Tuesday, 18 June 2013

From TV to Film: Classic Television Stars who Became Movie Stars Part Two

Today it is a relatively rare thing for a television star to spin that success off into motion picture stardom. At one time, however, it was not quite so rare. In fact, in the Sixties and Fifties there would be several actors who would go from the small screen to the silver screen. James Garner, Steve McQueen, and James Coburn were three of the television stars of the era who would become movie stars as well.

James Garner and Steve McQueen emerged as stars of highly successful television Westerns (Maverick and Wanted: Dead or Alive respectively), while James Coburn was a frequent guest star in shows from the same genre. That having been said, not every star to move from television to film were veterans of Westerns. In fact, there were two soon to be movie stars who appeared on the same sitcom. What is more remarkable, is that neither of them was the star of the show. In fact, one of them was a relatively minor character. Both Warren Beatty and Tuesday Weld appeared on the first season of Dobie Gillis before going onto movie stardom.

It could be said that acting was in Warren Beatty's blood. His mother was a drama teacher. His older sister, Shirley. would achieve movie stardom under the name Shirley MacLaine before  Mr. Beatty even received his first television credit. It was her success that largely encouraged Mr. Beatty to go into acting. In the summer between his junior and senior years in high school he worked as a stagehand  at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. After high school he attended Northwestern University for a year, but dropped out to move to New York City to pursue acting. There he studied under actress and acting teacher Stella Adler.

Warren Beatty made his television debut in an episode of Studio One in 1957. Over the next few years he appeared in episodes of Suspicion and Playhouse 90. It was in 1959 that Warren Beatty was cast in the recurring role of handsome, rich, and snobbish Milton Armitage on Dobie Gillis. Although he was only a semi-regular on Dobie Gillis, the show did draw attention to young Mr. Beatty. In fact, it was after his appearance on the show that MGM signed him to a contract. In the end Warren Beatty left Dobie Gillis in the middle of the first season, having appeared in six episodes including the pilot.

Having left Dobie Gillis, Warren Beatty would not have to wait long for film stardom. His film debut would be in the film that would make him a star, Splendour in the Grass in 1961. In the Sixties he would appear in such films as The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), Promise Her Anything (1965), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and The Only Game in Town (1970). It was in 1965 that he received his first "producer" credit, on the film What's New Pussycat. In the Seventies he appeared in such films as McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), The Parallax View (1974), Shampoo (1975), and Heaven Can Wait (1978). He also took up directing, his first film as director being Heaven Can Wait. Since the Eighties he has appeared in the films Reds (1981), Ishtar (1987), Dick Tracy (1990), Bugsy (1991), Bulworth (1998), and Town & Country (2001).  He has directed Reds, Dick Tracy, and Bulworth.

Unlike Warren Beatty, her co-star on Dobie Gillis, Tuesday Weld had already appeared in films prior to her stint as beautiful, spoiled, and money hungry Thalia Menninger on the show. It was following her father's death that Tuesday Weld's mother started hiring her out as a child model to make ends meet. Her career as a model would lead young Miss Weld into acting. at the age of twelve she  made her film debut in  Rock Rock Rock! (1956). In the same year she appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man. A mixture of film and television appearances would follow. On television she appeared on such shows as Goodyear Television Playhouse, The Red Skelton Show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and 77 Sunset Strip. She appeared in such films as Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958) and The Five Pennies (1959).

It was in 1959 that Tuesday Weld was cast as Thalia Menninger, the self absorbed, egotistical object of Dobie Gillis' desire. It was one of the more prominent roles on the show, and as a result Dobie Gillis generated a good deal of attention for Miss Weld. In fact, she received a good deal of press coverage from the show and it was not unusual for her to be mobbed by the press when she went out. She even won a Golden Globe award for "Most Promising Newcomer - Female".  It has often claimed that Tuesday Weld was dismissed from Dobie Gillis because she was "too sexy" for a TV sitcom (keep in mind she was only 16 at the time), but it seems likely that with the attention she was receiving Miss Weld left the show for bigger things.

Tuesday Weld would indeed go onto bigger things. She appeared prominently in two B-movies, Because They're Young (1960) and the famous Mamie Van Doren vehicle Sex Kittens Go to College (1960) before appearing in the Bing Crosby film High Time (1960). Thereafter she started receiving somewhat better roles in such films as The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), Return to Peyton Place (1961), Wild in the Country (1961), Bachelor Flat (1962), and Soldier in the Rain (1963). Although it could be argued that by this point in her career Tuesday Weld was already a film star, she continued to appear on television, including guest shots on such shows as The Tab Hunter Show, Bus Stop, Naked City, Route 66,  Ben Casey, The Eleventh Hour, and The Fugitive.

It was perhaps in the mid to late Sixties that Tuesday Weld's movie stardom was at its height. In fact she actually turned down roles in films that would prove be hits, including Bonnie & Clyde and Rosemary's Baby. Regardless, she appeared in such films as I'll Take Sweden (1965), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Lord Love a Duck (1966),  Pretty Poison (1968), and I Walk the Line (1970). In the Seventies her career slowed, but she appeared in A Safe Place (1971), Play It As It Lays (1972), Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), Who'll Stop the Rain (1978), and Serial (1980). For Looking for Mr. Goodbar she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Including and following the Eighties Miss Weld has appeared in very little. She appeared in the films Thief (1981), Author! Author! (1982), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Heartbreak Hotel (1988), Falling Down (1993), Feeling Minnesota (1996), Chelsea Walls (2001), and Intimate Affairs (2002).  She also appeared infrequently on television, in several TV films, a presentation of The Hallmark Hall of Fame, and episode of Chillers. She more or less retired in the Naughts.

While James Garner and Steve McQueen achieved television stardom in Westerns, and Tuesday Weld achieved television stardom on a sitcom, Lee Marvin would achieve television stardom on a police drama, M Squad. He would be further set apart from James Garner and Steve McQueen in the sorts of roles he played. While James Garner and Steve McQueen often played heroes (although often with a good deal of moral ambiguity thrown into the mix), Lee Marvin often played heavies. Indeed, in Cat Ballou (1965) he would play both a morally ambiguous hero (washed up gunfighter Kid Shelleen) and a brutal outlaw (Tim Strawn).

Lee Marvin came into acting through rather unlikely circumstances. Following his service in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, Mr. Marvin worked as a plumber's apprentice in Woodstock, New York. It was while he was performing repairs at a local theatre that he was asked to take the place of an actor who had gotten sick during a rehearsal. Lee Marvin decided he liked acting and moved to New York City to pursue an acting career there.

Lee Marvin made his television debut in an episode of Escape in 1950. For the next several years he would appear in episodes of such shows as  The Big Story, Fireside Theatre, Biff Baker U.S.A., Dragnet, The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, Medic, Studio One, and Climax. Unlike some other actors who achieved stardom on television, Lee Marvin actually had a rather impressive film resume before becoming a TV star, albeit it was mainly in supporting roles rather than lead roles. He made his film debut in an uncredited role in You're in the Navy Now (1951). He played similar bit roles in Teresa (1951), Cave of Outlaws (1951), Hong Kong (1952), Diplomatic Courier (1952), We're Not Married! (1952), The Duel at Silver Creek (1952). Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1953), and Seminole (1953). He started getting more substantial roles with The Glory Brigade (1953), afterwards appearing in The Big Heat (1953), Gun Fury (1953), The Wild One (1953), The Caine Mutiny (1954) Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), and Raintree County (1957). Lee Marvin then had a very substantial film career before he played Lt. Frank Ballinger on M Squad.

That having been said, it was M Squad that would make Lee Marvin a star. The show essentially did what six years of appearing in supporting roles in movies had not--it made Lee Marvin a household name. M Squad ran for a total of three years, from 1957 to 1960. While on M Squad Lee Marvin continued to make appearances on other TV shows, including Climax, Schlitz Playhouse, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. He also appeared in the film The Missouri Traveller (1958).

After M Squad Lee Marvin continued to appear on television for some time, on such shows as Wagon Train, Checkmate G.E. Theatre, Route 66, Combat, Bonanza, The Virginian, The Untouchables, and The Twilight Zone. While Mr. Marvin continued to appear frequently on television, he had much more substantial roles in films, receiving fourth, third, and even second billing in films. He appeared in such films as The Comancheros (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and Donovan's Reef (1963). If he couldn't be considered a movie star in the years immediately following M Squad, it can certainly be said he achieved it with Cat Ballou in 1965. For his dual role as Kid Shelleen and Tim Strawn he received the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Arguably, the period following Cat Ballou saw Lee Marvin's career at its peak. He appeared in such films as Ship of Fools (1965), The Professionals (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Point Blank (1967), Sergeant Ryker (1968), Hell in the Pacific (1968), and Monte Walsh (1970)

While the height of Lee Marvin's career was arguably the late Sixties, his career was still going quite strong in the Seventies. During the decade he appeared in such films as Pocket Money (1972), The Iceman Cometh (1973), The Spikes Gang (1974), Shout at the Devil (1976), The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday (1976), and The Big Red One (1980).  His career slowed a bit in the Eighties, although he appeared in such films as Death Hunt (1981), Gorky Park (1983), Dog Day (1984), and The Delta Force (1986). He also appeared in a made-for-TV sequel to The Dirty Dozen entitled The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission.

While Lee Marvin had a film career prior to his starring role in M Squad, it was arguably the television show that was responsible for him becoming a film star. Prior to M Squad the highest billing Lee Marvin received was third (in both Attack and Seven Men From Now) and that was a rare occurrence. More often than not Mr. Marvin was fourth or fifth bill, or even lower, in the films he made before M Squad. In the first film Lee Marvin made after M Squad had started its run, The Missouri Traveller, he received second billing. After M Squad Lee Marvin was almost always among the top billed in his films, sometimes even playing the lead role. Quite simply, he was a supporting actor in film he was transformed into a lead actor in film by becoming a television star!

Lee Marvin would not be the last television star who made the transition to film in the Sixties. There would be others who would follow him from the small screen to silver screen I will cover them in the third and final part of this series.

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