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Martin Milner: More Than Pete Malloy   4 comments

handsome milner

Officer Pete Malloy steps from his cruiser. Calm and self-assured, he approaches the harried shop owner, the speeder, or the lost child with authority and understanding. You know that whatever problem arises, Malloy can solve it. His even, reassuring manner even puts me at ease and I’m watching a rerun on television. Behind the beloved Adam-12 patrol officer and a host of other characters, Martin Milner built a career in both film and television. Though the paparazzi may not have camped outside his door, he worked as an actor for fifty years precisely because he could play someone trustworthy and wholesome.

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Martin Milner began his film career working with William Powell, Elizabeth Taylor, and Irene Dunne in Life with Father (1947) playing a boy younger than himself. His youthful face and wholesome good looks would serve him well. A bout with polio confined him to bed for nearly a year, but Milner recovered and won parts in The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Halls of Montezuma, Operation Pacific, and Fighting Coast Guard. Soon life imitated art, and after attending USC for a year, Milner spent two years in the Army at Fort Ord, California directing training films and emceeing shows for the troops stationed there. While at Fort Ord, Milner met David Janssen and Clint Eastwood. Different versions of this story exist, but the likeliest one is that Milner and Janssen talked Eastwood into pursuing a career in the movies. If they hadn’t, Eastwood might have remained the squintiest swimming instructor ever.

milner success

After the Army, Milner continued working in film, television, and radio. He made a number of A-list films in the 1950s. He played an Earp brother in Gunfight at the OK Corral and a small, but funny role as a southern shore patrol officer in Mister Roberts. Two of his bigger roles followed. As Steve Dallas in Sweet Smell of Success, we get to see Milner as a musician with strong morals pitted against slimy, underhanded J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Lancaster and Tony Curtis own the film, but Milner’s good man in a bad position shows he can convey integrity without coming off as self-righteous.

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Compulsion, Meyer Levin and Richard Fleischer’s take on the Leopold and Loeb thrill killer case found Milner playing Sid Brooks, a poor journalism student and reporter who finds the key piece of evidence in the case. We see Sid, a member of the killers’ circle of friends, come to realize his spoiled rich kid friends, Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell, may have murdered a child. Sid is smart and idealistic, but not naïve. He never has an “I can’t believe it” moment. His expressions change subtly as the story progresses. It’s not a big performance, but that’s precisely why it works. William Castle’s fun 3-D spookfest 13 Ghosts allowed Milner to take advantage of his sincere boy next door looks and play a character with a hidden agenda.

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All during the 1950s Milner appeared as a guest star in many of the most popular television shows including Dragnet, Rawhide, The Rat Patrol, Combat, and The Twilight Zone. He also provided the voices for a few radio shows during that era including the Jack Webb series Dragnet. Milner and Webb met during production of The Halls of Montezuma and Webb later hired Milner for his radio show. The 1960s brought more success with the series Route 66. In that series Milner’s character Tod Stiles roams the country first with George Maharis, then with Glenn Corbett. The duo travel from town to town in their Corvette entangling themselves in the lives of the people there. The series’ jazzy score and romantic vision of the unfettered bachelor made the show a big hit. Milner even produced a film in 1960. Sex Kittens Go To College stars Mamie Van Doren as a professor. It also has a monkey that plays piano and Conway Twitty…and a robot. I haven’t seen it yet, but with all that going for it, I’m in.

pete hat

Next came the role that people associate the most with Martin Milner. Jack Webb based the television series Dragnet on what he learned about police work in He Walked by Night (1948). His love of police procedurals led him to produce the Dragnet series for radio, film, and television and Martin Milner performed on both the radio and 1951 television show in a variety of roles. In 1967, Officer Pete Malloy appeared on an episode of Dragnet and the following year, the Jack Webb produced Adam-12 brought the character and actor back. From 1968-1975, Milner played the veteran officer on Adam-12, The D.A., and Emergency. His partner, Officer Jim Reed (Kent McCord) also appeared in all four series. Milner’s portrayal of Malloy, the confirmed bachelor with the experience to move up in rank but the desire to stay on the streets appealed to me a great deal. I have to admit, I had a crush on the guy. His positive and enlightened portrayal of a police officer contrasted starkly with the general anti police mood of the era and made his character even more appealing.

columbo milner

After Adam-12 ended, Milner appeared in a number of guest starring roles in series like Fantasy Island, MacGyver, Life Goes On, Murder She Wrote and as patriarch Karl Robinson in the Swiss Family Robinson television series. Milner can also brag about being the first victim in the Columbo TV series. He even gets killed by Jack Cassidy! His last role was on the Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis Murder in 1997.

milner fish

An avid fisherman, Milner started a talk radio show in 1993 called Let’s Talk Hook-Up about fishing. He hosted the radio show until 2004 when his eldest daughter became seriously ill. His friend and TV partner Kent McCord appeared with Milner at various drives for bone marrow donors. Apparently Martin Milner, the man inspired the same loyalty as his most famous character did. I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile. Martin Milner lives with his family, happily out of the spotlight. Sometimes nice guys do finish first.

Rest in peace, Officer Malloy.

1931-2015

young milner

I wrote this piece for the Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon hosted by Aurora of aurorasginjoint.com fame. Please check out her site for articles about loads of other actors and actresses who made the jump from movies to TV or vice-versa.

big stars

Bruce Dern: The Guy You Love to Hate   Leave a comment

 

dern gatsby

Marnie sees red and panics. As she struggles to remember the events of a long repressed night from her childhood, we see Marnie as a child awakened from a deep sleep and sent to the sofa to sleep while her mother uses the bed for ‘business’. A storm rages outside and thunder frightens the sleeping child. Mom’s client, a sailor, tries to comfort Marnie but the child resists him. She wants her mommy who enters and pushes the man away from her girl. A fight breaks out and Mom falls, hurting herself. In an attempt to help her mother, Marnie grabs a poker from the fireplace and beats Bruce Dern to death. Marnie (1964)

Brucedern marnie

Dressed in a tuxedo for a society party, Bruce Dern waits in a solarium for a tryst with his beloved, Bette Davis. The meeting doesn’t go as planned. Seconds later we see his face full of fear as an axe wielded by a mysterious stranger descends and his head rolls across the floor. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

bruce hush

Dying violently with very little screen time may seem like an inauspicious start to a film career, but it added to the CV of a prolific actor who has played killers, scumbags, and downright nasty guys. Bruce Dern started in television in the 1950s and continues to work today. To be fair, he also plays some non-psychopathic roles, though Bruce Dern, as a rule, is known for playing heavies. Tall and lanky, with a toothy grin that goes from friendly to malevolent in an instant, Dern plays nasty like no one else. In the western Hang ‘Em High (1968), his murderer/cattle rustler taunts Clint Eastwood and jumps him when he’s not looking. In Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels (1966), he and fellow Hell’s Angel Peter Fonda, clad in Swastikas and other Nazi insignia threaten veteran Dick Miller with a pair of plyers. In his most infamous role, Long Hair in The Cowboys, Bruce Dern shoots John Wayne in the back, killing him. When they discussed that scene John Wayne told Dern, “America will hate you for this.” Dern replied, “Yeah, but they’ll love me in Berkeley.”

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Dern cemented his counter culture reputation after a series of films he did with Roger Corman and others during the 1960s. He even strayed from his nasty persona in a few. In The Trip (1967), Dern plays a benevolent soul guiding Peter Fonda through his first acid trip.  His calm, thoughtful demeanor and compassionate tone are a far cry from the snarling villain he usually played. I watched The Trip recently and listened to director Roger Corman’s audio commentary on the film. He said of all the cast members, including Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern was the only one who never touched drugs. A marathon runner who almost qualified for the Olympics, Dern lived a healthy life. During one scene in which partiers pass a joint, Dern is the only one not smoking.

Bruce The Trip #4

Jack Nicholson, a close friend, said Dern was one of the best of a breed of actors coming into his own in the 1970s.  Films like The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), Silent Running (1972), The Great Gatsby (1974), and The Driver (1978) allowed Dern to show his range. In King of Marvin Gardens, as the ne’er do well with a dozen get-rich-quick schemes, Dern is all charisma and charm and you get caught up in his enthusiasm even when you sense his plans will never come to fruition. In Silent Running, as astronaut Freeman Lowell, Dern gives a nuanced performance. You know his actions are wrong, but his motives and the way he relates to little Huey, Dewey, and Louie charm you into rooting for him. As Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, Dern’s callous aristocrat uses people and tosses them aside without a thought. I cannot think of the book or film without picturing Bruce Dern in that role. The spare The Driver lets Dern show his malevolent side again when, as The Detective, he orchestrates a robbery to frame Ryan O’Neal’s getaway driver and seems unaffected by the ensuing violence.

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It might surprise you to learn that Bruce Dern’s background is closer to the patrician Tom Buchanan (The Great Gatsby 1974) than the scuzzy gang member Loser (The Wild Angels 1966). Bruce MacLeish Dern, born in Winnetka, Illinois in 1936 went to the prestigious New Trier High School in Illinois before attending the University of Pennsylvania. He left Penn after a couple years for The Actors’ Studio and a career in acting. Dern’s grandfather served as Governor of Utah and as Roosevelt’s Secretary of War. His other grandfather established the department store Carson, Pirie Scott & Co. and the poet Archibald MacLeish is a maternal relation. Dern’s godparents were Adlai Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt. Throughout his career, Dern has done scores of television shows including Route 66, Thriller, The Outer Limits, the Kraft Suspense Theatre, Branded, Bonanza, Big Valley, Rawhide, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Fugitive, The FBI, and more recent appearances on Big Love, and CSI:NY. He even hosted his own series from 1996-2001 called The Lost Drive-In during which he sat in a vintage car and talked about drive-in movies, old cars, and that era in general, then showed a film which might have played in one. It was a fun show and Dern came off as well-versed and natural. I was sorry to see it end.

Lost Drive-In pic #6

With a career spanning almost 60 years, 164 films, and countless television appearances, Bruce Dern remains a working actor. He, his daughter Laura Dern, and ex-wife Diane Ladd received their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010 and imdb lists nearly a dozen projects in production for this versatile actor. In May of 2013, Bruce Dern won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in Nebraska. Even more recently, Dern played a small, but nasty part in Django Unchained and a larger role, General Sandy Smithers, in Quentin Tarantino’s western Agatha Christie/Sam Peckinpah hybrid, The Hateful Eight.

I even had a brush with Bruce. In 2014, I appeared briefly on HuffPost Live to ask him a question during an interview. He said he liked my glasses.

Nebraska #7

I wrote this piece for the What a Character Blog-a-thon in November 2013.  Run by @IrishJayhawk66 @Paula_Guthat @CitizenScreen the blog-a-thon highlighted supporting actors who make movies worth watching.  Fun stuff!

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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This Never Happened to the Other Fellow   Leave a comment

So here’s the thing, I love Sean. Sean is Bond. I didn’t grow up in the 80s or 90s with Dalton, Brosnan, Craig, and Dench and Moore is a poor man’s excuse for Bond. All ruffled tuxedo and ruffled demeanor. Moore is to Connery what New Coke is to Coke; sweeter and more generic. He’s the supermarket Kola you find when you’re looking for the real thing.

Naturally I thought I’d write about Sean for this favorite Bond series. I thought about Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, and Dr. No immediately. Then I realized something. I don’t own a single Bond film.* Why is that? I thought about it and realized that for me, the entire series lacks depth. Bond plays baccarat, cracks wise with arch-villains, beds a bevy of beauties, and foils the world domination plots of many while maintaining his poise and retaining his boutonniere. He never loses his cool because he isn’t a real guy. Let’s face it. It’s hard to get excited about a cardboard cutout, even a really attractive one. Without depth and some vulnerability, all the ski chases and 11th hour bomb defusing came to naught. Bond seemed less superhuman, and more subhuman.

Then it hit me. Lazenby. The odd man out. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The answer to many a Bond trivia question. Lazenby fit the bill. George Lazenby’s tall, dashing, Australian male model looks paired with his smart ass demeanor made him the perfect…er, replacement for Connery back in 1969 and his film, the perfect vehicle. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service we see Bond fight, ski, seduce, crack wise and even fall in love all set to a gorgeous John Barry score.

What appeals to me most about this film is the humanity it allows Bond to show. He still indulges in his usual Bondian vices, but something touches him. That something is the love of the beautiful Contessa Teresa diVicenzo played by Diana Rigg at the height of her 60’s Emma Peeliness. At first, Bond thinks of Tracy, as he calls her, as a curiosity. She’s a depressed jet-setter who finds the globe-trotting and endless parties soul-crushingly empty. After having a fling with Tracy, Bond finds himself summoned to the home of Marc-Ange Draco, Tracy’s father, the head of an international crime syndicate, and all around mensch. He wants Bond to marry Tracy to settle her down and give her something to live for. Bond refuses until Draco hints he can help with the capture of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This, by the way, is another reason I like this film so much. Blofeld is by far the best Bond villain. I hear he even changes the litter box. I digress. Bond agrees without actually agreeing to make a deal with Draco and we’re off.

I won’t recap the entire film. It’s a long Bond (insert off-color joke here), but most of its 2 hour and 20 minute running time moves the plot forward and shows George Lazenby in a most flattering light. He does dashing quite well and looks equally at home in a tuxedo or on skis. When he finally succumbs and falls for Tracy, you believe it. His voice even changes tone when  he speaks to her. There’s a gratuitous ‘falling in love’ sequence where I swear you can hear Roberta Flack for a second but no matter. You believe the love story and get caught up in the lovers’ dreams of a future together. This makes the ending and Bond’s comment to Tracy that “we have all the time in the world” that much more poignant.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Stats

James Bond=George Lazenby
Tracy=Diana Rigg
Draco=Gabriele Ferzetti
Blofeld=Telly Savalas!
Moneypenny=Lois Maxwell
M=Bernard Lee
Q=Desmond Llewelyn
Director=Peter Hunt
Music=John Barry

Scenes in Portugal and the Swiss Alps-check
Ski chases-check
Casino scene-check
Breaking the fourth wall-check
Weird allergy clinic eating scene-check
Frightening cos-play polar bear on skates scene-check
Lazenby’s Australian accent slipping through in spots-check
Isolated criminal lair which later gets blown up-check
Pumping by Bond (A Benetton Company)-check
Cool snow making machine death-check (Coen brothers took note)
Kilt wearing Bond-check
Bobsled chase-check!!!!!
Heartbreaking ending-*sob* check

Kerry’s Stats

Ist Bond Film-Goldfinger
Favorite Bond-Sean, natch
Favorite Bond Girl-Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman
How I discovered Bond_age_ -I noticed them on my TL and asked to join in. Now I’m hooked.

I wrote this piece for the James Bond Social Media Project favorite Bond series. Follow his blog about all things Bond. It’s well-written, entertaining, and informative. He’s @007hertzrumble on Twitter.

ohmss japanese

*I do now.

 

 

 

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