Thursday, August 30, 2012

Talk about a revolution…2 war-time romances

Hail, Hero! (1969) is a long-forgotten film that stars Michael Douglas.  It is one of the very few films in which he plays a young adult.  In this, his feature film debut, Douglas is a college student named Carl Dixon.  This was a good 15 years before Romancing the Stone, and it is a Douglas you might be completely unfamiliar with.  The story takes place in the 1960’s at the onset of the Vietnam War.  Carl is an anti-war free spirit.  He is upbeat, energetic and spontaneous.   Douglas does an incredible job here in making the character Carl both eccentric and lovable at the same time.  The irony of the story is that Carl is returning home to Arizona is order to tell his divorced parents that he has enlisted in the US Army.
Carl does not want to fight.  In fact, he is against war and killing altogether.  But he has decided to enlist to make a point; out of confusion and desperation.  His insecurities stem from the relationships he has with his brother and his parents.  His brother has a lame leg and it is partially due to Carl’s actions.  What happened is that Carl once threw a snake at his brother’s horse.  The horse got out of control and landed on top of his brother.  Also, Carl’s father is always bragging about his achievements fighting in previous wars.  Carl believes that if he wasn’t the cause of his brother’s ailment, his brother would’ve been fighting in Vietnam.  He decides that he has to take on this responsibility instead.


While Hail, Hero! is not heavy on plot, it is an excellent character study.  It is an exploration of a new type of hero.   Carl is not your typical hippy.  Yes, the generation gap is explored in this film, but it’s more than just that.  Even without his long hair, Carl can sense the hypocrisy of the older generation.   At the same time, he is able to sympathize with it.   He realizes that everyone fears death and what he must do, as a hero, is to face it.   
Balancing out the seriousness, Douglas’ acting adds much humor to this picture.  Carl prances about with a tiger skin on his back, plays matador with a jeep on a country road, goes skinny-dipping, befriends an old pothead in a cave and pulls a terrible party prank involving a mummified baby.  Also, in the film’s finale, he turns artist, painting a terrific anti-war mural on the barn of his family farm.  
The film was based on the novel by John Weston and has never been released on DVD.
Cactus In The Snow (1971) is another comedy/drama that takes place during the Vietnam War.   A young Richard Thomas plays Harley, an orphan and a soldier. While he is on leave, the shy Harley decides that he would desperately like to lose his virginity before he is shipped off to fight.  

The story starts when Harley hitchhikes and ends up in a car with a drunk guy who propositions him.  Harley escapes and ends up at a mod nightclub.   He gets drunk enough to walk over to a table and ask a few girls that are sitting there if any of them would like to sleep with him.  They find him charming.  One of the girls decides to bring him back to her house.  Only there is one small problem…
Before they get undressed, Harley passes out drunk and the girl admits that she too is a virgin.  The next day the girl, named Cissy (played by Mary Layne), makes a checklist of things she’s like to do before she loses her virginity.   She decides to do these things with Harley before sleeping with him. They decide to 1. Buy Her a Nightie 2. Ride a Merry-Go-Round 3. Walk by the Sea 4. See a Movie 5. Take a Drive.  Another one of the things Cissy does is get her hair cut short, which makes her look kind of awkward.  
While the two argue and make fun of each other, it is obvious that they are falling in love.  The couple actually reminds me of Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin from A Taste of Honey(1961).   They are very sweet together.  Harley goes and finds one of his foster mother’s who doesn’t even remember who he is.   Having second thought about sex, Cissy decides to buy a prostitute for Harley.  Harley meets the prostitute and is not sure if he could go through with it.  Then, when the two do try to sleep together, Cissy’s parents come home and kick Harley out.
Finally, the tender moment comes when the two have to say good bye.  As Harley’s train is leaving, the two remember that they have forgotten to exchange full names and addresses. There is a moment when we think the couple will be reunited.   But it is too late.   Harley is shipped off to war in order to die.  And while young love is true, it’s also too short and bittersweet.
Richard Thomas was actually in a bunch of great movies throughout the 1970’s at the same time that he starred in The Waltons.  For example, I’d also recommend Last Summer (1969), and September 30, 1955 (1977).  In some ways, a young Richard Thomas in these pictures reminds of an American version of Tom Courtenay.
Cactus In the Snow was written and directed by Martin Zweibach, who previously wrote the screenplay for Me, Natalie (1969) a strange film with Patty Duke that had a Rod McKuen soundtrack.  It was also released in the UK as You Can’t Have Everything.  It has never been released on DVD.
Both of these rare coming-of-age Vietnam-era movies are definitely worth seeking out.  They are stories about soldiers who don’t care to fight.   They are stories that favor LOVE over WAR!  While some may call these dated, I say that this theme is TIMELESS.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Beverly Hills 90210 outsiders


The original Beverly Hills 90210 is my guilty pleasure. The show’s concept works: a rich kid’s mix of Afterschool Specials and daytime soap opera. The Hollywood location always kept me from taking this too seriously, and the writing was great for what it was. The first two seasons were very issue-oriented and like afterschool specials, they often had an agenda or message. But into the third season, and for the rest of its run, it turned into full time soap. However, this was soap at its best: like Dynasty for young adults. Watching it as a teenager in the 1990’s seemed strange because actors such as Luke Perry seemed way too old to be in High School. In fact, Perry was about 27 years old when he was supposed to be playing the 17 year old character Dylan. These characters not only looked older, they acted older. Sex is casual and rampant in 90210. In retrospect, these details don’t bother me so much. Now that I am older than these actors were, I find it easier to fully indulge in the world of these well-developed characters. Where I was once reluctant to watch past Season 4 (the post High-School and post Brenda years), I now find that the later seasons are equally as enjoyable.

Part of what makes 90210 such an amazing series is its complexity. More so than shows that would follow in its footsteps, such as Dawson’s Creek, there were over ten main characters and viewers got to know them all intimately. The original group of friends in Beverly Hills 90210 is a nearly impenetrable, exclusive clique. Members included Brandon and Brenda Walsh, Kelly Taylor, Steve Sanders, Andrea Zuckerman, Dylan McKay, Donna Martin and David Silver. Their lives centered around romance, friendship and meeting significant others. All have plenty of money and despite their personal problems and complex relationships, none of them appear to have to hold down jobs (Brandon is the exception; Brandon can do anything!). Other young adults who attempt to permeate this group, don’t fare as well. I find these auxiliary characters fascinating. These tragic outsider characters are what keep the show interesting for me.

Brandon Walsh is the star and conscience of the show. In the first episode, his parents move to 90210 from Minnesota with him and his sister. His “all-american” abilities enable him to penetrate the inner circle of the elite. He is as much an icon to the 1990’s as Ferris Bueller was to the 1980’s. Brandon is the guy that everyone loves even though he’s more preppy than rebel. His best friends balance out his leanings towards perfection. Dylan is the brooding loner and Steve is the party-animal jock. The multitude of relationships that these characters have help bring new blood to the show. However, none of these outsider characters are able to cope with Beverly Hill’s beautiful crowd quite so easily.

Emily Valentine (played by Christine Elise), from Season 2 for example, nearly goes insane in the process of trying to fit in. The insecure Valentine drugs Brandon at a rave. Then, after attempting to torch herself, along with a parade float, she spends time in a mental hospital. Brandon still holds a place in his heart for this “bad girl” though and their romance is almost rekindled briefly in Season 4 and 5 after Emily begins to pull her life together and find some direction.

Another one of Brandon’s many girlfriends that I loved was Nikki Witt (Dana Barron) from Season 3. Barron is an actress that is most well known for her role in National Lampoon’s Vacation as Audrey Griswold. One of the things that now fascinates me about 90210 is how many of the actors/actresses were about 5 or 6 years older than the parts they were playing. Nikki is supposed to be a younger character (a High School Sophomore/ approximately 15) but in Season 3 (1992) the real life Barron was actually 26 years old! If Emily valentine was the “bad girl”, Nikki Witt was the more free-spirited hippy type. Her character was from San Francisco and Brandon saves her from a dangerous ex-boyfriend who nearly rapes her. Nikki is witty enough to almost become part of the group but unfortunately it was not to be and Season 3 was her last. Strangely, Dana Barron also appeared in a commercial for Trojan condoms around this time.

The intelligent vixen character that lasts is Valerie Malone (Tiffani Thiessen, known for her role as in Kelly in Saved By the Bell) who first appears in Season 5 to replace the hole left by Brenda’s (Shannen Doherty’s) departure. Along with Brian Austin Green (who plays David Silver) and Tori Spelling (Donna), Thiessen is the only one of the gang who is in close proximity to the age of the character she is playing and looks it. I was at first reluctant to watch the show after Brenda’s departure. However, I eventually found Valerie to be a much more interesting character. She added a lot of drama to the show in her attempts to have relationships with most of the leading men in Season 5 and 6 including Dylan, Brandon, Ray and David. At first it is the fact that Valerie is so manipulative that she is able to force her way into the group. Eventually though, she must learn to prove herself and act outside of her vindictive nature.

Unfortunately, other characters are not as strong or fortunate. Two characters are killed off after coming close to the group. These include the unfortunate Scott Sandlin, who accidentally kills himself in Season 2. And then there is Antonia Marchette, Dylan’s love interest from Season 6. The two are wed and the next day she is shot and killed.

Probably the most long-running outsider character on the show is Ray Pruit. Played by Jamie Walters, Pruit was Donna Martin’s boyfriend throughout Season 5 and the beginning of Season 6. Donna first notices Ray working construction while she is a student at California University. She tries to include him in a video she is making for a school project. When he realizes that the video is a joke that will possibly make him look stupid, he is immediately defensive. Donna is sympathetic when she realizes that Ray is deep and not just a “hot bod”.

In the show, Ray is a musician and his sensitive side comes out in his music. The actor who played Ray, Jamie Walters, landed the role right after starring in the short lived (1 season) show The Heights from 1992. The Heights was about a rock and roll band. Walters sung the title song “How Do You talk to an Angel” that became a number one hit. Recast as a musician in 90210, Walters had all the makings of a teen idol, perhaps a Ricky Nelson for the 1990s. His songs were featured in several episodes and outside of the show, he even began touring with a band.

I like Jamie Walters as an actor and his music isn’t half bad either, so it’s kind of a shame that fate didn’t shine on him. In the show Ray has a bit of a brutal past that appeared foreign to the 90210 clique. His father was abusive, his mother was an alcoholic and Ray, who never went to college, holds two jobs. He works construction and on his family farm while still trying to maintain integrity as a songwriter.



Throughout Ray and Donna’s relationship it is obvious that he has a deep love for her. However, this does not come without its problems. He often feels spiteful to her friends who view him as a bad influence. Also Ray’s abusive past makes him act aggressive with Donna at times. This becomes a more serious issue in the show when Ray’s aggression lends itself to Donna falling down a set of stairs and breaking her arm. Ray also has a brief affair with Valerie, who comes onto him. Ray is never happy about this because his connection with Valerie is mostly due to his frustration over his non-sexual relationship with Donna. He tries to keep the affair a secret. However after Donna eventually finds out, she gets a new boyfriend and Ray is again the terminal outsider. For a few episodes he is portrayed as a stalker, trying to win back Donna’s affection until he is gone from the program completely.

Despite his issues, I actually found Ray an endearing character that gets the short end of the stick, so to speak, in this series. Ray came far in trying to deal with his problems and making a career for himself as an artist. He could be violent at times, but for the most part he was very sweet. What he lacked in humor, he made up in sensitivity. In some ways Ray Pruit reminds me of James Dean. He is a rebel without a cause motivated by love and a troubled past. He never quite fit into the glamorous lifestyle of the other members of the exclusive 90210 clique. But for a while he lived there, and he did okay.

Other members of the clique had their own issues. And I’m not saying that Ray’s aggressive behavior towards Donna was at all justifiable. But certainly Ray never went over the edge the way Dylan did. Dylan acts far more despicable in Season 5 where he engages in multiple accounts of casual sex, uses Valerie, becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol, begins collecting firearms and throws tantrums at those he is closest to. If Dylan was redeemed in the eyes of the elite 90210 clique, then why not Ray? Is it because his character was poor in comparison and not from Beverly Hills? If this is the case, then as a viewer Ray gets my sympathy. To the credit of the writers, Ray does make a brief appearance in Season 7, having worked out most of his issues in therapy and appearing more well-adjusted.

In 1999, Walter’s had this to say about his role as Ray Pruit “At first he was this sort of underdog. He was this guy from the wrong side of the town, who didn't fit in with the Beverly Hills kids but he had his music and he was honest and all this stuff. And then they started twisting him into being this abusive evil boyfriend. I was like you either have to change the character or you have to let me off the show, because I'm going out and I'm like trying to sell tickets on our tour, and there's teenage girls out there who think, like they really think I'm an abusive guy you know, and they'd hold up signs saying like 'leave Donna alone' and that's so not what I wanted".

Beverly Hills 90210 was such a terrific show because even within the clique, we got to see the characters in depth and multi-faceted. As a viewer you learn to love the characters even through their toughest times. Examples of this would be when Kelly joins a cult or becomes addicted to drugs. Or when David Silver finds out that his mother is homeless. I even found at some point that I liked the character of Steve, even though he is a typical “bone head jock”, he is nevertheless still interesting and complex in his own way. I feel that Ray could’ve become such a character, given the chance. Out of all the characters that came and went on the show, he seemed to have the most potential. As a character from “the other side of the tracks” he brought something fresh to the program.

In short: the original Beverly Hills 90210 was an addicting and total watchable show.
That being said, Jamie Walters as Ray Pruitt was in this writer’s opinion a discard treasure.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bad Ronald is SCARY!


The 1974 made-for-tv movie Bad Ronald, starring Scott Jacoby, is nothing short of a cult classic.  This psychological thriller about a teenage murderer hidden inside the walls of a Victorian home in Oakland California undeniably left a strong impression on anyone who viewed it.   In the movie, Ronald Wilby is the ultimate teenage outsider.   Denied the affection of his peers and a girl who he has a crush on, a frustrated Ronald accidentally kills a young girl.  He returns home and admits the crime to his mother who hides him away in a sealed off downstairs bathroom.   Ronald lives there, only occasionally communicating with his mother through a secret entrance in the pantry.   Locked away, Ronald reverts to an intricate fantasy world that he calls Atranta and rules over as Prince Norbert.  He covers the walls with paintings from the characters in his imaginary world.  When his mother unexpectedly dies, a new family moves into the Wilby house.   Still in hiding, Ronald creates peepholes to spy on the three teenage daughters.   In the process he grows more deranged and eventually tries to lure the teenage girls into his lair. The horror in this film comes from mood and atmosphere rather than blood and guts.  Jacoby was a natural for the role, having already played a disturbed teenager who attempts to murder his stepfather in the rarely seen feature film Rivals (1972).
 
The film’s screenplay was based on the paperback book published just one year earlier in 1973 by John Holbrook Vance (who is better known as sci-fi writer Jack Vance).   The novel was an unlikely choice for a television adaptation and even though much of the book’s contents remained intact, all of the disturbing brutality was removed.  In retrospect, reading the novel seems all the more shocking.  In the film, Ronald’s situation seems somewhat accidental allowing the viewer to have some sympathy for Ronald’s unfortunate situation.  The same cannot be said for the book.  In the novel, the character of Ronald Wilby is far more despicable.  Here is how it differs:

In Vance’s book Ronald is far more sex obsessed.  He pines for his neighbor Laurel and when he attends her pool party, he finds her wearing a very revealing bikini.  When she ignores him, Ronald becomes so sexually frustrated, that he takes out this angst on another one of his neighbors Carol Mathews.  In the film, Carol’s death is shown as an accident.  In the novel, it is anything but. 
 
In the film, Ronald is a momma’s boy and is at least honest with her about his crime.  In the novel, he flat out lies, never mentioning the rape that brought about Carol’s death.  Also in the film, Ronald appears skinny and nerdy.  The fact that his mother wants him to be a doctor is believable.  In the novel, Ronald is overweight and shows no interest in science or medicine.  Sex and fantasy are his preoccupations.  When the Woods movie in, he takes advantage of the voyeuristic opportunity for all it's worth.  Much of his free time is spent finding ways to eventually take advantage of the girls.
In the movie the girls are more fortunate.  In the novel, not so much.  Two of them are captured and later killed by Ronald.


In the book, he gets what is coming to him.  When Ronald is discovered, he is set on fire.   After he busts out of the house, he attempts to return to the original “scene of the crime” and the first place he goes to hide is Laurel’s home, and finally her pool, before he is captured.

In short, the novel is a far darker version of this story with harsher, nightmarish sexual overtones.  On the one hand, this makes it a more horrific story.  On the other, it takes away from the reader's/viewer's ability to identify with the metaphor for Ronald's terrible predicament and psychosis as one of a more typical awkward male teenage yearning and loneliness.  For what it's worth, Vance's book is a frightening one.  It's far more terrifying than the film and far more straight forward than any of Vance's other books.  That being said, it's still exceptionally written and worth a look for any fan of horror or books dealing with teenage psychopaths.  The movie is a toned down version of this nightmare as Scott Jacoby, as an actor, is more sensitive than he is terribly creepy.  So to sum it up, both the book and the movie are worth your time, albeit for two very different reasons.


If you are already a fan of Bad Ronald and are looking to bill this as a triple-feature with two other movies dealing with frightfully dangerous teenagers, here are my recommendations.

____________________________________________________________________

The Lost (2006).  Chris Sivertson is my favorite "young" director currently making movies and The Lost is his masterpiece.  Based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, this is a fictionalized story based on the true crimes of the "Pied Piper of Tucson", Charles Schmid.  Marc Senter is brilliantly evil as the deranged teenage killer Ray Pye,  Be warned: this is not for the faint of heart as extreme violence ensues.  Sivertson also directed the crazy and highly-underrated Lindsay Lohan vehicle I Know Who Killed Me.

The Young Poisoner's Handbook (1995).  In this rarely screened film, director Benjamin Ross has crafted a comedy out of the true account of Graham Young, the St. Alban's Poisoner.  Hugh O'Conor plays the part of a teenage poisoner who tries, and sometimes succeeds at offing his family members and co-workers.  This movie did not play long in theaters as soon as family members of the deceased got a hold of it.  Putting the true crime element aside, this is a truly entertaining movie with a structure that mirrors A Clockwork Orange.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I was a 90’s teen zine freak!!!

Before the internet, I found culture in suburban shopping malls.   Tower records was my Google and I enjoyed pouring over the selection in their aisles.  It wasn’t just the music though.  What attracted me was the large selection of magazines they stocked.  It was there that I discovered EC Comics, fanzines such as Roctober and Sonic Death, and even more lurid fare in their “adults only” section.  For example, the British magazine Deadline was a favorite until my mom found and confiscated them.   To her credit, she returned them to me when I was 17, but at that point I was no longer interested in Tank Girl.   Tower records also published a free magazine called Pulse.  At the time, that magazine featured a bunch of “alternative” cartoonists.  I especially enjoyed the work of Adrian Tomine, who was really young at the time.  Actually, the stuff he did for Pulse is my favorite work by him.

As a pre-teen, I also liked to sneak into my sister’s room to read her old Dynamite and Bananas magazines that she got from the Scholastic Book Club.  I didn’t know this at the time, but RL Stine (later of Goosebumps fame) was the editor and some of the comics in the magazine were by John Holmstrom (editor of the legendary Punk Magazine).  I also secretly read some issues of Sassy and YM.  These appealed to me for the same reason I watched Beverly Hills 90210 at the time.  Did I mention I was also a 90's teen TV freak?!

Hate was the first underground comic I ever purchased (again, at Tower records).  Peter Bagge’s slacker character Buddy Bradley was an icon to my 14 year old self who had just discovered bands like The Lemonheads and Eugenius.  Hate read like a late night sitcom that I wasn’t supposed to watch.  I thought it was the greatest.

In the back of Hate, there was an ad to get a free catalog from the publisher, Fantagraphics.  It was free, so I sent away for it.  Soon, I was not only getting catalogs from Fantagraphics, but also their imprint Eros comix.  To my surprise, Fantagraphics also published erotic comics under the Eros name (the catalog arrived as “Rose” comics).  For whatever reason, I also started to get the Last Gasp catalog too, which was even weirder.  I hid these catalogs from my parents and it made reading comics more exciting...they had a certain forbidden quality to them.

When my parents got divorced, my father would sometimes take me into New York City on the weekends.  There was a creepy basement shop near St. Mark's Place named See Hear.  It just sold zines and tickets to local music shows.  It was there that I discovered some more old-school zines and comics such as Teenage Gang Debs and comics by J. Bradley Johnson.

My most prized find at Tower Records was when I was 15.  I bought a copy of Factsheet 5 magazine.  This magazine was a pre-internet catalog of underground publications.  It promised culture to be found outside of shopping malls.  I studied the magazine thoroughly and this led me to ordering a brilliant self-published xeroxed comic called King-Cat by John Porcellino.

The comic came with a personal note from John himself.  It amazed me that he had taken the time to do this.  After all, I had only sent the guy two bucks.  This was the issue that had the story Belmont Harbor, which would later become part of his Perfect Example graphic novel.  Belmont Harbor was a story I related to because it perfectly expressed the teen angst I was feeling at that time and the difficulty I was having connecting to my peers.

John also distributed comics and put out his own catalog called Spit and a Half.   Through that, I began ordering other zines and finding ones I felt a close affinity to.
The best of these was Jerome Gaynor’s Funkapotamus.  It was a personal comic/ zine and I loved Jerome’s style.  He also wrote about teenage loneliness, skateboarding, and punk/DIY culture in a way that I could really relate too.  He also wrote fictional short stories in comic form that were inventive, emotional and humorous.  To this day, Jerome remans one of my favorite artists of all time!

I was also very much into music and started to receive catalogs from small record labels through the mail.  These included K Records, Teen Beat and Slumberland Records.  I especially thought Teen Beat was cool because it was started by a bunch of guys that went to high school together.  Also, all of their releases were meticulously numbered, so it was fun to collect that stuff.  And some of their albums had packaging that was as exciting as the music.  One of their releases, Sexual Milkshake’s Sing Along In Hebrew, came packaged with a super far-out “art” newspaper, stickers, toys and a 3-d poster. Wow!


My favorite discoveries through zines were the ones being published by Seth Bogart and Souther Salazar.  I loved these guys because they were the same age as me.  I was making my own comics and started to trade with them through the mail.  I thought we were the only 17 year olds in the world doing this sort of thing.  I was so enamored by the work of these two, I actually ended up meeting both of them in person, even though I lived 100s of miles away.

Seth wrote a really funny magazine about his obsessions with 1980’s teen movies and combined this with more personal stories about living in Tucson Arizona.  The zine was called Puberty Strike and it ran for 3 issues.  He did a bunch of other zines too though.  One was about Macaulay Culkin and another one was about Applebee’s restaurant.  I don’t know if Seth is still doing zines, but he is definitely still making art and music under the name “Hunx”!

Souther did a mini-comic called Souther Comics (4 mini issues) and also a zine with his older brother callled JUNK.  His comic book was funny and I loved that I could fit in my back pocket.  I wrote long letters back and forth to Souther.   Eventually we ended up collaborating on a few issues of a zine we did called A Last Cry For Help.   These days Souther is making paintings and traveling across the country trading stuff in a giant tortoise!

Other zines I was fond of at the time included anything by Fawn Gehweiler and Chantale Doyle.  Fawn’s comics were punky and nostalgic, often making reference to Atari games or SE Hinton novels.  Chantale’s comics (Misery and Vomit) were dark and poetic.

It’s a different world now that things can be found at a click of a button in front of a computer screen.  However, I’m glad that I was able to make discoveries with a little bit more effort when I was younger.  It was rad!!!  To view some of my "classic" artwork/zines and stuff, please visit my archive HERE.

Also, I'm still making zines after all these years. I'll even have some new ones for sale at the upcoming 2012 San Francisco Zine Fest. CRRRAZY!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TV Girl: Kathleen Beller

 
With those large brown eyes and unusually long hair, petite Kathleen Beller was a familiar face to anyone watching television throughout the 1980’s.  From 1982-1984 she was a regular on the nighttime soap Dynasty, playing the character Kirby Anders.   And in 1987, she was one of the stars of the short-lived high school show The Bronx Zoo.   She also appeared in two episodes of Murder, She Wrote.

What you might not know is that Beller’s acting career dates back to the 1970s.  Her first major role was a small part in The Godfather II (1974).  Following this, for a five year period, Beller appeared in a slew of popular television shows including Medical Center, Barreta, Hawaii Five-O and The Six Million Dollar Man where she excelled at the part of playing a 1970’s teen.

Beller also starred in several feature films such as The Betsy (1978) and the Sword and the Sorcerer (1982).  Unfortunately, I don’t think this period piece or sword and sorcery epic fit Beller quite right.  She was better at playing realistic roles that took place in a contemporary setting.  Fortunately, there was no shortage of these for Beller.  An example of a film that better showed off Beller’s sensitive side was Promises In The Dark (1979). In this tearjerker, Beller plays a teenage cancer victim for which she was awarded a Golden Globe.  Surfacing (1981), a movie with similarities to Deliverance, was not quite as successful, but Beller was still electric next to co-star Joseph Bottoms.  My favorite of her features though is the little seen Touched (1983).  Filmed on location in Wildwood New Jersey this is a story about two mental patients who run away together in an attempt to live a normal life.  Beller acts opposite Robert Hays and the film plays like a combination of Carny and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
 
Kathleen Beller was at her best when cast in small productions and she starred in some of the best made-for-tv movies from the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The following three suspenseful movies showed Beller playing a young woman being terrorized.  I would’ve liked to see Beller in more thrillers because she was great in this type or role.

Are You In the House Alone?  (1978) was based on the Young Adult novel by Richard Peck.  The film attempts to tackle the topic of teen date rape. While by no means a great movie, it is interesting in that it also co-stars a young Dennis Quaid and Robin Mattson.

No Place to Hide (1981) is Beller’s best television role.  She plays an artisitic girl who is being followed by a mysterious man in black.  Is he trying to kill her or is she going insane?  The premise for this one is simple, but it works on every level.   Watch this movie and you won’t forget it!

Deadly Messages (1985) is one I have yet to see, but it sounds promising.  In this one, Beller receives threatening messages when playing with a ouija board.

Beller has been retired from acting since the early 1990’s.  One of her last appearances was in a tv pilot entitled Danger Team (1991).  This was a show that attempted to combine Claymation with live action.  She would’ve starred in this vehicle, but unfortunately it was not to be.

TV Girl: Linda Blair

In fear of being repetitive, I’ll keep this short.  There are probably hundreds of Linda Blair tributes out there online already.  And there is a good reason for this.  She was most certainly the “it” actress for playing tortured teenage girls throughout the 1970’s.  And she did it well, starting out at a young age as The Exorcist and landing more leads in horror films than Jamie Lee Curtis.  To be honest though, I never loved the more exploitation orientated B movies she starred in throughout the 1980’s. And the disturbing original Exorcist film just makes me feel queasy.   I, of course, prefer the teenage Linda Blair.  So if you haven’t delved into her filmography yet, here are my top 5 picks (in order).

1.    
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977):  John Boorman is an amazing director and this is one of my all-time favorite films.  I’d say skip the first Exorcist and watch this instead.  It stands on its own and has very little to do with the original.   This is more of a supernatural fantasy film than a horror picture.  Blair’s portrayal of Regan in this version is more of a teenage girl than a demon.  The movie got horrible reviews when it came out, so I guess my taste is a little odd or something.  But I honestly thought this was brilliant.  It also stars Richard Burton and James Earl Jones.   Burton plays a priest who has a psychic connection to Regan.  James Earl Jones turns into a bumblebee!  Linda Blair never looked better.   Watch her tap dance, be hypnotized and nearly fall off the roof of a skyscraper.  So awesome.  The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is totally insane too.

2.
Born Innocent (1974):   This is probably the ultimate teenage girl-in-prison film.  Blair plays a runaway whose parents are messed-up.  She ends up in a juvenile detention center.  The other teens there are tough and some even torture her.  In the process, Blair turns from na├»ve troubled kid, to a tough hardened young adult.  The movie is gritty and doesn’t even have a clean resolution at the end.   In the 1980’s there was a similar made-for-tv movie, The CBS Schoolbreak Special: Juvi.

3.
Sweet Hostage (1975):  Man, Martin Sheen played a lot of odd characters throughout the 1970s.  He has played a suicidal motorcycle dude in the first episode of Then Came Bronson (1969) and a creepy pervert in The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976).   Also, his ultimate role in Apocalypse Now (1979) which I loved, even though I hate “war” movies.  In Sweet Hostage, he plays an escaped mental patient who kidnaps a farmgirl (played by Linda).  Similar to his character in Badlands(1973), Sheen is a sort of lovable outsider.  The two end up falling in love even though the romance is doomed.

4.     
Stranger In Our House aka Summer of Fear (1978):  This one is based on the young adult novel by Lois Duncan.  Linda plays the more innocent victim in this one.  The story is about a teenage country girl whose cousin comes to visit over a summer.  But things get a little crazy when Linda discovers the cousin is involved with witchcraft and might not even be related to her after all.  This one is directed by the famous horror director Wes Craven (Scream).

5.
Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975):  This is another made-for-tv where Linda plays a tormented teen that drinks too much.  She has lots of issues including a new stepfather, a new school and a new boyfriend (played by Mark Hamill from Star Wars).  She is shy but begins to loosen up by drinking at a party.  Soon, she is singing Carol King songs.  And then she is out of control and attending AA meetings.   This movie makes a nice triple feature with other hard-hitting teen themed made-for-tv movies from the 1970’s such as Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976) and The Death of Richie (1977).   And just for the record, this is even better than the other teenage drunk tv-movie: The Boy Who Drank Too Much (1980 w/ Scott Baio) .  See it!




 

Monday, August 13, 2012

TV Girl: Season Hubley

Season Hubley caught my attention for her portrayal of Salina Magee on the TV show Family. She appeared in roughly 4 episodes from 1976-1977. Salina Magee was the love interest of Willie Lawrence (Gary Frank), a teenage dropout. When I first saw Season on this program, I fell in love with her too! The character has a troubled past and health issues. She is also an aspiring writer. She meets Willie while working at a health food store. I suppose Salina is also supposed to be around 18 in the show, but Season Hubley was actually around 25 at this time (she was born in 1951). Her short hair and calm demeanor make her appear younger than she is. 

 I imagine Season Hubley landed the role of Salina Magee as a result of a previous role in a made-for-tv movie called She Lives (from 1973).  In this movie, Season also plays a troubled eighteen year old. Her love interest (played by Desi Arnaz Jr.) attempts to do all he can to save her life when he discovers she is dying from cancer. This is a melodramatic romance with a touch of humor thrown in. She also appeared in an episode of The Rookies from 1975 (another one of my favorite TV shows).

Hubley is probably most well-remembered for her portrayal of Priscilla Presly in the made-for-tv movie Elvis (1979, directed by John Carpenter). Kurt Russell played opposite her as Elvis in the picture. The two got married in real life around this time but divorced in 1983.
The late 1970’s and early 80’s were an active time for Hubley and saw her starring in more exploitational and sometimes adult material. Feature films included Hardcore (1979) and Vice Squad (1982). Both are impressive films, but somehow I prefer the sweeter Hubley from her earlier work. She continued to act well into the 1990’s. One of her last appearances as an actress was in a 1998 episode of Beverly Hills 90210!

TV Girl: Belinda Montgomery

Before she played Doogie Howser’s mom or appeared as a regular on Miami Vice, Belinda was one of the original troubled teens on the small screen. In the early 1970’s she appeared on most of the popular dramatic shows including The Rookies, The FBI, Owen Marshall, Cannon, Manix, Marcus Welby MD, Medical Center…and the list goes on. She also starred in two devil-worshipping related made-for-tv movies: Ritual of Evil (1970) and The Devil’s Daughter (1973). In addition to having a prolific acting career, Belinda is also a painter.



My favorite character she played in the 1970s was “Roberta” in the 1971 film The Todd Killings. This movie was loosely based on the true story of '60s thrill-killer Charles Schmidt ("The Pied Piper of Tucson"). Belinda plays the vulnerable teenage girlfriend of a psychopath. More recently, another film was based on the Charles Schmidt murders and it too is worth watching: The Lost (2006, directed by Chris Sivertson)
Below is a video of Belinda in one of her first “adult” roles playing alongside Scott Jacoby in an episode of Marcus Welby MD entitled Jake’s Okay (1975). Belinda had appeared on early episodes portraying a different character as a teenager. This particular role is interesting because she seems to be falling for a teenage boy, rather than acting in a responsible “adult” manner. If anyone has read my comic Dirtbags, Mallchicks and Motorbikes, the first story in that book, Motorbikes, is based on this episode.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

TV Girl - Leslie Graves

Leslie Marie Graves (September 29, 1959 – August 23, 1995) was a beautiful and unusual American actress.  Little is known about her life, besides a sad tragedy that befell her.  Unfortunately she is more well-remembered for a pictorial in Oui magazine than for her acting skills.  I have always been a fan though and was surprised to find her “acting” as herself in this charming episode of a game show via YouTube.  This was right around the time that she was starring on the CBS soap opera Capitol.

The following is all I could gather about Leslie Graves from what I found on the internet.  Her first regular role was on the sitcom Here We Go Again.  It looks like it was an interesting and contemporary type of show for the time for its depiction of divorced families.  Here is the intro.

...And also a still which features Leslie (probably around 12-13 years of age).

Leslie Graves had a knack for portraying a sassy toughness on screen while still appearing adorable. Her father, Michael Graves, was a theatre actor and introduced her to the entertainment industry when she was around 5 years old.  One of her earliest roles by age 10 was playing opposite Anne Bancroft in a Broadway play A Cry of Players (1968–1969) written by William Gibson. She then quickly moved into acting for television.  As a child, she appeared on the first season of Sesame Street (1969, first 13 episodes) and had a brief appearance as a tough 11 year old babysitter on the The Mary Tyler Moore Show(1971, in the episode titled "Baby Sit-Com").  A couple of years later, she had a regular gig on a sitcom as part of a divorced family in the short -lived program Here We Go Again which starred a young Larry Hagman.(1973).  Around this time, she was also featured in a variety of commercials.

In the late-70s, as a teenager, she left Hollywood.  At first she lived on Mustang Island off the Gold Coast.  Later, she supposedly moved with a boyfriend to Texas, where she worked on a shrimp boat for three years.
Leslie Graves's comeback to Hollywood in 1980, at age 21,  was marked by a photoshoot that was used for the cover of the November 1980 issue of OUI magazine, a Playboy corporation affiliate. While extremely beautiful, Graves was not the typical model.  She was only 4 feet, 11 inches tall.  “Short and sweet” as the article puts it.  As she started to be noticed, she had small roles in two B-movies: Piranha II (1981, directed by James Cameron) and Death Wish II (1982).

Somehow this led to CBS casting her, at 23, in the role of Brenda Clegg in the daytime soap Capitol. Her character was popular and Leslie played the role for two years.

On the set she found a sort of second, supportive mother in her co-star Carolyn Jones. When Jones died, Graves was devastated and suffered from severe depression.  Also, around this time, Graves began to have a serious drug problem.  In late summer 1984, it is rumored that Graves left the CBS show due to a a heroin overdose, although her departure was on record as being due to stress.

Little is known about Leslie Graves post 1984.  Her last public appearance was a nude photo shoot by Jean Rougeron published in the October 1984 issue of OUI Magazine.  On August 23, 1995 she died of an AIDS-related illness at age 35.