This is a perfect time to revisit the 1970 film comedy Viva Max where the Mexicans take back the Alamo! Starring Peter Ustinov, Pamela Tiffin, Jonathan Winters, John Astin and in his film debut Peter Gonzales Falcon.
And you can read about the making of the movie in my book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974.
In my upcoming book Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies from BearManor Media, actress Maggie Thrett talks about her film appearances and especially about making the hit drive-in movie Three in the Attic (1968) written by Stephen Yafa and starring Christopher Jones, Yvette Mimieux, and Judy Pace. However, she is probably most remembered for her guest appearance in “Mudd’s Women” on Star Trek earlier in her career and some of her other TV roles.
Maggie Thrett was born Diane Pine in New York City. She had a natural gift for singing and in junior high school was chosen to be part of the All City Glee Club. She then attended the High School for the Performing Arts and began working as a model after accompanying a tall beautiful Israeli classmate to her modeling agency Plaza Five. One look at the attractive gal with long luxurious dark hair and they signed her as a client. Her first appearance in Harper’s Bazaar had her modeling street clothes accompanied by actor Michael J. Pollard. Soon after she was gracing their cover. She then signed with the more prestigious agency Eileen Ford while continuing her singing career. At age thirteen, she had a record out called “Your Love Is Mine” with the B-side “Lucky Girl.”
Bob Crewe (most famous for writing a number of hits for The Four Seasons) was taken with the aspiring singer when she was dancing at the Greenwich Village discotheque Trude Heller’s the year she graduated high school. He produced her next single called “Soupy” for his label DynoVoice Records, but he changed her name to Maggie Thrett because “he thought it sounded British and more with it for the time.”
During this period Maggie reveals that she was ensconced in an unhappy abusive marriage to a wannabe actor. He got an audtion for Universal Pictures and Thrett agreed to read opposite him when his partner dropped out at the last minute. As luck would have it, she got signed and sent to Hollywood, while he was sent packing.
With her long brown, hair which she refuse to cut, the beautiful actress was able to play various ethnic types such as Mexicans or native Americans mostly on television. Her first film for the studio was the beach/spy spoof Out of Sight (1966) starring Jonathan Pine, Karen Jensen, and Shindig dancer Carole Shelyne. Maggie played the karate-chopping F.L.U.S.H. assassin Wipeout who arrives in Malibu on a surfboard from Hawaii. They then gave her a role in an episode of Run for Your Life starring Ben Gazzara. There she met future husband actor Donnelly Rhodes. “We met at the Montecito Hotel where Universal Studios first put me up when I cam to Los Angeles. He was married at the time. We didn’t get together until later. He was nice and Ben was too.”
Next came her most notable role that of Ruth, a gorgeous alien humanoid, in “Mudd’s Women” on Star Trek for which she is most remembered for to this day. This episode was directed by Harvey Hart. It was one of three scripts submitted to be the second pilot however the adult content worried NBC. It was the sixth episode aired.
I was living in an apartment on Larrabee Street in Hollywood. Roger C. Carmel lived downstairs. It was a coincidence we both wound up cast. I had no idea what this show was because it was only the second episode they did [third if you count the original pilot with Jeffrey Hunter]. I had to read for the part and got it. I never got any role through connections. It was all by going in for the interview and auditioning.
The entire cast was really nice. I never saw any friction between any of the actors. William Shatner was very polite to me and a very pleasant guy. Susan Denberg was a German girl and she was a bit strange. Karen Steele was easier to get to know and her boyfriend actor Michael Rennie would visit her on the set. I thought he was actually there to see if he could get a job on the series. And of course I was already friends with Roger C. Carmel who was my neighbor. He was always very entertaining and a really good character actor. We had a good cast and a good director with Harvey Hart.
I thought this show was more adult then the other sci-fi shows on the air at the time. Our episode dealt with these women who was so desperate to remain young and beautiful that they would take a drug just to give them the illusion of beauty. They had no self-worth and thought their looks were the only thing going for them. [This episode smartly touched on the way women were made to feel as they matured. Hollywood was the worst offender and if an actress had not made it by thirty they were considered too old and put out to pasture.]
I had no complaints about my costume here and apparently nobody else did either. What they give you is what you wear but here it was better than usual. The makeup part was tough when we age. They put duo surgical paste on our faces—like six coats of it to shrivel you up. I remember getting it off at night was just raw. When we filmed these scenes I remember we hit Golden Overtime that day. We were there from about 4 in the morning to about 9 or 10 at night. You are passed regular overtime and are into triple overtime. They didn’t want to pay. I had to fight for it through the Screen Actors Guild. They don’t like when you do that and hurts your chances to be on the show again. I got my money and no surprise was never invited back. Years later I got a letter from Gene Roddenberry to forfeit my residuals and to donate them to his charity. I declined.
As Ruth, Maggie Thrett looked stunning in her tight emerald green sparkling gown as one of the three loveliest women (the others being Karen Steele and Susan Denberg) in the universe who mesmerize the male crew members of the Enterprise. The gals are cargo being transported by Roger C. Carmel’s Henry Mudd who acts an intergalactic pimp providing brides to lonely men. Ruth especially beguiles Dr, McCoy and drops in on sick bay to get information on the lithium crystal miners on the planet the Enterprise is en-route to. While there she inadvertently sets off McCoy’s medical scanner, which baffles him. Turns out the gals’ hypnotic effect on men comes from a Venus drug that transforms them from decrepit hags to glamour girls. When the drug begins to wear off, Ruth is desperate for Mudd to find the hidden pills so she can go back to the illusion of beauty to snare one of the miners. Maggie gives one of her finest performances here as the intense frantic Ruth who cannot bare to return to her true self.
I am shocked that years later I am best known for doing this episode. I am forever in TV history. At least it was not bad so I am not embarrassed by it. Some company contacted me to sell my autograph on these Star Trek cards. They pay me to and they resell at these Star Trek conventions. I was invited once but it didn’t work out. I think living in New York hurts because they are usually on the West Coast.
Maggie Thrett next turned up twice on The Wild Wild West but her time there was not as enjoyable due to star Robert Conrad:
He was the only lead actor I didn’t like and he was a real prick. You don’t have to be tall to be nice. He worked all the time and I do not know what his problem was about his height. Conrad also didn’t like to rehearse any scenes and wouldn’t run lines. He was only interested in the action scenes and those were the only scenes he would rehearse. I didn’t get it. Ross Martin, on the other hand, was a doll and he was the better actor. He was a professional and ran lines with us like you are suppose to do.
On the second episode that louse Conrad, who was married, came on to me. It was like you belong to me because you are on my show. I said, ‘I’m too old for you. I heard you like younger girls.’ I was eighteen at the time. When I wouldn’t go back to his trailer with him, he had me replaced in a love scene we were supposed to do in the moonlight where he kisses me. I didn’t care because I had enough scenes and it didn’t really matter.
Thrett’s two episodes were “The Night of the Freebooters” where she played soft-spoken Rita Leon, a Mexican whose husband is being held prisoner by the Freebooters, a renegade army led by Thorald Wolfe (Keenan Wynn) set to invade and claim Mexico’s Baja, California. “The Night of the Running Death” gave Thrett more to do as a dancer named Deirdre (a.k.a. Topaz) who has a passion for molasses-covered Cherries Jubilee and is the girlfriend of assassin Enzo (played by female impersonator T.C. Jones). She fakes her death in order to aid Enzo, masquerading as a female British schoolteacher, in killing a princess. As a disguised Dierdre goes to shoot her, agent Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) comes up from behind her and grabs her arm, deflecting the shot. He then says to his partner James West (Robert Conrad), “Let me present our dear friend Topaz to you James. We know her better as Deirdre.” Artemus then rips off her veil and quips, “And we gave you such a nice funeral.”
Continuing in the western genre she played Indian maidens on two TV shows. The long forgotten 1967 summer series Dundee and the Culhane starred John Mills as an English lawyer partnered with American Sean Garrison bringing “frontier justice” to folks in the Old West. Sort of a Perry Mason on horseback. Her episode was “The Death of a Warrior Brief” and also guest starred James Dunn and Gus Trikonis.
I remember this because I thought Sean Garrison was such a weird nasty guy. Also because we shot on location in Arizona and it was like 120 degrees. They hired real native Americans as extras. Flies were swarming around them and they were used to it. I couldn’t believe it. It was interesting interacting with them.
More remembered was Cimarron Strip starring Stuart Whitman (“another really nice guy,” exclaimed Thrett) as a US marshal enforcing the law in the Kansas territory. In “Heller” Thrett played Red Deer part of an Indian tribe being harassed by an outlaw gang. Tuesday Weld also appeared playing a woman who is part of the gang but turns against them to help Whitman’s marshal because as a child she was raised by Indians and has sympathy for them. As Red Deer, Thrett has one gripping moment when she shames the men in her tribe that won’t help the marshal track down the outlaw gang.
I lied to get this part. I said I had been on a horse and that I owned brown contact lens. That weekend before filming began I had to go out and buy a pair, and went to a stable to learn how to get on and off a horse. I got away with it.
Thrett also made appearances on the TV series I Dream of Jeannie; McCloud (“I played Godiva and rode through the park actually topless with my hair covering my breasts”); and The Most Deadly Game working once again with Yvette Mimieux (“I don’t remember her on this but do recall George Maharis because he wore false eyelashes. He was the first actor I ever worked with that wore them. It made him look pretty”).
Maggie Thrett’s last TV role was in an episode of the cult series Run, Joe, Run in 1974 with then husband Donnelly Rhodes about a military trained German Shepherd named Joe falsely accused of attacking his Sergeant. The canine goes on the run and winds up helping people he encounters while being pursued. It was like a four-legged version of The Fugitive. “Funny, I do not recall this show at all. Donnelly and I lived together first and then got married in Tijuana.”
Maggie Thrett then abandoned acting to concentrate on her musical career where as Diane Pine she was a very successful backup singer in the studio and on stage. She left show business the mid-eighties choosing a life of domesticity.
I learned today the sad news that actress Francine York passed away this morning Jan. 6, 2017 from Cancer. Seems she was secretly struggling with the disease for over a year. Based on her cheery Facebook posts and drive to keep working, you would never have guessed it. That is why it came as such a shock for most of her fans.
I wrote to Francine in the late nineties to do a career interview for my first book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema. She called me and said, “I have been waiting for you for years. What took you so long! I have a whole lot to say!” And boy did she. A writer’s dream, Francine had stories from just about every movie and TV show she worked on. Outspoken, funny, and sometimes a bit boastful but in a sweet way, she regaled me with anecdotes about Jerry Lewis, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, George Peppard, and her iconic TV appearances on Batman, Lost in Space, Bewitched and so much more. Completely candid, if Francine liked you she praised you to the hilt, but if you wronged her she was not afraid to call you to task (hear that Tony Randall). She told me about her infamous wall of fame in her apartment that she so wanted me to see with photos from her career. When she auditioned for the 70s Saturday morning TV show Jason of Star Command, per Francine the casting director asked if she could play a queen, and she replied, “I am the Queen!” Naturally she got the part.
Francine and I stayed in touch ever since. I will miss receiving her wonderful photo Christmas cards each year. She hated to fly but could not pass up a big paycheck to do a commercial being shot in New York City. We met for dinner in Soho and had a lovely time. We took a photo together and it has remained one of my favorites.
Francine never stopped acting unlike most of her 60s contemporaries. Her most recent credit was just last year in the comedy web series Where the Bears Are playing a wealthy mother of one of the gay characters. She was a wonderful presence on Facebook up until the night before she passed away. I always was entertained with her life which she shared almost completely and was in the midst of writing her memoir. I hope it still gets released. She was active to the very end.
During the summer I was interviewed in the French magazine Style for an article about beach movies. The writer stumbled on my website and that I authored the book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969. Article is in French but my friend Michael Carroll translated my quotes:
Bottom of the first column on p. 70.
“At that time, most adolescent films were about juvenile delinquents or biker gangs. Teens were sick of always being portrayed as thugs. It was at that time that Gidget suddenly appeared and they were seen as young people who just wanted to spend time at the beach. That was a turning point in portraying youth on screen,” explains Thomas Lisanti, author of the authoritative book on the subject, Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave. Since then, from Where the Boys Are to Bikini Beach and Beach Party, the beach was everywhere, brought on by the explosion of surfing around the world and the enthusiasm …
… explains Thomas Lisanti, “The very first beach movies showed surfers who smoked, hung out and drank beer. But when the producers realized how much money they could make from this audience composed mainly of teenagers, they realized their films should become more family-oriented. In films that came next, like Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach, they even did without alcohol. The characters started drinking Coca Cola and relationships suddenly became platonic. It was this conformism that would end this first wave of beach movies. In the middle of the 1960’s, the US was in complete upheaval. Torn between the march for civil rights, the Vietnam War, the arrival of new drugs, free love, the youth of America were no longer living in the innocent and chaste utopia of beach movies. They preferred instead biker films, hippie musical comedies and later, the first music videos on MTV. [I think you said all that. The French sometimes neglect to close quotes. The reader is supposed to figure it out.]
Generation Spring Break
“Now I find this terribly vulgar,” our beach movie expert, Thomas Lisanti, exclaims. [He was talking about reality TV.]
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.
While you were filming at Cinecittà, Federico Fellini was filming on a sound stage next door. Is that how he discovered you?
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.
Did you speak fluent Italian at that point?
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.
One of the many standout scenes was where your character dines on the street with a mass of noisy Italians. It looks like controlled chaos. I presume this was filmed on a sound stage?
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.
Considering how meticulous Fellini was, one of the pickiest criticisms the film gets is that your longish hair was not appropriate for the time period. How did that slip by him?
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.
What have you done more recently?
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.
Actress Joyce Meadows first came to drive-in movie prominence in the film The Brain from Planet Arous (1958) co-starring John Agar. Though a number of actresses are known for shrieking their way through a gaggle of fifties sci-fi horror films, Meadow’s character was no shrinking violet as she helped destroy the alien during the film’s climax. Her sixties screen heroines did not fare as well. As the title character in the exploitation rebel youth flick The Girl in Lovers Lane (1960), Meadows meets a horrific end at the hands of a psycho and in William Castle’s I Saw What You Did (1965) her philandering husband stabs her to death in the shower. If that was not bad enough, behind-the-scenes the pretty actress had to suffer the ire of monstrous co-star Joan Crawford. At least producer Ivan Tors liked Meadows. Due to her talent and professionalism, he cast her in a number of his television series and on the big screen in his Disney-like film Zebra in the Kitchen (1965).
Joyce Meadows was born Joyce Burger in a prairie town in a providence of Alberta, Canada. She grew up on a farm near the Black Foot Indian Reservation. “The first school I ever went to was in a little town named Dorothy,” recalled Joyce. “The teacher there taught from the first to the twelfth grade. Our school bell was a cowbell. And I wasn’t born in 1812 either! It was very simple living out there on the prairie. It was not modern at all.”
When Joyce was eleven years old her family moved to Louistown, Montana and then to Sacramento, California where Joyce attended high school. She appeared in a number of school plays and sang in her church. “My mother’s side of the family is Russian and Romanian and my relatives were quite talented—everybody sang and danced. I had an uncle who yodeled. So I grew up performing, but acting didn’t dawn on me that it was a separate thing that you could call a profession until I got into high school. It was then that I learned that acting could become a way of life.” During her senior year, Joyce began singing professionally in Lake Tahoe as part of a program with Burl Ives. It was her first paying job in show business. After graduating high school, she joined The Little Eaglet Theatre in Sacramento. She appeared in Romeo and Juliet as Juliet, A Midsummer’sNight Dream, and How Deep Are the Roots, among others. It was about this time when Joyce’s manager changed her last name from Berger to Meadows because “that was the era when people changed their names. They don’t do that so much anymore. And Meadows was sort of a popular name—I don’t know why he picked it. I just accepted it.”
Joyce arrived in Hollywood during the late fifties and was discovered by agent Allen Connor while appearing in the play What Doth It Profit at the Glendale Center Theatre. She made her film debut in the western Flesh and the Spur (1957) with John Agar and then played a harem girl in Omar Khayyam (1957). But it was the low-budget sci-fi cheapie The Brain from Planet Arous that brought her recognition.
The Brain from Planet Arous was produced and photographed by Jacques Marquette, directed by Nathan H. Juran, and released by Howco International in 1958. Meadows co-starred with John Agar and Robert Fuller. “I was still very new to the business at that time when I got this film,” remarked Joyce. “I hadn’t done a whole lot of film. I had worked with Jacques Marquette previously on a number of TV shows. He told me about it and encouraged me to come and read for the part.”
Though B-movie vet Nathan Juran (a.k.a. Hertz) is credited as director of The Brain from Planet Arous, Joyce remembers Jacques Marquette doing a lot of the directing. “This was a very technical movie,” explained Joyce. “Jacques was a very talented cameraman and he’d have camera moves where people would move in and out—the camera keeps moving and the scene keeps going as people walk into a close-up or a two-shot and walk back away and it becomes a long-shot. Today people are fascinated by this camerawork. They did this in The Brain from Planet Arous and other films from that era because they didn’t have the money to do many takes. So with all these camera techniques Jacques was always coming up to me and giving me direction. He’d say things like, ‘It is very crucial that you hit your mark here’ or something to that effect. He was always whispering suggestions into my ear. So at the time I felt he did more of the directing than Nathan because he was helping me a great deal with the technical aspect of the film. But Nathan did help me with my performance. I remember that he kept most of the choices I made in regards to my acting in the film. He’d guide us but he listened to the input from John Agar and me.”
With little money to do multiple takes, it is not surprising that the film’s special effects were also done on the cheap. According to Joyce, “seeing the brain for the first time made me laugh. Part of it was made from paper-mache and some other materials. It was hooked up with this very fine invisible wire to make it look like it was floating in thin air. Of course everybody claims to see the wire in the film. But I don’t know if you can see it or not. There are not many photos of the brain, incidentally. I don’t know why the still photographers who were on the set didn’t take more pictures of it.”
The Brain from Planet Arous was Joyce Meadow’s second film opposite John Agar. She would go on to make Frontier Gun with him a year later and has nothing but praise for this prolific actor. “Most of the people who have worked with John adored him because he is professional and has a wonderful personality,” remarked Joyce. “It’s interesting because he was not a theater person and he used to tease me because I was one—he’d call me ‘the theatre buff.’ John Agar was certainly no fine stage actor but he was always in there doing a good job. He was from the tail end of the big star era and felt that he learned his craft from being around and working with John Wayne all the time. John always gave it his all, which made it a joy to work with because you were able to get in there and do your part. There were some actors where that did not happen. It was sort of like acting opposite a broom. During the scene where John’s character roughs me up he was being very careful but that bugged me. I kept telling him, ‘Go for it. I’m strong enough.’ I wanted the scene to look real.”
“Robert Fuller was also great to work with,” continued Joyce. “This was one of his first roles and he was just starting out. He went on to star in several Western series. He was just a big kid. Even though I was younger than he was, we treated him like the baby of the bunch, but he always had that great voice with the edge on it.”
The film’s plot centers on an evil scientifically advanced floating brain from another planet that comes to Earth and hides in the barren caverns of Southern California. Nuclear scientist Steve March (John Agar) and his assistant Dan Murohy (Robert Fuller) go to investigate when they pick up weird signals emanating from that vicinity. They discover the brain (named Gor) which kills Murohy and enters March’s body to enact its plan to conquer the universe. Agar’s girlfriend Sally Fallon (Meadows) immediately notices his strange behavior especially when he gets physically aggressive with her. When the brain takes control of his actions, his eyes bulge big and black. He destroys a plane in mid-air with his mind. Another brain (named Vol) from the planet Arous arrives on Earth and takes over the body of March’s dog. He informs Sally about the evil brain and how it can be overpowered and killed with a blow to a certain part of its anatomy. When the brain temporarily leaves March’s mind, he and Sally together destroy it with an axe.
When The Brain from Planet Arous was first released in 1958, most of the major newspapers failed to review it. One that did was the Los Angeles Times whose reviewer quipped, “Having investigated The Brain from Planet Arous we are left wondering about the brain from Howco International, its producers.. The film…has been launched with such heart-warming modesty (‘most astounding story…unequaled!’) that we rather regret to report it to be pure hash from the cutting-room floor.” Despite the pan, Joyce Meadows received almost a rave in comparison when described as a “competent performer.” Today the film has developed a cult following and is a guilty pleasure. On the Internet, the film is said to be “very hard to dislike, despite the relentless goofiness of the story,” “unbelievably cheap and stupid, it’s still incredibly entertaining,” and “a raggedly vivid saga of a manipulative space brain that is indeed wildly entertaining.” When asked why she felt The Brain from Planet Arous has developed this following, Joyce quips, “Why don’t you tell me! I really don’t know.”
The Brain from Planet Arous led Meadows to a recurring role as astronaut Lynn Allen on the TV series The Man and the Challenge, which was the beginning of her long professional involvement with producer Ivan Tors. “Ivan just liked me as an actor,” said Joyce, matter-of-factly. “He used me in his productions a lot. He was just a very down-to-earth, business-like, honest man— very sweet but very quiet. Our working together seemed to work out well.” Meadows went on to work on such Ivan Tors’ TV programs as Sea Hunt, The Aquanauts, and Malibu Run.
In 1959, Joyce made her first of three appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. She played a socialite loved by a man (Robert Horton) engaged to another in “The Last Dark Step.” Later she played a newlywed whose husband (John Smith) loses his pay check in a poker game in “A Night with the Boys” and a fickle young woman who dumps her older boyfriend (Murray Matheson) for a younger man (Scott Marlowe) in “The Throwback.” It was during the filming of the latter episode that Meadows got a glimpse of the master, Alfred Hitchcock whom she never met. “Hitchcock had his own set where he’d film the introductions to each week’s episode,” said Joyce. ‘So while no one was around, I sneaked onto the stage. I then very quietly took off my shoes and hid behind one of the flats. I saw the film lights way over in a corner—these soundstages were huge and they only needed a small portion of it to film this sequence. I then got closer and when all their backs were turned to watch Alfred Hitchcock I peered around the corner and watched him shoot one of the intros. It was a closed set because Hitchcock was very much a star and he didn’t want anybody on the set. I thought, ‘If I get caught it is going to be my neck.’ I had to open one of the stage doors to leave. I knew it was going to make a loud noise so I ran like crazy into the ladies room and into a stall. I didn’t get caught and I got to see Alfred Hitchcock!”
Meadows also got to work with up-and-coming superstar Steve McQueen on his western series Wanted: Dead or Alive. In their episode, Joyce played a widow who, afraid that she will lose custody of her son, proposes to Steve McQueen’s bounty hunter Josh. “When I worked with Steve McQueen his wife Neile Adams was very pregnant,’ remembered Joyce. “She was about to have her baby in about two or three months. And here is this young guy—he was a typical macho male—flirting and carrying on with every female that walked through the door. And we thought, ‘when is that woman going to have her baby!’ I never met a more ambitious man than Steve McQueen. I felt that he may have been too ambitious—not in a bad way but he really pushed himself. I thought when he died so young that he never took time to smell the roses, so to speak. He was such an interesting talent.”
Back on the big screen, Joyce continued in the western genre in with the low-budget oater Walk Tall (1960) with Willard Parker. More memorable was her appearance in the low-budget youth-oriented melodrama The Girl in Lovers Lane (1960) directed by Charles R. Rondeau and co-starring Brett Halsey, Lowell Brown, and Jack Elam. Shortly after two young drifters hit town, a young girl turns up dead.
Top-billed Brett Halsey was emerging as a popular leading man for the teenybopper set after appearing in a number of juvenile delinquent-type movies including Hot Rod Rumble; High School Hellcats; and Speed Crazy. This was not only his favorite from that bunch, but from all his movies ever made. He remarked about The Girl in Lovers Lane in the biography Brett Halsey: Art or Instinct in the Movies, “I liked that. It was a quickie. We worked hard on that. [It] was a very small production that we were barely able to finish because of financial problems…Charles R. Rondeau was a good director. He did a lot of TV. I chastised him, he should have made more features.”
Joyce Meadows found Halsey to be “very good-looking,” but it was character actor Jack Elam who made the impression on her. “Everybody adored Elam,” said Joyce fondly. “With his one eye going one way and the other eye the other way he was usually cast as these bad people, but he was such a gentle soul and an extremely intelligent man with this crazy sense of humor. We were supposed to be doing the scene where he beats me. I forget what he said but I was lying on the ground and they said cut because there was a sound problem. Jack kept me in stitches by repeating to me, ‘You must not laugh. You must not laugh.’ I couldn’t get over the giggles by the time they were ready to go again. When the director yelled, ‘action’ I saw Elam looking at me and remembering what he said before that and I just burst out laughing. After I ruined a few takes, I said to the director, ‘I have to get up from this ground and walk away. I have to calm myself down.’ So that’s what I did. Elam was such fun to work with.”
Producer Roger Corman’s company Filmgroup released The Girl in Lovers Lane with a tag line describing Meadows’ character as being “Too young to know … too reckless too care.” She played Carrie Anders the local “nice” girl who gets involved with drifter Bix Dugan (Brett Halsey). One of the best dressed vagrants to ever ride the rails, the sports-jacket clad young man arrives in the small town of Sherman via freight train with lonely rich runaway Danny Winslow (Lowell Brown) who he just saved from some thugs. Bix takes the teen under his wing and their friendship begins. Carrie is first seen working at her father’s café. She confides in her man hungry friend Peggy (Selette Cole) that roustabout Jesse (Jack Elam) gives her the creeps the way he looks at her and is afraid to be alone with him. Peggy assures Carrie that he is harmless and suggests she get a man in her life. Who should come walking through the door soon after but strangers Bix and Danny. While Sadie the town trollop sets her sights on Danny, Bix has eyes for Carrie who shyly returns the interest and accepts his offer to go to the movies after she gets off work. Later her father is hesitant to allow Carrie to date Bix, but when she pleads that he is the first boy she has liked in awhile, he relents.
While getting ready to meet Carrie, Bix says her shyness was just a routine, but Danny thinks not. With an hour to kill, they go to a pool hall and wind up in a brawl. Danny is hurt and Bix brings him back to the hotel and cleans him up. Danny confides in Bix that he ran away because his parents are getting a divorce. Bix is so into Danny he forgets about Carrie and stands her up. The next day Bix apologizes using the injured Danny as his excuse. Seeing the bruises on the teenager’s face, she agrees to go out with Bix again. That night they take a walk in the woods. Sitting near a pond, they talk and then slow dance. Bix realizes that Carrie is a good and decent girl. Feeling guilty regarding his original intentions in taking her to such a deserted part of the park, he takes her back to her father’s cafe. There he learns from Pete the counterman that Danny went off with Sadie. Peeved, he rushes out of there to the local whorehouse to save his friend from the clutches of that vixen. After being distracted by a blonde in a bathtub, Bix sneaks into Sadie’s room just as the whore is about to steal Danny’s money after getting him drunk. Bix then helps his buddy back to the hotel.
The next morning, with prodding from Carrie, her father offers Bix a job since he fired Pete. He accepts and saves her from waiting on the creepy Jesse who leaves vowing to return. Bix walks Carrie home and they stop to talk in the park, which leads to them kissing while secretly spied on by Jesse. Bix spends more time with Carrie who admits to Peggy that she has fallen in love with him. Bix won’t commit and announces he is leaving town. Heartbroken, Carrie runs off to their spot in the woods to cry and is attacked by Jesse. She is found brutally beaten by Bix and after letting out a blood curdling scream, she dies in his arms. Found holding her dead body, Bix is nearly lynched by a mob of town vigilantes when Danny proves that creepy Jesse stalked and murdered the girl. Danny decides to go home to his parents and Bix agrees to go with his buddy,
The Girl in Lovers Lane surprised many young moviegoers by killing off its likable heroine who doesn’t get saved in the nick of time as is usually the case. “I don’t think anyone was expecting that,” remarked Joyce. “It was kind of shocking.” Though the film was a bit more intelligent than the typical JD films of the time and buoyed by believable performances and a wonderful jazzy bongo-laced musical score by American International Pictures music director Ronald Stein, the mainstream press still did not like it. It was barely reviewed and most notices were similar to Boxoffice Magazine whose critic commented, “Only the unimaginative and naïve of audiences are going to swallow all that transpires on the screen.” Nowadays, one can’t help but notice the homoerotic undertones between Bix and Danny throughout even though they are interested in Carrie and Peggy. Bix stands up Carrie to nurse Danny’s wounds and makes a beeline to the whorehouse to save the teen from Sadie. Even the ending had Bix losing the girl, but winding up with Danny as he agrees to go live with him at his parent’s home. No doubt, this all went over the heads of the early sixties drive-in crowd.
Meadows next had small roles in two A-list films in 1961—Stolen Hours starring Susan Hayward (whom Joyce describes as being “kind and pleasant.”) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In the latter, Joyce is in the big party scene but the majority of her shots landed on the cutting room floor. Regarding the film’s star Audrey Hepburn, Joyce said enthusiastically, “Audrey Hepburn was not to be believed—talk about a superstar! She was up on a ladder watching a particular scene. And I remember the second assistant director yelling, ‘Audrey will you get your butt down off that ladder! You’re in the next scene.’ She said, ‘All right.’ That’s the kind of attitude she demanded on the set with no superiority or inferiority stuff going on—just people working together. She was amazing and so confident as a person that she didn’t have to act the superstar.”
In 1961, Joyce Meadows also modeled costumes designed by Howard Shoup for the Oscar-nominated film The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond on the Academy Awards telecast that April. When presenters Barbara Rush and Robert Stack opened up the envelope, the winner for Best Costume Design – Black-and-White was Edith Head and Edward Stevenson for The Facts of Life.
Television kept Meadows busy for the next few years until she returned to the big screen in two 1965 movies. Though Joyce has pleasant memories of Susan Hayward and Audrey Hepburn, she did not fare so well with mega-witch Joan Crawford on the film I Saw What You Did (1965). At that time, the fifty-ish Crawford would not allow any younger actresses on the set while she was shooting her scenes. Joyce knew this but her curiosity got the best of her and she sneaked back onto the set. However, unlike the incident with Hitchcock, this time she was caught. Crawford noticed Joyce from the corner of her eye and stopped the cameras from rolling. According to Meadows, she then yelled, “You get your ass off this set!”
“My experience with Joan Crawford was very strange,” commented Joyce. “I finished my scene and I wanted to see her act. I knew I shouldn’t have been there but that was no reason for her horrible behavior. I could have complained to the Screen Actors Guild but I didn’t.” When told that other actresses (including Diane McBain on The Caretakers and Anne Helm on Strait-Jacket before being fired and replaced with the icily bland Diane Baker) also had problems with Crawford during that period of time, Meadows responded, “I would think that you would if you had a scene with her. But she wasn’t in my scene. My experience with her only happened because she would not appear on the set unless I was gone.”
Produced and directed by William Castle, I Saw What You Did is a tense thriller starring Sara Lane and Andi Garrett as two bored high school babysitters who prank phone call a number of people by saying, “I saw what you did. I know who you are.” Unfortunately, one of them is a philandering businessman played by John Ireland who is having an affair with neighbor Joan Crawford. She describes his wife (Joyce Meadows) as a “childish, empty-headed, little tramp.” Tired of his nagging bride, he offs in the shower Psycho-style to be with Crawford who comes off more of a harridan than Meadows. Unfortunately for the teenagers, they call him just after he has disposed of the body. He then takes off to find the girls and shut them up permanently.
To promote the film, Castle, known for his wild gimmicks to attract the audience, warned in the ad that the film was about uxoricide. He also had theatres install seat belts to keep the viewers from jumping out of their seats in fright. “I did not have much rapport with William Castle,” admitted Joyce. “I think he was more concerned with Joan Crawford. When you get a very tough star you have to figure out how you are going to get through the picture and work with that star. You really don’t have much time for anyone else. But I do remember that Castle said some very nice compliment about how I came through for him in the shower scene because I had a theatre background. It was a load off his mind because this scene was very technical and hard to shoot. I was able to maintain, pick up, and repeat whatever he wanted. He was grateful for that.” That scene was reminiscent of the famous shower scene in Psycho and, like Hitchcock, Castle filmed his murder sequence from a variety of angles.
I Saw What You Did was late in the cycle of the horror movies starring older actresses begun with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962. Some critics felt the portion of the movie involving Crawford was, as Philip Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times called it “little more than a write-in” and unnecessary (could you really believe any man would cheat on sexy Joyce Meadows no matter how shrewish she is with a hag like Crawford?). Castle should have stuck to the suspenseful scenes with the teenage girls and creepy Ireland. Despite mixed reviews, the film earned $1 million at the box office.
Meadows last sixties film Zebra in the Kitchen (1965) was much more lightweight than her previous one. In this Ivan Tors color production, she played Isabel Moon the assistant to veterinarian Dr. Del Hartwood (Martin Milner) at a rundown zoo. When young Chris Carlyle (Jay North of TV’s Dennis the Menace) and his family move from a ranch to the town, Chris must give up his pet puma named Sunshine to the zoo. However, not liking the conditions there, he purposely lifts the key from Branch Hawksbill (Andy Devine) and sets the puma and all the other animals free. While the vet and Branch try to round up the animals, Isabel mans the switchboard giving instructions to the terrified towns people. In a change of pace, there is no romance between Del and Isabel and their relationship is strictly professional. Though this role was not much of an acting stretch for Meadows, she looks beautiful in Metrocolor and is totally fetching as the assistant.
Zebra in the Kitchen was shot on and near Ivan Tors’ animal preserve located near Death Valley. “All of his animals used in the movie were trained with kindness and were not abused,” stated Joyce. “Ivan Tors was very innovative proving that it could be done but back in the sixties there was a lot of cruelty to animals. As time has gone on many animals that are being used in films today are trained by that same method.
“We had to deal an awful lot with a puma,” she added. “We never had any problems because they had three of them that looked exactly like each other, which was good because their endurance for being bossed around was about twenty minutes. Whenever we had to use the puma in a scene, the trainer would rotate them in.”
Zebra in the Kitchen opens with a kitschy title tune sung by garage rock band The Standells who had a big hit with the single “Dirty Water.” The movie is lightweight fun and all the principals do quite well in their roles. Most critics found it to be above-average fare for the kiddy set for which it was intended. The reviewer in the Boston Globe hailed it as “a summer treat for the children.” However, some took the movie to task for making a hero out of the disobedient boy who is old enough to know releasing wild animals into the public is dangerous.
Joyce went on the road doing regional theatre during the late sixties. In 1970, she had a featured role in the bio-pic The Christine Jorgensen Story, directed by Irving Rapper, about a man who goes to Denmark to have a sex change. Exploitative to the max, the film’s tag line read, “I Couldn’t Live in a Man’s Body. Did the Surgeon’s Knife Make Me a Woman or a Freak?”
Soon after, Joyce left Hollywood again, this time to tour as a vocalist with The New Ideas, a nightclub act. She also appeared in regional productions of The Rainmaker, The Marriage-Go-Round, and The Moon Is Blue. Meadows returned to Hollywood in the eighties. She called an old friend who was now a casting director for the soaps and played small roles on Days of Our Lives and Santa Barbara, which led to bigger roles in a couple of films and made-for-TV movies. She also became one of the founding members of the Meridian Theatre Company where she appeared on stage in Hamlet, The Glass Menagerie, and The Subject Was Roses.
Meadows’ most memorable film from her second go-around in Hollywood was Bad Influence (1990) starring Rob Lowe as a mysterious drifter who begins negatively influencing the life of a successful marketing analyst played by James Spader. Joyce played the mother of Spader’s fiancée, whose engagement party is ruined by Lowe when he slips a videocassette of Spader having sex with another woman into their VCR. “I almost turned down this role,” revealed the actress. “I was debating if I wanted to do it or not because I was just getting acquainted with the types of movies that were now being made. I didn’t believe in the whole psychological aspect of Bad Influence. I took the part because I felt I could contribute what a real person would do in that situation. During that infamous scene, I just stand there flabbergasted and fumble with the controls for the VCR while my husband chases Spader around the room. I thought my character should have gone after him too and slugged him—that’s me and of course that was not the character. But I really got into the part.”
As for the two young stars, Joyce commented, “James Spader is a very dedicated actor and very humble about it. I felt that Rob Lowe was a just bad boy who everybody loved but who got into trouble all of the time. He is an absolute darling and such a charmer. He is a type of guy that once you meet him you like immediately. I didn’t know about his background but learned about his antics and problems while working on the movie.”
Considering that she studied with such esteemed drama teachers as Stella Adler and Jeff Corey, it is not surprising that Joyce Meadows opined, “I never really had what I consider a strong movie career. I was the type who came down to Los Angeles on my way to New York before making my way to England to work in the theatre. There was always that pull for me. Theatre will always be my first love.”
It is no surprise then that when she returned to Hollywood, she did not want to delve on her earlier career. She said laughing, “However, a guy invited me to participate in a memorabilia show in the Beverly Garland Hotel. I called this place in New York to get photos after I agreed to attend. The guy told me he also had the lobby poster for TheBrain from Planet Arous. I said, ‘That would be nice. How much is it?’ He said, ‘$650 dollars.’ I replied, ‘My God! The picture didn’t even cost that much!’”
With the holidays fast approaching, what 60s movie fan would not love to unwrap a bevy of spy girls. Film Fatales: Women in Espionage Films and Television, 1962-1973 (my most popular book co-written with Louis Paul) is now available in a semi-updated soft cover edition from Amazon. Chock full of profiles (some with interviews) on 60s/70s spy girls including from the James Bond movies cover girl Karin Dor, Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman, Urusla Andress, Daniela Bianchi, Luciana Paluzzi, Tsai Chin, Mie Hama, Lana Wood, Gloria Hendry, Trina Parks, Lois Maxwell; from the Matt Helm movies Stella Stevens, Dahlia Lavi, Nancy Kovack, Beverly Adams, Ann-Margret, Senta Berger, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise; from the Derek Flint movies Gila Golan, Jean Hale, Yvonne Craig, Thordis Brant, Shelby Grant, Sigrid Valdis. Plus a bevy of international spy girls including Monica Vitti, Rosella Falk, Sylvia Solar, Beba Loncar, Sylva Koscina. Helga Line, Marisa Mell and more American beauties such as Raquel Welch, Carol Lynley, and Andrea Dromm.
The book is highlighted with interviews with Barbara Bouchet, Jean Hale, Gloria Hendry, Sharyn Hillyer, Kathy Kersh, Sue Ane Langdon, BarBara Luna, Deanna Lund, Marlyn Mason, Arlene Martel, Diane McBain, Eileen O’Neill, Salli Sachse, Tura Satana, Irene Tsu, Lana Wood, Celeste Yarnall, and Francine York.
Pair Film Fatales with my most recent book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974 a 2016 “Best Book Awards” Finalist in the Performing Arts Category. 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.
Coming in March 2017 from BearManor Media! My newest book Talking Sixties Drive-in Movies!
A collection of profiles, interviews, and tributes about actors and films popular with the drive-in movie crowd during the sixties. Interviewees include Arlene Charles, Nancy Czar, Shelley Fabares, Gail Gerber, Christopher Riordan, and Irene Tsu talking Elvis Presley musicals; Bobbi Shaw and Steven Rogers talking beach party movies; Jan Watson and Diane Bond talking spy spoofs; Nicoletta Machiavelli talking spaghetti westerns; Mimsy Farmer, Maggie Thrett, Lara Lindsay, and Lada Edmund, Jr. talking alienated youth movies; and Valerie Starrett talking biker films. Some of the chapters center on one movie or a genre while others are career profiles with a main focus on one or two drive-in movies.
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.
Check out this review of my book from David Tucker on his Blog.
In honor of Gail’s birthday, below is an edited version of my Blog from 2 years ago:
My friend former actress Gail Gerber aka Gail Gilmore passed away on March 1, 2014 and I write this with a heavy heart, but wanted to share some of my fondest memories of her. Gail used to get the biggest kick when I would introduce her endearingly to friends and family as “my starlet.” She would tell me, “Oh, Tom, I was a starlet for less than two years after being a dancer for over ten years and a ballet teacher for 25 years.” True, but to me she would always be the shapely blonde twitching on the sands of Malibu in The Girls on the Beach and Beach Ball; or frolicking with Elvis Presley in Girl Happy and Harum Scarum; or terrorizing a town in Village of the Giants.
I met Gail in 2002 at a Greenwich Village coffee shop when I interviewed her for my book Drive-in Dream Girls, a title she knew Terry Southern would have just loved. We stayed in touch and then she relocated to Chicago. I saw her on her infrequent trips back here, but it wasn’t until she moved back to the city permanently in 2006 that we started seeing more of each other. Gail had such a vitality and grand sense of humor. I so enjoyed being around her. But I couldn’t believe I was hanging out with an almost 70 year old. Egad, she was a year older than my mother! But Gail was not like any woman I ever met at that age. Free-spirited, she smoked pot; loved New York City; bashed all Republicans (deranged Donald Trump would have her head spinning); told stories of her life in Hollywood (my favorite is how she “accidentally” dropped a dog in a mailbox to get some publicity and got her face splashed across newspapers throughout the country) and her life with Terry Southern getting high with the Rolling Stones or hanging with the likes of Rip Torn, David Amram, William Burroughs, Larry Rivers, Lenny Bruce, George Segal, Geraldine Page, Roger Vadim, and, I quote, “those fuckers” Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda.
Gail had been putting her memories down on paper and I helped her write her memoir Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember. Almost every Saturday for over a year, Gail would come by and we would work on her book. I would send her off with a homework assignment for the next time. Trooper that she was, Gail would take a yellow legal pad, just like Terry would do, and hightail it every Wednesday to the New Leaf, a quaint restaurant situated in the middle of Fort Tryon Park. With a glass of wine accompanying her meal, she would crank out anything she could remember about a point in her life. When the book was finally published, Gail told me laughing, “My brain is empty of all my memories.. I’m going to have to read my own book to remember.” Our efforts paid off with an IPPY Award (given to books from independent publishers). We took the silver medal for “Best Memoir of 2010.”
Sometimes at my house I would surprise Gail with one of her movies or a TV show she never saw. She would moan, “Oh, Tom!” I only wanted to prove that she was a much better actress than she ever gave herself credit for. She had such a vivacious personality and comedic timing. Hell, she made 6 movies in 2 years! She stole The Girls on the Beach from the other bikini-clad gals (including Noreen Corcoran, Linda Marshall, and Mary Mitchel) and she was the only girl on the beach brought back by producers Roger & Gene Corman for their second beach movie, Beach Ball joining Edd Byrnes, Chris Noel, and Aron Kincaid. Once I made her watch her lead guest spot on a Peyton Place wannabe soap The Long Hot Summer with Roy Thinnes. She was amazed how good she was. She was not as shocked on how good she looked, especially when she climbed through a window in one scene, because she remembered the lighting guy and cameraman took a shine to her. “That what happens if you are friendly to the crew,” she said.
I think deep down Gail liked that she was a Hollywood actress and I am proud that I helped her appreciate that part of her life even to the point of answering her fan mail. One Friday night at the New Leaf, a young guy from Australia sat down next to me at the bar and began chatting. He had just moved to Upstate Manhattan and it was his first time at there. He only had been to another bar/restaurant nearby called Next Door. “The one with the TVs,” he said. I told him I have been there a number of times and they always have on Turner Classic Movies. He said he sat there watching Elvis dancing with some Arab gypsy girls. I laughed and said, “that is Harum Scarum—meet Sapphire” and motioned to Gail. She smiled, nonchanlantly picked up her drink and raised her glass to him. He couldn’t believe it and almost fell off his bar stool. It was such a crazy only-in-New-York moment.
Happy Birthday to you Gail Gerber! It was one helleva trip!