Thursday, June 15, 2006

In the Nick of Time - Dante DiPaolo!

Dante DiPaolo and Nick Clooney.

For those of you who check this blog more often than the other one, the Bava Book blog was updated a few days ago, but there's some other interesting book-related news that I'll post here. Long after giving up hope, I've finally been able to locate and interview Dante DiPaolo, who played important roles in two Mario Bava films, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (also known as EVIL EYE) and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE.

Two nights ago, I was in Newport, Kentucky at the Shadowbox Cabaret to attend a wake for our late friend, Wayne Perry. Donna and I were looking at photographs of Wayne from throughout his life, when I happened to turn around and find myself face-to-face with Cincinnati broadcasting legend Nick Clooney. Wayne had been the editor of Nick's column for THE CINCINNATI POST, so it was good of him to be there, but I hadn't anticipated meeting him. The nation at large knows this gentleman as an AMC host par excellence and author of the book THE MOVIES THAT CHANGED US: REFLECTIONS ON THE SCREEN, as a Congressional candidate, as the host of the game show MONEY MAZE, or as the father of George. But to those of us were were born and raised in Cincinnati, he's a good deal more.

I have many fond memories of watching Nick's afternoon talk/variety show, circa 1970-75 -- especially the day when John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk took over the show to promote their new movie HUSBANDS. (How I'd love to see that again!) He would sometimes sing on that show and released an album called, not entirely inappropriately, SONGS MY PRODUCER WON'T LET ME SING, which I once owned. He later became Cincinnati's local ABC news anchor and was the first competitor to ever wrest the #1 position away from local CBS anchor Al Schottelkotte, whose Walter Winchell approach to news delivery had ruled the 6:00 and 11:00 roosts since the inception of the medium. Nick Clooney humanized Cincinnati news, and rose to prominence here while covering the Beverly Hills supper club fire disaster in 1977. All these impressions were racing through my mind as he kindly thrust out his hand and said, "Hello... Nick Clooney." I tapped Donna's shoulder and introduced them, and we were introduced in turn to Nick's wife Nina, a charming lady whose name I've known almost as long as I've known her husband's.

Of all things I could have discussed with Nick and Nina in the short time we had together -- like Nick's working relationship with the friend we had in common, or his recent headline-making trip with George to the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan, to document on film what is happening to the people there -- my mind stupidly zoomed to his album, which sent his kindly gaze briefly ceilingward. (This has got to be like someone asking me to 'fess up to the two fanzines I published as a teenager...) As he was saying something friendly and self-effacing about it, that's when I suddenly remembered that Nick's late sister, the great Rosemary Clooney, had been married to Dante DiPaolo. I had always wanted to interview Dante for the Bava book, but could never locate him -- this was especially frustrating when I learned, in retrospect, that he and Rosemary had wed in a church in the Clooneys' hometown of Maysville, Kentucky -- not a half-hour's drive from my own front door! Dante also turned up a couple of years ago on HBO's UNSCRIPTED, produced by Nick's son George Clooney, in a role that actually harkened back to his role in THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, so I had the feeling that Dante looked back on his work with Mario fondly.

I mentioned my book project to Nick and told him how much I would love to get in touch with Dante, to include his memories therein. He told me that they speak on the phone about once a week, so I gave Nick my number and he promised to pass it along.

He was very prompt about this, which I appreciate. The next morning, we were awakened by a call from Dante DiPaolo (a very early riser) who spoke to Donna (who can sound awake on the phone much faster than I can) as I was pulling myself out of my dreams and eavesdropping on a waking one. Donna and Dante were immediately chatting and laughing together like old pals, and after 15 minutes or so, she took his number so I could return the call. I was able to reach him later in the day. He's now 80, and he had spent the day caring for his 97 year-old mother, who lives next door. He was about five minutes into a recuperative nap before dinner when I called, so it wasn't quite the right time... but, as we were trying to agree upon a better time to have our talk, he started reminiscing and I had the presence of mind to start recording. It was 70 minutes later that he was summoned to dinner, and we had covered most of the bases. I got some good stories from him -- not just about Bava, but pertaining to his work in JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN, ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS and SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD -- and, since the layout of the chapters pertaining to his involvement haven't been finalized yet, there is still time to add a couple of pages to those chapters as long as I can transcribe and insert the material properly before Donna reaches that point in her work. She's about 150 pages ahead of where the relevant inserts need to be made, so it won't slow down anything or cause work to be redone to add Dante's memories to the book.

And so, at long last, Dante DiPaolo has become the Bava book's final interviewee. I find a measure of symbolic value in this because, of the more than 100 people interviewed for the book, Dante is the closest-to-home. Dante and Rosemary married in northern Kentucky, as Donna and I did, but their wedding day (November 7) was Donna's birthday as well. The DiPaolo-Clooney connection is the only other Bava-Cincinnati connection besides myself of which I'm aware, so closing my research on the book by talking with Dante is like coming full circle, like Ulysses returning home to Ithaca at the end of a long voyage.

One of the interesting revelations that came from our talk: Dante's first wife is usually mentioned in bios as "a Las Vegas showgirl," but she was actually a French-born model and dancer whose many magazine covers aroused European interest in her for a screen career. She and Dante relocated to Rome and she started making films under the name Nadine Duca, including Riccardo Freda's THE GIANTS OF THESSALY -- that's how Dante made the leap from MGM musicals and dancing in Vegas to appearing in Italian films. Nadia subsequently changed her screen name to Nadia Sanders, making a spy picture for André Hunebelle and doing a fair amount of 1960s American television before retiring from acting. (The IMDb lists separate filmographies for Nadine Duca and Nadia Sanders, assuming them to be two different people.)

"Life being the amazing thing that it is," Dante told me, "she's now my best friend again and, at this very minute, she's calling me in to dinner."

I'll only be using pieces of my interview with Dante DiPaolo for the book, and plan to publish the entire interview in a future issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Beyond FROM BEYOND (revised)

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon gives Jeffrey Combs a piece of her mind in FROM BEYOND.

I've received a couple of e-mails inquiring whether I saw the director's cut of FROM BEYOND when it ran on Monsters HD the other night. Indeed I did.

I've always liked FROM BEYOND, one of the most ravishing-looking horror films of its period. For all their allure and invention, the neon colors and the strong contrasts between the hot pink lighting and deep blue backgrounds resulted in a fairly sludgy-looking VHS presentation back in the day, so it's a pleasure to see the movie in high-definition and hear the new 5.1 remix. The R-rated running time was 84m 36s, minus the MGM logos, and the new unrated cut clocks in at 85m 16s -- a total of 1m 20s added. The major addition, the eye-sucking scene, is pretty revolting, but in a way that has you chuckling at the outrageousness of it all. Sometimes restored scenes will propel a tentative film toward triumph, but this isn't one of those cases. The restored footage completes the film, but it's not substantially improved by the restoration.

As I say, I've always liked FROM BEYOND. Seeing it complete for the first time, I find I still like it, but with reservations. It's got brilliant ideas, but the scripting (by Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon) is uneven, the supporting performances (beyond the three leads) are often amateurish, the special effects are dated and sometimes unconvincing, and the pace is slack at times -- and not entirely because the terror is so cerebral. I love the Resonator. It's no RE-ANIMATOR, but as always, it's a pleasure to see the integrity of art triumph once again over the politics of its time.

POSTSCRIPT 6/15/06: Domenick Fraumeni has contributed a posting to this thread at the Mobius Home Video Forum that details all the additions to the director's cut of FROM BEYOND. I have also amended my comments above to reflect some fact-checking I've done since originally posting this.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Audrey Campbell, 1929 - 2006

Audrey Campbell in OLGA'S GIRLS.

Michael Bowen has just notified me of the death of Cincinnati-born Audrey Campbell, best remembered for playing Madame Olga in the sexploitation "roughie" trilogy consisting of WHITE SLAVES OF CHINATOWN, OLGA'S HOUSE OF SHAME and OLGA'S GIRLS -- all made in 1964. The IMDb credits her with only ten feature films, the other notable one being Joe Sarno's macabre SIN IN THE SUBURBS, but she also played minor roles in many a New York-based soap opera, including AS THE WORLD TURNS, THE GUIDING LIGHT, RYAN'S HOPE, even DARK SHADOWS. Audrey died last Thursday, June 8th, concluding what I'm told was a long stay in a New York City hospital, at the age of 76. The cause of her death has not yet been reported, but she suffered from kidney and respiratory problems in recent years.

I once wrote an essay on the Olga films for VIDEO WATCHDOG, which appeared in our sold-out issue #32. At the time, I was able to get Audrey's address from my friend, Charles Kilgore, who had conducted a superb and now definitive interview with her for his fanzine ECCO. (It appeared in #20 and was later reprinted in the booklet included with the Something Weird DVD release of the Olga triple bill of OLGA'S HOUSE OF SHAME, OLGA'S DANCE HALL GIRLS and the film that started it all, WHITE SLAVES OF CHINATOWN. In that interview, Audrey remembered that Andrew Sarris once listed her, Laura Antonelli and Jenny Agutter as his fantasy women in an article for AMERICAN FILM.) I sent a copy of the VW issue containing my essay to Audrey's home address and received from her a card of handwritten thanks that included her home number and an invitation to call. I took her up on the offer one Sunday afternoon (funny how I can remember that detail) and we talked for three hours or more, during which she told me (among other things) that my essay was the finest thing she had ever read about the Olga pictures.

I'll always treasure that memory particularly, but everything she had to say was of interest, especially her stories of the early days of live Cincinnati television. She had her biggest success in local television on WKRC-TV, where she was cast in the wrap-arounds of a bizarre late night movie called THE GIRL IN THE WINDOW. The opening, commercial lead-ins, and closing of each show found Audrey -- then known as Mrs. Audrey Theile -- wandering around her apartment in different $100 nightgowns from Shillito's department store, brushing her hair at her vanity table, filing her nails, getting ready for bed, and finally going to sleep. This 10:00 pm movie aired weeknights in 1956 -- the year I was born; I don't know how many years it ran, but I actually have vague memories of such a program. This marathon call was all on my dime, but I'd gladly have paid for it a second time if I could have had a tape recorder running. Fortunately, Don May Jr. and Synapse Films had the foresight to record an audio commentary with Audrey for their OLGA'S GIRLS DVD.

Audrey told me that she and Gerard Malanga (a fellow Cincinnatian) left town around the same time, in 1961, but kept in touch after they arrived independently in New York City. Audrey was courted to followed Gerard into the Warhol Factory crowd, but she never did. However, I suspect that Gerard's familiarity with Audrey's work in the Olga films helped inspire the whip-cracking role that was played in the Velvet Underground's Exploding Plastic Inevitable live stage show by Mary Woronov -- who had a look and presence similar to that of Audrey's Olga. The Olga trilogy actually anticipated Lou Reed's writing of "Venus in Furs" by a couple of years.

Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart...

Audrey Campbell created one of exploitation cinema's great iconic characters -- a 1960s successor to the sorts of roles Myrna Loy played in the 1930s, but with a more brutal edge -- and she was a bright, vivacious, amazing person. I liked her a lot and wish I'd known she was ill.