Friday, April 09, 2010

Richard Basehart

Richard Basehart in Federico Fellini's classic film La Strada

Over the past year I've seen four or five Richard Basehart films, early ones, and they reminded me of what a fine actor he'd been before-- I was in a hospital bed the first time I ever saw Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea. I hadn't been warned. Here was Basehart of the great range and the great voice playing some sullen Navy dude in one of THE worst shows that's ever been on TV. Remember when they'd jerk the camera back and forth to indicate that the submarine had been hit. What the hell was Basehart doing on Voyage? Thanks to Cinema Retro columnist Herbert Shadrak recently speaking to Stephanie Kellerman, a friend of the Basehart family and webmaster of The Talented Richard Basehart shrine--we now have the answers

CR: Why was this great actor so unappreciated during his lifetime – and perhaps even now, 25 years after his death?

SK: I think that happened because of two reasons. One, he moved to Italy for a decade and was out of the public's eye in the USA. And two, he accepted the role of Admiral Nelson in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, with which he will be forever identified. If he had stayed in the U.S., I believe he would have become a greater star here. He is considered a much greater star in Europe. Also, I have received several comments over the years from people who emailed me at my Richard Basehart tribute site that they had no idea he had such range as an actor because they only knew him as Admiral Nelson, and were astonished when they went back and watched some of his old movies, which by now most everyone has forgotten about.

Incidentally, we wouldn't have had Richard as Admiral Nelson if he hadn't needed money to pay off Valentina Cortese after their divorce. She agreed to one last payoff and Voyage was his chance to get out of making any more payments to her. That means if he didn't have that expense, he wouldn't have taken the role and the roles he would have taken otherwise would probably more closely reflect what he had done in the past.

Richard Basehart did not want to be typecast. He just wanted to act and he picked roles that interested him, whether he thought they were good for his career or not. He wasn't really interested in becoming a star. I would think, if anything, he was really a private person and didn't want his life to be fodder for the magazines. If you compare the number of articles written about him to others who were considered stars, you won't find as many. Val had a more established career in the early fifties so Richard chose to go to Italy to be with her. The stress of both of them trying to keep their careers going and never seeing each other because of all the traveling finally drove them apart. They split up around 1958 and Richard had pretty much moved back to the States by 1960. He rarely saw his son Jack after that. Jack stayed with his mother in Rome. Richard missed him terribly.

CR: In the late forties, were the studio bosses trying to build Basehart up to be a big star? If so, his versatility would have been seen as a drawback, no doubt.

SK: Yes, they were expecting him to become a great star… and yes, I think his versatility would have been a drawback because the studio heads would be unable to pigeonhole him into a certain type of role. Richard wanted to stretch himself and he wouldn't have been able to do such a wide variety of roles.

for the rest go here:


Bill Crider said...

I'm probably blinded by nostalgia, but I remember the pilot and first few shows of VOYAGE as being pretty good. Then they went to the "monster of the week" format and blew it.

Ed Gorman said...

Maybe it was my snobbery, Bill. It was just the shock of seeing such a fine actor--just working with Fellini and Anthony Mann if nothing else--reduced to playing in a show like Voyage...I wasn't alone. I remember a number of tv reviewers asking wtf is he doing in this thing. You may be right. When I recall the show I do think of all those dorky monsters they were always promoting in the trailers. Of course even The Outer Limits (a really great show) fell into that trap occasionally.

Todd Mason said...

One can see the pilot and first episodes on Hulu, and maybe I'll do that now, but VOYAGE was a typically Irwin Allen campfest for most of its run...the Vincent Price muppet-master episode is one of the most surreal things ever telecast, as I remember it, and not in a good way...and that series did waste Theodore Sturgeon's time (while, we hope, also adding usefully to his bank account...perhaps also for alimony) as he wrote the novelization of the film (I think the pilot was actually a theatrical release, no less). And I won't soon forget that the character Gypsy on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 had a permanent crush on Basehart, perhaps as much for his early work as for SUBSUNK, as scripter Harlan Ellison as Cordwainer Bird referred to it (come to think of it, the pilot and more episode of Allen's LOST IN SPACE wasn't terrible, either. Good only in comparison to the rest of the series, but nonetheless.)