Saturday, January 20, 2018

O'Brien's Back!

Why, yes, literally! We stumbled upon the joys of silent film hunk (and later talkie western star) George O'Brien back in 2011 and have tried to find ways to include him in photo essays and so forth ever since. But as it's been a while since we've given him the once over and January is dragging on relentlessly with a cold snap and snow, we though we'd warm things up with a few more pictures of the hunkalicious Georgie.
Here's a front view of our brawny lad.
Do I hear a request for a side shot? LOL From any angle George O'Brien was delicious. These particular boxing poses are for the film East Side, West Side. Don't you find them surprisingly contemporary when I tell you the movie was released in 1927?
But then one of the many great attributes of O'Brien is that he often reads so contemporarily in contrast to other silent stars. This is he with Marguerite Churchill in Riders of the Purple Sage (1931.) Of course, that's not all...
He was a rugged, heroic leading man that women just loved to cling to (as Heather Angel does in this still from Daniel Boone, 1936.)
Or here we have Dolores Costello seeking refuge in his arms in Noah's Ark, a 1928 disaster movie so ferocious that he lost both his big toenails during The Great Flood thanks to debris in the water that was thrust upon him and the throngs of extras.
Mystery Ranch (1932) with Cecilia Parker. Check out the open shirt and languidly sexy body language.
Same movie. He was just a brawny dream.
Many of his movie titles have macho names such as Hard Cock Rock Harrigan (1935) The Roughneck (1924), A Holy Terror (1931), Life in the Raw (1933) - if only!, The Dude Ranger (1934), When a Man's a Man (1935), Park Avenue Logger (1937) and others.
Here he's getting quadruple-teamed - at least! - in Timber Stampede (1939.)
And here is is returning the favor. His timber has made me stampede for a while now! LOL
Or how about 1937's Windjammer?
He made a hunky seaman, with muscles bulging on deck.
He was the rough and tumble lead in countless rustic movies. This scuffle is from Border G-Man (1938.) What is the bad guy in the middle looking at?
In the earlier stages of his career, they slicked down his hair the same way as all the other actors of the day (and he looked damn fine that way also.)
And there were times he was dandied up with fancy cowboy gear and makeup, again, like most of the stars of his time.
It was when he was permitted to be his plain ol' gorgeous self that he truly shone. (This photo is from 1927.)
But apart from his manly, solid face, there was also that BODY. Like the gentlemen shown above, many of us preferred him with as little on as possible!
That's our George in the loin cloth near the right in The Golden West (1932), a film in which he played a white man and then later that man's son, raised by Indians as seen here.
He's all but naked in this very early Adam & Eve-like photo session.
For all I know, the last photo might have been part of or for promotion of the 1926 movie Fig Leaves, with time-travel fantasy sequences. (His character was named Adam and it looks like Olive Borden in both pics.) Here they are in caveman mode!
O'Brien was a real-life boxer (light heavyweight champ of the U.S. Navy) and he was shown as a boxer in more than one film. Here's a tinted shot from the same photo shoot that began this post. They've made his trunks red.
The movie-makers knew where their bread was buttered, with George's semi-clad form looming on posters! The movie East Side, West Side was renamed "Titanic" for foreign release. A ship does sink in the film, but it's a barge, not the Titanic! Incidentally, O'Brien did this water-logged sequence, the aforementioned Noah's Ark and, believe it or not, also starred in 1926's The Johnstown Flood, all about that real-life disaster! It's a miracle Irwin Allen didn't come calling for him in the 1970s.
Here's Gorgeous George in an earlier boxing movie of his, The Fighting Heart (1925.) If anyone expects me to tune into boxing matching on TV, they'd better figure out how to make the fighters wear shorts like the ones shown here instead of baggy trunks...!
As far as I'm concerned, though, O'Brien's finest hour was in Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) as described in my earlier post linked in the first paragraph. I love his scruffy looks, his intensity and the fact that he was completely willing to cry on cue in the movie. Sunrise is best-known for being one of the films that won Janet Gaynor an Oscar - and she's good - but I feel that today most folks would come away from it thinking of George O'Brien afterwards.
Given my deep love of Clint Walker, it's no surprise that I adore O'Brien, who was something of a forerunner in dwarfing the scenery around him (even at 7" shorter than Walker) and doffing his shirt for nearly any reason or occasion.
Just look at him in 1931 and tell me he doesn't seem as immediate as tomorrow.
In a forty-year career, O'Brien made more than 80 movies, most within a three-decade period. He was popular enough to be noted alongside famed performers like Jean Harlow and Hedy Lamarr, with his physique being noted, of course. If you think I was going to let that cartoon drawing suffice when it came to this post, you must not know me very well!
I think this is the true and actual orientation of the picture, even though the cartoon was going the other way, based on the way he usually swept his hair. nevertheless, in case the photo was flipped by mistake...
...here he is again. Any way you flip-flop him, he was divine.
I think I've made enough of a racket (see what I did there), so I'll leave you with this one last glance at the god himself. Mr. O'Brien lived to be eighty-six and never drank or smoked, thus retaining his looks for long after he abandoned our movie screens in 1961. We hope you enjoyed this latest gander at him!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Guest Who: Gary & Val... IN S-P-A-C-E!

Of all the prime-time soaps that flourished during the 1980s, Knots Landing held on the longest before cancellation. It's parent series Dallas ran for 14 seasons (and 357 episodes, making it the more prolific in terms of hours) before ending in 1991, but Knots also ran for 14 seasons and aired until 1993 with 344 episodes in all. At the center of the series from the beginning were Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark as Gary and Valene Ewing.

Gary was the black sheep of his oil-rich Texas family and had been estranged from the rest of the Ewings for years after having married Valene and had a daughter, Lucy (who lived at Southfork and was being raised by her grandparents.) Val had also been persona non grata to the rest of the Ewings, but after a time Lucy got her parents back together and Gary's mother, Miss Ellie, bought them a house in California where they could begin life anew. (Strangely, though she did appear as a one-time guest, Charlene Tilton's Lucy remained in Texas on Dallas and didn't join the spin-off as had once been the plan!)

Needless to say, it wasn't long before a new series of problems plagued the temporarily happy couple. As they attempted to readjust to life together after years apart, as well as grapple with Gary's drinking problem, a new neighbor in the form of Abby Cunningham (played by the inimitable Donna Mills) came between them, eventually winning Gary for herself! But she didn't win him forever. The saga of Gary and Val became a theme throughout the show's run, with their looks (particularly hers) varying through the years.

As the series went along, the cast grew (and grew!) and many changes took place. Shackelford remained with the show for its entire run and Van Ark for 13 of the 14 seasons. Costar Michele Lee emerged as the most durable star of the show, appearing in every single episode of the show from start to finish and in time winning a certain amount of prominence over Van Ark. Nevertheless, this was good, steady work for any actor and Shackelford was smart to stick with it. It almost hadn't happened at all!

At the very start of Dallas' second season, Gary appeared in the form of actor David Ackroyd in a two-part episode. He was established as a troubled outsider with alcoholism and failure in his background. The apple of his mama's eye (and the bane of elder brother J.R.), he simply couldn't exist in the heady atmosphere of Southfork. When the spin-off was being launched (which, in an "it can only happen in Hollywood" twist had actually been created first! The network asked for the creators to come up with Dallas after reading about The Ewings in the Knots Landing treatment!), Ackroyd wasn't available to take part in it.

That brings us - finally - to the reason for this post. Producers were searching for a new Gary Ewing and at the prompting of Joan Van Ark they considered an actor who'd been on Another World for two years along with occasional prime-time series and TV-movie appearances. Even better, this actor was blond, which matched not only Van Ark's hair, but their on-screen daughter, the very blonde Charlene Tilton. Van Ark had worked with Ted Shackelford on an episode of Wonder Woman the year before. IN S-P-A-C-E!!

Early in the third season of Wonder Woman, Van Ark and Shackelford played people from Earth's future, working on a spaceship with time machine capabilities.

After a bit of discussion, it's increasingly clear (from some aggressive overacting - perhaps due to the comic book nature of the show and it's projected audience of youngsters) that Van Ark has her own ideas about the usage of the machine.

When Shackelford walks away, she doffs her voluminous cape to reveal a carefully-selected outfit that will fit right in with the year 1978. She steps into the time machine and projects herself all the way back there (with Shackelford hot on her heels a few moments after.)

As you can see, they appear in the middle of an outdoor shopping mall (purportedly in downtown Washington, D.C., but I could swear I once saw The King Family bobbing around within it during one of their musical specials, thus making its location Los Angeles?!) There isn't a soul in sight as they materialize...

...yet, in a moment of sheer hilarity, there is a significant crowd reaction showing all sorts of people crammed wall-to-wall on one side of this suddenly heavily populated shopping center. Bad business day for Gibraltar Savings & Loan and the jewelers, I guess!

Van Ark declares that she has come back to 1978 in order to make a fortune in speculations. She implies that money is no longer important in the future, so I don't know why it would matter to her so much in 1978, but anyway... She darts off to coerce a business man she's investigated into helping her schemes. Shackelford is left (in his silver space suit) without so much as a thin dime to use to call for help.)

He manages to bang that problem out and calls the IADC's Diana Prince (secret identity of Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman, though he doesn't know that.) After an attempt is made on his life, she takes him home and (apparently) offers him a shower. WHO on earth was ever as stunning as Lynda Carter during this period in her career? Those lips, those eyes...
Anyway, she makes up some BLT sandwiches and we get to see Shackelford without the outer covering of his spacesuit. Look carefully at these shots and you'll see quite a bit of Ted Jr! You know, you could drag me to more of these omnipresent superhero movies if spandex was still the material of choice and not pleather, plastic and whatever else they are making these dreary costumes out of now.
While Shackelford and Carter team up to thwart the evil plans of Van Ark, she is busy pairing up with businessman Allan Miller, a familiar face to '70s and '80s TV viewers for his many guest roles on top series of the day. As a matter of fact, he later showed up on seven episodes of Knots Landing as Laura Avery's (Constance McCashin) boss!

Van Ark and Carter don't even cross paths until the climax of the episode when the baddies manage to capture Shackelford and Carter, threatening to blow them up in a cavern as part of their scheme.

But this is Wonder Woman we're dealing with (who, apart from a very brief sequence near the beginning, hasn't been shown until the closing minutes of this episode!), so before long Van Ark is being roped in and sent packing, back to the future.

Gary and Val, sorry, Adam and Cassandra, head to their own time period again, though Shackelford does send back the handcuffs he'd borrowed for use on Van Ark as well as a letter addressed to Carter, with a slight romantic tinge to it. (She clearly makes a mean BLT!)

One other guest tidbit that might please fans of The Poseidon Adventure: Ernie Orsatti pops up briefly as a paid bad guy.  Orsatti was a stuntman-turned-actor who played Pamela Sue Martin's New Year's Eve date in Poseidon and who made that spectacular fall into the light fixture just after the ship capsized completely.

As I say, Shackelford was still near the dawn of his acting career at this point with Another World being the principle gig, though he'd actually shown up in a season two episode of Wonder Woman the year before this, playing a Vietnam veteran turned cabbie who helps out our heroine. When Knots ended in 1993, he worked in various TV-movies and series, including the prime-time soap Savannah. In 2006 he returned to daytime TV with a recurring (and duel) role on The Young and the Restless, which he continued with until 2015. I'd be lying if I said he was anything like my type, but he did manage to get some hearts going in his day.

Van Ark (three years his senior) had begun her own screen career far earlier as a pretty guest star on mid-'60s TV series like Run for Your Life, Bonanza and even Peyton Place. She also worked in many TV-movies and as a guest on other shows in the wake of Knots. Ironically, she put in some time on The Young and the Restless, too, shortly before Shackelford came on board. She still acts occasionally. The recipient of significant amounts of cosmetic surgery, this has no doubt limited the projects she is right for even if she believed that submitting to it would increase her options...

Both stars returned for the 1997 two-part reunion movie, Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac. It was a bit premature for a reunion - only four years had passed - and the series had already ended with no cliffhangers, but the show's popularity hadn't really waned, so the special was a ratings winner. (Knots had been cancelled, more than anything, for budgetary reasons.)

An unscripted cast recollection show, Knots Landing: Together Again came in 2005, with Shackelford and Van Ark's latest face shown here. The rest of the cast from that is seen below.
That was still not the end, however! A new rendition of Dallas hit the airwaves in 2012 and was remarkably successful for a time. It focused on the next generation of Ewings, but managed to nab several of the original stars to help bring continuity and nostalgia to the proceedings. It might have continued even longer had not Larry Hagman passed away (and with him his legendary character of J.R.) The character's funeral brought back several past cast members, among them Shackelford and Van Ark, who were given one final sequence as Gary and Val, with daughter Lucy.
The moral of the story is that we never know when one thing will lead to another. Shackelford's decision to work a second time on Wonder Woman snowballed into a career-changing role on a long-running series, engendered a huge following of fans in the process. Gary and Val emerged as one of TV's enduring couples, but it all started in a way just before Knots Landing...                IN S-P-A-C-E! (LOL! You just have to say it like one of those old announcers....)