RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST ARTICLES FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
Bradford Dillman: A Compulsively Watchable
By Harvey Chartrand
a career that has spanned 43 years, Bradford Dillman accumulated more than 500
film and TV credits. The slim, handsome and patrician Dillman may have been the
busiest actor in Hollywood
during the late sixties and early seventies, working non-stop for years. In
1971 alone, Dillman starred in seven full-length feature films. And this
protean output doesn’t include guest appearances on six TV shows that
Dillman first drew good notices in the early 1950s on the Broadway stage and in
live TV shows, such as Climax and Kraft Television Theatre. After
making theatrical history playing Edmund Tyrone in the first-ever production of
Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1956, Dillman landed the role of blueblood psychopath Artie
Straus in the crime-and-punishment thriller Compulsion (1959), for which
he won a three-way Best Actor Prize at Cannes (sharing the award with co-stars
Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles).
On the And You Call Yourself a
Scientist! Web site, Dillman’s Artie Straus is described as “all brag and
bravado, contemptuous of everything but himself, with his
bridge-and-country-club parents, and his vaguely unwholesome relationship with
In the early years of
his career, Dillman starred in several major motion pictures, picking and
choosing his roles carefully. He was featured in Jean Negulesco’s romance A
Certain Smile (1958) with Rossano Brazzi and Joan Fontaine; Philip Dunne’s
World War II drama In Love and War (1958) with Robert Wagner and Dana
Wynter; and Tony Richardson’s Sanctuary (1961) with Lee Remick and Yves
Montand, a rancid slice of Southern Gothic based on the novel by William
Yet in the early sixties, Dillman started
taking any part that came along to support his growing family. From 1962 on, he
guest starred in dozens of TV series -- among them Espionage, Kraft
Suspense Theatre, Twelve O’Clock High, Shane, Felony Squad,
The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Marcus Welby, M.D., The Streets of San
Francisco, Bronk, How the West Was Won and FantasyIsland.
In 1975, Dillman won an Emmy Award for
Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Special for his performance as Matt
Clifton in Last Bride of Salem (1974), an excellent tale of modern
witchcraft. The 90-minute Gothic horror movie aired on ABC Afternoon Playbreak and was so well received that it was
rebroadcast during primetime.
Over the years, Dillman appeared in scores
of made-for-TV movies and theatrical releases, such as Walter Grauman’s drama A
Rage to Live (1965) with the late Suzanne Pleshette; John Guillermin’s war
story The Bridge at Remagen (1969) with George Segal; Hy Averback’s satire
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came (1970) starring Tony Curtis; and
Jud Taylor’s horror-thriller Revenge (1971), with Shelley Winters.
Dillman also played a psychiatrist who goes ape for Natalie Trundy in Don
Taylor’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and a scientist battling
firestarting cockroaches in Jeannot Szwarc’s Bug (1975) — the final film
produced by legendary horror schlockmeister William Castle.
now 81. After retiring from acting in 1995, he took up a second career as a writer. He is excellent at his new avocation,
requiring no ghostwriters to tweak his prose. Dillman’s autobiography Are
You Anybody? is a series of amusing anecdotes about his Hollywood
years. He has also written a harrowing adventure tale entitled That Air
Forever Dark, set in Papua New Guinea
“It’s a terrifying account of the Jet Age meeting the Stone Age – Deliverance
in a jungle setting,” the actor-turned-author says.
Dillman’s latest book,
published in 2005 by Fithian Press, is a comedy of errors entitled Kissing Kate. “The novel is about an
amateur production of Kiss Me Kate,”
Dillman relates. “An out-of-work professional actor is hired to play the male
lead opposite a wealthy community icon. Ultimately, of course, they end up
in bed together, where a ‘catastrophe’ occurs and all hell breaks loose. I
assure you that Kissing Kate is not in the least bit autobiographical!”
Fifty-two years after
appearing on stage in O’Neill’s landmark theatrical event, Dillman is now a
playwright as well. His Seeds in the Wind
made its debut in May 2007 at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura, California.
The play is set in 1939 in Santa Cruz,
California, during a weekend
celebrating the 40th birthday of a society hostess' daughter. The interaction
of the houseguests is both humorous and dramatic, and all manner of unexpected
events occur, Dillman assures us.
veteran performer spoke to Cinema Retro
from his home in Santa Barbara,
Retro: You achieved
international prominence in Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion, in which you
were unforgettable as the frightening and magnetic Artie Straus, a wealthy
law-school student on trial for murder in this taut
retelling of the infamous Leopold-Loeb case of the 1920s. You had been playing
romantic leads up until then, so this leap into villainy was quite a daring
career move on your part.
Bradford Dillman: I had a commitment to Twentieth Century Fox to do two pictures a
year and, as fate would have it, the timing of the filming of Compulsion coincided.
Nothing to do with the moguls’ belief that I had talent. It was just dumb luck,
pure and simple.
Compulsion (1959) with Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles
Following Compulsion, you were often cast in villainous roles. In 1964,
you co-starred with B-movie cult figure John Ashley (The Mad Doctor of Blood
Island) in an episode of Dr. Kildare with the intriguing title Night
of the Beast. What was that one about?
BD: I was the beast. I was such a bad guy I had my
thugs hold Kildare down while I raped his girlfriend in front of his very eyes.
When we came to the comeuppance scene, I learned that Richard Chamberlain had
obviously never been in a fistfight in his life. The stunt men couldn't teach
him how to throw a punch; I couldn't teach him. So we had a gentle comeuppance.
He's a nice, sensitive man who has since come out of the closet.
With Carol Lynley, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film The Helicopter Spies (1968)
CR: In 1967, you were the guest villain on The
Prince of Darkness Affair, a two-part episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E,
later repackaged as a theatrical release – The Helicopter Spies (1968).
You were great fun as Luther Sebastian, the Third Way cult leader who steals a
rocket.Did you have any scenes with
lovely Lola Albright?
BD:The Helicopter Spies has disappeared in
the vortex of remaining brain cells. I don’t remember if I exchanged words with
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES. (FROM NOVEMBER 2009)
By Nick Thomas
Best known for his
swashbuckling roles in films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain
Blood, and The Sea Hawk, or as the dashing hero in war adventures and westerns,
Errol Flynn appeared in some 50 movies during his short 16 year career in
Hollywood. This year is the centenary of Flynn’s birth in Tasmania, the southern island
state of Australia. So you can bet Errol Flynn fans are whooping it up big,
down under. In fact, a chunk of June and July was set aside in the city of
Hobart, Flynn’s home town, to celebrate Tasmania’s most famous Hollywood son.
Special guests at the celebrations were Flynn’s daughter, Rory, and grandson
Rory Flynn was just 12 when her father died which, as it turns out, was exactly
50 years ago this year too. She recently wrote about memories of her dad in
“The Baron of Mulholland: A daughter Remembers Errol Flynn.” Rory inherited
just a handful of items from her father, as most of Flynn’s estate went to his
third wife. But earlier this year, Rory visited Tasmania and gave all her Flynn
memorabilia, including love letters from her dad to her mom, to the Tasmanian
museum for display.
Since any discussion of the Flynn clan is complicated by three marriages, let’s
sort that out first: Errol married three times. First to French actress Lili
Damita (one son, Sean, a photojournalist who went missing during the Vietnam
war, and was never found); second to Nora Eddington (two daughters, Deirdre and
Rory who had one son, also named Sean); third to actress Patrice Wymore (separated
from Flynn but never divorced, and lived on Flynn’s old plantation in Jamaica;
one daughter Arnella who died in 1998 who had one son, Luke). So the Errol
Flynn lineage lies with two grandsons, Sean and Luke.
CR: How did you get involved in the centenary festivities?
There’s a big fan club down there, the Errol Flynn Society of Tasmania. They
started organizing this a couple of years ago and asked me to come down.
CR: Nice to see that Errol Flynn was recognized by the Aussies!
It’s great that Tasmania - and Australia - are honoring their native son this
year, because Hollywood isn’t. They’re much more involved in their current
stars, whereas Europe and other parts of the world are very considerate towards
the older stars.
CR: What did it mean to you to visit Tasmania?
Well, I actually feel like I’ve brought my dad home. That’s where his roots are
and they love him and honor him there. I think the people there understand that
my father was an extraordinary man. I have also learned more about my roots. My
grandfather was a very interesting man and is still well-known down there.
There’s a street named after him, he was the curator of the museum for 6 years,
and he was a professor of biology. They say my grandmother was a direct
descendant of midshipman Edward Young, of the HMS Bounty. So I feel like I’ve
come home too.
CR: What are some of your earliest memories of your father?
When I was around five, I used to lie on a bearskin rug in his den and I would
fall asleep to the sound of his writing - the scratching of his pen. He was
always writing. He was writing his autobiography from a very early age, and
other books, documentaries and newspaper articles. I grew up with him until I
was about 7, then after my parents separated I would see him several times a
year. Those visits became huge. He was really big about spending quality time
with us when he could.
CR: Did you know how sick he was towards the end of his life?
No, my mom didn’t tell us about it. We know now that shortly before he died, he
told my mother that he was only given a year to live, but he only made it three
more months. His liver was shot, he had tuberculosis, malaria, terrible back
problems - and there he was, still swashbuckling all over the place to the end.
CR: What do you think made your dad stand out as an actor?
I think he bridged the gap between actors playing the tough American cowboy
type who were simple and direct, and the European actors with sophisticated
dialogue, like Leslie Howard. My dad was able to be that action hero, and still
hold an intelligent conversation. No one had really done that before.
CR: In his 20s, Flynn sailed up the east coast of Australia to New Guinea where he
had all sorts of real-life adventures, as recounted in his book, “Beam Ends.”
Did that period of his life influence his acting?
Absolutely. This early period formed who he was.He was who he was by the time he got to
Hollywood - he was that “Tasmanian Devil” and he brought that to his films.