Sunday, December 2, 2012

Happy Birthday Ray Walston!

"My Favorite Martian" Theme Song

   Ray Walston's Death

AT&T Commercial

Picture Legend:
1. Ray
2. In 1957's "Kiss Them For Me," with Cary Grant and Jane Mansfield
3. In "South Pacific"
4. As the Devil in "Damn Yankees"
5. As Uncle Martin, in "My Favorite Martian"
6. "The Sting," with Newman and Redford
7. Mr Hand, in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"
8. As Candy, in "Of Mice and Men"
9. As Glen Bateman, in "The Stand"
10. As Judge Henry Bone, in "Picket Fences"
11. As Boothby, In "Star Trek, Voyager"

   It is my great pleasure and honor to celebrate the birthday today of one of my favorite character actors who for over 60 years entertained us on stage, television, and screen, Mr. Ray Walston!
   This is what he said though about character actors: "I'm an actor and that's it -- period. Producers and studios have thrown many things at me over the years: comedy, tragedy, drama, drawing-room comedy. I've managed to keep my head above water in most of these genres, but I don't put myself in any one category like "comic actor" or "musical-comedy" actor."
   I agree. Mr. Walston was exceptionally versatile and proficient in whatever role he found himself in. If I were to chose one common trait that shined most consistently in his work through the characters he portrayed, it had to be an air of wisdom... let's make it two traits... and humanity. Wisdom and humanity, not only the talk, but the walk as well.
  Like many of us Ray started his long career at an early age as a relatively small infant, being born in New Orleans, Louisiana which was named after Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Orleans, Regent of France (some say Laurel, Mississippi, which was named after Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame). He wasn't born with the first name of Ray though. Herman was his first first name. Later he would change it to Ray, which was my own father's first name.
   Good choice.
   His parents, Mittie and Harry Norman Walston were working class people of modest means. Harry worked with lumber I'm told.
   I'm going to call Herman Ray from now on. I hope you don't mind.
  When Herman grew up a little he often attended the local movie house, where silent films intrigued him, and he became passionate about acting. It was hard times though during the Great Depression. Still he started acting at an early age as an extra on productions at many New Orleans theaters. He mostly played small roles with stock companies, and he scored a job in a movie theater, selling tickets and cleaning up.
   The family moved to Dallas, where Ray's dad wanted him to get involved in the oil business. But Ray wanted to act, and he joined a repertory theater company under Margo Jones, an influential American stage director and producer best known for launching the American regional theater movement, and for introducing the theater-in-the-round concept in Dallas. Ray debuted in 1938. For almost four years he performed in a play every month. In 1943, he left Houston with Margo, who was going to the Cleveland Playhouse to direct Tennessee Williams' first play, "You Touch Me." Now 29 years old he made his professional stage debut in that play, and  worked under contract at the Cleveland Playhouse for three years, acting in 22 other plays.
   In November of that year he married the love of his life, the actress Ruth Calvert, with whom he would remain married until his death in 2001. They had one daughter, Katherine Ann Walston.
   Ray and Ruth then traveled to New York City, where he made his Broadway debut in a 1945 production of "Hamlet."
   He continued to get work on the Broadway stage and a few years later, in 1948 he won a Clarence Dewart Award for his performance in another Margo Jones directed production of a Tennessee Williams play, "Summer and Smoke." In 1950, he took a job playing Luther Billis in Rogers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," and eventually brought the role to a production at London's Drury Lane Theatre for nine months. Returning to New York, he appeared in another Rogers and Hammerstein production, "Me and Juliet," as well as a musical written by Truman Capote, "House of Flowers."
   The year I was born, 1955, was a good one for 41 year old Mr.Walston. He played the devil.
   "Damn Yankees," opened on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on May 5, 1955, transferred to the Adelphi Theatre on May 17, 1957, and ran for a total of 1,019 performances. It was directed by George Abbott, scenery and costumes by William and Jean Eckart, and dances and musical numbers staged by a guy named Robert Louis Fosse, the second play which he choreographed. His friends called him Bob, and he would be the only director of musical films I would ever like ("Cabaret," "Damn Yankees," "All That Jazz"). Ray would work opposite the actress and dancer, Gwen Verdon. She initially refused the role, preferring to assist another choreographer, but finally agreed. Fosse insisted on meeting her before working with her, and after meeting and working for a brief time, they each agreed to the arrangement. They would marry in 1960, would separate in 1970, but remain married until Bob's death in 1987.
    In 1956, Ray won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, for his performance in "Damn Yankees," After 12 years on the New York stage he sought new challenges, and turned his attention toward Hollywood.
   Where he got a lot of work, starting out with Cary Grant and Jane Mansfield in 1957's "Kiss Them for Me." He reprised two roles the next year, in "South Pacific," and "Damn Yankees," again starring with Gwen. This would be the vehicle to which I first became aware of Mr. Walston. I thought he was great. Very devilish.
   I liked Gwen too. "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets..."
   Anyway, here's the trailer:
   Ray would continue a successful movie career with films like "The Apartment," in 1960, with Jack Lemmon and Shirley McClain, 1963's "Who's Minding the Store," with  Jerry Lewis, and then 64's "Kiss Me Stupid," with Dean Martin and Kim Novak, "Caprice," in 1967 with Doris Day, "Paint Your Wagon," with Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood in 1969, a musical western I still can't bear to think about let alone watch. In 1973 he appeared in the Best Picture winner, "The Sting," the second vehicle for the popular team of Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
   But it was back in 1963 that Ray won the television role that would become his greatest success and possibly the greatest hindrance to his future career.   
   Along side Bill Bixby (who would later go on to become Eddie's dad in "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," and "You don't want to see me when I get mad" TV's "The Incredible Hulk") Ray would star as the shipwrecked Martian in "My Favorite Martin," a 30 minute comedy running from September of 1963 until May of 1966, for a total of 107 episodes (75 in black and white, 32 in color).
   "In creating a role for which there had been no prior model on a prime-time television series, Ray Walston skillfully crafted the character of the Martian into a classically original interpretation of a space alien from a superior civilization who becomes stranded on Earth. Mixing a blend of intellect with his flair for dry humor, Mr. Walston’s portrayal of a Martian (with the Earth alias of Martin O’Hara) captured the imagination of generations of TV viewers." -- JH Harison
   Here's what Ray had to say about it:
   "I never should have done "My Favorite Martian."  I didn't work in TV or film for three years after. Everyone thought of me as a Martian. Do you know what it's like to go to Madrid, Spain, on vacation and have a guy yell out, 'Hey, Martin!' and put antennas behind his head? When that happens, you know your career is dead." -- "USA TODAY," 1995
   I watched "My Favorite Martian," when I was a kid. I liked it. Ray and Bill's performances sold it and made it good.
   During the 1970s and 1980s, he appeared as a guest star in numerous shows, such as "Custer," "The Wild Wild West," "Love, American Style," "The Rookies," "Mission: Impossible," "Ellery Queen," "The Six Million Dollar Man," "Little House on the Prairie," and "The Incredible Hulk" with Bill Bixby (in which he played Jasper the Magician in an episode called "My Favorite Magician"), among many others.
   He also had a small but important part in probably my favorite television show of all time, "Star Trek, the Next Generation," playing Boothby, a gardener for the Star Fleet Academy on Earth, and a mentor to the future Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
   During the 1980's and early 90s Ray starred in 14 films. In 1982 Ray introduced himself to a new, younger generation of movie goers playing the dedicated and stringent history teacher Mr. Hand, opposite a very young Sean Penn in his second film (and starring one of my very favorite actresses, Phoebe Cates, but that's another story).
   Here's a clip where they first meet:
   In 1992, Mr. Walston played the role of Candy in the third remake of my favorite author John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. He would work alongside Sinise again two years later in the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's "The Stand," one of my favorite novels of that particular author (should have got Jack Nicholson as Flagg! Jamey Sheridan sucked... but Laura San Giacomo was the best thing about that movie!).
   In 1984, Ray played a judge on an episode of the comedy sit-com, "Night Court." Six years later, he would work with David E. Kelley while guest-starring on "L.A. Law." This work led to the part of Judge Henry Bone on "Picket Fences," which began production in 1992 for CBS. His character proved to become quite popular, and in his late 70s he was nominated for an Emmy Award for the first time.
      Ray was nominated three times for an Emmy in the Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series category for his work on "Picket Fences," winning twice, in 1995 and 1996.
   His last screen appearance was in the Oct. 15th, 2000 season premiere of "Touched by an Angel"  as a wealthy entrepreneur who disinherits his materialistic son to teach him that there are more valuable things in life than money.
   Walston died at the age of 86 on New Year's Day of 2001 (he died on the first day of the third millennium, becoming the first well known figure to die in the 21st Century) in Beverly Hills, California, after a 6-year battle with the autoimmune disease lupus.
   He was survived by his widow, Ruth, his daughter, Katherine Ann, and two grandchildren.
   He was truly a great actor and human being. His work has influenced my life and those of many others, and will continue to do so. He was another of those rare actors that made every project he worked on a little better just because he was in it. He will always remain one of my favorites, and on this, what would have been his 97th birthday, all of us here at Joyce's Take wish him and his family a very happy birthday.
   Happy birthday Ray!


  1. He put together a very impressive career!

  2. happy birthday to him
    Regards, (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..