Posted on Friday, January 4, 2013 by Peter Knego
In early January of 1973, I was, for all intents and purposes, riveted to my seat in the balcony of the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood after seeing “The Poseidon Adventure” for the first time. The film, in tandem with an American History assignment on the LUSITANIA, helped foster my lifelong fascination with ocean liners.
In the ensuing months, I would see the movie countless times and cajole my poor mother into driving me the 25 or so miles south of Hollywood to visit the QUEEN MARY, initially just to see the “The Poseidon Adventure” exhibits and walk through the spaces I coveted in the film.
The movie also boosted my childhood fascination with Hollywood movie stars and, more specifically, Stella Stevens, who played Linda Rogo, the former hooker wife of Mike Rogo, a New York cop played by Ernest Borgnine. Linda Rogo was my favorite character in the film: brassy, funny and quite gorgeous, too. She was the ultimate “hooker with a heart”.
Speaking of of Mike Rogo, while digging out my “Stella”, I found a yellowed Ernest Borgnine autograph dating from a 1971 encounter with him at Griffith Park. Initially, I was afraid to approach the imposing, Oscar-winning star of “Marty” and the TV series “McHale’s Navy” but it turned out he couldn’t have been more welcoming. A few months after I interrupted his golf game, he would bring the rugged character of Mike Rogo to life for Irwin Allen. Borgnine stayed active with acting and public appearances, including the occasional “The Poseidon Adventure” cast reunion, up until his death in 2012 at the age of 95.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
Flash forward some forty years and there I was, near the front of the line at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater to celebrate not only the 40th anniversary of the film’s debut but also the 90th anniversary of the iconic movie palace which is probably second only to Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood cinema esteem.
This would be my fifth or so “The Poseidon Adventure” cast reunion retrospective over the years and probably the most rewarding of all.
As the ever-swelling crowd would soon prove, I was not alone. Actually, my lifelong “The Poseidon Adventure” fancy seemed ordinary, if not paltry, compared to that of other attendees. A man next to us, Peter, had brought his young son to see the film that had reigned as his favorite since it came out — when he was his son’s age. In line behind us, there was an enthusiastic conversation about “The Last Voyage”, the disaster film in which the beloved ILE DE FRANCE was used as a floating prop and half-sunk before being finished off by Japanese scrappers.
Directly in front of us, David Woodman shared an impressively rendered caricature of the “Poseidon” stars that had been autographed over the years by most of the film’s cast and principal members of its crew. Woodman is a professional animator and his work, including “The Poseidon Adventure” illustrations, can be ogled by clicking here.
In the outer lobby, a film crew interviewed Eric Shea, the former child star who was one of the principal “The Poseidon Adventure” cast members. This was Mr. Shea’s first time attending one of these events and he seemed pleasantly surprised by all the fuss.
When the line was unleashed, we bee-lined into the auditorium to secure front-row-center seats. The four principals from the cast were hosting tables underneath the screen and receiving a long queue of fans who would pony up $20 a piece (per star) for autographs and a chance to take photos with their “Poseidon” favorites.
Our seats were directly across from Pamela Sue Martin (who went on to star in TV’s “Dynasty” as Fallon Carrington) and Eric Shea. This was the first public reunion of the pair who played brother and sister in “The Poseidon Adventure”.
Stage left, Ernie Orsatti (Pamela Sue Martin’s date in the film and the stunt man who cascaded into the overturned ship’s ballroom skylight) and Stella Stevens were first in the queue of SS POSEIDON luminaries.
Although Carol Lynley played the fetching-but-insecure, acrophobic and unable-to-swim lounge singer Nonnie in “Poseidon”, she has quite a pedigree as a 1960s ingenue and leading lady with a vast IMDB movie and television credits listing. Lynley played the title role in the 1965 Magna Studios film “Harlow”, which also starred Ginger Rogers and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (not to be confused with the other “Harlow”, released by Paramount that same year starring Lynley’s then-rival, Caroll Baker).
As fans approached, Lynley smiled, then cautioned, “I’ll have to charge you $20 for an autograph but you are more than welcome to browse for free. I encourage browsing.” She was referring to albums chock-a-block with stunning photos taken throughout her Hollywood career.
Meanwhile, back in the lobby, there was plenty for fans to pore over, with display cases brimming with “The Poseidon Adventure” posters, imagery and minutiae. Spotted in the crowd were TITANIC historians Ken Marschall and Don Lynch (the former citing “TPA” as one of the reasons he became interested in ocean liners), Mark Perry (producer and star of the SS UNITED STATES documentary, “Lady In Waiting”) James Radford (a “The Poseidon Adventure” impresario who staged many of the prior cast reunions) and John Thomas (the QUEEN MARY’s archivist and historian who provided many images for the event).
A familiar figure in a captain’s outfit turned out to be longtime friend Danny Nero, son of one of the principal extras in the movie. Danny proudly pointed out his mother, Kathryn Janssen, known to “The Poseidon Adventure” die-hards as “Bun Lady”. The young Nero visited the 20th Century Fox set to see his mother and other close friends, including Francine Henderson (also known as “Broken Back Lady”), during the shoot.
Here is Kathryn Janssen, who shouted, “The purser’s right!” in defiance of Gene Hackman’s plea to convince the stubborn purser and other passengers to follow Hackman’s group out of the overturned ballroom. Moments later, a boiler explosion sent a torrent of water and ensuing panic into the salon.
Back in the auditorium, the show was about to begin. First, cast members were gathered under the big screen, each making a short statement to the crowd.
Thanks were given and memories shared. A long list of now “departed” “The Poseidon Adventure” luminaries was read, including Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowell, director Ronald Neame, Shelly Winters, Leslie Nielsen, Jack Albertson, Arthur O’Connell, Red Buttons, and, of course, Irwin Allen.
Foreshadowing TITANIC’s “My Heart Will Go On” theme song by two and a half decades, “The Morning After” was “The Poseidon Adventure”‘s chart-topping, Oscar-winning opus. Lip-synced in the movie by Carol Lynley, the radio version was actually sung by Maureen McGovern. In tribute, Mikal Sandoval, dressed like Nonnie in the film, led an audience sing-along (lyric sheets were provided) as the assembled cast members, sans Pamela Sue, looked on.
Artist/entrepreneur Brian Boskind, the wunderkind who put together this event with the staff of the Egyptian, then gave a fascinating presentation for fans of ocean liners and Hollywood film lore. He first saw “The Poseidon Adventure” as a 9 year old in Baltimore along with several other classmates. “I was immediately taken with the film’s detailed poster artwork. So many chords were struck in my mind that day — the haunting yet noble theme John Williams wrote for the ship making it’s way through the rough seas; very cool miniature and special effect work; the giant Deco-inspired sets. I became visually fascinated and aware of this huge, cool ship called an ocean liner (and more importantly learned later that it was based on a real ship that I might visit one day). Lastly, I learned the notions of self sacrifice and strangers being able to come together for a common cause. When our group was picked up that day from the movie theater, we were exhausted and spent the trip home seeing how long we could each hold our breath.”
Brian added, “Like any of the major films that have stuck with me these many years, I have come to examine the specific reasons why it still means so much to me and I like being able to show people the accuracy of the film’s depiction of liner life, which is why I developed the lecture.”
Expounding on a lecture he did aboard the QUEEN MARY for the 2011 Art Deco Festival called “The QUEEN MARY On Film and the Importance of the Ocean Liner in Cinema”, Boskind presented key images of the liner in film throughout the decades. In addition to “real” ships like the MARY and CONSTITUTION, Hollywood scenic designers conjured up a number of Franken-liner hybrids that combined elements of well known ships like the NORMANDIE, PASTEUR and CONTE DI SAVOIA. One example was the “QUEEN MARY” model that featured the hull and superstructure of TITANIC topped by the cowls and stacks of the QUEEN MARY used in 1953’s Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell vehicle, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”.
Of course, the CLARIDON (nee ILE DE FRANCE) was not left out. In some respects, “The Last Voyage” foreshadowed or at least shaded the happenings in “Poseidon Adventure”. Both the similarly named CLARIDON and POSEIDON were on their last voyages before going to the breakers; George Sander’s arrogant captain was a bit like POSEIDON’s cost-conscious Linarcos, with their reckless disregard for safety; various trapped cast members and the ensuing struggle to get them free, etc., etc.
Brian also shared some rare stills of footage not used in the movie, including a long shot of the overturned SS POSEIDON. By the way, the actual POSEIDON model resides at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro.
A few rare “The Poseidon Adventure” cast shots, including some Stella Stevens cheesecake views, were met with wild applause. And then, the show began. It was as magical as ever: an utterly relentless, spellbinding, impeccably cast yarn pitting the struggle to survive against insurmountable odds and lacing it with humor and pathos. I am as in love with the movie today as I was the first time I saw it.
Brian screened a special treat after the film. I am not sure words can quite do it justice. QUEEN MARY and Joan Crawford fans need to click here to see — just get past the long, animated intro…
On the way out, we lingered in the lobby to admire more exhibits, including the original cocktail dress Stella Stevens wore and one of the Art Deco ballroom sconces.
Like any great event, it was hard to leave but I have a feeling there will be many more in the future. Let’s close with this wonderful photo that didn’t quite make it to Brian Boskind’s presentation: a view of the SS POSEIDON (left) and the RMS QUEEN MARY (right) along with the cast.
End Of “SS POSEIDON: 40 Years Upside Down” Trek
Very special thanks: Brian Boskind, Mike Masino, Danny Nero