Welcome to SixtiesCinema.com the home of award winning author and film historian Tom Lisanti's groovy books on 60's starlets and drive-in movies from Elvis and beach party musicals to biker films to teenage exploitation. Check out his Blog below for updates or tribute pieces on all your favorite '60s starlets and B-movie actors. Purchase his highly entertaining, well-illustrated books directly from Amazon.com
October 30, 2011
Just Published - October 27, 2011 - Tom Lisanti's newsest book.
Dueling Harlows: Race to the Silver Screen. Order it today!
If I thought Diane McBain had a harrowing life that she wrote about in Famous Enough, it does not compare to what her 1960s contemporary Sharon Farrell revealed that she went through in her fascinating memoir Sharon Farrell “Hollywood Princess” From Sioux City, Iowa: The “Bad Girl’s” Story. First the simularities: both are pretty blondes who were two of the most promising starlets of the 1960s; both had one son from short-lived marriages; both saw their chances for super stardom fade away; both did drugs; and both were rape victims. But for every horrible incident that befell Diane McBain, Sharon Farrell’s was even worse.
As someone who loves reading (and writing) about the back stories in making movies or TV shows, Sharon does not disappoint with her career highlights such as Marlowe with Bruce Lee; The Reivers with Steve McQueen; The Last Ride of the Dalton Gang with Jack Palance; Out of the Blue with Dennis Hopper; The Stunt Man with Peter O’Toole; and her stint as a regular on Hawaii Five-0 during its last season. However, most are unhappy experiences and depressing to read as she is used and degraded (physically and/or psychologically) by practically every leading man and then tossed away once filming stops. She gets credit for not holding back and depicting herself in a very unflattering manner, but as you keep turning the pages you just hope she finds happiness. Instead the drug taking and sexual abuse by many hideous men continues and also because she foolishly binds herself to a man who took so much advantage of her stealing her money and forcing her to relocate to Fiji. Finally free of him and back in the States, Sharon finds herself committed to a psycho ward in California, which is really hard to read considering what she was put through.
What is most amazing to me despite the living hell she was going through in the 1970s and 1980s, is that she worked pretty consistently and got some really good parts well into her forties doing better than her more stable 1960s contemporaries for sure. This was due to her acting talent and her professionalism on the set despite what was happening to her off-camera.
Though Sharon highlights her major films/TV shows, her body of work is tremendous and I would have liked to have read more about them and less of the sex/drug tales she shares. Being self-published, the book is at times a bit disjointed and contains misspelling and such. Even so, I still recommend the book to fans of Sixties actresses and the New Hollywood of the late 1960s (let’s hope actresses in the Golden Age of Hollywood weren’t treated this shabbily). The fact that Sharon Farrell survived all she did and is still alive to tell about it is a testament to her strength and courage. Kudos to Sharon for persevering.
When I began interviewing 1960s starlets in the late nineties I always asked them about working on TV’s Batman, if they had on their list of credits. It was one of my favorite TV shows as a kid. Though the villains stole the show, I always took a special liking to the dastardly dames by their sides. Some of the most beautiful starlets of the day donned miniskirts to catsuits to fabulous furs to help their man defeat the Caped Crusader. Some repented for their greedy ways while others went down swinging. My next couple of Blogs will pay tribute to some of them in honor of the upcoming DVD/Blu-Ray release FINALLY of Batman this Fall.
First up sultry brunette Eileen O’Neill as the Clock King’s cleverly named moll Millie Second who was one of Batman’s most eager crooked gals who seemed to just revel in her boss’ sinister schemes. Awed by his cleverness, she even calls him Your Highness, but her character, who had a lot of potential, is wasted and not given much to do.
In “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” and “The Clock King Gets Crowned,” which originally aired on October 12 & 13, 1966, viewers are introduced to Gotham City’s newest multi-wrist watch wearing villain as he and his moll Millie Second watch the goings-on at a high-end jewelry store through a hidden camera planted in an antique clock. The Clock King then releases knockout gas as his thugs nicknamed the Second Hands race in and make off with diamond bracelets and necklaces. When Millie Second, clad in a mod striped green and blue mini-dress and always holding a feather duster, gets a peak at all the jewels she coos, “Just look at all these goodies! They’re marvelous Clock King.” Unfortunately, Millie Second is AWOL for the rest of the episode (guess someone had to stay behind and dust all those clocks). She doesn’t even show up after Clock King captures the Dynamic Duo and puts them in a giant hourglass complete with the sands of time pouring in on them.
With time ticking away, Batman and Robin are able to knock over the hour glass and then like squirrels in a cage roll it out onto the street where they are freed. Unaware that his arch enemies are alive, Clock King boasts of their death at his hands as an enamored Millie and his Second Hands clap in approval. The egotistical thief then makes his final plans to crash Wayne manor to steal the millionaire’s collection of antique pocket watches. “This sure is tingly,” exclaims an excited Millie as they view the goings-on at the mansion through a clock Aunt Harriet bought as a birthday gift for Bruce. Frustratingly, Millie stays behind again to do her housework as the men folk go on their crime spree. She finally does go along for the big score when The Clock King plans to gas the entire city while he hijacks an incoming helicopter transporting a cesium clock. This was the time Millie should have stayed back as the Dynamic Duo ruin his plans. The only time left for Clock King, Millie Second, and the Second Hands is the time they are going to serve in the Big House.
Given more screen time, Millie Second could have been one of the series’ most memorable molls instead of just pretty decoration. Eileen O’Neill definitely had the acting talent to do more as shown by her numerous TV and movie appearances during the sixties. To read more about her, catch my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinemanow available in revised soft cover edition. Below are Eileen O’Neill’s remarks about working on Batman from it:
“Walter Slezak [the Clock King] was another kind man. We spent so much time talking. I sensed an effort on his part to share his richness and experience in the theatre with me. We had extensive conversations on acting. Again, I appreciated the knowledge you can incur like a sponge when you have an opportunity to talk to people who are so good at what they do.”
“Burt [Ward] and Adam [West] were professional and so much fun to work with. They both jumped into the zany spirit of their roles. They played their parts to the hilt and that is why Batman was so successful in its day.”
Next Bat Time, Next Bat Channel: Tisha Sterling as Legs Parker
Fans of the now departed soap One Life to Live remember the character Karen Wolek (the doctor’s wife-turned-prostitute-turned-baby switcher) from 1976-1983 played most famously by 2 time Emmy winner Judith Light. However, when the soap premiered there was another character named Karen that snagged Dr. Larry Wolek first. Theater actress Niki Flacks had just co-starred on Broadway with Walter Pidgeon, Arlene Francis, June Havoc, and Pamela Tiffin in the Broadway revival of Dinner at Eight. [You can read her recollections of this show in my upcoming book Pamela Tiffin: The Films from Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974.]. Soon after, she was cast as grasping nurse Karen Martin in a new ABC-TV daytime soap called One Life to Live created by Agnes Nixon.
When not caring for patients, Karen Martin had her sights set on handsome young doctor Larry Wolek (Paul Tully briefly followed by James Storm). He however was in love with fragile rich girl Meredith Lord (Trish Van Devere followed by Lynn Benesch), whose father Victor disapproved of the relationship and was pushing his daughter to marry Dr. Ted Hale. Larry discovered that Meredith was suffering from a dangerous blood disease, but kept it secret from her. When Ted found out, he and Larry argued. Hale took a tumble down the stairs and died. Karen heard the argument and being spiteful testified against Larry. He was eventually cleared and Meredith learned the truth about her illness. She ran off to California leaving Larry in the hands of manipulative Karen who professed her sorrow through crocodile tears in regards to her testimony. This did not bring Larry and Karen together, but when she risked her life to safe him after he was caught in a fire the two drew closer. After his bandages were removed (and new actor Michael Storm took over), the couple drew closer and made love. Karen thought it was now smooth sailing to the altar, but sad sack Meredith Lord returned to town. With her health improving, she declared her love for Larry and the two reconciled–for a moment anyway. Karen discovered she was with child and threatened to end the pregnancy if the good doctor did not to right and make her his wife. Trapped, he agreed. Shortly after tying the knot, Karen miscarried and Larry sprinted to the nearest judge to end the marriage. Not wanting to work at the hospital with Larry knowing he was with Meredith, Karen chose to leave town never to be heard from again.
What do you recall about the early days on One Life to Live?
I was one of the original actors on the show. Agnes Nixon was brilliant. She is a genius. It was beautifully produced by Doris Quinlan. She was just so top notched. She hired wonderful directors and was very closely involved. Evertything was done on a really high level.
Was the show shot live when it began?
We did not shoot live, but on tape. However, editing tape in those days was expensive so you had a lot of pressure to do it as if it was live.
One Life to Live came right at of the gate breaking new ground with its controversial storyline about light skinned African American Carla Gray (Ellen Holly) who passed herself off as white.
We were all very aware that we were breaking new ground with the diversity and were very proud of it. Ellen Holly had established herself as one of the best stage actresses of her generation. She broke ground constantly, doing Shakespeare and other classics as a Black actress. I adored her! I know that ultimately she felt ill-used by the show and story lines. But those first years were very exciting for all of us, including her. I also became very close to the actress playing her mother [Lillian Hayman]–a wonderful character actress. Seeing the Black faces as we would sit around the table doing our first read-through of a script certainly gave me a thrill. Remember, this was the 60′s. We had protested during college and supported the sit-in’s happening in the south. And during my years on the soap I remember wearing a black arm band in protest of the Vietnam war. Much to the horror of many of the ‘grips’ (stage hands) who were quite right wing in their politics.
You went through 3 leading men playing Larry Wolek in the almost three years you were on the show.
Paul Tully [Larry #1] was just not strong enough. After James Storm [Larry #2], his brother Michael took over the role and stayed with the show for a long time. He was delightful to work with. All the women drooled over him–the fan mail was incredible. And in real life he was happily married–a very solid guy.
Any other actors stand out for you?
Gillian Spencer was also very easy to work with although my character didn’t really interact with hers very much, but we were often at the studio at the same time. Trish Van Devere was the first Meredith Lord. She was sooooooo difficult to work with. She decided she was a big movie star ordering people around. She was so awful and was fired. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Lynn Benesch took over and she was just lovely–an incredibly generous, beautiful person. The cast, after the first shake up was thoroughly professional and everyone seemed very well cast in their roles.
You were the bad girl the audience loved to hate.
Yes, especially after Karen got Larry drunk and seduced him. They were prudish in those days so one episode ended with the big kiss and the next episode had me in bed yawning and purring like Scarlett O’Hara. And of course from that one night of bliss Karen got pregnant. Even though Karen knew Larry loved another, she said, ‘I’m having your baby.’ Though she threatened abortion, it was illegal and actually we couldn’t even say the word ‘abortion.’ Larry was a Polish Catholic and the implication was that he would marry Karen and he did.
Why did you leave?
I left because I wanted to return to more theater. They said we are not going to kill you because we would like you to come back. For about a month Karen apologized to everyone for being so horrible and did a lot of weeping, which they knew I was good at. Karen was going back to her home town to try to find herself. I left and a few years later I was married and pregnant. They called my agent and wanted to bring back Karen. He said, ‘Darling, do you want to go back to One Life to Live?’ I said, ‘Do they want me seven months pregnant?’ He laughed and replied, ‘I don’t think that is in the storyline.’
Niki Flacks went on to have a distinguished career in the theater. She is currently teaching and writing on acting technique.
Just finished reading Famous Enough: A Hollywood Memoir by Diane McBain and Michael Gregg Michaud. It has to be one of the most brutally honest memoirs I have ever read. It is a harrowing tale of what happened to Diane (and probably a lot of other 1960s female contract players) once the studios tossed them out without fanfare during the mid-1960s when the studio system was collasping. Surprisingly, Diane did not make a lot of money while working for Warner Bros. despite starring in a TV show (Surfside 6) and getting leads in motion pictures (Parrish; Claudelle Inglish; The Caretakers; A Distant Trumpet; etc.). Today, actors doing the same are millionaires 3 times over.
Grass is always greener on the other side, so when Diane refuses to play a small role in a Natalie Wood comedy she knew she would get the boot, but thought life as a freelancer would be better. She soon learned the harsh realities of going it alone in mid-sixties Hollywood. Always one of my favorite blondes of all-time (along with Carol Lynley and Yvette Mimieux), I found it mind boggling on why she did not do better. Though I love Diane in the Elvis musical Spinout and her AIP exploitation movies like The Mini-Skirt Mob, she should have still been getting studio A picture offers. Soon Diane would be joined by Sandra Dee and Connie Stevens who when their studios set them free in 1966 or so, they too could not land any more major motion pictures. The times they were a’changin’ and these gals were just not hip to the Free Love crowd.
Diane does not hold back in her book slamming actors she disliked (hear that Edd Byrnes); her sexual exploits (she had an itchin’ for unattainable men); her drug taking; and her brutal rape in the early 1980s. She also must be one of the unluckiest actresses in Hollywood in regards to roles that might have been and the number of times she was a victim of a crime. One of the book’s highlights is her documenting her two trips to Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 to entertain the troops.
Once the book passes 1970, my minor quibble is that though she mentions all the low-budget movies (Savage Season, Deathhead Virgin, etc.) and TV shows she appeared in they get short shrift. I really like hearing the back stories in depth. Instead, Diane concentrates on her life outside of acting as she needed to support herself and a child. While her contemporaries like Carol Lynley, Connie Stevens, Anjanette Comer, Sue Lyon and even Sandra Dee were landing leads in TV movies, Diane for some reason was barely getting supporting parts in episodic TV. For me Diane always had an air of glamour and sophistication. She was the Dina Merrill for the 1960s teenage set though most of her big screen charactes were usually icy and bitchy. Diane Baker had the same effect, but she came off like that even while trying to play the sweet ingenue. If she was able to get steady work through the 1970s, I have no idea why McBain was not as she had the ability to play sweet and not so sweet believably. In the book, Diane attributes her fading movie career to the New Hollywood of the independent filmmaker who shunned glamour for more real looking actors.
Diane McBain’s memoir was an eye opener for me and is truly recommended. And despite her struggles, it does have a well-deserved happy ending for the still gorgeous actress.
With last week’s marathon of Beach Party movies on TCM and the warmer weather finally prevailing, I thought I would share my Top 5 Beach Party musical moments (from what I can find on YouTube) to get us all in the mood for beach season.
#1 “Beach Blanket Bingo” from Beach Blanket Bingo
Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello at their best in my favorite Beach Party movie singing this title tune that excellently showcases what made the Beach Party movies so darn fun from the dancing shirtless surfers and their bikini-clad girls to the beautiful Malibu coastline to the background surfing. As a teen this movie made me want to move to California desperately. Today the catchy ditty always makes me jump to my feet and dance along. I also love when the unsung beach boys and girls get featured and here getting their do are sassy lassie Mary Hughes and the ice cream clad Mike Nader; and surfboard dancing Johnny Fain and Linda Opie plus Playboy Playmate of the Year 1964 Donna Michelle as Animal and Jody McCrea as Bonehead.
#2 “How About Us?” from How to Stuff a Wild Bikini
Sticking with my love of the unsung beach girls, this camp classic number has ad man Mickey Rooney sticking to his guns on hiring a reluctant Beverly Adams (in a hideous long red wig) despite the beach girls best efforts to change his mind. Granted it is not even close to a surf song, but I am a sucker for Marianne Gaba (taking over from Donna Michelle as Animal) leading the beach babes including Patti Chandler (orange bikini), Mary Hughes (lime bikini), Sue Hamilton (tiny blonde in yellow bikini), Salli Sachse (hair in bun in green bikini), Linda Opie (pink bikini), and Luree Holmes (white bikini with matching headband) to prove why “we’re the chicks who know all the tricks…” They sure do.
#3 “Swingin’ and A-Surfin’” from Beach Party
The King of the Surf Guitar Dick Dale with his Del-Tones really rock on this surf song classic while the kids groove to it below. Beach Party really tried to capture the surfer’s lifestyle as much as they could. That is why Dick Dale was hired to bring authentic surf music to the movie and if you notice carefully the surfers and their chicks are smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. These were no-nos for future Beach Party movies. That is Morey Amsterdam underneath the mask roaming the dance floor; Candy Johnson shimmying in the blue-tassled dress; a very young Mike Nader all in gray shaking his cute butt; and Yvette Vickers as the blonde yoga girl.
#4 “Among the Young” from Pajama Party
Pretty Donna Loren proves here why she was one of the 1960s most underated vocalists. She had such screen presence and a strong beautiful voice with a range that could easily go from singing love ballads (ala “It Only Hurts When I Cry” in Beach Blanket Bingo) to a catchy pop song like this. Here she is backed by the Nooney Rickett Four and they get the beach boys and their girls off their feet especially the stunning Susan Hart mesmorizing the boys with her sexy dance moves and shimmying blonde bouffanted Candy Johnson. My one minor complaint is that old-fashioned bathing suit Donna sports. Girl it was 1964, not 1924. Show some skin!
#5 “Don’t Stop Now” from Beach Party
Frankie Avalon really gets to cut loose on this hard rocking number backed by Dick Dale, on bongos, and His Del-Tones. Free from Annette (who sits their fuming) in this part of the movie, he gets to cozy up to a number of sexy dancing babes including Eva Six (a Zsa Zsa Gabor wannabe who opens the number) followed by 2 anonymous, even for me, blonde beach girls and then the perpetual motion machine Candy Johnson. A nice rocking treat from the usual pop ballads Frankie normally sings in the Beach Party movies. In the background you can spot Bob Cummings under the whiskers; and John Ashley and Valora Noland sitting in front.
Cult icon Mimsy Farmer was a pretty hazel-eyed blonde with the fragile features of a Mia Farrow or Yvette Mimieux and the independent streak of a Tuesday Weld. After playing the innocent virgin in a few movies and on TV, she essayed restless youth roles in a string of AIP drive-in exploitation movies in the late Sixties. Farmer then relocated to Europe, where with a whole new look, she became an international sensation in 1969 due to her mesmerizing performance as a heroin addict in More. Thereafter she remained in Italy in a series of popular European giallos and horror films between some acclaimed dramas that never found their way to the U.S.
Mimsy Farmer was born Merle Farmer in Chicago. Her parents, Arch and Suzette Farmer, were reporters for the Chicago Herald Tribune. Though named after her father’s favorite brother, she always went by the nickname Mimsy, which came from her mother who Mimsy suspects took it from the poem “The Jabberwocky” used in Alice in Wonderland. When their daughter was about four years old, the Farmers moved to Hollywood when Mimsy’s father took a job writing news for NBC-TV’s Los Angeles affiliate. While attending Hollywood High, the lovely teenager was discovered by an agent and almost immediately landed roles on TV’s My Three Sons and The Donna Reed Show.
Mimsy came close to replacing Sandra Dee as Gidget in Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), but the producers opted for Deborah Walley. As consolation, they gave her a bit uncredited role. Her official film debut was in the heartwarming or mawkish (depending on your taste—there is no in-between) family drama Spencer’s Mountain (1963). It was based on the novel by Earl Hamner, Jr., who later created the popular seventies television drama, The Waltons, and set in scenic Wyoming with the majestic mountain peaks of the Grand Teton Range as background. In the movie, Mimsy played Claris the girl friend of Clayboy (James MacArthur), the eldest son of hard drinkin’ and hard livin’ Clay Spencer (Henry Fonda) and his long-suffering formidable wife Olivia (Maureen O’Hara). Clay dreams of building a house for his wife big enough for their huge brood but when Clayboy has an opportunity to become the first Spencer to go to college, Clay has an important decision to make.
For the time, Farmer’s teenage Claris is surprisingly very amorous and sexually-charged (the character grew up outside the small mountain community so she thinks she is more worldly in regards to love and marriage) compared to the typical Tammy’s and Gidget’s that bounced across the silver screen at the time.
Extolling her indifference to movie premieres and determined to become an actress and not a teen idol ala Sandra Dee or Annette Funicello, Farmer commented to the Chicago Tribune, “I don’t want to appeal to the teen-aged mentality. The ones that do are only stars, not actors—and they’re good for only a few years. Teen stars can’t handle the fame.” This most likely disturbed Warner Bros. that wanted to groom her to be the next big thing and began by choosing her to be a 1963 Hollywood Deb Star.
Unhappy with her performance in Spencer’s Mountain, Mimsy began studying with esteemed acting coach Jeff Corey. Despite keeping busy on television including guest appearances on The Outer Limits and Perry Mason, Farmer kept her job selling candy at a local movie theater. She finally left it when she returned to the big screen in the soapy Bus Riley’s Back in Town (1965) directed by Harvey Hart from a screenplay by William Inge who had his name removed from the credits when Universal ordered a script re-write to make the film more of a vehicle for Ann-Margret. Aping James Dean, the brooding Michael Parks played a disillusioned sailor returning home after three years at sea. He finds his sultry ex-girlfriend (Ann-Margret) unhappily married to a wealthy older man, his job prospects bleak, and his younger sister (Farmer) has become the town tart. The film was not well-received though Farmer does well with her role.
For drive-in movie fans, 1967 was a banner year for Mimsy Farmer who had three films in release. Despite her ambition not to become an idol for the young, she became very popular with teenage audiences for a short period of time and began her ascension to cult movie actress. First up was the explosive youth exploitation classic Hot Rods to Hell from quickie producer Sam Katzman for MGM and directed by John Brahm whom Mimsy liked a lot. She credited him for teaching her the trick to crying on screen with a little help from glycerin drops in the eye. Originally made for television as 52 Miles to Terror, it was deemed to violent and released to drive-ins throughout the country instead with a more exploitative title. This was Farmer’s first real bad girl role after playing mostly ingénues. The worried actress remarked that she was cast by her looks alone and hoped she wasn’t going to now be typecast.
Hot Rods to Hell is great camp fun. After almost dying in a car crash, traumatized Dana Andrews as Tom moves his wife (Jeanne Crain) and children, teenaged Tina (Laurie Mock) and Jamie (Tim Stafford), from New England to the California desert to take over a motel and roadhouse. Unbeknownst to them, the place is a hangout for underage troublemaking hot rodders and hoodlums (albeit the most clean-cut looking set of thugs to ever hit the silver screen). Mimsy Farmer played a wild reckless thrill seeker named Gloria first seen standing in the back of what looks like a souped-up dune buggy holding on to the roll bar yelling, “Run him off the road Duke! Run him off the road!” as she eggs on her drag racing boyfriend (Paul Bertoya). Their wild antics elicits from Andrews’ Tom, “What kind of animals are those?” They’re the kind that is out for kicks—racing, having sex, drinking beer, and harassing the townsfolk. Farmer is effective first educing sympathy as the easy lay who wants to find a better life, but then lets her inner bitch get the better of her tormenting good girl Tina whom she sees as her rival for self-centered Duke, no prize he. Since this was an MGM production, the film ends with the family triumphing and the teenagers repenting for their misguided ways.
Actor Christopher Riordan was one of the teenage hoodlums in Hot Rods to Hell and he was not impressed by Mimsy or her two male co-stars. He remarked, “Poor Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain were sort of rolling in their early graves. A couple of the actors were taking themselves so dreadfully serious it was really stupid and they wasted a lot of time in their so called preparation and their attitude. Whereas I am from the old school and thought, ‘Why don’t you just act?’ They were professional but everybody was wishing that they would calm down and do the part as written hoping it would work out. Unfortunately it didn’t if you saw the movie.”
Mimsy Farmer and Laurie Mock were teamed again by producer Sam Katzman in her most notorious movie from this period, Riot on Sunset Strip. However, the roles were switched as Mock was cast as the out-for-kicks Liz-Ann friend of Farmer’s more conservative Andy who was described in the press book as “a real swinger, who took her first ‘trip’…all the way to Hell and back!” All the ingredients were present—hippies, LSD, protestors, free love, mod fashions, police brutality— to make Riot on Sunset Strip a camp classic of the alienated youth movie genre.
The movie opens with young people milling about on the Sunset Strip with deadly serious voiceover narration that describes the kids as, “Irresponsible, wild, beat, protest youths with nowhere to go, nothing to do, no goal in life.” Hanging out at a club called Pandora’s Box, underage high school kids Andy, Liz-Ann, and their boyfriends get involved in a brawl and are hauled off to jail for breaking curfew. Andy’s estranged police detective father (Aldo Ray), who hasn’t seen his daughter in four years, has been informed of her arrest. When Liz-Ann and the gang decide to return to the strip the following night, Andy declines but when she finds her mother in another alcoholic daze she changes her mind. There she hooks up again with the wild Liz-Ann and Schuyler Hayden as Herby, the bored son of a movie star. He gets a bunch of kids to break into an abandoned house on the Strip where drinking leads to marijuana then to LSD, which Herby spikes the unaware Andy’s coke with saying, “Grass is fast, but acid is like lightning, man.” Strung out, Andy begins to freak out and is then led upstairs to a bedroom by Herby where the poor thing gets gang raped. When the police raid the house, all the kids get out except Andy and Liz-Ann who fingers the guys who assaulted her friend. Andy’s father beats Herby to a pulp with cries of “police brutality” in his ears, but he is able to stave off the impending riot.
The movie’s standout scene is Farmer’s wild LSD freak out dance where she writhes around the floor in her mod mini-dress gazing in wonder at her hands and feet. She then begins dancing around shaking her wild mane of hair ala Ann-Margret (critic Clifford Terry described it as “a dry-land water ballet”). Whatever you label it, it has become a YouTube favorite much to Farmer’s bemusement.
The biker film Devil’s Angels (1967), AIP’s in-name only sequel to its mega hit The Wild Angels, was directed by Daniel Haller and featured Mimsy Farmer this time as the tormentee playing a bored small town girl who gets in over her head. The ad copy exclaimed, “Violence is their God…Lust the law they live by. They hunt in a pack…Like Rabid Dogs.” John Cassavetes starred as Cody the leader of an outlaw biker gang called The Skulls, whose members included Beverly Adams, Russ Bender, Marc Cavell, Salli Sachse (a former Beach Party regular), Nai Bonet, Buck Kartalian, and Kipp Whitman. The gang is on their way to find an idyllic life in the “Hole-in-the-Wall” when they stop in the town of Brookville to attend a local carnival. Farmer’s Marianne is the only girl in the Kissing Booth who will smooch any of the bikers. Roy (Whitman) is the lucky winner. Flirty Marianne then gets him to take her on a joyride and he heads straight to his gang who are partying along the shore of a lake. After smoking pot and many beers (this is definitely not your typical Frankie and Annette beach party), things get out of hand as Roy fiercely kisses Marianne and begins to pass her around to his friends. The terrified disheveled girl flees into the night and the sheriff and mayor think she has been raped, which she denies. Her debauchery leads to an all out war between the townspeople and the bikers. The Skulls emerge victorious and take over the town putting Marianne, the sheriff and Mayor on trial leading to more violence.
Unhappy with her husband and her career in Hollywood, Mimsy headed for Vancouver on advice from actor Peter Brown who told her about HollywoodHospital where they experimented with LSD and psychotherapy. After her own session, she began working there but quit when she realized the hospital never followed up with their patients after their “treatment.” Still in Vancouver, she received a life changing phone call from director Daniel Haller (one of her favorite directors) who wanted her for the female lead in his new movie The Wild Racers (1968), which was going to be shot on location throughout Europe. Mimsy played Katherine the girlfriend of race car driver Joe Joe Quillico (Fabian) who progresses from U.S. stockcar racing to traveling the European Grand Prix circuit. The more successful he becomes, the more his relationship with Katherine crumbles. This was the only film the actress did for AIP that was not a hit with the drive-in crowd. In an interview with the Oakland Tribune, Haller opined that it was a picture “too esoteric in its treatment to make as much money as it should have.”
Deciding to remain in Europe, Farmer sought out work there and landed the female lead in More (1969), first time director Barbet Schroeder’s cautionary tale of drug taking with an original song score by Pink Floyd. The actress was introduced to Schroeder by The Wild Racers’ cinematographer Nestor Almendros and associate producer Pierre Cottrell. Though not completely happy with the script or things her character had to do in it, Farmer accepted the role in part because she would get to work with her two friends again. The movie was filmed on a shoestring budget, but you would never guess that when watching the movie.
With a stylish short haircut, Farmer gives an entrancing performance as Estelle an offbeat American expatriate living in Paris who meets German college graduate Stefan (Klaus Grunberg who spoke no English and had to learn his line phonetically) who has been warned to stay away from her (“She has already destroyed two men—do you want to be the third?”). Ignoring the advice, Stefan spends a few days with the girl smoking pot and making love. He then follows her to the sunny island of Ibiza where they live an idyllic life nude sunbathing and taking LSD. However, things begin to go awry when they graduate to shooting up heroin and become entangled with the island’s leading drug dealer an ex-Nazi whose mistress turns out to be Estelle. Stefan’s love for the secretive American becomes obsessive and abusive the more his addiction for heroin increases, which leads to tragedy. Grunberg’s character is sometimes unlikable while Farmer makes her Estelle sympathetic despite her cavalier treatment of Stefan.
In 1969 to help promote the release of More, an honest, outspoken Farmer opined in the New York Times, “I think the hip people will put the film down…the idea that smoking marijuana leads to heroin is ridiculous. A lot of people will just be bored by the whole thing.” She also went on to say that she wasn’t thrilled with director Barbet Schroeder regarding the scene where Grunberg runs his hand up her dress and remarked that he “misrepresented the way he was going to shoot it.”
More was an international sensation and really clicked with young people of the time. It helped to kick off Mimsy Farmer’s European career, which lasted for over 20 years. Her films included Dario Argento’s suspenseful psychological thriller Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) and Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat (1981). Her last acting credit is the Italian TV-movie Safari (1991) for director Roger Vadim. Today, Mimsy concentrates on her art (displayed on her web site www.mimsyfarmer.com) and sculpture work, which can be seen in such movies as Blueberry (2004), Troy (2004), Marie Antoinette (2006), The Golden Compass (2007), and Clash of the Titans (2010).
Your first big movie role was in Spencer’s Mountain. What was it like to work on this?
When we made Spencer’s Mountain I was fifteen and a half. I was accompanied by my mother and a teacher, and spent most of my time with them (or riding horseback) when I wasn’t working. I didn’t have many scenes with Henry Fonda who seemed pretty miserable and spent most of his time at the local café, or Maureen O’Hara who was also fairly distant. James MacArthur, who was quite a bit older than me, was nice but the person I felt most comfortable with was Wally Cox who seemed to take me more seriously and taught me some lovely Elizabethan songs, which I still remember. Delmer Daves [the director] was more concerned about my weight than about my acting, unfortunately, and kept telling me, ‘watch your bottom honey.’
What do you recall most about your second film Bus Riley’s Back in Town with Michael Parks and Ann-Margret?
I just remember being impressed by being on the same set with Jocelyn Brando [who played her mother], as much as if she’d been Marlon [her brother].
Hot Rods to Hell was your first real big screen bad girl role. What attracted you to the part?
I needed to work and couldn’t wait for a better offer. I also thought, ‘If Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crane had accepted who the hell was I to be finicky?’
Your next three movies were for American International Pictures. Did you sign a contract with them?
No, I had no contract with AIP but I was supporting my ‘cowboy’ husband [he was from Brooklyn and failing to get work as a stuntman in Hollywood] and a bunch of animals. The better directors were not lining up in front of my door pleading for me to be in their movies. They didn’t even know I existed.
You have a great LSD freak-out scene in Riot on Sunset Strip. Do you remember anything special about it or the movie itself?
That ‘great LSD freak-out scene,’ which I took very seriously at the time, has since become for me a source of amusement tinged with embarrassment. Somewhere on the internet someone said, ‘that scene is so bad, that it’s hilarious.’ I agree. I was pretty naive back then and so earnest!
In Devil’s Angels you played a local girl who makes trouble for the Hell’s Angels led by John Cassavetes. How was it to work with him?
I really liked Daniel Haller [the director], a very nice man, and admired John Cassevetes, also a very nice guy. All Casseavetes and I talked about was how much he missed his wife. Actually, I mostly listened. Anyway, doing a movie with him, even though he wasn’t directing it, was a step in the right direction.
Your last AIP movie was Wild Racers with Fabian and your second film directed by Daniel Haller.
I’d left my ‘cowboy’ husband and was working in a hospital in Canada where they were using LSD as a tool for psycho-therapy. The experience was enlightening but disappointing. When Daniel Haller called me, I jumped at the chance to go to Europe and also to see my brother Philip, who was living in London at the time. It was the best move I’d made up to then and I loved traveling in France, Spain, and Holland.
After accepting the role in More did the nudity ever become a concern? A number of your ‘60s contemporaries would not take roles where they has to be naked.
No, not all. Nudity was an integral part of the movies in which I appeared naked. Being flat-chested and boyish helped a lot and, I hope, there was nothing vulgar or lewd about these scenes.
Do you consider More of your best or important movies? Back then you remarked that you thought the idea of marijuana leading to heroin addiction was not believable.
I don’t think it is my best movie, though the role was interesting and Nestor Almendros’ photography was gorgeous. It was, though, very important for my career, both in the positive and in the negative sense. Its success in France was huge and overnight I became a ‘star’ but, as is often the case, I became ‘type cast’ and most of the roles directors offered me subsequently were those of neurotic or outright mad young women. Well, I can’t complain.
It’s true that I said, and still believe, that smoking grass does not in itself lead to shooting heroin. I know many people who light up a joint from time to time who have never touched anything harder and never will, myself included (though now I prefer a good glass of wine).
How would you rate Barbet Schroeder as a director? In an interview you gave to the New York Times you were unhappy with some of his directorial choices.
Well, I think now, that I was silly to berate Barbet and his movie at the time but I still think that it’s naive and moralistic and some of the scenes were an embarrassment to do, all the ‘Zen’ and ‘Lotus’ shots and the ‘unexplored brain’ nonsense. What I didn’t say though was that his movie was pretty daring and unconventional for those years, in Europe anyway, and that he was a better than average director.
Did you find a big difference between working in Europe versus Hollywood?
In Europe, actors were not shuffled off to their trailers between shots and were invited to participate and collaborate with the director and other crew members. It was so different. Nobody was anxious about my ‘bottom’ (admittedly much diminished) and nobody was redesigning my eyebrows and curling my hair. I just had the feeling that nobody wanted me to act or look like anyone but myself—such a relief!
Were you surprised that More was such a hit especially in France?
Yes, More got its chance because it had been so successful at the Cannes film festival but was blasted by the critics in the U.S. Of me, Newsweek said, “She acts the range of emotions from A to B.” Bette Davis once said, ‘Old age ain’t for sissies.’ I say, neither is being an actor!
You seem to have a healthy attitude about bad reviews.
For me, the movies I’ve done aren’t only about how they turned out but also, who was involved in them. Also, on the whole, when you’ve decided to live and work in a foreign country, you are the foreigner, and if you’re an actor there are limits to which and how many roles you’re going to be offered and if you’re working to make a living you can’t be too choosey and you’re mostly grateful when you can work.
Look for my new book Pamela Tiffin: The Actress, the Icon, the Films in late 2014.
Just signed and returned contract with McFarland and Company for my new book Pamela Tiffin: The Actress, the Icon, the Films continueing with my series of books on Sixties Starlets.
Pamela Tiffin began her film career in 1961 as a scene-stealing comedienne in the classic Billy Wilder comedy One, Two, Three before she became the teen queen of teenage camp with State Fair, Come Fly with Me, For Those Who Think Young, and The Pleasure Seekers where TCM dubbed her “Hollywood’s favorite air-headed ingénue in the Sixties.” After landing a sexy adult role in Harper, she ran away to Italy to star in sex comedies including Kiss the Other Sheik and The Blonde in the Blue Movie; a giallo The Fifth Cord, and the western Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears. Her leading men ranged from James Darren and Bobby Darin, to James Cagney, Burt Lancaster, and Paul Newman, to Marcello Mastroianni, Franco Nero, and Vittorio Gassman. Tiffin’s beauty and comedic talent so evident in her Hollywood movies, coupled with her running off to Italy at the height of her fame, have made her a cult pop icon with fans of Sixties cinema to this day.
Not a biography, this bookis a filmography though the first section “Pamela Tiffin: From Hollywood to Rome” traces Pamela Tiffin’s acting career in a chronological order including her time on the stage. The second section focuses on her movies and her U.S. TV shows. Each is divided into three sections—Backstory; Synopsis; and Reviews and Box Office. The last section is a list of appearances she made on film, radio, or television as herself. Excerpts from a variety of sources are incorporated including new interviews with film historians (Roberto Curti, Howard Hughes, Dean Brierly), and actors and crew members (including Hugh O’Brian, Larry Hankin, asst. director Tim Zinnemann) who worked with the actress. There are many publicity photos, on-set stills, and film posters.
Click here to access Classic Film and TV Cafe’s week’s worth of blogs highlighting the 1960s beach movies. The most recent post is a very kind review of my book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969.
Below is one of my intros during Spring Break Week in 2012 on Turner Classic Movies.
My friend former actress Gail Gerber passed away on March 1, 2014 and I write this with a heavy heart, but wanted to share some of my fondest memories of her. Gail used to get the biggest kick when I would introduce her endearingly to friends and family as “my starlet.” She would tell me, “Oh, Tom, I was a starlet for less than two years after being a dancer for over ten years and a ballet teacher for 25 years.” True, but to me she would always be the shapely blonde twitching on the sands of Malibu or with Elvis in a handful of mid-Sixties teenage movies that I would watch as a kid on the 4:30 Movie.
I met Gail in 2002 at a Greenwich Village coffee shop when I interviewed her for my book Drive-in Dream Girls, a title she knew Terry Southern would have just loved. We stayed in touch and then she relocated to Chicago. I saw her on her infrequent trips back here, but it wasn’t until she moved back to the city permanently in 2006 that we started seeing more of each other. Gail had such a vitality and grand sense of humor. I so enjoyed being around her. But I couldn’t believe I was hanging out with an almost 70 year old. Egad, she was a year older than my mother! But Gail was not like any woman I ever met at that age. Free-spirited, she smoked pot; loved New York City; bashed all Republicans; told stories of her life in Hollywood (my favorite is how she “accidentally” dropped a dog in a mailbox to get some publicity and got her face splashed across newspapers throughout the country) and her life with Terry Southern getting high with the Rolling Stones or hanging with the likes of Rip Torn, David Amram, William Burroughs, Larry Rivers, Lenny Bruce, George Segal, Geraldine Page, Roger Vadim, and, I quote, “those fuckers” Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda.
Gail had been putting her memories down on paper and I helped her write her memoir Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember. Ernie was now living nearby Gail in Upstate Manhattan. Almost every Saturday for over a year, Gail would come by and we would work on her book. I would send her off with a homework assignment for the next time. Trooper that she was, Gail would take a yellow legal pad, just like Terry would do, and hightail it every Wednesday to the New Leaf, a quaint restaurant situated in the middle of FortTryonPark. With a glass of wine accompanying her meal, she would crank out anything she could remember about a point in her life. When the book was finally published, Gail told me laughing, “My brain is empty of all my memories.. I’m going to have to read my own book to remember.”
Gail just loved the New Leaf. We would go with her or meet her there on Friday nights for the live jazz. Petite Gail did not like to eat dinner at the bar not so much because of her size but as she’d say, “Nice girls from her time did not sit alone at a bar,” so she would get a table for herself always in the section of her favorite server Holly, a fellow dancer. It was always so reassuring to turn and see Gail at the table grooving to the different jazz groups. Eventually, she would join us at the bar for dessert. In Gail’s case it was a glass of Limoncello. Ernie would yell at our friend David the bartender to cut Gail or me off if we had too much to drink. He yelled often. All three of us would then stumble down the hill and walk Gail home. She so enjoyed her Friday nights there and would say to us “What fun!” as we said our goodbyes.
Sometimes at my house I would surprise Gail with one of her movies or a TV show she never saw. She would moan, “Oh, Tom!” Ernie would scold me for torturing poor Gail. But she never saw her screen work and I wanted to prove that she was a much better actress than she ever gave herself credit for. She had such a vivacious personality and comedic timing. Hell, she made 6 movies in 2 years! She stole The Girls on the Beach from the other bikini-clad gals and she was the only one brought back by producers Roger & Gene Corman for their second beach movie, Beach Ball. Once I made her watch her lead guest spot on a Peyton Place wannabe soap The Long Hot Summer with Roy Thinnes. She was amazed how good she was. She was not as shocked on how good she looked, especially when she climbed through a window in one scene, because she remembered the lighting guy and cameraman took a shine to her. “That what happens if you are friendly to the crew,” she said.
I think deep down Gail liked that she was a Hollywood actress and I am proud that I helped her appreciate that part of her life even to the point of answering her fan mail. One Friday night at the New Leaf, a young guy from Australia sat down next to me at the bar and began chatting. He had just moved to Upstate Manhattan and it was his first time at there. He only had been to another bar/restaurant nearby called Next Door. “The one with the TVs,” he said. I told him I have been there a number of times and they always have on Turner Classic Movies. He said he sat there watching Elvis dancing with some Arab gypsy girls. I laughed and said, “that is Harum Scarum—meet Sapphire” and motioned to Gail. She smiled, nonchanlantly picked up her drink and raised her glass to him. He couldn’t believe it and almost fell off his bar stool. It was such a crazy only-in-New-York moment.
Gail really became family to Ernie and me. If we were having dinner home on a Saturday, Gail was always invited. It didn’t matter how much food we had because, as we would joke, “she eats like a bird and drinks like a fish.” Gail was infamous for always being early. The door would buzz at say 2:15 and Ernie would yell at me. I’d say, “I swear I told her to come at 3!.” She and I sould sit at our kitchen bar sipping Prosecco while watching Ernie cook. They would share recipes or talk about Mark Bittman the food guy’s latest column in the New York Times. Gail and I would chat about her friends—what play she saw with her best gal pal Katie Meister this week; or what director Amy Wright was up to: or what city actress Angelica Page was in on tour; or how longtime friends Priscilla and David Bowen were coming along with their Berkshires house renovations; or how she chatted recently with John Kim, Terry’s former student. She loved meeting new people and recently made a special friend in Lucas Natali who she told me about for months until we finally met. It is these simple moments that I will miss and treasure most.
Here’s to you Gail Gerber! It was one helleva trip!
Actress/dancer Gail Gerber passed away on Saturday, March 1, 2014 due to complications from lung cancer. A petite, blonde beauty with a shapely figure, she is best remembered by movie fans as a starlet with a vivacious personality that brightened up several beach cult films as well as two Elvis features during the mid-Sixties.
Gerber was born on October 4, 1937 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and began studying ballet at age seven. Her talent was evident even as a young girl and at fifteen she became the youngest member of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. She grew up touring with the ballet troupe and eventually married a jazz musician. But in the late 1950s, she abandoned the unsuccessful marriage and moved to Toronto to work as an actress. She appeared on stage and in many live CBC television dramas. Gerber also had a flair for comedy, and was one of the last to perform in TV sketches with the legendary vaudeville duo Smith and Dale (who inspired the film The Sunshine Boys) on both The Wayne and Schuster Show and The Ed Sullivan Show.
Moving to Hollywood in 1963, the talented blonde quickly snagged the lead role in the play Under the Yum Yum Tree and made guest appearances on such popular TV series as My Three Sons, Perry Mason, and Wagon Train. In 1965, she made her film debut in The Girls on the Beach, co-starring The Beach Boys, before her agent suggested she change her name and, as Gail Gilmore, she went on to have principle roles opposite Elvis Presley in Girl Happy (1965) and Harum Scarum (1965). She then returned to the sands of Malibu to co-star with Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in Beach Ball (1965) before growing to gigantic proportions along with five other delinquent teenagers (including Beau Bridges and Tisha Sterling), who terrorize a town in Village of the Giants (1965).
Gerber had a minor role as a cosmetician in The Loved One (1965), directed by Academy Award winner Tony Richardson. It was on the set of that movie where she met its screenwriter Terry Southern, who was riding high due to the success of his satirical novels Candy and The Magic Christian, as well as the smash movie Dr. Strangelove, which he co-wrote. The two hit it off immediately and, despite their marriages to others, became inseparable. Gerber even abandoned her acting career in 1966 to live with Southern in New York, then in Connecticut, where she taught ballet for over twenty-five years and tended to their 200-year-old farmhouse, the chickens and pigs. Gerber remained Southern’s steadfast companion and muse until his death thirty years later in 1995.
After Southern’s death, Gerber spent most of her time living in New York City. During the last twenty years of her life, she was the secretary of the Terry Southern Trust. She also returned to acting – playing a dotty old woman in Lucky Days (2008) an independent film written/directed by and starring her friend Angelica Page. Next she played a Wake Guest in avant-garde filmmaker Matthew Barney’s just completed film River of Fundament(2014).
She also wrote her colorful memoir (with Tom Lisanti) Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember (published in 2010 by McFarland and Company, Inc.) The book details what life was like with “the hippest guy on the planet” as Gerber and Southern traveled from LA to New York to Europe and back again. Gerber reveals what went on behind the scenes of her movies as well as Southern’s, including The Cincinnati Kid, End of the Road, and, most infamously, Easy Rider. The book recounts the “highs” with Terry—hanging out with The Rolling Stones, Peter Sellers, Lenny Bruce, Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda, William Burroughs, Rip Torn and Geraldine Page, David Amram, George Segal, and Ringo Starr—as well as the “lows” in the 1970s & 1980s, when they were barely scraping by on their Berkshires farm. The book received an Independent Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Best Autobiography/Memoir of 2011.
Gail Gerber is survived by her stepfather Karl Dudda and will be remembered by her many fans and loving friends.