The recent release of Crime Factory’s LEE, an anthology of crime fiction inspired by the life of iconic actor Lee Marvin, has got me thinking about who else would be a good subject for similar treatment.
There’s already been a bit of chatter on Twitter about other actors people would like to see as the subject of their own fictional anthology, and several authors have contacted me with ideas.
There are only two criteria involved I can think of in choosing a subject.
First, the subject concerned has got to be deceased, preferably passed a while ago. It’s just too complex, legally and other ways to do an anthology based on someone living.
Second, there’s got to be something about them. Not just an interesting body of cinematic work and an interesting life, but an ongoing cultural resonance or zeitgeist that sets them apart from other actors and allows crime writers discuss broader issues.
Here are my picks for actors I think would be good subjects. And I should stress, these are just my musings and in no way reflect what Crime Factory will do in the future.
That said, you never know….
There’s already been a bit of social media chatter about the possibility of a Warren Oates inspired anthology. Indeed, Blood and Tacos editor Johnny Shaw has already nominated a title, Wild Oates.
Born in a small community in Kentucky, Oates got his start in Westerns and TV serials in the late fifties, before going onto to amass an impressive list of cult films. These included Two Lane Black Top, Dillinger, Badlands, Cockfighter (based on the Charles Willeford novel of the same name), 92 in the Shade, the occult masterpiece Race with the Devil and Stripes, just to name a few.
He was a frequent collaborator with the wild man of sixties/seventies US cinema, Sam Peckinpah, which in itself would be interesting fodder for fiction. He did three of his best known films with the director, Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch, and the film everyone would be fighting to tackle, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
Oates belongs to that group of US actors, like Marvin, that hit their stride in the sixties, and who you can’t imagine doing nearly as well now. That face for a start, like a section of broken freeway. It was also the period in which the Hollywood studio system was in crisis and scrambling to deal with the counter culture and the impact of the Vietnam War. Many of my favourite US films were made during this time.
And Wild Oates is a great title.
If there was ever a British equivalent of the tough, macho persona of Lee Marvin, Stanley Baker was it. Born in a dirt poor Welsh coal mining village (he was a life long friend of that other famous son of Welsh miners turned actor, Richard Burton), Baker grew up a self described “wild child”, only interested in football, boxing and drinking.
He got his start with Ealing Studios in the early forties and his break through role was the wonderful 1957 British noir, Hell Drivers. In 1960, Baker starred in the critically acclaimed noir, The Criminal, directed by Joseph Losey. In 1961, he was offered and knocked back the role of James Bond in Dr No. He went onto start his own production company that birthed, amongst other films, Zulu and the Italian Job. He also branched out into funding rock festivals. Baker’s career suffered with the decline of the British film industry in the late sixties, after which he had to take whatever work he was could get. A lifelong socialist and a heavy smoker, he died of complications from lung cancer in 1976.
Other favourite Baker films of mine include Hell Is a City, The Guns of Navarone, the underrated spy film Innocent Bystanders and the excellent heist movie, based on the great train robbery, Robbery.
For my money Gloria Grahame personified the femme fatale of the classic film noir period.
She was an under rated actress. She totally owned In a Lonely Place, the film she did with Humphrey Bogart, and received an Oscar for Crossfire, which she starred in along side Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan.
But the role I most remember her for is Debby March, the doomed gang floozy in Fitz Lang’s Big Heat who gets scalding coffee thrown in her face by Lee Marvin, on whom she subsequently extracts her revenge.
Grahame got her start in the mid-forties, never really shook the tag of the tough as nails, hard-bitten, promiscuous noir femme fatale. She was married four times (including to director Nicholas Ray and a former step son) and died in 1981 at the terribly young age of just 57 from complications arising from breast cancer. Other films I loved her in included Odds Against Tomorrow, Naked Alibi and Oklahoma.
There’s something about Grahame’s persona that would be great to explore in a fictional anthology. It would also be fascinating to explore the studio system and film noir from her perspective.
Although he was best known for his role as the mad US military commander, Brigadier General Jack Ripper in Kubrick’s Dr Stangelove, Hayden made a lot of films, including a lot of war movies and westerns I’ve never seen and a number of good noirs I have.
The latter include the granddaddy of heist films, John Huston’s 1950 classic, Asphalt Jungle, The Naked Alibi (1954), in which he played opposite Grahame, and with Kubrick again in the 1956 movie, The Killing.
Other films I’ve seen and liked him in include the first The Godfather film (1972), where he played the crooked Irish cop, McCluskey, and Johnny Guitar (1954), one of the strangest Westerns ever made, as Johnny ‘Logan’ Guitar.
Although Paramount Studio once billed him “the most beautiful man in movies”, I’ve never thought of him as especially attractive. He does, however, exude an intense, hard-nosed masculinity that perfectly fitted the noir sensibility of the late forties, early fifties. He was no pretty boy. He had a face that looked like it had seen things.
Hayden played a lot of cops, all of them cynical, world-weary men who don’t give a damn. Why did he pull off these parts so well? It wasn’t an act. Hayden actually didn’t give a goddamn about the movie business or the films he was in.
Hayden got his start in movies in 1941. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour he abandoned Hollywood, changed his name and enlisted in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. He ran German naval blockades to smuggle guns to Yugoslavian partisans and parachuted into Croatia for guerrilla activities.The shit he must have seen and done.
After the war, he briefly joined the Communist Party and campaigned in support of the ‘Hollywood 19’ against the House of Un-American Activities Committee. He only returned to film work only order to pay for his great passion, sailing boats. He even got jaded on politics, saying he regretted joining the Party and only did it so he could hang around drunk at parties and chase women.
All in all, a life that screams inspiration for possible fiction anthology.
What do you think of my choices. Who would yours be?