"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,
"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
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.
PORTRAIT 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,
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
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.
"Portrait 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
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.
"Portrait of a Hero" is available for viewing at the
UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles.
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