|Arch Hall Jr. August, 2016|
Arch Hall Sr. ran Fairway International, which was a low-budget drive-in film company from the late 50s-early 60s. Arch’s son Arch Hall Jr. would star in six of his father’s productions from 1959-1964. These films would be completed before Arch Hall Jr. turned 21. After starring in his father’s films, Arch would leave the film industry to become a pilot. Yet, the films he acted in would remain cult classics.
In the first three films Arch did for his father, Arch would not only act, but also sing and play guitar in them as well. In 1962’s Eegah, Arch gets to sing songs and rescue his girlfriend(Marilyn Manning) and her father(Arch Hall Sr.) from a pre-historic caveman(Richard Kiel, who would go on to play Jaws in the James Bond films)! Although Arch’s early films did fairly well in the drive-in theater circuit, they were not always the most well received and were often dismissed as silly low budget fare. In fact, Eegah has been made fun of on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
However, Fairway International would show it was capable of quality stuff when they released The Sadist. The film is a 1963 thriller in which a serial killer and his girlfriend hold three teachers hostage at an abandoned gas station. It is very atmospheric, suspenseful and well filmed by legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsgimond(The Deer Hunter, Deliverance, and Close Encounters). Arch Hall Jr. plays the title character and delivers his best performance here. Any thoughts that this Arch is just a teenager who got a lucky break from his father are erased when you see The Sadist.
The music that Arch sang in the movies was in the vein of Frankie Avalon and Fabian. However, a listen to Arch’s CD Wild Guitar, shows that Arch was far more capable of the teenybopper stuff. Arch’s band ,The Archers, would do a lot of blues and R&B standards. At one point, The Archers were the backing band for Dobie Gray (most famous for “The In Crowd” and “Drift Away).
In this candid conversation, we discuss the six films that Arch did, his musical career with the Archers and why he left and became a pilot. I met Arch at Cinema Wasteland, and I would like to thank him for taking the time out to do a phone interview with me.
Jeff Cramer: Just for the record, when and where were you born?
Arch Hall Jr.: I was born in Los Angeles, California actually, in the City of Van Nuys, which is San Fernando Valley, down in LA. It was December 2, 1943 which makes me a pretty old guy now.
JC: Was your passion initially in music or was it acting?
AH: I think initially it was music and music still is the primary focus of my enthusiasm. I was just, 9, 10 or 11 years old, when it kind of started.
JC: Did your passion for music start by hearing something on the radio or did you grow up in a musical family?
AH: My family wasn’t terribly musical. My dad did have a guitar lying around and he would sing cowboy songs. My interest in music pretty much came out of early rock and roll. I’d listen to blues bands and stuff like T-Bone Walker and BB King. My first experience in hearing an electrified guitar was just absolutely astonishing, exciting and strange for me.
JC: Your father obviously is gonna be a big part of this whole interview. Could you give me a little background on him?
AH: Well my dad was involved in stage acting and eventually got into radio. As a very young man, he had gone to Hollywood in the late ‘20s to the early ‘30s. For a couple of years, he tried to get involved in as many playhouses and acting workshops as he could. He was trying to get an agent and get in some movies as a cowboy actor. He was a natural authentic cowboy from South Dakota, and had a tough time.
It wasn’t really easy at first, but he finally got an agent and then lo and behold, we got a telegram that said his father requested him to return to his family ranch because they had a blizzard and they lost almost all their cattle and they needed his help. So he responded and returned and did not return to Hollywood until 1935 or ’36. In ’37, he started getting into movies again. That’s when he appeared in Dick Tracy Returns and The Three Musketeers with John Wayne. He did a lot of westerns for Republic and Monogram pictures. Then he went onto radio broadcasting.
Along came World War II. My dad was with a whole bunch of guys. Most of them were pilots, but they were too old to be fighter pilots. The army gave them an option. They could either be glider pilots which were troop glider pilots going into Northern Europe with the infantry, or they could try to go out and raise money for war bonds, which was desperately needed of course during the war.
The military realized they were much more valuable raising money, so that’s what my dad did in World War II. There was a fellow name Bill Bowers who was a writer. There were a bunch of ancedotes that seemed pretty funny to Bill Bowers; he wrote this script The Last Time I Saw Archie, based on Bill Bowers’ knowledge of what my dad did during World War II. And lo and behold, it was picked up and made into a movie for Robert Mitchum who played my dad. It was kind of farfetched. In the end, there was a Japanese spy and it was kind of a little contrived, but it was probably a tough movie to make. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to my dad because it didn’t seem like it had anything to do with him, other than the vagaries of what Bill Bowers saw. My dad thought it wasn’t that good of a script.
Anyway, my dad went on and decided that he was getting too old to fool around anymore. If he was going to make movies, it was something he was going to have to do on his own. So he decided to be an independent producer where he would write, star in and direct all kinds of ideas himself. He came up with the idea of Rushmore Productions, which became Fairway International Films. The property that he had in Burbank, California, became the Fairway Studio, the place where all these ideas were hatched and films were made. The films mostly played in drive-in theaters during that time, but they were very successful inside that theater circuit.
JC: The first thing you did before the films was the single-“Konga Joe/Monkey on My Hatband.” How did that single begin?
AH: Well, I had started fooling around with a guitar and I ended up composing a couple of songs. Maybe more than a couple but those were the two that were kinda unique. There was a guy who took the idea to Steve Allen’s company, Signature Records, and they liked it. They wanted to branch out into something strange and different. I didn’t really do much in promoting it or anything. Of course, I was in high school. It was sort of my first experience working with studio musicians and all that. I had to teach them what it was I was doing and they had contributed some little ideas. It was very foreign to me, but it was a new adventure. It was fun.
JC: Well, around this time, you did your first film The Choppers. Did you want to do it or did your dad say you should do it? Or was it a mutual decision?
AH: Well, I think it was probably more of the latter. It was something that he was concocting, and the next thing I knew, it was something we were both doing. It was going to be about teenaged car thieves and as it progressed and everything, I realized how I was going to be a part of it and play this character, Jack ‘Cruiser’ Bryan.
Of course, The Choppers was a full-blown union operation, so it had to comply with all the regulations and everything. One time I moved the car about maybe four or five feet, to get out the way of the cameraman. The camera operator was carrying a heavy blimp camera, and because he called down to somebody to help him out and nobody helped him, I said, “Do you want me to move the car?” and he said, “Yeah.” I jumped in and moved the car, like I said, four or five feet.
That turned into a huge violation of union rules because of the teamsters -actors can drive prop cars on camera and in rehearsals-, but they could not touch or move them on the set without notifying a union guy. And so I violated that. Of course, I did it innocently. I was just a kid at the time, but that didn’t make any difference. They filed violations and fines and everything. To keep the set open that day, my dad had to promise that he was going to either double the amount of drivers he needed for the rest of the week or double the time he had with his current drivers. My dad blamed me in some ways because I was the cause of it, but then again, he forgave me because he realized I was innocent to know what the taboos are on a movie set.
JC: Also in the Choppers you’re singing the single “Monkey in My Hatband.” How did you get to sing in the film?
AH: I don’t know. I think there were a lot of movies at the time where there’s a young kid who plays the guitar and he’s going to sing with his buddies or something. It’s kind of an almost Elvis Presley-esque kind of thing. I didn’t engineer it and I don’t really know who did. My dad did some of the writing, but a lot of the things were done by some other people too. So it was just part of the story and it was sort of a little bit hokey, but that’s the way a lot of the films were in those days.
JC: At the same time, you were also beginning your band, the Archers. How did this band form?
AH: It started out as a duo really. I mean you could trace it back to only two people- myself and my oldest boyhood friend, Deke Lussier, who later in life changed his name to Richards. Deke Richards became a famous songwriter and producer for Motown Records. He and I grew up together and we both liked music. We would sing for private parties or just sing or play the guitar together and have a good time. It just seemed a natural evolution of our friendship.
Then later on, he had to work and moved away. I had a relationship by meeting Alan O’Day, who’s an extremely talented individual. Our paths crossed early in life in the Palm Desert, Indio area. Alan went on to do really wonderful songs in the pop world for Helen Reddy and the Righteous Brothers. The list goes on and on and on. Some people have recorded some of his songs six or eight times. Very poetic and very much a talented songwriter. But really, behind all of that, is an incredibly talented blues man, where Alan, when he takes off his pop hat and gets into a dirty night club with a Hammond B-3 Organ or something that’s a little as a harmonica, he can just knock your socks off.
Alan and I collaborated together and then we added another drummer for a while, who was a guy named Dave Sullivan, and then he became an Archer, and then Dave left and one of my high school friends by the name of Ernie Gurolla became the drummer. Then we had a bass player by the name of Joel Christie. Extremely talented individual. And then we had four pieces at that time. And it remained that way, and then we added Dobie Gray, the famous R&B pop singer and then later he got into country music. It was the Archers’ plus Dobie Gray, you might say. He was part of the duo.
JC: How did Dobie come to the Archers?
AH: I don’t know. I can’t remember. I think we just kind of crossed thorns one time with somebody. His agent or somebody booked us somewhere and we kind of hit it off.
But there was another Archer that came along after Joel Christie had to leave. He was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was Jerry Mann. His real name was Jerry Levin. Jerry passed away about a year ago. He was an amazing talent too and he picked up where Joel left off. He was a singer; he was a humorous entertainer and a wonderful bass player. Those were the only people that became the Archers.
JC: Now when we come to Eegah. [Readers can watch the trailer for Eegah by clicking here.] How did that film happen?
AH: Well, my dad wanted to do something with Richard Kiel. He knew that Richard Kiel was a physically commanding and interesting person. So he had Richard over for an interview in his office one day and ran an idea for a movie that he had on the front burner. He thought it was kind of a horror-strange, almost like an Island of Dr. Moreau sort of a thing. It was called Straganza and I think at the time, maybe just a portion of the script was written. As he was explaining this to Richard, he immediately saw body language that Richard didn’t want this.
So rather than have Richard just walk out of the office, he started ad libbing.“I’ve got an idea. It’s about a prehistoric giant of a man in the hills of Palm Springs and other things. We’ll fill in the details. What do you think about this idea? Guy is a giant, he’s in Palm Springs, blah, blah, blah,” and Richard said, “Yeah, that sounds pretty good.” So that’s how, that was kind of the nucleus of how Eegah came out. Of course it went on to be filmed in the summer of ’61 at Palm Springs.
JC: You got to a sing a little in The Choppers but now they are having you sing a lot more in Eegah. How did you get the chance to do more music?
AH: It was probably sort of written around the fact that Deke Richards and I, were singing together at the time. My dad was aware of that and he just sort of in the back of his mind concocted this. So I don’t think there’s anything mystical about it.
JC: Also, in Eegah, your costar Marilyn Manning plays your girlfriend. She would also be your girlfriend in The Sadist. How did your dad come across her?
AH: Actually, there were some other offices and businesses that were in the building complex at Fairway, which was owned by my dad. One of the tenants, I think was a chiropractor. As I recall, Marilyn Manning was a receptionist at the chiropractor’s office. So she was around. She was an attractive lady, and she always saw the craziness and the nonsense that was going on 24 hours a day at Fairway with music and making movies and sort of got sucked in it. I think in Eegah she had a little bit of “deer in the headlights”. But it was her first experience. However, I thought the job that she did in Sadist was magnificent.
JC: In Eegah, Marilyn plays your girlfriend Roxy. Yet in the movie, you sing two songs about two different girls name Valerie and Vickie. We find out who Vickie is when we get to the film Wild Guitar, but we never find out who Valerie is. Why is there no song on Roxy in Eegah?
AH: Yeah, I had written a song called “Valerie” along with my dad. He co-wrote it with me. The thing is, the guy’s girlfriend is named Roxy, and he’s singing about a girl named Valerie. But it wasn’t done by accident. It was done to maybe make a real petty jealousy thing or something. There was no idea behind it. But the song was written deliberately not to have Roxy’s name. So what can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time.
JC: Well, I read an online review on Eegah that said one thing he learned from the film is that “I can sing songs about other girls and my girlfriend will be OK with it.”
AH: Yeah. [Laughs]
JC: In Eegah, there would be times where they only showed you with a guitar, but when you start playing, you managed to get an off-screen orchestra behind you.
AH: That was one of those things that was just done in those days. It wasn’t done to be campy. I mean, Hal Wallis did it often with Elvis. It was just done and people didn’t think anything about it. In retrospect, it probably, it goes back to the ‘40s and ‘30s. People were out on desert islands strumming their guitars and then suddenly you hear violins and everything. Today, we think, “Well, that’s stupid.” But there was a time when it wasn’t stupid. It was just the way it was done.
JC: Did you have any idea that Richard Kiel was going to go onto bigger things, such as playing Jaws in the James Bond films?
AH: Oh yeah, absolutely. There’s no question about it. Richard Kiel is a dedicated and persistent man. He is very committed to his craft. People probably didn’t have him in mind until he showed up and thought that part could be Richard Kiel. This guy could take it to another level. I think that’s when people started to see how good of an actor he was and how much fun he was to work with. He can be very intimidating. His casting agents probably thought, “If we don’t hire this guy, he might come back and break our legs or something.”
But he’s a very gentle, very intelligent and an intellectual person. Most people aren’t ready to accept that, because of the various characters he played. But yes, he’s a very, very smart man and I knew he was destined for success. I’m very happy that he had such a wonderful career all these years.
JC: Now I know Eegah did very well at the box-office. In fact, there’s a quote from your father that goes, “It was always a subject of laughter that the darn thing did so well. “ Why was it a subject of laughter?
AH: Well, he was referring to a sort of an ironic humor in so much as that they made a lot of money for somebody, but it wasn’t the producer or the studio. And I suppose it takes a pretty big-hearted guy to be able to laugh about it when the bank is calling you and wanting the money. The lab’s calling; they want their money; and everybody wants their money, but there’s no money to give, or very little. So that’s the sick humor I think my dad’s referring to.
Eegah played all over the north, south, east, west, and mid-west. You name it. It played these places and wore out print after print. It made very little return as far as profit or return on the investment that my dad made. Most of the money that came in went right out to pay for the negative cost or cost of prints themselves because they’re very expensive.
Color prints, 35-millimeter prints- I think even back then in the early ‘60s were about $2,500 to $3,500 for one print. You’d send them all over the country, and the shipping was expensive. They were these very heavy, two huge cans of 35-millimeter reels taken to theaters. Projectionists would rip and tear them up. Then there would be natural wear and tear. The print would go out. Hopefully they would be able to play it, be shipped around- in minor recondition, and keep recovering money, but many times they would go out once or twice and come back almost destroyed.
Of course, nobody was going to pay for it, fess up, live up to it or pay for damages. You just had to get another print- another $3,500 or whatever that was. So I think his laughter and humor came from knowing how much gross revenue was brought in by theater owners and distributors in regions by this movie and its companion movies and how ridiculously little came in- in the final analysis.
JC: Now the next film is Wild Guitar. [Readers can watch the trailer for Wild Guitar by clicking here.] How did that film happen?
AH: That came out of a story idea that my dad hatched about this kid that came from Spearfish, South Dakota, who was an aspiring singer and all this stuff. Obviously, he had me in mind to play that role of Bud Eagle, the character from Wild Guitar. So it was just a natural outgrowth to keep everybody working. We were there to make movies and we would make music, and that’s what we did. So it was better and different.
JC: Of course it was the directorial debut of Ray Dennis Steckler. What was it like working with Ray Dennis Steckler?
AH: Oh, Ray was great. He was a little older than me, but he was very serious in some ways and humorous in others. Extremely talented. He knew so much about all aspects of movie making- from the serious to the creative to the technical things like dancing. He was actually a great dancer.
JC: Tell me a little bit about that.
AH: People may not know that, but he was. He was very athletic and a very talented dancer. He could do comedy; he could take pratfalls and do a lot of comedy things like Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy type stuff. He could be a bad-ass too. I mean the character he played in Wild Guitar, Steak, was not a very likeable person. He played that beautifully, and he knew his stuff. Ray carved out a niche for himself in the industry.
There was always a little part of the business for Ray to stay in. He knew about the ins and outs of the entire business. He worked with Vilmos Zsgimond as an assistant cameraman.
At the time, he was just another young guy, but his dedication to everything was incredible, and nobody was complaining. We were working sometimes 35, 45 hours without sleep and little food, which we’re not even allowed to do that with people in Guantanamo. Ray was always cracking the whip, saying, “Let’s go, let’s go” and this was after a straight 42 hours of work. Ray was great and I missed him a lot.
JC: On the Wild Guitar CD, they have a concert of you and the Archers at a drive-in promoting the film Wild Guitar. What’s interesting about the concert is that you do a lot of R&B covers. It is music that is much different than the music you played in Wild Guitar.
AH: Right. That was pretty much a reflection of what we did when we played clubs. When we played clubs, we played pop music, such as The Beatles but we kind of dipped into more of the harder edge blues stuff- Lonnie Mack and BB King and James Brown. Our bass player was an incredible singer, and he could emulate James Brown. And we played Bobbie ‘Blue’ Bland. I mean these are the people that made my hair stand up. I mean, I heard Bobbie ‘Blue’ Bland, BB King, Albert King, Freddie King. But there was no reason to put it into any of the movies because we had to use original music and sort of keep it in the vein of what we were doing. The movies like Wild Guitar were our original stuff that we came up with, but when we played clubs, we played a lot of Little Walter and Delta-style blues, slide guitar stuff. And of course that was not any, any part of teenage Hollywood. But that music stimulated us the most and gave us the most fun to play live.
That sort of music is not the popular music to play. If somebody told the young people, “We’re going to go hear a bunch of guys play blues,” they’d probably go, “No, I think I’ll pass.” But once you get them there and they hear it, they would love it. This was before it became more popular.
JC: I heard that your Wild Guitar co-star Nancy Czar, who played your girlfriend Vickie, got the job of being the go-go dancer at the concert that was recorded for the Wild Guitar. How did she get that role?
AH: Nancy made herself available to go on tour to promote the film. That recording was in Pensacola, Florida. I remember it was colder than hell, about 32 degrees, very hard to play guitar. But we did it again and again, time and time again at whatever venue, whatever it was, all across the south primarily. And Nancy was a real trooper. Two years before Wild Guitar, she made the almost to last final cut for the Olympics as a figure skater.
Later in life, she actually turned into an incredibly savvy businesswoman. She was doing an import/export business and bunch of other things. I haven’t seen her in decades, but I did hear that she was living in Beverly Hills and she might make herself available for some personal appearances. So I hope to maybe see her again one of these days.
JC: Okay, now we come to what many people, including myself, think is your best performance: The Sadist. [Readers can watch the trailer for The Sadist by clicking here.] I mean, I haven’t seen a single bad review of that film. They are all unanimously good reviews.
AH: The Sadist has been the subject of study in film schools, overseas, abroad, domestically and everything. It freaked people out because it was riveting and terrifying. Here’s a low-budget movie, shot in black and white with so many limitations with a basically unknown actress. How did this happen? It’s one of those enigmas that occasionally happen. The stars are aligned and everything kind of clicks. One, it wasn’t a tremendous box office success because it had nothing to do with its merit as a –
JC: It wasn’t as successful as Eegah?
AH: It was successful, but it could have been incredibly successful if it was promoted correctly. What I’m saying is it was successful on a lesser level, but it had the potential to be a very successful movie, and a lot of people knew it; they felt it; they saw it. If it was bought out by another person and re-released, it certainly might have something big come out of it. But at the time it was part of the Fairway package, that goes out and tries to recover some money and recoup some of the return on the investment that they had.
The Sadist, though, did have people asking,”Who was this guy Arch Hall Sr.? Who was he and where did he come from? How can he do this stuff and how can he come up with these things?” You know, he had an offer from Warner Bros. shortly after The Sadist to be a contract producer for them. They wanted an unconditional commitment from him that he would drop all aspects of Fairway and come down the street to Warner Bros and just work with them on their projects. They would assign him as a producer. They wanted him badly, and he turned that down. That’s something that, quite frankly, I don’t understand why he did it, but it was his choice.
JC: This was now going to be a very different role for you. How were you involved?
AH: Well, it started with James Landis, who was the director and writer of the original screenplay which was called 12:01. It wasn’t called The Sadist. Landis had gotten a few gigs before he came to Fairway. I think he did some I Dream of Jeannie and Combat episodes. Landis was very direct with my dad, and said, “I just don’t think Jr. can carry this.” He had a couple guys read for the part. They were extremely talented young actors.
I pretty much thought that I would be doing the boom operator or something on the technical side. I didn’t want the stress of having to do something that was too serious that I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to screw something up.
However after certain actors read for Landis, my dad asked, “Well why don’t we just give Jr. a chance? Why don’t you work with him a little bit and maybe give him a chance?”
So Landis started seriously working with me and realized that I didn’t really have a whole lot of background. I sort of put my entire faith in him, and I said, “Jim, I don’t know what I’m doing here. You’d better just mold me like clay and tell me what kind of a character this is.”
Landis was a very, very physical person. He would make faces and hand motions. He was just very descriptive using every kind of sense in describing the delivery of a line or how a scene would play. I just soaked it up like a sponge. He told me, “Well, why don’t you try to figure out how you think this guy would dress?”
So I figured out that he would be wearing probably engineer boots and wearing just a Levi jacket and his work shirt. And we started from that as a basis as a data point and worked out from there. Landis started to get fascinated working with me. He went to my dad and said, “You know, if we had enough time I think Jr. could do this. He would do it in a different way and make Charlie Tibbs a different character than I had envisioned Charlie Tibbs being. Damn, he’s got something.” So that’s how it all came about. I have to thank Mr. James Landis for my success in the role and creating the character of Charlie Tibbs.
It was scary because I didn’t want to be involved in anything that I couldn’t pull off and people would say, “Oh, this is stupid. This guy should have never been cast in that. He’s terrible.”
Yet, Landis gave me the confidence and told me, “You can do it, but you’ve got to do it very carefully. You got to listen to me all the time.” So, I felt I could proceed on that basis, and so I did it. When something wouldn’t work for me the way he had originally thought of it, he would modify it so it would fit me better. Sometimes, he would say, “In some cases, I actually I think you did it better than I had written here.” So we worked together, collaboratively.
JC: Did he also work with Marilyn Manning because when you compared her performance here to the performance in Eegah-
JC: She seems much more comfortable and relaxed.
AH: Yes. She did a magnificent job with Landis working with her. He found it more menacing for her to use her face and her expressions.
JC: When I watched The Sadist with my friend, he found the gas station to be like a set off the Twilight Zone. Did you actually use a gas station or was this like a studio set?
AH: Oh, no, that was filmed on location in the summertime in north of the San Fernando Valley. It was on a ranch. The cars were hauled in and the gas pump was hauled. It was all basically set dressing by Fairway to make that into a creepy looking place just off the highway. Right now, you wouldn’t be able to even find it because it’s all condominiums.
JC: Another thing about The Sadist is I didn’t realize that Helen Hovey who played the sole survivor was your cousin.
AH: Yeah, she was–she’s my cousin. She recently passed away of cervical cancer. After she did The Sadist, she went on to be quite a stage actress and she played on the road and in London. She was very, very talented and capable. I don’t say this because she’s my cousin because we rarely ever saw each other. She lived in Kentucky and I grew up in California. But she was an extremely gifted person, and she knew her craft very well. She also was crafted by Landis in playing a very prim and proper school teacher. Helen was unique, because the depth of her acting, it was not superficial, but it was a little bit below the surface. She had a little bit of an accent in her speech pattern which just made her so angelic and innocent. In some cases after Landis yelled cut, he’d have tears in his eyes. He'd say to Helen, “You did that better than in rehearsals. Where did you get that from?”
JC: Of course, we can’t leave The Sadist without mentioning Vilmos Zsgimond. How did Vilmos become involved?
AH: Like everybody, he needed a job. He called himself Willy during the early years. He had a Studebaker he would sleep in sometimes. I think that he knows that some of the elements of what he brought to the table for The Sadist and some of the things that happened in The Sadist were way beyond his wildest expectations ever. There was a documentary film about Vilmos called No Subtitles Necessary. They were screening in Los Angeles and Ray Steckler asked me if I wanted to come out there.
JC: When Ray passed away, Fangoria showed a picture of you, Ray and Vilmos.
AH: Yeah, I was there and it was a very touching thing. I thought it was riveting, that Vilmos had done all these major pictures including Close Encounters, but the one thing that’s sort of the centerpiece of this entire documentary film is an excerpt from The Sadist, of all things. The audience, a filled auditorium of who’s who in Hollywood, all roared when The Sadist came on.
JC: Okay, now we come to The Nasty Rabbit which is a strange choice to follow up The Sadist with. It wouldn’t seem so strange after Wild Guitar, but it was a little strange after The Sadist.
AH: Yeah, that’s the way Fairway was. The things came up at different times. Misha Terr was a Russian who was a classically trained musician, conductor, composer,and was quite successful in his life, but had a burning desire to be an actor. He comes to the door of Fairway and my dad’s analyzing everything-anybody and everybody that comes through the door. Here’s a guy with this heavy accent, almost like Bela Lugosi. What kind of an acting job could he possibly have? Misha would contribute financing. He would pay for some of that because he wanted to be an actor before he became too old and died. He thinks he might even be able to be a comedian. The average person would say to this middle-aged Russian, “You’re out of your mind. Save your money and go away.” However, my dad said, “You know, we might be able to write something around this.” So he came up with a ridiculous kind of story line. It was this tenacious bacteria planted in the vial around a rabbit’s neck and it came from a submarine around the coast of Santa Barbara. At night, he’d write down on yellow pads everything that he came up and started writing a story. Then, he brought Misha in and read him that. Misha’s eyes lit up. “Oh my God! I love it. I love it,” he said.
JC: That explains why he’s the lead in this picture.
AH: Absolutely. The Nasty Rabbit is comedy that went all crazy. My dad was a cowboy star and an old ‘30s rodeo rider and all that stuff, and in this movie he plays in drag as a comedy bit. Lazlo Kovacs plays a moron guy that’s cooking a chicken over an open fire. Lazlo wanted to play this character with no front teeth, so he blacked his teeth out. Everyone had fun on it. It was relief from the stress of the high drama and violence of The Sadist. It was totally from the other end of the spectrum.
JC: I like the instrumental you played in The Nasty Rabbit: “The Spy Waltz” I find it musically interesting because of its rhythm structure.
JC: Just like when I saw your acting in The Sadist, when I first heard “The Spy Waltz,” I thought, “Man, there’s more here to Arch Hall Jr. than I thought.” In fact I remember reading several user comments from the IMDB. These were people who weren’t fans of the Frankie Avalon and Fabian stuff you did in your films, but when you do “The Spy Waltz”, they said, “That’s an interesting piece. Where did that come from?”
AH: Alan and I were co-writing things and “The Spy Waltz” was something we came up with. Yeah, that was good. It was a nice little waltz. You don’t hear many things written in ¾ time-not in pop music anyway.
JC: Even though she didn’t become as big as Richard Kiel, Liz Renay (who is billed as Melissa Morgan) had a career after Fairway. She went on to do several John Waters films.
AH: Yeah, this is a terrific gal who had a long and interesting life.
JC: Yeah, she was a Vegas showgirl.
AH: Yeah, yeah, she was involved with a mobster. She was known as Mickey Cohen’s girlfriend at one time. Mickey was a famous, very flashy mobster in Hollywood. She did time in prison. She never ratted on anybody so the mob respected her and she respected the mob. Liz Renay was a wonderful person. She was no phony. Unfortunately, she’s gone now, but was a class act all the way.
JC: Now we come to another change in roles: Deadwood ’76. How did that project happen?
AH: Well, it’s kind of full circle. My dad started out in Hollywood, in the early ‘30s with people like Ray Corrigan and John Wayne himself. My dad did several movies with him. He loves westerns. He loves the West. He was a cowboy, not a wannabe cowboy, but a real cowboy. He grew up on a ranch and he was riding and shooting. He had his first horse when he was like seven years old or so and carried a six-gun when he was eleven. I mean he loved the western genre. But he wanted something … He ultimately loved South Dakota, and he loves the native Sioux and the Native American Sioux Indians, and my dad could speak the language. So there was much love and desire for him.
I think at the same time, he could see from a financial standpoint that his endeavor and desire to continue on to make movies with Fairway, in his particular style, was being forced to close by bankers. People were demanding more and more money, and the costs were going up, and he was still trying to pay off the residual debt from previous movies. So he thought before it closes, he wanted to make a western.
JC: So this would also be Fairway’s last picture?
AH: It may not have been the last picture, that he tried to package and sell as far as a package to television or something. It was the last picture that I ever did, and it was the last picture, as far as I know, that Fairway ever did.
But anyway, his love of westerns and his love of seeing cowboys be real cowboys and Indians be real Indians … He wanted to film it in certain areas that he was very familiar with. Just like the movie opens, I mean, with the opening of the movie, it’s just you see this vast landscape and it looks like a big production film with this beautiful voice of Roye Baker singing “Billy Boy.” (Roye has two names: Roye Baker and Rex Holman. He has a fantastic voice. He’s been involved in acting. I saw him in a TV show not too long ago and he was in Choppers playing Flip.) We filmed in South Dakota. We used real Sioux Indians to portray real Sioux Indians. Some of it was shot in Simi Valley, California. There were many terrific character actors. The fella who played the preacher was Richard Cowl. Richard was also in Choppers. Richard played the drunk-Torch (Robert Paget)’s father.
JC: I thought they were two different actors completely, so wow!
AH: Yeah, Richard calls me every Saturday. The old civil war veteran that is in the wagon was played by Jack Lester. The Indian girl was La Donna Cottier. She’s a real Sioux Indian, and descended from Chief Crazy Horse. There couldn’t be a more authentic Indian on the planet cast for that role.
JC: How did it feel playing a cowboy, cause it was different from your other roles?
AH: I felt real comfortable because I had not been around horses too much or anything. My dad gave me a few pointers and everything. I did some rather dangerous things, even within cowboy standards, which is riding through a herd of buffalo. I don’t advise anybody to try it. Riding through a herd of buffalo on a horse could provoke an attack, and a buffalo is not like a domesticated bull, cow or steer. I mean, it has a mind of its own. It’s like a freight train. it can just hit a horse and rock it, just go right through it, crush it. I didn’t even really know that until after we did it. My dad said, “Man, that’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know of many people who would ride through a herd of buffalo like that.” At the time, I didn’t know the dangers, so I guess if you don’t know it’s dangerous, it’s okay.
JC: What’s interesting is that Deadwood ‘76 has an ending where the good guys don’t win. I mean, they hang the preacher in this film. I don’t know of any Western that has that.
AH: No it’s terrible. Nobody would even think of doing that. It’s such a down ending. When the Indian girl puts this feather on Billy, that was just one of the little significant things that my dad was real passionate about because he knew in real life, that’s what a Sioux Indian girl would do. So it was his passionate thing to have something involving his love of the Black Hills, his love of the Sioux Indians and to pull something off as a nice western. Unfortunately, timing being what it was, at that particular point in time, westerns were at a low ebb. There was a period of time when they just weren’t that popular.
JC: Anyway, so this would be your last film role. You would go on to be a pilot.
AH: Yeah. My dad sort of wanted me to have the same love and commitment to be part of the business, but frankly considering how the business was to my dad, how much he put his life into it both early on and then after he left and came back in his later years to be committed to it, it wasn’t so good to him. It wasn’t so good to him in the beginning and it wasn’t so good to him in the end. And yet, he still loved the business. When I hold that up to the light, I can’t see it pass the same test, the litmus test for me. I got bit by another bug which was aviation, and I also saw the tragedy of disappointment and unhappiness that comes out of not being able to control your destiny in a very volatile business that’s wracked with crooks.
JC: Would you still continue with the Archers or did that end when you started the piloting?
AH: When I was taking flying lessons at the Van Nuys Airport, I was playing at beer bars and things but with different people, not with the Archers.
JC: As a pilot, who did you fly for?
AH: I worked for a small company in Burbank called Mercer Airlines, flying DC3s and DC2s and the DC4. Then, I went to Flying Tigers in 1989.Flying Tigers was bought out by Federal Express so I finished my career with Federal Express. It was a wonderful company and I feel very lucky because many of my colleagues with major airlines like Eastern and Pan Am specifically, ended up falling by the wayside. A lot of things ended in tragedy with their lives falling apart and everything. So that’s not to say that any business isn’t tough. We talked about independent distribution, but aviation is also a very treacherous business. One can find their career evaporating, or they could work all their career and have no retirement or pension–those are typical pitfalls of aviation. So it’s not exactly the safest thing you can do. And I didn’t get into it because it was safe or any other reason. I got into it because it was exciting and I was very committed to fly. Still do. So when you love to do something, you’re 100 percent committed to that over good times, bad times or anything in between. You’re probably going to be pretty good at it if you just love what you do. And I think I’m a pretty good pilot. I did 36 ½ years of flying everything from small prop planes to 747s around the world in peace time and war time. I flew with passengers and cargo. Knock on wood, I never had an accident and never injured anyone or killed anyone. So that’s a fairly good career to say I made it. I made it through to the end of some sort of mandatory retirement age.
JC: Now, were there any other activities you were doing during the pilot years? Like did you ever play again?
AH: I’ve always been collecting guitars-vintage guitars, especially Fender. I maintained friendships with my old colleagues as Alan O’ Day and Deke Richards. But I haven’t had too many occasions until just a few years ago to get back, to get together with them and play. I played the first time at Ponderosa stop, which is down in New Orleans. I’d like to do more in the future. Next year, there’s a possibility that I might be doing a lot of musical hits,and I’m hoping that the other guys will want to do it. If they do, fine, and if they can’t, I think I’m still going to be doing it on my own as best I can, because, as I said, I love music. I love to be around people who love music and like to play it and be part of live music.
JC: I understand you wrote a book.
AH: I wrote a novel, yes, an adventure novel titled Apsara Jet. I did that back in 2001 prior to my retirement. I did that because I felt I wanted to. I wanted to write an erotic adventure novel involving aviation, and it’s been quite well received. It was a foreign hit in Thailand. It is actually selling over there in tourist book stores in Bangkok. It was on Amazon.com here in the U.S. too. You won’t find it in bookstores. It’s sort of a naughty book. It was a collaboration of years and years of hanging around aviators and trying to write an adventure book. It’s primarily a guy book; it’s not a chick book
JC: You also have a new website.
AH: Well, it’s going to be archhalljr.com. No secrets there. Actually, it could be called email@example.com which is sort of a byline from Eegah which is also apropos for The Sadist-Charlie Tibbs.
JC: Yeah, right. Its kind of interesting, that line; although you had no idea at the time it would take on a different meaning after The Sadist.
AH: Yeah, exactly. Many people ask me, “Darn it Arch, why don’t you do your own website and everything? It would be a lot of fun. Do some stuff. Have some things up on there. People would love to have an autograph, DVD or autographed CD, or a t-Shirt. You have so many neat things. It would be so fun to have a little blog or somebody contributing, your friends and cohorts contributing to it from time to time.”
So I said, “Okay, we’ll do that”. So it’s sort of in its infancy now. It’s up and running. It’s archhalljr.com. I think in the next few days we’re going to get some sort of way to put together a way someone can order the book, which will be autographed and first edition. I’m going to work out some t-shirts, some real nice t-shirts. It will be a clearinghouse for what’s going on with me. For instance, if I will be making any appearances at conventions or the possibility of a concert early next year out in Vegas doing a rockabilly thing. It’s not finalized yet. So yeah, it’s going to be enhanced in the days and weeks to come. People can check on it and see what’s happening. So that’s about it.