Monday, August 23, 2010

"By gad, sir, you are a character."

Slipping away from music for the moment and back to film.  One of my most guilty pleasures is the love of character actors.  As it has been apparent in previous entries, it is the character actors in the films that I tend to enjoy the most in my cinematic experience.  Stars or leading actors motivate me less into a movie house than the support characters.  With the release of each new film, it is the secondary names I look upon. 

This love of character actors comes from my early childhood.  Films of the '30s and '40s were always loaded with the interesting characters who were there to support, torment or bedevil the leads.  Their names are etched in monochrome: from Peter Lorre to George Zucco; Lionel Atwill to Martin Kosleck.  Many character actors could also be leads, like Basil Rathbone, Karloff and Lugosi, up to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  But for me, more than often, the secondary and even third-tiered actors were the most interesting.  My god, the list is endless.  I would rather watch Gale Sondergaard or Anna May Wong over Katherine Hepburn. In a way, I prefer the character actor to remain in the number 2 or 3 spot, rather than becoming the star vehicle.  There are exceptions, including some of the names I've mentioned.  Myrna Loy and William Powell are two more examples. 

So we step into the Tardis and speed into my era, the Swinging Sixties.  And a whole new chapter of character actors pop onto the scene.  There are so many.  Hopefully I will have time to mention them all.  So stepping out of the police box, I find myself happy to be in the same time and place as the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.  Sixties?  No, it's upside down.  We are in the nineties.  In my current guise as Arts & Entertainment Editor for radio station KTMS, as well as the on-going entity of Space Pirate Radio, I now find myself lucky enough to rub elbows and other body parts, with actors who appeared in many of the cult films that have delighted my peculiar tastes.  In one 24 hour period, I have attended the film premiere of a movie starring Amanda Donohoe, a particular favourite actress of mine, who has worked with both Nicolas Roeg in Castaway and Ken Russell in Lair Of The White Worm.  The film was Diamond Skulls, directed by Nick Broomfield (a lovely gentleman and an artist in his own right, who took the photograph of me and Amanda).  I spent two pleasurable days in their company, extolling the joys of British cinema and many anecdotes about Oliver Reed. 

It was at this premiere that I had the incredible pleasure of meeting one of the most friendly character actors of all time, Clive Revill.  My wife who loves Star Wars still lets me in the house thanks to my close encounter with the original Emperor.  Despite my proximity to this master of the Dark Side, we had more giggles and fun with his work in films like The Legend Of Hell House, Kaleidoscope, Fathom, The Assassination Bureau, and Modesty Blaise.  He was so damned friendly.  I like to think that he was just happy to meet somebody in America who knew his body of work.  But seriously, he was genuinely delightful and thinking about it now, I could just give him a big cuddle.  I mean, I relate to this cat.  He has worked in so many interesting projects and with so many different people and yet, had none of the bullshit trappings of a showbiz entourage.  I have the deepest respect for his art and talent.  He personifies what it is about the character actor that inspires me.  I am almost regretful that I didn't hustle him up to my show for more anecdotes and insights into his life experience.
Over the years, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival presented to me the opportunity to meet many, many artists in the film industry, past and present.  I had the pleasure of getting to know the great Turhan Bey through the festival.  This incredible man from the golden age of Hollywood.  Another example of the classic character actor.  What a gentleman.  And what a voice.  His IDs for Space Pirate Radio continue to give me chills.  From his performance in The Mummy's Tomb to his work with Maria Montez and Jon Hall, and ultimately his career as a photographer in Vienna.  The man is a class act. 

It was also during this time that I got to meet Tyrone Power Jr.  He and his lovely wife at the time, DeLane Matthews, were premiering the film Healer which also featured Turhan Bey and David McCallum.  So Ty, who had never actually known his father, had inherited his father's good looks on top of an extremely muscular build.  I felt that if his career had been handled successfully, he could have easily walked into the Zorro franchise that his father had made famous. 

So now I'm not sure if this rant has been about character actors and/or the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.  I certainly met many interesting artists during my involvement.  Richard Farnsworth stands out.  The old school, of course: Robert Mitchum, Bradford Dillman, Karl Malden, Anthony Zerbe, Don Murrary, Carol Lynley, Anne Francis, Richard Widmark and Michael Parks.  Santa Barbara was the perfect eccentric city for character actors.  I remember doing a radio broadcast with a highly inebriated James Brolin.  And with him was Stuart Whitman, also equally lubricated.  This was radio.  And on the air, Stuart Whitman said that anyone coming into the restaurant that we were broadcasting from who was wearing a tie would have it cut off.  Whitman, threatened to cut my tie off.  This was very odd.  I was wearing a turtleneck at the time.