Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

Recommended Posts

There was a time, when a young, aspiring actor by the name of Merle Johnson, arrived in Hollywood at around 1956. Johnson was born in New York and later on attended Columbia University. While in college, he made the rounds in various theater stock companies as a part time actor. Somehow, he managed to get to the west coast and decided on taking a stab at Hollywood. At first, Johnson was like most young performers facing the daily drudge of rejection after rejection at the various major Hollywood studios. He then settled on a chance at breaking into the movie business by subjecting himself to unaccredited appearances in some low-budget films. After a bit of the usual frustration that comes with trying to break into the movies, Johnson finally took the advice of a fellow actor and looked around for an agent to represent him. The man who came to Johnson?s aid was none other than that notorious and shady figure of old Hollywood, movie agent Henry Willson.

 

The story of Johnson and his relationship with Willson goes along the lines that for a time, Willson had been toying with the idea of a new sort of replacement for his onetime client, heartthrob Tab Hunter. By the late 1950s, Hunter?s career appeared to have stalled and Willson was probably worried about his reputation. Willson had in a technical and business sense of thinking, already hit the heights with such discoveries as Robert Wagner, Rory Calhoun, Clint Walker and his greatest of all, the mighty Rock Hudson. With Tab Hunter?s career on the wane, Willson looked to this new, brassy, tall, blond young man to fit the bill or fill the void. Along the way to Willson getting Johnson established, there emerged a strange legend that relates to the typical Hollywood mode of changing a performer?s name. Willson had for years, toyed with his other clients to use the first name of ?Troy.? He first utilized it with Rory Calhoun and then singer turned actor James Darren; it simply didn?t work out. So, next in line came Merle Johnson and Willson named him: Troy Donahue.

 

In no time, with Willson?s immense influence, Donahue began to get good exposure in various major films. Little by little, the studios where Donahue found work began to show interest in him. However, Donahue was for the time of his early career, appearing in B-movies. Although these films were not so dramatically imposing, they did help personify his young spirited imagery that made him standout among others. Certainly, his ?boy-next-door? good-looks propelled him into the forefront of getting noticed by those in the movie business who were looking for someone new and fresh for younger audiences to appreciate. Donahue?s first major breakthrough came in 1959, when he was given a small role in Universal Pictures remake of ?Imitation of Life.? The role wasn?t really so good as to give Donahue what would be considered reasonable screen time, but because it was a major, dramatic release, starring Lana Turner, the film gathered in a good degree of respect. During the filming, Donahue became good friends with the young actress Sandra Dee, who was just getting her career underway. Both Dee and Donahue couldn?t have guess what fate had in store for their future film careers.

 

Agent Willson, feeling good about Troy?s progress, hoped that Universal Pictures would sign his new young discovery to a contract; the studio had already signed on Dee. Why the studio didn?t take Willson?s offer is one of those mysteries of the movies; it?s always been assumed that the studio would in later years come to regret their decision. Most likely, the reason might have been the studio already had two other clients of Willson on their roster; they were Doug McClure and Chad Everett. So, Donahue had to move on. This move proved to be a tremendous opportunity for Willson?s new young client. Warner Brothers was about to make a romantic soap opera called ?A Summer Place,? starring Sandra Dee. Quickly, Willson sized the moment for Donahue and convinced the director of the film, Delmer Daves to consider Donahue as the perfect choice opposite Dee. Naturally, Dee was all for Donahue, since they had become good friends during the time they had together at her home base of Universal. At the beginning, Daves felt he might be taking a gamble with this new aspiring actor. While Daves did have his own choice to play the young male lead role, he relented towards Donahue with the idea that he play along with the usual Hollywood game of taking some credit for a possible new discovery. Warner Brothers came to accept this scenario; there came the notion that Donahue might become hot enough for their studio to sign him on and also able to fill a spot they had in mine for television production.

 

What an amazing moment it must have been for Donahue to realize he hit the overnight heights of movie stardom with ?A Summer Place.? The film was pretty much a melodramatic mixture of romantic intrigue between an adult atmosphere and one for the young. There could be no doubting that younger audiences who flocked to see the movie were impressed by Donahue?s imagery and style. Warner Brothers wasted no time in giving Donahue a solid contract. The success of ?A Summer Place,? swept across the country like a whirlwind, becoming one of the most successful box-office hits. Certainly, the young teaming of Dee and Donahue proved to be a sensation for 1959. Both performers were launched into the scope of major stardom; this was especially the case with the various movie magazines and tabloids that gave Dee, Donahue and the film tremendous amount of coverage and publicity. Willson had struck a gold-mine with his new young actor, who was now a symbol to the youth of America. Donahue would become so popular, that the following year of 1960, Warner Brothers decided on showcasing him in the ABC television series ?Surfside 6,? set in Miami, Florida; the ratings soared! This was amazing to say the least, because in the long run, Donahue?s quick raise to stardom affected other aspiring actors at the studio; one of them, another popular young star, Edd Byrnes became infuriated with all the fuss Donahue was getting and walked out on his contract for a period of time.

 

Director Delmer Daves took full advantage of Donahue?s appeal, by creating an entire motion picture as a vehicle towards Donahue?s popularity, another melodrama, entitled ?Parrish.? Based on a pot-boiler romantic novel of the day, the film was another huge hit and served to excel Donahue?s career and his appeal. Between his television series and a solid film career, Donahue was without any question, one of the biggest young stars of the early 1960s. After the success of ?Parrish,? there came in 1961, another romantic pot-boiler, but Donahue wasn?t the star, actress Connie Stevens was the main showcase; in a move that was rather strange, Donahue had something of an uneventful role in ?Susan Slade.? This was another Delmer Daves attempt at creating a romantic sensation, but the film wasn?t so popular and didn?t do anything to heighten Stevens and certainly not Donahue. A few historians believe that a mistake was made in not utilizing Donahue?s mass appeal over that of Connie Stevens, whose career at Warner Brothers was just getting established. It was obvious that Donahue was brought along to aid in promoting the film or give it a bit of a punch. But, at this stage not even Donahue could save ?Susan Slade? and Stevens ended up a regular on television, in the series ?Hawaiian Eye.?

 

Despite the disappointing box-office results of ?Susan Slade? and a first setback to Donahue?s success at Warner Brothers, in 1962 came what would be perhaps his greatest of all box-office hit, ?Rome Adventure.? If anything, this motion picture allowed him to hold on to his clout. This big success would turn out to be for a very good reason, having nothing really to do with the film itself. Donahue and his co-star Susan Pleshette had real romance that led to his first marriage. This liaison between the two stars created a wide amount of publicity that only added to the public at large going to see the film. Donahue was now as much in the news as was such stars as Marilyn and Liz Taylor; this was a feat that few have ever reflected upon. As exciting as the marriage between Donahue and Pleshette transpired in the mind of the fans, the relationship was very short lived; the two stars divorced after their second film pairing in the western ?A Distant Trumpet.? Meanwhile, Donahue ended up with a side-job on another television program, ?Hawaiian Eye,? that reunited him with actress Connie Stevens. Warner Brothers did everything they could to keep Donahue fresh and alive in the public eye; he starred in a semi-musical film ?Palm Springs Weekend? that turned out more of a joke than anything so technically serious to accept. This film simply displayed a bit of the limitation Donahue had as a performer with little or no wide range of training, especially in the music or singing field. The coming of ?The Beatles,? the ?Beach Party or Surfer movies? and the whole new psychedelic craze of the 1960s, changed the whole scope of Donahue?s stardom or at least forced him to realize his time in the spotlight was dwindling away. After his last film for Warner Brothers, ?My Blood Runs Cold,? in 1965 ended so lame, the studio gave up on him and his contract was not renewed.

 

Like it is with numerous film stars who find themselves on the way out, Donahue fell into bouts of depression and disappointment as no decent offers came to him. He was pretty much back to where he had started from, finding himself taking on jobs in low-budget movies that are best forgotten. By the end of the decade, he was practically an after thought or a ?has been.? At the beginning of the 1970s, Donahue returned to television, this time in a daytime soap opera, ?The Secret Storm.? While this allowed him work and some exposure, his major film career was all but over. It was around this time, rumors of drug abuse and acute alcoholism began to take their toll on him. There would be a second marriage for him, but this also ended in divorce. Finally, in a most ironic twist of fate, Donahue was given a break by none other than director Francis Ford Coppola in 1974. While most film historians would laugh at or not take Donahue?s brief appearance in ?The Godfather 2? so seriously, it was something of an interesting occurrence, at least for those of us who knew of his past fame. The character Donahue played in the film, utilized his real name of ?Merle Johnson!? For many fans, this was something of a movie ?in joke? by either Coppola or perhaps even suggested by Donahue himself. Most likely, Donahue was resigned to having become nothing more than a typical working actor for hire by the time he made his appearance in ?The Godfather 2.?

 

The years leading up to the 1980s, saw Donahue work sporadically, sometimes landing another small role in a major film, while staying amid low-budget films and some work in television. He later on showed up at movie memorabilia shows and conventions, in order to supplement his income that was by the end of the 1970s, somewhat meager. Strangely, when there was a tremendous revival of interest in the 1950s and 1960s, showcasing films about these eras, Donahue was nearly left out in the cold, only having been called upon by wacko director John Waters to appear in the zany comedy ?Cry Baby.? Talk was that most of the newer filmmakers never really saw Donahue as having anything of value to be considered so important from a nostalgic point of view; in other words, some believed he was just a passing fancy or a flash that didn?t last very long; his major film career only span six years. The last years of his life were a constant struggle as he tried desperately to get a lid on his health and financial problems. He finally gave way to a heart attack and died at the age of 65 in 2001.

 

Throughout the web, there are sites devoted to Donahue and his short lived stardom. It?s interesting that in death, he is now more remembered then when he was alive and struggling those last years of his life. There is a paradox to Donahue. He represents a film star trapped in an imagery of their era and never went beyond it to reach a dynamic presence to having something of a productive future in the movie business. He wasn?t a failure. He just never really grew old in the minds of many fans and remains forever young.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Troy was moved over to "Hawaiian Eye" to sort of help the series along, after his two seasons on "Surfside 6." He was at the time, the studio's most viable star between movies and television. When Troy signed on with Warner Brothers, his contract stipulated that he be utilized for work in television. This came about, due to problems in the past with a few other stars at the studio; most troublesome was James Garner, who had walked out in a contract dispute, because he wanted to move on to films and get out of television; as was the case with actor Edd Byrnes. So, Troy turned out to be the studio's insurance, as long as he remained popular with audiences. The actor Van Williams was a member of "Surfside 6." The actor with the same last name in "Hawaiian Eye" was Grant Williams.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Grant Williams from The Incredible Shrinking Man, one of my most favorite scifi movies? Interesting.

 

I always confused Troy Donahue with Tab Hunter, and never liked or watched either of them.

 

That was an incredible bio MovieProfessor.

Link to post
Share on other sites

>primosprimos wrote:

> Grant Williams from The Incredible Shrinking Man, one of my most favorite scifi movies? Interesting.

>

> I always confused Troy Donahue with Tab Hunter, and never liked or watched either of them.

>

 

Thanks Primosprimos . . . By the way, Grant Williams was another discovery by that infamous movie star agent Henry Willson. Just as had happened with Troy, Williams started out at Universal, when he landed his first incredibly good, big break in the Jack Arnold directed Sci-Fi classic. It?s strange that the studio didn?t see the potential Williams had to offer. Despite the success he had with the classic Sci-Fi film, the studio had him more involved with television production at the time he was just starting to make a name for himself. Most likely, Universal had already banked on another newcomer by the name of John Gavin to fit the bill they were looking for. Williams then managed to sign on with Warner Brothers. He was throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, a regular working actor, never achieving any high status within the entertainment business. So, after his career simply fizzled, Grant remained connected to show business, when he opened an acting school in Hollywood, while still managing to make rare appearances in some film productions, until he totally retired in 1973. Grant Williams never married. He died July 25, 1985 of peritonitis at the age of 53 after being treated for blood poisoning, while at the a hospital in Los Angeles.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Quite a few took the Universal to Warners route. Ray Danton, Jack Kelly, Richard Long, William Reynolds and Rex Reason also jumped from one to the other.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I would love to see "PARRISH" once again its been years, but not so much for TROY as for Karl Malden, Dean Jagger, Claudette Colbert (spg?) and the most kittenish young starlet of her day Connie Stevens.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Are you in the biz, MovieProfessor (I take it from your sceen name that you are)? I envy your in-depth knowledge.

 

John Gavin, that's funny. Take one incredibly untalented supposedly pretty actor and build him up whilst ignoring the talented man standing next to him. The final speech in Shrinking Man should be required viewing for film students, I consider it that good.

 

I am always very sad to find out talented actors died at an early age, such as Harlow and Lombard and Grant. They could have given the world so very much (or not, as they chose). However, there is such a loss of potential when a talented person leaves this world so young.

Link to post
Share on other sites

> {primosprimos wrote:

> Are you in the biz, MovieProfessor

 

Was . . . Now retired.

 

 

Although I had originally been asked about Donahue and this was my reason for posting the thread, there was still another issue lurking that I felt needed clarification. This was related to how numerous individuals achieved a career in films, without little, if any, acting experience. What we had here was a routine of young people, found in all sorts of out of the way places, in and around Hollywood, who had what was deemed as the right look or style to be in the movies; forget about anything concerning talent, it was all about how good one might appear before the camera and subsequently on the movie screen. While some of these young, inexperienced individuals managed to learn the craft handled over to them, most simply didn?t last long in the spotlight. Most of them couldn?t break away from this stamped or designated imagery they came to represent. There was always a sense of tragedy hovering around those who came to the movies and were trapped by what the business and the public at large expected from them. The movies are a business that relies so much on phoniness and deception that can at times create havoc for those who dwell within its hypocritical atmosphere and never come to understand what it all really means. One basic problem that usually surfaced was a lack to understanding one had to be two different people and one?s life was now split in half. This is probably why many performers end up on the psychiatrist couch. Anyone who becomes a movie star and isn?t looked upon as serious has to learn how to accept one?s limitations, their technical faults, the artificial means by which their career has been established, because along the way, they just don?t last long enough to be taken so seriously. Some get lucky and are able to break away from their presumed imagery or the style; but most others won?t. I doubt that any young performer starting out in motion pictures ever realizes they might be just a quick flash or passing fancy to a business that in the end isn?t very sympathetic. At first, everything about being in the business is exciting and magical, aside from the hard work that comes along with it. But, lurking in the shadows against everyone who becomes a movie star is that aged old problem of ?time.? It?s all about how well you can juggle the passing of time and stay long enough under the spotlight to be considered successful and perhaps get enough of what everyone would love: respect.

Link to post
Share on other sites

> finance wrote:

>And who could forget the inimitable Poncie Ponce?

 

 

Hawaiian born actor, Ponciano Ponce is still very much alive and retired. He sometimes makes appearances at local nightclubs in Honolulu and has made the usual rounds at various memorabilia shows and conventions. He actually started out on the television series ?77 Sunset Strip,? in two episodes. While under contract to Warner Brothers, he drifted between other television projects until becoming a regular on ?Hawaiian Eye.?

Link to post
Share on other sites

get enough of what everyone would love: respect.

 

Well put. Even more importantly, and some have managed this, is the urgency of investing the giant dollars thrown at them for their 'retirement'. Some were amazing, like Gene Autry, others, like the very talented Betty Hutton, did not plan well at all.

 

Some of today's stars and even many character actors develop ancillary businesses and, if they don't falter, will be very rich until they expire. Others will end us as did poor Ms. Hutton.

 

You are so right, the movie business is a cruel, what have you done for me lately one.

 

Retired -- I am even more envious, that you were there in the heyday. Not the Cagney and Grant heyday, perhaps, but if you are not part of today's greed and insanity, I envy your timing.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Richard Long was probably the most talented of the WB TV stars. An actor since his teens, he grew into quite a versatile player. Before he had his one-season stint on 77 SUNSET STRIP, he guest-starred twice as a villainous character. Both of these were adaptations of films that Hitchcock made at Warners - STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and DIAL M FOR MURDER.

 

While on BOURBON STREET BEAT, one of his episodes was a remake of WHITE HEAT which had Long subbing for the O'Brien character.

 

He was on THE TWILIGHT ZONE a couple of times, in one episode "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" had him playing three characters. His Gentleman Jack Darby was a great recurring character on MAVERICK.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
© 2021 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...