Friday, August 8, 2008

I'd Climb the Highest Widow's Peak

With his widow's peak and swarthy good looks, Rory Calhoun was a hardened, post-war fascimile of 1930's pretty boy Robert Taylor. He never quite made it to the top ranks of stardom, but was a durable, solid presence throughout the 1950's and 1960's; and, let's face it, he was quite a dish.



Following a tumultuous adolescence, which included multiple arrests and a stint in San Quentin, Calhoun began his career with a string of Westerns in the late 1940's; one departure was the turgid melodrama, That Hagen Girl (1947) -- which is infamous as the film that co-star Ronald Reagan allegedly had destroyed when he began his ascent into politics; the notorious flop also ended the career of Shirley Temple. Calhoun emerged from the fiasco unscathed, and soon found himself under contract to 20th Century Fox.



The public took a liking to Calhoun's handsome tough guy image, and he began appearing in more prestigious productions, including I'd Climb the Highest Mountain (1951) and With a Song in My Heart (1952), both lavish vehicles for Fox's top female star, Susan Hayward. He later co-starred twice with Marilyn Monroe, in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and River of No Return (1954). (Monroe had also been a bit player in A Ticket to Tomahawk [1950], a minor musical which co-starred Calhoun and Dan Dailey.)

BETTY GRABLE, RORY CALHOUN, LAUREN BACAL, CAMERON MITCHELL, MARILYN MONROE & DAVID WAYNE IN HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953)

At the outset of his film career, Calhoun was one of many handsome, aspiring actors taken under the wing of mega-agent Henry Wilson. "Henry's Boys" included such top names as Rock Hudson, Guy Madison and Tab Hunter; as well as countless unknowns whose performances never made it past Wilson's legendary casting couch. When the scurrilous Confidential tabloid threatened to make Hudson's homosexuality front page news in 1955, Wilson sacrificed the less-successful Calhoun and gave Confidential the story of Calhoun's criminal record in exchange for killing the Hudson article. Although the public response was largely supportive, Calhoun's contract with Fox wasn't renewed, and he was "demoted" to the B-picture unit at Universal -- ironically, the same studio where Hudson was being groomed for superstardom in Class A films like Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955). While at Universal, Calhoun continued a trend, and co-starred with their resident blonde bombshell, Mamie Van Doren, in two films, Ain't Misbehavin' and The Second Greatest Sex (both 1955).

RORY CALHOUN FLANKED BY MAMIE VAN DOREN, DANI CRAYNE, PIPER LAURIE & BARBARA BRITTON IN AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' (1955)

Calhoun also starred in the popular television series The Texan (1958-1960), which capitalized on his continued successes in the Western genre. As he moved into the 1960's, Calhoun alternated equally between television appearances, Westerns, and European productions -- some of which were made rather surreal by his very American presence; in The Colossus of Rhodes (1961), for instance, Calhoun seems to be constantly pondering, "Where is my horse, and why am I wearing this fruity toga?"



Never one to remain idle for long, Calhoun continued to appear in films throughout the 1970's, including the Barbra Streisand/Ryan O'Neal epic, The Main Event (1979), and the cult horror flick, Motel Hell (1980). In 1982, he joined the cast of the soap opera Capitol, and remained until 1987. Rory Calhoun retired in 1992, and passed away from complications stemming from emphysema and diabetes in 1999.

Tough, yet eminently likeable, Rory Calhoun moved beyond his unfortunate past with gentlemanly grace and humor. He may never have joined the hallowed ranks of Gable, Peck or even Hudson, but he certainly gave many thousands of movie fans hours and hours of popcorn-munching pleasure. And, secretly, we think he looked just divine in that toga.


Rory Calhoun (August 8, 1922 - April 28, 1999)

2 comments:

  1. MMMMmmmmmmmmmm

    on a side note, I'm reading....or at least skimming for the dirty parts... _Tab Hunter Confidential_ now.

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  2. The biggest nugget of info I gleaned from Tab Confidential: he liked 'em kinda pretty, slightly effete, and dark. His ex-lovers included Tony Perkins (back when he was certifiably dreamy, not creepy) and Rudy Nureyev, and his long-time partner, Alan Glaser, also fit the bill perfectly.

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