William Ramage – The Diary of a 1950’s Male Model – Page 5


Last Update: 1/1/2009
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JO’D: Do you have any interesting observations about any of the people you worked with on these shows?

BR:  As far as their personalities go, a few were egomaniacs. In Hawaiian Eye, for instance, Robert Conrad struck me as being very full of himself. What an ego! Connie Stevens and Troy Donahue didn’t especially impress me, either. Connie was sickeningly sweet and kind of obnoxious. On the other hand, Will Hutchins, the star of Sugarfoot, was great, sincere, and a very nice guy. The same can be said of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (77 Sunset Strip). A wonderful man, probably one of the nicest in Hollywood. I had a great time working on Maverick…I loved working with James Garner and Jack Kelly (everyone did). Van Williams, of Surfside Six, was also a great guy. A fellow Texan from Fort Worth, he also wound up in banking, as I did. I adored Van’s co-star, Diane McBain, with whom I had a few lunches in The Green Room at the WB commissary. Diane was so pretty…but I had the feeling she wasn’t really into her career. And, she chain-smoked! One night I shared a table at a WB function with Diane, Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue. The three of them had just done a film together called A Distant Trumpet. I remember the dinner very well because I spent the whole night going back and forth to the vending machine in the lobby to buy Pall Mall cigarettes for Diane!

Robert Conrad
Connie Stevens
Troy Donahue
Jack Kelly Van Williams
Will Hutchins
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
Diane McBain
James Garner

Dorothy ProvineAs I said, I thought Roger Moore (The Alaskans) was a great guy, and I still do. But Dorothy Provine, from the same show, was very negative and unpleasant. Most actors can be very spoiled…bores, actually. Some of them did nothing but complain…and about the silliest things (such as incurring meal penalties and having to work overtime).

JO’D:   What are “meal penalties”?

BR:  We normally had an hour break for lunch. But sometimes, when we were shooting exteriors, some of the actors would be called back to the set before their lunch hour was up. Believe it or not, a few of the more troublesome types (who shall remain nameless) took this to SAG as a complaint, and it often went to arbitration and to extra pay for them in the event it was proven. Sometimes I didn’t blame Jack Warner for being such a bastard. It was either him or Columbia chief Harry Cohn who said, “I’ve known a thousand actors, and I never met a grateful one.” That is so true! (laughs)

Ty HardinDespite the difficulties, though, we always had a lot of fun. I think the funniest thing I ever witnessed during all the years I worked in Hollywood occurred on the set of Bronco. The show’s star, Ty Hardin—while a very nice guy—could never remember his lines. Ever! There was one scene where he rode up on his horse. I was also in the shot, sweeping off a deck in the background. Ty dismounted, tied the reins to a hitching post, then snapped his fingers at the script-girl and said, “Line?” (The camera was already rolling.) The script-girl answered (disgustedly), “The line is ‘Hello’.” (laughs) Ty was not the least bit embarrassed. I swear, that is a true story!

JO’D: During the time you were working on all these Warner Bros. TV shows, were you hoping to land a TV show of your own, or were you concentrating more on your modeling career?

BR: Although the print and fashion modeling paid my rent, what I really wanted to do were feature films. In 1961, I was close to getting a terrific part at WB in A Fever In The Blood, which had a good script. The film’s director, Vincent Sherman—who was a fine and decent man—told me the part was mine. But he later called me and apologized when Roy Huggins, the film’s producer, cast a WB contract player named Robert Colbert instead of me. It was as big a disappointment for me as not getting the Nick Adams part in Teacher’s Pet. I had tested for the part of Barney Kovac, but George Seaton, the director, told me it was merely a formality as the part was already mine. Then I read in Variety that Adams had been cast in the film instead. Elvis had Hal Wallis’ office intervene on Nick’s behalf because Nick was kissing Elvis’s butt during that period. I was crushed both times. But that’s show biz…98% disappointment and rejection.

Modeling was great for the longevity it gave my career. Mine lasted longer than most, but on the other side of the blade, the modeling work kept me from ever having any kind of name recognition with the public. I can’t complain, though. I sure made a nice chunk of change.

JO’D: Speaking of which, you told me that you earned over $85,000 one year from your modeling jobs alone. That was a pretty impressive amount in those days, wasn’t it?

BR: Absolutely! To put it in context, that’s about $500,000 in year-2008 dollars. I grossed that amount in 1958—the peak year of my modeling career. There was so much catalog work, I couldn’t keep up with it. I had to be in New York a lot, so there was never enough time to devote to my acting career in L.A. Making the rounds of the casting agencies was out of the question. That would have to be done in Hollywood, and as I said, most of the time I was in New York. There also wasn’t much time for a social life. I had to look good, man! (laughs) Anita Colby “sold” me with that guarantee. I never even went to many dinner parties. I had to look rested and in top shape at all times. Hey, modeling isa tough job…a lot of people don’t realize that.

JO’D: As a male earning his living, in effect, on the marketability of his looks, did you ever experience any prejudice or condescension from anyone for working in modeling?

Bill RamageBR: Hell, yeah! The movie industry in those days looked at models, both male and female, as they looked at extras: low men (and women) on the totem pole. They didn’t think models could act. “Just Another Pretty Face” was the war cry, and I heard it often. Even though I had studied with Baruch Lumet, the father of director Sidney Lumet—and Baruch was a prestigious coach—I had a hard time convincing anyone I was serious about acting. A lot of my contemporaries (Buck Class, Bob Hover, John Marion, Jim Horne and several others) struggled, as well. Buck was under contract to 20th Century Fox and did Blue Denim and a few other flicks, but he was no more successful in films than I was. The same goes for Bob Hover, who also worked at 20th under the name of Link Foster. We were all thought of as models, not as actors. Period.

JO’D: Being that you were a good-looking guy in Hollywood, you must have a lot of stories about the people you dated in those years. Can you recall one for us?

Peggy MaleyBR:  (laughs) Yeah, as a matter of fact I can. There was a platinum blonde actress in town named Peggy Maley. She was under contract to Columbia in the 50s and did a lot of B-films for the studio (Human Desire, The Brothers Rico, Ride A Crooked Road, etc.) Peggy had once been a roommate of Ava Gardner’s in the 1940s and she was kind of a tough number with a reputation that wasn’t all that great. I took her out one night in the early 60s, and it was a total disaster!

For years, Jerry Wald at 20th Century Fox had a film script hanging around on the life of Jean Harlow. Jayne’s and Marilyn’s fingerprints had been all over it by the early 1960s, but there hadn’t been any takers. Peggy was staying at the time with my friend Leslie Snyder, who had once worked for Louella Parsons. After her acting career faded out in the late 50s, “Peggy June” (as she was sometimes billed) had left Hollywood to help run her father’s pizzeria back in New Jersey, but she had come back to town to talk about the Harlow part. The funny thing is, she was not even being considered for it. At 35, Peggy was blowsy and coarse and had far too many miles on her to play Jean Harlow, who died at 26.

Anyway, Leslie asked me to “be nice to Peggy” while she left for Las Vegas for a few days. I called her at Leslie’s, and she hinted that she did not have any dinner plans. Peggy told me she wanted to go to Au Petit Jean in Beverly Hills, the most “in” place to dine at the time. Tres elegante, very expensive…you know, the place to be seen. When I called my friend Bob Osborne and he told me who Peggy Maley was—that she had played one of the loud-mouthed hookers in The Wild One with Marlon Brando—I was not impressed. After I met her and saw that she talked non-stop, I was really not impressed! She was heavily made-up, dressed in one of Leslie’s mink stoles, and she looked like a real hooker! There was a motel a block away from my apartment on Sunset Plaza Drive with a coffee shop called The Knife and Fork, and I took her there rather than to Au Petit Jean. I remember we walked to the place. Peggy June was in spiked, high-heel vinyl shoes and to say she was pissed off is putting it mildly!

Peggy drank three Tanqueray and tonics before settling for “the ground round” $1.75 dinner. She followed that with mounds and mounds of vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce for dessert. I had no drinks and ate a chef salad. Peggy babbled on and on and was tough as nails. Troy Donahue, who was always in the Knife and Fork looking for some female action, eyed me and Peggy, and seemed to have a new respect for me. (laughs) He came over to the table to say hello (he had worked with Peggy a year or two earlier in a film for U-I called Live Fast, Die Young). Troy had never before spoken to me when we worked together at WB. In retrospect, I should have dumped Peggy June on him and gone home alone. She’d have loved it, I’m sure. But maybe that’s why I didn’t do it! (laughs) Peggy was very pissed off at me for not taking her to Au Petit Jean for dinner, and when I brought her back to Leslie’s apartment and offered to open the door for her, she put the key in the lock and growled, “Don’t bother, I’ll do it!” No “Goodnight”. Not even “Kiss my ass.” She just let herself in and then slammed the door in my face. That was probably my worst date, ever! (laughs)

JO’D: Speaking of tough ladies, you knew Lucille Ball in the 60s. Was she really as difficult as has been reported?

Lucille BallBR: I didn’t know Lucille Ball all that well. We had many mutual friends but to tell you the truth, I didn’t really want to know her any better than I did! She could be, I’m told by many, to be somewhat overbearing…even shrewish. Her secretary, Mary Lou Tanner, who had been a performer once herself, was sometimes reduced to tears by Lucille’s rages. So was her wardrobe designer Edward Stevenson, who was a good friend of mine. He designed Lucille’s clothes at RKO and all the ones she wore on her TV shows in the 60s. Maury Thompson, a very funny man who directed many of Lucille’s shows, always called her “The Red Queen”. (laughs)

In all fairness, Miss Ball did start The Desilu Workshop in the late 1950s to give young Hollywood hopefuls a chance, and she worked very hard at it, too. It was her way of sharing some of the good fortune she had enjoyed with other young performers. I had several friends who were in the group at Desilu. They all had studio contracts and—along with Lucille—presented The Desilu Revue on stage at the old RKO little theater, which was on the same lot. The revue was also filmed and shown as a TV special during Christmas of 1959. I admire Lucille for starting that workshop. Young actors need all the support and nurturing they can get, and she was there to help them.

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