Friday, June 8, 2012

Wanna Come for a Stroll?

After that neverending previous post about three 1950s and '60s actors, I needed something a tad less work intensive to give my brain and my fingers a much-needed rest! A while back, one of my faithful readers commented upon his affection for someone I must say I knew little-to-nothing about. Always one interested in learning about new hunks, I navigated my way to the man to see what he was all about. I wasn't disappointed and I hope you won't be either!

Edson Stroll was born on January 6th, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating high school, he entered the U.S. Navy, developing what would later become a lifelong love of the water and also laying the groundwork for what would be his most lasting on-screen legacy.

Following his stint in the navy, Stroll studied at the American Theater Wing in New York City, honing his singing and acting talents. He worked at the New York Shakespeare Festival for three seasons and won roles in a variety of Broadway musical national tours. (He was one of the cast members of the ill-fated 1956 musicalization of Lost Horizon called Shangri-La in 1956.) Already in shape from the navy, he continued to body-build, though in a lean way (body-sculpt, we'll call it!) which still allowed him to perform as a dancer in musicals.

In 1958, he made his television debut as a guest on the series How to Marry a Millionaire, a show inspired by the 1953 hit movie only now starring Barbara Eden. The following year, he landed a bit role as a no-good cowboy in the Audie Murphy-Sandra Dee western The Wild and the Innocent. In 1960, he managed to obtain roles on several shows including Tombstone Territory and Sea Hunt (in the familiar trappings of the water.) Perhaps the most memorable of these was The Twilight Zone, in which a disfigured woman is awaiting the removal of her bandages, with surprising results!

That same year, he played one of many U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Germany in the Elvis Presley vehicle G. I. Blues. In 1961, he had a small role in Marines, Let's Go. Then his career began to take off in earnest, though it couldn't have been in a more bizarre fashion! He was chosen to play the handsome male lead in a patently strange telling of a famous fairy tale. The name of the movie? Snow White and the Three Stooges! (Note that some of the promotional cards - presumably someplace in which the Three Stooges were lesser known - the film is called Snow White and the Three Clowns!)

This lavishly colorful film (the most expensive ever made with the Stooges) tweaks the story of Snow White, having her fleeing the dastardly stepmother (played by a delicious Patricia Medina) and winding up in the cottage of the seven dwarves, only, the dwarves aren't there. They're on vacation! Instead, she finds houseguests Stroll and his sideshow-performing cohorts Larry, Curly-Joe and Moe!

Stroll doesn't even know he's a prince, promised to the title heroine from birth, but raised anonymously by the Stooges in a snafu following an assassination attempt. And who played Snow White? To make things even more bizarre, it was gold medal figure skating Olympian Carol Heiss! (Fans of skating might recall her more recently as a high-profile coach, Carol Heiss-Jenkins.) Thus, there are two elaborate and dazzlingly colorful skating sequences in the already oddball movie.

Stroll, though he could carry a tune, was nonetheless dubbed by Bill Lee, the same man who sang ghost vocals for so many actors, primarily Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music and John Kerr in South Pacific. The film was not a significant success, but has proven to hold up better than expected over the years thanks to a decent budget and solid craftsmanship throughout.

The Three Stooges obviously enjoyed having Stroll to work alongside because they cast him in their next film as well, the lower budget, black and white opus The Three Stooges in Orbit. This time, his part was less substantial and the yuk-yuk pratfalls of the Stooges were more in evidence than they had been in the more demure previous outing. These promotional photos (I'm including them both because they have very subtle differences despite looking the same) may not even be him (somehow if it is he, he looks different!), but they are practically all the evidence I could come up with of the movie.
He returned to The Twilight Zone for another installment in 1962, this one with no illusions regarding its purpose to show off his physique.  The episode concerned an elderly couple of the future who are considering the new procedure that allows them to shop for newer, younger, better bodies to inhabit.  Stroll is the one that the old man (Joseph Schildkraut) selects and it isn't hard to see why though, like most any episode of Zone, there is a twist at the end. He's seen here greeting the wife afer the procedure is complete.

Stroll was next cast as a regular member of McHale's Navy, a part that was right up his alley as a former sailor. The star of the show was Ernest Borgnine, with Joe Flynn and Tim Conway as the featured costars. Borgnine, despite being a busy, Oscar-winning movie actor, had agreed to star in the show when a delivery boy had no idea who he was. He correctly believed that the exposure would grant him a newer and larger audience of fans.

The rollicking, slapdash adventures of the crew (a PT-boat regiment stationed in the south Pacific during WWII) involved plenty of conflict between the roguish Borgnine, his flustered superior Flynn and the by-the-book (but dim) Conway, leaving the supporting cast often relegated to filling in the picture from the back and sides. Nonetheless, Stroll, a tall, handsome, sometimes barechested presence, won over quite a few hearts during his tenure on the series.  A slim, strong-jawed guy, he was similar in many ways to the vastly more popular Hugh O'Brian.

He was also a technical advisor on McHale's Navy, his real-life experiences in the service helping to answer questions about naval procedure and life on the base, etc...

There were 138 episodes filmed of the (always black and white) sitcom, which ran until 1966. So popular was it that during its run, two full-color feature films were produced in order to expand its appeal and cash in on the hot streak of its collection of characters. Stroll appeared in 1964's McHale's Navy as well as 1965's McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force.

After the series cancellation (hastened by the decision to move the location of the action from the south Pacific to Europe, where the crew was suddenly taking on the Germans rather than the Japanese), Stroll guest-starred on the final episode of the short-lived sitcom It's About Time. He played Brak, one of several cavemen having to adjust to life in the 1960s.

At this point, Stroll exited show business in order to concentrate on a new career as a marine surveyor. He was also licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard to be a commercial vessel captain. He pursued this line of career for many years, eventually earning several other licenses and working as an expert witness in marine-oriented court cases.  Now can it really just be me who thinks that the knob of this ship's wheel is rather provocatively placed??

He made a (very) rare appearance in 1975 on the Saturday morning sci-fi show The Lost Saucer, which starred Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi. He was not, however, visible on-screen. Either he was the voice of the big computer on the lower right of this picture or else one of the covered-up aliens with numbers on their heads and bodies! It was 1982 before he was seen again, this time with a supporting role in the television bio-pic Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story, which starred Sondra Locke in the title role. From here, he proceeded to occasional TV appearances such as the obligatory Murder, She Wrote as well as small parts on Hotel, Dynasty, Simon & Simon and Dallas. He retired in 1991, but then returned in 2009 with a bit role in the Argentine-set film Bad Memories.

In addition to his nautical pursuits, he had also done a steady amount of voice-over work in both commercials and for voice-over training. Stroll died of cancer in 2011 at the age of eighty-two, leaving behind two beloved Yorkshire terriers, Eddie and Sugar Baby. Never married, he had resided for many years in Marina del Rey, California where he was a member of yacht clubs and associations. His connection to the water (not to mention his hunky physique!) makes him quite a suitable subject for observance here in The Underworld.


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