Friday, September 22, 2017

Him "Novak"

Every so often in The Underworld, I'm approached by a writer who is either seeking information about a biographical subject that he or she is writing about or who wants to acknowledge a well-liked post I've done on a particular performer. (A long-in-coming book about Grant Williams comes to mind, in which I was able to connect the author with one of the acting students who Williams taught in his later years.) Recently, a visitor to Poseidon's Underworld enjoyed reading a tribute I did long ago on Mr. James Franciscus and thought I might like an advance copy of a book he'd written.

The book, "Mr. Novak, An Acclaimed Television Series" by Chuck Harter, is an extremely in-depth account of a black & white show that ran for two seasons on NBC from 1963-1965. Focusing on an idealistic, at times imperfect, young educator, it starred blond Franciscus as the title character and veteran Oscar-winning actor Dean Jagger as a wise, mentoring school principal.

While some of us may have heard of Mr. Novak, few of us have ever actually seen it! The series got off to a good start and was almost immediately heralded by teachers while also being accepted and adored by many young viewers. (Girls, in particular, were mesmerized by the handsome face and gently heroic nature of the show's star.) As it went along, some cast shake-ups and behind-the-scenes wrangling helped to lessen its strength, though even when it was cancelled it was pulling in a 31.7 share! (To help compare, The Cosby Show, at its highest height, was at 34.9, Seinfeld never got above 20.6 on the year and Friends' highest share was 15!) The year Novak was canned, top dog Bonanza was pulling in 36.3. After some reruns in the summer of 1965, the show dipped into oblivion.

1965 was the year that color really began to saturate the television airwaves, making black and white shows, especially dramas, less likely to be syndicated. It didn't help matters that with 60 episodes produced, the series fell short of the standard 100 episode benchmark for syndication. Tastes had also shifted towards the wacky and the fantasy-oriented (though Novak's replacement, My Mother the Car, is legendary for its true awfulness!) In the early-1980s, TNT began running some episodes overnight (Ted Turner had acquired the show in his purchase of MGM and its library.) Still, unless one was specifically looking for the show, one was unlikely to ever see it.

I myself have never once seen even one episode of the show. Nevertheless, those who watched it during its initial airing (or who were fortunate enough to catch the 1980s overnight eps) have almost universally praised the show for being literate, captivating and ahead of its time. The show won a Writers Guild Award, a Peabody Award and its stars received acting nominations (Franciscus a Golden Globe, which went to Gene Barry of Burke's Law, and Jagger two Emmys, which went to Dick Van Dyke in those early days before separating comedy from drama.)

As a high school-set drama, the series attracted the talents of many fledgling actors and actresses along with known adolescent performers such as Robert Crawford, Tony Dow and Johnny Crawford, seen here in a mock United Nations storyline.

Franciscus was a staple of fan and teen magazines, lauded for his tan, toothy good looks as well as his performance, yet he bristled at the ridiculous headlines and fabricated stories. This situation eventually led to him being "awarded" the Sour Apple from entertainment journalists when he proved to be least cooperative with them after a time (and after having been burned once too often.)
Unfounded rumors of a feud between Franciscus and Jagger also dogged the show. The truth was that Franciscus was obsessive about studying his role and learning his lines while Jagger was suffering from serious ulcers that would ultimately lead to his premature departure from the show. Burgess Meredith was brought in to replace him, though the careful chemistry created by the original stars wasn't recreated in the second pairing.

It would be hard to imagine a more exhaustively researched and detailed book than this one about Mr. Novak. Even for those who never saw a single frame of the series it is examining should be reasonably enthralled with the behind-the-scenes machinations it reveals, along with the recollections of many cast members and guest stars. The book is liberally illustrated with many rare photos, promotional advertisements and artwork that aren't likely to have been seen much, if ever, since the series' demise.

Mr. Harter was able to score an introduction by the late Martin Landau and an afterward by cult icon Walter Koenig of Star Trek, two notable actors who appeared as guests on the show more than once. Koenig's turn as a Russian student undoubtedly helped lead to his life-changing role as Ensign Chekov. Many other lesser-known (to those who don't revel in show biz trivia) performers lent their memories to the book as well. It's a lovingly crafted, positively inclusive work that even includes information on a script that was nixed by network censors, transcripts of speeches given by the characters and even a detailed depiction of the board game issued as a tie-in to the show. I couldn't help but notice 6 or 8 typos/misspellings along the way and it would have been great to hear from guest and romantic interest Kathryn Hays among the interview subjects, but these are quibbles in the face of what had to be a monumental undertaking.

The book is being published by Bear Media, a haven for off-beat publications that appeal to the classic TV and movie fan in all of us. (I was heartened to see the aforementioned Grant Williams book listed on site as "Coming Soon!") The book - offered in hard and softback editions - can be found here. It's a fascinating glimpse into the world of this obscure, yet very well-regarded and fondly-remembered, series.

Franciscus, of course, is a hero of ours in The Underworld for his starring role in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, in which he wore the skimpiest of loincloths, and for his nasty turn as a corrupt developer in When Time Ran Out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Worth Watching?

I couldn't believe my eyes. On one of the premium high-def channels that I subscribe to, I saw a movie about to be shown that costarred someone who'd once been part of my celebrity radar because of her participation in a series I was obsessed with back in the mid-'80s. I figured surely the movie (really more of a straight-to-video sort of affair) would be atrocious, but curiosity got the better of me. Imagine my surprise when the headlining star (who I'd steadfastly avoided at all costs for years) turned out to be one good looking man!

Not only that, but the "actor" gave a startlingly appealing perfor- mance for the most part; one completely at odds with the persona that had heretofore been put before the public. And, as ought to be the case with anyone who sports a nice physique, he was frequently shirtless in the movie. Does his face happen to ring a bell at all? I doubt it will be much more of a clue if I tell you that the movie was called Midnight Heat and was released in 1996.

This one might do it, though it's possible that even still there will be some doubt as to who the leading man of this movie was.

The blond, good-looking hunk with the attractive hair and chiseled body was that belonging to none other than flamboyant, controversial, often-outrageous college and (briefly) NFL football linebacker Brian Bosworth (known during his heyday as "The Boz!")

I couldn't believe that the man I was watching in the movie was the same outspoken, polarizing, ultimately stymied (by injury) persona who briefly became a national sensation in the world of sports.
Now I'm not going to sit here and say that Brian Bosworth was an incredible actor in Midnight Heat (!) - and it remains the only movie of his I've ever seen - but he was very handsome in it and also quite amiable and appealing. He even put forth a certain level of vulnerability and lack of physical acumen.
The plot of the movie bears some resem- blance to Tom Berenger's Shattered, which came out in 1991.  In that one, the leading man was severely injured in a car accident, its shattered windshield destroying his face and giving him amnesia. In Heat, Bosworth is a banker (looking positively adorable in his suspenders and spectacles) who suffers a bomb explosion and is left with amnesia (along with a sultry wife and a huge mansion.)
Helping him out (and the key reason I DVR-ed this movie in the first place) is a spunky barmaid played by Claire Yarlett. Yarlett was Charlton Heston and Stephanie Beacham's daughter Bliss on The Colbys, a glitzy, well-heeled, but campy and often silly show I lived for from 1985-1987.

Her character on The Colbys was American, though Yarlett was English (!), a common occurance on the show. (She's shown here with big sister Tracy Scoggins and in the inset with her forbidden boyfriend Charles Van Eman, nephew of her father's worst enemy.)

Yarlett might have been granted a more significant career boost following the demise of The Colbys had her next project actually occurred. Aaron Spelling (who produced The Colbys along with many other hit shows of the 1970s and '80s) decided to relaunch Charlie's Angels, which had ceased airing in 1981. A "nationwide search" was held for just the right (four, this time) ladies to portray the daring detectives of "Angels '88." He didn't have to look far for Yarlett, but the other gals were Tea Leoni (!), Sandra Canning and Karen Kopins. Leoni went on to a pretty considerable career while Canning headed to Days of Our Lives and Kopins to Dallas before eventually exiting the business. The project never got past the stages of the big announcement... Yarlett did continue to act, but receded from the screen around 2009.

For his part, Bosworth still acts today, with a franchise of motorcycle-centered sci-fi movies called Revelation Road, while also attempting to branch out into projects outside the action-adventure category that he was inherently steered towards as an ex-football player.

Anyway, I couldn't resist sharing the young Nick Nolte-ish goodness of "The Boz" with you in case you ever want to keep an eye out for this surprisingly captivating low-budget movie. If you do watch it, I hope you felt it was (Bos)worth the time!  ;-)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"Sarah" Smile!

Well, we love glamorous portraits, catalogs and glitzy accessories, so we're likely to love this passel of Sarah Coventry jewelry ads (and catalog covers/pages.) My first encounter with Sarah Coventry (apart from sometimes hearing the name as a game show sponsor or consolation prize!) was late in life. I had been scrambling for something I wanted Lee Meriwether to sign and found a photo very similar to the one shown here at left. I adored the way she looked in it. Recently, I discovered a whole bunch of others, with or without our Lee, and they range from the benign to the fabulous! You be the judge. Stay tuned near the end for an impromptu bonus feature.  ;-)
This is the version of the ad that I asked Ms. Meriwether to sign. She told me that once her mother had taken a print of this shot and decoupaged it in a lovely frame, but that it had later been destroyed during an earthquake.
Be sure to click on this one and check out the heavily teased 'do she's sporting here! No wonder she eventually turned to shorter, simpler styles...
I just LOVE this one. It combines so many things I love...! Meriwether, makeup, chiffon, chunky jewelry. Did I just set off the sprinklers in here??
Another Miss America, the divine Mary Ann Mobley, serves as your guide for the ritualistic sacrifices being held in the back room...!  Ha ha!
We've always had a soft-spot for ever-glam, ever-effervescent Ruta Lee. I don't really care for the red (top) on red (background), but I do care for her.
Here we find Anne Francis around the time she was starring on TV as female spy Honey West.
I like these earrings that Miss Rosemary Clooney is modeling.
The ad copy on this page with The Lennon Sisters challenges us to name each girl with hints from the Initial pins that they are wearing. Amazingly enough, I got them right.
Something about her smile in this photo makes it almost hard to recognize Lesley Ann Warren, then starring in The Happiest Millionaire. Disney did a number of tie-ins with the jewelry manufacturer as you'll see.
I don't know where I was that I never realized Janet Blair was in The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (which also featured Warren.) Then again, I don't believe I've seen this since I was in the 6th or 7th grade many years ago!
Always lovely Vera Miles has an understated look in her ad. The necklace is sorta fun, though I don't think I'd have paired it with gray.
We adore Jo Anne Worley and feel that her career ought to have been even bigger (and lasted longer) than it ultimately did.
Check the curl on Angel Tompkins' locks.
Look, it's young Sally Field, out of her nun's habit and with plenty of hair.
The wonderful Diane Baker (who at first glance seemed almost like a brunette Cybill Shepherd to me!) I have no recollection of her hair looking this way. It certainly didn't in the mentioned movie Krakatoa: East of Java.
Of course they had to roll back the camera for dancer Cyd Charisse's ad. Love the mod print dress.
Eileen Fulton reigned on daytime TV as one of its biggest stars during her time on As the World Turns. A startling number of little baby girls were named Lisa after her character (who was, in her day, quite the troublemaker!)
Dancer Juliet Prowse looks pretty here, though we don't get to see her legs. (We would, however, on her later pantyhose commercials for L'eggs.)
You know, I've just never quite warmed up to Miss Rhonda Fleming, who looks attractive, but stiff, here. I do like the colors that accent her hair, though.
I can remember seeing this distinctive owl necklace on SO many ladies in the mid-1970s. It's modeled here by Lynda Day George, then of Mission: Impossible.
Here George shows off a pretty ornate brooch.
And here she shows off her actor hubby, Christopher George. And we are ending with the mini-bonus of him showing off as well!
Christopher George posed nude for Playgirl magazine in 1974 (the same year as the Sarah Coventry catalog!)
I find it remarkable that Lynda was cool with his doing so. (He posed full-frontal, though I still do not publish such shots here. I like to keep the place at least remotely work-friendly.)
Uncropped versions of these pics are easily found in an online image search.
Though he worked on many projects, he may be best-known from his time on the WWII series The Rat Patrol (inset.) And now, my loves, I am off on a three-night spree to glittering Las Vegas. I hope I can report something fun about that when I get back.