Sally Todd Interview: Page 5


Last Update: March 31, 2011
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John: Were there any other serious mishaps on the set during filming?

Sally: Yes…like when the boat we were on completely broke apart out in the ocean. All of us girls in the film (Abby Dalton, Susan Cabot, June Kenney, Lynn Bernay and Betsy Jones-Moreland) were on this rickety old wooden boat that was supposed to be a stately Viking ship. You know, it had the big mast and lots of barrels and all the Viking shields along the sides…it was supposed to be really impressive, right? So, one weekend out at Malibu we’re working on this scene of the six or seven of us in this so-called Viking boat, and it’s high tide—the worst day in the world to take this pile of junk out into the surf. But Corman said, ‘We have to make this shot. Come on…let’s go!’ I mean, just try to picture it: high tide at Zuma Beach, and it’s a rip tide, to boot. We weren’t even supposed to be out there.

Sally Todd in circa 1950's bathing suitSo, we’re in the ocean, and the waves, which seemed to be like 30 feet high by then, started crashing down on us. Within minutes, the boat broke in half and all of us girls went flying into the surf. I got hit in the head by one of the barrels and actually broke one of my pinkies. The rip tide started pulling some of the girls out to sea and when Roger saw that, he hollered for someone to call the Coast Guard.

Abby Dalton and I were the only good swimmers in the group and we somehow got past the rip tide, but it pushed us sideways into this huge cliff that was jutting out into the water. By this time Abby and I were screaming and flailing our arms because we were both being body-slammed into the side of this mountain. We decided we should try to get out of there if we could so we began climbing the rocks that were at the base of the cliff. You would think that Roger Corman would know enough to film all this, right? I mean, this is good, dramatic stuff. But instead, he turned all the cameras off, the jerk.

Abby and I wound up with cuts and bruises all over our hands and arms because the waves kept knocking us off the rocks and bashing us into the side of the cliff. This went on for several minutes and we must have drifted 20 or 30 feet before we were saved. It was a total nightmare. Finally, the Coast Guard showed up and I recall them being very angry with Roger. I mean, they really came down on him…big time. It could have been a real bloodbath…there were bodies everywhere, and a few of the girls had drifted pretty far out. But, true to form, Roger underplayed the whole thing. It was, you know, on to the next scene, and that was that. A lot of people nearly lost their lives making that stupid thing and if Roger Corman had only filmed what really happened he would have had a very harrowing movie.

John: According to the book, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures by Mark Thomas McGee, the film’s sea serpent was actually a hand puppet worn by special effects expert (and writer of the story) Irving Block. What were you thoughts on its appearance?

Sally: Oh, God, that thing. It was so embarrassing. I seem to remember it was made of paper mache. When the film showed it coming up out of the ocean and attacking the boat—all that stuff, of course, was done on a sound stage. I remember a lot of us being on the set that day, watching that particular scene, and we all left the stage at one point because we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It was just so ridiculous and embarrassing.

John: Do you remember if there was a big world premiere for the film?

Sally: (laughs) I don’t know where the film premiered, but I’m sure it wasn’t at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre! It wasn’t the type of film they would have rolled out the red carpet for. I was just happy I had gotten paid for the thing and that the check didn’t bounce.

John: What are your memories of your fellow cast members in the film?

Susan CabotSally: The leading man was an actor named Brad Jackson, who, I hear, later had a nervous breakdown and then killed himself. Looking back now, I believe he suffered from anorexia nervosa. Of course we didn’t know anything about the disease back then, but Brad wouldn’t eat. He just wouldn’t eat, and he was so thin. We all thought he was just depressed, but in reality, he was starving himself. It was a very unfortunate thing.

Susan Cabot was a good actress and, as a lot of people know, she also had a very sad and tragic death. She did a lot of good work, she really did, but she was an extremely strange person. I think most people know how Susan died. Her son was a little demented and he killed her. Killed his own mother—can you imagine? That happened many years after we did the film, though…maybe 20 years, or more. [author’s note: Susan Cabot died on December 10, 1986 at the age of 59, while her son, Timothy Roman, died on January 22, 2003 at age 39.]

Apparently, Susan had a very unhappy life. She could never hold on to a man, I understand, and she had a very strange and dark personality. None of us could get next to her on the show. She wasn’t really normal, even back then. Just a very moody, weird girl.

Abby Dalton, on the other hand, was terrific. She was a lot of fun and she was a hard worker, too. Another girl, June Kenney, was a very cute, very pert little blonde. She didn’t go too far in her film career, but she really was a nice girl.

In all, there were probably 15 or 20 young actors in that film, and I had already worked with several of them on some TV projects. Roger had promised me and a few of the other players a lot more work after the film but I didn’t get anything else from him, that’s for sure. I really didn’t mind, though. The way Roger Corman did things back then was just so screwed up. For instance, the dialogue coach on Viking Women was Roger’s gardener, or something. And there wasn’t a stunt coordinator on the film…Roger had an actor filling in. He was too much.

John: Do you think the dialogue in the film was authentic?

Sally: Uh…no. (laughs) It was unbelievably hysterical and we all had a hard time saying our lines. Someone had written the dialogue to mimic how they thought a Viking would speak, and it was ridiculous. Instead of sounding Norwegian, it sounded Hebrew. You know: ‘Smelman! Irving! Magma! Already the storm god licks his lips at the coming feast!’ That kind of thing. How can you say stuff like that without cracking up? (laughs) Trust me, the only thing that kept us from laughing all the time were all our injuries. Everyone was always bleeding and/or limping from the scene they had just filmed.

Harry Wilson in Frankenstein's DaughterJohn: Your next picture, Frankenstein’s Daughter (Astor, 1958), is probably your best known horror film, and many genre film fans love it and still hold it dear to their hearts (including this interviewer). How do you feel about the film?

Sally as Frankenstein's DaughterSally: I appreciate it that some people enjoy the film , but come on…the movie is terrible. The script was unbelievable and the direction, just like with the Corman film, was almost completely non-existent. In fact, I really believe the director, Richard Cunha, was a myth. I don’t think the man ever even existed. (laughs) I didn’t know who he was…he was always hiding in the shadows. The other actors and I would come on the set and we would hear a voice in the darkness, yell ‘Action’, but we never quite saw who was saying it. Let me tell you, any one of us could have written better lines than what we were given. Every day, he (Richard Cunha) would change our lines and then he would run away. The cameraman would say, ‘Stand here. Do this. Do that.’ And that was the extent of our direction.

John: I know a lot of the acting in the film has been criticized through the years, but I kind of like everyone’s performances—even Felix Locher’s (who played Uncle Carter). What memories do you have of your co-stars in the film?

Sally: I thought they were all talented, it’s just that the movie stunk. The film’s lead, of course, was John Ashley, whom I dated that summer. John and I stayed friends even after we stopped seeing each other. We had fun together on the film because we made fun of it, you know?

Sandra Knight was the other girl lead and she married Jack Nicholson a few years later. Sandra was a very talented young actress and although she made a few more movies after Frankenstein’s Daughter, her acting career never quite went anywhere. It’s a shame, too, because she was a good actress. I heard some time ago that after she divorced Jack Nicholson, she remarried and moved to Hawaii.

We filmed Frankenstein’s Daughter during a really bad time in Hollywood. The studios had fired most of their contract players and film jobs were scarce. The industry was putting out all these junky monster movies and a lot of us who did them were not able to move past them to get some good work in good films. It didn’t just happen to me—it happened to a lot of us at the time.

Harold Lloyd, Jr.I worked alongside two sons of famous actors in Frankenstein’s Daughter. The kid who played my boyfriend was Harold Lloyd, Jr., the son of the famous silent screen star Harold Lloyd. And the detective was played by a very good-looking young man by the name of Robert Dix, who was the son of Richard Dix, a big film star at RKO in the 1930s. I felt so sorry for Harold Lloyd, Jr. I played a real sexpot in the film; you know, a loose and sexy bad girl, and Harold and I had some necking scenes. Well, in real life the poor guy was gay, and he didn’t know the first thing about kissing a girl. Back in those days, people were still hiding being gay and Harold was very gay and trying very hard to hide it. But we all knew. Oh, God, he was so awkward. I had to show him how to hold me when he kissed me. He didn’t know how to hold a girl, or where to put his hands, or how to embrace me. I thought the poor kid was going to have a heart attack, I really did. I had to be the initiator, the composer, and the choreographer of our love scenes. It became very traumatic for me after a while because I was thinking, ‘Oh, Christ, if this guy doesn’t get it by now.’ But anyway, we finally got through it. I remember looking over and seeing John Ashley and Sandra Knight standing off to the side and kind of laughing at Harold and me trying to ‘make out’. (laughs) It was obvious I was kind of attacking him because he just didn’t know what to do. Poor baby, he didn’t make very many films after that and I know he died young. [author’s note: Harold Lloyd, Jr. died on June 9, 1971, due to complications from a massive stroke he had suffered a few years earlier. He was just 40 years old.]

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