If you are like me and can’t wait for this summer’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood from director Quentin Tarantino and starring Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, then get a jump and read what is was like being a working actress in 1960s Hollywood directly from the mouths of such lovely actresses who lived through it such as Pamela Tiffin, Diane McBain, Salli Sachse, Lana Wood, Celeste Yarnall, Francine York, Deanna Lund, Irene Tsu, Marlyn Mason, Donna Loren, Hilarie Thompson, Sue Ane Langdon, Carole Wells, Beverly Washburn, Anne Randall, Victoria Carroll, Corinne Cole, Bobbie Shaw, Valerie Starrett, Diane Bond, Darlene Tompkins, Quinn O’Hara, Nancy Czar, Lada Edmund, Jr., Maggie Thrett, plus many more in my various books from McFarland and Company and BearManor Media.
one of my favorite 1960’s movies Model Shop opened. Director Jacques Demy’s sumptuously filmed paean to Los Angeles starring tight jean clad Gary Lockwood as a drafted architect spending his last day of freedom before army duty & the women he encounters. Anouk Aimee (of A Man and a Woman fame) as a mysterious French model he becomes infatuated with. Baby doll blonde Alexandra Hay as his grasping starlet girlfriend. Hilarie Thompson as a hitchhiking hippie. And Anne Randall as the model shop’s receptionist. LA never looked more inviting and Anne talks making the movie in my McFarland book Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood.
I am a bit late on this , but with all the Elvis movie marathons I thought I would share my top 5 1960s Elvis movies. My ranking as changed over the last few years and I know I will get grief over this but as of today my favorites stand as:
- Paradise, Hawaiian Style (high flying Elvis, gorgeous Hawaiian scenery, catchy songs, Marianna Hill, Irene Tsu, Suzanna Leigh, and a bevy of even more beauties, what more can you ask for?)
- Roustabout (Elvis as a tight black jean clad biker meets carny owner Barbara Stanwyck in a rousing carnival setting backed by Joan Freeman and Sue Ane Langdon, ‘nough said.)
- Girl Happy (The title says it all with Elvis and his combo on Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale where the girls are: Shelley Fabares, Mary Ann Mobley, Chris Noel, Lyn Edgington, Gail Gerber, Nancy Czar, Pamela Curran.)
- Kid Galahad (Elvis goes dramatic to excellent affect as a returning G.I. who becomes a sparring partner at a boxing camp run by Gig Young. Guess who wins the big fight and gets the girl, Joan Blackman, by fadeout?)
- Kissin’ Cousins (An amusing hillbilly hoedown with not one but two Elvi as a brunette service man and his brainadled blonde cousin whose family owns mountain land that those varmit government types want to buy. With Yvonne Craig and Pamela Austin as barefootin’ Daisy Maes dark-haired Elvis cannot seem to be able to choose. Best scene is watching Elvis wrestle himself.)
Honorable Mention: Blue Hawaii; Clambake; Easy Come, Easy Go
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.
Wild Guitar opened in 1962 starring Arch Hall, Jr. and Nancy Czar, Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies cover gal. It was directed by Ray Dennis Steckler a.k.a. Cash Flagg and produced and written Arch Hall, Sr. A dancer trying to make it big in Hollywood, Vicki (Czar) meets at the Coffee Cup Cafe (shamelessly decorated with posters from Arch Hall, Sr.’s previous movies) the newly arrived Bud Eagle (Hall, Jr.) described as “a guitar-playing, motorcycle-riding hipster” who comes to the big city from South Dakota to become a rock ‘n’ roll star. Feeling sorry for him as he spends his last fifteen cents on coffee and a donut, she offers her sandwich, which he gulps down heartily. When she finds out he is a musician, she invites him to accompany her to The Hal Kenton Show, a national talent program. Steckler (whom Nancy described as being “a real trip”) directed these scenes rather oddly with medium shots of Czar sitting at the counter looking up and speaking her lines it seemed to the Klieg lights.
On the TV program, Vicki twists with abandon in a solo while Bud watches from the wings. As luck would have it, an ailing singer bows out and Bud takes his place stealing the show. He is signed by promoter Mike McCauley (William Watters aka Arch Hall, Sr.). He allows Bud to live in a penthouse apartment, with private swimming pool, but asserts complete authority over the boy including prohibiting him to meet back up with Vicki at the café. Instead, McCauley sends his weird beady-eyed associate Steak (Steckler) to retrieve Bud’s belongings. Steak lies to Bud that Vicki was a no-show and that Marge the waitress (Marie Denn) hit him up for $10 to get his suitcase back. In reality, Vicki was there and deeply disappointed that Bud stood her up and never mentioned her according to Steak. She shows up back at the café a few weeks later still crestfallen. Marge plays Bud’s first single on the jukebox for her and she then heads to a record store to buy a copy.
Bud is feeling gloomy too when he learns McCauley has paid off high school students to start up his fan clubs across LA. “Does everything have to be so phony,” he asks. When Bud says he has had it and is returning home, McCauley pretends to agree and then mentions the $50,000 he invested in Bud to make him a star. The boy falls for his lie and agrees to stick around for six months to earn the money back. Bud becomes the newest teen sensation and on a national TV show croons “Vicki” a love song to the girl that got away. Vicki sits at home watching and is touched by the feeling he puts into the tune. She hightails it over to the studio and the couple reunites. Instead of heading to the nearest motel, they go ice skating—in Los Angeles! Obviously this was to show off Czar’s expert skating skills, which she does quite nicely.
The next day, Bud receives a late night drunken visit from former singer and McCauley client Don Proctor (Robert Crumb) who schools Bud to the ways of his manager’s shady dealings including how he cheats his protégés out of royalties. Proctor ends up unconscious at the bottom of a stairwell at the hands of Steak, while Vicki catches Bud in the arms of a sexpot hired to seduce him. While running after his love, Bud is jumped by three low-lives that hang around the Coffee Cup Café and is kidnapped. The bunglers have no idea what to do so Bud helps them out writing his own ransom note demanding $15,000. After retrieving the money, the trio is followed by Steak. A melee starts and Bud slips away. Hiding out, he takes a job as a dishwasher at Marge’s diner where he reunites again with Vicki.
A clean-cut young man shows up at McCauley’s office and for $20 reveals Bud’s whereabouts. He turns out to be Bud’s brother Ted and he secretly tapes McCauley while he threatens Bud and Vicki with violence if the singer tries to get a new manager or doesn’t show up at the scheduled gigs. Bud gets to beat the crap out of Steak, but decides to stay with McCauley, due to his “smarts,” with a renegotiated contract. McCauley’s first idea is to put Bud and Vicki into a movie about the Twist. Wild Guitar ends on the beach with Bud singing “Twist Fever” with Vicki, inexplicably clad in a man’s shirt over her swimsuit, shimmying besides him.
Hall, Sr. and Jr. made a few popular thought less-then-stellar movies (The Choppers, Eegah, and The Nasty Rabbit) and Wild Guitar is arguably the most admired due to the straightforward storytelling (somewhat aping true life as it was reported that Hall, Jr. never wanted to act and was pushed into it by his father) and the energetic twisting by Nancy Czar who also has a nice believable rapport with Hall. They make quite a cute couple.
Pretty blonde Nancy Czar (born Nancy Jean Czarnecki in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) went from champion figure skater to Elvis’ girlfriend to actress all by the time she was twenty. However, unlike many of Presley’s former lovers and co-stars who give interviews and attend Elvis conventions, Nancy Czar (who had small parts in his musicals Girl Happy and Spinout), has been tight lipped about her relationship with the King until now. Besides working with Elvis, Czar had leading roles in Wild Guitar starring Arch Hall, Jr. and the beach-party-in-the-snow Winter a-Go-Go.
Commenting in Wild Guitar, Nancy Czar said,
Arch Hall, Jr. was very nice and recently got in touch with me after all these years. Arch Hall, Sr. was just as sweet and shot this movie with practically no money. Since I was an ice skater they purposely wrote in an ice skating scene.
You wouldn’t believe what a huge following this film. It is funnier than hell to me. I think most of it is because the second unit photographer was Vilmos Zsigmond who is one of today’s top cinematographers in the entire business. Film schools study his film technique and this is one of his earliest jobs. I never looked at the movie other than looking at the movie until I started to really look at it. For its small budget it does not look like other B-films at the time. I never knew why until I realized it was due to Vilmos’ exemplary work on it.
With Winter a-Go-Go opening this week 53 years ago in 1965, I want to pay tribute to actor/screenwriter Bob Kanter who inadvertently or not created the arguably first gay character in the 1960s teenage beach movie genre and cast himself in the part. A personal favorite though most critics consider it one of the lesser beach party movies. Unlike Ski Party and Wild Wild Winter, which incorporated beach scenes into their plots, Winter a-Go-Go heads straight for the slopes and remains there the entire time though there is an obligatory bikini scene. Jeff (William Wellman, Jr.) inherits a ski resort and with a pack of friends (including love interest Beverly Adams, Duke Hobbie, Julie Parrish, Nancy Czar, and Linda Rogers) heads off to turn the lodge into a success but trouble ensues when the mortgage holder hires two goons to wreck havoc so he can foreclose. Of all the beach-party films this was this is the closest to being camp with its scantily-clad dancing Winter a-Go-Go girls, to James Stacy as lothario Danny singing “Hip Square Dance” in his pajamas, to musical performances by the Nooney Rickett Four and Joni Lyman, to the bitchy barbs thrown out by Kanter’s Roger.
It is Roger who makes the movie especially interesting and an undiscovered camp classic as he descends on the ski resort accompanied by his best gal pal the snobbish selfish socialite Janine (Jill Donohue) and her cute timid friend Dori (Judy Parker). Though both babes are hot there is absolutely no evidence of any current or past romance with either gal. During the course of the film Janine sets her sights on Danny and Jeff, without a trace of jealousy from Roger, but winds up reuniting with tough guy Burt (Anthony Hayes). Dori makes goo-goo eyes at Frankie (Tom Nardini) throughout the film. Poor Roger has no romantic contact with anyone. The closest he gets is when running to Jeff and Danny for protection from the bullying Burt. Otherwise, he just sits there drinking his cokes making amusingly catty comments about the proceedings. He is like Paul Lynde in The Hollywood Squares sitting center stage cracking jokes at the others expense. He shows no sexual attraction to either Janine or Dori and barely looks at the other scantily clad snow bunnies who double as cocktail waitresses and dancers. These gals barely give him a glance and Roger could care less. You just know if he is going to hit the sheets oops slopes with anyone, he would choose Danny or Jeff to winter a-go-go.
Regarding his thoughts if Bob Kanter’s character was a homosexual, William Wellman, Jr. opined in my Hollywood Surf and Beach Movie book, “I don’t know what Bob Kanter’s sexual preference was in real life. He authored the screenplay and wanted to act so he wrote the part of Roger for himself. The character made no sense and I guess it does sort of come off like the gay best friend.”
There is not much to biographical info on Bob Kanter and I have no idea what his sexual orientation was. As an actor, he seemed to be the go-to guy for war movies beginning with small roles in Two and Two Make Six (1962) starring George Chakiris and The War Lover (1962) starring Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner. He graduated to a major supporting role in WWII adventure The Thin Red Line (1964) starring Keir Dullea. On TV he guested on a few TV series again most of the war kind such as 12 o’Clock High and Combat! His first screenplay was for the forgotten film Mike and the Mermaid (1964) about a little boy who tries to convince his parents that he befriend a real life mermaid. He was directed by Richard Benedict who also directed Winter a-Go-Go. Perhaps they had a directing/writing partnership? Kanter’s last acting credit was in 1965 on the TV’s Convoy–you guessed it another WWII series. He then disappears from the Hollywood scene. Per IMDB he died on August 2, 1993 in Dade City, Florida.
So for something a bit different, check out Winter a-Go-Go the next time it turns up on some obscure cable TV channel. It is worth the look.
Village of the Giants opened in 1965 starring Tommy Kirk, Johnny Crawford, Beau Bridges, Ronny Howard, Tim Rooney, Bob Random and 60s starlets Tisha Sterling and Joy Harmon (Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Hollywood), Gail Gilmore aka Gail Gerber (Trippin), Vicki London (Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood) plus Charla Doherty and Toni Basil
Village of the Giants was loosely based on H.G. Wells’ story Food of the Gods and was produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon. Here science fiction meets teen exploitation head on with an excellent array of scantily-clad starlets, exciting musical performers, and a classic background score by composer Jack Nitzshe. As for the story, boy genius Ronny Howard develops a magic goop, which is eaten by a cat and two ducks that grow giant-size. When a group of troublemaking teenagers (including Beau Bridges, busty Joy Harmon, beautiful Tisha Sterling, Tim Rooney, perky Gail Gilmore, sultry Vicki London, and Bob Random), who look as tough as Archie, Betty and Jughead, hear of this at the local discotheque, they steal the goop and sprout to mammoth proportions. They pop out of their now too small clothes and begin terrorizing the small town in the process while draped in togas made from old theatre curtains. The local teens (led by Tommy Kirk, Johnny Crawford. Charla Doherty, red-haired Toni Basil years before Mickey was oh so fine) join forces with the police to thwart the marauding giant teens who have an axe to grind with the adult establishment. When the good teens fail in stopping the overgrown delinquents, Howard develops a smoke gas that counteracts the growth formula. The “giant” teens shrink to normal size and are then chastised and run out of town.
The opening scene of Village of the Giants features the group of delinquents piling out of their wrecked auto after crashing on a mountain road during a rainstorm. They then begin dancing in the mud to the film’s rockin’ music score, which is heard throughout the movie. “This scene was awful,” exclaimed Joy Harmon. “I had mud in my eyes and face—I was covered in mud all over my body! That scene was so true and authentic. They really made us got down in the mud. We just went for it and did the scene. The mud wasn’t thick but slimy—very slippery. We couldn’t stand up and were falling all the time. It was cold and I only had a little crop top on. The guys had a ball with it but the girls were freezing and dirty. I felt so ugly—there was nothing glamorous about it!”
Vicki London recalled that muddy scene as well and remarked, “[It] didn’t bother me as much as it did the other girls. It was messy and hard to move around. I found it to be kind of stupid but the movie was stupid—yet it is so popular.” Tisha Sterling too felt the same way and remarked, “I felt exploited throughout the whole movie. It was all tits and ass. But that’s part of Bert Gordon’s thing when making a movie. I thought Bert was very good at making these kinds of films.”
Producer Bert I.Gordon was known for his previous gimmick films involving giants or huge animals including King Dinosaur (1955), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), and The Spider (1958). He not only produced and directed Village of the Giants but was responsible for the special effects as well. Though the effects are cheesy and amateurish, they do have an endearing quality about them—none more so when giant-size ducks are seen doing the Jerk and the Watusi at the Whiskey a-Go-Go.
Another interesting effects scene is when the giant teenagers are sitting on the stage of the town’s movie theater and Tommy Kirk brings them food, which is supposed to be chicken. Gordon filmed the teens separately from Kirk and used rear projection to edit the scene together. According to Joy Harmon, “The prop guys gave us some really small bird that they fried to make it look like a tiny chicken. It came from a famous chicken place and it was horrible. I hated eating whatever it was and had to keep eating it over and over. They even duplicated the chicken box and the coke bottles as small props. I thought Bert did a good job and was a super nice man. I could talk to him very easily. He wasn’t a typical director who told you to stand here or there but more of a creative person. And I think the cast responded to that.”
Though Joy respected Gordon, she did have a bit of a problem with Bert regarding one of her scenes and that was because of her amble bosom keeping with the giant theme. Harmon opined, “The only thing that irritated me while doing this film was the scene when my sweater pops open as I grow to a giant—you didn’t see anything—but I hated that scene. I objected to wearing that sweater and asked Bert Gordon if I could wear something else to pop out of. Nobody else had that problem. They wore clothes that got smaller but mine had to open. I also felt very uncomfortable because I couldn’t wear a bra and I don’t like going without one.”
Vicki London felt the same way as well and let her discomfort be known to her detriment. She recalled, “During the wardrobe fittings, they wanted us [Joy Harmon, Tisha Sterling, Gail Gerber] to remove our blouses because they wanted the girl with the biggest breasts to play the part Joy Harmon wound up with. I refused and Tisha did too. They still gave Tisha a very nice part. It was down hill after this for me though. Now that I am older and think back on it, I understand that Bert just wanted to see who would fit that part since her chest was used in the ad posters with Johnny Crawford hanging off her bra straps. But at the time it just didn’t feel right to me. They made an issue out of me not willing to show my breasts, so they threatened that if I didn’t do it they were going to cut me out of everything and they did.”
Gail Gerber (aka Gilmore) remembered this incident and said, “They wanted us to show us popping out of our clothes and asked if we minded being nude for it though we would cover our breasts with our arms. I never had any qualms with nudity so I readily said yes. Joy did too, but Vicki refused. She was a sweet girl and this was 1964 so her reluctance was understandable to me but unfortunately for her not the producer. I guess to punish Vicki they didn’t use her at all in those scenes and at one point shot her in silhouette from behind a screen.”
The cast seemed to gel on-and-off-screen and nobody had a bad word about anyone with Beau Bridges being all the gals favorite. “Everybody was just so nice to work with—we were just a bunch of kids having a really good time,” Joy Harmon says. “Tisha is so beautiful in this film. I remember that she has such a gorgeous face. And Beau Bridges is a nice very guy and liked to joke around. He got married just before filming began.”
Tisha Sterling said, “I really did have a good time making this film. Beau Bridges is great! He is a friend and I like him a lot. He is a very bright, funny, and talented man. I became friendly with his first wife Julie and I think they were adopting children at the time. Joy Harmon is a very sweet girl. We really didn’t do too much together after the film was over but we always kept in touch via other people. I would really love to find out what happened to Bob Random. His wife Ida became a costume or set designer. They were both fascinating people.”
Vicki London concurs about Beau Bridges, “Beau Bridges was wonderful. I also met his brother Jeff and his father Lloyd and they were all so down-to-Earth. That is a really nice family and really great people. Beau I think was the nicest of them all. Tisha Sterling was fabulous. She should have become a major star because she was absolutely gorgeous. Joy Harmon had a bubbly personality and was very sweet, but she didn’t have that movie star look. Gail Gerber was nice also.”
Gail Gerber remembered, “Terry Southern came to the set of Village of the Giants one day and hit it off with big-eyed blonde Joy Harmon. He had met her previously on The Loved One where she had a tiny role as an aspiring starlet. Joy was a sweet girl but she was so formidable and so big in so many ways I was a bit put off by her. But Terry was just drawn to larger-than-life people and thought she was wonderful. Joy was so full of energy. Tisha Sterling was the prettiest thing I ever saw. Beau Bridges was just a kid then but so charming. If I ever meet him again, I would hate to say—because he has done some wonderful, fine work—that not only did we work together on Village of the Giants but I was the blonde who licked his face during the dance scene in the mud. He’d probably take out a gun and shoot me!”
For everything you ever wanted to know about Village of the Giants, but were afraid to ask, visit Michael Howe’s fantastic tribute web site accessible from the link below:
the hippie horror flick The Velvet Vampire directed by Stephanie Rothman opened starring Michael Blodgett, Sherry Miles and the late Celeste Yarnall as the alluring title character. After meeting married couple Susan and Lee Ritter (Miles and Blodgett) at an art gallery, Yarnall’s Diana lures them into staying the weekend at her Mojave Desert home. Soon both husband and wife find themselves sexually drawn to their mysterious host who suffers from a rare blood disease. Unlike vampires of lore, Diana was able to journey out into the sunlight as long as she is covered up. In the course of twenty-four hours, Diana feasts on a mechanic, his girlfriend, and a servant. After making love with Diana, Lee wants to depart but Susan is fascinated with the charming Diana and wants to stay. Their delay in leaving costs Lee his life while Diana meets her gruesome end at the hands of a cult hippie gang.
Commenting on the film, cover girl Celeste said in my McFarland book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema,
“I dyed my hair black for this role, Though the part was a bit corny, I got into playing a vampire. The film had an interesting script by Charles S. Swartz, which explained Diana’s condition very well. This was one of the first films released by Roger Corman’s new production company [New World] and was more original than some of Roger’s other films, which were rip-offs of other movies. I became good friends with Roger and have a lot of respect for his talent.
Though I was only semi-nude, it still bothered me. Charles Swartz also produced the film and his wife Stephanie Rothman directed it. They both were very nice and one of the ways that they persuaded me into doing the nude scene with Michael Blodgett was by making it an absolutely closed set. After it was lit, everyone left except the cinematographer, Stephanie, and her husband. The cinematographer’s name was Daniel Lacambre and he was brilliant. He lit and shot the film beautifully.
“I worked well with Sherry Miles but this was a very dark period for Michael Blodgett. He was drinking heavily throughout the shoot. I was not at all pleased with him as my leading man. In the scene where I have to stab him and he dies, he’s laying on top of me. Michael had his hand behind me and he didn’t realize that as he was acting he was closing his hand around my spine. He really hurt me—my whole back was bruised. But he had no clue what he was doing. He had been drinking the night before. Consequently, it was difficult for me to work with him and retain my air of professionalism. I tried to just put up with it. The producers finally got his girlfriend to come on location so he sobered up a bit when she arrived. It was murder until she got there. Michael ultimately cleaned up his act.
Beach Ball opened starring Edd Byrnes, Chris Noel, Aron Kincaid and Gail Gilmore (aka Gail Gerber). It is arguably the breeziest and most enjoyable of the Beach Party clones. It is also the most blatant rip off throwing in everything from surfing, skydiving, and hot rodding to a battle-of-the-bands contest and the guys in drag to match the zaniness of the AIP beach movies. Four college dropouts (Byrnes, Kincaid, Don Edmonds and Robert Logan) try to con some nerdy girls (Noel, Gilmore, Brenda Benet and Mikki Jamison) at the student union to give them a student loan for tuition but in fact the money is needed to pay for their musical instruments. The gals get wise to their scheme and try to trick the guys into returning to school. The film works well because it is fast-paced, nicely photographed in color, has some funny moments, lots of beach scenes, a healthy-looking cast, and an excellent roster of musical performers most notably the Supremes, the Righteous Brothers, and The Four Seasons who are interspersed throughout the movie.
As for the cast, unlike Annette Funicello in the Beach Party movies or Noreen Corcoran in The Girls on the Beach, perky Chris Noel and the other gals are not afraid to show off their shapely figures in very revealing bikinis. Pretty blonde hanger on Anna Lavelle in particular dons the skimpiest swimsuits and has some funny moments as the guy’s addled-brained beach groupie Polly. The movie boasts perhaps the most curvaceous set of lead actresses in any beach movie from the decade. For boy watchers, the guys’ sport nice physiques particularly handsome Robert Logan and blonde Aron Kincaid who gives a droll performance as ladies man, Jack. Edd Byrnes is definitely too long in the tooth to make a believable college guy but he does look swell in his swim trunks.
Surfing is limited to the opening stock footage of surfers riding huge swells and as with most beach-party movies when the actors emerge from the ocean it is calm without a big wave in sight. The film’s major asset is the music from the catchy instrumental entitled “Cycle Chase” heard throughout to the songs lip-synched by Kincaid and the others as the Wigglers to all of the numbers performed by the rock acts. The standout is definitely seeing the Supremes singing “Come to the Beach Ball with Me” and “Surfer Boy.” Though the Motown songwriters did not come close to capturing the authentic surf sound (hell they were from Detroit and what did they know about surfing anyway?), the girls sing the catchy tunes well. Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson look great but Diana Ross is a fright with her chipped tooth and big beehive wig. Her close-ups are truly scarier than anything found in The Horror of Party Beach—another reason why Beach Ball is a must to see.
More in my book Hollywood Surf & Beach Movies from McFarland and Company.