Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Let's Check in to Hotel

You know how I worship those television show opening credits that feature pictures of the episode's guest stars. Quinn Martin-produced shows like The Fugitive, Cannon, Barnaby Jones and The Streets of San Francisco (among others) thrill me to this day. Later, producer Aaron Spelling took a feather from Martin's cap for The Love Boat, which put the guests' names and (after the first season) faces into the opening theme. Though his other, similar, show Fantasy Island eschewed this practice (while still offering up a plethora of jaw-dropping celebrities each week), he returned to it for the third of his hit series of this type, Arthur Hailey's Hotel. Every week, after showing the regular cast as though they were peering out from a magic gilded mirror, a set of animated archways would pop up to reveal that episode's guest stars. Few things are as fun to me as nestling in to see which collection of up-and-comers, has-beens, never-weres, stalwart veterans and other assorted oddities will be checking into the fictional St. Gregory, a luxury hotel. All the while, a lush, aural-earwig, Henry Mancini-penned theme song would play (and play!)

Hotel was loosely based on a 1965 Arthur Hailey novel which had already been made into a feature film in 1967. (You must look at this poster in its own window and at full size to appreciate its wonders.) The novel and the movie featured a manager of the St. Gregory called Peter McDermott (Rod Taylor in the movie) and an owner named Warren Trent (Melvyn Douglas) along with an assortment of guests, including a shifty burglar, a secretive Duke and Duchess and a rather ruthless potential buyer of the hotel. The movie virtually eliminated a character in the novel called Christine Francis, secretary to the owner. When the TV series was developed, the location of the hotel was switched from New Orleans, Louisiana to San Francisco, California. McDermott was played by James Brolin and the owner was now a woman, Laura Trent, to be portrayed by the legendary Miss Bette Davis. The role of Christine was retained, though she would now be Brolin's assistant, played by Connie Sellecca.

A crowded landscape of supporting cast members was assembled as well. Handsome, toothy Shea Farrell played the director of guest relations, Nathan Cook was an ex-convict now placed in charge of security, Michael Spound and Heidi Bohay were newlyweds employed as a bellman and a desk clerk while he worked his way through law school and Shari Belafonte-Harper was a fellow desk clerk. Depending on the episode, some of these folks would only get to make fleeting appearances since there was usually a three-pronged storyline featuring the guest stars of the week, leaving little room for the staff to do anything but do their duties. Sometimes, however, they would figure prominently in a particular storyline here or there.

As the 1983 premiere of Hotel approached, in a splashy two-hour special event, the presence of Miss Bette Davis as a regular member of a prime-time TV series was heralded in the media. Following Return from Witch Mountain and Death on the Nile, both in 1978, she had only made one more feature film, 1980's Watcher in the Woods, but had appeared in a string of highly-touted, very well received TV-movies (among them were Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter, White Mama and Little Gloria... Happy at Last. She'd won an Emmy for Strangers and was nominated for the latter two, losing to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker and Jean Simmons in The Thorn Birds.) The notion of a star of her caliber being featured each week on TV was something of a draw.

Brolin had proven himself in over 170 episodes of Marcus Welby, M.D. followed by a passel of so-so movies while Sellecca had starred in one failed series (Flying High, about three stewardesses and their adventures) and one moderate success, The Greatest American Hero. The first installment offered up a galaxy of familiar faces as guests of the title establishment. There was elderly Jack Gilford and his trophy girlfriend Stephanie Faracy, illicit lovers Shirley Jones and Pernell Roberts (Mrs. Partridge and Adam Cartwright getting cozy in a bubble bath for two!), bickering married guests Bill Macy and Lainie Kazan, stranded, broke singer Erin Moran (Joanie of Happy Days), visiting royalty Alejandro Rey and glamorous prostitute Morgan Fairchild, who is gang-raped by some oversexed teenagers, one of whose father was Lloyd Bochner!

How many times do you think a teleplay or movie contained a scene between Bette Davis and Morgan Fairchild?!? The answer is ONE and this is it... Shortly after this pilot was filmed, Miss Davis discovered that she was stricken with breast cancer and had to schedule a mastectomy. She then proceeded to have a stroke which rendered her incapable of working on the series, at least for a while. The highly ironic (considering their All About Eve connection) replacement was Miss Anne Baxter, cast as Davis' sister-in-law, Victoria Cabot. For the first several episodes that Baxter was on, an 8x10 glossy of Davis as the previous proprietress loomed ominously in the background of some scenes. As it turned out, Davis was either not able to come back or not asked back (and surely wasn't likely to be after she hilariously proclaimed from her sickbed that the finished product may as well have been called “Brothel” for all the sexual shenanigans that took place under the hotel's roof! Her tenure was over before she even got to look at Peter McDermott and say, "Petah, Petah, PETAH!")

Davis, her "hair" done up in a honey bun and gussied up in Nolan Miller designs that ranged from flimsily silky to heavily accessorized to refreshingly glamorous and dignified, was a slightly more imposing boss for Brolin than Baxter would be (and God knows there were some serious wrinkles, even in soft focus!), but Baxter could still occasionally lay down the law if needed. What she brought to the proceedings was a frothy, effervescent elegance mixed with deliciously melodramatic somberness when it was required. She sometimes laid it on a little thick, but this was 1983, the age of excess, and we loved it!Brolin grew a handsome beard (that he kept for many years) and sported thick hair. Initially, his hair had some flecks of gray and sort of laid to one side, but in time his locks were dyed darker and he was given an impossibly thick, curly and fluffy blown-out 'do that was right in line with the big hair of the era. (I do believe this was a permanent wave as Jimbo's hair is naturally poker straight!) He played his role with benevolent authority, often helping people out of jams when not bedding down with the occasional female. One one occasion, Cathy Lee Crosby guest-starred as his alcoholic ex-wife.Sellecca's entrance to the show – and to the St. Gregory – couldn't have been more audacious (and quite unbelievable!) Arriving the day of a cattle call for applicants to the position of special events manager, she simply slid through a back door, came out of Brolin's office and announced to all the waiting applicants that the position had been filled, then sidled into the desk at hand and began “working” there! She didn't get away with this 100%, but she wound up with the position regardless. As the series progressed, a subtle, but increasingly obvious, attraction developed between Sellecca and Brolin, mostly on her side, at least at first. (Actually, she could be quite passive-aggressive!) As it turned out, with Miss Davis departing so early on, Sellecca never shared the screen with her and only was shown with her in publicity portraits arranged prior to the series' airing.

Cook tended to get the lion's share of supporting cast storylines, with security needing to be involved in so many of the goings on. Farrell (seen at right), after initially seeming as if he would have a lot to do, seemed to fall through the cracks more often than not. It's a shame because he was cute as a button and conveyed plenty of good nature and amiability. I never could warm up much to Spound and Bohay (at left in a customary embrace), finding their ongoing circumstances repetitive and trying. He was always tired from studying while she was annoyed at the lack of time they got to spend together. Often, they would be trying to squeeze in the act of lovemaking to their hectic schedules. I always wanted to grant him a scholarship and her a vibrator. Belafonte-Harper, this being thirty years ago, tended to get the most mileage when a black guest star was checked in. (This same sort of fate befell Ted Lange on The Love Boat, but he was able to become involved in more of the other stories of that show than she was on Hotel.)Do you know what Sarah Vaughn, Paul Anka, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Mickey Gilley, Juliet Prowse, Carol Channing, Cleo Laine, Tony Martin, Lola Falana, Rita Moreno, Rich Little and Vic Damone have in common? They are all folks who were ostensibly appearing at the St. Gregory at one time or another as shown on the signs and table tents scattered around the hotel! Sometimes, a real performer would appear briefly on the show as himself. Mel Torme popped up on the pilot (in order to save the day for out-of-work Erin Moran, offering her a job as his opening act after she put forth an excruciating rendition of “Delta Dawn!”) and Liberace put in an appearance, too, performing a special concert for aging fans Donald O''Conner and Margaret O'Brien, who had come to the hotel to celebrate their anniversary and were distraught that his stint there had already ended. Engelbert Humperdinck (who had already been a "faux" performer like the others above) showed up playing a fictional singer named Danny Maxwell (who also happens to have had a hit with "After the Lovin'!")

The show often gave actors a chance to play characters far afield from what audiences were used to seeing. Pretty Richard Hatch (of Battlestar Galactica fame) enacted the role of an obsessed stalker and would-be rapist. Broadway song and dance man-turned game show host Peter Marshall portrayed a lascivious pageant judge who weasels his way into young entrant Heather Locklear's bed! (Locklear's mom, by the way, was played by '60s teen starlet Miss Connie Stevens.)Then you had the usually happy and grinning good guy John Davidson as a brutally greedy sexual blackmailer who seduces Pat Klaus then threatens to publish photos of their bed-riding to a sleazy porn magazine unless she coughs up some money! (Klaus had costarred on Flying High with Sellecca and the two played friendly coworkers here.) While Martin Landau (of Mission: Impossible) had played villains before, most notably in North By Northwest, it's still rather startling to see him show up as the snarling, racist leader of a Klu Klux Klan type of organization. If that's not enough, there's legendary TV dad Robert Reed (of The Brady Bunch) playing a child molester! (Reed, ever eager to dump his Brady persona, would return a year later as the closeted gay husband of Diedre Hall, caught in the shower with pal Granville Van Dusen.)

This could go the other way, too. How about TV lothario Dack Rambo, who was often seen on Paper Dolls cavorting with Morgan Fairchild in a hot tub, portraying a man interested in Michelle Phillips, but unable to consummate the relationship because of a secret he's harboring. The secret? It's not what you might think at first. It turns out he's a priest (!) on sabbatical! Zooey Hall (shown below), best known as a cruel cellmate and rapist in the prison flick Fortune and Men's Eyes, turned up as a namby-pamby, yoga-practicing mama's boy, engaged to Elaine Joyce. Billed as "David Hall" and with the credit absent from his imdb.com resume, it was his final screen role before exiting the business.Other times, folks played right into their usual type. Dallas' Charlene Tilton, famous for playing a bratty tramp in the early days of that series, pops up on Hotel as Baxter's niece and new employee of the St. Gregory. She connives to make Sellecca look bad because she wants her job and then to seal the deal, she disrobes and climbs into Brolin's bed, offering up one of THE most hilarious come-on poses ever captured on film, her 3-foot long hair cascading over her 4-foot long body and a finger arched, tapping against her chin!

Speaking of seduction, there's the memorably awkward (and, for 1983, still pretty daring) episode in which old college chums Carol Lynley and Barbara Parkins get together for a long-awaited reunion with each other. Only, this time, Lynley has decided to reveal her true feelings for Parkins and announces that she is gay and that she is in love with Parkins. To drive the point home, she stands in front of Parkins completely naked (though a fleeting, unfortunate dip in the camera reveals that she was covered up in real life.) These actresses, who really are about the same age, share a Peyton Place connection. Lynley played Allison Mackenzie in Return to Peyton Place while Parkins placed Allison's rival Betty Anderson in the later TV series Peyton Place.Here's a “Guess Who” for you. (Click to enlarge) This performer showed up on Hotel as a hired assassin, believed to be after foreign dignitary David Opatoshu and employing a couple of disguises in the bargain. Do you recognize her? The performer in question was a very popular TV and sometimes movie star in from the late '50s through the '70s and beyond. An Emmy Award-winner and onetime Oscar nominee, the person still works steadily today on pay-television. The answer is coming up right now so make your guesses!

This is actor Robert Vaughn (of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Magnificent Seven and Bullitt fame) playing a hit man who utilizes full-on cross-dressing to disguise himself!

Considering all the bed-hopping that took place on Hotel, there seemed to be something of a lack of beefcake. Sadly, such hunks as (the aforementioned) Richard Hatch, Dallas' Leigh McCloskey, Parker Stevenson, Knots Landing's James Houghton, Endless Love's Martin Hewitt and the legendary God of All Things Beautiful Jon-Erik Hexum all came and went without taking off their shirts! Even Lorenzo Lamas (at left), whose body in the early '80s was quite ogle-worthy, didn't go shirtless, only showing off a slash of chest hair as he portrayed a (preposterous) rock star who lives life off the stage in demure business clothes and sans the mullet wig.

Beefcake instead fell to such unlikely sources as Gary Collins (at right), who at age forty-five was still in rather impressive shape when he guested as an American expatriate living in Australia who wants to take fading supermodel Christina Raines back home to the outback with him. We were also “treated” to the pasty semi-nudity of a rather out of shape Ken Howard, sporting a pair of Valentine heart-emblazoned silk boxers! (Oddly, he shared not one frame of screen time with his old The White Shadow costar Cook.) Then there's the bearrific bod of Alex Henteloff, revealed when he pays $100 for a bit of love from hooker-against-her-will Christopher Norris. Yikes! Fortunately, ol' Dack Rambo at least gave us a blink-and-you'll-miss-it glimpse of his delectable body.One of the great things about Hotel was the chance it offered to see once-hot stars who had since begun to recede out of the limelight. Stewart Granger showed up as one of Baxter's old flames, staying at the St. Gregory, but in a way that is surprising to her. He would only make a handful of further acting appearances before retiring in 1991. His real-life ex-wife Jean Simmons also guested on a separate episode as a wealthy, but very lonely, woman. But for a role in Garbo Talks, Hotel marks the final appearance on screen for Hermione Gingold, immortal as the mayor's wife, Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn, in The Music Man. She played a rather dotty medium, trying to contact Nanette Fabray's dead husband .

TV and movie veterans and longtime spouses John McIntire and Jeannette Nolan played an old couple on the lam from their retirement home, staying at the hotel via the use of one of their unknowing son's credit cards. Their fifty-six year marriage only ended when McIntire died in 1991. Another real-life married couple married more than fifty years, Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys, checked in as a well-to-do couple who hope that their daughter will win the romantic favor of a prince who's hosting a ball there. Sterling only did one episode of Murder, She Wrote after this before retiring while Jeffreys is still at it at age eighty-nine! Sterling died in 2006. Jeffreys has, for years, been one of Hollywood's glitziest red carpet presences, attending any event she can manage and always making an impression visually. Her distinctive bun at the nape of the neck, statement earrings, vivid ensembles and ever-dramatic eye makeup make her easy to recognize.

Underworld favorite Eleanor Parker made one of her last acting appearances on Hotel. She played an old rival of Baxter's who comes to the St. Gregory loaded for bear and attempting to steal away Brolin from her the way she feels Baxter stole her boyfriend once years before. Still looking marvelous and very glamorous, she would only make two more television guest appearances and a TV-movie before departing from the bright lights of Tinseltown. Jane Wyatt (of Father Knows Best) showed up as a dejected schoolteacher whose school is being torn down. She did work for another decade before retiring in 1992 at the age of eighty-two.

Like most Aaron Spelling shows, this could also be a place to spot up and coming talent. Tracy Nelson had been in twenty episodes of the brief cult comedy Square Pegs (which starred Sarah Jessica Parker), but that was about it until her guest role on Hotel as a girl about to pop out a baby. Do you recognize the desk clerk in the shot next to her? He appeared twice in this capacity on Hotel. He'd worked as a supporting character on CHiPs along with a couple of other gigs, but would later gain substantial fame on a science-fiction TV series, one that ultimately led to some big screen features that tied-in. His role on the show and in those movies heavily obscured his face, though, making it difficult to recognize him apart from it. It's kind of a shame, too, because he was a good-looking man. Here comes the answer: This is Michael Dorn, best known for his role of Worf the Klingon on Star Trek: The Next Generation and other offshoots of that series.

Pretty, young John J. York had a bit part as a young man set up on a blind date with drippy Diana Canova. He gets one look at her and bails out. All he'd done prior to this was play a workman on one installment of Dynasty and act in a supporting part of the TV-movie Listen to Your Heart (starring Kate Jackson and Tim Matheson.) He would later go on to a hot daytime career as Mac Scorpio on General Hospital.

How about this young lady? She played the daughter of Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys in the previously mentioned episode about a couple hoping that their daughter would marry an eligible prince. In this take-off of Cinderella, the prince (played by Jon-Erik Hexum) only has eyes for their maid, pretty Emma Samms, leaving the actress shown to portray the “ugly stepsister” role. This was the very first on-screen acting part for this girl, though she had been known to a minor degree since birth. You see, her mother was (and is) a very famous actress. The two of them appeared together once on the cover of Life magazine. Since this, she has worked sporadically, sometimes in big films like Back to the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married, but almost always in a small role. Ready for the answer? This is Sachi Parker, the daughter of Miss Shirley MacLaine (and her then-husband Steve Parker.)

In the very same episode as Parker, I was rather stunned to see a former James Bond relegated to playing a small role, which is one thing, but not even warranting billing in the opening credits! As Hexum's diplomat sidekick, Mr. George Lazenby has quite a few lines and serves as the escort for Baxter to the big ball. Fourteen years after his splashy debut in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a movie that disappointed many James Bond fans at the time but is now considered one of the strongest entries in the canon, he was apparently all but unknown, at least in the billing pecking order. He continued to work, though, and does so even now while in his early seventies.

The Cinderella take-off wasn't the only instance of a famous story being cribbed for use on the series. A Christmas episode took its lead from Miracle on 34th Street, with a young girl of a single mom wishing for a new brother and running into a Santa Claus who seems to be the real deal. The mom was played by Little House on the Prairie's Karen Grassle (in a rare excursion from her frontier calico dresses, but looking a tad like the 7th runner-up in a June Allyson look-alike contest.) Even more amusing is the casting of the daughter. In one of her earliest acting roles (every one of which in those early days – and even many of the later days – came courtesy of her producer father) is Tori Spelling. As the daughter of a major television player, she was shoehorned into episodes of Vega$, Matt Houston, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, T.J. Hooker and other shows before beginning a nearly 300 episode run on Beverly Hills 90210.

Likewise, a riff on The Shop Around the Corner took place when two bickering clerks in the hotel's boutique (portrayed by Tommy Smothers and Carlene Watkins) fought continually during the workday, but were unknowingly romancing each other as anonymous pen pals via the exchange of letters in their off hours.

Have I mentioned that every single guest star mentioned above (and many more I have omitted) appears in the opening season alone?! The show ran for four additional seasons, meaning that still more and more celebrities made their way to the grand hotel as the years pressed on. Miss Elizabeth Taylor was a notable guest in the season two opening episode. In a role that she could have played in her sleep, she was a faded actress making a comeback, her confidante (and real life pal) Roddy McDowall in tow to hold her hand. She was making a true comeback herself at the time, looking slim and radiant after a stay at The Betty Ford Center. It marked her sole on-screen appearance in a prime-time network series, though she did do a few TV-movies and had a brief, but memorable, stint (stunt?) on the daytime soap opera General Hospital.

Hotel ran until 1988 and for most of its run held onto the format it began with. However, in time, the on-screen relationship between Brolin and Sellecca turned outwardly romantic and they officially became a couple. More significant a change came when Miss Baxter suddenly of a brain aneurysm in late 1985. Her final episode aired in April of 1986, whereupon Brolin moved up a notch and most of the cast got a promotion in rank as well (Bohay and Belafonte, for example, got out of their uniforms and into more managerial positions.) Farrell exited in 1986 with Spound and Bohay gone one year after. A few new hires, Valerie Landsburg, Susan Walters and Ty Miller, attempted to fill the void. There was a power struggle for a time between Brolin and his camp versus Baxter's in-laws, portrayed by Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Miss Dina Merrill, Michelle Phillips and Ralph Bellamy. As the series crept to its cancellation, a less episodic and more continuing type of storytelling became the norm.

The season Hotel premiered (1983-1984), the show won a People's Choice Award as Favorite New TV Dramatic Program. That same year and the year after, James Brolin was nominated for Golden Globe Awards (losing to John Forsythe of Dynasty and Tom Selleck of Magnum, P.I.) Pictured with him above, by the way, is Jan Smithers of WKRP in Cincinnati, Brolin's wife from 1986-1995. She also guest-starred in 1984 (this is where they met) as a former love of Brolin's from about four years prior, with a four year-old kid in tow... Oh, and check out Connie's hugely wonderful '80s hair! For the 1986-1987 season, Sellecca scored a Golden Globe nomination, too, but the statuette went to Angela Lansbury for Murder, She Wrote. Check out this shot from one of the awards ceremonies. The young man standing with Brolin and Sellecca should look familiar. That's Brolin's son Josh, himself a very popular and acclaimed actor of today.

Brolin continued to work steadily in various TV shows and movies (what a treat to see him pop up unexpectedly in 2010's Burlesque!) Certainly his unlikely marriage to vocal diva and actress Barbra Streisand has kept him in the public eye as well, though the two seem terribly happy together. Good for them! He's still devilishly handsome only now in a salt 'n pepper daddy way rather than as the dark, bearded type. There's a tribute to him elsewhere on this site if you are so inclined.During most of her tenure on Hotel, Sellecca was part of a star couple herself. She was the wife of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century star Gil Gerard. Here they are shown while working on the 1980 installment of Circus of the Stars. In a sort of scaled-down, small-screen version of A Star is Born, her career kept climbing while Gerard's once-promising one was getting ever more diminished. They divorced in 1987. A simply gorgeous woman with amazing gray-green eyes, she nonetheless had a bizarre sense of humor. During her union with Gerard, he would periodically come home to find her sprawled on the floor or someplace else with fake blood in place. It got to where he would rate her on her success at conveying a violent death scene! She eventually got religion and became a born-again Christian, marrying pianist and TV commentator John Tesh in 1992 after months and months of celibacy. As they ultimately had a child together, one assumes they finally got it on after the ceremony. They remain married to this day and she has worked only sporadically in recent years.

After working on several short-lived series, Farrell began taking jobs behind the camera in various areas of production. He worked as an assistant director on Boston Public and has continued to work that way as recently as Glee. He still makes an occasional appearance in front of the camera (and, even in his mid-fifties and more filled-out, remains very attractive.) Married and divorced twice, he is the father of two.

Most unfortunate of the cast of Hotel was Cook. The series had barely finished airing when he was killed by a severe allergic reaction to penicillin. He was thirty-eight years old. Prior to Hotel, he had spent a couple of years on Ken Howard's high school basketball-oriented series The White Shadow as well as various bit roles in TV and movies.

Spound and Bohay must have taken their characterizations fairly seriously. Romance developed between them in real life and they were married in 1988, the year after they had departed the show. They proceeded to have three children together. Since the end of her run on Hotel, Bohay has only acted a handful of times on screen, but has has forged something of a career as a TV host, working on that dreadful GSN Live program on The Game Show Network. Spound, on the other hand, though it feels as if he fell into a black hole somewhere, has been working steadily on television ever since. He has guest-starred on In the Heat of the Night, Star Trek: Voyager, The Practice, Jag, ER, Criminal Minds and even spent time on Days of Our Lives.Belafonte (the hyphenated Harper gone following a 1988 divorce), the daughter of famous Calypso singer and social activist Harry Belafonte, had been a model and essayed a large role in the Marc Singer film If You Could See What I Hear prior to Hotel. Apart from a large gap in the mid-2000s, she has continued to work pretty steadily as well, though a fair amount of her jobs have been voice only. In 2000, she donned long, beaded hair extensions and little else, posing for Playboy magazine at the age of forty-six (and looking pretty darn good, not that I'm into such things...)

Hotel benefitted from airing right after the hit series Dynasty for a lot of its run. Dynasty's costume designer Nolan Miller was also in charge of the clothes on Hotel and sometimes a leftover or two of Alexis and Krystle's would turn up. It was sort of fun to see Abby Dalton or Joanna Pettet in clothing that you know was originally meant for or worn by Linda Evans. Miller even played himself (badly) on one episode of Hotel, presiding over a fashion show of his designs.

Since its cancellation, it hasn't endured very strongly in the public's consciousness, perhaps because its storylines tended to be pat, trite, cliched and very neatly wrapped up by the end (and rarely fun the way The Love Boat's were.) The overheated, accelerated pace and melodrama of some of the serious plots also lend themselves to unintentional humor now. Still, fans of the show such as myself remember it fondly and appreciate the opportunity it gave us to gaze upon stars whose time in the limelight was fading or nearly out altogether, usually in very glamorous clothes and surrounding (true glamour being in such short supply today.) Consider the episode these shots are from. Vera Miles, Steve Forrest, Robert Stack and Dina Merrill are all together in it. Twenty or so years before, that would have constituted an all-star cast. It still does... in The Underworld.

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