Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Better Off Dead...

In 1977, the nation was swept over by the phenomenally successful film Saturday Night Fever, a gritty, electrifying drama about a young Brooklyn guy who dances his cares away on an illuminated nightclub floor, dreaming of escaping his humdrum existence as a working class lug. The soundtrack remains one of the most popular movie soundtracks ever produced (featuring now-classic disco songs from The Bee Gees.) The film was released with an R-rating, but screaming youngsters who wanted to watch star John Travolta boogie to the songs they had worn out on their LPs of the music finally led the studio to issue a PG version that was relieved of some of the foul language and sexuality the original version contained.

In the wake of this, talk eventually began to brew of a sequel. Though sequels were hardly a new concept at the time, they weren’t as robotically automatic as they are today, with even the most middling piece of crap warranting a sequel, often before the original film has even opened in a theater! A little more than five years after Saturday Night Fever, the projected sequel somehow found its way into the hands of that master of all thing Terpsichorean, the genius behind so many musical films, Mr. Sylvester Stallone.

Dubbed Staying Alive (the name of one of the most iconic numbers from the first film), the story took place five years after Fever. Travolta is now a cocktail waiter living in Manhattan, striving to get his first break in a Broadway show. Auditioning feverishly, he fills the rest of his time teaching rudimentary dancing to beginners and canoodling with pretty Cynthia Rhodes, a dancer in her own right who’s currently working in a Broadway production. He also has had liaisons with a couple of swinging chicks who like taking him on all at once. Hilariously, he turns them down for a repeat performance with a heavily accented, “You two paahty too haahd.”
In initial outlines and drafts of the script, the memorable friends and girlfriends from the first film appeared in some way or another in the sequel. Eventually, Stallone (who co-wrote the movie) whittled all of them out, with nary a mention, except for Travolta’s mother, played again by Julie Bovasso. Primarily appearing in just one key scene, in Travolta’s parent’s house in the old Brooklyn neighborhood, she keeps offering John a piece of the pie that she “made special” as if he won’t eat and when he finally gives in, the camera reveals that it’s the final slice!! Are you seriously telling me he showed up at night, she baked the pie that morning and the two of them ate all of it after lunch?! A dancer??

Anyway, the film details Travolta’s journey towards landing a role in a Broadway play and what better way to do it than to cheat on his quasi-girlfriend Rhodes with the star of the show she’s in. He finagles his way up to crisply British Finola Hughes’ dressing room and lays on his charm, which is not necessarily appreciated by her, at least at first. He manages to woo her (in a montage paired with one of the many, many songs on the soundtrack, some of which are by the Bee Gees, but quite a few that are not) and they end up in her massive bed. (This being a firmly PG-rated film, what few love scenes there are are beyond tame.)
John becomes hung up on Miss Hughes even though she is most often an unmitigated bitch. He continuously stands up or otherwise kicks to the curb the sweet-natured and supportive Rhodes, making his character a less than inspiring one. He is invited to a posh soiree at Hughes’ high-rise apartment and, for this occasion, whips out what is supposed to be the famous white suit he wore in Fever! It’s been in a dry cleaner bag with the original black shirt for five years. He bows to the fact that it is now 1983 and pairs the suit instead with a blue v-neck t-shirt. Roger Ebert bought the original suit at auction somewhere along the way (I think he used to wear it Easter Sundays over a Cosby sweater), but, in any case, I highly doubt that the suit used here is truly the original.

While Travolta continues to jilt Rhodes, she starts to make time with the guitarist of a band she sings with late at night. (It’s actually more a platonic relationship, perhaps to make Travolta jealous.) And who is this dark-haired, dark-eyed macho man? Why it’s Sylvester Stallone’s younger brother Frank, who was somehow picked from all the available artists in the world to write a raft of songs for this project. I wonder how he managed it! Truth be known, I actually like Frank’s songs in this movie very much. I, as I’ve stated before, have less than zero taste, though. I recall one of the numbers being used in a hilarious Saturday Night Live filmed sketch about two male synchronized swimmers that starred Martin Short and Harry Shearer.

Finally, Hughes, Travolta and Rhodes all wind up in a Broadway musical together, Satan’s Alley. The show is in no way like anyone could ever (or would ever!) see in the world of musical theatre. There’s practically no plot, costume changes are minimal at best (mostly consisting of people either changing hair or taking a tad more of his or her already abbreviated costuming off!), there is no dialogue and the music is sung by someone nowhere near the playing area! A “concept musical” in the worst sense of the word, people constantly gyrate, crawl, pose and prowl around with little or no purpose. In short, it’s an obnoxious pile of steaming drek punctuated by some hysterically indulgent Bob Mackie costumes.

Now, I admit that my experience with Broadway musical is quite limited (especially with regards to the chorus!), but isn’t there usually some sort of attempt to keep dancers of a somewhat uniform height? Maybe I’m thinking solely of The Rockettes. At 6’2”, Travolta appears to tower over the rest of the dancers and would seem to stand out in the ensemble for all the wrong reasons. Maybe I’m too stuck in 1953.

As the show is in rehearsal, Hughes’ costar, Charles Ward, is deemed inadequate to perform the incredibly strong and sultry moves of this major piece of dance art. It can be read that the show calls for a masculinity and heterosexuality that Ward cannot deliver, resulting in some mild gay bashing. (In case there’s one senile, old audience member at the movie theater who doesn’t realize what a homo is, the character has frosted hair, a deep tan, ivory teeth and a purple unitard!) The show’s director, Steve Inwood, decides to give Travolta a shot (not realizing that he has coerced Rhodes into working on it until all hours in a bid to become the show’s star!)

One false start leads to a memorably amusing tantrum from Hughes when her head (with its ratty mane of unruly hair) gets caught in John’s crotch! However, if you think Travolta doesn’t land the gig and wow everyone, resulting in a huge triumph, I feel bad that you’ve never seen a movie. Not content to now be playing the lead in a (ghastly) Broadway production, he improvises while he’s out there and turns the whole thing into a life-changing event. Hughes reaction to one of his new ideas is to scratch him violently across the temple! In one of the few nods to the first film, he decides to celebrate his success by strutting down the street just the way he did in the opening sequence of Fever.

Then-hot (in terms of box office cred) Sylvester Stallone, whose storyline here contains every hoary clichĂ© imaginable and comes off at times like a remake of Rocky, but in tights instead of trunks, or a shiny retread of 42nd Street, makes a very brief cameo appearance in the film. He bumps into Travolta on the street and turns around for a nanosecond. Approached to play the show’s director, he felt that he had no reason to be in the film because the film was him. His essence was emanating from every square frame of celluloid. (One hopes that he shared this kernel of information before the movie opened to savage reviews, Razzie nominations and audiences seething in their seats at the vomitously rotten final product!)

If one didn’t know better (but do we?), it could be interpreted that somehow Stallone set out to deliberately bury the film career of John Travolta forever! It’s bad enough that he provided him with a fairly unsympathetic character, but he then saddled him with some of the most preposterous visual scenarios while garbed in instantaneously dated getups. Over the years, Travolta has been accused of being gay, the rumors coming in and going out like the tide depending on the season. Surely, this motion picture lent no aid to his heterosexual credibility!

He’d been off the screen for two years, a lot of it in preparation for this film, and the results were admittedly stunning. His body was a work of art and was exploited over and over in the ads. Also, no one can deny the astonishing amount of work that he put into his dance sequences. He dances a TON in this film and this is just the small percentage of snippets and takes that made it into the final cut! Countless hours of exercise and rehearsal preceded the filming. It’s just that the choreography is often so garish, ridiculous and pretentious! This is the type of flick (see also The Apple and Can’t Stop the Music) that people recall when they think about how tastelessly over-the-top the 80s were. His other film of 1983 also tried to dip into the well of nostalgia by pairing him with his old Grease costar Olivia Newton-John. Two of a Kind sank even more swiftly than Staying Alive! Completing the career-killing trifecta was 1985’s workout-oriented Perfect, though he would eventually make a stunning mid-90s comeback, headed by Pulp Fiction.

Hughes joined the daytime soap General Hospital this same year and enjoyed a lengthy stay. A talented dancer (she had previously been in the ensemble of The Apple and worked in the Joan Collins ballet-oriented howler Nutcracker), she for some reason comes to rehearsals in the movie with her long, unruly hair all over the place, held up with impractical accessories that would be unlikely to withstand all the grueling whirls and undulations of the choreography. She currently appears on an infomercial, speaking about the years of damage she did to her hair with shampoo. She’s so skinny in the movie that her bones show through sometimes (it must be said, too, that sometimes she looks just as “hung” in her leotard as John does! Not sure what was going on there…)
Rhodes left the biz not too long after this to concentrate on being a wife to Richard Marx and a mother to their children. She was a pleasant, if unspectacular, screen presence and a decent singer and dancer in her own right. I always have odd feelings watching her because she is a dead ringer for my sister. Speaking of my sister, she had Rhodes exact hairstyle and color in this film and I recall her making me take her to see this movie the weekend it opened. She was fourteen and I was sixteen and I remember pretending like I wasn’t that interested in it and acting as if I weren’t (as every gay boy in the world who saw this was!) craning to look under John’s little grey skirtlet to see what was going on down there! I really have never found Travolta attractive at all, but he was certainly very striking at this time in his life.

As for Stallone, he followed this gem up with the equally atrocious comedy Rhinestone, which costarred Miss Dolly Parton. Though the gigantic box office success Rambo: First Blood Part II was just around the corner from that, his career was already heading into a downward spiral of mediocrity that would see him returning over and over to the Rocky and Rambo franchises with an occasional attempt at something else (or, at times, just variations, such as Rocky driving a truck or Rambo on a motorcycle, etc…) People are still scratching their heads trying to figure out what he was doing directing this film (and why he decided to chuck nearly every aspect that made the original so compelling to millions of people.) Travolta fought constantly with Fever director John Badham, but it ended up with a terrific end result. He claims that Stallone was his favorite director ever because Sly made him look the best onscreen. Ummm. What about his performance (and reputation?!?!) God knows Travolta is still living this one down. Entertainment Weekly chose it as the #1 Worst Sequel Ever. John and Sly briefly considered pairing up together in Rambo: First Blood Part II, but Stallone decided the project would be better off if it just starred himself… Maybe he wanted to be the only one to wear a headband?

Oh, and in another personal aside that means nothing, one of the primary songs has the lyric “never a net, under the wire” but a recurring (and unfunny) joke has me always pretending to hear it as “never Annette, under the wire” and asking the question, “Who the hell is Annette??” And, finally, during the 1985 Miss America Pageant, the one Vanessa Williams temporarily won, former crown-holder Susan Powell did a splashy song and dance to this same song (called So Close to the Fire) that managed to do the impossible in that it was even tackier and cheesier than the rendition in the film Staying Alive! Surrounded by unsynchronized dancers as she prowled around with the support section of her pantyhose showing through her French cut costume, she used her opera training to wail out a spotlight-shattering note. When it was all over, I turned to my friend and said, “Okay, but I still don’t know who the hell Annette is…..”

Friday, May 21, 2010

"Rome," If You Want To...

Remarking recently on the (very!) lightweight romp Palm Springs Weekend reminded me of a boxed DVD set that’s out there containing a quartet of colorful, “romantic” Warner Brothers films, all from the same general early 60s time period. Of the four, Weekend is the weakest from my point of view, the others offering gauzy beautiful people in sometimes highly dramatic situations. Parrish and Susan Slade (both long sought after by camp buffs - with out of print VHS prices through the roof prior to now- Slade is John Waters’ favorite movie) offer up the most turmoil. The other film, Rome Adventure is the one I’m going to look at today.

With the working title Lovers Must Learn, the project was initially offered to Natalie Wood. She’d be playing a young teacher, Prudence Bell, at an all girl school who is called on the carpet for offering one of her students a book (called Lovers Must Learn!) that is considered inappropriate. Facing possible termination over it and tired of the stifling environment anyway, the teacher then decides to chuck everything and head off to Rome to learn something about love for herself.

Wood passed on the project (eventually titled Rome Adventure), which then went to starlet Suzanne Pleshette. Pleshette had a raft of experience in episodic and anthology television and had done a featured role in Jerry Lewis’s The Geisha Boy, but nevertheless received special introductory billing, coming in fourth behind her costars. The story revolves mostly around her, though, and she’s given a major buildup throughout.

Pleshette is barely on the ship to Rome when a misunderstanding leads to her getting to know Italian wolf Rossano Brazzi (of South Pacific fame.) She’s supposed to be pairing off with the son of her parents’ friends, Hampton Fancher, but now that Brazzi is around, the two men have to gently compete for her attention.

Once in Rome, Brazzi gets the young folks to a boarding house run by a Contessa and Pleshette gets her first glimpse of fellow boarder Troy Donahue. He has a memorable entrance, coming down the bleak, neutral-colored stairs wearing a blazing red sweater, his blue eyes darting out from his tan face, capped off by his trademark blonde hair. It’s quite obvious that the other two gentlemen can take a hike now, but there may be a hitch…
Donahue is off to the train station to try to stop his artist girlfriend Angie Dickinson from leaving the country over some tiff. Before the train pulls out, she convinces him to give her one last passionate kiss. Second-billed Miss Dickinson is then absent from the film for a very long period of time. Sulky Donahue eventually warms up to the new kid in town and from there the couple starts to see each other regularly, frequently zipping around Rome on his red Vespa while Pleshette clutches to his waist from behind. As this still shows, TD may not have always been the most secure driver. An accident looks imminent!

Suzanne also gets a job as an assistant to American bookstore owner Constance Ford. Ford (whose book store is festively titled The American Bookstore) owns a huge English sheepdog and offers an experienced point of view to Pleshette regarding the ways of Italy and the ways of love. (The fact that Ford comes off as a major lesbian is something you just have to sort of shrug off! Her character is there for the men.) Keen-eyed viewers will note that this photo of Connie is not from Adventure, but I simply could not find one of her from this movie! As Suzie crosses the street to get to the bookstore, she does one of my favorite things in the world, she attempts to run in a skirt that is too restrictive to allow it. I long for instances like this in all vintage movies.

One of the people Troy introduces Pleshette to on one of their jaunts is famous (and husky!) jazz trumpet player Al Hirt, portraying a version of himself. This sequence is more than a little strange. First of all, Donahue has purchased a three-pronged candlestick that has somehow been deemed to represent his integrity (in a joke that is overplayed in the extreme.) He takes it, lit, everywhere they go, the candles going up and down in length (due to continuity errors) as if some subconscious remark on the varying tumescence of his penis since nothing he can do will get Suzie into bed!
Then Hirt, playing himself mind you, introduces the couple to his girl, a buxom, sexually voracious siren who carried a knife in her garter! She displays this to the others (look at the fruity sort of shock on Troy’s face here!) and then, while Hirt is blowing his horn, makes out with another man, leading to a huge brawl in the nightclub. Check out the spike marks on the floor for the furniture in this uncropped still photo.

Donahue and Pleshette then enjoy a blissful holiday trip, marred only by her still-Puritanical outlook regarding sex and keeping up appearances. This part of the film can be really grating to today’s viewer not willing to suspend disbelief a little bit and buy into the fear of a scandal or of disappointing parents back home. It was a different world, folks, at least at the movies.

When they finally return to the boarding house, my favorite part of the film kicks in. Dickinson is back and ready to reclaim her boy! You know, I don’t dislike Angie Dickinson, but she’s just not one of those actresses who excites me much, especially in most of her early work. However, here she plays an elegant, haughty, selfish bitch extraordinaire and I love her!

She is so condescending to Pleshette and always has a snotty remark handy, though delivered with the vaguest smile. Her apartment is something to behold. She invites Donahue, Pleshette and Fancher over for dinner and sets the stage as if it’s for a performance, and it is! The ornate bed has speakers behind it, playing music, the furnishings are arranged exactly as she wishes, complete with an autographed photo of Troy and she’s done up in an embroidered silk getup that shows that she’s ready for business.

She won’t stop until she’s driven Suzanne to tears and then, when she realizes Troy is going to take Suzanne home, she resigns herself to the fact that she may have to settle for Fancher for the night. It’s a glamorous, seductive performance that may be my favorite work from her ever. She’s back another time near the end, but by then things have become a little ridiculous and I don’t care for the way her hair is done (I only care about the really important things! lol) I worship and adore Tippi Hedren, but seeing Ang here, one can almost picture her as Melanie Daniels in The Birds (a part that Suzanne coveted as well, but she ended up in a secondary role.)

Following this evening from hell, Pleshette decides that she should learn about love from a master and seeks out Brazzi, the ultimate Italian bachelor and seducer. Taking a page from Angie’s book, she slips on an embroidered silk jacket of her own and slinks down the stairs to meet Brazzi, the side of her hair curled up as if she were some 1920s taxi dancer!
If you have trouble figuring out how it all winds up, you must not have seen too many studio era Hollywood romances! That’s not the point, though. The film is gloriously beautiful from start to finish. An Italian love song, Al di la, is sung during the movie and many people find it to be the highlight. I definitely like it very much, but I’m equally enthralled with the amazing orchestral music that plays throughout, written by the legendary Max Steiner. Steiner knew a thing or to about romance, having written countless scores for all those Bette Davis weepies and for a little flick called Gone With the Wind. (Incidentally, even though I know it’s not him, I would have sworn that Andy Williams voice was singing Al di la in this movie!)

There is no way to overstate how stunning the Italian scenery is in this film. It mustn’t be viewed on a small television and it certainly must never be viewed in a pan and scan format! The city of Rome and the Italian countryside shown here are basically gone forever, at least in the way the makers managed to capture the streets and buildings at near desolation. One of Pleshette’s day trips has it almost as if there is no one around but her! Everything (including several elaborate fountains) is so beautifully shot and so artfully displayed, people seeing it in the U.S. in 1962 must have sat agape in their theater seats. The couple takes a ride to the top of a mountain on what is one really striking lift. They stand in slender cages as they swing up and up and up.

Audiences fell in love with the Vespa that Donahue drives around on and they also took to their hearts Miss Pleshette, whose breathy alto voice helps take at least a little of the saccharine out of her sometimes drippy role. She adds welcome sultriness to some of her love scenes with Donahue as well she might, the couple fell in love for real during the making of this movie and married in 1964. Sadly, the bliss was short-lived and they were divorced a scant nine months later. I can admit to admiring Troy’s eyes, but I’m not all that crazy about him, looks-wise or acting-wise. He resembles a tall Alan Ladd to me in this shot below of the (momentarily) happy couple.
A subplot of the movie focuses on a fellow boarder, Pamela Austin, and her chaperone Gertrude Flynn. Austin really overplays her dialogue as she often did (and, truth to tell, a lot of young actresses from this era did the same – think of the Beach Party ingĂ©nues), which is one reason why I never warmed to her. (Ford overplays here, too, most notably in her final scene, but she has enough sincerity and world-weary ennui in another sequence that I can forgive it. She and Donahue have a short scene together, having been bitter enemies onscreen three years earlier in A Summer Place.) As for Flynn, she was used three times by this film’s director Delmer Daves and also has the distinction of playing the ladies room attendant in the screamfest Valley of the Dolls, the one who fishes Susan Hayward’s wig out of the toilet!

Fancher, who plays an amiable and endearing nerd here, was an incredibly nasty stepbrother to Donahue two years prior in Parrish. Though he worked in TV though the mid-70s, he couldn’t seem to get a foothold in the movie business despite his versatility. (Granted, he didn't possess the glamor boy looks that were popular then either.) He’s shown here with his wife from 1963-65, Sue Lyon, and Sue’s hair. The worst injustice of all in the film goes to Chad Everett. You’re sitting there watching the credits – in which he’s maybe eighth-billed – and eventually the movie is over and you realize you never once caught a glimpse of him!! Turns out, he plays a tremendously sight-impaired surveillance man who watches Dickinson from afar. He has no lines at all and it utterly unrecognizable. I don’t think even his mother could have picked out that it was him in that part! He may have had a scene or two that was trimmed out of the final cut. Don’t watch this movie looking for him, though!

It’s a glossy, escapist confection that will probably surprise you with its visual and aural splendor if you give it a chance (or revisit it on DVD after a long time not seeing it.) None of the stills in this post even come close to doing the scenery a pinhead of justice. During image searches for this post, I kept seeing ugly, flip-flop clad people leaning on ruins with their midsections hanging out to pose for a picture. This time capsule is definitely one of the few ways to assure that any humans who happen to be in front of a majestic architectural relic are almost as appealing to the eye as the relic itself!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Losing My Hardin

The late 50s/early 60s was the heyday of the TV western and the three major networks stuffed their schedules with an amazing number of series. Warner Brothers, who produced a lot of TV during that time, would wring everything they could out of a show for as little money as possible. The hot show Maverick (which starred James Garner), for example, might be assigned a script that had been used on another show with just the names and a few details changed! Another hugely popular show (starring huge and popular Clint Walker - see photo above) called Cheyenne received the same treatment. These series were often quite cookie-cutter, despite their individual conceits, and the actors often felt as if they were on an assembly line, and they were.

When Clint Walker walked off Cheyenne in a dispute (partly stemming from the studio’s failure to also utilize him in their feature films), an immediate replacement was shoehorned into the series. To fill the void until Walker could be coerced back, they used a slim, blonde, good-looking actor dubbed Ty Hardin (and you can bet that the scripts he filmed as the character of Bronco Layne had once been intended for Cheyenne Bodie!) Thing was, Hardin was popular enough on the show to warrant his own series, called Bronco, and this not only gave Warners another hit, but allowed Walker to have a lighter schedule. They made The Cheyenne Show a rotating concept with Cheyenne, Bronco or Will Hutchins as Sugarfoot starring each week (or occasionally pairing up in certain episodes.)

Ty Hardin was born in 1930 with one of the all time jaw-dropping names: Orison Whipple Hungerford, Jr! The product of a troubled marriage, he was born in New York City, but was transported to Texas at age five where he was mostly raised by his devoutly Baptist grandmother. Initially nicknamed Typhoon thanks to his wild behavior, it was later abbreviated to Ty. Ty Hungerford struggled with what was then an unknown affliction, ADHD (of course, every third person has it or ADD now, it seems!) This led to trouble at school and a general sense of discontent.

After one semester at Bible College, he served in the U.S. Army during The Korean War, managing to become a First Lieutenant and working on airplanes. He then won a football scholarship and sought an Engineering degree at Texas A & M University. Just before graduating, he was offered a job with Douglas Aircraft and opted to take it right away. Having no inclination to act, he happened to be at Western Costume in L.A. looking for accessories for an upcoming Halloween party, when he was spotted by a talent agent!

The agent, Milton Lewis, secured a contract with Paramount Pictures and Ty left his job, now making double the salary he had been earning. He began essaying small roles at the studio. One of the earliest outside jobs he auditioned for was John Wayne’s Rio Bravo, but the role had already been granted to teen sensation Ricky Nelson. The good news, however, was that in the process he wound up meeting Warner Brothers’ Bill Orr who bought Hardin’s contract (while simultaneously giving him a new last name in tribute to the old west outlaw John Wesley Hardin) and almost immediately placed him on Cheyenne! Like Walker before him, Hardin was photographed with his rifle in a patently phallic position.

Hardin, whose Texas background gave him the ability to do most of his own stunts, especially riding ones, became a success on Bronco and, like his fellow Warner contractees, was also utilized in their movies. Samuel Fuller’s Merrill’s Marauders found him costarring with Jeff Chandler and Peter Brown. Fuller, a grizzled veteran himself, specialized in war movies and this one offered Hardin one of his best roles as a soldier who agonizes over having to write to the families of his fallen comrades. He also has to serve under Chandler who is under much duress. (Sadly, Chandler was suffering from a real life back injury during this, his last film, and died soon after from botched surgery!)

Another film that featured Hardin was the all-star (and almost never broadcast!) The Chapman Report. The 1962 George Cukor (!) film was based on a novel that drew inspiration from the famous Kinsey Report and had researcher Efrem Zimbalist Jr looking into the sex lives of Jane Fonda, Shelley Winters, Claire Bloom and Glynis Johns. Various hunks played in the film including Ray Danton and Corey Allen, but Ty was featured in a lot of the advertising as a swimsuit-clad boy toy to Johns’ slightly older woman.

The segment devoted to Johns and Hardin was deliberately comic and proved for many to be a welcome diversion from all the other, heavier goings on. Johns plays a sculptress interested in coercing the yummy Hardin into posing for her au naturel. Obviously, there is nothing shown, but Ty does keep his shirt off for quite a bit of his screen time. Some publicity shots focused on his rear end (unhappily bunched up with a visible jock strap) and with his legs spread while Glynis was perched in the sand in between them. Lucky girl!

Always the brunt of jabs over his new name (Warner Brothers starlet Diane McBain liked to call him Ty Hard-On), it’s remarkable that he wasn’t one of notorious agent Henry Willson’s boys. Willson gave the world Rock, Tab, Race, Troy, Rory, Chad, Guy and many other shiny pretty boys with "macho" names. Some sources say that the John Wesley Hardin inspiration was merely a public cover for Bill Orr’s (an acquaintance of Willson) attempt to either pay tribute to or outdo all the names Willson had come up with over the years.

The following year, the film PT109 was made of John F. Kennedy’s famous book of the same title, all about his exploits in the Navy during the war, which included being stranded on a tropical island. Cliff Robertson was personally approved by Kennedy to play his part, but Hardin was second-billed as Ensign Leonard Thom, a white-blonde, bearded crewman. Robert Culp and the always delicious Grant Williams were also in the cast, an unintentional side effect being that the stranded men were frequently shown all hot, sweaty and either bare-chested or with an open shirt. Already, Hardin was starting what later became quite a habit for him and that is his covering up of his face with some sort of beard or mustache.

1963 was not only a busy year for Hardin, but also marked the beginning of the end of his Hollywood career. He worked with Suzanne Pleshette in the fairly well regarded, but now very obscure, Wall of Noise. He played a newcomer to the racehorse ownership arena who goes up against a villainous Ralph Meeker. The late Dorothy Provine portrayed Ty’s ex-girlfriend while Pleshette was his concerned wife.

Next was the inherently silly and tacky (but also colorful and attractive) Palm Springs Weekend. This fluffy film had a great roster of good-looking stars that included Troy Donahue, Connie Stevens, Robert Conrad, Stefanie Powers and Ty as a character called “Stretch” Fortune! With third-billing, he played a guitar-playing cowboy singer. In real life, Hardin had always played guitar and even jammed a few nights away with Elvis “The King” Presley when Elvis was living and working in Hollywood. Anyway, Weekend contained a lot of unfunny mugging by Jerry Van Dyke, Dick’s brother.
From here, Ty Hardin left for Europe where he was kept very busily employed, sometimes in foreign productions, sometimes in American projects that were filming overseas and sometimes in large, sprawling films with an international makeup. He was part of the large cast to be found in Battle of the Bulge, a film whose chief stars were Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, Robert Shaw and Dana Andrews. Then he worked in Savage Pampas, a most unusual Robert Taylor Spanish-produced western (filmed in Argentina.)

Taylor played an Army Captain who is transporting prostitutes across Indian Territory in order to help make his men happy (!) and Ty plays an anarchist newspaperman who is being forced into Army service and, thus, is along for the ride back to the fort. He appears in the film in a bizarre get up, complete with stovepipe hat, that serves to make him look like a sexy Abe Lincoln! Again, he has a beard and seems to be deliberately downplaying his looks. The role of the anarchist must have had some degree of impact on him as he later took up a similar political stance in real life.
Soon after this, Hardin filmed the camp milestone Berserk, starring none other than Miss Joan Crawford. Clean-shaven, thank goodness, he portrays an aerial artist who happens to join a circus just as the performers are being killed off one by one. (In this shot, he breaks one of my own cardinal rules, which is never to be photographed from below! Note how even a hunk such as he has an ugly double chin here.) He is hired as a much-needed replacement and then finds himself romantically involved with the twenty-five years older Crawford.

Their love scenes (not sex scenes, of course) are pretty cringe inducing and more than a little embarrassing when it comes to Joan. She felt the need to wear a long, strawberry blonde wig in a thwarted effort to look younger when she should have just owned up to the fact that she was a quite obvious cougar (or, at this stage, mountain lion!) Joan did look pretty decent in her Edith Head-designed ringmaster getup, but the nighttime scenes in her lingerie are scarier than any of the killings in the movie!

Hardin also gets hit on by Diana Dors, once Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, but by this time rather chunky, though her contributions to the movie are priceless in the extreme, especially when Joan gets mad and barks at her the insult, “SLUT!” Joan invited Ty to dinner over and over in order to get to know him off set, but he claimed that he was the one who liked to do the chasing, not the other way around. Speaking of that, Mr. Hardin has suggested that one reason his Hollywood career ran aground was due to his popularity amongst the starlets of the town and that studio heads were jealous. Though he only admits to seven, lists EIGHT wives for him over the years and he has 10 children (three of which are adopted!) many of who are not in touch with him at all.

The Spanish-filmed Custer of the West had Hardin again looking completely different from his previous movie (that's him on the far left.) Hair dyed darker and with a large mustache, he played Major Reno to Scottish actor Robert Shaw’s General George Armstrong Custer. Also in the cast were the once beautiful, but now a little rough, Jeffrey Hunter and the handsome Irish actor Kieron Moore (who portrayed an Indian chief!) The production, which also cast British Mary Ure as Custer's wife Elizabeth, had some epic scenes, but failed to convince as an account of the famous general.

In 1969, Hardin headlined an Australian TV series called Riptide, not to be confused with the 1980s American show of the same name. As one might expect, the show was based on and around the ocean and had plentiful female guest stars in bikinis and other revealing clothing. Just prior to this, he took part in what sounds like some sort of surreal, out of body experience for lovers of the bizarre. In London, he played Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire to a Blanche portrayed by Veronica Lake!! Her nickname for him during the production was “Try Harder!”

Continuing to make European financed pictures, he played a Sheriff in the Joe Namath western (now there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day!) The Last Rebel. He also had a blink and you’ll miss him bit as a helicopter pilot in Jack Lemmon’s Italian comedy Avanti! As the years wore on, he appeared scruffier and scruffier, sometimes to a downright ridiculous degree and sometimes looking intentionally foolish as in this shot of him with a beard “disguise.” His gorgeous looks were frequently buried under either facial hair or dirt or both, though he did hold on to his physique. Note the string from his modesty sling that is visible in this bathing shot from one of his gritty foreign westerns. (Click to enlarge. Did I just say that? Whew!) While Ty was making good money in these projects, they were either not being seen at all in the U.S. or filling out double bills or late night drive-in packages, so his marquee value, what there was of it to begin with, was seriously slipping over here.
A long-delayed return to the U.S. in 1977 resulted in Irwin Allen hiring him for the creatively titled TV movie Fire! It’s sort of hard to believe, but this utterly mundane and cheap disaster telefilm was released to foreign markets as a feature! Note the lobby card, which employs the then-routine “box credits” with all the stars’ faces lined up. Allen had made the other amazingly named Flood! The year before and in ’83 came up with Cave In! Somehow he managed to avoid getting around to Soft Shoulder! or Falling Rock Zone!

From here, Hardin appeared in episodic TV and low-budget movies, often portraying a sheriff or a pastor. Around this time, he decided to pursue his earlier ambition to become a minister in real life and did so, going on television in the western United States to share his Baptist message. However, he soon became disenchanted with what he called “prayers for profit” and backed away from it. This is about the time that the wheels really began to come off and he engaged in some very questionable activity.

Hardin had been involved in a serious dispute with the IRS (perhaps stemming from his decade of working in Europe, though I don’t know for certain) and eventually came to consider the organization an enemy of the people. From his home in Arizona, he formed a group called The Arizona Patriots and began publishing a newsletter, which was said to contain inflammatory and sometimes anti-Semitic content. There was a call to stockpile food and weapons in order to prepare for a battle against the government! There was even an FBI raid done on his compound that uncovered weaponry and anti-political literature.

Eventually, the group was disbanded and the newsletter discontinued, but even now, twenty plus years after, Mr. Hardin’s official website contains a “special message” from him that is the most inarticulate, radical, incoherent, illiterate bunch of political and religious gobbledegook you’re ever likely to find! It’s a shame because I really enjoy watching him in his 1960s movies. Thus, sad as it is to say, I have lost my Hardin. It happens to the best of us, I guess! The beautiful, impossibly clean cut-looking young man of the past can only be admired within certain parameters now. The current version of him (though he is finally clean cut again) truly scares me!