My Fascination with Carol Lynley
Today is actress Carol Lynley’s 72nd birthday and I realized it has been 40 years since I became obsessed with this gorgeous angelic-looking blonde actress with the bluest eyes and porcelain doll skin. Most people think it was due to The Poseidon Adventure that made me flip my lid but in actuality it was a Glen Campbell/Joe Namath comedy called Norwood.
Every pubescent boy in 1973 wanted to see The Poseidon Adventure and I was no different. I was mesmerized by the TV commercials and desperately wanted to see the movie. My family rarely took us to indoor movies but we frequented the drive-in during the Spring and Summer months often. My birthday rolled around on May 11 and The Poseidon Adventure was still playing in theaters across the country five months after it premiered. Needless to say, guess what I wanted for a present? So on a warm Saturday night, off to the drive-in we went.
I was too excited for words and got to sit in the front seat between my mom and dad while my three siblings settled down in back. The sun went down and the movie began. I was fascinated as it began to unspool introducing the passengers and crew hours before the New Year’s Eve countdown. Of course, I knew what was in store for all and sat there waiting anxiously for the big moment. Then it came. As the ocean liner began to roll over after being hit by a 90-foot tidal wave, I was mesmerized. I had never seen anything like it. My heart was racing as the people in the ballroom began to reach out desperately for anything to grab on to, as the ship began to tilt. “Hold on Linda,” Mike Rogo yelled to his wife. It was to no avail as they, Belle, Nonnie, Manny, Reverend Scott, Susan, Robin, and the rest all began tumbling down as the ocean liner began to capsize. It is the best piece of trick photography, stunt work, and special effects for me to this day.
After that capsizing scene, I sat there mouth agape for the rest of the movie as the passengers and crew made their way up to the bottom of the boat–climbing, swimming, crawling their way to try to escape. The movie was tense, exciting, shocking (they killed off major characters in horrific ways!), tender, and funny. I loved all the characters but the one that fascinated me the most was the hippie singer Nonnie clad in hot pants and go-go boots. She was the lone character who expressed sheer terror regarding their predicament. I could relate, as I was petrified just watching in a parked car.
When the movie ended, it was like I just awoke from a dream. First thing I asked my mother was “who was the pretty blond playing Nonnie?” She said, “Carol Lynley. She was in that vampire movie [The Night Stalker] that I told you not to watch last year.”
I put this “Carol Lynley” out of my mind. Then one Saturday night the following year NBC-TV was broadcasting a Glen Campbell comedy called Norwood from 1970. He played a returning G.I. who wanted to get out of his sleepy hometown and make it as a vocalist on some hayseed radio show. At a local roller rink he meets up with shady Grady (Pat Hingle) who tells the naïve boy that he has connections to the show and all Norwood needs to do is drive one of his cars to New York City unaware they are hot. When Norwood shows up the next day, he finds there are actually two cars and a passenger sitting in it named, “Yvonne Phillips and she is a dandy.” Grady tells Norwood that Yvonne has her own spending money, but whatever arrangements they make between them is Norwood and Yvonne’s business. Norwood says he doesn’t think she wants to. Funny, she hasn’t said a word so why we would he automatically assume that I thought. Years later I discovered that censors cut the prior scene when Yvonne gets out of the car and cusses out Grady and Norwood.
(Carol is featured in below video at the 8:13 mark)
Calling Yvonne Philips a dandy was an under statement. A pretty sun-drenched blond with short hair in an orange mini-dress Yvonne was a ball of energy eating her can of peaches as the duo began arguing their way across the country. Norwood keeps calling his passenger Laverne and she exclaims, “My name is not Laverne it’s Yvonne! But I don’t want you calling me nuthin’” Unfortunately, after Norwood runs a stop sign and the duo are chased by an inept deputy and his sheriff, he gives the stolen car to Yvonne who drives off to find her “cannonball” Sammy Ortega in Illinois and disappears from the movie. I watched until the end to see who the actress was and I was stunned to see it was Carol Lynley! The same Carol Lynley who has long hair and a hippieish look in The Night Stalker and The Poseidon Adventure? It couldn’t be. She had a totally different look and played such an animated role. But it was.
From that moment on I tried to catch every movie and TV show she appeared in. I would buy the TV Guide a week early to plan my watching. If Carol turned up during the daytime on The Hollywood Squares or Dinah’s Place I would plan to be sick that day to stay home from school. It only worked a few times as my mom began to catch on. If one of Carol’s movies appeared on the Late Late Show (as Harlow often did) I would try to keep myself awake or set my alarm to get up (remember this was pre-VCR days). Luckily, a number of her films (particularly The Pleasure Seekers and The Shuttered Room) were regular features on the ABC-TV 4:30 Movie and that Carol was a frequent guest on The Mike Douglas Show. Both programs aired after school was out.
I began a scrapbook of clippings on Carol tearing out her picture or magazine/newspaper articles on her wherever I saw them including a few library books I am sorry to admit. Hell, I was desperate. Due to her romances with David Frost, Jack Haley, Jr. (later whom Carol confessed was just a friendship since he was gay) and others she popped up in the Enquirer, the Star, and Rona Barrett’s Gossip and Hollywood magazines frequently. I wrote in to Newsday’s TV column with questions I already knew the answers to such as “Was there a movie sequel to Peyton Place and, if so, who played Alison?” and “Did Carol Lynley sing ‘The Morning After’ in The Poseidon Adventure?” only to get her picture in the paper. It worked both times. My fascination became so acute and my family so aware that I overheard my mom tell her friend, “Tom stays up to all hours to watch Carol Lynley movies and pro wrestling.” The latter is for another discussion.
Some Carol experiences stand out for me. In 1975, our junior high school English class went to see the musical Raisin in NYC. It was my first Broadway show. But I was more interested in seeing the marquee for Absurd Person Singular “the longest running comedy on Broadway starring Geraldine Page, Carol Lynley and Fritz Weaver” as the TV commercial would blare. My nose was pressed to our bus’ window as we rode by since the theaters for the two shows were near each other. At this time Carol was the very fit spokeswoman for New York Health & Raquet Club and I always would run to the TV when her commercial aired. But I was most excited when I read that Carol was going to be a presenter on the 1979 Academy Awards most likely due to Jack Haley, Jr. who was directing. Carol looked simply stunning in a aqua blue evening gown that brought her eyes out even more and a blown back hairdo. She and co-presenter Robby Benson made a nice pairing and thankfully did not make fools of themselves as celebrities often do at these things.
I am the first to admit that Carol Lynley is not the greatest actress. There are no Oscars or Emmys on her mantle. And in her later years she could be guilty of delivering a bland and lazy performance. But for me she had that certain something that makes you stand up and take notice. Perhaps it is the cool elegance that she exudes. She had the guts to take on varied roles and fought typecasting. As she once said, “I’ve played murderesses, nuns, whores and neurotics.” 40 years later I am still taking notice.
Happy Birthday Carol Lynley!
Below are 2 of my books Carol is featured in and hopefully one more to come in the near future.