Saturday, May 24, 2014

RICHARD JAECKEL

I was gonna add an R.I.P. to the title of this post, but Richard Jaeckel passed in 1997. However, I was watching THE DIRTY DOZEN for the umpteenth time tonight and I kept thinking how much weaker this entertaining action flick would have been without Jaeckel, who played the tough sergeant who holds his own with Lee Marvin in the movie that made Marvin a box office star for a while. Something Jaeckel never was though he worked with too many who were to even list here.
I was lucky enough to get to know him late in his life when we worked out in the same gym in Venice Beach. It was a small gym without steam rooms or saunas or whirlpools or even a locker room. It only used natural light from a huge skylight and there was no pumped in music. It was kind of a Zen like place to work out, and almost an elite gym, only in that despite its small size and low fees (and it was walkable from an apartment I had at the time just a few blocks away over the border with Santa Monica) it was never crowded and often felt like an almost meditative spot.
It was owned by Joe Gold, the guy who started Gold Gyms and then sold them and opened up this little space for the people he liked without all the frills. Arnold worked out there sometimes and even brought his kids, who were little at the time so it would distract me worrying about them being around all the heavy weights and workout machines. I saw Magic Johnson and other Lakers of the time there too. But they obviously worked out mainly somewhere else and just came by to be a part of what seemed like an exclusive atmosphere that really wasn't. (Though I did see another character actor, younger than me, who played villains in several hit movies of the time, get thrown out and told to never return for making a bad joke that Gold felt insulted the place.)
I rarely talked to anyone there except for the artist Don Bachardy, at the time best known for being Christopher Isherwood's lover, both of whom were friends. Don was the one who talked me into saving my "archives"—I was culling them, trying to reduce all the paperwork I had collected by then, the late '80s and early '90s, and he convinced me not to throw anything away saying it would all be valuable one day (he and Chris were great supporters of my work and seemed to genuinely think it was important) and I'm grateful to him for that because I managed to sell my archives to NYU two years ago and I needed the money, so Don was correct, though I think they bought them mainly for the famous people I've known and had correspondence with etc.
One day I spied Richard Jaeckel at the gym. If I remember correctly he was working out in a wheelchair because he had either injured himself or was perhaps confined to it for an illness. At any rate, I recognized him right away because his face never changed in all the many decades he worked in movies and on TV. I couldn't stop from introducing myself and telling him what a fan I was, and he seemed humble but pleased.
Over the several times we chatted at that gym, he told me his story, though when I looked it up on IMDb and Wikipedia, there were different versions, they both say he was discovered on a movie lot in Hollywood where he was working as a messenger boy. So I might have heard him wrong. The way I remembered him telling me, he was too young for the service, it was just at the beginning of the war, when I was just being born, and at the time he lived on Long Island and went to work as a messenger boy riding his bicycle around the studios in Long island, which had converted to making propaganda and military instructive films.
He told me, the way I remember it, that he was discovered there by the studio that made GUADACANAL DIARY, his first film (1943) and a seminal war film. So he started right out being part of what would become a classic. He went on to act in many great movies, but also some terrible ones, and did a lot of TV, the last thing being a regular role on BAYWATCH, a show I also appeared on (and one of the reasons you can't trust the net and sites like IMDb, since it doesn't mention that in my credits at all, but mentions things I wasn't in).
He gave me great, simple advice, I didn't write down, like an idiot, so can't remember except the gist of it being do whatever the job requires and take whatever jobs you're offered. I sensed we probably didn't agree on a lot of stuff if we probed deeply enough, but he was so pleasant to be around and seemed to enjoy my attention to the point of it becoming almost a routine whenever we ran into each other to stop what we were doing and chat awhile, especially about movies, acting and some of the roles he had had.
He was a short, cute, natural actor with great screen presence and always added an element of reality to any movie he was in, even the bad ones. I'm glad I watched THE DIRTY DOZEN tonight, not just because it's an entertaining flick despite it's low aim, and there are a lot of great performances in it, but mainly because it brought up fond memories of Richard Jeackel, an actor who should never be forgotten. And because he was in so many great flicks with so many great stars, he won't be.

[Here's just some of my favorite movie performances by him in: GUADACANAL DIARY (1943), THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949), BATTLEGROUND (1949), THE GUNFIGHTER (1950), COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA (1952), 3:10 TO YUMA (1957), TOWN WITHOUT PITY (1971), 4 FOR TEXAS (1963), THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION (1970), PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (1973), STARMAN (1984).

And just a handful of the many many stars that were in movies with him: John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Glen Ford, Van Johnson, Elvis Presley, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Lee Marvin, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Chris Kristofferon, Bob Dylan, Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, etc.]

2 comments:

-K- said...

I always think of him from his last scene in "Sometimes A Great Notion," a movie I haven't seen since it came out. I don't think I can quite articulate the sensibility to it as it seems to have blurred the lines between blue collar, family-owned business taking on the corporate world mixed with a kind of rugged individualism. Anyway, that's how I remember it.

Lally said...

me too...I don't actually remember liking it, but I do remember it feeling remarkable that this guy who I remembered from favorite childhood moves was still in moves and looking almost the same when I was already a married adult with kids...I didn't know his name then, nor how many movies he had been in...