Interview by: John Wisniewski
Tom Lisanti is an award-winning author/film historian of seven books about Sixties Hollywood. He began writing professionally in 1998 with his first published article on actress Carol Lynley in Filmfax, a magazine he had been reading since he was a teenager. Since then he has interviewed many celebrities from the 1960’s including Shelley Fabares, Peter Brown, Diane McBain, Linda Harrison, Aron Kincaid, Celeste Yarnall, Francine York, Irene Tsu, William Wellman, Jr., Mimsy Farmer, and many more. Just released is Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974 from McFarland and Co.;
AMFM: Why did you choose the actresses that you chose to profile in your book “Film Fatales”?
I co-wrote “Film Fatales: Women in Espionage Films and Television, 1962-1973” with Louis Paul. We were worked together at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and became friends. In 1994, the Library did an exhibition celebrating 100 Years of Horror Movies. Louis and I worked on it with the exhibition team since we were both movie buffs. I am a huge fan of actress Carol Lynley and sneaked her into the exhibition as much as I could. Louis is an expert on what some call “Euro Trash Cinema” i.e. spy movies, giallos, thrillers, etc. from the 60’s. He had a side video business and produced a fanzine called Blood Times. His then wife suggested I do a piece on Carol Lynley for them. She loved it and said I should mail it to Ms. Lynley and try to get an interview. I did and one day came home to Carol Lynley on my answering machine. That piece was published in Filmfax and then I began interviewing more sixties starlets such as Pamela Tiffin, Linda Harrison, Shelley Fabares, Jill Haworth, Joan O’Brien, Tisha Sterling, Chris Noel, etc.
I had enough actress interviews for a book that was called “Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema” published by McFarland and Co. While I was finishing it up, Louis had a suggestion we do a book on Sixties spy girls. There were books on just the Bond Girls but we thought we’d go beyond that to also include actresses from the Matt Helm, Derek Flint, and Euro spy movies. We also decided to include actresses who worked in TV spy shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, The Avengers, It Takes a Thief , etc. At the last minute I pulled quotes from Diane McBain, Jean Hale, Lana Wood, Deanna Lund, Francine York, Karen Jensen, Salli Sachse, Irene Tsu, Celeste Yarnall, Eileen O’Neill, etc, on their spy films/TV shows destined for my first book and saved for the second book. We stuck to the “starlets’ of the day, but did allow Doris Day to sneak in. I wrote the profiles on most of the American ladies and Louis profiled the foreign beauties.We decided to cover a 11 year period 1962 with start of the spy craze with Dr. No to 1973 when the spy boom pretty much petered out except for James Bond. We were also able to interview a few more actresses not in my first book such as Barbara Bouchet, Gloria Hendry, Sharyn Hillyer, Kathy Kersh, Sue Ane Langdon, BarBara Luna, and Tura Santana,
AMFM: Did you watch many of their films while researching the book?
Yes, I re-watched a number of them. For me,” Our Man Flint” and “In Like Flint” really hold up well. James Coburn is so cool and paired well with Gila Golan and especially Jean Hale. Of the Flint Girls, redhead Diane Bond in “In Like Flint” always stuck out for me and I finally tracked her down for an interview in my upcoming book “Talking Sixties Pop Cinema.” Dean Martin is too jokey for me in the Matt Helm movies but I adore Beverly Adams as his amorous assistant Lovey Kraveszit and also just interviewed Slaymate Jan Watson for the upcoming book. I Thought Stella Stevens overrated in “The Silencers” and prefer the cool persona of Dahlia Lavi much more. I do like “The Wrecking Crew” a lot mainly for karate kicking Nancy Kwan and Tina Louise who always glams up anything she is in. Sharon Tate as Helm’s helpful contact in Europe goes the Stella Stevens irksome route and this is my least favorite performance from her.
One Euro movie that I watched and was impressed with was “Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die.” Despite Dorothy Provine of the annoying fake British accent, Mike Connors makes a bad ass agent, Raf Vallone (a great villain who wants to sterilize mankind), lots of pretty Euro spy girls – and a surprise welcomed cameo from Beverly Adams who meets a grisly end via a poisonous snake hidden in a frilly boa. Quentin Tarantino ranked “Danger Route” as one of his fave 60’s spy films, but I find it too slow moving and deadly serious. For me, it’s only saving grace is Carol Lynley looking fabulous in mod mini-dresses and hair styles. I can watch James Bond films over and over. The more I watch “You Only Live Twice” the more impressed I am with it and rank it after Goldfinger as my second fave Bond movie from the 60’s. Our cover gal Karin Dor as a very wicked lady meets a very fishy end.
AMFM: Do you have a favorite actress profiled in your book?
Well, my favorite actress of all-time and who is the reason I started my ’60s starlet writing career is Carol Lynley. She stood out for me in “The Poseidon Adventure,” my favorite movie of all-time, and I began watching everything she appeared in though I do admit, I am not a fan of the teenage Carol years. Prefer her work post-1963. As a young teen, I would ride my bike to the Library to do personal research on her and her contemporaries that I liked such as Julie Newmar, Yvette Mimieux, Anjanette Comer, and my second fave of all-time Pamela Tiffin – the only interviewee that ever awed me. She invited me to her Upper West Side duplex and I was dazzled to be in her company. Because I didn’t think I did her justice in my first book “Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema,” my soon to be released book is Pamela Tiffin: “Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974 a more in-depth career respective on her film and TV work. Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances, it is without her participation but full approval.
As a kid two of my favorite TV actresses were Deanna Lund from Land of the Giants and Yvonne Craig from Batman. I did get to interview Deanna and she was very nice. Celeste Yarnall and Francine York stand out for me because no matter what size role they played in a movie or TV show they had an interesting anecdote to share about it. Lana Wood and Irene Tsu too had wonderful stories and both were refreshingly candid.
Of the foreign actresses in the book, Dahlia Lavi, one of the most stunning women of the decade, is a personal favorite as is Marisa Mell in “Danger:Diabolik.” I think Luciana Paluzzi in “Thunderball” is the most underrated Bond Girl of the 60’s. Her Fiona Volpe is one sexy bad ass.
As for the actresses that don’t do a thing for me, top of the list is Stefanie Powers. Just don’t understand her appeal. She has had a long, long career and for me not given one standout performance. Feel the same way about Elke Sommer. Worst Bond Girl for me is hands down Jill St. John in “Diamonds Are Forever.” She is so shrill and unappealing that she is the main reason I dislike that movie. They should have expanded Lana Wood’s role of Plenty O’Toole since she is the one bright spot other than Bambi and Thumper’s pool fight with Bond near the end of the movie. I would have liked to see Tina Louise in Jill’s role as Tiffany Case.
AMFM: Are many of the films profiled in your book available for sale or rental?
Many of the American movies I think are. Know there are DVD box sets for the Matt Helm, Derek Flint, and, of course, James Bond movies. Some are available in Blu-Ray now. You can get all “The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” features that were edited from two-part episodes into movies released here and mostly overseas in one boxed set. Think harder to get on DVD in U.S. are the foreign spy films. Most were low-budget productions but some of the better known ones like “Danger:Diabolik” and the Harry Palmer films are available.
AMFM: Why do film fans like movie femme-fatales?
I think the spy films have remained so popular due to James Bond. It is 2016 and they still are making Bond movies. It seems never-ending and moviegoers just love the escapism. The affection for the 1960’s Bond movies I think extends to the copycat films (Matt Helm, Derek Flint, Harry Palmer, Diabolik, etc.) and TV shows (Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, Mission: Impossible; It Takes a Thief, etc.) of the day. They all employed handsome debonair leading men, adventure, romance, diabolical villains, picturesque scenery, and some of the most beautiful actresses from Hollywood and Europe. I think spy girls in particular remained popular because this genre gave them different type characters to play. A number of the actresses are exceptional and in some cases their characters are more memorable than the hero. In our book we broke the roles down into four distinct types. I think that is why fans love their spy girls because of the different facets found in this genre.
The helpful spy/secret agent/operative who supports the hero. She is resourceful, helpful, and independent, is good with a gun or karate chop and (sometimes) carries a secret torch for the hero. Key examples include Martine Beswicke in “Thunderball” (1965), Dorothy Provine in “Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die” (1966), Joanna Pettet in “Casino Royale” (1967), Terry Moore in “A Man Called Dagger” (1967), Marisa Mell in “Diabolik” (1968), and Sharon Tate in “The Wrecking Crew” (1969). In a few films most notably “Modesty Blaise” (1967) with Monica Vitti, “Caprice” (1967) with Doris Day, “Come Spy with Me” (1967) with Andrea Dromm. The female agent/operative is the focus of the attention and the male character is the support.
The innocent – is usually a civilian who inadvertently stumbles into the action, is mistaken for a spy, has secret information the enemy is after, or she has revenge on her mind.Examples include Ursula Andress in “Dr. No” (1962), Claudine Auger in “Thunderball” (1965), Stella Stevens in “The Silencers” (1966), Ann-Margret in “Murderer’s Row” (1966), Raquel Welch in “Fathom” (1967), and Lana Wood in “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971).
The bad girl-turned-good – is running the dirty tricks department when the film opens. Her assignment is usually to kill our hero by any means possible. This is an indication to seduce the virile macho spy and assassinate him in bed. But one day of lovemaking turns them completely around as they join forces with the agent to combat the villains. Examples include Daniela Bianchi in “From Russia with Love” (1963), Honor Blackman in “Goldfinger” (1964), Gila Golan in “Our Man Flint” (1966), Senta Berger in “Bang, Bang! You’re Dead”(1966), Jean Hale in “In Like Flint” (1967), and Jill St. John in “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971).
The down-and-dirty villainess/femme fatale/assassin – This character has no redeeming qualities and is pure evil. She dispatches her victims easily and effortlessly without giving it a second thought. Examples include Luciana Paluzzi in “Thunderball” (1965), Daliah Lavi in “The Silencers” (1966), Elke Sommer in “Deadlier Than the Male” (1966), Karin Dor in “You Only Live Twice” (1967), Carol Lynley in “Danger Route” (1968), Nancy Kwan in “The Wrecking Crew” (1969), and Gloria Hendry in “Live and Let Die” (1973).
AMFM: Why are the 1960’s films and actresses special, especially to those who remember seeing them at the time?
I think the actresses from the 1960’s, especially the ones that worked in Hollywood at the beginning of the decade, remain popular because they were the last of that golden age of Hollywood. Studios still had contract players and were building them up to be stars. Movies were still basically innocent and the actresses were made up and costumed gorgeously. During the first half of the decade, America was still riding the innocence of the Eisenhower years. People today are nostalgic for that time and 1960s actresses remind them of it.