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One of the great faces on the margins of your television screen belongs to the man pictured above: Seamon Glass.  Initially a boxer and a stuntman, Glass became a familiar figure in movies and television episodes as his imposing, 6’3” physique and rough features made him a go-to guy for thugs, bums, and various other tough guys and ne’er-do-wells.

Along with his dozens of guest parts on television, which included a fistful of Perry Masons and a bit part in the famous Star Trek episode “Mudd’s Women,” Glass appeared in films including Spartacus, Deliverance, Slither, Damnation Alley, and The Rose.  Early in his career, he played the lead role in 1962’s This Is Not a Test, a strange independent film about nuclear war that has a small cult following today.

Last fall, I watched an episode of Vega$ (yes, there was a reason; long story) in which Glass (above), mute and clad in a black turtleneck, made a strong impression as a gunsel doing the bidding of top-billed baddies Cesar Romero and Moses Gunn.  What kind of an off-screen life does an actor like that lead? I wondered, and looked up Glass’s number.

Amiable and forthright, Glass hastened to point out that his memory had been somewhat impaired by a stroke a few years ago.  But if some of his days as a day player had become fuzzy, Glass was still able to answer my main question, as he filled in some of the fascinating backstory behind his part-time life as an actor – and the dozen or so other professions he pursued to supplement his celluloid pastime.

 

How did you get into the movie business?

I was a boxer.  I had about 41 amateur fights and about six professional ones.  Sort of at the end of that, there were actors and producers and directors that would come to the gym on 4th Street, and they wanted to learn how to box, but they didn’t want to get hit.  They didn’t want to get hurt.  So I would work out with them.  So I got my first job on You Asked For It.  I used to work out with the director, Fred Gadette.  He got me started in AFTRA.  I worked on Divorce Court, Day in Court, and I did one movie [for Gadette] which was called This Is Not a Test.

A couple of other actors and directors got me into SAG.  My first job was Spartacus.  I worked on Spartacus as a stunt man.  I never met any of the principal actors at all, though.  We did it on the beach about thirty miles up from where I live in Santa Monica.  We rode out [into the ocean], came back in, and they’re fighting on the beach, and a horse takes a crap between the camera and the boat, so they said, “All right, do it again.”  So we do it again, and the second time we come in we’re broadside.  You know what that means?  On a boat if you come in sideways, it doesn’t look good.  So we did it a third time – there was about ten of us on the boat, all dressed like Spartans – and they gave each of us about 600 bucks.  It cost about 250 to get into SAG at that time, so I thought, “Should I join SAG or should I just go out and have a ball?”  The best thing I ever did – I joined SAG.  And after that, I started getting a number of shows and it went on and on.

Did you do a lot of other stunt work?

I did fight stunts, because I used to be a boxer.  I did some of those, and then I started getting picture work, small stuff.  I’m not a trained actor.  I did go to a couple of classes after I started, but I never became a dedicated actor, let me put it that way.

Well, you had a very distinctive face – I imagine that was an important asset.

That helped.  I had a face that they liked.  Then they liked what I did, so they gave me another job.

If you weren’t a dedicated actor, how did you make a living?

I was a teacher and a counselor for three different districts, but I retired from L.A. Unified.  I spent about 27 years with them.  But I had two teaching jobs before that with two years apiece, so altogether I put in about 31 years.

How did you balance that with the film jobs?

Well, it did get in the way.  For instance, I worked on that Elvis Presley show, Kid Galahad.  They wanted me for a week.  Then it went for two weeks, and then they wanted me to go for three weeks.  I went for three weeks, and then they said they wanted me to go for six weeks, and the principal said, “Either get back or you’re finished.”  I thought, “Well, I’m not going to become an actor,” so I quit, and all the actors said I was crazy.  Maybe I was.

Are you still in the movie?  How did they work around your departure?

I’m in the movie, but they had to cut out part of my lines.  At the beginning they show me boxing, that’s all.  They were really pissed off.

Where there other times where that happened?

Yeah, another time it happened with Captain Newman, M.D.  I was kind of like a psycho in the hospital.  Same thing.  They said a week.  Okay, I did a week.  Went to two weeks.  Then they wanted me to go six, seven weeks and the principal said, “Either that or [teaching].”  And I never felt like I was going to be an actor, since I wasn’t trained.  There’s a lot of time in between when you get called, and I just didn’t like the idea of sitting by the telephone all the time.

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Glass (right) as a criminal in an episode of Lawbreaker (1964).

Did you have an agent?

Yeah.  I’m sure you never heard of him, but his name was Hugh French.  He was a friend of mine.  He’d always call me and he wanted me to go to a striptease joint or a bar or something.  He was an Englishman, and he lived in the Malibu Colony.  He really supported me.  I was the only nobody he had.  He had all big stars.  He had Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  One day he calls me – this is before Richard Burton did anything in the United States – and he says, “Did you ever hear of Richard Burton?”  I said, “Never heard of him.”  He said, “Nobody has, but everybody’s going to hear of him.”  Do you know where Chez Jay is?

Oh, yeah, that little dinky place ….

That dinky place near the pier.  I live a couple of hundred yards away from there.  Hugh says, “I want you to meet Richard Burton.”  I says, “Yeah, all right.”  I was in the merchant marines and I’d just got off a giant freighter.  I said, “Hugh, I just paid all my bar bills and I’m broke.”  He said, “I’ll pick up the tab.”  Well, he wasn’t the type of guy that picked up tabs often, so I went with him.

Richard Burton, we’re drinking there together, and I thought I could drink.  This guy buried me.  Triple shots, he was drinking.  [French] said, “I’ve got a proposition for you.  Richard Burton’s going to become big, and he needs a bodyguard.  How about the job?”  Well, I had just gotten off a ship and I had gotten a teaching position.  I thought, if I go with this guy, I’m going to be drinking and carousing.  So I turned it down.

So you were an actor, a teacher, and a sailor?

You know what the merchant marine is?  You don’t wear a uniform, but you work on ships.  You don’t get paid like the military do, you get paid very well.  I shipped out in the merchant marine off and on for about twelve years.  I would start getting bored.  I used to teach and I’d get tired of it and ship out.  I liked sitting on a ship and I liked going to see all these foreign, exotic parts.

Hugh French became my agent, and you know why he dropped me?  When school was out, I went down to the harbor to sign up, and there was what they called a pierhead jump: Get on the ship right now, because it’s leaving and they’re shorthanded.  So I took it.  And when I got back, a couple of months later, everybody in every bar in town – I used to drink a lot – and in every bar in town they were saying, “Hugh French was looking for you.”  He had me where I didn’t even need an audition and I had a job on a John Wayne movie, and I blew it.  He was so upset he dropped me as a client.

Wait, now, this just occurred to me: You were a seaman and your name is Seamon.

It wasn’t spelled the same.

But, still, it must’ve been a subject of mirth among your fellow sailors.

Oh, yeah.  In the Marine Corps they really gave me hell about it.

It’s an unusual name.

My mother and father were born in Poland.  They told me it comes from the Bible, the Old Testament, but I’ve tried to find out [and] I can’t do it.

Was Glass derived from a Polish name?

Well, they were Polish Jews.  Their ancestors came from Germany.  I think it was originally Altglas, which means “old glass” in German.

Did you go to school on the G.I. Bill?

Yeah, I went on the G.I. Bill.  I had a disability from the service, which I still do.  A hearing aid from a bombing attack in the Marshall Islands.  I was in the Marines during World War II.  I had my 18th birthday in British Samoa, which is now Western Samoa.  Robert Louis Stevenson is buried on top of the mountain there.  Then I spent my 19th birthday in the Marshalls, and my 20th somewhere at sea.  I was a good Marine but I was in the brig four times.  And for nothing that I was ashamed of!

I never finished high school, so I had to go to junior college and get my high school credits.  I went to Santa Monica Junior College.  I became the heavyweight champion of Santa Monica Junior College, which got me into boxing.  Then when I went back to sea – I was doing some commercial fishing too; actually, poaching lobsters – I got some kind of illness, and I went back to live with my mother in East L.A.  Belvedere, near Boyle Heights.  My father passed away when I was eleven.  He was an engineer.  Then my poor mother had to put up with me all the time.  I went to East L.A. Junior College as I recovered and graduated there, before I went to Cal State L.A.  In between I would ship out.

What subjects did you teach?

I taught in elementary school for about fifteen years, and then I took a couple of classes and went into a junior high school Pacoima.  It’s a tough neighborhood in the Valley.  Then I went to Lawndale, [where] all the students were from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas.  Their families were following the fruit, and then they got jobs in the airplane [factories].  When I went to [interview] for it, in those days if you were a teacher you had to wear a tie, in every place, but not in Lawndale.  So I took the job there, and it was the biggest mistake, because they gave me what the kids called the tough class.  Every third day some kid’d come in and say, “I want to get into the tough class.”  I’d say, “Well, we’re all filled up.”  Then they’d go out and act up and so they’d put’em in my class.  So after two years, I went back to sea.

Then when I came back I passed the test for L.A.  But my first job was in Alturas, which is a small country town where Oregon and Nevada touch the California line.  The reason I took that job is, I got a paper from the principal that said “Hunting, fishing, skiing, small town.”  I’d never been to a small town.  I’m from Brooklyn!  I left when I was thirteen to come to California, but I was born in New York.  So I went there and it was two great years of teaching, except they were all lumberjacks and cowboys.  Real cowboys.  And railroad men, but there were no railroads that went through the town.  They threw me in jail one day, and guess who bailed me out?  The PTA.

Then the last phase of your teaching career was at Fairfax High in Hollywood.

Yeah.  I went in as an English teacher, but I didn’t particularly care for English as much as I liked social studies, so I ended up teaching social studies.  And in the last fifteen years I was a counselor.

Which of your television appearances do you remember?  You were on Perry Mason a number of times.

About eight times.  There was a producer who lived in Malibu, Art Seid, and he used to get me most of the jobs there.  I knew him socially.  I used to play chess with one of the Perry Mason regulars, and he got really pissed off because I beat him – William Hopper.

I did a couple of The Beverly Hillbillies.  When I was a kid, Max Baer himself would come walking down the beach, and he was a very impressive-looking guy.  This was after he quit boxing.  Max Baer, Jr., was a big, nice guy, but nothing like his father as far as being physically intimidating.

Ron Ely used to come to the gym to learn how to box.  Basically he got better than I was.  Then he got Tarzan and he said, “If I ever get a chance, I’ll get you some work.”  So one day he called me from Mexico.  Then he got me a job in Mexico City, and I was the heavy, the bad guy.  We fought, and of course he beat me up in the picture.  I was there about three or four weeks.  It was a really good job.

Don Murray’s another guy I met at the gym, and boxed with him without hurting him.  He has a couple of kids, and I was teaching them how to box.  He got me a couple of jobs.  He got me a job and I was supposed to ride a horse.  I’m not too comfortable on a horse, and this was bareback!

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Glass (center, top) in Kojak (“The Chinatown Murders,” 1974) and Mannix (“To Quote a Dead Man,” 1973).

And what about your feature films – which ones stand out for you?

I had an on-camera fight with Woody Allen.  Sleeper is where he wakes up in the future.  I’m chasing him, I’m a guard.  Then we’re fighting and I’m really knocking myself out, because I didn’t want to hurt him.  In fact, he bloodied my nose, because he made a mistake.  He was very apologetic.

I was in Enemy of the People, with Steve McQueen.  I was a stuntman.  I did about a week on it and took us all out of the movie.  [The original director] got fired, and they fired all of us.  They fired anything that George Schaefer hired.

You know who Charles Pierce was?  I did about six movies for him.  I liked him.  He was an absolutely non-Hollywood type.  He’s from Texarkana.  He saw me in Deliverance, and that’s how I got the [first] picture.

You were in The Norsemen for him ….

One of the worst pictures that was ever made.  It was horrible.

Ha!  Why?

Well …. Charlie was a con man, but really a likeable one, not an evil one that’s gonna hurt anybody.  The Norsemen, we went to Florida to do it, and – do you remember who Deacon Jones was?  A black football player.  I said, “Charlie, you can’t have a black Norseman.  They didn’t have them!”  He said, “Okay, we’ll make him a slave.”  So he did.  But Charlie was one of the luckiest guys, and a con man of the first order.  He’d go into these studios and talk ’em into sponsoring a picture.  He could sell.  I really liked him.  I did a picture in Montana with him, and two in Arkansas, I think.  Hawken [retitled Hawken’s Breed] was Tennessee, but I don’t think it was ever finished.  They ran out of money or something.

What was it like when you’d share a scene with a big star or a renowned actor, like Henry Fonda?

I wanted to do a good job, but I wasn’t awestruck.  There were some of them I just didn’t care for, personally.

Such as?

Well, I didn’t like Tony Curtis.  Just because one time I walked out of the studio door and I didn’t know he was behind me, and the door slammed in his face and he really got upset about it.

Which movie stars did you like?

Gregory Peck, I really respected him.  Even though I never got to converse [or] get social with him, I just liked his demeanor and the way he did his business.  I thought he was very mature, and a gentleman, put it that way.  I liked Elvis Presley.  I thought he was a good guy.  He gave me a pair of boxing shoes.

What did your students think about your acting career?

[Chuckles.]  They went to see everything I did.  A couple of those backfired.  They wrote a criticism – the director really jumped all over me about it.  They wrote a fan letter.  They said, “It was a lousy picture, but Mr. Glass was good!”  The director really got pissed off at me.   I went up for another part with him [and] he told me about it.  I said, “I didn’t do it!”  He thought I [had written the letter].

I’ll bet you have lots of “on the fringes of Hollywood” stories.

You remember Anna Maria Alberghetti?  I got called in by Hugh French one time.  Her agent was there.  They said, “Anna Maria Alberghetti, we gotta promote her, and she needs a fighter.”  So I became her fighter.  I’ve only had six professional fights, but she was my manager.  Got a lot of publicity.  I trained, and I fought Big Bob Albright.  He eventually fought for the title.  I went out there and I thought, “Gee, if I can knock this guy out, I’ll really go someplace.”  But I lost.

(From an AP story of April 29, 1960, entitled “Flyweight Anna Maria Enters World of Pugs”: “She’s a fight manager.  She is also very well-known as a singer – at the Met in New York, the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, and other plush joints.  ‘Yes, it’s true.  I’m a manager now,’ said Miss Alberghetti, her big, brown eyes shiny.  ‘That’s him, over there.  He’s a young prospect, they say.’  ‘Him’ is Seaman Glass [sic], a heavyweight.  Miss Alberghetti happily explained that her manager, Pierre Cossette, figured she ought to invest a few dollars in something other than real estate or banks or the entertainment business.  ‘So we got him.  Isn’t he wonderful?’  Glass came over and offered a huge paw to shake …. She posed for a photographer, with Seaman pressing a glove against her cheek.  Later Anna Maria whispered, ‘Those gloves sure do smell, don’t they?’ …. Seaman was boxing around here long before she wore pigtails, and … in 1955 he retired after getting flattened in a preliminary on the Art Aragon-Vince Martinez card …. [Now], at the age of 34, Glass was attempting a comeback …. ‘Yes, I’m 34 but I like to box,’ said good-natured Glass.  ‘But somehow I get tensed up in the ring.'”)

I was Darryl Zanuck’s daughter’s bodyguard.  Her name was Darrylin.  Bobby Jacks, a producer, was a friend of mine.  When he and Darrylin separated, before they got divorced, he asked me to be her bodyguard.  So I lived on a Malibu ranch with her for a number of months.  I had just got off a merchant ship.  Pretty soon she needed protection from me!

What do you mean by that?

Darrylin was driving up and down Santa Monica Canyon in her convertible, and I was sitting in one of the restaurants, and she was yelling, “Seamon Glass is fired!  Seamon Glass is fired!”  I went outside and said, “You can’t fire me, Darrylin.”  She says, “Why not?”  “Because I quit!”  But we got along pretty good.  She was very pretty, and a very skilled surfboarder.  I never met Darryl, but she said that he had people following me.  Then about a year later she opened up a dress shop in Santa Monica Canyon and asked me to be the maitre d’, because she had a lot of important people coming in.  She called it the maitre d’, but I was a bouncer.  She hired me to be in it when they opened up for four or five days, just so there wouldn’t be any drunken actors – I don’t want to repeat their names – they came in.

And Chez Jay sounds central to your life and career.

I started tending bar at Sinbad’s, which is on the Santa Monica Pier.  A lot of actors went in there.  Jay [Fiondella] and I were tending bar and I was, modestly speaking, the second worst bartender in town.  Jay was the worst.  But he was a good-looking guy, and the girls would just flock into that place.  Some really wealthy guy [whose] hobby was opening up bars and putting people he liked in there, he put Jay in there [in Chez Jay].  Jay was giving the joint away.  His mother, who was about 70 years old, was a teacher in Connecticut, and she came and straightened the whole place out.  Everybody idolized her.  I was among the guys who sent her a Mother’s Day card for twelve or thirteen years.  She was crossing the street one day and some associate producer who was a total idiot went around a car and killed her.  He was in a hurry to get to the airport.  Jay was lost without her.

Jay (using the name Jay Della) was a part-time actor, too, right?

Oh, he started way before I did.  He did a lot of acting.  But they usually cut him out, because he was a terrible actor.

You also practice yoga, and you wrote a novel (Half-Assed Marines) about World War II.  What other vocations have you had?

For about seventeen years, while teaching, as a summer job I worked as a harbor patrolman on the pier.  I wrote for the local newspaper for twenty years.  It went belly-up about five or six years ago.  First it was called The Santa Monica Independent, then it was called The Good Life.  I had a whole column.  I wrote about all the losers and characters in town.

In the early eighties, your acting career came to a fairly abrupt halt.

About 1983, somebody – an American – wrote me a letter from China and said there was a job teaching English as a second language in China.  I’d been to Hong Kong, which had belonged to the British at the time, and so I took it.  I went to China, taught for a year, in a place called Hangzhou, of which Marco Polo said in the 5th Century, “It’s heaven on earth.”  It really is a gorgeous place.  And I met a girl there, came back, then took another job in China, in Guangzhou, where they don’t speak Mandarin, they speak Cantonese.  So I went there and I married the girl that I’d met in Hangzhou.  We’re still married; that’s twenty years.  She’s a lot younger than I am.  In fact, I got her into show business – when she came here, she got a national commercial on the Superbowl, and then a couple of other things and a couple of modeling jobs and then she said, “I don’t want to do this any more.”  Her name is Yan Zhang.

Did you enjoy acting?  Was it satisfying creatively?

Yeah, it was, but it was nothing I wanted to devote myself to.  You know, I did a couple of plays with guys that were really good, devoted, dedicated actors, that loved to do the stuff.  I never loved it.  I enjoyed it because it was a change from the regular routine.  I never got into the social life of acting, and producing, and directing.  I never got friendly with them.  There’s a lot of kissin’ ass in that business, let me put it that way.  I can understand people doing it, but it didn’t attract me at all.

Who Are Those Guys #10

September 5, 2013

I promised I’d be back with more Ben Casey coverage after a few detours.  First up, then, is your Ben Casey edition of Who Are Those Guys, highlighting some uncredited bit players I noticed in the episodes I revisited for my A.V. Club piece on the show and this thing about Vince Edwards.

“A Bird in the Solitude Singing” (September 21, 1964), the amazing episode with Anne Francis as the disfigured hooker, covers most of the cast in its credits.  But here’s one familiar-looking fellow who puts in a brief appearance, sans credit, as a barfly who gives Dr. Casey the evil eye after Casey cockblocks his move on the lovely Anne.

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Next we have “Three L’il Lambs” (March 29, 1965), the possibly-a-backdoor-pilot-but-I’m-not-completely-sure-about-that episode where Casey shepherds a trio of green interns.  There’s a long nightclub scene where the three lads squire their dates: Norman Alden gets Kathy Kersh (lucky guy), William Arvin (whatever happened to him?) lands Marlo Thomas (er…), and somehow Nick Adams (on the left below) ends up with only a bit actress who has one line.

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I didn’t have room to wedge “Journeys End in Lovers Meeting” (April 19, 1965) into the A.V. Club article, but this episode by one of the show’s few female writers, Pat Fielder, is a wonderfully operatic tearjerker with Red Buttons as a nice teacher whose young wife (Antoinette Bower) suffers horribly from a fatal brain tumor.  Here are a couple of students in Buttons’s class.  They even get names: the smirky guy is “Buddy” and the girl with the massive beehive (hornet’s nest? wedding cake? roll of fencewire borrowed from the western on the next soundstage? I could do this all day) is “Karen.”  But no love for either in the end credits, alas.  Karen in particular looks maddeningly familiar.

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Finally, here’s a shot from Vince-as-director’s biggest turkey, “Run For Your Lives, Dr. Galanos Practices Here” (October 4, 1965). (Great title, at least.)  This guy in the center is a patient who, like so many of us, is not happy about missing his favorite program because the hospital’s TV room has been taken over by Latin American revolutionaries.  The other two old guys on either side of him are extras who do not have lines, although I’m fairly certain that the gent on the left is Charles P. Thompson of The Andy Griffith Show fame.

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All right, you know the drill.  Tell me who these people are, please.

Who Are Those Guys #9

July 12, 2013

You all did so well on the last one – let’s cue up another round of unbilled bit players!

Aaron Spelling’s Vega$ is a frustrating show in this regard.  Every episode is top-heavy with name actors, many of them just popping in for cameos.  It’s a Spelling formula that dates back to Burke’s Law, but here it’s coupled with an inattentiveness for the lesser-known bit players that almost seems status-based — as if giving those peons billing would somehow diminish the celebs who adorned the opening titles.

Here are two uncredited actors who appear in the 1978 pilot (written by Michael Mann, but not so’s you’d know).  The first is – well, as in many a Spelling script, it’s not entirely clear who the fellow with the large pouf of gray hair is, but he turns up in one early scene to deliver some exposition to Robert Urich.  The second (on the far left) is a state trooper who has some bad news about Urich’s car.  This is the best look you get at him.

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The series was shot entirely in Las Vegas, so it’s possible these guys are local actors who didn’t do much else on film. But they look awfully familiar, so let’s give this a whirl.

Who Are Those Guys #8

June 23, 2013

Let us speak now of the Universal Show Reporter Scene.

Here’s a stock scene you’ve watched a thousand times: A big muckety-muck of some sort, usually the toplining guest star of the week, makes a big entrance by, well, making an entrance. Surrounded by an entourage, he or she pushes through a throng of reporters, stopping long enough to field exactly the questions needed to set up the plot.

Of course, lots of shows did versions of this scene, but I seem to associate them mostly with Universal series of the late sixties and early seventies: The Name of the Game, The Bold Ones, Columbo. Apart from the expository value, the reporter scene was a chance to toss a paycheck to a few actors who could use the bread, or a timely credit to continue their insurance eligibility through the Screen Actors Guild. Heck, Regis J. Cordic and Stuart Nisbet probably made half their annual income thrusting plastic microphones into the stars’ faces in those days.

The catch, of course, was that if an episode had a big cast, these one-line pseudo-journalists were the first ones lopped off the end credit roll. This weekend, for instance, I watched the TV movies that launched The Six Million Dollar Man. In the third one, “The Solid Gold Kidnapping,” government official Leif Erickson gets quizzed by a pair of sweaty-looking newshounds, both played by uncredited actors. Recognize either of them? (In the first image, only the fellow on the right has a speaking part; the other guy is an extra.)

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I’m pretty sure the first actor is Stacy Keach, Sr., but I’d like to hear that one seconded (or not). And I have no idea about portly Reporter #2.

And one more or the road: Here’s a frame from an early episode of Laramie, “The Star Trail.” This older gent on the horse has one moving and fairly lengthy scene, playing the father of a baddie (William Bryant) that guest star Lloyd Nolan has just gunned down. But he, along with several other actors (including the reliable Oliver McGowan, playing a bank president) didn’t make the credits. Anyone recognize him?

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Who Are Those Guys #7

January 2, 2013

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Wagon Train continues to serve as my go-to comfort food whenever I have the sniffles and don’t feel up to watching something that might be, y’know, good.  Over the holidays, I plowed through a middle chunk of the third season, which yielded such mild discoveries / pleasures as a twenty-five year old Louise Fletcher (as Estella in “The Tom Tuckett Story,” a credited adaptation of Great Expectations!) and Elisha Cook, Jr., as a dangerous trail weasel named Cadge Waldo (in “The Tracy Sadler Story”).  If you’re going to name a character “Cadge Waldo,” you pretty much have to get Elisha Cook to play him.  Leonard Nimoy as a drunken Indian and Susan Oliver, loudly proclaiming that her name is Margaret Hamilton (which is hilarious if you know your character actresses), as a spoiled teenager in “The Maggie Hamilton Story.”  “Look at that beautiful rabbit!” Susan exclaims dimly, and Flint (Robert Horton) blows it away for dinner.

Minor pleasures amid hazy naps.

The way Revue Productions did its screen credits around this time (1959-1960) was procrustean.  Most shows had one or two end credit cards for the guest stars, and if everyone fit, they got screen credit; if not, they didn’t.  A Wagon Train episode with few guest stars had room in the credits for all of them, including bit players and even stuntmen.  In an episode with a large cast, however, actors with major secondary roles might get left out.  If a top-lining guest star required extra-large type or single card billing, that would further serve to crowd out some of the supporting actors.  Nobody really cared whether the actors received credit or not – which leaves fussy historians, fifty-odd years later, waiting for each set of end titles with fingers crossed.

The 1959 Christmas episode, “The St. Nicholas Story,” sees the train’s Santa Claus arrow-speared by unfriendly Indians.  Missing children from both sides find each other on the plains and frolic together, thus brokering an uneasy truce.  And Ward Bond saves Christmas.  Somehow, it’s less nauseating than it sounds, but amidst the chaos the actress playing the Indian boy’s mother went uncredited:

Indian

“The Lita Foladaire Story” is a rare off-campus episode for trailmaster Major Adams, who solves a frontier-town murder mystery with the help of sidekicks Bill Hawks and Charlie Wooster.  Too many suspects for the end credits; left out are the sheriff (top, on the right with Ward Bond) and one “Jason Arnold,” attorney at law, who pops in briefly to deliver a bit of exposition (bottom, also on the right with Bond; shall we say that director Jerry Hopper’s sense of composition was, er, consistent):

sheriff

Arnold

Then in “The Christine Elliott Story,” the title character (Phyllis Thaxter) shepherds a dozen mischievous boys onto the wagon train once her father drops dead and his orphanage closes.  This one is about as nauseating as it sounds.  Oddly, while seven of the twelve child actors receive screen credit, the elderly fellow playing Thaxter’s father, “John Russell,” does not, even though he has a lengthy deathbed scene:

Russell

So can anyone ID these uncredited Wagon Trainers?  As it happens, all three of these episodes are on Youtube in their entirety.  For “The St. Nicholas Story,” see 26:50; for “The Lita Foladaire Story,” see 01:45 and 30:00; for “The Christine Elliott Story,” see 02:50.  But don’t watch Wagon Train on Youtube for pleasure; these copies are way too compressed.  Spring for the DVDs.)

P.S. Bonus screed against the IMDb et. al.: Look around the internet and you’ll see the titles of many Wagon Train episodes, most of which incorporate the names of the primary guest characters, misspelled on many data aggregation sites.  As the screen grab below makes clear, it’s Elliott with two T’s, and yet it’s spelled as “Elliot” on IMDb.com, tvguide.com, starz.com, tvrage.com, tviv.org, zap2it.com, and even most of the Youtube accounts that have posted the video illegally.  “The Vittorio Botticelli Story,” also from the third season, is often garbled as “The Vittorio Bottecelli Story.”  Yet another reason why I still transcribe the credits of most vintage TV episodes that I watch, even though the internet has made some of that work (but not every detail of it) redundant.

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Actor Morgan Jones died on January 13 at the age of 84.  Jones logged more than a hundred appearances on television and in a few films from the early fifties through the mid-eighties.  Like many dozens of actors, he capped his career with a Murder, She Wrote role.  Jones looked older than he was, so you probably thought he’d died long ago.

Some of the obituaries will call him a character actor, but I don’t think that’s quite right; that term should be reserved for actors who had meaty, attention-getting parts in most of the things they did.  Jones, on the other hand, was emblematic of a different tier of actors – the familiar, comforting faces who didn’t get cast as characters with backstories or inner lives, but as narrative avatars who delivered exposition and moved the plot along.  Jones specialized in bland authority figures, military men or police officers, along with the occasional reporter or blue-collar working man.  The hierarchy is important here: if Jones played a cop, odds are he was the number-two detective, the one who stood in the background with a notepad and answered questions from the better-known actor playing the other detective.

Back, and to the left: Jones (with Arthur Franz) on The Invaders (“The Life Seekers,” 1968).

It should come as no surprise that Jones played federal agents in some Quinn Martin shows (The F.B.I. and O’Hara, U.S. Treasury).  He was also a regular on something called The Blue Angels (as a Navy officer), and a semi-regular on Highway Patrol (as a cop); The Rat Patrol (as an Army captain); The Young Rebels (demoted to a sergeant); and, extending his range to the max, as an Intertect researcher-cum-computer technician during the first season of Mannix.

I hope none of the above sounds condescending, because actors like Morgan Jones are favorites of television aficionados.  They perform a specific and rather hard-to-describe role in creating an alternate televisual reality across different shows, different genres, multiple decades.  When Jones’s solid frame and slightly beefy, slightly squinty face appeared on the screen, it announced a certain subliminal meaning: a piece of information was about to be conveyed, or a villain momentarily impeded.  Some of that came through Jones’s physique, or the various uniforms he often wore; but if you watched a lot of television, the idea came across even more clearly just through the frisson of recognition.

Finally, the usual refrain: Jones was on the list.  I would have loved to have interviewed him for this blog, but never got around to making the call.  Faster, I must move faster.

In my last post, I began a tour of the unbilled actors who lurked on the streets of the sixties crime drama Naked City.  Many of whom later went on to become major stars, or at least busy character actors.  Now, with the help of the production records on file in the archives of Naked City’s executive producer Herbert B. Leonard, we can identify most of these uncredited performers.

For some reason, Naked City’s third season yields the best crop of soon-to-be-famous bit players.  Maybe Marion Dougherty, the show’s legendary casting director, honed her knack for spotting future stars as she went along.  

Let’s begin with the one of the tiniest speaking parts you can possibly imagine.  Squint at this scene from 1962’s “Torment Him Much and Hold Him Long,” which stars Robert Duvall (in one of four leading Naked City roles) and Barbara Loden (director of Wanda, wife of Kazan, fleetingly a sixties ingenue) as husband and wife, and you’ll see a black couple in the stairwell in the background:

 

The male half of that couple is one Bobby Dean Hooks, who under the more formal moniker of Robert Hooks would become a fairly important leading man a few years later; fittingly, he starred in the next major New York City police drama, N.Y.P.D.  This Naked City episode precedes any other recorded television or film appearance for Hooks.

“Dust Devil on a Quiet Street” takes place in the world of young, aspiring performers.  With its scrutiny of a faded acting teacher (Richard Basehart) and a disturbed young actor under his tutelage (Robert Walker), it’s one of the most detailed glimpses of the process of acting ever attempted in a television drama.  The original writer of “Dust Devil,” Anthony Lawrence, told me that he struggled with the script, and welcomed the revisions undertaken by Naked City’s legendary story editor, Howard Rodman.  Rodman’s wife at the time, Norma Connolly, was a character actress, and I suspect that Rodman’s observations of her work are the source of the authentic-seeming acting exercises in “Dust Devil.” 

Ironically, for a text so sympathetic to the plight of the struggling actor, none of the actors we see performing in Basehart’s workshop receive screen credit.  However, Dougherty got it right once again: four of the five actors playing actors went on to enjoy noteworthy careers.  The first pair to try out a scene (which Basehart decimates) are Penny Fuller (All the President’s Men) and Ken Kercheval (Dallas):

 

Other students who have a line or two each include Stephen Brooks (front row, looking to the left), soon to co-star in The Nurses and The F.B.I., and character actress Joanna Miles (farthest right), also a Dallas alumna:

 

Moving on to the extraordinary “King Stanislaus and the Knights of the Round Stable” – the one with Jack Klugman, John Larch, and a meat cleaver all locked together in a butcher’s freezer – I originally thought that this young brunette nurse on the right might be Elizabeth Ashley, who did play an early role on Route 66 (another Herbert Leonard / Marion Dougherty effort) around the same time: 

 

Wrong: it’s actually Broadway actress and director Joan Darling, later of Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law

A week later, in the episode “Spectre of the Rose Street Gang,” we catch a single glimpse of The Waltons’ Ralph Waite, likely in his television debut, as a chauffeur:

 

. . . and then in “The Highest of Prizes,” only a slightly longer look at The Stepford Wives’ Peter Masterson (shown with Paul Burke), likely in his television debut, as a ferry boat crewman:

 

The final episode of Naked City, “Barefoot on a Bed of Coals,” is famous for Dustin Hoffman’s brief but showy role in the teaser, as a two-bit holdup man who gets blasted by a beat cop (Steven Hill).  Hoffman made the closing credits – just barely, in the penultimate slot – but a lot of familiar faces around him didn’t.  Here’s the great Philip Bruns (The Out of Towners; Harry and Tonto; The Great Waldo Pepper) as a paramedic who grouchily tends to Hoffman’s wound:

 

And Melvin Stewart (Trick Baby; Scarecrow and Mrs. King) as a witness to the crime:

 

Soon it’s revealed that Hill’s character isn’t really a cop.  Fortunately, there are plenty of real uniformed policemen around, played by the likes of Ramon Bieri (Badlands; Sorcerer):

 

. . . and future biker movie star Tom Stern, also uncredited:

For the fellow TV junkies in the audience who had watched these Naked Citys before reading this post . . . how many of these actors did you spot?

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