The Year Was 1967

The Place was Muscle Beach
The Contest was Mr. Big Boy
The Winner was Harry Hollard

I know I must frustrate a lot of readers who are looking for answers. The newsletters come and go and still your problem with an over-inflated tire tube waistline rolls on, the plateaus and sticking points persist, your training apathy is on the rise, DOMS, cold sweats and chills continue to ravage your body and the real muscle building secrets are being unfairly withheld.

“The guy talks about airplanes and flying high and blasting things, but says nothing about how I can double my bench while getting ripped as I add 10 pounds of pulsating muscle to my overly fat body, which is yet to respond to my high-carb diet and slow-rep Bowflex routine after a grand total of two solid months of training in my garage gym to the rhythms of snow falling on the High Sierras. What’s his story?”

Well, that’s exactly what Tom Lisanti wanted to know. He’s writing a book about the beachy Hollywood movies of the ‘60s and plans to include interviews of the actors who participated in those epic masterpieces. The film Don’t Make Waves, starring Tony Curtis and Sharon Tate, made the manuscript and I humbly present my contribution. Yawn.

1. How did you segue from bodybuilding into acting?

There was no segue. The two ventures occurred side by side, like running and jumping when you were a kid and life is a breeze. A life-long Jersey boy, at 21 I moved to Santa Monica, California in the spring of ‘63 to work for a muscle magazine publisher, Weider, Inc. I trained with the Muscle Beach gang and won the popular title, Mr. America. During that time, as was the tradition, I responded with all the other muscle guys in southern California to a Hollywood cattle call seeking a muscleman. The major Los Angeles studio, KHJ-TV, chose me for some strange reason to be “David the Gladiator,” the host for the year-long presentation of Saturday Night TV adventure movies.

I was a local celeb for a year, though I didn’t know it. Mr. America was busy training for Mr. Universe. It was amid that training that another cattle call echoed through the beaches and gyms in close proximity to Hollywood. Filmways of MGM needed one Harry Collard to lift weights on Muscle Beach in Don’t Make Waves. The bulk of the filming was completed in mid-September, the same week I competed in and won Mr. Universe, 1966.

It was all as if by accident and coincidence, as no ambition or planning is evident in either experience.

2. Was there ever talk about sending you to Europe to appear in the muscle gladiator movies?

If there was, it was short, in whispers and behind closed doors. I knew nothing. You have no idea how growing up in the swamplands of Secaucus in the ‘50s stunts one’s growth and awareness. I pursued little more than the last rep and the next gram of protein. I read about Europe in ninth-grade history. I wasn’t hustling Hollywood, knocking down doors or studying while I starved to become an actor.

I believe I was super lucky -- blessed by God, actually -- to do what I did in Hollywood, and was between times for further good luck. European-hero filmmaking was momentarily spent and American hard-bodied stars were yet to be born and embraced during my blip on the screen.

3. What do you remember most about making Lord Love a Duck?

A thought of Roddy McDowell is the first stirring memory that comes to my mind. For those weeks on the set and on location for my minor roll in the movie, the two of us neither met nor talked. Then one hot afternoon we concurrently entered an outdoor john placed discreetly behind the Santa Monica Courthouse, the scene of the day’s filming. As we stood there in the stinking heat attending the most important business of the day, we talked about the weather, the ocean and the hard day’s work. Nice guy. We buttoned up, nodded and I never saw him again.

There was a fight scene. I remember vividly stepping into a dark, off-set area with a cameraman, a stunt man and a funky, rumpled bedroom mattress. The stunt man was 160 pounds and all business; I was 240 and curious about our brief and unspoken relationship. I was not welcomed, informed, consulted or directed. I was motioned. Fine.

Camera sez to Stunts, dragging the mattress, “This is a good spot.” Stunts drops the mattress, mutters something to me. I eagerly nod and next thing I’m flying over his shoulder and onto the miserable mattress. I bounce like a fresh 240-pound sack of raw, living flesh on a mattress of lifeless straw. Camera says, “Got it” and Stunts says, “Good.” I walked at a tilt for a week looking for a pair of wise guys with a shabby mattress and a camera.

4. You did a guest spot on an amusing episode of The Monkees. What do you recall about working with the guys and with Venita Wolf?

Help me here… who is Venita Wolf?

I was honored to work with the guys and I admired their young world of fame and celebrity and fun. Though New Jersey was three to four years behind me, I wasn’t yet broken of my naiveté. Alas, I never will be. I stood on the sandy shores of a beach on a studio back lot, looked down on Davy Jones and said as the cameras rolled, “Beat it, Twerp.”

Davy flipped out. The script called for the uncomplimentary designation “Shrimp,” not the “T” word, which evidently held an especially nasty connotation to Davy Jones of the Monkees. He assumed a karate stance before me and called the action to a halt. Already nervous, out of my territory and getting hungry, my jaw dropped. It took me a full 10 seconds to realize the boy wanted revenge and the crew around him, assistant director, wardrobe, makeup and stage hands were holding him back. I was bewildered. I did something really wrong. Oh, geez.

Clusters of people gathered according to rank and job description. Where did I belong? I started to move toward a group of carpenters when I was encompassed by a handful of fidgeting executives -- where did they come from? -- imploring me to apologize to the star. I said absolutely, sure, no problem, certainly, you bet, guys. I was reluctant to ask why, but decided the information would help me in my sincerity and prevent me from stepping into another pile.

“Sorry I called you a twerp, Mr. Jones.”

My apology was awkward but I was sufficiently contrite. We went back to work and the sun shined on Burbank.

5. How did you land the role of Harry in Don't Make Waves?

As I mentioned earlier, I joined some 75 guys of all shapes, sizes and ages at an MGM cattle call. Remember, this was the spring of 1966. Times have changed. The word got out fast around the gyms via agents, extras and bit-part players when the movie and TV makers were looking for muscle. The herd gathered to pick up whatever there was to pick up. It was a ritual, a social event where old faces met to kill time, exchange stories and shoot the breeze while they collected their unemployment.

I heard about the occasion on Wednesday night at the Muscle Beach Gym (AKA, The Dungeon) and appeared with the livestock on Thursday morning after my workout. We were reviewed in groups by varied assistants and the gleaning began. In a day eight finalists, including me, were chosen for outdoor screen tests before the bigwigs, and in another day I was chosen to be the brilliant and loquacious Harry “Big Boy” Hollard of Don’t Make Waves. I said, “Yes.”

6. Did Alexander McKendrick give you much acting guidance?

Sandy McKendrick, a nice man and an honor to know and work with, asked me to lunch at the MGM cafeteria early in production. He was quiet and I was quiet and from there on he would point and I would go.

He was looking for an image of a musclehead on screen and my incompetence as an actor portrayed that image rather well. I’d miss cues, look naturally unsure of myself, forget my lines and make up my own and Sandy must have thought, “Why screw it up? Just let him be himself.”

7. What was it like working with Sharon Tate and Tony Curtis?

He’s a Prince and she was not unlike a female version of me.

I like Tony and felt equality with him, though I tended to kneel when he stood by my side. He was fun, honest and full of energy. He’s a friend.

Sharon was young and consumed by her attendees and guardians. She was a star in the making and I watched her from a distance. She was gutsy and willing and quiet and wanting to yell aloud, I think. We flew in a small aircraft over South Carolina and she held tightly onto my hand, yet she didn’t hesitate to leap high from a trampoline and into my arms. We hung in the shade and talked about this or that or nothing with the rest of the crew ‘till it was our turn to tumble in the forsaken house in Malibu. She was a friend and we hugged.

8. With all these bodybuilders in the movie what was it like off the set during breaks?

Like metal to a magnet, I chose to hang with the extras during lunch and the lengthy breaks. I was invited to eat at the big, long table with the lead actors and the director’s crew and the production people, but I chickened out. In reality, I felt it would be a disloyalty to my own, a snub, a dishonoring, false. I chose to relax among the few I knew. We lifted, sunned, had curling contests, did back flips in the sand, worked the trampoline, read, nodded and twitched and scratched.

A smarter person would have enjoyed the companionship of the cast and crew. They were terrific people, admirable and had a lot to offer a guy if he was half awake and not so dern shy and unsure.

9. Do you think Don't Make Waves presented an accurate picture of the Southern California bodybuilding scene?

It was not entirely accurate nor was it a mindless spoof. The early bodybuilding scene, like a diamond, had many facets. It was dumb and innocent and lazy, and it was fast, sharp and visited by courageous and hard-working men and women. There were artists, mail carriers, airline pilots, cops, engineers, school teachers, heroes and bums. Some lived in the back of their cars or the old Muscle House on the beach or homes in Culver City and North Hollywood.

The picture was painted by one man’s brush and palette of colors. Hollywood highlighted it with bright tones and impressionist strokes. Yeah, the picture’s worth framing and hanging on a favorite wall in your living room. Better than another fading sunset or a still life of wilting flowers.

10. For you, what was the most positive and negative experience doing this movie?

There was the negative. One sunny afternoon in the late summer a small crowd of crew, actors and extras watched in fascination as parachutists descended a half-mile off Malibu Beach, the location depicting the famed Muscle Beach. A daring team was shooting the skydiving sequence featured in Don’t Make Waves. One chute fell quickly and there was alarm, fear. Small speed boats raced to the site, too late to rescue the cameraman who became entangled in the cords and sank in the sea. We all witnessed his death in cold, helpless disbelief.

The set designer, a favorite character at the studios and on location, like Bo Jangles up and died one day. Where was the enthusiastic Italian inspiration with colorful fabrics draped over his arm, towing props and offering encouraging words with the lilt of a language no one could speak but everyone understood? Gone in silence. Cancer they said.

Rumors of a monster budget crunch added a gray cloud to the mostly sunny skies.

These were the incidents of life, the junk, the crap that happens here and there and everywhere and were not particular to Don’t Make Waves or my involvement in the project. There were no negative experiences for me personally, unless I look back and see the things I would rather have done better.

The positives came on a daily basis. Being an actor and the familiar part of a Hollywood film production was subtly awesome. I could go here or there with freedom and permission. The guard at the studio gate waved me through… Hey, Dave… the prop man asked my advice; makeup fussed over my eyebrows; the director gave me directions and asked if I was ready before he said, “Rolling… and… action.” Wow.

Claudia Cardinali and I sat together in folding director’s chairs on a dark and deserted set as we waited wearily for some late pick-up shots. We talked about her sister, a fashion photographer, and Italy and her villa and I listened to her wonderful accent, and then she winsomely walked toward a harsh cluster of lights and activity after someone yelled that the camera was ready and it was time for her to shoot. Wow.

I won Mr. Universe during the last week of major filming and was awarded a hand-painted sketch by the MGM art department of an Oscar in a muscle pose, titled Super Oscar for Mr. Universe. It’s enclosed in an antique gold frame made by the MGM prop department and says above the statuette, “We’re Proud of You.” The cast and crew signed it and it hangs on my wall above the staircase. Wow.

The filming led to 15 minutes on stage with Johnny Carson while he showed me off to his audience like a prize bull. How can you beat that?

Two years later as I walked across the LAX terminal, a voice called “Dave, Dave, Dave” across the deserted late-night floor. I turned and it was Sharon dressed in black and wearing high heel boots. She ran and jumped into my arms, excitedly introduced me to her young friends and was off. That was the last I saw of the beautiful girl.

11. You received some decent reviews for Don't Make Waves. Why didn't you continue your acting career?

There’s not one reason why we do or don’t do important things in life. There’s a list. I was neither internally prepared nor internally directed toward an acting career. In my life stuff either happens or it doesn’t. Pursuing the rocky road and crossing the barrens and climbing the heights was too much trouble for something without substance -- a hope, a dream, a passion. I took acting classes for two years with good young actors under a popular director, Peyton Price, but I didn’t study acting. The artistic or egotistic or materialistic or fame and power-thirsty tentacles were either under-developed or they had withered. I tired quickly of going on interviews and cold readings and playing the necessary Hollywood games. I was between Hercules Unchained and Rambo, Reeves and Stallone, slightly out of step. There’s more to the tale, but I had to leave town and head for the clear air of the Santa Cruz hills.

It was a priceless trip through the famed and curious streets of Hollywood where the action is: the secret and private alleys where the elite movers walk about, nonchalant and privileged; the off-limits studios, stages and back lots -- workplaces of celebrities; the junky and crammed offices interviewing the sad wannabes for a one-time one-liner and the well-tanned, slick, gray-haired dude making a million-dollar deal as his Rolls unwinds the hills overlooking the town of tinsel. Makes you want to laugh, cry, beg and steal.

Makes me smile as I think about it.

Are we there yet?

Yes. The End

The Blithering Bomber… DD

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