My brother was a big fan of professional wrestling in the late 60s and early 70s. Every Saturday afternoon, he’d monopolize the television and watch match after match after brutal match featuring such celebrated names as Larry Zbyszko, Chief Jay Strongbow, Gorilla Monsoon, Handsome Jimmy Valiant and the champ, Bruno Sammartino.
There was another wrestling fan in my house. My mom.
Casino gambling came to Atlantic City in 1978 and when I turned 18 the following year (the legal drinking and gambling age at the time), my mom and I would go to Atlantic City frequently. For ten bucks, a chartered bus would take us from Philadelphia and deposit us on the famous Boardwalk a mere 90 minutes later. A voucher from the bus company could be exchanged for a roll of quarters and a five dollar discount towards a buffet lunch. So, the trip essentially cost us nothing and offered the chance to break the bank, if luck would have it.
One summer afternoon, my mom and I were wandering through Bally’s Casino after several hours of yanking the handles of slot machines and trying to outsmart blackjack dealers. We decided to use our buffet coupons and made our way toward a bank of elevators. My mom pressed the call button and within a minute an elevator arrived. We piled in, getting a spot by the doors as they whispered closed. We stood silent as the car rose a few floors to our destination. The car stopped. The doors opened and my mom’s face lit up. Less than a foot over the elevator threshold stood Bruno Sammartino. The Bruno Sammartino. My mom blurted out a gleeful “BRUNO!!!” Bruno smiled broadly. No one else recognized him. No one. Just my mom. Bruno quickly shook my mom’s hand and nodded respectfully to her as he entered the now empty elevator car. Still, no one else said a word, though a few folks craned their necks and quietly pondered the identity of the hulking gentleman with the thick features and a cauliflower ear.
But my mom knew who he was.
He was the champ.
“There a painless death awaits him who can no longer bear the sorrows of this life.”
— Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow
Sadly, Sharon Tate is remembered more for her senseless murder instead of her budding and potential film career.
Sharon, a native Texan, was entered in numerous beauty pageants as a child. As her family moved around the country, due to her father’s employ with the US Army, Sharon entered more pageants, eventually gaining “celebrity” status when a photo of her appeared in an issue of Stars and Stripes. She befriended actor Richard Beymer who was working on a picture being filmed near her home. Beymer encouraged Sharon to pursue an acting career. Sharon soon landed a part in The Pat Boone Show in 1960.
While living in Italy, Sharon was spotted by actor Jack Palance when she was hired as an extra on the biblical epic Barabbas. Palance sought a larger role for Sharon, but it was not to be. When her family returned to the United States, Sharon contacted Richard Beymer’s agent who put her in touch with Martin Ransohoff, producer and founder of Filmways Inc. Ransohoff was taken by Sharon’s beauty and had her audition for the role of “Billie Jo Bradley” on CBS’s sitcom Petticoat Junction, a Filmways production. Screen tests showed that Sharon lacked the confidence for a lead role, but she was soon cast in a smaller part on other Filmways shows, The Beverly Hillbillies and Mister Ed. During this time, Sharon began a relationship with Jay Sebring, a noted Hollywood hairdresser.
In 1964, Sharon auditioned, unsuccessfully, for several motion pictures, including The Cincinnati Kid, The Americanization of Emily, The Sandpiper and The Sound of Music. Martin Ransohoff, who was overseeing Sharon’s career, finally allowed her to make her big screen debut in Eye of the Devil, alongside a cast of established acting talent including David Niven, Deborah Kerr and Donald Pleasence. The film, shot in the United Kingdom, was poorly received. She did, however, stay in London and soon met director Roman Polanski. Polanski was arranging pre-production for his upcoming project, a comedy-horror film called The Fearless Vampire Killers. He planned to cast actress Jill St. John in the female lead. Martin Ransohoff insisted that Polanski cast Sharon in the role. He relented, his compromise being that Sharon don a red wig for the film. Filming began, with Polanski in the male lead, as well as at the director’s helm. An unusual chemistry formed between Sharon and Polanski. He praised her performance, improving her confidence as an actress (despite perfectionist Polanski demanding up to 70 takes on certain scenes).
Sharon returned to the United States to begin filming the kitschy Don’t Make Waves with Tony Curtis, designed to capitalize on the “beach movie” craze. Sharon wore little more than a bikini in the role and was very was vocal in her disappointment in the film. Polanski, meanwhile, was making preliminary arrangements for the upcoming film Rosemary’s Baby. He wanted Sharon to star in the film, but no one at Paramount Studios was interested. Instead, Mia Farrow was cast in the role of “Rosemary Woodhouse.” Sharon, holding no ill feelings, freely made suggestions for the film’s production, including the surreal scene in which Rosemary is impregnated.
A 1967 article in Playboy proclaimed: “This is the year that Sharon Tate happens!” The story proved prophetic, as she was cast in Valley of the Dolls, a big screen version of the campy and controversial best seller. Co-star Patty Duke and Susan Hayward noted that the film’s director Mark Robson was overly critical of Sharon Tate’s acting, often berating her and calling her names. Later, though, Robson would tell Polanski: “That’s a great girl you’re living with. Few actresses have her kind of vulnerability. She’s got a great future.” Valley of the Dolls opened to unanimously negative reviews.
In 1968, Sharon was cast in the thriller The Wrecking Crew opposite Dean Martin as suave spy “Matt Helm.” After filming wrapped, a pregnant Sharon moved with Polanski to a sprawling home on Cielo Drive in Los Angeles. They had visited the home before, when the owners, record producer Terry Melcher and his girlfriend Candace Bergen, threw a party. While Sharon pondered her next project, Polanski was off again to Europe to direct The Day of the Dolphin. (Polanski was eventually replaced by director Mike Nichols.) Polanski asked his friend Wojciech Frykowski and Frykowski’s girlfriend, coffee heiress Abigail Folger to stay with Sharon at the house while he was away. He also asked Jay Sebring, now a family friend, to keep an eye on Sharon, as well. Polanski was expected home on August 12, 1969 in plenty of time for the birth of his child.
On the afternoon of August 8, 1969, Sharon invited actress Joanna Pettet over for lunch. That evening, Sharon joined Frykowski, Folger and Sebring at El Coyote, a Mexican restaurant in the Fairfax section of Los Angeles, just twenty minutes from their Beverly Hills home. They returned to Cielo Drive around 10:30 pm.
Ninety minutes later, all occupants of the home were murdered by members of Charles Manson’s cult. Sharon’s pleas for the life of her unborn child were ignored as she was stabbed 16 times by Susan Atkins.
Sharon Tate was 26 and had her whole life and career ahead of her.
This marks the 1400th post on this blog.
“Abba, daba, daba, daba, daba, daba, dab”
Means “Monk, I love but you”
“Abba, daba, dab, ” in monkey talk
Means “Chimp, I love you too”
Then the big baboon, one night in June
He married them, and very soon
They went upon their abba daba honeymoon
Ray Milland, the Oscar-winning star of 1945’s The Lost Weekend, was Paramount Studios highest-paid actor from 1934 to 1948. He made some memorable films — Dial M for Murder, The Major and the Minor, Beau Geste, Reap the Wild Wind and my mom’s favorite The Uninvited — and starred with some of Hollywood’s greatest leading ladies — Gene Tierney, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich, Loretta Young, and Veronica Lake. He was a bankable commodity and a true “movie star.”
I discovered Ray Milland much, much later in his illustrious career, at a time when it was not so illustrious. I went to a Saturday afternoon matinee when I was 11 or 12, as I often did at that time of my life. The feature that particular day was the 1972 thriller Frogs, a “nature’s revenge” story that was a loose homage to films like Them! as much as it was to Godzilla. Actually, it was capitalizing on the popularity of Willard and would soon spawn such forgotten “gems” as Night of the Lepus, Sssssss and Empire of the Ants. Ray Milland, the one-time debonair star of many respected films from Hollywood’s “golden age,” was now playing the acerbic patriarch of a Southern family whose palatial antebellum estate is besieged by a malevolent host of amphibians. With a hunky Sam Elliot and a perky Lynn Borden by his his side, the once great actor was now giving his hammy best as an invalid, grimacing in his wheelchair — though continually moving his supposed paralyzed legs.
Ray followed this tour-de-force with The Thing with Two Heads, an attempted morality play about race relations. In the film, Ray portrays a hate-spewing, though seriously ill, bigot. As he is slowly dying, doctors graft his head on the the body of a black death row inmate, played by an amiable Rosey Grier. The budget for this film was around four dollars, but Ray gives it is all. The result, as you can imagine, is embarrassing.
Ray made numerous appearances on episodic television, including a turn as a grim doctor in a segment of Rod Serling‘s anthology series Night Gallery. Later followed roles on The Hardy Boys, Fantasy Island, Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels and a slew of made-for TV movies.
Recently, I caught a movie on the Comet Network, a cable channel that specializes in sci-fi offerings. The film was Panic in Year Zero!, a 1962, low budget cautionary tale about nuclear annihilation that was directed by Ray Milland. Shot in black and white, Ray and his family (Teen idol Frankie Avalon as his son. Mary Mitchell, who ditched her acting career in the mid 60s for a more behind-the scenes role as a script supervisor, as his daughter and a bewildered Jean Hagen as his wife) are on a camping trip when Los Angeles is leveled by a nuclear bomb. The family tries to fight the desperate lawlessness that has overtaken the survivors to stay alive. It is gritty, stark and extremely somber for the time period. The movie looks like one of those “horrors of nuclear war” documentaries we saw as kids. You know, the shrill, frightening ones in the “duck and cover” vein. Everyone plays their parts in the most serious of tones, except for Hagen, who alternates between panic and confusion. (She looks as though she going to give her agent a stern talking-to as soon as shooting wraps.) As I watched Panic in Year Zero! (and I did indeed watch it), I wondered how Ray Milland assessed his career at this point. Was he aware of what once was and how his career had evolved? He was an Oscar winner, for goodness sake! Was he just happy just to be working or was this just another role in a long line of roles?
Towards the end of his life, Ray Milland often gave interviews. He reflected lovingly on his life and career, infusing his comments with self-deprecating humor. He passed away in 1986 at the age of 79.
I once had a friend who refused to eat mushrooms because she hated the squeaking sound she heard in her head when she chewed them.
And that wasn’t even the weirdest thing about her.
Fourteen-year old Cuban native Estelita Rodriguez signed a contract with MGM studios in 1942. She was dropped by the studio, however, just prior to filming her first picture. She moved to New York and signed a five-picture deal with Republic Pictures, a studio that produced Roy Rogers movies and specialized in Westerns.
Her debut was in Along the Navajo Trail in 1945, a film that Estelita admitted was a nightmare to make. She complained that she was treated like a child on the set. She gained respect and soon was regularly appearing in Westerns, making two dozen films between 1945 and 1959, including Rio Bravo with John Wayne. After a seven-year gap, she starred in the low-budget Western horror film, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter in 1966. This was Estelita’s final film.
Estelita was married four times, including four years to actor Grant Withers. John Wayne was the best man at this wedding. The couple divorced in 1955 and Withers committed suicide a few years later.
Estelita was found dead in her home in March 1966. The cause of her death was never made public. Estelita was 37.
You better believe me. I’m a great big deal.
In 2003, college senior Rachel Corrie traveled from her hometown of Olympia, Washington to Rafah, a combat zone in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Her goal was to make Rafah a “sister city” with Olympia. During her mission, she joined up with a pro-Palestinian activist group called International Solidarity Movement. The group opposed the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) common practice of demolishing Palestinian houses in hopes of locating weapons and underground tunnels used to transport weapons and ammunition.
Less than two months after arriving in Rafah, Rachel made herself part of a human shield to block the IDF’s bulldozers from carrying out their demolition. As a result of a three-hour confrontation with Israeli forces, Rachel was killed. Conflicting accounts of Rachel’s death arose from subsequent investigation of the incident. Fellow protesters claimed that the bulldozer operator deliberately ran over Rachel, while other eyewitnesses reported that it was an accident, explaining the operator had poor visibility from the vehicle’s cab and couldn’t see her. An Israeli Army investigation concluded that Rachel’s death was, in their opinion, an accident. However, Amnesty International, along with B’Tselem and Yesh Din, two Israeli human rights groups, criticized the final decision.
In 2005, Rachael’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Israel. The lawsuit charged Israel with not conducting a full investigation into the case and with responsibility for Rachel’s death, contending that she had either been intentionally killed or that the soldiers had acted with reckless neglect. As a symbol of their convictions over monetary gain, they asked for an award of one dollar. An Israeli court rejected their suit. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the appeal.
Rachel was 23 years old.