An interview with Russ Tamblyn

When you think of actor Russ Tamblyn, the first image that comes to mind is an energetic young man.

Tamblyn stood out in his films, particularly because of his acrobatic style of dancing, whether the role was in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), HIT THE DECK (1955), WEST SIDE STORY (1961) or THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF BROTHERS GRIMM (1962).


Russ Tamblyn on the red carpet at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. Photo by Comet Over Hollywood

Tamblyn attended the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), held April 13-16 in Hollywood, and introduced SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, PEYTON PLACE (1957) and participated in a one-on-one interview focusing on his career.

Starting his career as a child, Tamblyn grew up in Los Angeles and watched Hollywood history firsthand as a young actor. Tamblyn’s first film was in 1948, THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, when he was a young teen.

“I worked for Cecil B. DeMille (in SAMSON AND DELILAH), for god’s sake. I think I’m the last one alive that worked for him,” Tamblyn said in an interview with me at the red carpet opening night event at TCMFF.

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Musical Monday- Academy Award Winner: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

seven-brides-for-seven-brothersThis week’s musical:
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954)– Musical #4


Stanley Donen

Jane Powell, Howard Keel, Russ Tamblyn, Jeff Richards, Tommy Rall, Julie Newmar, Ruta Lee, Ian Wolfe, Marc Platt, Matt Mattox, Jacques d’Amboise, Nancy Kilgas, Betty Carr, Virginia Gibson, Norma Doggett

Set in 1850 in the backwoods of Oregon, Adam Pontipee (Keel) heads to the city looking for a wife. He finds Milly (Powell), who agrees to marry him. Little does Milly know that Adam is one of seven brothers and she is more of a glorified housekeeper than a wife. She tries to refine the brothers-encouraging bathing and teaching them how to read and dance. They are all eager to find wives of their own and decide to use the story of Romans kidnapping the Sabine women as an example.

Adam (Keel) and his new bride Milly (Powell) who has no idea what she's in for.

Adam (Keel) and his new bride Milly (Powell) who has no idea what she’s in for.

Milly (Powell) inspects the hands of the usually dirty Pontipee brothers before heading to a barn raising social

Milly (Powell) inspects the hands of the usually dirty Pontipee brothers before heading to a barn raising social

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Evolution of a classic film fanatic

It started with a girl named Maria and a boy named Tony who thought something was coming. That’s what I usually tell people when they ask how I became a classic movie fan: it happened on a fateful March evening in 2003 when I saw “West Side Story” (1961). I became obsessed, end of story.

But my “West Side Story” obsession (which is a whole other blog post) isn’t even close to where my classic film education began. Let’s travel back in time to 1988, the year I was born. Or maybe 1991, I would have been a bit more coherent to films at age three.

My parents introduced my two older sisters and me to classic film at an early age. Some of these movies were Disney movies like “Lady and the Tramp” or “Swiss Family Robinson” or family friendly movies like “White Christmas” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Tom Drake and Judy Garland in “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)

I  distinctly remember watching “Meet Me in St Louis” when I was five or six and thinking that Judy Garland looked pretty or laughing at Julie Newmar’s name “Dorcas” in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Basically classics have always been in my life, but as a child I never realized that they were old and thought all of these wonderful movies were brand new.

My real interest in movies started when I was in third grade and I saw the cartoon version of “Anastasia” on a rainy November day in 1997. No this isn’t a classic movie, but it started a long line of movie obsessions to come.  I mean, I even thought I was somehow the lost princess Anastasia Romanov. I was hooked.

Fast-forward to middle school. I became interested in shows on TVLand, The Monkees and 1960s pop culture. I was interested in anything old, and naturally gravitated towards movies, which is probably where it all began.

But the real gateway drug to the classic film addiction was “West Side Story” (1961). On an evening in March 2003, my dad said, “You like musicals and old movies; you should see ‘West Side Story.’” He later said he created a monster and wasn’t joking at all.

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” (1961), the film I was obssessed with for two years.

From “West Side Story,” I snowballed into a musical love and I went out of my way to tape them off the television. I started a new musical list that is  still growing at 390 titles.

I then found actors I liked, like Doris Day and Jane Powell, and wanted to see their movies and the interest just grew and grew and grew. Now, I’m not obsessed with one particular actor or movie, it’s more that I’m crazy about the whole classic film shebang.

As a rule I only watch movies from the beginning of film to the mid-1960s. Pre-code movies are great because their vulgarity is done in a tongue-and-check way that sometimes can go by unnoticed if you aren’t paying attention. Once you get into the 1960s and beyond, the plots run thin in an attempt to be artistic, nudity isn’t rare and morals go out the window. Also actors from the Golden Era were fading away and the studio system was crumbling.

I guess if I had to make an analogue with how it all started, “West Side Story” would have been that first beer that led me into old movie alcoholism. It didn’t matter what I watched as long as it fulfilled my movie viewing needs. I think my viewing is a bit more mature than that now. Sure I still watch a few clunkers, or watch a stinker movie for the sake of fulfilling a classic actor list (like “Night of the Demon” for Dana Andrews) but it is just all part of the experience.

What kind of movie fan am I now?

•I make monthly lists from Now Playing to tape; usually 30 to 40 movies a month. We use A LOT of VHS tapes.

•I only buy books, paper dolls, posters or anything of that nature that is movie related. I often search Ebay for classic film memorabilia, and as much as I would enjoy Lana Turner’s evening bag from “Imitation of Life”, as a 21-year-old college student, that really isn’t in my budget.

•I don’t have any real obsession now. I have my favorite movies, actors and actresses but no one that I hyperventilate over when I think about them. I guess the only movie that would come close to that is “Since You Went Away” or the actor Van Johnson.

•I want to meet Robert Osborne one day. He is my hero and I think we would

Robert Osborne: My hero

be best friends. Robert, if you just happen to be reading this, let’s meet in Atlanta and have lunch, okay? I’m just in South Carolina so it’s not that far.

•I’ve come to realize that the Hollywood I dreamed about in middle school and early high school is non-existent now. I used to dream about going to Hollywood and thinking it would be like it was during the Golden Era: clean, historically preserved and bowing down to Hollywood greats like Joan Crawford. My family took a family vacation there in 2006 and I’ve realized there is nothing for me there. Hollywood is not interested in preserving history, and even though the Hollywood Bowl was cool, it’s not like Kathryn Grayson will be singing a concert there ever again.

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