June 8, 2013

Beiderbeck's River of No Return

"Dr. Phibes Rises Again" should have (in a perfect world), brought ROBERT QUARRY to the very threshold of stardom, since he was being groomed by Sam Arkoff as the next Vincent Price-like horror star at American International Pictures and yet this did not come to pass that along the dream of a trilogy for Dr. Phibes, the hope of which died with the lackluster box office for the sequel that was rushed into production without a well developed script. I came to know Robert Quarry in the early 80's as he struggled as a working actor in a town where movie roles were few and far between. Bob depended more and more on episodic television work on shows like Battlestar Galactica or Jim Garner mysteries to pay the bills. Robert was at that time living near Universal in a comfortable apt that he shared with his mother Mimi who had a separate living space but close enough for him to look in on her if need be. Robert Quarry was a dependable actor who had been working in the business nearly 30 years when Count Yorga came along giving him one last chance to shine in a spotlight long denied him by circumstance. Bob told me about his other "lost opportunity" when he was chosen to play a recurring role in the reboot of The Millionaire. This was a show from the early 60's whose premise every week was a person received a million dollars from an unknown benefactor and what they did after the fact. Robert had the role that Marvin Miller played for several seasons and so it followed that this would at last bring Robert a paycheck and finally some security in an industry that rarely provides any.  Bob explained how based on filming the pilot he went out and brought a brand new Cadillac to celebrate, when the pilot was then not picked up for more episodes he returned the car and was back to square one.

Robert Quarry and Vincent Price on the set
The surprise success of Count Yorga Vampire in 1970 finally made the name Robert Quarry mean something at the box office at least to horror fans and with Vincent Price complaining constantly to Arkoff about the lousy scripts he was forced to do like The Oblong Box, all this after a decade of employment as the reigning king of the genre the opportunity for Sam Arkoff to finally give Price some competition was simply to good to pass up.  The fallout resulting from all this would be a conflict on the set of Dr. Phibes Rises Again between Price and Quarry that would end for the two men, with the last day of shooting on Madhouse a year later with Vincent Price simply forgetting there was ever an actor named Robert Quarry in the first place. Several years later when both Vincent and I found ourselves working on From A Whisper To A Scream, he asked whatever became of Robert in such a way as to express some concern as to his well being as Vincent remarked that Robert "seemed to be going places and then just fell off the radar" I used the opportunity to explain that Robert was still a working actor mostly doing television at the moment to which Vincent observed "The trouble with stars is they simply all burn out after a fashion don't they?"

Whenever I would try and bring up the subject of his AIP years with Bob he would always begin by discussing a man he really detested almost as much as he hated Sam Arkoff and that was Louis M. Heyward known as 'Deke'. During the making of Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Deke Hayward was in charge of production in the UK and maintained a very posh office in London. Robert arrived in London to begin work on the film with a live in companion named Juan I believe his name was and Hayward wasted no time in putting two and two together. According to Bob Hayward made it his business to tell anyone connected with the film or knew Robert Quarry socially that he was a homosexual and did his best to ruin Quarry's reputation. This was something Hayward would never have dared to try with a star like Vincent Price who had endured years of speculation as to what his sexual preferences really were yet Price was a major asset to AIP and this sort of speculation rarely went any further than gossip onset ever does in these cases. Years later I would be on stage with Vincent's daughter Victoria and she still was not sure whether her father ever acted on his gay impulses beyond her stepmother Coral  Browne telling her that her father had been seeing another man during the marriage and it caused a conflict within the marriage which turned out not to have been such a happy union as everybody assumed it was.

The problem with Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Robert would explain to me during one of our many dinners together was always the script. "Robert Fuest was great at making a film look terrific but he never went beyond that in trying to create characters that made sense, absolutely nothing made sense our film"  I always adored what Fuest did with The Avengers on television giving the series a fantastic sense of style which was what his reputation was based on when he came on board to direct the Phibes films. I don't think the two Roberts really saw eye to eye during that filming as Robert would be the first to admit "I was on such a high during that period I let things go to my head I fear" and I took that to mean he was having the time of his life and was not ashamed to let everybody know it. The one thing Bob did make very clear was the fact he was a huge Vincent Price fan and openly admired Price's legacy as an actor. "Here was a man who had been under contract to Fox at a golden time in Hollywood Vincent was always a fine actor and great star, we simply were placed in an impossible situation because Arkoff was giving Vincent all the wrong signals as to what my role might become at AIP and Vincent very rightly felt threatened by my involvement in what was a Vincent Price film yet he had to share his billing with this newcomer, of course he was pissed. I should have seen all this coming  whenever Price saw me doing an interview onset he would come over just to see what was being said, this was just the beginning of our lack of rapport thanks to Sam Arkoff allowing him to believe I was taking his place at AIP.

Price, Cushing, and Quarry
However much the behind the scenes drama was effecting the relationship between Vincent Price and Quarry their professionalism remained intact so much so that Robert remembered how many times takes were ruined because they were laughing so much. 'I was having no end of trouble relating to Phibes since Price was miming his part, I mean a script girl was reading his lines as he just stood there glaring at me. I told him at one point Vincent you are like an Uncle Walt Disney goldfish especially the way your work that throat of yours...to which Vincent just smiled and said I've had lots of practice Robert...Vincent always knew he could break me up. He did finally remind me that Joseph Cotton was around the bend trying to act in this manner with a silent glaring mime. "you did better than Joe" Vincent remarked when we did one of our last takes towards the end of the film.  Hugh Griffth was a total hoot to watch and yet it was also kind of tragic because Hugh was a career drunk and everybody in show biz knew it. Hugh would arrive onset in a Rolls with his wife whom he fought with 24/7 they would have these screaming matches where he would exit the car yelling "You bloody old cow, now piss off" and then walk over to us as if nothing in the world was out of place. We all tended to look after him because his drinking always made him a prime candidate for being fired. Yet Hugh did his part flawlessly and stole whatever scenes he was in. Terry Thomas was wasted in our film they just put him in to have some connection to the first film and it was this kind of thinking that made "Rises Again" less than it could have been if the time had been taken to think out a really clever sequel.

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