THE RAD FULTON STORY
Part One of Two-Parts written by actor James Westmoreland
A TALE OF TWO ACTORS – (Part 1)
Throughout the decades, Hollywood has delivered its share of glamour, scandal, and triumphs that have held the world in thrall. Today, as much as ever, the antics, peccadilloes, and romances of its stars are fodder for the paparazzi and the mainstream press alike. So, too, is an actor’s struggle to reach the top, because it is a Herculean task, and so very few get there.
How many approach that point, see their name in lights—and then give up that name and all that goes with it—to start all over again, and re-invent themselves under another name? Two actors, one person…it has rarely been done. But James Westmoreland did exactly that, and solely as a matter of principle: a rare commodity in a competitive and unsparing profession.
A short time after I graduated from high school, I sat down with my parents and we had nice conversation about my future. I mentioned that I’d never been anywhere but Detroit. I asked if they minded if I made a trip to New York to see what it’s like and if I liked it I would try and find a job. They wanted to make sure that I had enough money to make that trip, and if I could afford to pay for my own apartment while I was seeking work. I assured them that I had saved enough money to get by on for at least six months. They wished me good luck and to call them if I needed anything. I sure have wonderful understanding parents.
I flew to New York on a DC 3, landed, and then I took a taxicab to Manhattan. The cab driver dropped me off in the heart of the city. I carried my two suitcases while talking to myself the whole time, telling myself that I needed to go someplace to think things over. Finally, I decided that I wanted to go somewhere and have a drink. After all, I was 18 and New York had better drinking rules than Detroit. Back home, if you weren’t 21, you couldn’t even go into a bar, but now that I was in NY, I was going to go into the first bar that I could find. I looked up and saw the flashing lights of a bar just down the block and that’s where I landed. I remember finding a seat, sitting straight up in the chair, and saying to the bartender, “I would like to have a Pfeiffer’s in a cold glass, and by the way, is there a public phone here?” He nodded, and pointed to the rear of the bar. I used the pay phone to call my parents and I told them that I had arrived safely and that I was going to try to find an apartment for myself. I said that I would call them again once I was settled in. I got back to my seat at the bar and the bartender was just pouring me a beer. I was a little nervous being alone in a strange huge city. I cleared my head and I enjoy my first sip of my beer. I finished that beer, but I paused for a few seconds as I mind questioned if I had made the right decision. I finally had my mind straight and I started to order my second beer, and that’s when two extremely good-looking girls came into the bar and sat down a few stools away from me.
As I was about to drink my second beer, both girls came over and started talking to me. They asked all the usual questions; you know, “Is this your first time here? Oh, you must be new in town. Where are you from, etc.?” You know how girls are. I mean, one alone can talk a lot, but with two going on at the same time, a guy has no other choice but to listen! So, I listened to what they had to say and then I finally managed to get a word in. I told them that I had just arrived from Detroit and that I had come into the bar to think things over; like, how am I going to find an apartment and a job? I bought the girls some beers and after a couple more drinks we were all laughing, and man, I was having a ball.
By the way, did I say that these two girls were knockouts? Well, they were. Their names, I remember, were Janet and Joanne. After a while, they both said that I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to live because I could stay with them and they would help me find a job. They were both fashion models and stated they would be happy to take me to their agent, as they believed he would really like my “look”.
As you can imagine, this entirely sounded great to me, so I paid the check, and off we went. I remember that Janet and Joanne’s apartment was on Lexington and 39thStreet. I said to myself, what the hell are you doing with these two girls that you don’t even know? After a few more beers the three of us became good friends and that is a night I will never forget. The next morning they called their agent and made an appointment for all of us to go see him the following day. We all agreed that I would sleep with Janet that second night and Joanne the next night, and just keep alternating between the two of them after that. They told me that my rent would be 100 dollars a month, which I thought was very fair. I looked forward to meeting their agent, and the idea of alternating nights with the girls kept me smiling. This was all new to me but I encouraged myself that it was time for me to grow up.
When I met with Janet and Joanne’s agent at The John Hartford Agency, he agreed to represent me. The girls knew a good photographer who took a couple of rolls of film for headshots of me. A few days later I was back at Mr. Hartford’s with my photos. Exactly two days later, his office called me for my first interview. I admit I was a little intimidated when I walked into the waiting room and saw about 20 other young guys who were there for the same job. Finally, it was my turn to go in. I was no sooner in the office when the casting director asked me to take off my shirt. I did, and he said he liked what he saw, and with that, I got my first job modeling young men’s underwear. It was a three-hour shoot and I made $75.00, which was a lot of money back then for only three hours of work.
After that first gig, I landed several other jobs, and I wound up earning over $500.00 in my first month of modeling. One night I remember paying the girls two months rent in advance and then I took us all out for dinner. It felt like I was rolling in it. Within three months, I had made a large amount of cash. It was burning a hole in my pocket and I spent some on all different kinds of clothes, and on the days when I wasn’t modeling, I went to all the casting directors from the list my agent gave me and dropped off my headshots for their review.
One night, the girls and I were talking about what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “I kind of like being with both of you, and I like modeling, too.” They both said that they had much bigger plans for me. They said they thought that I was good looking enough to be in the movies, and that with my personality, they believed I could go a long way.
They made some phone calls, and two weeks later I was in Hollywood meeting a man named Mr. Henry Willson. He was one of the top theatrical agents in the business and Janet and Joanne explained before I left that he was the best agent in town for my particular look. Before I left New York, I bought each girl a summer dress, and we had our last night together out on the town saying our goodbyes. I will never forget, Janet and Joanne, and I owe them a lot. They were real sweethearts, and as far as I’m concerned, we will be friends forever. [Top]
I first came out to Los Angeles, California in 1954, I was amazed by the sheer size of the city and the absolutely gorgeous weather. The first day I was there, I drove all around West Hollywood and up and down a lot of side streets, looking for any places that had “For Rent” signs out front. I got lucky right away and met an elderly couple who had a garage apartment that they wanted to lease. It was a large single-occupancy on DorringtonAvenue and I got it for $98.00 a month.
Once I was settled in, I met Henry Willson for dinner at a popular restaurant in Hollywood called La Scala. Mr. Willson was a very pleasant gentleman and that same night he agreed to sign me on as one of his clients. He did think that I had a wonderful and upbeat attitude and he also felt that if I were taught proper etiquette that things would go well for me. The hitch was that he thought I should also get a regular job because in order to launch my career, I would have to have new photographs taken, as well as buy a nice wardrobe and take some acting classes, which would all cost money. So, in order to help me afford all these expenses, Mr. Willson got me a job wielding a jackhammer for the Ryan Construction Company. I started with one that weighed 65 pounds and in a short time I worked up to one that was 80 pounds. By the time I got back to my apartment each night I was still shaking from being on that damn jackhammer all day, and I also had to pee about every 20 minutes due to all the shaking I did. For nearly five months, I worked my butt off during the day and then in the evenings I attended acting classes.
I worked on that 80-pound jackhammer for as long as I could, and then one day after a few hours of pounding cement, I decided I’d had enough. I tossed the jackhammer to the side and went into the office and thanked Mr. Ryan for the job, and I left. By then, I had saved up enough money to get by for another four or five months. When I quit, Mr. Ryan just smiled and paid me for the days that I had worked that week. Once I got home, I called Mr. Willson and told him that I had quit and that I was ready to start my acting career. He responded by telling me that he already knew that I had quit and that Mr. Ryan had given him a very good report about me. He also said that he had spoken to my acting coach and that she had told him that I was making great progress. [Top]
One day, Henry took me for an interview at CBS. The legendary David O. Selznick was producing a TV variety show called “The Eddie Fisher Hour” and he was looking to cast a male and a female dancer for a segment where Eddie would sing and follow them around as they danced together. When I got to the interview, there were 30 boys lined up with 30 girls and Selznick was in the process of choosing the boy and girl who would be the headline dancers. Mr. Selznick scanned the line and then he walked up to me and said, “You must be one of Henry’s clients. I’d recognize one of his guys a mile away. You’re perfect, son.” He chose a cute girl as my partner and we danced together on the show and it was great. That was my first live AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) job. I thought Henry had something to do with Mr. Selznick choosing me but he said he hadn’t said a word to him. I remember I called my parents and very excitedly told them that I was going to be on TV. The night the show aired, you can bet that their whole neighborhood back in Michigan was watching.
Shortly after being christened with my new name of Rad Fulton, I had a very important meeting with one of Hollywood’s most colorful and hard-living actors, Steve Cochran, that really helped launch my film career.
Henry took me out to Republic Studios to meet with Steve, who had started his own production company and was starting to cast a film he had developed himself (“Come Next Spring“). I had been a big fan of Steve Cochran’s since I was a teenager and I always wanted to be the same sort of tough-guy actor he was. I was excited when Henry introduced me to him. He and I hit it off immediately. Steve asked Henry if I was one of his new clients, and Henry answered, “Yes, I’ve just signed him.” Steve commented that he liked the way I looked, and that I was perfect for a part in his film. I remember he said to Henry, “I’ll tell you what. Can you have Rad come in tomorrow around 9 AM? I would like to read some lines with him. If I like what I hear, we’ll talk.” Henry suggested that I wait outside while he and Steve talked things over. Later, I thanked Steve and he responded with, “Rad when you come in tomorrow, wear a tee shirt and Levis. I said, “Yes, sir. See you tomorrow.” Man, was I excited. After that, Steve had me come to the studio about three times a week to rehearse and then he brought in a guy to teach me how to speak with an Arkansas accent. Once he was confident that I could carry the part, Steve hired me to play Walter Brennan’s son. Along with Steve and Walter, the film starred Ann Sheridan, Sonny Tufts, Edgar Buchanan, Sherry Jackson, Richard Eyer, and Henry Shannon. In other words…quite a lineup!
We shot most of the film in Sacramento, which, in those days, looked very much like the rolling hills of Arkansas. We spent three months there and it was during that time that I joined the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
When we finished the film, Steve told Henry that he wanted to take a six-month option on me and that he was willing to pay me $200.00 a week. Henry agreed, and I was overjoyed. [Top]
Working with Walter Brennan was a thrill; he kept calling me “Son” while we were making the film, which was very endearing. I almost couldn’t believe it—here was Walter Brennan, an Academy Award winner, treating me like his son. He was always so nice to me, and always cracking jokes. Walter was six feet two inches tall, and I don’t think most people realize that. I asked him once why he always walked bent over. He said, “Son, I work more often when I appear shorter than the leading man. I had a couple of leading parts, way back when…when I still had my hair.”
I remember how nervous I was on the first day of shooting. I said to Walter, “I can’t get my words out!” He said, “Son, we’ve all been there. Just take your time, and concentrate, and we’ll end up with a good scene.” And that’s exactly what happened. From that day on, I no longer had the jitters. I pretty much worked with the whole cast. Sonny Tufts, in particular, was a lot of fun. He, Walter, and I would often go out at night for drinks. One day, Steve pulled me to the side and said, “Rad, make sure Sonny doesn’t drink too much tonight and get his ass back to the hotel early.” So, that night I sipped on a single beer and was able to get Sonny back to his room with just a little gentle persuasion. When I got him to his hotel door, he slurred, “Kid, make sure I get up in time.”
Steve Cochran was like an older brother to me. He guided and encouraged me, and he always made sure to thank me and to tell me that I was doing a good job. It was wonderful to have that support from him. Steve and I would frequently have dinner together and he introduced me to a lot of important industry people, as he wanted to help me build my career. I believe he saw a little of himself in me, a little vicariousness, if you will. To be honest with you, I wanted to be just like him. Steve could play any kind of part, and he was a real Man’s Man. In fact, he spoke several different languages. A classy guy, and the girls followed him around like he was The Pied Piper. He used to call me on the phone all the time and invite me to his house telling me, “Hey, kid, I’ve got a bevy of girls here with me. Come on over, and join in the fun.” So, of course I’d get in my car and drive over to his place, where I had my pick of whomever I wanted to spend some time with. Steve’s house was way up in the Hollywood Hills just off Benedict Canyon Road. I’ll never forget it…he had written the words Cock Run on his mailbox. Even now, I laugh every time I think about that. Steve’s house was always jumping with music, booze, and plenty of gorgeous girls. Steve Cochran’s parties were as legendary as Errol Flynn’s. They usually went on all night and well into the next day. And, man, let me tell you, they were wild. [Top]
After “Come Next Spring“, Steve wanted to use me in another project, but Henry told me, “Rad, I want you to be a movie star…not a featured player in another one of Steve’s films. Besides, Steve didn’t pick up your option [which was true], and that’s actually good news, because I don’t want you to be stuck with Cochran doing secondary roles in his movies.” Henry decided he wanted me to be under contract to one of the big studios, so he took me over to Warner Brothers. He told me not to tell Steve anything about it, so I didn’t. I met Jack Warner’s number one man, Steve Trilling, who handled all the studio’s contract players.
The studio gave me a screen test, which consisted of a scene from “Come Back Little Sheba“. I played Turk, which was the part that Richard Jaeckel had played in the film. The actress who was opposite me was one of Henry’s clients, and she and I did our scene together, with the great Gordon Douglas directing. The only thing that Gordon said to me was, “Young man, you are doing the scene very well. Do you want a contract?” I nodded (quite nervously, I’m sure), “Yes Sir, I want a contract.” And he said, “Okay, let me see you kiss this girl. You are doing everything beautifully, but you need to take your hand and run it right up under her dress, right up to her butt, and pull her into you and kiss her. If you do that right, I guarantee you, you will get a contract.” Well, I did exactly what Gordon Douglas told me to do, and he printed it. Two nights later, it was my birthday and I met Henry for dinner. He brought a box with him and he gave it to me after dinner, and in that box was my contract with WB. I was beyond excited.
I had been carrying a lot of guilt regarding my not staying with Steve Cochran, and I felt I had to clean the slate with him. I told Henry that I needed to go to Steve and tell him the truth about what had happened. So, I did, and Steve was admittedly, very disappointed in me. He asked me why Henry hadn’t called him and reminded him that my option was up. I was honest with Steve and told him that Henry had told me to keep my mouth shut about it. I asked Steve to forgive me. I told him that I was just another kid trying to make it in the business, and that if I didn’t follow Henry’s orders, I would surely lose him as my agent. I remember Steve saying to me, “Rad, I understand your position and I respect your honesty. Kid, you can bet your ass that I’m still going to use you in several more of my future projects.” We shook hands that day and went out for some drinks, and we talked about the business and he told me to be patient because he was working on a project that would be good for me. What a guy! Unfortunately, I never got the chance to work with Steve again, although I would have loved to. [Top]
Also at Universal, of course, were two of Henry’s most successful clients, Rock Hudson and John Gavin. Henry sent John to Universal as a sort of threat to Rock so that he would stay on the ball. John Gavin was a very good actor, but come on there was only one Rock Hudson. I must say Rock was probably one of the handsomest men I have ever seen in my life. And he was big. He stood six feet five, and I remember him saying to me once, “Rad, don’t ever tell anyone how tall I am. Just tell them that I am only six feet four.” (I have no idea why.) Rock was a wonderful guy and he and I quickly became good friends. We later worked together at Universal.
Once I was signed to WB, the studio cast me in guest star roles in their TV westerns “Cheyenne” with Clint Walker, “Colt .45“ with Wayde Preston, and “Bronco” with Ty Hardin. After I did those three shows, WB cast me in a film titled “Lafayette Escadrille“, which was filmed up in Merced, California. William Wellman directed it and David Janssen was one of the stars.
I heard on he set that David was a big drinker and an egotist, but we got along fine. I remember him saying, “I could have been another Clark Gable if I’d gotten my ears fixed.” I looked at him and said, “Bet me.” But that was the kind of a guy he was. And he was quite the ladies man. He later married Dani Crayne, a sexy blonde starlet at Universal. I was with WB for a year, and then they dropped my contract. But they brought me back a short time later for “No Time for Sergeants” (1958) with Andy Griffith.
“No Time for Sergeants“was a long run and I was paid even when they were not using me. Another of Henry’s clients, John Smith, was also in that film. John became a very good friend of mine and he later co-starred in a TV series called “Laramie“. Henry had me up for the lead role in “Laramie” and he later told me that the only reason he wasn’t able to get me the job was because my good buddy John Smith had tried very hard to keep me out of it (and evidently, succeeded). I didn’t understand what he meant by that and I asked Henry why John would do that to me and he finally said that John thought I would outshine him on the show. As it turned out, Bob Fuller got the lead role on the show instead of John, who was billed second. Later, after the dust settled, I did end up working on an episode of the show, and things were fine.
Henry had told me in the very beginning; you will run into a lot of pitfalls in this business, so you had better get used to it. He also advised whenever I got a job that I should not tell any of my friends about it because they would do their best to get me off the job so they could get it themselves. He would say to me, “Just let them read about it in the paper!” [Top]
I interviewed with one of the studio-casting directors and I was chosen for the part of a young stage actor opposite Natalie Wood’s character. I already knew her by then as we had dated two or three years earlier. She and I had gone together for about eight months before she was cast in “Rebel Without A Cause“, and then we kind of went our separate ways after that. Although Natalie was previously one of the sweetest girls I had ever met, she got around some lower class creeps while making “Rebel Without A Cause” and it changed her (for the worst). The guys she started hanging out with were all dopers and foul mouthed, and Natalie started picking up a lot of their nasty habits. Before long she was saying the kinds of words that shouldn’t come out of a pretty little face, you know? Her association with some of the people from that film hardened her, I thought. Of course, she continued to make a lot of movies after that and she later married Robert Wagner, who was always a perfect gentleman. Over time, Natalie developed a real problem with alcohol, and whatever happened to her on that boat the night she died is still a mystery. But back to “Marjorie Morningstar“. When I worked with Natalie on that film, she had changed into a different kind of girl, and I was very disappointed to see that.
As fate would have it, three weeks after Warner’s was dropped their option; I got a phone call from Solly Baiano, one of the casting directors at WB with whom I had become good friends. Even though I was no longer under contract, Solly offered me a job in the WB film “No Time for Sergeants“. It was a small part, but it would run the length of the picture, so of course I took it. The funny thing is, I was making $250.00 a week while I was under contract (which was a considerable amount of money in 1956), and then when I came back to do “Sergeants“… my pay went up several times higher than it was when I was a contract player. The film had a long run of 13 weeks, so trust me, that didn’t break my heart. I saved every penny of what I earned on that picture and lived very comfortably for several months afterward.
“No Time for Sergeants” was one of Andy Griffith’s first big leads in a picture and he didn’t really fraternize with the other actors very much because he had so much work to do. But he was definitely the kind of guy who would talk to you and shake your hand and say, “Nice to know you.” I never had a real long conversation with him but I certainly admired him (and still do). Andy has been a wonderful actor throughout his entire career. His future television co-star, Don Knotts, was in “No Time for Sergeants“, too, and he was another fine man (not to mention, a brilliant comedian).
Mervyn LaRoy had directed Sergeants and he also cast me in a small role in “Toward the Unknown” (I played one of the cadets), but I did get a brief chance to meet Bill Holden, who was the star of the film. Actor and model Bob Hover, who was another of Henry’s clients at the time, was also in it. Bob was a nice guy, but soon after he did the movie, he gave up the business and moved back east to New York. Ken Clark played another cadet, and he and I became very good friends. As a matter of fact, I saw him later in Rome when I was over there shooting a film called “Journey Beneath the Desert“.
I hadn’t spend much time with other actors because they were usually in the same situation as me (in other words, struggling to find jobs). I was very good friends with Steve Cochran, Chuck Connors, Bob Fuller, Robert Conrad, John Smith and Rock Hudson, among others. A lot of these guys were actors I worked with. Most of the rest of my friends were not in the business, which I actually preferred.
I met a lot of pretty young ladies in the business. Other than Natalie Wood, whom I already mentioned, I dated, at one time or another, some beautiful actresses, such as Sally Todd, Terry Moore, Margaret O’Brien, Anne Neyland and Sabrina Scharf. There are many more, but you know, one must not tell all. And, I won’t.
As soon as I had a little money to my name, I bought a 1953 XK 120 Jaguar coupe and painted it butterscotch. In those days, I used to drive to Palm Springs in one hour and fifteen minutes going 100mph. At the time there were no freeways and only a two-lane highway to Palm Springs. Of course, today I’m much more sensible…I drive the speed limit. [Top]
“Joy Ride” is a personal favorite of mine as it gave me my first starring role in a feature film. I had a great part, and the movie went on to make a lot of money. After my initial interview for the role, I had to go back three or four more times before I finally got the job, but to me, it was all worth it. I remember filming one scene near the end of the picture when Regis Toomey had a gun pointed at me. It was a very tough and very emotional scene for me, and there were some guests on the set that day, watching us film. After I completed the scene and Edward Bernds called “Cut”, I heard one of the guests remark (in a very loud voice), “That actor (me) just turns it on and off like a water faucet.” I didn’t appreciate hearing that, so I turned to Edward and asked; “Could you please have those noisy people leave the set?” He did get them off the stage, thankfully (and maybe off the lot, too). It’s difficult enough to get into your own mind when you’re working on a very tense scene, and since I still had more work to do that day, I didn’t want to hear anyone else (especially guests) talking in the background. Anyway, after they left the set, I got back into my head and Regis and I were able to complete our close-ups. I really enjoyed working on that film with such top-notch actors as Regis Toomey and Ann Doran. When you add in the fact that the film gave me my first lead role, it was a very thrilling experience for me.
I talked to Ann Doran and assured her I would be very gentle with her and she looked at me and said, “I trust you, young man.” She was a sweet lady. And you know who was a real trooper in that film? Regis Toomey. He was a big star when I was young boy; a real, solid actor. But on the set, he was as down-to-earth as could be. Regis treated me just like the guy next door.
And then there were the four actors who played my friends in the film. They were all nice guys to work with. Jim Bridges was one; he went on to become a writer and he wrote some really big movies, too (like “The Paper Chase“, “Urban Cowboy“, and “The China Syndrome“). Another one of the actors was a guy named Nick King, whom I believe later became involved in some capacity with the Screen Actors Guild. Robert Levin was the third actor and I’ve always wondered what happened to him. The 4th actor is my long-time friend, Robert Colbert. Bob co-starred and played the investigating police officer. A job well done by the talented Colbert. My character in the movie was a real bully, for me it was different, but I got used to it and I enjoyed playing that kind of part.
I had a nice scene in the film “The Young Philadelphians“ with Paul Newman and Barbara Rush as a kind of British spokesman for the airlines who asked Paul and Barbara’s characters if they needed anything. I had met Barbara earlier through a very good friend of mine named Hack Rush who was a cousin of hers.
I remember Paul Newman said very few words to me or to anyone else while the cameras were re-setting for close-ups. I recall doing my scene and telling Paul that it was a pleasure to work with him. He just smiled and walked away. However, Barbara Rush was a real doll and she invited me to stop by her house for lunch one day and to bring along Hack. Some time later, I saw Barbara at my good friend Byron Clark’s house during a dinner party. Byron’s wife Eleanor was once married to Rudy Vallee. Barbara and I were seated next to each other and that gave me the chance to catch up with her and we talked about working together in “The Young Philadelphians“ and about Hack. He had moved to Florida by then and Barbara told me that he had developed some kind of illness and that he had passed away. I felt very bad to hear that. Hack Rush was a friend I will never forget. As for Barbara Rush, she is still with us, and she remains a very lovely and classy lady. [Top]
Henry worked hard to get me the part in “Hell Bent for Leather“ and we shot it up in Lone Pine, California. I was cast as a deputy sheriff, and the great Stephen McNally played the heavy. Jack Lemmon’s wife, a beautiful lady named Felicia Farr, played the leading lady. I was part of a posse with several other actors with Audie Murphy in the lead chasing McNally all over the mountains. There were a lot of boulders up there in Lone Pine, which made it pretty dangerous getting around on those horses. I had some nice scenes in the film, and I liked working at Universal. At the beginning of the shoot, I introduced myself to Audie and said how proud I was to be working with a man of his bravery and talent. He thanked me and we got along well on the set. Audie was a shy man, but I liked him.
One day, Henry called me and said, “Rad, come to my office right away. I’ve got a great idea for you.” Needless to say, I was there in a matter of minutes. Henry told me that Rock was going to be doing a western with Kirk Douglas and that Kirk’s company would be producing the film. Henry said, “Rock won’t want you to be in the film, but don’t worry, we’ll get around that.” He sent me to the makeup department at Universal where they put a full-beard on me, and then I went to the wardrobe department and I was outfitted with blue jeans and a work shirt, along with a very old looking cowboy hat. I was sent to meet with the producer of the film, Eugene Frenke, who liked how I looked, and he and the film’s director, Robert Aldrich, decided that I was the right actor to play a character named The Julesberg Kid. When he found out about it, Rock didn’t say a word to me. He didn’t show any anger, but he certainly didn’t congratulate me [for getting the part], either. “The Last Sunset“ had a great cast. Along with Rock and Kirk Douglas, the film also starred Dorothy Malone, Joseph Cotton, Carol Lynley, Neville Brand, Jack Elam, and Regis Toomey, my co-star in “Joy Ride“. [Top]
Jack Elam, Neville Brand and I left LA for the shoot a few days earlier than everyone else so that we could stop off in Mexico City, a place I had never been before. The three of us hit all of the hot night-spots and then the next day, we went to the Hippodrome Race Track. That had been my first trip to a racetrack, and believe me, I didn’t know one horse from the other. I went to the ticket window and since I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just bet on the colors of the jockey. To make a long story short, I won fifteen hundred dollars that day, which, of course, was paid to me in pesos. I was handed so many bills I remember I had to buy a big duffle bag so I could carry them all. Both Jack and Neville also won a bundle of money that day, so we had a great time. After we left the track, we got on a small prop plane that flew us to Aguas Caliente (which means “hot waters” in Spanish). It was a small town that, at the time, had a population of about five thousand people. We arrived at the airport late in the afternoon, and the three of us walked together through the terminal. We stood around looking for someone from the production team to meet us, and finally a voice came over the loud speaker, saying, “Mr. Jack Elam and Mr. Neville Brand, there is a bus out in front of the terminal that is waiting for you.” And then, the same voice said, “Attention, Mr. Rad Fulton, Mr. Rock Hudson’s limousine is parked and waiting for you near the baggage claim area.”
When Jack and Neville heard that, they both looked at each other, and then one of them said to me, “Ah, come on, Rad, you could have at least warned us that you’re light in the loafers, like Rock.” They both started to laugh, and I told them that I was just as surprised as they were that Rock had sent a car out there to get me. I remember them kind of walking away together and calling over their shoulders, “Have a good evening, now, sweetie.” There was nothing I could do about that at the time but eat it, as I had to get to the limousine, but I knew I would eventually prove them wrong.
The limo driver and I rode through the desert for over an hour and then we finally came upon this quaint and charming little town. It was a very plush area of Aguas Caliente, and the driver stopped in front of a large, two-story, Mexican-styled home, which belonged to Rock. As soon as we pulled up, Rock came down the stairs to greet me, and said, “Welcome to my villa, Rad.” We both shook hands, and he said, “Come on, I’ll show you your part of the house.” He looked at me and smiled, “You sure look different with a full beard, but it definitely gives you the right look for your role in the film.”
Rock and I had the same agent, so I had known him back in Hollywood. He was always very gracious to me. Plus, I think Rock wanted someone there with him at the house that he could talk to. You know, people in Hollywood have always loved to stir up gossip, whether it’s true or false. However, after a while, Neville and Jack eventually changed their minds about Rock and me. And I got some satisfaction, too, when I got even with the two of them in a very memorable poker game. Later, when Rock brought a knockout he was dating named Erica with him to the bull fights, that seemed to stop all of the rumors about him down there.
Rock was a very cordial and gracious host to me. I remember every bit of my stay with him as if it were yesterday. As soon as I entered his house that first day, Rock said, “Rad, you can have one half of the place and I’ll have the other. We have four maids at our beck and call, and two of them are yours. They all speak English, and I’ll introduce you to them shortly. First, though, let’s get you settled, and then we’ll have a drink.” [Top]
My room was large with a lot of closet space and I also had my own bathroom with tiled floors and a big shower stall. I remember I looked at my gorgeous surroundings and laughed to myself wondering where Neville Brand and Jack Elam were staying. Rock told me, “We’ll both have total privacy while you’re here. This door separates us, and I always like to keep it closed, okay?” Of course, I agreed.
After I unpacked, I walked downstairs and one of the maids was waiting for me a few steps away from the bottom of the stairs. She said, “Please follow me Mr. Rad,” and she led me down through the living room and into a large entertainment room. Rock was at the bar fixing himself a drink as the three maids stood in a row waiting, I suppose, for my arrival. It was an unbelievable thing to see!
Rock turned and said, “What’ll you have Rad?” I answered, “Scotch on the rocks, with a dash of tap water.” He then reminded me to drink only bottled water while I was there, never water from the tap. Rock introduced me to the maids who would be working for me. They were two beautiful senoritas, both about twenty years old. I remember their names were Ignosio and Maria. He then introduced me to his personal maids, Karo and Chinita. They were a bit older, and I imagined that they probably ran the house and did most of the cooking.
That first evening, Rock and I talked about the location filming, and he made sure I knew that I had all the freedom to do as I pleased when I wasn’t working. We had a great dinner and then we played gin for a couple of hours—I beat him—before hitting the sack, as we both had an early call.
When I got back to my room that night I reflected on the day’s events. Rock had been a real pal to me. I also thought of our four young maids, and how pretty they were. My two maids were adorable, and I thought back to Janet and Joanne, the two girls who had made my first trip to New York City so memorable. I remember thinking, “How’s that for a little Déjà vu, you devil you?” [Top]
The first day of filming I met with the director Robert Aldrich, with Jack and Neville standing next to me. Mr. Aldrich said, “For this first scene, I want the three of you to stay out of sight, but the camera will shoot you in the distance following the wagon train and cattle.” Let me assure you that cattle doesn’t just sit and wait for the director to say “Action”. It took an entire week to shoot that one scene that he wanted! The wranglers and other cowboys worked hard to keep them in line, and it was sometimes very tough going. Neville, Jack and I worked the first two weeks and then we were told that the production company wouldn’t need us again for several weeks. We were advised to keep in touch with Tom Connors, the assistant director, just in case that changed.
Afterwards, I had plenty of time to go into town and duplicate the pants I wore in the film, and I also bought two pairs of cowboy boots, and several shirts and socks. One day, as I was walking down one of the streets in town, I heard Neville’s deep voice talking to Jack a few feet away from me. I looked into an opened door and saw Neville and Jack sitting on their single beds and the entire room was about the size of my bathroom at the house. I ducked my head in and said, “Hey, men, this is a real classy joint. Tell me, does this place have a toilet?” Neville piped up, “Well, if it ain’t The Julesburg Kid.” Jack asked me if I was slumming, and I told him that I had been walking around town trying to find them to invite them over to Rock’s house the next day for lunch. Neville said, “Tell us how to get there, and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
The following day at exactly 12:00 noon, they rang the bell. I asked Ignosio to answer the door. She was the prettiest of the four maids and I wanted Neville and Jack to really lick their chops when they saw her. She said to them, “Mr. Rad is in the bar, please follow me.” These guys hadn’t seen or walked on polished hard wood floors in a long time. I smiled to myself thinking that all they had seen down there in Mexico up until then was desert dirt and cement floors in their tiny walk-in room. When I introduced Jack and Neville to Ignosio, their tongues were about to fall out of their mouths. I said, “Ignosio, we’ll start lunch in half an hour.” She left. “Jack and Neville what would you like to drink?” They both wanted brandy and I half filled two snifter glasses for them. “Come on, grab some chairs and make yourself comfortable. You won’t believe how good the maids cook.” Neville said, “You mean, you have more than one maid?” I told him, “Sure, we have four. Rock has two, and I have two. Ignosio and Maria will be serving us lunch.” Jack kind of grinned at me and said, “I like your style, kid.” That day, we had tossed green salads and fresh lobster and shrimp with green vegetables for lunch, with a nice bottle of white wine. Let me tell you, both guys ate like it was their last lunch before the electric chair. Later, we played cards and had some drinks and I won all of their money in the last game of seven card stud. I have to admit that taking their money was kind of nice because it felt like a payback, of sorts, for the smart-ass remarks they had made about me at the airport. [Top]
One afternoon after a long day of shooting “The Last Sunset“, I was anxious to get into a shower and wash off the dust. Rock arrived about an hour later and he said, “Rad, we’ve been invited to a dinner party at Kirk Douglas’s house with the rest of the cast. Eugene Frenke, Kirk’s production partner, is here, and Kirk wants us all to get together. Wear a nice sport coat and a tie, and we’ll leave in about an hour.”
A car picked us up and we were taken to a lovely home near the outskirts of town. Kirk met us at the door and invited us in. I had already met Eugene Frenke in his office when I was first cast in the film. That day, though, at Kirk’s house, as Mr. Frenke reached out his hand to shake mine, he said, “Rad, nice to see you again, and I want you to know that I love what you’re doing on our production.” Needless to say, I was taken aback, but absolutely thrilled. He then shook Rock’s hand and they had their own conversation. Kirk came over and said, “Come on, kid, let’s get a drink and say hello to the rest of the cast.”
Dorothy Malone looked ravishing that night, and Carol Lynley was adorable. Joseph Cotton was always the gentleman. When I shook his hand and called him “Mr. Cotton”, he said “Rad, please call me by my first name.” He was a wonderful man. I noticed right away that Neville and Jack weren’t there, and I found out later that they hadn’t been invited. I’m not sure why, either, but I was very careful that evening not to mention their names.
The dinner party was a lot of fun, and the drinks were plentiful. A little after nine o’clock, Kirk said, “We all have a busy day tomorrow, so perhaps we should call it a night.” As I was walking toward the front of the house to leave, just ahead of Kirk, I noticed his reflection in the glass door and saw that he was about to kick me in the butt. So, I instinctively reached behind with my hand and caught his foot and pulled him, causing him to fall right on his ass. I quickly put my hand out for him to grab on to, and as I pulled him to his feet, I said, “Kirk, are you alright?” He was laughing hard, and he said, “Kid, you sure are quick! I’m fine, and that was fun.”
When Rock and I got back to his house, he started in on me. “Don’t you realize that Kirk’s the producer of this film and that was not a very smart thing to do. You better apologize to him in the morning. Damn it, Rad, I thought you knew better.” I apologized to Rock and told him that I had meant no harm to Kirk, but that I would talk to him the next day to make sure he was all right. Rock said, “Good. Now let’s have a night cap, and for Pete’s sake, from now on, start using your head a little, will you?”
The next morning I walked up to Kirk first thing and apologized once again for tripping him. I told him that Rock had been on my ass about it and that he told me that I had better be sure that things were okay between us. Kirk put his hand around my neck and he said, “Kid, I have two boys at home around your age, and we horse around all the time. Believe me, I’m on my ass more than my feet. You did me no harm whatsoever, and I’ll talk to Rock.” I said, “Thank you, Kirk, you’re a class act.” (And he is.) He smiled, and gently punched me in the stomach. I will always remember Kirk Douglas as a wonderful human being of great humor and understanding. I’m very lucky to have worked with a star of his quality. [Top]
One time during one of our longer breaks from filming—I wasn’t needed for three weeks, and Rock had about a week off—he asked me if I knew how to water ski. I told him that I did, and he said that he had gotten clearance from the production company to take off for a while to Acapulco to do some water skiing and to sit in the sun. He asked me if I wanted to go with him, and of course, I took him up on it.
We were on a plane within the next few hours and we landed in Acapulco a couple of hours later. Rock made reservations for us at the Roosevelt Hotel. We had a large suite that was divided by a wall partition…one side for him, and the other side for me. Rock told me not to worry about paying for a thing as the company would cover the entire cost of the trip. Upon arriving at the hotel, we had lunch, and two hours later, Rock rented a speedboat driven by a very good water-skier. Both of us skied on only one ski, and we had a ball crisscrossing each other and jumping the wake from the boat. For the next several days, we did this daily for at least two hours a day. Man, we had a blast. One day, Rock and I were sitting on the beach drinking margaritas and I noticed two beautiful ladies sitting a few yards from us. “Hey, Rock,” I said, “there are two beauties sitting a few yards from us, and one is a real knockout.” He looked at them and said, “Well, what are you waiting for? Invite them over to join us for some drinks.” I walked over and introduced myself to the girls and one of them asked, “Is that Rock Hudson with you?” I told her it was and that he and I wanted them to join us.
The girls were Erica Carlson (a blonde looker), and Jill Franks (an equally fine looker with dark hair). Rock waved his hand for the waiter, who was quickly on his way back to us with our drinks. Right away, I could feel real sparks flying between Rock and Erica. She moved closer to him and they got into their own private conversation. I got lucky with Jill as she was very sweet and friendly, and we got along just great. After a few more drinks, Rock suggested that we all have dinner together in our suite. They agreed to meet us at the hotel at around six thirty.
When they arrived that evening, we had a few cocktails and some fun conversation. Rock was very good at telling jokes and that helped to relax both of the girls. The suite had a cozy dining area, and a waiter served us a delicious meal of all kinds of fish, vegetables, and fruit, along with a several bottles of chilled white wine. After dinner, Rock grabbed one of the bottles of wine and he and Erica moved to his private suite. Jill and I had a couple more drinks, and then we moved to my suite. I am certain that all four of us had a wonderful time that night.
Over the next several days, Rock and I saw Erica and Jill every day and night. During the remainder of our film’s shooting schedule, Rock went to Acapulco often to be with Erica. That seemed to stop for good all the snide remarks that Jack and Neville had been making about Rock. Now that they saw that Rock had a beautiful girl in Acapulco that he was crazy about, it pretty much put an end to all their sarcastic comments about him. [Top]
One Sunday morning near the end of the shoot, Henry called me and said that Universal was very high on me and that they were planning on testing me back in LA for Rock’s next picture titled “Come September“. Henry told me not to say a word to Rock about it, because (in Henry’s words), “As sure as anything, Rock will kill the deal for you.” He said, “Rad, this is a great opportunity for you, so for God’s sake, keep your mouth shut.” I agreed to do just that.
Soon afterward, Rock and I were playing cards one afternoon and the cocktails were flowing. He asked me, very matter-of-factly, if I knew what I was going to be doing next (work-wise), and since I was feeling no pain, I answered, without thinking, “I understand that I will be testing for a part in your picture, “Come September.” Rock just stared at me and said, “Oh, really? I didn’t know that. I’ll be right back.” When I realized what I had done, my heart dropped to the bottom of my feet. I could overhear him on the phone in the other room with one of the heads of the studio, and I’ll never forget the words he spoke: “Listen, Rad Fulton is too much like me (in every way), and I want you to forget about testing him for “Come September“, got it?” My big mouth had spoken without thinking, and I had done the exact opposite of what Henry had told me to do. I was crushed.
When Rock came back into the card room, I said, “Rock, I overheard your telephone conversation and I want to know why you would kill a chance for me to further my career? I’m just a kid trying to get somewhere in this business.” In a very cold voice, Rock told me that I was too much like him and that I didn’t fit the part. I was totally dumbfounded. I mean, I hadn’t even been given a chance to prove what I could do. Finally, he said, “Let’s drop this whole conversation. I’ve made up my mind and that’s it. Understand?” I swallowed my pride and said, “It’s your deal.” I was angry, and hurt, and extremely upset.
The very next day, I got an irate phone call from Henry. “Damn it, Rad, I told you to keep your damn mouth shut! I told you that fucking parrot [Rock] would kill it for you. I’m so pissed off at you, I may not even want to represent you anymore.” I remember pleading with him, “Henry, I’m sorry I broke my word to you, but it simply slipped my mind. Come on, please, don’t you shit on me too.” Henry was very stern with me. All he said was, “I’ll think about it,” and then he hung up the phone. I just sat there with tears running down my face. [Top]
A few weeks went by, and things were okay between Rock and me, as well. Why wouldn’t they be? He had gotten his way to keep me out of “Come September“, and since I eventually got over it, we were back to being friends. Near the end of filming “The Last Sunset“, Rock called me and said, “Rad, Erica and I are going to the bullfights this afternoon in Mexico City. Why not come along with us, and bring Jill.” So, the four of us attended the event together and we actually had a great time. We had terrific seats, and the studio photographer was there to take lots of pictures of us.
After returning to Los Angeles, I reflected on my experiences in Mexico. Despite my problems with Rock, I thought the film’s director, producer, and the entire cast were all wonderful, and I especially enjoyed getting to know Kirk Douglas. Kirk was, and is, one of a kind. What I liked best about him was that he looked me straight in the eye when we were talking. Before we left Mexico, I had thanked Kirk for the opportunity to work with him, and I hoped to see him again in the future.
Henry had cooled off by the time I had gotten back to town, and we met for a drink. He told me that Rock was nearly finished filming “Come September“ and that he and Rock were going to Rome soon to meet with David O. Selznick to discuss a new film project. I still swallow hard every time I think of “Come September“, and I still find it difficult to watch it today. Bobby Darin went on to play the fourth-billed role of “Tony”, the part originally considered for me.
After I had returned to L.A. I bought a house in Laurel Canyon on Lookout Mountain Road. My Dad visited me soon afterward and he helped me paint my house. He was very proud of what I had accomplished at that point in my career and we had two great weeks together. Dad lived to the age of 80, and Mom passed away when she was 88. My folks were my best friends and I will never forget them.
The title of the picture was “Journey Beneath The Desert“, and my co-stars were Haya Harareet, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Amedeo Nazzari. I played a mining engineer in the film, who, along with two other engineers, survive a helicopter crash in the desert and discover the entrance to The Lost City of Atlantis. Haya Harareet played the evil queen of the ancient civilization who has designs on me. The director of the film was the very famous, two-time Academy Award winner Frank Borzage. Mr. Borzage was a wonderful director and probably the first one in my career who ever gave me any direction. In one of the scenes where Atlantis is about to sink into the sea, I raised my voice to warn everyone of what was about to happen. Frank came up to me and mentioned, “Rad, you don’t need to raise your voice like you’ve been doing; it only weakens you. Just be firm by conveying the impending catastrophe, and the dramatic undertones of what you’re saying will show your strength.” I did what he suggested and the scene worked beautifully. Frank Borzage and his wife Helen became good friends of mine during the shoot and I had dinner with them several times a week.
Some of the special effects in the film were fair, but overall, the whole thing was a mess. I remember one of the scenes where I had a big fight with three of the evil queen’s henchmen. After getting rid of two of them, I had a one-on-one fight with the lead heavy. We rehearsed the scene for several hours with a stunt man choreographing us. The stunt man and I explained to the actor playing the heavy that I would throw a left hook at him, and he was to back up so he wouldn’t get hit. Since the camera was behind me, it would just look like I had hit him. We explained several more moves to him, and he said he understood the stunt. Well, when it came time for me to throw the punch at him, instead of stepping back, he moved forward, and I hit him on the forehead with a very hard right fist. The guy dropped to the floor out cold, and had to be taken away to the hospital.
When the crew saw what had happened, they went nuts and started coming after me with hammers and shovels calling me, “Bruta! Bruta!” I ran off the set as fast as I could and jumped into a car and drove back to the hotel. I later went to the hospital and talked to the actor who had been hurt, and he admitted it was his own fault. When he was well enough to come back to work, he told the crew members to leave me alone (which they did).
One day, Frank Borgaze became very ill and was told by his doctors that he had to take some time off. The film’s producer, Edgar G. Ulmer (the bull), insisted on taking over Frank’s job as director. That’s when the picture really fell to pieces. Ulmer managed to turn the film into a total piece of crap. And a easily forgotten one, at that. [Top]
When Ulmer took over, he immediately wanted me to fight an untamed cheetah in one of the film’s action scenes. I told him that there was no way I was going to fight that animal. Edgar was pissed off, but he eventually got a stunt man to do it. The guy who doubled for me wore large metal bracelets to protect his forearms, however the cheetah bit right through the metal bracelets and right into the guy’s arm. After that, he refused to go near it. Ulmer didn’t know what to do so I suggested that he just make a life-size dummy of me, and then I’d do what I could to make it look like I was really fighting the cheetah. He agreed, and so that’s what we did. It turned out just okay.
Later on Frank Borzage had to be flown back to America because his illness had become much worse. A short time before he left, I met him and his wife for dinner and told him how things were going on the set. Ulmer found out about it and told me that I was not to see Frank again. I told Edgar that he was totally out of line and that Frank was a dear friend of mine and that I would see him whenever I wanted. Edgar said, “Listen, Fulton, I demand that you do not see him again!” I then told Edgar to go fuck himself. At that point, we were about halfway through the film and I hadn’t been paid in over three weeks. I mentioned to Edgar that the company owed me twenty-five thousand dollars and that I would come back to work when he delivered the money that he owed me, in cash. And, I insisted on being paid one week in advance from that point on. I told him that if he didn’t agree to any of this, then he could go find himself another leading man. Well, I got my money the very next day, and I was also paid one week in advance from that point on.
Edgar later complained to Henry that I was very difficult to work with. but Henry took my side and told me not to worry about it. All in all, the film was a real dud, and I would give it a D-minus (if that). When it was released over here (six years after we made it!), it was dubbed in English, and very poorly dubbed, too, I might add. After all the work I did on that film (with mostly sixteen-hour work days), it turned out to be a real piece of shit, and I am certain it didn’t make a dime. [Top]
The only good thing that came about for me while I was filming that bomb was when Henry called to invite me to a big party that Universal was throwing in Rome for Rock Hudson. I met Henry at the party and he told me that he wanted me to meet a producer and a director from England who was there to discuss a comedy film they were planning to make called “No, My Darling Daughter”. I met Betty Box, the producer, and Ralph Thomas, the director, and they were extremely nice people. I later found out that upon meeting me, Ralph immediately wanted me for the film. I remember Henry telling him that evening, “Rad has an early call in the morning, but contact me tomorrow, and we’ll talk.”
Well, here’s some poetic justice for you. Rock kept me out of a supporting role in “Come September“, only for me to wind up getting top billing in a movie—albeit, a bad one—in Rome. Later on, I’m invited to a party for Rock, and I end up getting a big role in a very prestigious English comedy co-starring Michael Redgrave, Juliet Mills, Roger Livesey, and Michael Craig, “No, My Darling Daughter“. Pretty sweet chain of events, wouldn’t you say? [Top]
When I departed from the airplane after it had landed in London I was met by a chauffeur who took me right through customs and to Betty Box and Ralph Thomas, who were waiting for me in a limo. They took me out for lunch, and Betty handed me an envelope filled with five-pound notes that amounted to $700.00. She and Ralph told me that it was a little gift from them for me to use that weekend. How’s that for nice? They also rented a lovely suite for me at the Rodney House that overlooked the Vauxhall Bridge and Thames River. Betty and Ralph told me to review the script and to make any changes in my dialogue that didn’t sound like how an American would speak.
Making that film was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life. I had a big scene with Michael Redgrave where I took him on and straightened him out because I wanted to marry his daughter. It was such a thrill for me to be working with that man; I mean, he was world famous—not to mention, class personified. Juliet Mills was (and still is) a doll, and that was her first feature film. The entire cast was just great. Roger Livesey, the older gentleman, and Michael Craig, who played his son, both helped make the movie wonderful and fun. You know, all of them were huge stars in England. Betty Box and Ralph Thomas really knew what they were doing, and they made my time with them unforgettable.
Upon its release, “No, My Darling Daughter” was a big success in England and throughout much of Europe, as well. After I completed my work on the film, and I was about to board the plane to come back home, Betty and Ralph had the whole cast and crew assembled at the airport to wish me a safe trip back to the US. They also gifted me with a solid silver mug with my name on it, along with their signatures. I will never forget working with them for as long as I live.
1963 was the year when our association finally came apart. I had been a client of Henry’s from 1955, and in those eight years we’d had many ups and downs, but I always respected him, and I will always be grateful to him for what he did for me. Anyway, we had a big falling out in ’63 after he had gotten into one of his strange moods. He was getting kind of ill at that time, and he wanted my name back. So, I left his agency.
When we decided to go our separate ways, he wanted the name of Rad Fulton back. At first I told him that it was my name and that I had been acting with it for nearly ten years, but he insisted he wanted it back. To this day I still don’t remember why all of this had to happen. Inside I was torn up and confused. I discussed it with my minds and I thought it best to do what he wanted and then I told Henry, you want it you got it. I went home pretty upset, but after a while, I got over it. Listen, I don’t hold any grudges. And, in Henry Willson’s case, how could I? Henry was like a surrogate father to me, and he was almost entirely responsible for my career. So, it didn’t take me too long before I was thinking that maybe he was right. Maybe it was time to make some changes in my career, and in my life. And, so, in 1963, that’s exactly what I did. I left Rad Fulton behind, and started my career over as me.
TO BE CONTINUED…
PART TWO – ACTOR JAMES WESTMORELAND (formerly RAD FULTON)