So sad to hear of the passing of #JoanStaley. She was a Playboy Playmate and guest starred on many sixties TV shows and was a regular on The Lively Ones and Broadside. On the big screen she had small roles in Breakfast and Tiffany’s and Cape Fear. Her most remembered is arguably playing opposite #DonKnotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken which was a big box office hit. I interviewed Joan for my first book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema. Her most amusing quote was when she said that she told her agents, “practically every Joan in town [i.e. Joan Blackman and Joan O’Brien] has worked with #ElvisPresley but me and I knew him back when he was in Memphis!” Her snit worked and she landed a supporting role in Roustabout (female lead Joan Freeman) where she didn’t kiss but slapped the King.
Happy 100th Birthday Federico Fellini! In honor I am re-sharing my below post from 2018. Glad to report that since my interview with Peter, he finally received the recognition he deserved for his starring role in Fellini’s Roma and received an award from the Amarcort Film Festival (which is dedicated to Federico Fellini and held in Rimini, Italy) where he was the guest of honor.
After a long wait the entertainingly off-beat movie Fellini’s Roma (1972), director Federico Fellini’s “love letter” to his beloved Eternal City, has been released on Blu-Ray by the Criterion Collection. The spectacularly produced movie featuring sumptuous production design is essentially divided into three parts as it blends “past and present reality” and Fellini’s “particular kind of fantasy.” The first two segments are autobiographical in nature with Fellini as a young man who comes to Rome in the thirties with an ambition to become a journalist and what happened after during the war years. The third part of the movie takes place in then current time of 1971 and is more documentary in style. Peppered throughout are cameos from the likes of Gore Vidal and Anna Magnani in her last film appearance.
The Blu-Ray features many extras including deleted scenes; trailers; a booklet; and commentaries from film historians and friends of Fellini. The one extra obviously missing is remembrances from the film’s star Peter Gonzales Falcon who symbolized a young Fellini during the thirties and forties segments. When asked if they contacted him to participate, the actor replied, “No, I am out in the boonies in Texas and have been here for a long time. Maybe they didn’t know how to reach me. Also I don’t think there has been much of an institutionalized response to my work for whatever reason. I look at a lot of books on Fellini and only a very few even include me in them.”
Peter Gonzales Falcon acting career literally began as a Hollywood fairy tale. A senior majoring in Drama/Speech at Texas State University now called Southwest Texas State University, in 1968 he accompanied a female friend to an open casting call for the movie comedy Viva Max filming on location in Texas. While waiting in an outer room, he heard someone yell, “That face!” That someone was director Jerry Paris and it was tall, dark-haired Mexican-American Gonzales Falcon’s handsome chiseled face that got Paris excited. After reading for the director, Peter got the role as one of the Mexican soldiers who accompany General Peter Ustinov when he recaptures the Alamo. Others in the cast included Jonathan Winters, John Astin, Keenan Wynn, Alice Ghostley, and Kenneth Mars.
Knowing it was going to be at least a twelve week shoot including time in Italy to shoot interiors, the excited young man decided to drop out of school to pursue his dream of acting. An extra added bonus was that the movie’s leading lady was stunning Pamela Tiffin returning to make her first American film since departing for Rome in 1967. “She was a big movie star. I first saw her in State Fair and then in another film. I thought she was just wonderful and very beautiful.” You can read more about Peter’s experiences on Viva Max in my book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974.
After Viva Max completed filming in Rome, Gonzales moved to London where he modeled for a year. He was back in Italy to try to ignite his acting career and boy did he—landing the lead role in Federico Fellini’s opulent Roma (1972) while simultaneously shooting another movie L’ospite/The Guest (1971) for director Liliana Cavani. Describing the plot of the latter, Peter remarked, “The film was a complex story-within-a-story. I played a young catatonic man in an insane asylum put there by his family. Lucia Bosé [who had just prior appeared in Fellini Satyricon] was a big Italian movie star and still is. She played my caretaker in the asylum and starts having fantasies about me in the film because her cousin was killed by the Nazis in the town square and they put her in the asylum when she was about fifteen years old.” According to preeminent Italian film historian and author Roberto Curti (whose most recent books include Tonino Valerii: The Films and Diabolika: Supercriminals, Superheroes and the Comic Book Universe in Italian Cinema), “the film’s main protagonist was a writer (Glauco Mauri) who reports about the conditions in psychiatric hospitals (a very heartfelt theme at the period, which resulted in1978’s Legge Basaglia about the reform of Italian asylums).”
When The Guest was released, Gonzales received a nice review in Variety that described him as “a fresh and sensitive new face in a dual role as inmate and flashback romantic.” However, per Roberto Curti, The Guest “was badly received by critics, even by those who had praised Cavani’s previous films, from Francesco to I cannibali. Its grosses were allegedly very low (they are not even listed in the Platea in piedi book, which means they were minimal.”
In the autobiographical and much more successful Fellini’s Roma, Peter essentially portrayed a young Federico Fellini as he encountered the city for the first time during the thirties. With minimal dialog, the talented actor is able to embody Fellini and capture the viewer’s attention throughout the movie as his young man is first welcomed into the home of a friend of his mother’s and experiences the chaotic city from dining a fresco on city streets, to its brothels with aging broken down prostitutes and music halls. When the movie debuted in 1972, it received very good notices (it was a hit at the Cannes Film Festival) but is not considered top tier Fellini by most due to its irreverent pacing and storytelling. The review from Variety was typical of the notices it received—“By any measure, Roma is a fascinating film. It does not entirely reflect, however, Fellini’s exceptional talent as a creative filmmaker.”
The Guest and Fellini’s Roma brought Peter Gonzales notoriety and his agent had film roles lined up for him in Italy. A family crisis, however, brought him back to Texas and he never returned to Rome. When Peter did resume his acting career, he made some movies in Mexico and then went to Hollywood where he landed small roles in TV and film most notably in The End (1978). This was directed by Burt Reynolds who starred as man with a blood disease who has one year to live and decides to off himself in twenty-four hours. Peter played the Spanish-speaking boy-toy date of Reynolds’ uncaring ex-wife (Joanne Woodward). Gonzales covers her with kisses while Reynolds tries to tell her of his situation but she is only focused on her Latin Lover boy toy to his chagrin. The pair bolt before can Reynolds can tell her he is dying.
Peter acted intermittently through the eighties (Heartbreaker, 1983; Houston: The Legend of Texas, 1986-TVM) and then took a respite from acting. Living a quiet life in San Antonio, Texas, he was lured back to movies in 2006 to play a police officer in Bordertown starring Jennifer Lopez and Martin Sheen. His most recent movie is the dark comedy Tiramisu for Two (2016), in which he plays a phony Italian chef named Valentino who disrupts an Italian man’s search in Texas for his lost love who he met in Italy thirty years before.
What did you think of director Jerry Paris who discovered you for Viva Max?
I always found Jerry Paris to be a wonderful person. Later, I would visit him when I would come into Hollywood from Italy. I’d call him and he would always invite me to the set of whatever he was working on. I think at that time it was Happy Days and we would hang out.
Some of the actors I interviewed for my Pamela Tiffin book regarding Viva Max were frustrated with Jerry Paris for allowing all the ad-libbing done by Jonathan Winters and others. They felt he had no control. Larry Hankin (one of the Mexican soldiers) in particular was very vocal and admitted to arguing with the director. Were you aware of this?
Yes, Jerry Paris told Larry Hankin off in front of everyone. He accused Larry of having no respect. He just told him point blank and I guess that didn’t sit very well with Larry. I didn’t have much to do with Larry but it seemed to me he was very cocky and disrespectful. I think he came from a comedy troupe. I remember that the actors and crew from LA were unhappy. I don’t know why—they had a nice job for a good length of time. I guess that’s the nature of the business when you are from the West Coast.
What do you remember about Peter Ustinov and John Astin?
Ustinov was very friendly, but he made a lot of faces all the time. I guess that happens when you are in the business that long. John Astin was just a nice man and very elegant—always dressed-to-the-tees off-camera. But it wasn’t like I was hanging out with them—it wasn’t until we got to Italy where I socialized with them more. In Texas, they were just so surrounded with people.
Being Hispanic, did it upset you that so many Caucasian actors were hired to play Mexicans?
Well that was just the way it was in those days. Mexican people were much oppressed back then. My family did work a lot to make political change and so did I. Unfortunately, the film industry is still kind of like that. It was maybe not as frustrating because people didn’t set their eyes on it so much.
Beyond that, you are living the reality and I thought the actors did pretty well to me. The whole Mexican thing is so relative to how you perceive it as is the American because it is a nation of people with different bloods. People don’t realize that. I personally found the whole movie offensive and never bothered to see it.
Interiors for Viva Max were filmed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome. Was this your first time in Italy?
Yes it was. You know before I went to Rome I really hadn’t been anywhere other than California and Mexico. It was another world to go to Italy in the late 1960s. It was very racist in Texas in those days. It still is but it is a different world now as it has gentrified. I had wanted to be an actor as long as I could remember. When I got off the plane in Italy everyone looked like my family. I decided to just to stay there.
He was filming Stayricon. But no, I didn’t meet Fellini until a couple of years later. After Viva Max wrapped I moved to London and worked as a model for about a year. I was brought back to Italy by an agency in Rome to read for Franco Zefferelli for the lead in Brother Sun, Sister Moon. When it didn’t work out with Zefferelli, a friend suggested that I call Eugene Walter. I did and we made a lunch date. Eugene was this wonderful gentleman from Mobile, Alabama. He was one of those actors who went off to be become an ex-pat living in Europe. Besides acting, he would translate Italian scripts into English and English scripts into Italian for just about all of the producers at that time including Federico Fellini. He was very well-known and respected in the business. He was working on the English version of Fellini’s script and knew he was looking for an actor for the lead. He thought I was the one. During lunch, he called Fellini and suggested I meet with him. Eugene was also working on a script for Liliana Cavani and contacted her on my behalf as well.
Did you have any representation in Italy at this time?
I sort had a new agent whose name was Roberto Romani and his partner was Giovannella Di Corsivo. I liked her name Giovannella—the jewel of the cosmos. She was this glamorous older lady. I went to their office after lunch and told Roberto that Eugene said that he should arrange a time for me to meet the director. He couldn’t believe he had to call Fellini. I said, ‘Pick up the phone and call Fellini.’ He still couldn’t. I dialed it for him and handed him the phone. I think Liliana Betti [Federico Fellini’s longtime assistant] answered and told him to send me over in the morning. I was slated to fly back to London later in the day.
What was your meeting with Fellini like?
I went to Cinecittà where there was a line about a block long with young men wanting to meet Fellini. I went around the line to the main door and buzzed. The door was opened by Liliana who looked like a little Edward G. Robinson and even had a cigar in her mouth. I said in Italian, ‘Eugene told me to come over today.’ She replied, ‘Eugenio!’ She brought me right in and I went up to Fellini’s office. He was sitting at his desk just being himself. He asked me to walk in a circle around the room. That kind of pissed me off. I didn’t like it because it was weird. Why did I have to walk in a circle? In those days, bell bottoms and flair pants were in. I was wearing a casual kind of woolen suit. I asked, ‘Do you want to see my legs too?’ I pulled up my pants and then said, ‘here are my knees.” I was a feisty uppity young guy back then. He just sat there and called Liliana over. In Italian, he told her I was ‘handsome and particular.’ They looked at me and Fellini told me to come back in two weeks and we’ll get started. I said, “Okay, thank you.’ And I left.
You must have been ecstatic.
I had been through a lot. By the time I was eighteen I had already lived in Italy while doing Viva Max. The film crisis hit and there was no work in Rome. Now here I was back from London for a day and a half and I just didn’t believe it. I honestly forgot about it. Two and a half weeks later, I am still in London and the phone rings. It was my agent Roberto who said, ‘Where are you!?! You are supposed to be in Rome and they have started shooting.’ The next thing you know my life changed again and I was back in Rome.
You really forgot that Fellini cast you in his movie?
Honestly, I didn’t think about it too much because I didn’t believe it. I don’t think I believed in anything about humanity. I think it had to do with being Mexican-American. Back then we were taught that we weren’t going to get what we wanted. I didn’t think about wanting anything but I always got everything. I was raised in South Texas and it was very racist. I thought I was very homely looking because the attitudes of the white people towards us. I had a very strong family and strong sense of self, but there was the outside world in Texas. I grew up in a time where I saw signs that read, ‘No dogs, n-ggers, or Mexicans served here.’ In a way it didn’t affect me because it was the fifties before civil rights. It is kind of like now again. That is why I am not afraid of anything now because I grew up with all of that. I did get along and had a lot of good friends who were white Anglos but there was always that underlining thing where you had to know your place.
So going back to Roma, I always wanted to be an actor and I loved acting, but I just didn’t believe I got the part. But I guess I was the one.
When you arrived on set were you handed a script?
Fellini had mimeographed notes in Italian. There were scenes that he wrote out but said it was more so for the producers and that he really didn’t care about the script. It wasn’t written like a screenplay. It was a narrative and more like a synopsis of what we were going to do. That was it.
For instance, we were given lines to say when I arrive in Rome at the house of my mother’s friend. There was not much dialog and it was like pantomime in a lot of ways. Visually you could catch on that there was a mama’s boy and the fat lady in the bed owned the house. There was the Chinese man cooking in the room and this famous Italian theater actress played the lady who greeted me at the door. I was responding to situations like Fellini would have responded when he was young.
No, I had studied Latin in high school and I spoke Spanish so I was able to pick up Italian quickly and get by. But it didn’t matter what language you spoke since they dubbed everything though Fellini did shoot sound on this. Sometimes you would be able to dub with your own voice.
What was like to work on that set with Fellini?
He was wonderful and always kind and nice to me. However, I saw him pitch fits if somebody didn’t give him what he wanted. I never had any problems with him. Then and even now I think what’s the big deal, let’s just do the scene.
He was really intelligent—a genius. What I mean by that is that in the old sense that he had his vision and his revelations for every scene right down to the sets and costumes—every stitch was according to his specifications divinely guided I guess. It was fabulous watching Fellini direct
What was it like doing Roma and Cavani’s The Guest at the same time?
The directors had to trade me back and forth. Their directing styles were quite different. Liliana had a script for one. She was an intellectual and reminded me of a shorter version of Susan Sontag. She would come over and tell me exactly what she wanted me to do.
Working with Liliana Cavani sounds like it was a more conventional way of making a movie as compared to working with Fellini.
Yes, you are right. With Fellini I had to fulfill his vision. He could see what he wanted and visualized all of the scenes in his mind. We were supposed to fit into the scenes exactly the way he pictured. I have a really powerful spiritual life. My mom was clairvoyant. Somehow in Europe I always connected with my directors. Fellini and Liliana Cavani knew exactly what they wanted me to do and since I am a chameleon-type who can transform I became exactly what they wanted me to be.
Sometimes it would make me angry because I didn’t feel that it was going to do me any good to work with him. It wasn’t what people thought acting a part was so I got this brilliant idea to create worlds within myself that would kind of make me a more pure presence in the film that could stand up to time rather than become dated. I started really connecting with the Holy Spirit and other spiritual parts of myself. I think this came out in the streetcar sequence. I tested Fellini in something I thought was impossible to notice.
What did you do in this scene?
I was hanging from the streetcar. He had me hold on to the bars while the streetcar went around. This portion was shot on the actual streets of Rome while the rest was done on a set in Cinecittà. I went into my yoga meditation, if you want to call it that, trying to visualize the ascension in myself, but I really was just some kid in a white suit hanging from a streetcar. All of a sudden, from like two blocks away where they had their telephoto lens, I heard this scream in Italian, “Cut! I see Jesus! I don’t know why but stop that!” I said, “Okay, I’ll behave.”
Roma was a big production. How long was the shoot?
I worked on this movie for forty-one weeks. That was wonderful. I worked on Viva Max for over twelve weeks and then Roma. I thought acting was a steady job.
Yes, it was. Everybody had to know what they had to do and do it exactly how Fellini instructed. The woman on the rooftop, the woman walking across the street, the people eating—everything was totally controlled by him.
Another favorite is the brothel scene.
I absolutely remember this. I have no sense of time between then and now. I really don’t and remember it like yesterday. I used to hang out with the actresses playing the whores. We’d chat and smoke cigarettes. Most of them were older middle class ladies. They all liked me because I was a cute young man.
One of the ladies was really upset that she had to show her breasts. Her son was now in college and told her she should be alive and get her own life and try acting again like she did before she married. She’d say to me, ‘Look at me. I am playing a whore in this brothel and my son and husband and everybody is going to see it.’ I told her that she was an actress and she had to be ready to bare her body and soul because this was going to hang around for centuries. It would cheer her up and she would keep going. She was really cute and her family owned a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower. She invited me to visit and stay with her. I was getting all kinds of invitations from these wonderful Italian people.
A number of big names appeared in cameos or just stopped by to watch the shoot.
I remember hanging out on the set with Josephine Baker and her kids. Gore Vidal was there. People were always just dropping in. I would just chat them up. Sometimes I didn’t even know who they were. I didn’t realize I was talking to Josephine Baker for half a day. We were just having a blast. It was a great experience for a novice in that world.
Anna Magnani would come to the set and the rushes. She was a tough lady and no-nonsense. If she liked you, she liked you. She was very pretty with finely chiseled bone structure and a curvy figure. I always thought she was kind of fat and big from watching her on the screen. We’d sit next to each other and watch. She really liked me. I was kind of intimidated by her but we had fun together. When Fellini would walk in, he’d greet her and she’d say, ‘Okay Federico, show me your little movie.’ He’d tried to please her because he obviously adored her. She was just Anna Magnani!
Do you recall anything about cinematographer Guiseppe Rotunno or production designer Danilo Donati? Both worked frequently with Fellini and their work here is spectacular.
I didn’t have a lot to do with Rotunno. He was there every day but he was caught up in shooting the movie and discussing shots with Fellini. He was very nice to me obviously if you see the film.
I became closer friends with Danilo. I would look at his sketches and hang out with him as he discussed with Fellini the costumes and what fabrics he would use. He had a whole big area at the studio where he created everything. Fellini was very particular and would work with everybody to get the look he wanted.
I had long hair and they did work on it. They made it straight but Fellini had long hair. When I first met him at the interview I wore a collarless shirt with a nice suit. I had a very 1970s Bohemian look. Apparently, that was exactly the kind of young man he had been and he was out of the norm for his time. He had long hair also so he connected with me on that. My hair was styled like the way he wore it and not the way I wore it. He was chubby when I met him but he was thin like me when he was younger. And they called him like they called me ‘magro come un chiodo—skinny like a nail.’
When did you first see the movie and did you like?
I don’t remember when I saw the movie for the first time, honestly. I only recall watching the rushes. I would get angry with Fellini and say to him that the film will not look like anything to anybody. Looking back on it and understanding what had I to do for him, it was very subtle and delicate. And more challenging than anything an actor has to do. However, people really don’t get it. They just think I am a nice presence—well yeah but it is a very connected pure essence of who Fellini was when he came to Rome. Unlike Fellini’s other movies, Roma was a like a documentary in so many ways.
Roma brought you a lot of attention but you didn’t follow up with any Italian movies. Why?
I had a whole lineup of film offers to do in Italy. As fate would have it and being a Mexican-American, I was very tied to my family and there was an illness and a death. I just stopped and came back to Texas and never went back. I wasn’t even in Rome when the movie opened.
In 1974, I moved to Mexico City and acted in movies there. Everywhere I’d go, I got work more on the weight of my person and my looks then my credits. I really didn’t use the prestige [of doing Fellini’s Roma] that could have brought me. In Mexico of course they knew of Fellini, but not in Texas. Then I got some acting jobs in LA and worked in Louisiana. I finished my degrees and taught film making. I would work in movies occasionally, but I was just so interested in everything else that life had to offer.
What was it like working with Burt Reynolds who starred in and directed The End?
Working with Burt Reynolds and being on the set while also working with such stars as Myrna Loy, Jackie Coogan, Joanne Woodward, Dom DeLuise, and Sally Field was absolutely living the dream. Burt Reynolds was a total mensch and an endearing person. The cast and crew were all devoted to him and it appeared it was a joy for all to be a part of that filming. That kind of collective happiness and camaraderie was a very rare situation on Hollywood sets and it seems it only happens when one is working with true stars.
In one of my scenes I prepared to get into the Rolls Royce (a gift from Dinah Shore) that my character drives to pick up his date who happened to be Burt’s ex-wife (Joanne Woodward). As the scene was about to be filmed, Burt laughingly came up to me and gave me some direction. He unexpectedly removed a gold chain with a large gold nugget he was wearing and placed it around my neck to wear. After the take, I was looking at the inscription on the nugget when Sally Field asked about it. The inscription said ‘LOVE DINAH.’ The whole set was excited and abuzz with that note. I got to wear the nugget for the shoot.
I directed a documentary and am writing a TV pilot for a series set here in San Antonio. Ironically, I worked on a movie called Tiramisu for Two. There is this group of Italian descended young people in their twenties and thirties from America and Venezuela who love Fellini. A lot of them went through the film program at the University of Texas in Austin. They go off to New York and other places, but return to Texas to make independent films.
Did they know going in that you worked with Fellini?
I am probably the only living Fellini star in this country and from Texas. Yes, they knew that going in as I have a page about me in Roma on Facebook. I finally decided to get my stuff together and put it out there on the web. I haven’t done a great job of it but think it is pretty nice. The director of Tiramisu for Two is named Sergio Carbajal. He contacted me and asked if I would be in his film. They were shooting in San Marcos Texas, where I was going to school when I dropped out to do Viva Max. I thought it was like coming full circle. I am reaching a point in life where I beginning to see how everything kind of ties together ultimately if you let it.
I told them I would help them and they really have come up with a good film. We became very close and they called me ‘Maestro.
Now through Jan. 20th, 20% off all books at BearManor Media including my Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies! No coupon needed. Read behind-the-scenes stories about Elvis musicals; beach party comedies; spy spoofs; spaghetti westerns; biker flicks and more! Read about who was fun to work with and who was not (yes that is Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, Robert Conrad, Sam Katzman and more bowing their heads in shame).
So sad. First we lose Carol Lynley this year and now Sue Lyon!?! What is going on? They were part of that group of 1960s blondes that I loved. In the late fifties and early sixties petite pretty baby doll blondes were all the rage with young movie fans. In their teens with shapely figures and All-American wholesomeness, these nymphets were so interchangeable that sometimes even their own families couldn’t tell them apart in photos. Sandra Dee and Connie Stevens (the only one I never cottoned too), always playing the good or mixed up adolescent with big romantic problems, led the pack of nymphets early in the decade in terms of popularity. Critics, however, favored the most talented Tuesday Weld whose wild teens on screen aped her personal life. Her stature only grew as the decade progressed. Carol Lynley, Yvette Mimieux, and Sue Lyon fell somewhere in between them whereas Diane McBain excelled as the sophisticate or bitch.
Following in the footsteps of Sandra Dee, Carol Lynley and Tuesday Weld, Sue Lyon too began her career as a child model who had to support the family due to an absentee father. Modeling led to some minor acting roles on such TV series as A Letter to Loretta and Dennis the Menace where she famously gave that little rascal his first kiss. In 1961, producer James H. Harris was having a challenging time trying to cast the role of Lolita in the movie version of Vladimir Nabakov’s novel, Lolita (1962). Tuesday Weld, Hayley Mills, Jill Haworth, and Joey Heatherton all turned it down. Marta Kristen of Lost in Space and Jenny Maxwell best known as the girl Elvis spanked in Blue Hawaii were seriously considered. However, Harris and director Stanley Kubrick thought fourteen-year-old Sue Lyon whom they spotted on TV had just the right quality to project Lolita’s immaturity and peculiar brashness. She met with them for an hour thinking she was interviewing for a TV show. Before screen testing, her protective mother sat her down to explain what the controversial movie was about though the teenager was familiar with the notorious novel by Nabokov. Lyon was the perfect choice to play Lolita as she had the sexy but innocent appearance to make audiences believe that staid James Mason as writer Humbert Humbert would go to such extreme lengths to be with the underage nymphet after first catching a glimpse of her sunning herself wearing a two-piece bathing suit, sunglasses, and picture hat. The scene of Lyon laying on her bed licking a lollipop, while taunting the frustrated Mason, is unforgettable as is when they are living together after the death of her mother Shelley Winters and he paints her toenails while interrogating the girl about her afternoon whereabouts. She sips her Coke nonchalantly feigning innocence about the boys she met at the malt shop. In an interview she did for the 1987 French TV Show Cinéma cinémas, Lyon claimed a lot of the scowls and funny faces she makes in the movie as well as her gum chewing were suggested by her to make the character more childish. For her expert performance Lyon shared the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female with Patty Duke and Rita Tushingham.
Her next movie was director John Huston’s The Night of the Iguana (1964) based on the play by Tennessee Williams where she was once again the scantily-clad nymphet. This time Lyon’s sexy teen tempts defrocked minister Richard Burton on a bus tour of Mexico to the consternation of her controlling sexually repressed chaperone Grayson Hall who unconsciously lusts after her as well. The beguiling bikini-clad blonde sets her sights on the troubled Burton driving him to drink by sneaking into his room at night and whispering about how the boys back home love her soft skin and asking him, “Have I grown up too early?” When he rejects her advances, she gets tipsy with two shirtless Mexican beach boys and turns her attentions to blonde bus driver James Ward who comes to her “rescue.” As with Tuesday Weld, Sue Lyon’s on-screen antics coupled with her highly publicized off-screen love affairs and a quickie marriage to actor Hampton Fancher made her every parent’s nightmare and not a teen idol for their children to admire.
Trying to shake her Lolita persona, Sue Lyon traded in her bathing suits for a much more conservative wardrobe as a novice missionary in China held captive by a Mongolian war lord in Seven Women (1966), director John Ford’s last movie, and as a lovely small town gal who charms AWOL soldier boy Michael Sarrazin to give up his con man ways in the comedy The Flim-Flam Man (1967). She next played a drunken heiress in the detective yarn, Tony Rome (1967) starring Frank Sinatra as the gumshoe hired to find out who stole careless Lyon’s diamond pin. Even waking up in a seedy motel from a stupor, Lyon looked gorgeous. It was her last major studio production (talks of her co-starring in then controversial Lesbian drama The Killing of Sister George never came to be and Susannah York got the part) as her career waned due to her tumultuous personal life.
Another film that got away was Bonnie and Clyde. Natalie Wood and Jane Fonda both turned down Bonnie and Clyde. Then the role was accepted and rejected by Tuesday Weld who just had a child. Carol Lynley was reportedly considered after producer/actor Warren Beatty saw stills of her as Jean Harlow in Harlow and liked her Thirties look but felt she looked too young. Reportedly, Bonnie was almost offered to Sue Lyon when Arthur Penn observed Faye Dunaway in a play in New York and brought her to Warren Beatty’s attention. She won the role, an Academy Award nomination, and super stardom.
Lyon relocated to Spain after marrying African American football player and photographer Roland Harrison where they conceived a daughter. While in Europe, Lyon surprisingly turned up in a low-budget spaghetti western entitled Four Rode Out (1970) playing a desperate woman who is willing to have sex with lawman Pernell Roberts of Bonanza fame in exchange for sparing the life of her Mexican lover framed for the murder of her father. Along with Leslie Nielsen as a duplicitous Pinkerton agent, they trek through the barren desert searching for the fugitive. With her marriage to Harrison over by 1971, Lyon returned to Hollywood and gave a sympathetic performance as the supportive wife of George Hamilton’s daredevil motorcycle rider in Evel Knievel (1971) before becoming a pariah to the studios because of the notoriety she received when she married then divorced convicted murderer Cotton Adamson.
Returning to Europe, she starred in the Italian giallo Tarot (1973) as an adulterous gold digger who marries rich blind man Fernando Rey for his big bucks and gets drawn into a plot hatched by his servants to murder him and Spain’s Clockwork Terror a.k.a. Murder in a Blue World (1973) where she has one of her most outrageous roles as a caring nurse working at a hospital who at night seduces lonely men and kills them after having sex. She eventually gets involved with Chris Mitchum as the leader of a gang of red helmet wearing biker thugs.
Back in Hollywood, Lyon still looking fantastic and far more youthful than her thirty years was part of the “all-star” cast playing motorists involved in the Smash-Up on Interstate Five (TV-1976). Next came a series of low-budget filmss that barely snuck into movie theaters. She could be seen in Crash! (1977) as the much younger wife of wheelchair bound Jose Ferrer (crippled in a car accident he holds Lyon responsible for) who with the help of a magical idol try to off one another; End of the World (1977) as the wife of scientist Kirk Scott who uncovers the plot of alien leader Christopher Lee masquerading as a priest to destroy the Earth; and Towing (1978) as a bar maid who tries to break up an illegal towing company’s stolen car operation. Lyon’s most notorious film from this period was The Astral Factor, which was deemed so bad it sat on the shelf until 1984 and was released as Invisible Strangler. Playing a fashion model, Sue meets her end in a bubble bath strangled by the rapist she testified against in court. Watching Lyon thrashing about the tub pretending to be strangled by an invisible man is painful especially knowing a decade before she was working with such giants of cinema as Stanley Kubrick and John Huston. Sue Lyon finally threw in the towel after playing a small part of a news reporter in the tongue-in-cheek horror movie Alligator (1980) from a script by John Sayles. It was her last acting job. Just before Lyon stopped giving interviews and faded away, she made sure everyone knew how show business destroyed her life.
Use discount code HOLIDAY19 to get the 20% discount on all my McFarland and Company books including:
From Nov. 5th through Nov. 7th, 25% sale on all BearManor Media books including my Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies featuring interviews with Bobbi Shaw, Christopher Riordan, Irene Tsu, Valerie Starrett, cover gal Nancy Czar, Shelley Fabares, Mimsy Farmer, Arlene Charles, Maggie Thrett, Steven Rogers, Lara Lindsay, Gail Gerber, Nicoletta Macchiavelli, and screenwriter Stephen Yafa talking about beach, biker, Elvis Presley, and teenage exploitation movies. Use discount code book25
Sadly my favorite actress of all-time Carol Lynley suddenly passed away last week. She died peacefully in her sleep reportedly related to a heart attack. What shook me about her death was that I spoke with her in March and April as she finally agreed to an interview for my upcoming tribute BearMano Media book Carol Lynley, Lady in Peril: Her Film & TV Career in Thrillers, Fantasy and Suspense.
I became a fan of Carol’s when in 1973 my parents for my birthday took me to see The Poseidon Adventure at the Westbury Drive-in. I was mesmerized. The movie changed my life. I loved all the characters but the pretty hippy blonde hot pants go-go boot wearing pop singer stood out. While most of the other actors went over the top at times, she projected sheer terror throughout. I asked my mom afterwards who she was and she said, “Carol Lynley. She was in that vampire movie [The Night Stalker] I told you not to watch.” Oh yeah I thought.
I have followed her career ever since and was impressed with her range of movies. The ABC 4:30 Movie introduced me to teen queen Carol (Holiday for Lovers; Return to Peyton Place); sex kitten Carol (Under the Yum Yum Tree; The Pleasure Seekers); and lady in peril Carol (The Shuttered Room; The Immortal; Weekend of Terror). But there were other impressive roles a pregnant teenager looking to get an abortion in Blue Denim; a priest’s sweet sister turned tango-dancing prostitute in The Cardinal; sex bomb Jean Harlow in Harlow; an unstable woman searching for her daughter real or imagined in Bunny Lake Is Missing; a psycho gold club weilding heiress in Once You Kiss a Stranger: a foul-mouthed Southern hooker in Norwood; a reporter’s vampire-believing girlfriend in The Night Stalker; etc. Later films included Death Stalk; Bad Georgia Road; Fantasy Island (original TV movie + 10 guest spots): The Cat and the Canary (outstanding as Annabelle West; The Shape of Things to Come; Vigilante; Dark Tower; Blackout: Spirits; Neon Signs; and Vic.
Yes I was an obsessed fan that perplexed my family to no end. And there was no end. My upcoming book will hopefully be seen as objective and a fitting farewell to such a beautiful and talented actress who brought lots of unknowing happiness to this movie nerd while he was growing up.
I have been waiting years for Turner Classic Movies to show Carol Lynley some love and they finally will just months before my BearManor Media tribute book Carol Lynley, Lady in Peril: Her Film & TV Career in Thrillers, Fantasy and Suspense comes out in March 2020! Here’s hoping for a future TCM tribute featuring me talking about some of her lady in peril roles in movies maybe aired such as The Shuttered Room, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Cat and the Canary.
SEPT 8 SUNDAY PRIMETIME THEME(S):
STARRING CAROL LYNLEY
8:00 PM Bunny Lake Is Missing (‘65)
10:00 PM Blue Denim (‘59)
Saw The Love Machine based on novel by Jacqueline Susann on the big screen recently. Trashy tale of handsome vile local newscaster with model thin good looks Robin Stone played by stiff John Philip Law from Barbarella fame filling in at the last minute for Brian Kelly the dad from Flipper injured in a motorcycle accident. Robin has his own Dionne Warwick theme song “Movin’ On” played throughout the movie as he rises to national newscaster, head of news division and finally network head.
For me the unappealing Dyan Cannon (in looks and acting) is the network president’s bored trashy wife who has the hots for Robin and the over wrought Jodi Wexler is the model who falls in love with Robin after a one night stand where he slaps her around. When he rejects her she takes the blue pills. It is that kind of movie. Thank goodness for the overtop hairstyles and fashions and the supporting cast: David Hemmings hams it up as a flamboyantly gay photographer (I lost count how many times they call him a “fag”); Maureen Arthur as slutty gold digging secretary who lands abrasive comic Shecky Greene; and lovely Alexandra Hay in too brief a role as one of Robin’s many bed partners.
Not nearly as campy fun as Valley of the Dolls due to stilted dialog and clumsily edited. Movie seems it was cut with a meat cleaver and sure director Jack Haley, Jr. must have delivered a longer more coherent cut.
My final tribute post is to the ill-fated lovely Sharon Tate who is played by Margot Robbie in the new movie. Tate was one of my faves and her death was truly tragic. Clips of her in The Wrecking Crew are shown but I liked her better in Valley of the Dolls and Don’t Make Waves. Louis Paul and I profiled her in our McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers book Film Fatales.