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Bus Stop

"Portrait of a Hero"
Episode 1.5 (Oct. 29, 1961)

Rod Taylor played tennis bum Johnny Jones in a steamy episode of this anthology series that focused on the lives of people stopping off at a bus stop cafe in Sunrise, Colo.

"Bus Stop" started out as a stage play by William Inge and was made into a movie in 1956 starring Marilyn Monroe. 

The TV series came next, running for 26 episodes on ABC from Oct. 1, 1961-March 25, 1962. The regulars were played by Rhodes Reason, Marilyn Maxwell, Joan Freeman and Richard Anderson.

"Portrait of a Hero" was one of the eight "Bus Stop" episodes directed by Robert Altman, and it's the only one of the eight where he shares a directing credit. The other directing credit went to Sutton Roley. who was the director of a "Hong Kong" episode, "Murder by Proxy."

The combination must have been stunning. At that stage, Altman was honing his craft, developing a style with overlapping dialogue and a drifting camera that created the impression of real life caught in passing. Roley's style also included putting the camera in motion, employing long dolly shots and strange angles.

"Bus Stop" is notable in TV history for the controversy it stirred, especially an installment titled "A Lion Walks Among Us" that starred Fabian Forte, a teen idol who played a psychopathic killer. The episode became a political lightning rod, spurring rhetoric that branded television as "a vast wasteland."

"Bus Stop," the TV series, has never had an official home video release, but several episodes circulate among collectors. Alas, Rod's episode is one that remains among the missing.

PORTAIT OF AN EPISODE

Rod's installment of "Bus Stop" seemed to be more focused on sex than violence. TV Guide's synopsis of "Portrait of a Hero" says:

A handsome opportunist (Rod Taylor) joins a country club and finds a golden opportunity in the form of three gullible women. Peggy: Nina Foch (pictured with Rod at right). Louise: Dolores Michaels. Jane: Luana Anders.

TV.com has this plot synopsis:

When Johnny Jones' bus ticket runs out, he and all his worldly goods are put off at Sunrise. But being broke doesn't cramp Johnny's style, soon he's out at the local country club, charming the ladies and playing tennis for 50 bucks a point.

On Oct. 28, 1961, the syndicated TV Scout Best Bets column said:

Rod Taylor ... is excellent as a completely amoral young man who uses a combination of charm and nerve to milk the rich. Soon after he arrives in Sunrise, he is involved with three women, rich, richer and richest. Nina Foch, Dolores Michaels and Luana Anders are the women, and they share 26 love scenes with Rod. There's a strong Henry James influence, with one scene very reminiscent of "The Heiress." A fine show.

A TV Tonight column in the Indiana (Pa.) Gazette of Oct. 28, 1961, said:

Rod Taylor, who does all his own tennis playing here, plays a charming cad who is described by one character as a "beatnik, Princeton University style." Shortly after he arrives in town, he has three women in love with him. Some of the love scenes in this show had to be reshot. They were considered too hot for TV.

Another TV column describes the episode like this:

When an exceptionally handsome, opportunistic, penniless, self-styled "vagabond" successfully insinuates himself into the country club set, he is sought after by a lovely divorcee, the plain daughter of a very wealthy man [actor John Larch as Arthur Simms], and an elderly widow. But in his efforts to sell himself to the highest bidder, he over-reaches himself and ends up broke and back on the road.

The Australian Women's Weekly magazine of July 18, 1962, has the best description:

Rod Taylor, selling his sex appeal, played his way through it in the role of the tennis bum (American for a kind of tennis con man who lives off the game) who is irresistible to women.

In the short space of an hour, our Rod got off the bus at the bus stop and:

  • Became the lover of a divorcee.

  • Became the tennis hero of the Country Club.

  • Was engaged to a young girl suffering from what is known on TV as a "terminal disease."

  • Jilted the girl to set up with a third woman with a bigger fortune.

  • Cast off the third one because he found out the second one was wealthier.

  • Made a play to return to the second one.

  • Failed, and caught the bus out.

There is no doubt he has sex appeal, but in case we females didn't realise it, Mr. Taylor was photographed whenever possible stripped to the waist, in bed, wearing short shorts and tight muscle-revealing shirts on the tennis courts, or having revealing rub-downs in the massage rooms.

As for the tennis scenes, a syndicated newspaper item from Aug. 26, 1961, noted during filming that "the pro standing by to double in tennis scenes for Rod Taylor ... didn't have a chance to work up a sweat. Taylor, an expert player, handled his own racquet-wielding chores."

This episode was billed as Rod's first TV appearance since "Hong Kong" went off the air at the end of March 1961.

"Portait of a Hero" was filmed in July 1961 and aired in the U.S. on Oct. 29, 1961, as the fifth episode in the series. However, it was the premiere episode when the series aired in Australia in 1962. The Sydney Morning Herald hailed the premiere in its July 8, 1962 edition:

Tuesday's stars were Australian Rod Taylor and Nina Foch, both performers who can act rings round most of the competition in sight.

Miss Foch in particular dominated the show, as an aging wealthy playgirl with her sights set on the muscled, tennis playing Mr. Taylor.

And as the cad and bounder willing to sell himself to the highest bidder (a couple of other ladies are after him), Mr. Taylor was magnificent.

The teleplay for the episode was written by Luther Davis a veteran screenwriter recruited by producer Roy Huggins. It was based on a story by Jonathan Hughes.

 

 

LINKS

IMDb // Wikipedia // TV.com

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