Sally Todd Interview: Page 3


Last Update: March 31, 2011
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John: Wow, I guess Sammy found himself in hot water quite a lot in those years. I heard that when he dated Kim Novak, her boss Harry Cohn had threatened him with bodily harm, too.

Sally: Yeah, the poor guy. I remember hearing from Polly (or somebody) that right after that whole fiasco with Vince and Jackie, Sammy went right into therapy. (laughs)

John: Didn’t you date Vince Edwards, too?

Sally: Yes. A few months after Sammy’s party, I met Vince at a job interview and he asked me out. We started dating, and eventually got engaged. Jackie had moved on by then and was dating Jack Webb, but then in 1958, Jack hired me to do some episodes of Dragnet, and then we started dating.

John: Whew…what a wild Hollywood story!

Sally: I know, isn’t it? I later became engaged to Jack but it didn’t work out and he not only went back to Jackie, he also wound up marrying her. Poor Sammy lost out all the way around!

Sammy Davis, Jr.John: Did you keep in touch with Sammy after that infamous party of his in the 50s?

Sally: No, I didn’t see him again in person until the mid 70s, when some friends and I attended one of his shows at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but Sammy was just a holy mess that night. I don’t even know if I can say for sure that he was drunk, but he was definitely on something. Sammy wandered around the stage lost, almost like he was on a different planet. The audience didn’t boo him, but they were shouting out to him to sing something because all he was doing was pacing the stage and mumbling to himself and looking around the room like he didn’t know where the hell he was. Sammy just stared at the crowd with this confused and tortured look on his face and I’m sure he didn’t know what they were even yelling about. My God, it was so sad. It was not one of his best performances, by any means. After watching him for a while in this downright pitiful state, my friends and I got up and left because we just couldn’t bear to see him so out of it. Remembering how electrifying and in control Sammy had been all those years earlier at the Mocambo, seeing him so wiped out like that at the Sands just broke my heart. Thank God, though, that he evidently got his act together in the 1980s before he died, and stopped doing whatever he was doing. [author’s note: Sammy Davis Jr. passed away on May 15, 1990 at the age of 64, as a result of complications from throat cancer.]

John: You mentioned earlier that you have a story about meeting JFK through your friendship with Peter Lawford.

John F. KennedySally: Yes, JFK had been elected President by that time and being that Peter was his brother-in-law, he often had parties at Peter’s beachfront house in Malibu. One day I called Peter’s office and I said to him, ‘I want to meet the President and I want you to arrange it for me.’ He said, ‘Sally, I would love for you to meet him, but he’s very busy this weekend.’ Peter went on to tell me that JFK was getting ready to address California governor Pat Brown and several hundred people at the Century Plaza Hotel, and he said that he had to knuckle down that weekend to work on his speech.

Well, I wasn’t about to let a little thing like that stop me. (laughs) I said to my cousin, ‘I am going out to Malibu Beach this weekend and I am going to meet the President. You wanna come?’ So she and I drove out there in the morning and we parked ourselves on our beach blankets right outside Peter’s property, and we just stayed there all day. I had on these really tight hip-huggers, and I was brown as a berry, and let me tell you, I looked great.

Eventually, a huge crowd formed on the beach, and it included dozens of cops and FBI agents and security guards. Finally, JFK and Peter came out onto the beach to say hello to the crowd and the President turned his head and looked right at me. Peter said, ‘Sally!’, and I went, ‘Hello!’ He and JFK talked secretly for a little bit and then Peter gave me a sign to wait around until the crowd left. I turned to my cousin and said, ‘See…?’ (laughs)

Sally ToddThe head of the President’s security team came out later on and escorted me up to Peter’s house. No one else was there other than JFK, Peter, and a few security people. It was obvious right away that the President was smitten with me…he was charming, and very complimentary. At the time I had been rehearsing a sexy dance routine which Peter knew about, so he said, ‘Sally, why don’t you do that dance of yours for the President?’ And would you believe that for the next five hours that’s just what I did? With the help of lots of champagne and a very enthusiastic “audience”, I danced non-stop for JFK until about one o’clock the next morning.

John: I have to admit that the image of you dancing privately for President Kennedy for five hours straight is quite evocative and fascinating.

Sally: Thanks. And I never even got tired! (laughs) He was clearly enthralled with me, that’s for sure, and we had a great time. In fact, JFK enjoyed it so much that he arrived at the Century Plaza two hours late for his speech with Governor Brown. Before they left, Peter said to me, ‘Don’t leave until I get back because we have to talk. The President is absolutely crazy about you.’ Later, Peter had a driver bring me home, and the very next day I received two dozen American Beauty Roses from…guess who? Then, Peter’s agent called me and said, ‘Sally, would you be available to drop everything in the next few days if we contact you and ask you to fly to Washington to visit the President?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Of course I would!’ There’s a lot more to the story, but I’ll save the rest of it for my book.

John: Wow. I know a lot of people out there are going to want to hear more about you and JFK.

The UnearthlyA few years prior to dancing for President Kennedy, and in the midst of her jam-packed Hollywood social life and busy modeling career, Sally landed an acting job in what would be the first film in her (now legendary) horror/sci-fi trilogy: the John Carradine/Allison Hayes/Tor Johnson freakfest, The Unearthly. Though widely perceived through the years as a dull and moth-eaten version of the mad scientist and mutants plot seen one year earlier in the period piece The Black Sleep (Bela Lugosi’s last completed film), The Unearthly has, in recent times, somehow developed a small, but loyal, legion of fans. Produced independently (and cheaply) by the movie outfit AB-PT Pictures Corporation in the spring of 1957, and distributed by Republic Pictures as one of its last releases, The Unearthly was originally co-billed that summer with the Peter Graves/Peggie Castle marauding grasshoppers film, Beginning of the End. However, while the latter picture seemed relevant in 1957, with its plot of atomic-age insects gone amok, The Unearthly was a bleak and dated affair whose mid-1940’s, PRC-like ambiance seemed conspicuously obsolete by the late 50s.

Shoehorned into John Carradine’s massive filmography between the similarly rancid The Incredible Petrified World and the overblown, Technicolor spectacle, The Story of Mankind, 1957’s The Unearthly truly seemed to be an unearthly experience at the time for Sally, then just 22. While the film’s plot freewheeled through a world of tortured and twisted souls, the on-set shenanigans of some of its stars remains vivid in her memory.


To those who appreciate it’s dubious merits, The Unearthly does have its interesting moments—from the propulsive opening scene of a terrified woman clawing at the face of a drooling and cretinous Tor Johnson, to John Carradine’s many bizarre rants&#151each of them crisply enunciated in his imposing, booze-burnished voice&#151to the film’s final, fleeting moments in a basement dungeon where the viewer is treated to the sickening sight of several grunting freaks chained to a rotating maypole. Nearly saved by film composer Henry Vars’s dramatic musical score that tries (albeit, in vain) to create a Daliesque aura to the proceedings, The Unearthly is a true, “bad-movie” lover’s delight, and although Sally’s role in the film is brief, it remains memorable.

Sally in three bathing suit posts

John: In 1957, monster movies came back into vogue and you made your first appearance in the genre with your co-starring role in The Unearthly. You’ve told me that you were dating Vince Edwards when you made the film.

Sally: That’s right. As I said before, he was a very jealous and possessive guy, so my life that summer was never dull. We shot most of The Unearthly in an old house on Western Avenue in Hollywood, just off Sunset Boulevard. Well, Vince would drop by the set every day to check up on me because he knew I was working with Myron Healey, who was a very handsome and debonair man. Myron was probably about 35 years old at the time, and even though I was a very young 22, I still found him to be immensely attractive. He was also a very friendly guy, but believe me, our relationship was strictly professional.

Anyway, Vince always wanted me all to himself, and before long he had become almost a permanent fixture on the set. He would pull up in his beautiful brand new Lincoln and people would come running up to me, whispering, “Vince is here! Vince is here!” (laughs) And I’d go, “Yeah…so? What do you want me to do about it?” I was there working. I certainly wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Vince had a really bad temper, and our relationship, as a result, was pretty passionate. I’ll probably talk more about that in my book.

Sally ToddJohn: Let’s get right to John Carradine. The man is an acting legend, but he was also a certifiable character, and I’m wondering how the two of you interacted.

Sally: I thought Mr. Carradine was a lovely man. He was just wonderful to watch as a performer because he knew so much about acting. To this very day, I consider it a great honor to have gotten the chance to work with him.

Unfortunately, as most everyone knows, John Carradine had a real drinking problem that went on for many years, but the amazing thing to me is he would spend hours upon hours drinking with the film’s director, Boris Petroff, and Myron Healey (who also liked to have a few belts), and yet it never once affected his work. Just like the true Shakespearean actor that he was, the man was always letter perfect. Petroff never had to do a second take with John&#151ever. This man was unbelievably fantastic. But, my God, did he and the other guys drink. In fact, I don’t know how they drank as much as they did and yet were still able to do their jobs. I couldn’t have done it, I know that. [author’s note: In a 1988 interview, featured player Arthur Batanides, now deceased, admitted that he was inebriated throughout most of the film, as well.]

John: John Carradine’s sepulchral tone and over-the-top performance in the film brings new meaning to the word “hammy”. I read somewhere that he once said, “Directors never direct me…they just turn me loose.” Did Boris Petroff turn Carradine loose, too?

Sally: Well, none of us were directed in the film. In retrospect, it was the same type of experience I would have later on when I worked on Viking Women and Frankenstein’s Daughter. Boris Petroff was exactly like (directors) Roger Corman and Richard Cunha in that none of them gave their actors any real guidance or encouragement to do a good job. In all these films, you were basically just left to your own devices—it wasn’t very inspiring, I’ll tell you that. I’m sure that John gave the part what he felt it required. The man was a veteran…he knew what to do.

Allison HayesJohn: You had only one scene in The Unearthly with Allison Hayes, who was another popular scream queen of the late 1950s. Did you get along with her on the set?

Sally: Allison was a very beautiful and voluptuous woman, but no, we weren’t friends. She was a quiet and moody person and I really didn’t get to know her. For some reason, she wouldn’t talk to me. Looking back now, I think that was because I was the popular girl on the set&#151you know, always laughing and smiling and happy. I was young and blonde and people seemed to gravitate more toward me than to Allison, and who knows, maybe that bothered her.

John: I have always read that Myron Healey was a great person and that he was always very professional. He was a real workhorse, too. He did a lot of stuff in the 50s and should probably be a lot better known outside the genre film world than he is. You mentioned earlier that he was a nice guy.

Sally: Myron was a total delight. We had two scenes together and he was very helpful to me when we rehearsed them. He made suggestions to me and was really like my acting coach during the shoot because I got nothing from Boris Petroff. Myron was a very experienced actor and even though he tilted the bottle, shall we say, he was never rude to anyone, or unprofessional, and like I said, he helped me. Just like John Carradine, Myron Healey was never late for work, or unprepared. He knew what was expected of him (a decent acting job), and he delivered it.

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