath him… he’s comin’ into the stretch, the pressure’s on ‘im, and he KNOWS… just feels… when to let it go and how much. Cause he’s got everything workin’ for ‘im: timing, touch. It’s a great feeling, boy, it’s a real great feeling when you’re right and you KNOW you’re right. It’s like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue’s part of me. You know, it’s uh – pool cue, it’s got nerves in it. It’s a piece of wood, it’s got nerves in it. Feel the roll of those balls, you don’t have to look, you just KNOW. You make shots that nobody’s ever made before. I can play that game the way… NOBODY’S ever played it before.”

Sarah Packard: “You’re not a loser, Eddie, you’re a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything.”

Rossen wrote the screenplay and directed this gripping story of fast Eddie Felson, as he strives to knock Minnesota Fats down a peg and capture the title of best pool hustler in the country, taking Fats (Jackie Gleason who was perfect as he manifested the character of Fats, well-dressed, reserved and showed a deep reverence and concentration to the game.) on in a high-stakes game that challenges no only his keen gift for shooting pool but on the line is his self respect and his nebulous masculine identity.

Fast Eddie to Fats: You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch it’s me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you can’t miss? ‘Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.

Along the way, he falls in love with Sarah Packford immortalized on the screen in 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. Rossen has often dealt with the intricacies within the psychological landscape of his films.

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 (Has Anybody Seen My Gal 1952, The Mississippi Gambler 1953, Dangerous Mission 1954, Johnny Dark 1954, Ain’t Misbehavin’ 1955, and director Curtis Harrington’s Ruby 1977, Children of a Lesser God 1986, Dario Argento’s Trauma 1993, The Crossing Guard 1995, The Dead Girl 2006 and television series-Naked City, Ben Casey, The Eleventh Hour) discovered that Paul Newman was truly down to earth – “He really didn’t believe in himself as an actor at all. He thought he had great limitations, and owed everything to other people- the Actors Studio, Joanne- he seemed not to take credit for himself.”

Laurie didn’t make another film over the course of 15 years until she returned to the screen in Brian dePalma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), which earned her a second Oscar nomination as the religious fanatic archetypal devouring mother a role that would ignite a new fire under the icons of horror movie fiends and villains.

Sarah and Eddie meet in the bus terminal. They both have a drinking problem, especially Sarah who drowns her self-pity in booze. She was born with a deformity in her foot which makes her limp, and gives her a feeling of self hatred and undesirability that Eddie breaks through with his smooth talking swagger. He manages to reach in and touch her heart but his reckless abandon to win, overshadows Sarah’s cries for help and her self destructive nature cannot withstand the competition for Eddie’s soul.

Sarah Packard: I love you, Eddie.

Fast Eddie: You know, someday, Sarah, you’re gonna settle down… you’re gonna marry a college professor and you’re gonna write a great book. Maybe about me. Huh? Fast Eddie Felson… hustler.

Sarah Packard: I love you.

Fast Eddie: You need the words?

Sarah Packard: Yes, I need them very much. If you ever say them I’ll never let you take them back.

To achieve Sarah’s limp, Piper Laurie first experimented with walking around with pebbles in her shoes. “Finally, I just did it without anything, because Rossen didn’t want an obvious limp; he didn’t want it consistent because he felt he wanted the audience to be aware of it sometimes and not other times.”

The two shack up and set up house in Sarah’s apartment that is subsidized by her father’s money. Eddie is obsessed with winning. Their relationship is turbulent and dysfunctional, then enters George C. Scott as Bert Gordon a misanthropic snake in the grass who exploits Eddie and interferes with his relationship with Sarah. Once Bert Gordon slithers into the closed world of Eddie’s pool hustling and his love affair with Sarah, that world is corrupted, and Eddie begins to lose his way.

Ulu Grosbard later noted that the interior of Sarah’s apartment was built in a studio at 55th St. and 10th Ave. He said the actors’ dressing rooms there were very small and, in his memory, without windows, “like cells,” but that Piper Laurie furnished hers “as if she were going to live in it the rest of her life.” It was Grosbard’s impression that Laurie would sometimes spend the night there.

Bert Gordon: Eddie, is it alright if I get personal?

Fast Eddie: Whaddaya been so far?

Bert Gordon: Eddie, you’re a born loser.

Fast Eddie: What’s that supposed to mean?

Bert Gordon: First time in ten years I ever saw Minnesota Fats hooked… really hooked. But you let him off.

Fast Eddie: I told you I got drunk.

Bert Gordon: Sure you got drunk. You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning… that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You’ll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.

Bert Gordon: You’re here on a rain check and I know it. You’re hangin’ on by your nails. You let that glory whistle blow loud and clear for Eddie and you’re a wreck on a railroad track… you’re a horse that finished last. So don’t make trouble, Miss Ladybird. Live and let live! While you can. I’ll make it up to you.

Sarah Packard: How?

Bert Gordon: You tell me.

Fast Eddie: I loved her, Bert. I traded her in on a pool game. But that wouldn’t mean anything to you. Because who did you ever care about? Just win, win, you said, win, that’s the important thing. You don’t know what winnin’ is, Bert. You’re a loser. ‘Cause you’re dead inside, and you can’t live unless you make everything else dead around ya.

The Hustler is an extraordinary character study of the how humans bang into each other like the balls on the table, and no one really wins. It’s got a slick rhythm to it’s movement and editing by the wonderful Dede Allen and the Eugen Schüfftan (Metropolis 1927, Bluebeard (1944), Strange Illusion (1945), The Strange Woman 1946, The Bloody Brood (1959), Eyes Without a Face 1960,  Something Wild (1961) Lilith (1964) Eugen Schüfftan’s style is uniquely dark and almost mythic in it’s visual abstraction of reality.

IMDb trivia –

The picture was shot by Eugen Schüfftan, who had invented an optical effects process that employed mirrors to create backgrounds. According to crew reports, many of the pool room shots employed this process to varying degrees. The picture was also shot in CinemaScope, a wide-screen process usually reserved for big epics and action pictures.

The camera descends like Orpheus into the seedy smoky hidden world of the American pool hall, gazing at the sweaty mercenaries who hunger to hear the clicking and smacking of the balls making contact as they encircle the pool tables like birds of prey.

According to editor Dede Allen, an entire scene from this film was omitted after much deliberation between Allen and her director Robert Rossen. Even though both agreed that the scene, an impassioned speech by Paul Newman in the pool room, was possibly the best part of his entire performance, they had to throw it out because “…it didn’t move the story.” Newman, though Oscar-nominated, later claimed that the deleted scene most likely cost him the Academy Award. Dede Allen liked working with Robert Rossen because he was the kind of director who shot scenes from every possible angle, providing her with a wide range of cover footage that allowed for various interpretations and possibilities.

American actress Piper Laurie as Sarah Packard in ‘The Hustler’, directed by Robert Rossen, 1961. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The film was also somewhat autobiographical for Robert Rossen, relating to his dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee. A screenwriter during the 1930s and ’40s, he had been involved with the Communist Party in the 1930s and refused to name names at his first HUAC appearance. Ultimately he changed his mind and identified friends and colleagues as party members. Similarly, Felson sells his soul and betrays the one person who really knows and loves him in a Faustian pact to gain character.

When it was necessary to show some of the trickier shots, 14 time world billiards champion Willie Mosconi (who was also the film’s technical advisor) would play the stunt hands.

Otherwise Jackie Gleason who was already an accomplished pool plays and Paul Newman had never held a pool cue before he landed the role of Fast Eddie Felson. He took out the dining room table from his home and installed a pool table so he could spend every waking hour practicing and polishing up his skills

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying wrack ’em up and then join me for another go around here at The Last Drive In

 

MonsterGirl Asks: Kathryn Leigh Scott

A Happy Valentine’s to Kathryn Leigh Scott and the legacy of the romantic, tragic figure of Maggie Evans & Josette Dupree 🧡

Kathryn Leigh Scott, 1967. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“I know that you are dead, but still you are alive. I’m not afraid of you, only of living without you.” -Josette to Barnabas

One of the more recent primal rituals we find ourselves indulging in these days is the act of ‘binge watching’ a series in order to escape what ever it is any of us might feel the need to break free from. Though, I grew up in the 1960s and can remember sitting close to our large Magnavox television console when Dark Shadows would come into view on the tv screen, I’d be instantly drawn to composer Robert Colbert‘s evocative score and that symbolic opening with the tumultuous waves crashing beneath the titles. I was lucky enough to watch the show unfold on air in reel time in 1966. It originally aired weekdays on the ABC television network, from June 27, 1966, to April 2, 1971 before the series went into syndication.

It is significant to note that Dark Shadows is one of the few classic television soap operas to have all of its episodes survive intact except one.

In 1966 on June 27th, the prolific master of the macabre Dan Curtis debuted his Gothic soap opera series Dark Shadows – the show still has it’s faithful cult following and had started a mania and love affair with it’s viewers. Dark Shadows was saluted as the first daytime drama styled in the Gothic novel tradition. A spooky, cultivated, suspenseful weekly half hour chamber pieces, that reverberated with Gothic fable like overtones becoming a pop culture phenomenon. The premise centered around the wealthy and tormented inhabitants of the mysterious Collinwood that had a pall that hung over the great estate besieged by curses and dark forces and supernatural narratives. The powerful and self indulgent Collins family, whose ancestors founded Collinsport Maine a small fishing village are seemingly haunted and always on the brink of destruction by scandal and supernatural scourge. Throughout the centuries, generations of the Collins family have their very own built in vengeful spirits and malefic curses. In 1967, when the series faced cancellation, Jonathan Frid joins the cast as the sympathetic vampire Barnabas Collins and revives the show. With it’s 1897 storyline featuring David Selby, as Quentin Collins draws a viewership of 20 million fans. In 1970 MGM released a feature motion picture Night of Dark Shadows. The show became syndicated in 1975 and in 1982 reruns began airing for the first time on PBS. In 1992 reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel ran until 2001, airing the entire run of 1,225 episodes.

Kathryn Leigh Scott and Dan Curtis on the set of House of Dark Shadows (1970)

On the set of the major motion picture spinoff of Dark Shadows-House of Dark Shadows (1970) Kathryn Leigh Scott, Roger Davis and Grayson Hall.

Down the road, I intend on covering in depth all the mythos and classical literary allusions to the groundbreaking show itself here at The Last Drive In. The marvelous cast and crew, the prolific elements of mystery, the supernatural and fantasy, that threaded the show with frightening motifs, melodramatic dread and tragic narratives, tributes to legendary nightmarish tales of the occult, Gothic romantic novels and the paranormal, even Bill Baird’s little bat puppet that made up the shadowy world of Dark Shadows!

For now, like Barnabas Collins I long to show some love for the beautiful woman who captured his heart and ours, Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie Evans & Josette DuPrés.

Continue reading “MonsterGirl Asks: Kathryn Leigh Scott”

The inimitable, enigmatic actor of stage and screen Albert Finney dies at 82

Albert Finney, cinema’s original ‘angry young man’, dies aged 82

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ALBERT FINNEY’s CREDOTS @ IMDb

Mr. Finney, center, as the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in “Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by Sidney Lumet in 1974. A second Academy Award nomination ensued.Credit Paramount Pictures

Finney’s incredible contribution is everlasting, his magnetic persona, a versatile actor, he is a legend…

With Love, Joey

Actress Julie Adams dies at 92. We will miss you

Iconic actress Julie Adams has left a special legacy fondly remembered by so many of us!

I will miss your vibrant smile. You helped this MonsterGirl grow up with one of the most lasting gilled Heroes & gorgeous Heroines. And all the other appearances you made especially in classic television remain in my heart.

Love Joey

A tribute to Diana Sands “Please look at me!…”

“I refuse to be stereotyped. Look at me. Never mind my color. Please look at me!”

WHY ISN’T THERE A BIOPIC OF DIANA SANDS’ LIFE?

I can’t help being drawn to Diana Sands’ startling equilibrium, her fire. Her complex and multi-layered performances. I see her as a Black Woman. I see her as a woman. I see her as ubiquitous. Diana Sands refused to be typecast in roles that were confining and dishonest. I can imagine that she forged an inroad that would later influence incredible dramatic Black actresses like Alfre Woodard or Angela Bassett, women who exude that similar fire and vibrancy from the depths of their souls.

I think of Diana Sands and I think of an inner strength that burns it’s way to the surface until it’s so bright you feel it pierce your skin. There is an essence of a powerfully self-possessed woman who broke ground with her captivating performances in the early 1960s to the mid 1970s. I don’t like the phrase “color blind” it evokes an irresponsibility not to see inequality. But that is not what Diana Sands is saying in her quote. That’s not what she is asking of us.

So I am using her own words but want to be clear about how I feel in this post honoring one of the great actresses of all time during Black History Month. We need to recognize each other. It’s essential not to try and erase any aspect of who we are and we need to be conscious of those differences in a positive way, while we embrace what we all have in common and can relate to universally.

Diana Sands had to fend off the offensive scrutiny, the “mysogynoir‘ of being referred to by some 70s critics -one whose name I refuse to even give a moment’s attention here except to pluck out two terms from the ignorant context of his entire, misguided and disrespectful review. Who referred to her role as “cute” in terms of her being a Black woman trying to find herself and “afrocentric” in her performance as Beneatha Younger (A Raisin in the Sun). What she was, was a dynamic, courageous  woman who aspired to become a doctor. That isn’t cute. That is the story of real passion and possibility and a god-given right.

Diana Sands as Beneatha Younger, seen here with Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier and Ivan Dixon.

As a white woman writing this post I want to just say one more thing. We need to see our own privilege and not be afraid to acknowledge that racism exists. I hope I am a good ally and when I pay tribute to a person of color, that I remain mindful to honor them fully and respectfully. I do see Diana Sands color. I see it as a strength and a dignity in all her pioneering roles. I see her emerge from a sea of white faces. She will not be marginalized, stereotyped and shut out of the conversation.

I began to follow Diana Sands’ career years ago, compelled by her dramatic, electrifying presence in film and in television. Growing up in New York, I wish my theatre mother would have taken me to see her on stage. She is remembered for her striking performance as Beneatha Younger in Lorraine Hansberrys play A Raisin in the Sun about the struggles of a poor black family from the side south of Chicago who have to decide about the direction their lives will take- “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”

What happens to a dream deferred? by Langston Hughes
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?

The title A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by Langston Hughes’ powerful poem. The inspirational masterpiece that is A Raisin in the Sun is made all the more remarkable by the performances of the ensemble cast and standing out for me, though Poitier always grabs me by the guts and strums my heart strings, is his progressive sister Beneatha brought to life by Diana Sands with instinctual contemplation that was her acting style.

She was marvelous as sassy Fanny Johnson, married to a Black activist Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.) in Hal Ashby’s (Harold and Maude 1971, The Last Detail 1973, Being There 1979) The Landlord 1970. The story of Elgar Enders a young wealthy white New Yorker (Beau Bridges) who buys a tenement building in a low-income neighborhood afflicted by white-flight and going through gentrification. Elgar Intends to evict the black residents so he can turn it into a luxury apartment building and live there all by himself. The cast is rich with superb performances by Pearl Baily, Mel Stewart, Lee Grant, Louis Gossett Jr, and Marki Bey as Lanie.  In Ashby’s thought provoking method, it’s an interesting meditation on race during the close of the 1960s.

Diana appeared in innovative television dramas, such as the innovative socially conscious series East Side/West Side 1963-1964 that dealt realistically with social problems. The gritty series starred Cicely Tyson, George C. Scott, and Elizabeth Wilson as social workers in 1960s New York City. Sands appeared on several episodes of the 1960s series The Doctors and the Nurses which I am desperately waiting for it to somehow be released on disc. The groundbreaking series surrounded the lives of nurses who in their daily lives confront socially relevant issues. Diana Sands even graced one of my favorite television series The Outer Limits in 1964 as Dr. Julie Harrison in the episode “The Mice”. She also played Dr. Marylou Neeley who went head to head with Chad Everett (who always wore clogs and his scrubs 2 sized too small, but who would mind!) in Medical Center’s episode “The Nowhere Child”. She appeared as Nurse Helen Straughn having an affair with Richard Crenna in George Schaefer’s pulpy Doctors’ Wives 1971, and as Cora in Willie Dynamite 1974 the title played by Roscoe Orman, a nasty piece of work who has a license plate that says Willie on the front and Dynamite on the back! As Cora, Diana Sands played a prostitute turned social worker who helps other prostitutes get out of jail and find a better life, while also trying to battle the badass pimp Willie who is smacking women around.

I am trying to track down a copy of An Affair of the Skin 1963 co-starring Viveca Lindfors and Lee Grant, LOVE them both, and Georgia, Georgia 1972 written by Maya Angelou. If anyone has a lead on where I can purchase either film please drop me a note here at The Last Drive In.

Diana Sands Broke Barriers In Theater and On The Big Screen

Stacia L. Brown’s thoughtful tribute published on August 23, 2012 on Diana Sands birthday in her piece Diana Sands: What Was and What Could’ve Been

“If you’re familiar with Sands’ work at all, it’s probably owing to her memorable portrayal of Beneatha, the Younger family’s willful, progressive aspiring doctor, in the 1961 film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’’s A Raisin in the Sun. But by then, she had already established herself as a living walking testament to the power of risk-taking. Sands grew up in the Bronx with working class parents, her father a carpenter, her mother hatmaker. After high school graduation, she toured with a carnival before returning to New York and joining Greenwich Mews, a multicultural theatre repertory. She worked night jobs to survive, before scoring her first theatre roles (one of the earliest was the stage production of A Raisin in the Sun). By 1964, her star was rapidly rising. She won an Obie for the play, Living Premise, and a Tony nomination for her role in James Baldwin’s Blues for Mr. Charlie.

This was also the year that Sands became a pioneer in colorblind casting as one of the first ever actresses to earn a role intended for a white actress, without any line rewriting to explain or accommodate her race. She played opposite Alan Alda as his love interest as a would-be actress to his would-be writer. When the film was adapted for screen, Barbra Streisand was cast in her role, but by that time, she’d already garnered a great deal of positive press and audience notice. Television came a-courtin’ and she eventually earned two Emmy nominations. Sands acted through the sixties in various theatre and TV roles. In 1970, she scored her first costarring film role in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord. But the early ’70s would mark the end of a steady and promising rise toward superstardom.”

Diana Sands was born in New York City, the Bronx to be exact, on August 22, 1934. She was a student at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts and a member of the Actor’s Studio. Nominated twice for a Tony Award and twice for an Emmy. She took risks and challenged racial barriers taking on roles that traditionally would have been performed by white actresses. She also fought against a system that marginalized black actors and their roles, becoming a driving force that saw an integration of the cast members.

In 1953 Diana made her debut in the off-Broadway play “An Evening with Will Shakespeare” She went on to appear in George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara” in 1954, also performing in the theatrical production of “The World of Sholem Aleichem.”

Her striking work is notable as she is the first Black actress to be cast in a major Broadway play. Cast in “Land Beyond the River” in 1957 and then appearing in “The Egg and I” in 1958.

It was in 1959 that Diana Sands made her memorable debut as the astonishingly nuanced Beneatha Younger in Raisin in the Sun, in which she won the Outer Circle Critics’ Award, eventually manifesting that magnetic performance in director Daniel Petrie’s (Resurrection 1980) film adaptation co-starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil and Ivan Dixon.

And I want to give a shout out to the incredible contribution by fine actress Claudia McNeil (Bernice Sadie Brown in Member of the Wedding 1958 for The Dupont Show of the Month, Mrs. Quincy in The Last Angry man 1959, Mrs. Hill in television series The Doctors and The Nurses 1963, Madam in There Was a Crooked Man 1970, Odessa Carter in Incident in San Francisco 1971 tv movie, Granny Marshall in Tv’s Mod Squad 1972, Sara in Moon of the Wolf 1972 tv movie, Mu’ Dear in Black Girl 1972, To Be Young, Gifted and Black 1972 tv movie, Ethel Hanson in Cry Panic 1974 tv movie, Big Ma in Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry 1978, Sister Will Ada Barnett in Roots: The Next Generation 1979) as the matriarch, Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. An extraordinary actress herself who deserves the spotlight too. Partly what worked for Hansberry’s story is the chemistry and confluence of the entire cast.

Diana Sands returned to the stage in 1962 appearing in “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright.”

In 1964 she took on two outstanding roles onstage as Juanita in James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mr. Charlie” she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a play. She co-starred with Alan Alda as Doris W. in the The Owl and the Pussycat, originally offered to Kim Stanley another actress I find mesmerizing to watch, when Stanley was unavailable, with the script intentionally not re-written for a Black woman went to Diana Sands and once again she nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

In 1968, she was back on stage at the Vivien Beaumont Theater as the first Black woman to play Saint Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s play “St. Joan.”

In the beginning of the 1970s Diana Sands among other notable Black actors such as Ossie Davis and Brock Peters, who wanted to feature more positive roles for African-Americans in films, and so they founded Third World Cinema. One of their first productions was the film Georgia, Georgia written by Maya Angelou. Diana Sands plays Georgia Martin a Black woman artist struggling to find herself.

From a New York Times article printed in Feb 1971, A.H. Weiler writes that Third World Cinema Corporation founder and President actor/director Ossie Davis planned on filming The Billie Holiday Story which would have starred Diana Sands. How incredible would that have been.

In hopes of creating an independent film corporation, Sands and her colleagues hoped to ensure that there would be better opportunities for positive portrayals of African-American and People of Color, that would ensure films that presented Black actors with outstanding roles that were versatile and representational rather than stereotypes and limiting. “A group of black and Puerto Rican actors, writers and directors, backed by union leaders and public officials, have joined to form the minority‐controlled Third World Cinema Corporation, an independent company that plans to produce feature films and train minority group members in the film and television fields.”

Above image from the movie, Georgia, Georgia 1972.

In 1974 Diana Sands was ready to take on the role of Claudine, tragically suffering at this point with pancreatic cancer she was too ill by this time, and the part went to friend Diahann Carroll.

Theatre Roles:

As Beaneatha Younger in 1959 A Raisin in the Sun, as Adelaide Smith in Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright 1962 (Theatre World Award), The Living Premise 1963 (Obie Award Distinguished Performance), Doris W. The Owl and the Pussycat 1964, Juanita in Blues for Mr. Charlie 1964, The Premise 1965, as Ruth in We Bombed in New Haven 1968, as Cassandra in Tiger at the Gates 1968, as Joan in Saint Joan 1968, The Gingham Dog 1969.

Television Roles:

As Dr. Julie Harrison in The Outer Limits “The Mice” 1964, in East Side/West Side 1963-1964 as Jane Foster “It’s War, Man and Ruth Goodwin in “Who Do You Kill?” As Sara Harris in Breaking Point 1964. As nurse Ollie Sutton three episodes of The Doctors and The Nurses 1962-1964 and Andrea Jagger in the episode “Night Shift”. In four episodes as Irene Rush along side James Earl Jones (whose wife she played in East Side/West Side episode Who Do You Kill?) In Dr. Kildare 1964, as Dr. Rachel Albert in I Spy 1966 “Turkish Delight”, as Davala Unawa in The Fugitive 1967 “Dossier on a Diplomat” as as Mrs. May Bishop in Bracken’s World 1970 “Will Freddie’s Real Father Please Stand Up” as Cousin Sara in 5 episodes of Julia 1970-1971, as Dr. Marylou Neeley in Medical Center 1971 “The Nowhere Child.”

As Nurse Ollie Sutton from the episode “Imperfect Prodigy” – The Doctors and The Nurses 1964 television series

As Ruth Goodwin in the episode “Who Do You Kill?” from the television series East Side/West Side 1963

As Davala Unawa in The Fugitive 1967 “Dossier on a Diplomat

As Dr. Julie Harrison in The Outer Limits episode “The Mice” 1964

As Irene Rush in Dr. Kildare “The Hand that Heals” 1966

As Dr. Marylou Neeley in Medical Center 1971 “The Nowhere Child.”

As Fanny in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord 1970

As Helen in Doctors’ Wives 1971

As Cora Williams in Willie Dynamite 1974

Film Roles:

Appearing in two extraordinary films, Diana Sands still stood out…

Uncredited as a homeless woman in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd 1957, uncredited as a club hostess in Odds Against Tomorrow 1959, as Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun 1961, as Janice in An Affair of the Skin 1963, as Mila in Ensign Pulver 1964, as Fanny in The Landlord 1970, Helen Straughn in Doctors’ Wives 1971, as Georgia Martin in Georgia, Georgia 1972, as Nancy Newman in The Living End (tv movie) 1972, as Cora Williams who co-stars with Thalmus Rasulala (Dr. Gordon Thomas in Blacula 1972) in Willie Dynamite 1974 and as Laura Lewis in Honeybaby, Honeybaby 1974.

Thank you Diana Sands… You touch me with your powerful presence and I am deeply saddened that you left us at age 39, so young, too soon, and I wonder what might have been.

Your EverLovin’ Joey

 

 

The Dark Pages special “GIANT” Issue!! November/December 2018 is here!!

THE DARK PAGES SPECIAL “GIANT” ISSUE IS HERE VOL.14 NUMBER 6 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018

The Dark Corner (1946) Directed by Henry Hathaway: Lucille Ball (as Kathleen), Mark Stevens (as Bradford Galt)

It was an absolute honor to be able to contribute once again to The Dark Pages Newsletter that is suffuse with some of the best writers and critics of Film Noir. This year’s GIANT issue pledged a collection of articles featuring great couples of the genre. And boy what a terrific issue it is!

If you aren’t yet on the mailing list or want to subscribe to the Newsletter — below is a link so you can get your craving for Film Noir satisfied!

SUBSCRIBE TO THE DARK PAGES TODAY!

Your EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ see ya in the shadows of a dark alley, and if you need a light, I’ll be there in a flash, all you have to do is whistle, you know how to whistle !

 

Happy Birthday you golden girl Betty White 97 years young!

US MAGAZINE CELEBRATES BETTY WHITE’S BIRTHDAY

CBS NEWS BETTY WHITE’S BIRTHDAY

Thank You for being a friend!!!! Love, Joey

Classic TV Blog Association: Announces the 25 Greatest Classic TV Series

CLASSIC TV BLOG ASSOCIATION

After careful deliberation & shared concentration on some of the most groundbreaking and beloved classic television series, the final list is here! Visit Classic TV Blog Associations Blog (Link Above) to read how the list evolved…

I am proud to have been part of this project. Many of the shows included on the final list were series I suggested and while series such as Naked City, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dark Shadows, Dr. Kildare, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Leave It To Beaver didn’t make the ultimate tally, I am content that many many fans will agree it is an all inclusive collection of shows that contributed to our collective consciousness, influenced generations of series to follow and left indelible impressions in our hearts and minds.

  1. The Twilight Zone

  2. I Love Lucy

  3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show

  4. Columbo

  5. All in the Family

  6. Dragnet

  7. Monty Python’s Flying Circus

  8. Star Trek

  9. The Prisoner

  10. M*A*S*H

  11. The Dick Van Dyke Show

  12. The Fugitive

  13. Dallas

  14. Doctor Who

  15. The Andy Griffith Show

  16. The Defenders

  17. The Golden Girls

  18. Perry Mason

  19. SCTV

  20. The Honeymooners

  21. Alfred Hitchcock Presents

  22. Hill Street Blues

  23. The Odd Couple

  24. The Outer Limits

  25. The Avengers

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying see ya soon and keep showing your love for those classic series that will forever remain –the finest television viewing experience for all time…