Category Archives: Celebrities

James Drury’s Next Generation “Virginian”

Tinseltown Talks

By Nick Thomas

 

While today’s television landscape is littered with so-called reality programing, westerns

dominated the airways in the 1960s. One of the most popular was “The Virginian,” which ran

for nine seasons on NBC from 1962-1971, and starred James Drury as the unnamed, mystery

foreman of the Shiloh ranch, set in Medicine Bow, Wy.

 

Drury celebrated his 80th birthday in April and, far from retiring, continues to travel the country

greeting fans at western festivals (see www.thevirginian.net). He is also resurrecting his tough

but honorable cowboy character in a new show for kids that combines live-action and animation.

“It’s called ‘Billy and the Bandit’ aimed at 8 to10-year-olds, but adults can enjoy it, too,” said

Drury from his home in Houston. “Billy is the great, great, grandson of ‘The Virginian’ and

confined to a wheelchair. He is told tales of the old West by his grandfather, played by me, and

fantasizes about western adventures as he falls asleep. All kinds of stories come out of that.”

With the pilot script now completed and cast and crew filming, Drury reunites in the new series

with his old “Virginian” costars, Roberta Shore and Gary Clarke. “It’s an exciting project.

We’re looking forwarded to telling some great stories for families every week.”

 

Currently broadcast on cable’s INSP TV, Drury isn’t surprised that “The Virginian” has

remained popular with audiences for over 50 years.

 

“It was the first 90-minute western on TV and that gave our writers an opportunity to explore

detailed stories,” he explained. “It was like doing a movie every week. We also had a wonderful

cast of continuing characters, and with the great writing, the finest actors in Hollywood wanted

guest starring roles – George C. Scott, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Robert Redford come to

mind. Every day I’d go off to the set excited about the wonderful actors I’d be working with.”

But starring in a weekly 90-minute series was demanding.

 

“Some days we would be filming parts of five different episodes, so it required a lot of mental

concentration,” said Drury. “I had a strong work ethic, so didn’t mind. I did the show for nine

years, but would have been delighted to continue for another ten!”

 

With his rugged good looks and wrangling experience, Drury was a natural TV cowboy.

“I’ve been riding horses since I was in diapers!” said Drury. “My grandfather put me on his

Belgian plow horse when I was just a toddler. The animal was so broad, my legs stuck straight

out on both sides like I was doing the splits. It’s one of my earliest memories.”

 

Born in New York City, Drury spent time growing up on his parents’ Oregon ranch and

developed an interest in acting after performing in a Christmas play as a child. He later returned

to New York for stage work before moving to Hollywood. Along with wife Carl Ann, Drury has

lived in Houston for 35 years, and off-screen has competed in cutting horse competitions, polo,

and dressage.

 

“Texas has been good to me,” said Drury. “I’ve worked with many great horse trainers here

and up through Oklahoma. I love it all – the dust, the sweat, the sunshine, and the smell of the

horses.”

 

As he did in “The Virginian,” Drury plans to bring his love of the old West to ‘Billy and the

Bandit’ and is confident audiences will embrace the show.

 

“There are so many cable channels now looking for new content,” he said. “Westerns were

morality plays where good always triumphed over evil and people respond to that. Our show

retains those values of the old West. Parents and grandparents can watch it with the kids, and

that’s a valuable family experience these days.”

 

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features,

columns, and interviews for over 450 magazines and newspapers.

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Dawn Wells Shares Mary Ann’s Lessons for Life

Tinseltown Talks

By Nick Thomas

 

What should have been “a 3-hour tour” turned into a 50 year journey for Dawn Wells, who

played castaway Mary Ann in the zany sitcom “Gilligan’s Island” that debuted on CBS in

September, 1964.

 

“I’m still talking and writing about the show and it continues to gain new fans,” said Dawn, from

her home in Los Angeles. “If you’re a 10 year old kid watching the show today, there’s not much

to date it – a desert island is a desert island!”

 

To celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary, Dawn draws on her life’s experiences in a recently

released book “What Would Mary Ann Do?: A Guide to Life,” co-written with Steve Stinson.

“I wrote the book partly in response to fans over the years,” says Dawn. “It’s amazing that so

many people still appreciate Mary Ann’s sense of values.”

 

While there are a few “Gilligan’s Island” stories in the book, the focus is on down-to-earth

advice from Mary Ann – and Dawn’s –perspective.

 

“It was a fun, silly show that made you laugh and didn’t preach to the audience,” she says. “But

there was an awful lot in the character of Mary Ann that kids could learn from today: she was

fair, she pitched in to help, she had standards, she wasn’t worried about a $500 purse, and she

would be your best friend you could trust. I think the world is a little confused on values these

days.”

 

Although the book’s advice is frequently directed towards girls and younger women, Dawn says

one chapter “Hey! Who’s That Old Gal in the Mirror” is aimed at a more mature crowd.

“Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and think ‘really, I’m that age?’” said Dawn, who turns

76 in October.

 

“I don’t know where the years went, but I’m not obsessed with it,” she admitted. “As you get

older, I think it’s important to keep a positive attitude about life. I know I have a million things I

still want to accomplish! You just have to surround yourself with things that interest you. Even

though there may be activities you can no longer enjoy, there are probably many that you can.”

Back on the island, there were plenty of weekly adventures to interest the seven castaways

during the three seasons the show aired. Dawn says she got along with all her fellow actors –

even Tina Louise (Ginger), despite the rumors over the years that the two feuded – and was

particularly close to Natalie Schaffer who played the wealthy socialite Mrs. Lovey Howell.

“The character you saw her play was pretty much who she was in real life,” recalled Dawn. “She

really was a grande dame, very independent, with a great sense of humor.”

Dawn says Schafer handled her aging well and responded accordingly.

 

“She had large ankles, so she almost always wore pants rather than dresses. In fact, she wore

pants before they were ‘in’ for women. Her hands also showed signs of aging, so she usually

wore gloves on the show. And her clothes were always colorful because that made her face

look bright and cheery. So she was very conscious of her age, but I thought she handled it very

smartly.”

 

Beyond “Gilligan’s Island,” Dawn has appeared in over 150 TV shows and films, and starred in

more than sixty theatrical productions which continue to attract her. But acting, she says, was

never her plan.

 

“I wanted to be a pediatric surgeon!” she said. “I went to Stephen’s College in Missouri but had

problems with my knees since I was a little girl. So aside from archery and canoeing, I couldn’t

do much PE. I took a theater course and my professor said I was so good that I should major in

it.”

 

After transferring to the University of Washington in Seattle as a theater major, Dawn was

asked to enter the Miss America contest, and in 1959 run for Miss Nevada – her home state.

“I thought it would be fun to get up in front of an audience and do a dramatic scene for the

contest, but never thought I would win because I was so tiny and short,” she explained. “But I

won! After graduating, I told myself I would give acting a chance for one year and if it was not

successful, would go back to medicine.”

 

She never returned to med school!

 

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., with features, columns, and

interviews in over 400 magazines and newspapers.

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Nehemiah Persoff Retired from Screen to Canvas

TINSELTOWN TALKS

by Nick Thomas

 

Since retiring from acting over a decade ago, versatile character actor Nehemiah Persoff

has become a successful artist painting from his seaside home in Cambria, Calif., (see

www.nehemiahpersoffpaintings.com).

 

The Cambria Center for the Arts hosted a birthday celebration on August 4 for Persoff, who

turned 95 a few days earlier. This included screening a selection of his films, and the artist even

auctioned some of his works, donating the proceeds to the Center.

 

But in 1989 Persoff experienced a TIA – transient ischemic attack – which is similar to a small

stroke and often considered to be a “warning stroke.”

 

“The doctors told me to slow down,” said Persoff from his home. However, he heeded the

medical advice and believes that painting contributed to his recovery.

 

“It certainly helped avoid another incident,” he said. “I would recommend to all seniors that they

try painting. They will be surprised by their ability, and the peace and calm that concentrating on

the painting provides.”

 

Persoff’s screen career spanned six decades, beginning in the late 1940s, and he became one of

Hollywood’s most prolific character actors.

 

Raised in Jerusalem, his natural talent for dialects was quickly exploited when Persoff moved

to Hollywood after a decade of stage and early TV work in New York. Often cast in the role

of ethnic villains, he crafted a career playing slick gangsters, ruthless outlaws, and menacing

military leaders.

 

“I did play many villains, but also diplomats, doctors and scientists,” recalled Persoff. “So I

don’t think I was typecast. I enjoyed playing any character that was well written.”

In his second film, “On the Water Front” in 1954, Persoff appears on screen for just a few

seconds as the tense cab driver in the famous ‘I could have been a contender’ scene with Marlon

Brando and Rod Steiger. Director Elia Kazan offered him $75 for the role.

 

“There were Brando and Steiger in the back section of a sawed off car,” said Persoff. “I sat

on a milk box with Brando and Steiger behind me. When it was time for my close-up, Kazan

whispered in my ear to imagine that ‘the guy behind you killed your mother.’ When I saw the

film I was surprised to see how effective the close-up turned out.”

 

He went on to work with other greats including Karloff, Cagney, and Bogart on his final film in

1956, “The Harder They Fall.”

 

“He was already very sick and his eyes teared a great deal,” recalled Persoff of Bogart. “But he

had moments when he was very sharp. He wasn’t the sort of guy you wanted to tangle with. I

heard him give one wise guy a tongue lashing that was devastating – you didn’t get smart with

Bogie!”

 

With over 400 film and TV roles to his credit, Persoff admits he has forgotten details about

some. But he does recall an episode of “Gunsmoke” with James Arness in which the six and a

half foot lawman refused to yield vertical ground to the 5′ 7″ Persoff.

 

“I was supposed to be a gunman who challenged Marshal Dillon,” he explained. “I suggested

to the director that perhaps I might be more of a threat if I wore lifts in my shows to make me

taller. So the wardrobe people gave me high heels to make me about six feet. When I walked on

the set and the showdown came, I looked over at Arness and he was suddenly seven feet tall. He

had heard I was getting shoes to make myself taller, so he got a pair too and was still a foot taller

than me!”

 

Today, Persoff enjoys retirement and paints several hours a day while basking in the West Coast

sunset, rather than the Hollywood spotlight. But he gives credit to his first career for helping his

second.

 

“When I got a role, I set my sights on being able to get under the skin of the character,” he said.

“At first it would seem like a formidable task, but somehow I always got the job done. It’s the

same with painting. When you sit in front of a blank canvass, there is a feeling of ‘I can’t do it’

for many painters. But because of my acting experience, I always felt that I could do it, and I

did.”

 

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features,

columns, and interviews for over 400 magazines and newspapers.

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Tippi Hedren Talks “Marnie” at 50, and More

Tinseltown Talks

By Nick Thomas

 

Released in the summer of 1964, “Marnie” wasn’t a typical Alfred Hitchcock thriller. While a

moderate success at the box office, the eponymous psychological mystery was panned by some

critics at the time.

 

“People didn’t understand the film when it first came out,” said Tippi Hedren, who starred

as Marnie, a disturbed woman, compulsive liar and thief, with a resolute distain for men.

“Something really bad happened in Marnie’s childhood. Critics look at ‘Marnie’ entirely

differently today, now that we understand more about how an early traumatic experience can

manifest itself later in adult life. The story was really ahead of its time.”

 

Hedren, who turned 84 in January, went to great lengths to prepare for the role. “I read the

novel the film was based on over and over, spoke with author Winston Graham, and consulted

psychologists and psychiatrists in order to understand the character.”

 

Although Hedren embraced the role, her cold, man-hating character had little interest in

embracing costar Sean Connery.

 

“The man was absolutely gorgeous!” said Hedren of Connery, who was fresh off the success of

his first James Bond role in “Dr. No.” “I asked Hitch how could I play a character who wasn’t

attracted to one of the sexiest men alive!”

 

His response, she says, was typical Hitchcock: “It’s called acting, my dear.”

Hedren’s acting skills were also evident in one scene where she appears to confidently gallop

across the countryside on horseback. In fact, she was perilously staged atop a 17-hands high

horse trotting on a large treadmill.

 

“It was horribly dangerous – a horse on a treadmill! If he had tripped, I would have gone flying

off,” said Hedren. “Hitchcock made me do such dangerous things, I’m amazed I’m still alive!”

The experience was reminiscent of Hedren’s previous movie, “The Birds,” a year earlier – her

debut in feature films, also directed by Hitchcock. In the final brutal bird attack scene, Hedren

was secured in a cage and mauled by ravens and gulls.

 

“All through production I was told that scene would be done with mechanical birds,” recalled

Hedren. “It was only on the morning of filming that the assistant director told me they would use

real animals. For five days, the bird handlers hurled the birds at me.”

 

Unlike Marnie whose life was shattered by an early trauma, Hedren’s Hollywood wildlife

encounters propelled her into animal activism, especially after seeing large cats in Africa while

filming “Satan’s Harvest” (1970).

 

She later founded The Roar Foundation and Shambala Reserve (www.shambala.org), a 72-acre

sanctuary in Acton, Calif., for large cats rescued from zoos, circuses, and private owners.

“I bought the land in 1972 and turned it over to the foundation. Today we have about 40 cats,”

said Hedren. “I live on the reserve and the fence is only three feet from my bedroom window so

I can look out and see tigers walk by! The roaring at night is absolutely thrilling. Visitors can

come to our summer sunset safari when the animals are awake and roaring. It’s an extraordinary

evening.”

 

However, running Shambala is expensive. “I have to raise $75,000 every month!”

In her role as activist, Hedren was also successful in lobbying Congress to pass a 2003 bill

ending the interstate traffic of large cats.

 

“Currently, there is another bill – The Big Cat and Public Safety Protection Act – in committee

in the House and Senate which will stop the breading of exotic cats for personal exploitation or

their sale as pets,” she explained. “I can’t imagine why any lawmaker would hesitate to get this

legislation passed.”

 

In addition to being ‘den mother” to her cat family, Hedren is matriarch of a well-known acting

clan. Daughter, Melanie Griffith, and granddaughter, Dakota Johnson, are successful actresses.

“On Mother’s Day, we all had dinner,” recalled Hedren. “As I looked around the table, I was so

proud of these beautiful and talented people.”

 

While gratified by her family and work with animals, Hedren remains proud of her work on

“Marnie.”

 

“I’m glad the story is more understood and appreciated today,” she said. ”It was a fascinating

role to delve into.”

 

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features,

columns, and interviews for over 400 magazines and newspapers.

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Norman Lloyd Still on the Ball

Tinseltown talks

By Nick Thomas

 

Norman Lloyd admits he’s taking things a bit easy these days. This year, he currently has only

one film waiting for release and he now plays just two tennis matches a week. Still, that’s not

bad, considering the veteran actor, producer, and director turns 100, later this year!

 

“People are always asking me for the secret of long life,” said Mr. Lloyd from his home in Los

Angeles. “Well, I have no secret and I suspect it’s partly luck. But I do know one thing. You’ve

got to stay active as you get older. And tennis is a great way to do that. It helps to take away all

the aches and pains.”

 

One of Lloyd’s memorable singles opponents, whom he first met in the 1940s, was a childhood

idol.

 

“Charlie Chaplin loved tennis and I was invited to his home by a friend to play,” recalled Lloyd.

“We became good friends, played regularly, and after would sit on his sun porch and drink a

Scotch Old-Fashioned.”

 

Off the courts, Lloyd appeared in some 40 films and numerous TV shows but was equally

comfortable behind the camera as director or in the front office producing.

“Alfred Hitchcock hired me to direct many of his weekly mystery shows,” said Lloyd, who also

produced more than 200 episodes between 1957-1965. “I’ve been directing and producing since

my early days in theater.”

 

Lloyd and Hitchcock were no strangers on a train. The pair had worked previously on two films,

“Spellbound” (1945) and “Saboteur” (1942).

 

As a villain in “Saboteur,” Lloyd helped create a memorable Hitchcock sequence, staged from

the lofty heights of the Statue of Liberty.

 

“Hitchcock recreated the arm of the Statue from the elbow up to the torch at full scale, on a

Universal Studios stage,” said Lloyd. “The closest I got to the real Statue during filming was the

base.”

 

In a scene with Bob Cummings atop of the Statue’s torch platform, Cummings lunges at Lloyd

with a gun.

 

“Then I fall over the rail,” explained Lloyd. “Hitchcock was a master of ‘writing with the

camera’ from his silent film days and wanted the scene in one take. So instead of cutting to a

stuntman, he asked if I would do it. I was an accomplished tennis player at the time and quite

athletic – not to mention being young and foolhardy – so I agreed to do a backflip over the rail!”

Out of camera view, Lloyd says a platform had been constructed to catch him, but the stunt was

still risky.

 

“The platform was about 14’ high and covered with mattresses and a man was there to catch me

and prevent me from rolling off. But in the scene, after I go over the rail, I grab onto a ledge and

Bob tries to pull me up by my jacket, but the stitches begin to break and I fall. Hitchcock didn’t

use any music in the scene, just the sound of wind which was brilliantly effective.”

On TV, Lloyd is best remembered as a regular in the groundbreaking 80’s medical series “St.

Elsewhere.” He played Dr. Daniel Auschlander in over 130 episodes during the show’s six year

run.

 

“The show dealt with subjects never discussed before on television,” noted Lloyd. “To my

knowledge, it was the first time that AIDS was featured. It also examined issues such as the

expense of dialysis for patients, and other topics included religious themes. The writing was

brilliant with a superb cast including Ed Flanders – I don’t think there was a finer actor in

America – and Denzel Washington who went on to have great success.”

 

In addition to his accomplishments in entertainment and on the tennis court, Lloyd can claim one

of the longest marriages in show business history – to stage actress Peggy Lloyd, who passed

away in 2011.

 

“A couple of days before she died, she asked how long we had been married,” recalled Lloyd. “I

told her 75 years and she said ‘It should last!’ I thought that was charming.”

 

As his milestone birthday approaches in November, Lloyd knows exactly how Peggy would

want him to celebrate.

 

“My tennis friends and I are going to have a big tournament on my 100th birthday,” he said.

“Perhaps at that age they may forgive me if I cheat a little.”

 

Nick Thomas (www.getnickt.com) teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has

written features, columns, and interviews for over 400 magazines and newspapers.

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Jane Powell Reflects

Tinseltown Talks

by Nick Thomas

 

Multitalented actress Jane Powell celebrated her 85th

Moore purchased a home in Wilton, Conn., about 30 years ago, dividing their time between

Connecticut and New York.

 

“We found this perfect house which was built in 1875 and didn’t have to do much remodeling,”

said Ms. Powell from Wilton. “I love to cook, so we added a new kitchen, built an office in the

back and put a gazebo in the garden.”

 

And at 85, she could be considered a role model for seniors’ health. “I love to eat, but have never

eaten junk food.”

 

Standing just five feet tall and a slender 100 lbs most of her adult life, Jane says keeping fit

is important. “I exercise several times a week, do Pilates and low impact aerobics. I’ve had

arthritis, but it progresses more slowly if you look after yourself.”

 

Best remembered for two giant MGM musicals in the 1950s, Powell starred in just eighteen other

feature films between 1944-1958, although in later years she played more dramatic roles on TV

and in theater to great acclaim.

 

On the big screen, she was a reliable actress who could also sing and dance with the best. In “A

Date with Judy” (1948) she held her own against the brilliant Elizabeth Taylor; she matched Fred

Astaire step for step in “Royal Wedding” (1951); and she crooned alongside Debbie Reynolds in

“Hit the Deck” (1955).

 

Born Suzanne Burce, in Portland, Oreg., she first performed on radio and in local theater. “I

started professional singing training when I was 10, and dancing when I was 2.”

Young Suzanne expressed little interest in an entertainment career, but her mother had other

ideas. While vacationing with the family in Hollywood in 1943, she won a talent contest and

signed a contract with Universal Studios the next day. She was just 14. “I didn’t particularly

want to do it,” she says, but her parents “had this planned.” birthday in April. She and husband Dick

Within months, she was preparing for her first film “Song of the Open Road” in which she

played, quite prophetically, a child film star named “Jane Powell.” The character’s name

appealed to the studio heads, and young Suzanne was re-christened Jane.

 

Today, her most known films are the musical hits: “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” with

Howard Keel, and “Royal Wedding” which features two famous solos by Fred Astaire dancing

on a ceiling and with a coat rack.

 

And in a charming 6 minute vaudevillian-type skit, Powell and Astaire go head to head,

matching witty banter, singing and dancing to a song with the longest title in any MGM musical:

“How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been A Liar All

My Life?”

 

That routine perfectly showcased Powell’s on-screen energy, enthusiasm, and comic talent. Of

Astaire, Powell says he was the consummate performer. “After you worked with Fred, you just

didn’t want to work with anyone else.”

 

However, life for young stars in the ‘40s and ‘50s could be tough. The major studios dominated

the film industry and actors had little say about role selection and were readily typecast. They

could be “rented out” to other companies at the studio’s whim.

 

“The studios groomed young actors to be stars,” said Powell. “It was hard to make friends

socially. I never had any ‘girls’ nights’ or sleepovers.”

 

Despite being pushed into a Hollywood career and the pressures of work, the stress never

showed in her performances which were always upbeat and energetic.

 

But as the ‘50s drew to a close, so did the era of lavish Hollywood musicals. “They were

expensive to make and the studio system dissolved,” said Powell. “Audiences became more

sophisticated and wanted more of a story plot.”

 

Nevertheless, the MGM classics remain popular today with older audiences who look back

on that film period with fondness, as well as younger viewers who are fascinated by the early

Hollywood era.

 

“People still love to watch the old musicals,” said Powell.

 

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written

features, columns, and interviews for over 400 magazines and newspapers. His web site is

www.getnickt.com.

 

Photo: Turner Entertainment.

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Rickles Rolls On

Tinseltown Talks

By Nick Thomas

 

Despite a leg infection that sidelined him earlier in the year, Don Rickles is as feisty as ever. In

March, the 87-year-old comedian began a spring tour of theaters and casinos across the country

with stops in California, Nevada, Michigan, Connecticut, and Wisconsin.

 

But be warned! If you’re in the audience and sporting a bad hairpiece, have an unusually curved

nose, or are a little on the chubby side, Rickles could be waiting for you.

 

That’s because just about everyone “annoys” Don in his act, which hasn’t changed much in half

a century. Sensitive audience members wishing to dodge the comedian’s verbal jabs should

probably cower in the back row.

 

Rickles says his performances are more than just some grumpy old-timer wandering around the

stage. Nor do they involve telling stories with punch lines.

“I don’t do jokes,” said Rickles by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “My shows are a

theatrical performance. They’re not really mean-spirited, just a form of exaggerating everything

about people and life itself.”

 

Rickles traces his big break to an evening in 1957, during a Hollywood nightclub performance,

when he advised audience member Frank Sinatra to go “hit somebody.” Fortunately, the often

moody Sinatra laughed, and the famed crooner swooned for Rickle’s style of humor.

 

Years later, numerous appearances on the Dean Martin and Johnny Carson shows assured

Rickles of comic legend status. He also appeared in several films, such as “Kelly’s Heroes,” and

was the lead cast member in the TV series “C.P.O. Sharkey” in the 1970s.

 

“Sharkey was crazy and sharp-tongued, like my stage character,’ recalled Rickles. “But I was

worried the writers couldn’t write for me.”

 

While the show was not a disaster, it did suffer from weak writing and lasted only two seasons,

being carried largely by Rickles’ comedic talents. “I’d like to see the show released on DVD.

It’s been talked about for years, but has never gotten off the ground. Hopefully it will.” (Many

episodes can be viewed on-line on YouTube).

 

One TV outlet which was perfect for Rickles’ style of comedy was the “Dean Martin Celebrity

Roasts,” which ran for a decade on NBC beginning in the mid-1970s.

 

“Some guys had writers, but I did everything off the top of my head. Nobody had any idea what

I was going to say,” he said. “What a joy it was to be on stage with the greatest comedians and

entertainers of all time.”

 

Stage, however, is where Rickles has always excelled. Always an equal opportunity offender, he

not only delivers his sledgehammer comedy to the average guy in the audience, but to any friend,

politician, or celebrity within striking distance. Few take offense.

 

Ronald Reagan was a favorite Rickles’ target, and during the second Inaugural Ball in 1985 he

addressed the president:

“Good evening Mr. President. It’s a big treat for me to fly all the way from California to be here

for this kind of money…. Now you’re big, and you’re getting on my nerves… Ronnie, am I

going too fast for you?”

 

Probably not the most polite way to address a sitting president but, says Rickles, “Reagan had a

great sense of humor and loved the attention.”

 

In the coming year, Rickles is planning more than two dozen shows, but says touring has

changed.

 

“In the early days, you would work at one place such as Vegas or Atlantic City for weeks at a

time doing two shows a night,” he recalled. “Now, with all the Indian casinos across the country,

you’re always traveling and doing just one or two shows at each place. These new casinos give

performers a lot of comfort, they make the job interesting and some even provide private planes,

but traveling can still be tough.”

 

Given his age, recent illness, and the stress of traveling, audiences should be especially

appreciative of the chance to see Rickles unleash his encyclopedia of wisecracks live on stage

this year.

 

“When you’re an entertainer, you’re like a salesman who has something to sell – yourself,” he

said. “You can’t please everybody, but most people who come to see me know what to expect.

I’m proud of being the originator of this style of comedy.”

 

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features,

columns, and interviews for over 400 magazines and newspapers. He can be reached at his blog:

http://getnickt.blogspot.com

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The Other Side of Leonard Nimoy

Tinseltown Talks

By Nick Thomas

 

As Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy created one of the most iconic characters in television

history. But for the past two decades, Nimoy has transported his career to the other side of the

camera and is now regarded as a leading contemporary American photographer.

Early in his acting career, he recognized photography could be more than just snapshots on

location.

 

“I carried a camera with me wherever I went and began to realize I was missing the place I was

in because my eye was behind the camera so much,” Nimoy recalled from his home in Los

Angeles. “I had the photographs, but I hadn’t had the experience. So I began using the camera

when I was on a specific thematic quest.”

 

The photography bug eventually bit him hard at the pinnacle of his career.

“I had finished three seasons of ‘Star Trek’ and two seasons of ‘Mission: Impossible,’ and I

actually considered changing careers,” Nimoy explained. “I went to school at UCLA to study

photography under master art photography Robert Heineken and became very excited about the

prospect.”

 

But with no enthusiasm for commercial photography, he realized a career in fine art photography

would be difficult at the time. “So I decided to stay with my acting and directing, although I

continued to study photography and work at it.”

 

Around 1994, he became a full-time photographer (while continuing to tackle some film and TV

projects of interest), producing work that was largely concept driven – themes that told a story,

rather than random, individual photos. His diverse subjects include hands, eggs, landscapes,

nudes, and dancers, all shot with black and white film cameras. “I have two darkrooms and do

my own printing up to a 16″ x 20″ image. I like to be in touch with the whole process.”

 

His provocative Full Body project, published in book form in 2007, featured mostly naked full-
figured women. “My original idea was to replicate some rather famous images shot by other

photographers who had used fashion models, and to use these women in those same poses.”

More recently, for his Secret Selves project – his first shot in color – he photographed 100 people

from all walks of life, each acting out a fantasy identity.

 

Nimoy, who is represented by R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Mass., will have three

concurrent exhibitions in the Boston area beginning in late March – when the artist turns 83

(see www.RMichelson.com). “The exhibits cover about 20 years of my career, so it’s quite

comprehensive.”

 

Although Nimoy’s works can be pricey (up to $18,000), more affordable images with a Spock

theme (e.g. the Vulcan hand salute) are sold through a site managed by his granddaughter

(www.shopllap.com).

 

“She’s quite the entrepreneur and operates it like a classy boutique,” said Nimoy. “There are T-
shirts, tote bags, and photographs signed by me. The things we do for our grandchildren!”

In February, reports surfaced that Nimoy was suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary

Disease, a lung ailment that affects some 13 million Americans according to the Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention, and caused primarily by smoking.

 

“Before I stopped smoking 30 years ago, I was deeply addicted,” he said. “I had to go through

various programs before I quit. But by then, the damage was done. In my late 70s and early

80s, I recognized that I did not have great breathing capacity, so wasn’t surprised by the COPD

diagnosis.”

 

“I use medication daily and give myself a jolt of oxygen when I need it,” he said. “The main

difficulty is high altitudes. We’ve had a house in Lake Tahoe for 20 years, which is a beautiful

retreat. But at 6,000 ft., I just can’t go there anymore. Other than that, I’m still very active and

not ready to cash it in yet!”

 

Despite rumors throughout his acting career that he resented being typecast as Spock; Nimoy

says he regards the character with fondness. “I’ve always been proud to be identified with

Spock.”

 

And what if J.J. Abrams, the producer/director of the new Star Trek films, approached him for

another film role?

 

“I’d take his call, but doubt I’d do any acting,” he said. “I don’t want to go off on location again.

I’m enjoying life with my family too much.”

 

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala. His features and columns

have appeared in over 400 newspapers and magazines and can be reached at his blog: http://

getnickt.blogspot.com

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Julie Adams Revisits the Black Lagoon

Tinseltown Talks

By Nick Thomas

 

How much mileage could a studio expect from a 1950s film starring a biologist with a

fascination for a secluded fishpond? Quite a bit, when the scientist is beautiful Julie Adams

wrapped in a skin-tight white latex bathing suit and the fish turns out to be an angry piscine

amphibious humanoid – aka “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

 

Premiering 60 years ago this month, the success of the now cult film continues to astound

Julie who, at age 87, remains a popular guest at fan conventions and film festivals across the

country. In March, she will be appearing at the Williamsburg Film Festival, WV (see http://

wff5.tripod.com).

 

“It’s amazing the life this movie has,” said Ms. Adams, from her Los Angeles home, who

portrayed scientist Kay Lawrence abducted by the infatuated Gill Man towards the end of the

creature feature. “It’s a classic beauty and the beast story, with stunning underwater photography

filmed at Wakulla Springs, Florida, because of its clear waters. The lagoon scenes were shot at

the Universal Studios backlot where ‘Gilligan’s Island’ was filmed.”

 

Underwater, Julie was doubled by Ginger Stanley, while Ricou Browning donned the rubber

creature suit for swimming scenes. On land, the creature was played by Ben Browning. “Ben

began going to fan conventions in the 1990s and convinced me to attend my first one in 2003.

It’s wonderful to meet so many people who still enjoy your work.”

 

Fans have also shared some interesting admissions with Julie. “Some told me they became

zoologists or paleontologists because of the film. And I met a little girl who was named after my

character!”

 

In 2011, the Arkansas-raised actress self-published her autobiography, “The Lucky Southern

Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon,” coauthored with her son, Mitch Danton. The book

contains some 200 photographs, many unpublished from her personal collection, with a chapter

devoted to the Black Lagoon.

 

Of course, the Creature wasn’t the only biped Julie costarred with during her career. She

received top billing with less scaly characters such as William Powell, Glenn Ford, Charlton

Heston, Elvis Presley, Rock Hudson and many others (see www.julieadams.biz). “Rock and I

were about the same age, so we became close friends and often played bridge.”

One of her favorite costars was Jimmy Stewart, with whom she appeared in “Bend of the River,”

two years before the Black Lagoon. Two decades later, she reunited with Stewart in 1971 for the

“Jimmy Stewart Show.”

 

“After I read for the part of Jimmy’s wife, he gave me a little nod as if to say ‘you’ve got the job’

– and I did. Jimmy was wonderfully informal but professional, so it wasn’t hard to pretend to be

in love with such a lovely man and talented actor.”

 

However, critics and audiences were not so enamored with the show, which was cancelled after

the first season.

 

“It was quite a charming show, but came out the same time as more edgy sitcoms like ‘All in the

Family,’” said Julie, who still remembers it fondly. “My idea of heaven was going to work with

Jimmy Stewart every day for six months!”

 

Unlike the little-remembered TV show, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” continues to gain

fans from new generations. “Some projects just take on a life of their own,” says Julie. “The

Creature still walks among us.”

 

Nick Thomas has written features and columns for more than 400 magazines and newspapers.

He can be reached at his blog: http://getnickt.blogspot.com

 

Please make sure you credit “Seth Kaye Photography” for the photos of Nimoy you may use.

The photographer sent me high resolution images for use with this story, but emphasized we

must give credit to use without charge (details on jpg names).

.

Also, one early work of Nimoy’s photography. nick

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Here’s to You, Mrs. Robinson

Tinseltown Talks

By Nick Thomas

 

When NASA honored June Lockhart last October, it would have been quite fitting to borrow

the above lyrics from a popular Simon and Garfunkel song to salute the 88 year old actress!

Best remembered by sci-fi fans for her role of TV space mom Maureen Robinson in the 60s

series “Lost in Space,” June told me recently that the NASA recognition was a highlight of her

long career which includes a Tony Award, an Emmy nomination, and a couple of stars on the

Hollywood Walk of Fame.

 

“I was presented with the Exceptional Public Achievement Medal for my work with the space

agency,” she explained. “I’ve been to two space shuttle launches and worked with NASA since

the 1970s, addressing their employees and traveling on NASA’s behalf to promote the agency.

So I’m absolutely thrilled by this recognition. No other actress has received this honor.”

 

One of her memorable experiences occurred during a Space Shuttle mission in 1992. “I called

NASA one day and spoke with astronaut Ken Reightler and told him I had a good wake-up song

for them to use,” recalled June, referring to “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,” a catchy

50s hit by Les Paul and Mary Ford. The song held special significance because the lyrics were

written by her father, beloved character actor Gene Lockhart.

 

“So I went to Mission Control in Houston and at around 2 am they played the song for the

crew of the Columbia mission,” she explained. “Then a voice from space came over the

speaker: ‘Some of us up here want to know what Lassie’s mother is doing in Mission Control at

2 o’clock in the morning!’”

 

“Lassie,” one of the TV’s longest-running shows (1954-1973), was June’s other big hit in which

she dispensed maternal wisdom, this time for six seasons as a farm mom. Later, she morphed

from matriarch to medic as Dr. Janet Craig for three seasons on “Petticoat Junction.”

“Petticoat Junction was a delight to do with wonderful scripts,” said June. “It was great playing

comedy after ‘Lost in Space,’ which was more dramatic, and ‘Lassie,’ which didn’t have many

laughs.”

 

On the big screen, 12 year old June made her debut in the 1938 holiday classic, “A Christmas

Carol,” alongside both her parents, Gene and Kathleen Lockhart, who played the Cratchits.

While she went on to costar with greats such as Gary Cooper in “Sergeant York” and Judy

Garland in “Meet me in St. Louis,” “A Christmas Carol” is special since it was the only time she

appeared with her parents in a motion picture.

 

But it was memorable for other reasons, too. “My daughter, Junie, and granddaughter,

Christianna, have never let me forget that the first words I ever spoke in movies were: ‘I know, I

know – sausages!’” said June, referring to her on-screen guess for the contents of a food package

Mr. Crachit brings home. “We all shriek with laugher when we watch it now.”

 

In addition to being an advocate for NASA and many other causes, June continues to work and

costarred in the comedy spoof “Zombie Hamlet,” which had its world premiere at the 2012 Palm

Beach International Film Festival and was just released on DVD in December.

 

In 2013, she appeared in the interactive movie series “Tex Murphy,” a gaming platform that

combines animation with full-motion video of real actors. “That was a new experience and I

really enjoyed it. And in December, I also celebrated my 80th year as a paid performer in the

business! I made my debut at the age of eight in ‘Peter Ibbetson’ at the Metropolitan Opera

House.”

 

While actors are used to receiving accolades for career milestones, June admits to still being

quite overwhelmed by the NASA recognition and is, she says, “over the Moon about it!”

Congratulations, Mrs. Robinson!

 

Nick Thomas has written features and columns for more than 350 magazines and newspapers.

He can be reached at his blog.

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