Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Last Voyage of Sinbad

Just because I'm back and dictating columns again doesn't mean that Hollywood has to recommence toppling over dead at my feet once more. I do not care for mornings like this, when I'm scanning down the obituaries in the Los Angeles Times and Shopping News to see if I'm there, and I find the names of two people I considered essential to the continued existence of mankind. No more of this. If necessary, I will make a list of people whose deaths I would find acceptable. Then, if someone really must die, scan the list, and if you're on it, let her rip! Otherwise, suck it up and live. Okay? Are we all agreed at least on this?

Lovely Kerwin Matthews passed away yesterday, at the robbing-the-cradle age of 81. Kerwin appeared in literally dozens of movies - well - dozen of movies, but four stand out, beloved above all the other one: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Jack the Giant Killer and Octaman, and Octaman sucks.

Of course 7 Faces of Dr. Sinbad is his best-known film. Oddly, although 7th Voyage is one of Ray Harryhausen's best-loved movies, the first six voyage movies in the series are now so utterly forgotten that Ray omits them even from his autobiography, and I can't find them, even on VHS!

Kerwin was a white boy from Seattle, so he was the obvious choice to play an Islamic Arab. Not until the role was perfected by Tab Hunter in Sinbad's Shore Leave with Guy Thanatos, was Kerwin topped in the role, at least onscreen. If he were 30 today instead of dead, he'd be playing Sayid on LOST.

The most famous scene in Sinbad and the 7 Voyages, is the climactic fight with the skeleton, a sequence inspired when Ray Harryhausen observed Audrey Hepburn battle Capucine for the last lettuce leaf on a buffet table. In this side-by-side comparison you can see how closely the final filmed scene resembled Ray's pre-production concept sketch. (Click on the picture to examine it in detail.)

Ray and I had just worked together on the sci-fi shocker THAT!, a black & white classic in which my tabby house-cat is subjected to a rogue dose of radiation, causing it to grow to the size of the Smithsonian Institute. In Ray's darkened workshop, he had stretched my pussy to gargantuan proportions, and then had had himself the time of his life bringing my gigantic pussy to life. It was immediately after working on my pussy for hours that Ray drew the above sketch. I must say, he outdid himself. The weird, hideous, too-ghastly-for-words, nightmarish face Ray designed for that skeleton is the most frightening visage I've ever seen. And he perfectly realized it in the animation model you can see in the photo. God, what a monstrosity!

In fact Kerwin told me later, that he was glad that when he shot his part of the scene, he couldn't actually see the finished monster, that he just acted off of empty space. He said that the first time he saw the completed scene, when he saw the skeleton's face, he screamed and passed out! And he was a grown, and fairly butch man. Imagine the terror the tiny tots experienced when they saw 7 Sinbads for 7 Voyages.

Speaking of which, I know that little Dougie had something of a crush on hairy-chested little Kerwin when Dougie was a boy. Kerwin was a doll. Look at those eyes, those lips. Sometimes, there is hope, even for the hopeless. Since retiring from acting, Kerwin has been selling antiques in San Francisco. For those of you not clued in to what "Selling Antiques in San Francisco" really means beyond selling old furniture from yard sales at an inflated price to people who must wear wool coats even in mid-summer, it also means he was gay. That sweaty, hairy, non-Arabic, dreamboat Sinbad actually liked to do many of the very same revoltingly obscene acts that Dougie was fantasizing about him doing while watching him battle dragons and cyclopes. (Cyclopses? Cyclopeses? Cyclopi?)

Kerwin's co-star in The 7 Deadly Sinbads was Kathryn Grant, later Kathryn Crosby. She was so frustrated by a leading man more interested in his hunky crew than in her that she panicked and married Bing Crosby. What a rookie mistake: marrying a man old enough to be your grandfather, and bearing him a second brood of children to emotionally abuse just because your co-star is prettier than you are and won't give you a tumble. Did I marry John Carradine when Steve Reeves refused to do me? No. I had learned the flaccid way.

Delightful as Kerwin always was in movies, sometimes retirement is wise. When you find yourself in a movie like Octaman, trust me, it's time to retire. It was a late-1960s, south-of-the-border (The Border of Sanity), monster movie; a sort of Creature From the Black Lagoon knock-off, entirely shot for what Universal spent on one of their Creature's flippers.

Poor little Dougie, back in his early career, wrote TV shows for the Los Angeles TV horror movie host Seymour! Octaman was the next-to-last movie he wrote a Seymour show around. Imagine sitting in a small, dark room, watching a 16-mm print of Octaman alone, because who would watch such a wretched film with him? Seymour was paying Dougie to watch it so that he didn't have to see it.

That's little Dougie and Seymour back in 1973, when I was just a little girl, a mere four years after I retired. Dougie hadn't seen Octaman yet, so he doesn't yet have that shell-shocked look. Below is what the titular monster in Octaman looks like. He had eight tentacles. He walked on two of them; he carried Pier Angeli in two of them, and the other four just flopped free, like they were just loose rubber. Go figure. Frankly, it's not Ray Harryhausen's best work. I'll bet that's why he had his name taken off of it. (He used the nom de effects "Rick Baker".) Octaman is not in Ray's autobiography or his The Art of Ray Harryhausen either.

For that matter, our first film together, THAT! is conspicuous by it's absence from Ray's books also. What gives?

Anyway, Kerwin was a patient, professional man, with a deep, rumbly voice that was to-die-for sexy. Ray Harryhausen praised his concentration and his ability to really make you think he saw imaginary monsters. Dougie praised his eyes, his voice, and the curly black body hair always visible through the wide-open fronts of his silk shirts. Kerwin loved opera, ballet, antiques, and a man named Tom Nicoll for 46 years.

Wait a minute! He kept the same male lover for more than 40 years? Are you sure he was gay? I don't know. A long-term monogamous relationship, and he was never married to me? Doesn't sound like any kind of gay man I've ever met. I think he may have been a closet straight man, just pretending to be gay to succeed in the cut-throat, small antique store industry. It's like the new Adam Sandler movie in reverse; you know, actually funny.

But it wasn't just Sinbad who sailed away yesterday. We lost Hollywood's most wonderful, cantankerous curmudgeon as well.

Douglas! Little Douglas! Wake up! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I wasn't referring to you. Who would call you "Wonderful"? I meant that spring chicken Charles Lane.

Little Charles was only eight years younger than me, far too young to die. Emily Perry always called him "That Old Guy." Lucille Ball fans call him "That Mean Guy," as he made a cottage career just out of being mean to Lucille Ball. You gotta love any man with the Lucille balls to be mean to Lucille Ball, the General Patton of Red-Headed actresses. (Why do you suppose they rechristened Testicles "Balls" in her honor? Lucy had a brass set of Lucilles.) Charles was up there with Frank Nelson and Gale Gordon as the Top Three Lucy Tormentors; the men known as "Vivian's Vengeance."

I've often thought that if Little Dougie had been born 10 years earlier, as much as it would have surprised his parents who hadn't met then, he could have been the next Gale Gordon.

Charles Lane's film credits include over 300 movies, though you must remember that he often played only small parts, a single scene in many, so he could knock out one film credit in the morning, and another in the afternoon, and in the 1940s, that was just what he was doing. I was starring in films, so each of my credits represents months of work.

Charlie was allegedly straight, however, he was married to the same woman for over 70 years! Have you ever heard of anyone doing that before? Me neither. I'm as straight as anyone who ever lived unless no men are available, and even I have been married over 10 times to my knowledge. Mrs. Lane and Charlie's kids sound like beards to me.

Charlie Lane was one of the very last living survivors of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Now there may just be me left. I was touring in vaudeville in my Baby Tallulah, the World's Youngest Bartender act, at the age of 8, when the San Francisco earthquake knocked me off a bar stool down in The Castro. John Barrymore was also a survivor of the quake, and the cause. He'd made a bet he could go a day without a drink, and when Johnny fell off the wagon, it triggered the Great Quake. Plus he lost the bet by more than 20 hours.

Some of my favorite Charles Lane performances?

42nd Street

20th Century

You Can't Take It With You


Golden Boy

Buck Benny Rides Again

The Invisible Woman (Fans petitioned for me to play the title role, saying I was born to play an invisible woman, but I just couldn't see it. One adoring fan wrote me that "If only you'd been invisible in your silent movies, they would have been perfect!")

The Big Store

Ray Harryhausen's Mighty Joe Young

The Music Man.

And Charles was on every TV show ever on TV. One great performance was on St. Elsewhere, where he gave a touching performance as man dying of extreme old age on his last night alive. Charles played it 20 years ago.

Two years ago, when they celebrated his 100th birthday on the TV Land Awards, Charles announced "I just want everyone to know that I'm still available." That doesn't work, Charlie. I know. When I was given an award a couple years back from the AA, for being The World's Oldest Surviving Alcoholic, I also announced "I just want everyone to know that I'm still available." And all I got were a bunch of offers for acting roles! What a waste of time.

By the way, I am still available, but I am retired from acting.

So is Charlie. We need a new meanie in town.

Cheers darlings.

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