The Home of Sixties Cinema

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

About Tom

Tom Lisanti is an award-winning author and historian on Sixties B-movies. He has written a series of books on the subject and has interviewed some of the most famous starlets of the time. His latest book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974 is now available and look for his next book Sixties Pop Cinema in 2016.


“Giallo Time” from PAMELA TIFFIN: HOLLYWOOD TO ROME, 1961-1974

PT 5th3Below is an excerpt from the chapter in my Pamela Tiffin filmography book, Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974, focusing on what I think was her best Italian motion picture the giallo Giornata nera per l’Ariete (1971) AKA The Fifth Cord co-starring Franco Nero.

In late 1971 Pamela Tiffin finally broke free from the commedia all’Italiana and ventured into the thriller and western genres with her most popular co-star the extremely handsome Franco Nero, who was dubbed the Italian Steve McQueen. First up was arguably her best and slickest Italian movie the stylish giallo Giornata nera per l’Ariete (English translation Black Day for Aries), which received limited release in some English-speaking countries as Evil Fingers. Most U.S. fans know the movie, however, as The Fifth Cord which is the name of the novel by D.M. Devine the movie was based on. This title was used when released on DVD in 2006. It was the third movie directed by former documentary filmmaker Luigi Bazzoni. He, Nero, and the Director of Photography, Vittorio Storaro, were all good friends who had collaborated together on projects previously.

Pamela honestly admitted that she only did this movie for the hefty salary they paid her. It proved to be a win-win decision for her and the producers. She is once again part of an ensemble and just like with Harper, she holds her own and is a standout. Receiving sort of guest star billing, her name is listed last in the credits as “And Pamela Tiffin as Lu.”

Franco Nero had worked for producer Manolo Bolognini twice before in the westerns Django and Texas, Addio. But it was director Luigi Bazzoni who was the main reason the actor agreed to do this movie. The producer offered him Giornata near per I’Ariete and he did it because he liked Bolognini a lot and a chance to work with his buddies Bazzoni and Storaro again. “I owe a lot to Bazzoni,” Nero stated.

While shooting was commencing Nero was offered a part in the epic British film Pope Joan whose shooting schedule overlapped with Giornata Nera. The producers wanted him so much that they agreed to shoot his scenes on the weekend. For three straight weeks Nero hopped on a place from Rome to London early Saturday morning and returned late Sunday night to be back on the Giornata Nera set by Monday morning.

When asked if he knew Pamela before they began working together, the Italian superstar replied, “Yes, Pamela and I belonged to the same talent agency. My agent was Paola Petri and she was the wife of the great director Elio Petri who won an Oscar for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. Sometimes I would go to their house and that is where I met Pamela who was extremely friendly and as we say in Italian “molto simpatica!”[ii]

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Pamela Tiffin had just come off working with leading man Lando Buzzanca whom she disliked and caused her some grief. Asked if she was a bit guarded about doing the movie or working with him especially in the scenes where she had to bare some skin, Nero replied, “From my point Pamela seemed to like doing this movie. We didn’t talk much about what she did before. She was very professional and open to direction.”[iii]

In the movie, Franco Nero had three leading ladies—Sylvia Monti, Ira von Fürstenberg, and Pamela who only had scenes with Nero so she never met the other actresses on set. At the premiere opening, Tiffin tried to talk with Ira Fürstenberg. The competitive actress rudely ignored her to Tiffin’s bemusement. They would go on to appear again in the same movie, Los Amigos, but thankfully for Pamela there were in different scenes again and she did not have to work with the unfriendly actress.

Pamela says Giornata nera per l’Ariete holds up to this day because of the “impressive cinematography by Vittorio Storaro who captured the real Europe and not the Europe of tourists.”[iv] The locations chosen for the movie are not your typical homes, office buildings, or apartments. Exterior scenes at a hospital are shot on a large stone spiral staircase and Helene’s house is an ultra-modern, multi-level dwelling with floor to ceiling windows. As reviewer Stuart Galbraith IV wrote on the web site DVD Talk, “Storaro obviously sought out architecturally interesting locations for both exteriors and interiors where he could shoot the film’s characters against modernistic geometrical patterns and shapes.”

The Fifth Chord is the story of an unbalanced man,” Storaro remarked in the DVD featurette Giornata Nera and went on to explain why he used contrasting light and shadows in relationship to the plot:

He lives an unbalanced life because of some psychological problems he had when he was young, which unfortunately have a negative effect on him. He hasn’t resolved them. He can only find satisfaction by carrying out actions that unfortunately come from a dark subconscious from a past that is unresolved. The battle between these two internal forces in a human being I represented with light and shadow. I was telling the story with a visual conflict to reflect the narrative elements.

Pamela picked up on Storaro’s technique while filming. She remarked, “During production, I noticed that Storaro lit our scenes the way Richard Avedon did during my modeling days. When I commented on this he froze and then said, ‘Tu sei molte intelligente!’”[v] No wonder Pamela looks so gorgeous in the movie. Storaro had the skill to shoot and light her to make sure she looked even more stunning than usual.

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Giornata Nera per l’Ariete was released in Italy in 1971 and shortly thereafter throughout Europe including the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries where it was titled either Evil Fingers or The Fifth Cord. Despite her guest star billing, Pamela is billed second on the poster art and it featured her in a man’s shirt spread across the bed with her neck slashed. In the movie Franco Nero played a self-loathing, alcoholic disheveled reporter named Andrea Bild (an outsider who is the typical center of Italian gialli) who pines for his former lover Helene (Silvia Monti) even though he is now sleeping with gorgeous coed Lu Auer (Tiffin). His career is on the slide due to his drinking and what his editor calls his “crazy nonconformist ideas.” An inebriated Andrea leaves a New Year’s Eve party where one of the guests named John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia) is attacked under a bridge. He is saved by racecar driver Walter Auer (Luciano Baroli), who is Lu’s brother, and his quasi-girlfriend Giulia (Agostina Belli), a hooker. At the party, a dejected Lubbock had watched forlornly as the beautiful Isabel (Ira von Fürstenberg) danced and kissed his older colleague Eduoard Vermont (Edmund Purdom).

The next day Andrea, assigned to the story by his editor, tries to visit Lubbock in the hospital but he is denied entry. Guilia also rebuffs him refusing to talk about the attack. He then goes to Helene, who was at the celebration that night, and she fills him in on John’s character and his love for Isabel that is not returned. The following week another guest at the party, the crippled unpleasant wife (Rossella Falk) of Dr. Richard Bini (Renato Romano), is terrorized and brutally murdered in their home. It is learned that her husband was summoned from the house by a phony emergency called in by the killer. Andrea is surprised to hear that the good doctor is glad to be rid of her.

Soon all the New Year’s Eve revelers are suspects, but the police inspector (Wolfgang Preiss) has a special eye on Andrea as more and more evidence points to the reporter with each additional murder of a party guest plus the knifing of Andrea’s editor in the park. The lone clue left at each scene of the crime is a single black glove. The fingers are cut out based on what number murder victim they are. Andrea realizes the killer is framing him for the crimes. His investigation intensifies as he becomes desperate to prove his innocence. As he gets closer to the truth, he begins getting phone calls from the killer threatening him. He suspicion shifts from one of remaining partiers to the next, and even to Lu who is acting mysteriously and disappears for a time only to resurface in a short black wig. After he learns from Walter that the first attack had nothing to do with the subsequent murders and was perpetrated by Guilia’s perverted father, Andrea thinks the killer is Dr. Bini, who paid to watch Walter and Giulia have sex in front of strangers. The reporter threatens to publish the whole sordid story in another newspaper.

That night Andrea remembers that Walter mentioned that all the murders happened on a Tuesday and the attack on Lubbock was on a Monday. After confirming, Andrea consults an astrology book and learns that Tuesday is a lucky day for people born under the sign of Aries. This leads him to the killer who is about to strike against Helene. However, she is out of the country. A trick call sends her babysitter to the airport, leaving her vulnerable young son Tony alone. Helene learns this when calling and frantically instructs Tony to lock all the windows and doors. The killer, however, is already inside. This is the movie’s most harrowing moments as the killer chases the boy around the house. The boy becomes trapped in a small hallway with only light from a window he can’t reach. His blood-curdling screams and yelling for his Mama are spine-tingling, as the madman reaches towards his neck. Will Andrea get there in time to save the boy and reveal the murderer?

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Pamela’s first scene as Lu is when she emerges from Andrea’s bathroom in a robe New Year’s Day morning. She bemoans that a drunken Andrea took hours to come home and when he did “he was in no shape to do anything.” Lu acts comfortable with her casual relationship with the reporter whose machismo does not let him feel the same for her exploits. She even calls herself his “part-time mistress and not the maid” when he tries to get her to make him breakfast. When she leaves town for a few days, the note she leaves gives him permission to get laid “as you know it doesn’t bother me.”

Lu pops up briefly as the passenger in a red sports car driven by a handsome young man, as Andrea watches them drive off. It then quickly cuts to Andrea returning home finding Lu lying naked on her stomach in his bed. Storaro shoots and lights Pamela exquisitely in this scene. It is arguably the best she ever looked on film as a blonde. Andrea smacks Lu across the face when she tells him she has been home studying for a history exam. Accusing her of being a liar and a whore who will jump into any sports car, an angered Lu returns the insults. She tells him that it belongs to her brother Walter and that Andrea hasn’t gotten anything right since he started playing detective. Her temperament however quickly softens when Andrea leaves. He returns contrite and to his horror finds Lu dangling off the bed with blood dripping down her neck. It turns out to be a prank and a relieved Andrea begins playfully chasing Lu around the apartment as they fall onto the bed together.

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Lu shows up one more time wearing a short black wig that is never quite explained. She has news that she getting married to man who wants children. Though she acted the liberated young woman, deep down she desired the typical family life with a husband and knew Andrea could not give that to her. When she doesn’t get any type of reaction from Andrea, she tells him a woman named Isabel called and that she needs to see him urgently in her hotel room. Lu drives Andrea there and he discovers her drowned in the bathtub. Lu provides Andrea an alibi the next day. Andrea asks her why she lied to the police inspector and Lu replies, matter-of-factly, “I wanted to give you a farewell present” as she drives off to start her new life without him.

Chapter continues in:

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Excerpt from my TV Confidential radio interview about my book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974.

Link to entire interview on TV Confidential.

Link to my NYPL blog about William Shatner’s pre-Star Trek Broadway acting career including co-starring with France Nuyen (profiled in my and Louis Paul’s book Film Fatales) in The World of Suzie Wong.

Speaking of Film Fatales, below is link to interview I gave to AM/FM Magazine about the sixties spy girls that were profiled in our book.



Viva Pamela! An Excerpt from PAMELA TIFFIN: HOLLYWOOD TO ROME, 1961-1974

VPTBelow is an excerpt from my book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974. In 1968 after abandoning her U.S. film career to make movies in Italy, Pamela returned to America after a 2 year absence. She garnered the female lead in the hit comedy Viva Max (1969) starring Peter Ustinov, Jonathan Winters, and John Astin. Below is a portion of the chapter “Back in the U.S.A.”

Pamela Tiffin was back in the United States in 1969 starring opposite Peter Ustinov in the political satire Viva Max. It was her lone American movie since relocating to Italy. In the film version of newspaperman Jim Lehrer’s 1966 comic novel a modern Mexican general who, with a ragtag bunch of soldiers from Nuevo Laredo, retakes the Alamo causing U.S. embarrassment while trying to avoid an international incident. The book was a bestseller despite some less than stellar reviews such as in the New York Times where critic Martin Levin said it “begins with the impossible and descends to anticlimactic foolishness.”

Jim Lehrer sold the rights to the book for about $45,000. It was to come from the amount of money the producer would raise for the film’s entire production budget rather than from Hollywood’s elusive “net profits.” Reportedly, Lehrer used the money to quit his newspaper job and head to Washington, DC to try to land a TV anchor gig. He undoubtedly succeeded with public television’s The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, which morphed into The News Hour with Jim Lehrer and then the PBS News Hour.

In September 1967, it was announced that Viva Max was to begin filming the following month in San Antonio, Texas. Mark Carliner Productions was producing for MGM. Thirty-year-old Carliner was a former CBS television executive and this was his first motion picture project since leaving the network. Arthur Hiller was attached to direct. An experienced comedy director, his recent credits up to that point included The Wheeler Dealers; The Americanization of Emily; Penelope; and The Tiger Makes Out. The novel was adapted by novelist-turned-screenwriter Elliott Baker whose prior credits included A Fine Madness and Luv.

For unknown reasons, the movie was postponed. Almost a year later, Mark Carliner announced that the movie was now set to commence. However, it was now a Commonwealth United production in association with CBS. Under a new plan of providing new movies to be shown on television, the TV network put up an estimated $800,000 towards the $2.7 million budget with a guaranteed broadcast release in January 1973. Exteriors would be filmed on location at the Alamo and interiors would be filmed at Cinecetta Studios in Rome.

Producer Carliner lost his director, Arthur Hiller when the project moved from MGM to Commonwealth United. He was replaced by Emmy-winning TV comedy director Jerry Paris. He worked on such hit TV series as The Joey Bishop Show; The Dick Van Dyke Show; The Farmer’s Daughter; The Munsters; Here’s Lucy and had in release two 1968 movie comedies, Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River with Jerry Lewis and How Sweet It Is! with Debbie Reynolds.

Peter Ustinov would be starring as the Mexican general with filming to begin in the spring of 1969. The actor accepted the part because he liked the premise that though the U.S. is technologically equipped enough to track the flight of birds, they could not detect a small group of men crossing the border to take over the Alamo with indirect help from the local police. Jim Lehrer was happy with the casting of Ustinov as well and remarked when told who was cast, “When they showed me a picture of Ustinov in his uniform on a great white horse, I nearly dropped. He WAS Max!”[i]

Speculation was running rampant on who would play the lone major female role that of the pretty blonde gift shop cashier who is also a radical college student taken hostage along with two others. The top contender was Amy Thomson, an actress being hailed as the “New Garbo.”[ii] Well, at least her managers were calling her that. She had just made an impressive film debut in the Richard Widmark western Death of a Gunfighter. Alas, she did not get the role and the producer somehow decided on Pamela Tiffin.

Commenting on her character, Pamela said, “It’s a marvelously funny role. I play this girl who could have been yesterday’s cheerleader or  baton twirler, but today she is a go-go political science major, an activist who loves to use big words like ‘absolutism’ or ‘totalitarian.’ She might never have been out of San Antonio yet you know that she cares for the world.”[iii]

VPT1To keep the comedy quotient high, Jerry Paris surrounded Ustinov with a number of talented comedic actors including Jonathan Winters, John Astin, Keenan Wynn, Harry Morgan, Kenneth Mars, and Gino Conforti. Among the young actors chosen to play Mexican soldiers was tall and lanky Larry Hankin. He did comedy improv and began working in Hollywood in 1966 with a guest spot on the TV sitcom That Girl. He worked twice prior with Paris on the unsold TV pilot Sheriff Who and the comedy film How Sweet It Is!

Peter Gonzales Falcon was also cast as a soldier. A senior majoring in Drama/Speech at Southwest Texas State College, he accompanied a female friend to an open casting call for the movie. While waiting in an outer room, he heard someone yell, “That face!” That someone was Jerry Paris and it was Mexican-American Gonzales Falcon’s handsome features and bone structure that got Paris excited. After reading for the director, Peter got the role. Knowing it was going to be at least a twelve week shoot including time in Italy, the excited young man decided to drop out of school to pursue his dream of acting. When asked if he was familiar with the movie’s leading lady, Pamela Tiffin,” Gonzales exclaimed, ““Oh yeah! Pamela 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.”[iv]

Another young actor cast in the role of a government representative was handsome sandy-blonde haired Eldon Quick who started his acting career at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. He had a number of TV sitcom appearances under his belt including Occasional Wife; Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.; The Monkees; and Bewitched and was adept at comedy usually cast as the nerdy brain. Viva Max was his second movie after a supporting role in the Academy Award-winning In the Heat of the Night.

Location shooting began in the spring of 1969, but a battle quickly erupted between the film’s producers and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas who were the gate keepers to the Alamo holding custody to it and the grounds within its walls. The organization originally gave permission to shoot inside and outside the Alamo. A few scenes, including the guided tour of the Alamo, were shot within, but the Daughters withdrew their support when they realized Viva Max was going to be a satire. They did not want the movie to be filmed anywhere near their sacred mission where James Bowie, Davy Crockett, and 185 soldiers battled General Santa Anna and his army in 1836. They found the movie to be blasphemous especially the part where the Mexican flag is hoisted over the Alamo.

The producers then found out that the Daughters had no jurisdiction over the plaza outside the Alamo, which was city-owned property. They went to the San Antonio City Council to issue a permit. However, the Daughters were not giving up. The City Council had to make a decision and heard two hour testimonies from both sides.

The DRT president was a woman named Mrs. William Lawrence Scarborough who told the council, “I come before you to plead with you and ask you not to permit this movie on the premises owned by you. We feel this movie is a mockery and a desecration of our heroes who died for our liberty there.”[v] A representative of the movie countered and declared, “There is nothing in this movie that could possible be offensive.”[vi]

The war of words continued in the press. Mrs. Scarborough bemoaned to anyone who would listen, “This is not a movie we could be proud of. Why couldn’t they make a beautiful movie like John Wayne did?”[vii] Producer Mark Carliner issued a statement and said, “The movie does not desecrate, defame, deface, damage or compromise either the structure or heritage of the Alamo.”[viii]

The city council declared it a draw. By a vote of six to two, it gave permission to shoot on city held property leading up to the doors of the mission. However, there was to be no filming inside or on the grounds of the Alamo nor could they touch the outside walls. The people of San Antonio were not against the movie being filmed in their city and actually signed up to play extras. Eighty-seven Mexican men were cast as soldiers in Max’s army and about forty Caucasians were cast as members of the city’s right-wing militia. A native Texan, Peter Gonzales added, “The whole movie was a big deal to San Antonio. It was a big city, but was becoming a player with other big cities at the time. The long awaited Hemisfair [the 1968 World’s Fair] was in full gear. Everyone was an extra even the city’s richest people who were there in the heat all day. Millionaire fathers would introduce their beauty queen daughters to Jerry Paris hoping to get them in the movie.”[ix]

Despite the ruling and the welcome mat the people of San Antonio put out for the movie people, the Daughters of the Republic were still not done fighting just like their outnumbered Alamo comrades. The movie’s attorney reported to the Council that the ladies were disrupting filming on city property. They stood in front of the Alamo in black costumes and draped the shrine in black paper. The latter action was in protest due to the raising of the Mexican flag over the Alamo. He challenged that the Daughters were miffed by the decision and were doing this for personal vengeance. Mrs. Scarborough pooh-pooh the attorney’s accusation and remarked, “I can’t think of anything lower than the idea of making a comedy about a shrine where heroes died. It’s like making a comedy on the fallen heroes of Vietnam.”[x]

Scarborough then filed a petition for a restraining order against the movie makers claiming harassment and threatening actions. The court action also stated that already completed filming and more scheduled “will do irreparable damage and harm to the Alamo and to the continued efforts of its custodians to make it a symbol of Texas independence and freedom.”[xi] The filmmakers countered that they were the ones being harassed by Mrs. Scarborough and her organization.

While his producer battled the meddling Daughters of the Revolution, director Jerry Paris kept plodding on. Eldon Quick, however, was not impressed with his directing style though. “We gathered in the city of San Antonio perhaps the greatest collection of comedic talent assembled since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” he commented:

Unfortunately we didn’t have Stanly Kramer to direct us. We had Jerry Paris. It’s hard to imagine a more typical Hollywood-type director—since we were in Texas one could say he was all belt-buckle and no cattle. As I watched the filming, I saw scene after scene fizzle away.

VPT3A typical scene preparation went this way—Jerry would urge the actors in the scene to go for the real human values. His approach seemed to be very ‘Method.’ The actors would read through the scene being very legitimate. Jerry would then ask them to do it again—again a very legitimate rehearsal. Jerry would ask for another go through, but by now the talent of the caliber we were working with are bored out of their minds and someone would do something wild or nutty just to relieve the boredom. Then Jerry would say, ‘Oh, that’s good, keep that.’ The other actors would say to themselves, ‘If that’s in the scene no one in the audience will even know I am in it.’ So next rehearsal some comedic take by someone would be added, and Jerry would say, ‘Oh, that’s good keep that in.’ Scene after scene faded away into shtick acting.

This may have effected Jonathan Winters most of all. His ad-libs and improvisations were truly hilarious. The cast and crew would fall down laughing in rehearsals. When the camera was rolling, Jonathan would try to repeat what he had done in rehearsal and because it was no longer spontaneous it just fell flat. Jerry should have filmed the rehearsals and let the camera run empty for the take. If only the humor that was in the script had made it to the screen.[xii]

Larry Hankin agrees with Quick’s opinion of Paris. “Though Jerry liked my acting a lot, we had a very huge ‘disagreement’ while we were shooting in front of The Alamo one day in front of the entire cast (including 50 extras) and again at a screening at Cinecitta in Italy (where we did some interiors of the Alamo which they replicated perfectly)” he wrote:

In general, he was a perfect, ‘smile, you’re on camera’ TV director, but not a good film director is the best I can say. He had no idea how to work with actors—particularly talented ones, which he had in Viva Max. All Jerry wanted was to be liked—toxically so. He wasn’t a storyteller. He was an excellent traffic manager, which is perfect for sitcom directing and he was obviously great at that.[xiii]

Writer Michael Etchison was on location the day when director Jerry Paris was shooting the scene where Ustinov’s Max takes Pamela Tiffin’s character to a gardener’s shed to seduce her, but it turns into a political conversation. It was shot on what was the Japanese pavilion at the 1968 HemisFair. He reported that Tiffin spent most of the day in her hotel room rehearsing as well as preparing for the role with paying special attention to her costume (white blouse and miniskirt) and makeup. Pamela commented to him, “It has to be right. The way you look changes the character you play.”[xiv] To prove her point, she recited some of her dialog while pretending to chew gum.

Describing the actual shooting of the scene, Etchison reported, “Ustinov does not need to imagine nervous sweat; he stalks and paces, circling Miss Tiffin like a dog preparing to lie down. No one can forget he is Ustinov, but no one could be unmoved by his awkward explanation of his plan.”[xv]

Though Pamela Tiffin mingled with Peter Ustinov and Jonathan Winters, she and the other bigger stars did not hang out with the actors playing soldiers or other small roles. Peter Gonzales explained, “There were tiers of actors on this shoot, but that is a Hollywood thing. This was my first film so I was not acquainted on how things worked on a shoot. The main stars hung out separately from the featured players who stuck together. It was very clannish—sort of like a pyramid.”[xvi]

All three actors had minimal contact off-camera with Pamela Tiffin. Despite his improvisation talents, Larry Hankin admitted to being quiet and shy. Suffice it to say, he did not make much contact with Pamela on the set and never off it, but found her to be “cool and pretty.”[xvii] Gonzales said, “I only interacted with Pamela a little bit on the shoot. When I did, she was always very nice. She seemed to get along beautifully with everyone.”[xviii] Eldon Quick also had very little contact with the actress. “As I was a bit player in the movie, I was not in her social circle,” he remarked:

I don’t remember her socializing much with the cast, we were almost all male and our sense of humor was really pretty crude. It was rumored that she and Peter Ustinov were sharing dinners in his hotel room and perhaps Peter was the only cast member she was friendly other than cordial with.

I do have two memories of Pamela—one was of her table manners. They were impeccable. It was obvious she had spent considerable dinning among the élite of Europe. For instance, Americans will butter a slice of bread then take a bite out of it. Pamela would break off a small piece of bread, butter it, and then most daintily put it in her mouth. She reeked of ‘class.’

My other memory is that during filming outside of the Alamo, cast members who were waiting for their scene or, like me who wanted to watch the filming, would sit on the grass in front. Pamela wandered onto the lawn in her horseback riding clothes carrying her purse and a bag with a riding crop in it. She placed the bag on the lawn then turned to spread out a blanket to sit on. As she bent over to spread out the blanket, she goosed herself with the riding crop. She sprang up, spun around, and cocked her arm to deliver a killing slap to who ever had assaulted her. As I was the nearest one, she glared at me ready to let me have it. I blinked at her trying to look innocent, and trying not to laugh, pointed at the riding crop.  She relaxed, but never spoke to me again.[xix]

With shootings delays occurring frequently due to the court order challenges, it stretched out the time spent in Texas to the chagrin of a cadre of Italian crew members who despised the Texas cuisine. Co-star John Astin noticed they were only eating cold meats and cheese in their room and invited ten of them out to dinner. He took them to a grand restaurant called La Louisianne where they enjoyed a wonderful meal with a huge tab to match. The liquor bill alone was $190. Afterwards, Astin quipped to writer Bob Rose, “The next time I see an Italian eating alone in his room I am going to ask him for a bite.”[xx]

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[i] Michael Etchison, “Remember the Alamo? It’s Being Retaken,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Apr. 6, 1969, E-1.

[ii] Norma Lee Browning, “Hollywood Today: Is ‘Coco’ for Kate?” Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1969.

[iii] Marika Aba, “Pamela Tiffin—American Sex Queen in Exile,” Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1969.

[iv] Peter Gonzales-Falcon, Telephone interview with author, Aug. 19, 2014.

[v] UPI, “’Viva Max!’ Wins Alamo Film Battle,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 29, 1969.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] UPI, “Alamo ’69 Pits ‘Max’ Against Texas Ladies,” Newsday, Apr. 2, 1969.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Gonzales-Falcon, Telephone interview with author.

[x] UPI, “Alamo ’69 Pits ‘Max’ Against Texas Ladies.”

[xi] UPI, “Texans Up in Arms Over Alamo Movie,” Los Angeles Times, Apr. 11, 1969.

[xii] Eldon Quick, Email interview with author, Sept. 13, 2013.

[xiii] Larry Hankin, Email interview with author, Sept. 18, 2013.

[xiv] Etchison, “Remember the Alamo? It’s Being Retaken,” E-10.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Gonzales-Falcon, Telephone interview with author.

[xvii] Hankin, Email interview with author.

[xviii] Gonzales-Falcon, Telephone interview with author.

[xix] Quick, Email interview with author.

[xx] Bob Rose, “Food for Thought—after ‘Candy,’” Boston Globe, Aug. 31, 1969.



Just finished reading Alexis Hunter’s memoir Joi Lansing: A Body to Die For. Platinum blonde knockout Joi has always been a favorite of mine and always preferred her and Mamie Van Doren over Marilyn Monroe. Alexis offers a window into the last years of Joi’s life. Very touching love story between the two women coupled with what it was like to be a Hollywood glamour girl closing in on 40 and aging out of film and TV roles back then. I highly recommend. Would make a wonderful double bill with my book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974.



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John Philbin Remembers the Original Point Break

In conjunction with the just released remake of Point Break, below is my interview with actor John Philbin who was one of the surfing, sky diving bank robbers in the original.


Though his resume includes over thirty movies including Children of the Corn (1984); The Return of the Living Dead (1985) playing the dorky Chuck complete with the Miami Vice wannabe wardrobe: and Tombstone (1993), the talented John Philbin is best known to audiences worldwide for his appearances in the Hollywood surf movies North Shore (1987) and Point Break (1991).  North Shore in particular has become part of the lexicon of surfing movies so most fans have it in their film library and have watched it over and over.  Almost twenty years later, John Philbin still gets recognized as the blonde, bushy-haired, surf-slang speaking Turtle. He says, “Sometimes I think, ‘Wow, how could that guy have recognized me when I don’t look anything like that?’  Then I realize—it’s because they just saw the movie the night before!”

An avid surfer since he was a child, the California native gave the sport up for a period of time during the eighties when his love of acting took hold of him. While living in Los Angeles and traveling to locations around the country for film projects there was just no time for the aspiring newcomer to surf. Then in 1987, a script for North Shore passed the desk of his agent who asked John if he knew how to surf. The answer was a resounding yes, but Philbin had to audition seven times to convince director Randal Kleiser that he could morph into the part.

North Shore starred Matt Adler as Rick, the winner of a wave pool surfing contest in his home state of Arizona who uses his prize money to come to Hawaii to surf the big waves of the North Shore. After being ripped off by some of the local surfers, the naive Rick is befriended by surfer and board sander Turtle who feels sorry for the “Barney.” Their friendship turns to jealousy when Rick insinuates himself with Turtle’s employer Chandler, “a soul surfer,” played by Gregory Harrison who takes Rick under his wing and teaches him the fundamentals of surfing. Turtle is the film’s odd man out as Rick is forever leaving him to cozy up with his lovely island girl Kiani or to go surfing with Chandler. Philbin gives an excellent performance and never has surfer-speak sounded so alien and so believable. Turtle is no stereotypical Hollywood dumb wave rider, but more of a sympathetic lost soul who has secretly shaped his own surfboard but lacks the confidence to show anyone.

The movie was a chance of a lifetime for Philbin to act and surf on film and to work with legends Gerry Lopez and Laird Hamilton. John would get the chance to surf on film once again in the hit movie Point Break (1991) starring Keanu Reeves as a rookie FBI agent who is assigned to penetrate the Southern California surfing community to uncover a gang of surfers who have been robbing banks across LA county. Philbin played the intense, distrusting Nathaniel one of the surfing, skydiving, and bank-robbing followers of Patrick Swayze’s mystical Bodhi.

Though Point Break, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, was one of the year’s top moneymakers, it did not do much for Philbin’s career. He took a respite from acting when he began teaching surfing in the late nineties receiving endorsements from some of the top surfers including Laird Hamilton who remarked, “John knows the ocean, and that’s what it is all about.” His clientele really picked up after he was hired by director John Stockwell to evaluate the surfing abilities of the prospective actresses up for the female lead in Blue Crush. Kate Bosworth got the part and trained with John before going to Hawaii for filming.

Sixties Cinema: When did you begin surfing?

John Philbin: My family moved to Palos Verdes when I was a kid and that’s where I started surfing. I first saw surfing in Carmel Valley when I was a little kid. I watched guys riding waves diagonally on long boards. Even though I was just a child, I thought, ‘Wow, they’re riding diagonally and getting a better ride.’ But I didn’t surf for another five years after we had moved.


SC: What attracted you to the part of Nathaniel in Point Break?

JP: I auditioned for the movie when it was at a different studio with Ridley Scott directing. I wanted to play Bodhi. I tested for it but didn’t get it. I certainly wasn’t a big enough star.  I think they went with Jeff Bridges, but then the film went into turnaround. That happens all the time with movies.

SC: Was the role of Nathaniel yours still after it changed studios?

JP: At first I wasn’t sure. My agent called and told me they wanted to meet with me. I was almost nervous because I wanted this so badly and I had it but it disappeared. Now I was making a TV-movie called Dillinger in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was covered with tattoos and my skin was pale. My character was part of the gang robbing banks. I decided that I was going to fly into LA and tell Kathryn Bigelow the honest truth. I took with me pictures of myself skydiving and surfing Pipeline. I walked into her office and said, ‘Congratulations, this is a great movie and you’re a wonderful director. I think I was born to play Nathaniel. Here’s a picture of me surfing. Here’s a picture of me jumping out of an airplane. I’m robbing banks right now in a movie I’m making. I would love to be in this film.’ She said, ‘Oh, you’re in it. You don’t even have to read. Thanks for coming in.’ I was so excited because Nathaniel was a really serious gnarly character who’s a heavy and very different from Turtle.

SC: That’s funny you said that because you were quoted a few years ago as saying that you felt like a “glorified extra” in this film.  Why?

JP: I know—I really shouldn’t have said that. Point Break was a great opportunity and a really fantastic job. At the time that I got that part I was a spoiled actor. I was doing more principal roles elsewhere, but still happy to get the role of Nathaniel and stoked to work with those people. It was another dream-come-true job, but if you notice I’m wearing a mask most of the time. We’re standing in the background and we’re literally supportive players. I just wanted it to be more. I think I had an ego problem at the time and didn’t understand my true role and how lucky I was to be there.

SC: So overall you were not disappointed with playing Nathaniel?

JP: No! If I look at the work, it was some of my best and I worked hard—six days a week on an insanely rigid diet. We worked out and we surfed constantly. We did a lot of tow in surfing with Brian Keaulana and Terry Ahui. I surfed Pipeline even though it didn’t end up in the movie. I really played the part. My character was dark and angry.

SC: What was the motivation behind the role of Nathaniel?

JP: No, he wasn’t. In the original script he was resentful that Johnny Dallas was accepted into our group. He was against it from the beginning. He was very suspicious, bitter and angry and I think that bled into my personality at the time. I just became really hard and just a tough asshole—just like my character. That happens with acting. It’s just the nature of the beast. If someone interviewed me about this as I was doing it I would have been arrogant and cocky and probably would have given some kind of answer other than ‘this is just so much fun.’

SC: Your character’s distrust of Johnny Utah does not come off as forcefully as you described above. Were scenes cut from the final print?

JP: They cut the scenes from the original screenplay! There were scenes with Nathaniel having conversations with Bodhi telling him not to trust Utah. In one scene Nathaniel actually commits suicide while skydiving as protest for the inclusion of this guy who I believe is going to destroy everything we’ve worked for. I think I just retained all this for the script that was actually shot.

The director came up to us and said, ‘Hey, there are too many actors in this movie. We have to focus on three people.’ They cut lines for Bill Paxton, Sam Elliot, and Stephen Lang into nothing. They were supporting players and they weren’t used to that. You only get a tip of the iceberg of what they prepared for. As actors they are attached to that material and it does serve the piece. I think I’ve learned that in time. But a lot of actors—and I was myself—are egotistical and self-important. You think your role and your lines are the most important thing in the film. You take offense when someone orders you to ‘Don’t say anything and go sit down and we’ll call you when we want you to run by.’  The truth be told that you are lucky to get the chance to run by.

SC: Was the cast fun to work with?

JP: I love Keanu Reeves—he’s great. I’d work out everyday at the gym with him. James LeGros was my buddy and we got to hang out and surf.  I got to skydive.  It was awesome!

It was fantastic to work with Patrick Swayze who was a workhorse. It was interesting what happened to him on this movie. Careers go in cycles and he had been a movie star with Dirty Dancing, but his films after that did not do so well. Point Break was sort of a comeback for him. Six months after principal photography wrapped on Point Break, Ghost was released with him and Demi Moore. That made Patrick a hot movie star again. Suddenly, they have Point Break in the can with Patrick Swayze who was in a down cycle playing a weird character and now he is a big movie star again. They had to re-shoot scenes and I think his salary went up about ten times. He was getting around $60,000 to $80,000 a day.

SC: Did they add new scenes for Patrick Swayze because his celebrity factor had risen due to Ghost?

JP: No, there were no new scenes added. They didn’t have time to completely shoot some of the fight scenes because Patrick was committed to do a film in India [City of Joy] and Keanu was doing that film with River Phoenix [My Own Private Idaho]. When we came back, Keanu and I had different hair. Re-shoots happen often on films.

SC: What was wild man Gary Busey like to work with?

JP: Gary Busey was around all of the time. He was not as wild as his reputation leads one to believe. He was actually very professional and always on time. He had been in a bad motorcycle accident and he was healing from that. A guru accompanied him and he was focused on being spiritual and meditating to get healthy again. Gary was just grateful to be alive and that is a good time to get an actor. Grateful—that’s when you want’em!

SC: Did you do you own surfing stunts in this?

JP: Yes.  I didn’t need a surfing double—and haven’t needed a surfing double yet.  But you never know.

SC: Did Kathryn Bigelow have much surfing knowledge?

JP: By the end of if she did. She knew what she liked. Kathryn is a real visual director and great with action. She did a lot of research and we all did a lot of rehearsing. She did such a good job with the action in this movie and the same with the chases.

SC: Yes, those skydiving scenes were intense. Did you actually learn to skydive?

JP: We really did go skydiving a couple of times. Keanu, James Le Gros, and I would go up to Patrick’s place on the weekends and go skydiving. Patrick had hundreds of jumps under his belt, but then the producer found out what we were doing. They told us to cease and desist. It was illegal for us to go up in a private plane and jump because they are not insured. Actors are not allowed to take these kind of risks during filming because if we got hurt it could delay or close down production.

But Patrick being a movie star and a fearless guy just kept jumping. He got so good by the end of the film they took a second unit camera SCew up there and filmed him actually doing those stunts and jumping out of the plane—whereas the rest of us all had doubles.  Even so I think those skydiving scenes look fantastic and are so great!

SC: In your opinion which movie captured the surfers’ world best, North Shore or Point Break?

JP: North Shore, without a doubt! Point Break is a buddy-cop movie with a villain who is the leader of this drug dealing, bank robbing gang who happen to surf. But you don’t really get into the real surfing lifestyle. We were adrenaline junkies and criminals. We’re bank robbers, man! They just put this cops and robbers story in a surfing milieu and got some beautiful visuals out of it. North Shore is about surfing. It’s a hero’s journey through a sports field and that sport is surfing. You really learn a lot about it.





Cover TiffinThanks so much to all reviewers so far that posted such complimentary, kind words about Pamela Tiffin and my book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974

Kimberley Lindbergs at Turner Classic Movies

Blogger Anthony Balducci

Blogger David C. Tucker

James L. Neibaur at Examiner.com

And finally an interview with me about the book in the Oklahoma Gazette:



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Who wouldn’t want to unwrap a gift this holiday season to find lovely 1960s actress Pamela Tiffin inside?

The cult pop icon awed moviegoers with her beauty in her film debut in Summer and Smoke (1961) and then wowed them with her hilarious performance as a Southern fried belle in Billy Wilder’s frenetic satire One, Two, Three (1961). She then became “the favorite airhead of the sixties” and the darling of teenage drive-in movies with State Fair (1962), Come Fly with Me (1963), For Those Who Think Young (1964), The Lively Set (1964), and The Pleasure Seekers (1965). She finally shook off the ingenue image to vamp Paul Newman in the gritty detective mystery Harper (1966) and then took it one step further dying her hair blonde to play a not-so-dumb blonde sexpot opposite Marcello Mastroianni in the Italian 3-part comedy Oggi, domani, dopodomani (19966). She remained blonde and ran off to Italy to escape an unhappy marriage cementing her cult status in America since most of her films did not reach these shores. She did return for one film the very funny comedy Viva Max (1969) with Peter Ustinov and her two movies with Franco Nero the giallo The Fifth Cord (1971) and the spaghetti western Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears (1973) are highlights from her time in Rome.


Below is a review of my book from David Tucker on his Blog:


Below is a wonderful article by Rod Lott on my book and me in the Oklahoma Gazette. It begins on page 43.



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For fans unfamiliar with 60s/70s actress Pamela Tiffin the subject of my new book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1916-1974, below is my personal choices of her best movies or her most memorable performances. Three are from Hollywood and three from Italy.


One, Two, Three (1961) d. Billy Wilder

Pamela Tiffin’s second motion picture contains her most memorable performance (she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress) and catapulted her to the top of the sixties starlet heap destined for stardom. A fast-paced, hilarious satire set in Berlin and poking fun at Communism and Capitalism, it was directed by Billy Wilder and written by him and I.A.L. Diamond fresh off their Academy Award wins for The Apartment. Tiffin plays impetuous Southern belle Scarlett Hazeltine who, while under the care of Coca-Cola’s man in West Berlin C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney delivering a brilliant rapid-fire performance), sneaks across the border into East Berlin and marries Communist Otto Ludwig Piffl (Horst Buchholz) causing all sorts of comedic trouble for MacNamara. He first undoes the marriage only to have to turn Otto into a capitalist son-in-law in good standing once the boss’ daughter’s pregnancy (“Scarlett is going to have puppies,” his daughter announces) is discovered. Pamela truly excelled in the movie. The scenes where Scarlett nonchalantly reveals her marriage plans and introduces Otto to MacNamara are some of Pamela’s best ever on film. She plays dumb so sincerely that you cannot help but laugh. Her lilting Southern drawl coupled with her slow delivery compared to Cagney’s fast sharp-tongued comebacks make her performance even more humorous, as dim-witted Scarlett seems to be in a world of her own oblivious to everything around her. She makes a wonderful foil to Cagney’s frustrated businessman who bemoans, “I’d rather be in hell with my back broken.” For Pamela Tiffin fans, this hell is heaven.

The Pleasure Seekers (1964) d. Jean Negulesco

Though One, Two, Three proved Pamela was a talented comedienne, the studios typecast her as the innocent virgin in a string of popular drive-in movies including Come Fly with Me, For Those Who Think Young, and The Lively Set. The Pleasure Seekers is her second three girls looking for romance travelogue and is a standout due to the glossy production values, beautiful on-location cinematography by Daniel L. Fapp in Spain, and a standout performance by Pamela Tiffin who looks stunning and steals the movie. This was a remake of 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain, from that film’s director Jean Negulesco, about three girls looking for love and romance this time in Madrid. Here Tiffin is naïve Susie Higgins newly arrived in Spain who falls for caddish playboy Emile Lacayo (Tony Franciosa). College friend Maggie Williams (Carol Lynley), working for a news wire service, pines for her married boss (Brian Keith) while ignoring her true feelings for loyal playboy reporter Pete (Gardner MacKay) while aspiring singer/dancer Fran Hobson (Ann-Margret) falls for a poor Spanish doctor (Andre Lawrence). Ann-Margret sings/dances well and cries atrociously, while Lynley pouts prettily throughout leaving the real acting to Tiffin. She has the most rounded part and juggles the dramatic, comedic, and romantic scenes quite well. She also gets the best exterior scenes in Spain and the viewer does not mind looking at a vision as lovely as she in front of some gorgeous Madrid and Barcelona scenery. One of Tiffin’s most amusing scenes is when Susie attends her first Spanish party and Maggie schools her friend on the caddish ways of Emilio. The beautiful Tiffin elicits laughs with just the quizzical look on her face or a quick quip as the conflicted Susie knows she should not care about Emilio, but cannot help herself from being attracted to the no good playboy. Her romance culminates with a meeting with his mother (the elegant Isabel Elsom) where a touching Tiffin’s mortified Susie realizes she was duped by Emilio’s fake marriage proposal and faces him while his mother apologizes profusely for the behavior of her cad of a son. The Pleasure Seekers is a movie well worth seeking out especially for fans of these sixties starlets at their loveliest.

Harper (1966) d. Jack Smight

Released during the mid-sixties spy boom when secret agents James Bond, Matt Helm, and Derek Flint were ruling the box office, Harper was a throwback to the forties tough private eye yarns. This was Pamela Tiffin’s biggest hit and one of her best movies—not surprising since her leading man was Paul Newman. Based on Ross MacDonald’s novel Moving Target, this intriguing twisty mystery yarn has Newman’s gumshoe Lew Harper being hired by icy paralyzed equestrian Elaine Sampson (Lauren Bacall) to find her hated missing industrialist husband, which leads him to mix it up with a colorful cast of suspects including Robert Wagner, Shelley Winters, Julie Harris, and Robert Webber. Pamela Tiffin finally gets to act the vamp as the missing man’s spoiled hot-to-trot daughter who first appears on screen when Elaine instructs Harper to speak with Sampson’s young pilot Alan Taggert (Wagner) the last to see him before he vanished after disembarking from his private jet in Los Angeles. Alan is poolside with Miranda wearing a white polka-dot bikini. She is dancing on the diving board and gives a nonchalant wave over her head when Alan introduces her as she keeps shimmying to the music. Pamela is quite a vision of loveliness and elegance and her diving board shimmy has become one of sixties cinema’s most iconic images. The actress plays off Paul Newman quite well during the entire movie with her rude insights delivered in a droll manner as she accompanies him first to LA and then a mountaintop retreat to find clues to her father’s whereabouts. Though Miranda was spoiled, privileged, and insensitive, compared to the other vile characters Harper meets in his investigation, the brazen Miranda comes off the most likable due to Pamela’s ability to get the audience to feel some empathy towards her due to the disappearance of her father and how shabbily she is treated by Elaine and Alan. Pamela proved she had the acting chops to go toe-to-toe with acting legend Paul Newman and more than held her own with him on screen.

Kiss the Other Sheik (1968) d. Luciano Salce

Not Pamela Tiffin’s best movie by far, but it is notable for changing her life when asked to go blonde to act the sexpot in this Italian sex comedy starring Marcello Mastroianni. She would remain a blonde working in Italy for the rest of her career severely curtailing her chance for super stardom. A re-edited version of 1966’s three-part Oggi, domani, dopodomani (never released in the U.S.) with newly filmed scenes, Tiffin  plays sexy,  ditzy housewife Pepita whose husband Mario plots to sell her to a Sheik for his harem, but discovers his wife is shrewder than he thought. You may ask why Mario would want to dump a wife as beautiful as Pepita until you see scenes of the wife lazing in bed while the maid cleans up around her or dumping the dinner dishes over the balcony because she is too lazy to wash them. The film is recommended just for the visage of newly blonde Pamela Tiffin. The sweet dark-haired Hollywood ingénue of State Fair only a scant three years prior is long gone. Watching her pose with nothing but a straw hat or seductively trying to entice her husband into the boudoir or dancing in a tight gown for a sheik, Pamela is a stunner. And although she is badly dubbed, her knack for comedy comes through with her facial expressions be it surprise running from sword-wielding guards or satisfaction in her revenge on her louse of a husband. After seeing her in this movie, her decision to remain blonde makes perfect sense.

Giornata nera per l’Ariete/ The Fifth Cord (1971) d. Luigi Bazzoni

In my opinion, Pamela Tiffin’s best Italian movie is this stylish entertaining giallo from director Luigi Bazzoni. As with Harper, Pamela is once again part of an ensemble cast and once again is a highlight. And once again she has an excellent leading man this time Franco Nero who plays Andrea Bildi a reporter investigating a series of murders that begins after a New Year’s Eve party. He soon becomes the assigned police detective’s number one suspect since he is acquainted with all the victims. Pamela played Bildi’s no-strings attached paramour Lu. Though this role is by no means an acting stretch for Pamela, it is wonderful to see her play a sexy contemporary vibrant role with a bit of mystery. Pamela also has wonderful chemistry with Nero. Her character brings out the playful side of Andrea (despite his mistreating of her) rather than his gloominess seen throughout the rest of the movie. In fact, she is perhaps the only character who is happy and perky, as the other characters must deal with the death of friends. Considering her forte for comedy, it is no surprise she would be cast in the most lighthearted role. This violent suspenseful thriller (featuring impressive cinematography by Vittorio Storaro and a memorable score by Ennio Morricone) will keep suspense game players guessing to the end and is highly recommended.

Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears (1973) d. Paolo Cavarra

Pamela Tiffin’s swan song for American audiences was this late-in-the-cycle violent spaghetti western from director Paolo Cavara that reteamed her with Franco Nero. Pamela Tiffin delivers a feisty performance as Susie a whore with a heart and mine of gold who falls for gunslinger Johnny Ears (Nero), the companion to the hearing-impaired Erastus “Deaf” Smith (an effective Anthony Quinn) working for the state of Texas to stop a rebellion. Johnny becomes caught between the demands of his new love who wants to run away with him and his commitment to the deaf Erastus that needs him—or does Johnny need Erastus? Arguably this is Pamela’s best performance after One, Two, Three. She is well-matched with Franco Nero and play off each other expertly. She is wonderfully funny in their early scene at the whorehouse as she tries to fight him off as they climb and tumble up the stairs. Deaf Smith really gives her a chance to show her range as an actress. Amusing in one scene complete with pratfalls, and tough and hardened in the next, as she pushes and flings Nero’s Johnny away from her only to wind up in his bed where the two realize they are in love. Her character has many nuances and reminds one of Tiffin’s excellent turn in Harper where her Miranda was a woman of many emotions. On its own, the western is quite entertaining. Its premise, with one of the leads being deaf and mute, is a novel and intriguing idea. There are some nice touches as seeing the action through Deaf Smith’s eyes with no sound. Though quite stirring for the most part, the plot is a bit implausible expecting moviegoers to believe that the fate of Texas is left in the hands of only two men. It is also full of plot holes and a longer than necessary shoot’em up finale. Despite these minor shortcomings, Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears is buoyed by the three lead actors and a special treat for Pamela Tiffin fans.



In planning stages of branching out from 1960s cinema and working on a book about the daytime serial Ryan’s Hope. I interviewed actor Roscoe Born (ex-Joe Novak, 1981-1983; 1988). He sent me this photo of him and Linda Vail in the Washington Theatre Club production of Senior Prom and asked me to share. I told him looks like a still from Grease. More to come on the book in the near future, but for now take a look on my just released book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974.

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“Easy Rider” from Trippin’ with Terry Southern

In honor of it being the late Gail Gerber’s birthday month, thought I would share an excerpt on how the classic Easy Rider was created from her 2010 memoir Trippin’ with Terry Southern. It was the most talked about section as she refutes most of the bullshit Peter Fonda and the late Dennis Hopper have been shoveling for decades.

Excerpt from “Uneasy Rider” from Trippin with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember by Gail Gerber with Tom Lisanti

Peter Fonda showed up at the carriage house on East 36th Street one rainy night in November of 1967.  The son of Henry Fonda and sister of Jane, Peter gave an impressive Golden Globe-nominated performance as a solider in The Victors (1963) but the studios tabbed him a new romantic lead pairing him with Sandra Dee in the corny Tammy and the Doctor (1963) and with Sharon Hugueny in The Young Lovers (1964).  Fonda was saved from becoming another Troy Donahue when American International Pictures asked him to step in at the last minute as a replacement for actor George Chakiris who balked at doing his own motorcycle riding in Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels (1966).  Peter played Heavenly Blues the leader of a local Hell’s Angels motorcycle club chapter.  The film was an immediate hit and suddenly a long-haired Peter Fonda was cool in the eyes of the youth culture.  Signed to do two more films for AIP, Fonda next starred as a TV commercial director who decides to experiment with LSD in The Trip (1967).  He had one more film owed on his contract and that’s when he knocked on our door.

Terry had known Peter Fonda from the time he arrived in Hollywood in 1964 when it was a sleepy town in the doldrums between cinematic highs, and the children of the great stars of another era were trying to develop careers … or not.  Terry and I would spend time at the Malibu home of Bobby Walker where we met and became friendly with Peter.

Terry was expecting Peter when he turned up at our doorstep on that chilly autumn night.  While Terry was in Rome a few weeks prior he had lunch with Peter who was making a movie for Roger Vadim and where he shared with Terry an idea for a film that came to him in a hotel room in Toronto.  Per Terry it was first about two daredevil racecar drivers being exploited by greedy promoters but then morphed into a tale about two bikers who score some dope, go on a road trip, and have a series of “interesting incidences” when Peter realized that he owed American International Pictures one more biker film.

Terry was very enthusiastic about the project but Peter felt he wouldn’t have enough in the budget to pay Terry’s fee to write the script.  After I let Peter into our home he reiterated the plot once again to Terry and said he had a title for the movie, something like The Loners.  Terry, sitting on our golden couch, raised his hand to indicate a marquee, and said, “Why not call it Easy Rider.”  Terry once again expressed great interest in writing the screenplay.  As I remember, which differs from Peter’s recollection, the rest of the conversation went something as follows:

Peter: “We can’t afford you Terry.  Can you do it on deferment?”

Terry: “I can’t, but I’ll do it for scale and a percentage.  Who is going to direct?”

Peter: “Dennis Hopper.”

Terry: “Are you sure!?!”

Dennis had never directed before and had such a bad reputation at this time.  Despite his trepidation about Hopper, Terry agreed with the understanding of receiving a percentage of the profits and was to come up with the “interesting incidences.”  Fonda was pleased, and rushed out into the night.  This was the era of oral agreements and handshake deals, and Terry had no reason to doubt Peter.

Despite the fact that he had co-authored such classic movies as Dr. Strangelove, The Loved One, The Cincinnati Kid, and Barbarella, Terry wasn’t getting any offers in the U.S. at this time.  I thought it was a little strange, (soon we would learn that the FBI had a hand in Terry not working) but was not involved in his business.  I assumed he had smart New York and Los Angeles people looking after his “best interests,” but it seems that they were looking out for their own welfare, where Terry only thought of the next project.  Terry said to me once, “An agent never got me a job, but was always there to take their percentage.”

Peter returned after the holidays and moved into the monk-like half furnished room on the third floor.  He and Terry finally got down to business, hired a typist from a typing pool in Washington D.C who came to the house, and started on the series of “interesting incidences.”  They worked nonstop all day for about a month, Terry with his yellow pad and pencil, and Peter pacing around the living room—the better to think.  The typist would come by about five o’clock in the afternoon and type up the pages, triple spaced, and then Terry would work on the script some more into the wee hours of the night.

One night, very late, Peter had gone out on the town.  Terry continued to work with the typist.  They finished up and were just talking while I made drinks.  The typist mentioned that she had done a lot of typing for the government, and that these classified documents she was working on had to do with how there are alien people from outer space walking around amongst us, and working for the government.  They looked just like us, and had infiltrated the highest offices, and had blended right in.

After she left, Terry got right to work on it and incorporated this into a scene he wrote with his good friend Rip Torn in mind.  The part was that of the “Faulkner-like” country lawyer eventually played by Jack Nicholson in the movie.  As Wyatt and Billy sit around a campfire with the lawyer getting stoned, he regales the bikers with this conspiracy theory about the government covering up the existence of aliens.  Terry showed the scene to Rip and asked if he would do it.  Rip was busy with rehearsals for his new play called The Cuban Thing, which coincidentally was the same play I had auditioned for but didn’t get.  Rip said he would try to do the movie if his schedule worked out.

Eventually Dennis Hopper, who was to direct Easy Rider, arrived.  Early in his career Hopper was being compared to James Dean.  A confrontation with legendary director Henry Hathaway on the set of From Hell to Texas in 1958 pretty much blackballed him from the film industry though he remained active on television.  Terry had met Dennis in 1965 when he was hired by Vogue to do a magazine piece on Hopper’s then-wife Brooke Hayward, daughter of the Broadway producer Leland Hayward.  Dennis was not working as an actor at the time, but as a photographer.  They had a house in the Hollywood Hills, and Dennis had quite a collection of contemporary art.  Terry entitled his article, “The Loved House of the Dennis Hopper’s.”

We stayed friendly with Brooke and Dennis (Terry, always with the nicknames, called him “Den”), and we’d go to the house for dinner.  Brooke would serve something wonderful and wisely go to bed.  Dennis and Terry would retire, with drinks in hand, to the living room, which had a disconcerting dentist’s chair.  I would find a cozy sofa and watch Dennis and Terry talk.  Dennis would expound on his idea of how Shakespeare should be spoken, and rant on about a film he wanted to direct called The Last Movie, which he eventually managed to make.  Terry loved madness and people behaving badly (and you couldn’t get any madder or badder than Hopper).  Terry would draw this behavior out, and then go home and write “fiction.”

When Dennis showed up at our house in New York we let him stay in Nile’s room, which he complained about and rudely called “a closet.”  I tried to stay out of the way as best I could.  Dennis was there for about two weeks, and at night he and Peter would be pacing around my living room, gesturing, and throwing out ideas between passing joints between the three of them.  Though Terry was a martini man he would just hold the joint and pass it along most times.  Somebody had to stay straight to do the writing so Terry sat with his pencil and a long yellow pad on our golden couch, scribbling away.  He would hand the pages to the typist and she would type them up immediately.  Dennis would rant and rave, using a lot of four-letter words, and the typist would break into tears, and run sobbing out into the night.  Terry would have to call the typing pool the next day, and get another typist.  Terry suggested that they change the “drug of choice” from marijuana to cocaine, which was not in fashion yet, because pot was too bulky to be carrying on the motorcycles.  Dennis thought that running the credits upside down might be interesting, and he also whined about why the two characters had to die.

Terry loved collaborating with other people. He always felt that two heads were better than one when creating a story or screenplay. Terry was really in his element sharing concepts with Peter and Dennis.  He just loved to work in this free-for-all fashion with people yelling out story ideas while nestled on the sofa he jotted down the better ones in pencil on his yellow legal pad.  Peter once remarked that Terry agreed to work on Easy Rider on a handshake “just for the sake of having the freedom to play with an idea that appealed to his individual nature.”  This statement is oh-so-true.

Terry had the scripts neatly bound and held on to the original.  He handed copies to Peter and Dennis, and off they went back to Hollywood.  Terry also gave a script to Rip Torn who retained his copy after all these years.

Peter, who owed American International Pictures one more movie, took the script to studio heads James Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff.  Peter and Dennis were trying to use this biker movie to make a more interesting statement about the current state of affairs in the U.S. but also as a springboard to launch Dennis’ directing career.  But due to the proposed budget and the rampant drug use, AIP turned it down to Sam Arkoff’s forever regrets.  Fonda then made an agreement with Bert Schneider who, along with director Bob Rafelson, brought The Monkees to television and produced their movie Head in 1968.  Bert had a production deal with Columbia Pictures, which wound up distributing the movie.  However, there was a stipulation as the studio gave Dennis and Peter about $40,000 to go to New Orleans Mardi Gras to shoot some test footage, which was eventually used in the film, to see if they could really pull off making a movie.

This shoot was scheduled to commence in March.  At the last minute someone was bright enough to check and discovered Mardi Gras that year was in February so the rush was on to get to New Orleans for the parade, where one of the last scenes was to be shot in a graveyard.  It was Peter’s soliloquy, and a photo exists of Terry and Peter discussing it, with Fonda clutching the script.

Terry and I flew down to New Orleans and found the cast and crew settled in a crummy motel at the airport.  We caught the end of the parade and then went to the graveyard for Peter’s scene.  When night came there was no crew to light the set.  In the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind, a crew member said that there was so much chaos someone’s girlfriend had to hold the Sun Gun. I was that person.  I had no idea what a Sun Gun was when I volunteered to help while standing late at night in a boggy, soggy New Orleans cemetery.  Some guy’s voice came out of the dark, and said, “We have no one to hold the Sun Gun.” Trying to be helpful, I chirped, “I’ll do it!”  Before I knew what was happening, a couple of burly guys strapped this giant, heavy battery pack around my waist, which caused me to sink further into the bog.  I was to hold this pole the size of a broomstick with a bright light on the end and keep it steady on Peter’s face while he did his monologue. This was a lengthy speech and it took all night to shoot.  I tried so hard to keep the pole steady, while I continued to sink further and further into the misty marsh.  Peter was emoting like mad, and the crew was concentrating, knowing this was going to be a one-take shot that they only had one chance to get. Luckily, we got it. If not, I’m afraid that I might have disappeared completely into the bog never to be heard from again.

Everyone slept all the next day, which is odd for people who are supposed to be shooting a movie.  In the morning I went wandering, and found a classic New Orleans funeral.  I saw the Dirge and later the joyful exit, and the Second Line with umbrellas in the light drizzle of rain.  Later that afternoon, we gathered in someone’s room in the motel.  It had been raining all day, and Dennis insisted he needed the camera to film the neon lights reflected in the puddles.  No one was about to give Dennis a camera.  I went back to our room and didn’t see the camera go through the motel’s plate glass window.

The next day I told Terry that I was going back to New York.  I returned home to East 36th Street, and a few days later Terry showed up.  He looked perturbed but was tight-lipped about it.  When I asked him what went on down there after I left, all he would manage to bark out was a “Hrrrmph.”  Actress Karen Black, who played a New Orleans prostitute in the film, said Dennis’ behavior became so unruly that Terry turned to him and said, “The cacophony of your verbiage is driving me insane.”  There was nothing more to shoot in New Orleans that I know of, and I guess they all de-camped.  The filming was finished for the moment.  Peter and Dennis returned to Hollywood with the screenplay to raise the rest of the money.  Everyone in the film business knows you can’t get financing without a script.

Later, in the early summer after Columbia agreed to release Easy Rider, there was a meeting in a restaurant on the Upper East Side to discuss shooting the rest of the movie with Peter, Dennis, Terry, Rip Torn, myself, and a director whose name I can’t remember.  Dennis was late so we went ahead and ordered drinks and appetizers.  Terry was sitting on my left and Dennis’ place was on my right.  I was the only woman at the table.  Rip was on the other side of the round table, and so was Peter, who was talking to a couple of pretty girls sitting nearby.  Dennis soon showed up in full Easy Rider regalia—long hair, bushy mustache, and fringed buckskin jacket. He didn’t sit down but continued to stand on my right at his place at the table.  Agitated, he exclaimed, “Man, I’ve been lookin’ for shootin’ locations in Texas and man, I’m lucky I’m still alive—those mother-fuckin’, redneck bastards!”  He then spotted Rip across the table and said, “Hey Rip, you’re from fuckin’ Texas, aren’t you?”  Rip replied, “Yes, but don’t judge all bastards by me.”  Dennis continued his ranting and, still standing, picked up the knife at his place setting and leaned across the table, brandishing the knife at Rip.  Rip, who had been in the army and was a tough Texan, didn’t even get up, but leaned over the table, grabbed Dennis’ wrist, and twisted.  The knife clanked to the table.  Peter, who had been leaning back in his chair and balancing on two legs so he could flirt with the girls, fell over backwards.  Rip, controlling his temper, offered to meet Dennis outside to finish the fight, and left the restaurant.  Dennis sat down, acting as if nothing had happened, and continued to dominate the conversation all through dinner.

Needless to say, Rip refused to work with Dennis Hopper and backed out of the movie.  He not only lost out on a memorable movie role but unfortunately for Rip the controversial play he was starring in The Cuban Thing about a Cuban family during Fidel Castro’s revolution closed after opening night.  During previews a Cuban resistance group bombed the theatre in protest of the play.

Scrambling to find a replacement for Rip, Peter purportedly talked with William Wellman, Jr. about a role but when Wellman learned that Dennis was co-starring and directing he opted to work in a Bob Hope comedy instead.  Finally, they found someone who would work with Dennis—Jack Nicholson who was recommended by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider.  It was a star-making role for Jack, which was not surprising as Terry wrote wonderful dialogue for the character and Jack brilliantly brought to life this straight laconic Southern lawyer who smokes marijuana for the first time.  At this point Terry had moved onto his next endeavor while Peter and Dennis traveled the country filming Easy Rider from Terry’s script…