Why simply live your life when with a little effort you can devour the whole thing! I have certainly gained the impression that David Hedison has taken hold of life and given it the best damned shake he could. I think when you read David’s responses to my questions below, and take into account that this suave leading man is now embracing his eighties, also bears testimony to the joie de vivre he brings to those around him. After all David Hedison is a man, who has seen much of the world and a great deal of life and whatever happens on screen, the man off the screen is even more vital and much more likely to speak his mind. However, the man does it with the spit and polish you come to expect from the finest Hollywood actors. And a gentleman is someone who can swear if the moment calls for it and yet simultaneously remain charmingly self-effacing. After all, any chap who happily invites his friends over to a dinner party to avoid them seeing his least favourite movies when they’re being shown on the tube, has got to be the king of cool in my book.
Beginning in May 1945, David trained with the US Navy in Sampson, located in upstate New York, (http://www.rpadden.com/sampson.htm) before being stationed in Jacksonville, Florida where he received an honorable discharge with the rank of Seamen Second Class. Later, at the behest of his father, David attended Brown University, before working several other jobs including a stint as an announcer on a North Carolina radio station. The turning point, as a young man trying to hone his acting skills, was essentially due to the strong influence he enjoyed working firstly under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse of the Theatre, followed by Herbert Bergdorf at his Acting Studio. These two influential drama teachers are probably the major reason why the stage remains David’s first love. Thus by the time David studied with Lee Strasburg at the Actors Studio in New York, he had already matured both as a person and as a fresh-faced young actor, bringing with him many invaluable experiences to augment his ever increasing acting skills.
Many of the finest actors of past generations have often succeeded because they distilled important elements from their previous life experiences to their onscreen personas. Experiences born from the school of hard knocks, or from serving in the Armed Forces, or even just working knockabout jobs to become an “overnight” success is often lacking with the “instant” stars of today. Doubly so when you realize that many current actors also lack any stage experience. Because David’s first love has always been the stage, his film and TV work have always been bolstered by the high work ethic, the need to be disciplined and word perfect, to possess emotional and vocal dexterity, coupled with the strong physical presence required by stage actors to create characters audiences can always connect with. Whether David is playing Captain Lee B Crane at the bottom of the sea, or Shakespeare on stage, or Arthur Hendricks in The Young & the Restless, there is always the same passion and the same integrity given to each character. While the finest actors never deliver less than their best, actors like David Hedison also never forget that life is more important than fantasy and thus retain the ability to enjoy the best of both worlds.
You can checkout lots of great info and pictures, or grab a terrific signed photo or three at David’s Official Website:
I recently caught up to David through the wonders of cyberspace to ask him a few questions about his great career as we enter the 50th anniversary of his classic film, The Fly. For anyone who has seen both versions, it is interesting to note that David pushed for the progressive make up to be used to create the fly in the original, but the director stuck with the old fashioned mask. The remake, starring Jeff Goldblum, used the make up just as David had envisioned, and in the remake you can see what might have been if David’s prescience had been incorporated into the original version.
If you meet David at a convention someday make sure you ask him what his strange, but literary connection is to Thomas Edison!!!
David: You probably signed your first autograph in the mid-1950s. Do you recall the circumstances and how you felt at the time?
DH: It was outside a theatre in Matunuck, Rhode Island. I was playing the young lead in The Showoff with Joe E. Brown at the Theatre-by-the-Sea. I left the theatre after the curtain calls and found two young women and a man waiting by the stage door. They wanted my autograph. I obliged them, they thanked me and left. That moment made me feel good.
David: For over fifty years you have been faithfully replying to fan mail and signing photos through the mail. Do you recall any very unusual or funny requests?
DH: There was a letter that came in during my first series, Five Fingers, very shortly after NBC insisted I change my name from Al Hedison to David Hedison. This nice lady wrote and asked me to clear up something that was puzzling her. She had noticed my name was the same as this other actor she liked; a fellow named Al Hedison. She wanted to know if we were related. She wrote that while I, David, was better looking, she thought that Al was a better actor! I sent her an autographed picture signed Al David Hedison, even though she hadn’t asked for one, hoping that would put an end to her confusion.
A second letter arrived in 1977. A few years earlier I had done a pilot for a series called Adventures of the Queen – all about the crew of the Queen Mary cruise ship. Robert Stack played the Captain and I was the Ship’s Doctor. It played as a TV movie, but was never picked up a series. It aired quite a bit in syndication after that and this particular fan was eager to see it for the first time. They only had one question. They wanted to know which one of us played the Queen …
David: You have appeared at many conventions in North America and Europe. Do you have a favourite show or venue?
DH: Nothing comes to mind. I have always enjoyed meeting my fans wherever they gather. I have only pleasant memories of past conventions.
David: Would you share one of your more bizarre moments with a fan?
DH: There was a very enthusiastic fan at my last show in Orlando (MegaCon 2007). He loved the flying sub on Voyage and told me he had always wanted a real one. He asked me if the craft was hard to fly. Since it was a stationary chair on a standing set at Fox Studios Stage 10, I answered him truthfully that “No, it was very easy to fly” and he went home happy.
David: You don’t collect autographs or movie memorabilia, but is there any thing you have saved over the years?
DH: I bound my first four movie scripts in leather and still have them in my library. Also I had (at one time) my fang dental appliance from the 4th season Voyage episode Man-Beast, but I have no idea where it is now. I wore those fangs to a Halloween Party shortly after Voyage went off the air, but I didn’t win first prize.
David: This is a question I always ask. If any person in history could sign a photo for you, whom would you ask and what would you have them write in the dedication?
DH: I would love to have an autographed photo from Bill Clinton with his signature and the comment: Dear David - You are a great patriot, and I admire you. All the best, Bill.
David: When you were shooting the Five Fingers television series, Peter Lorre was a guest star. I heard he got in trouble with the studio during filming of the episode Thin Ice. Would you share that story?
DH: We were filming a restaurant scene and Peter ordered caviar from the hotel waiter, because that was what he was supposed to be eating in our scene. The order was placed before the prop man came to “set” the table with the tin of jam we were supposed to use. The real stuff arrived (with the bill) and the studio was furious at the unauthorized expense, but it wasn’t sent back. Peter had a great time eating it in the scene and he didn’t get fired, although he could have been. It was good caviar, too, the best they had in the hotel. I had some.
David: Would you tell a story from your long friendship with your Voyage co-star Richard Basehart?
DH: Richard was a wonderful actor, but he wasn’t very tall. They used a two inch riser under the chart table for him to step up on to equalize the height difference between us. As the seasons went on I got used to him doing this. During one show, I stepped up to the chart table and started the scene. As I was saying my lines, I realized I was not looking down at Richard, nor even looking over at Richard, but that I was looking up at Richard. It was jarring enough, that I lost my concentration and blurted out, “My God! You’ve grown!”
It happened right in the middle of a very long scene and ruined it. Everyone on set burst out laughing. I found out the jokers had been plotting and had placed an eight inch riser under the table for him to stand on.
We had good times on the Voyage set and would often pull pranks on each other. It made the hard work go faster and kept the set relaxed. Richard and I used to take turns paying for the food served at the Friday wrap parties and the crew really appreciated that. They were a good cast and crew. I enjoyed working with all of them very much. Most of them are gone now, but I still have fond memories of those days at Fox.
David: You are great friends with Roger Moore. Would you relate an amusing story about him?
DH: My 52nd birthday happened to fall during the shooting of the movie ffolkes - it may have been released as North Sea Hijack down here. We had a very long night shoot that evening and I wanted to go home after. Roger wouldn’t hear of it, it was my birthday and we were going to celebrate! He woke this poor Irish pub owner up at like 2:00 in the morning; got the pub open and we had a proper birthday toast! Several, in fact.
Our driver had a time getting us home as I kept falling over onto him – a combination of the hour and the libations. Once he had to actually stop the car in order to prop me back up so we could be on our way. Roger got out of the car to relieve himself and fell over trying to unzip. He had to be put back into the car before we could continue. The next morning we both apologized to the driver for being so much trouble. “Oh, no, sirs,” the driver replied. “There was a bit of a strong wind last night!”
David: You were also together in New Orleans making Live and Let Die. Any tales from that shoot?
DH: On my last night in New Orleans, Roger took me out and we imbibed rather heavily, as I wanted to try several native New Orleans drinks. So we did. Problem was we both had an early call to do my final New Orleans scene the next morning. We were there for our call, but in a somewhat “delicate” condition. The location was outdoors at the train station and the bright sun was not welcome to either one of us.
Still we gamely took our mark, ambled down beside the train, they got on, and I went to say my line and blew it. Cut! So back we went, ambled down again and once again I blew the line. This happens sometimes. You get a line tangled and you can’t say what is written in the script to save your life or the shot. It’s a nightmare. You have to get your concentration back somehow or you will never get the line right.
I started to get disgusted with myself and frustrated that I couldn’t do this. The Director, Guy Hamilton, was losing patience. So we go again and I still can’t get the line to come out right.
Roger could see I was off, and being the good friend he is, he made a comment that was so obscene – he’s a master at this and can crack up an entire set – that everyone laughed and the tension broke. It gave me more time to get my concentration back.
The only problem with Roger’s ribald comment was that it was so hilarious, that he ended up giving Jane and I the other nightmare actors have – he gave us “the giggles.” This is when actors cannot say the lines they are supposed to say, because the minute they look at each other, they start laughing. The only cure for the giggles is to work through them, so we ended up blowing several more takes until we finally worked out of our Roger induced hilarity.
At this point, Guy Hamilton called the three of us over, told us that was quite enough and could we get on with it! I squared my shoulders, went to my mark, ambled down and finally got it! Cut. Print. I have to say it’s one of the best lines I have in the movie. However, it was not fun getting it on film.
David: I am forced by sheer curiosity to ask you about The Fly. Was there anything that happened on that film set?
DH: People don’t know that was me under the fly mask and with the hood on. I did everything you see in that movie; there was no stunt man or double ever used. Swinging the axe; laying down in the press, all of that was me.
David: During your career you have acted in many genres. Which film or TV episode is your favourite?
DH: I did a PBS Theatre program of an Oliver Hailey play in January of 1975 called For the Use of the Hall that really struck home for me. The play was about a group of desperately unhappy people who were always looking for something they did not have. Only my character grasped that we have to appreciate what we have when we have it, i.e. be grateful for “the use of the hall.” I was well directed by Lee Grant. We had two weeks of lovely rehearsal before we filmed it and it was one of the most satisfying jobs I have ever had.
David: Which one represents your finest work?
DH: It only aired once on the BBC, because the rights involved in us doing the play. I played John Buchanan in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke. Lee Remick was the female lead. It was the best review I ever received.
David: Knowing you prefer treading the boards, which stage role remains your all time favourite?
DH: Chapter Two. I went on a US national tour for a year in 1979 and 1980. I had two different leading ladies and three different casts. We played 16 cities from San Diego to Palm Beach to Ogunquit, Maine. I loved the range of the role of George and having a different audience reaction each and every night I was out on the road.
David: Did you ever turn down a film, which you later regretted missing?
DH: No films, but there were at least two TV series I should have taken. The first one was The Brady Bunch. They wanted me to play the father. The second one was The Love Boat. I was asked to play Captain Stubing.
David: Did you ever make a film, which you now wish would disappear into some deep celluloid void?
DH: I was not happy with what I was getting placed in at Fox toward the end of my first contract. The Enemy Below was an A production and then I starred in The Fly, which was a huge hit and had a good story. Starting with Son of Robin Hood in 1959 and continuing with The Lost World in 1960, Fox kept giving me films I didn’t want to do. When they offered me Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (the movie) in 1961, I quickly signed to do a film in Japan to avoid it.
Marines, Let’s Go was not that memorable, either, but then in 1962, Fox terminated my contract along with everyone else’s, so I didn’t have to worry about being put in bad films any more. I only had to worry where my next job was coming from. Show business is not the most secure profession. United Artists hired me for a film in 1963 and my career continued, but that contract period at Fox was very frustrating for me.
David: Which actresses top your list of desirable leading ladies?
DH: I have so many friends I like to work with and I don’t like to single out any one above the other. Three ladies I have really enjoyed over the years are Juliet Mills, Anita Gillette and Nancy Dussault.
David: What films, songs and actors remain your favourites?
DH: My favorite films are Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Psycho, Suspicion and Blood and Sand. I like all types of music, and I have always admired the work of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Cary Grant and Tyrone Power.
David: Outside of acting, what has brought the most joy to your life?
DH: My wife, Bridget and our two daughters, Alexandra and Serena.
David: In closing, is there a particular moment in your life, or an incident that brings back strong memories to you, and tells us something about you as person, or about your life?
DH: It was 1951. I had come to New York City to studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. It had taken me almost five years to get there. Being an actor was not something my father wanted for me as a career. After I was mustered out of the Navy at the end of World War II, my parents insisted I go to college. I enrolled at Brown University, went for three years and was miserable. Finally, I dropped out my junior year to find work and saved enough money to pay for my own tuition at the Neighborhood Playhouse. I rented a $5.00 a week room on 50th Street in Manhattan and studied hard.
Frederic March won the Barter Theatre Award for his performance in The Autumn Garden and as part of that award an open audition was held in New York to select a male and female actor to work at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia during their 1951 season. It was a great opportunity.
So I went down to the (then) Morosco Theatre to audition; along with 250 other aspiring actors who were after those two jobs. The line was all the way out of the stage door and around the block. We were each handed a number. I was given number 116.
The auditions began. They kept calling numbers. Number 96. Number 97. I started to panic. I could not stand in that line any longer. I crumpled up the slip, stuffed it in my pocket and fled the theater. I literally could not do this. I walked away, not really caring where I was going. I knew I had blown it. I couldn’t take the pressure of all that competition.
Then I stopped, right there in the middle of the sidewalk. Here I was, studying really hard to be an actor, and I had run out of my first open audition, too inhibited and frightened to show anyone the talent I had. I would never make it as an actor, if I couldn’t go through with an open audition. So I argued with myself until I gathered the courage to go back. If I was ever going to be an actor I had to do this. I ran to the theater to try again.
I fished my number out of my pocket as I came back in the stage door. Number 114 was on stage. I was close enough to the entrance that I could still run out again, but I made myself stay. 115. My hands were clammy and stage was huge. Then a voice came out of the orchestra pit and my number was called. The only choice I had was to walk out to center stage, which seemed like seven miles. I turned, looked out into that vast darkness and said my name. Then I set myself and began my monologue. I felt good saying those lines. I felt like an actor.
Mr. March must have thought so, too, as I was called back the next day for the finals. After that, Mr. March came up and asked for Al Hedison and Rosemary Murphy to step down to the footlights. I had won, because I had found the courage to come back and try. The Barter salary was a princely $55.00 a week, but I was on Cloud Nine, because I was going to be a paid actor! At least until the end of their 1951 season…
This experience taught me to never give up and always work hard to get whatever I wanted. To have faith in my ability to do what I needed - to get what I wanted. I never knew how much I wanted that Barter Theater job, until I won over all those other hopefuls. I believed in myself. That came out in my performances and helped me win.
David Hedison November 23, 2007
Interview (c) David Priol 2007
Photos (C) their various owners