The solid film and tv actor — Brooklyn-born John Saxon — died July 25 at the age of 83.
The story of how he got to Hollywood, and groomed as yet another darkly handsome Fifties heart throb, brings us to one Henry Willson.
Willson, a wealthy Easterner who came to Hollywood to scout talent for producer David O. Selznick, turned talent agent and grew to be a powerful one. One of his charges was a young Rock Hudson (born Roy Scherer Jr.).
Willson’s male acting charges were famously said to have reflected his sexual persuasion, although he counted a number of rising female stars (Lana Turner, Jeanette MacDonald, Ann Sothern) as clients. His other male clients included Tab Hunter and Guy Madison.
But Willson’s real attention was focused on his lists of male clients, specifically young, good-looking, all-American guys, wrote Hunter in his superbly-written 2005 autobiography (coauthored by Eddie Muller) Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star.
Ok, back to John Saxson. The story goes that one day, the former Carmine Orrico played hooky from school one day to spend time in a Times Square movie house. Coming out of the theater, he was spotted by a modeling agency representative, and his handsome mug soon adorned the cover of such magazines as Modern Romance.
Enter Willson, who also took notice. Saxon soon found himself being shipped off to the West Coast for a screen test. He was all of 17 at the time. One of his first credits in the mid-Fifties was The Unguarded Moment playing a troubled teenager understandably obsessed with his teacher (played by Esther Williams).
Thus began an amazingly productive career — covering nearly 200 movie and tv credits — that established Saxon as a rock solid supporting actor who sometimes warranted star billing.
Occasionally referred to as a “junior Marlon Brando,” Saxon actually costarred with the latter in the 1966 western, The Appaloosa. He always spoke of the film as among his career favorites.
Saxson also turned up in another memorable title. 1973’s Enter the Dragon starring the late Bruce Lee. What is a nice Italian-American boy doing in an Asian martial arts extravaganza? Why not see the picture to find out?
Saxon later found productive work in horror films, notably in director Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. He plays a key role of a police lieutenant with a past. Saxson is perhaps best remembered by younger audiences as a member of the wealthy winery-owner family in the 1980’s prime time tv soap opera, Falcon Crest.
Farewell, John Saxson.