TCM‘s Summer Under The Starsstar-of-the-day for August 26 is Peter Lawford, an obvious choice, considering he’s already been seen during three of this month’s earlier Summer Under The Stars day-long presentations.
The British-born actor first he showed up on TCM earlier this month during the network’s August 7 Charles Laughton marathon, co-starring in The Canterville Ghost. He actually showed up twice during Laughton’s celebration, having also played a role in The Man From Down Under. Next, Lawford was seen along with fellow-Rat Pack members in Ocean’s Eleven on August 10, during their tribute to Shirley MacLaine. Then, on August 17, Lawford, albeit in an uncredited role, was seen in Sahara during their salute to Humphrey Bogart.
Born in London on September 7, 1923, Peter Lawford got start in movie as a child in the UK-produced 1930 film, Poor Old Bill. Seven years later, Lawford made his American film debut in a supporting role in 1938’s Lord Jeff starring Mickey Rooney, Freddie Bartholomew and Charles Coburn. Over the next several years, Lawford would star in a slew of films, both American and British, but it’s his films made in and around the 1950s that are the focus of Friday’s thirteen-film line-up.
Things get going at 6am/5c as TCM presents the now-classic Son of Lassie. A sequel to 1943’s Lassie Come Home, Son of Lassie features Peter Lawford and June Lockhart as grown-up versions of the characters previously played by Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor in the previous film. Set in WWII, Lawford‘s Joe Carraclough discovers his dog, Laddie (Pal) has snuck aboard his plane. When the plane is shot down over Norway by Nazis, Joe and his faithful companion are separated and must first survive before reuniting. On the subject of reuniting, Pal, the male dog who played both Laddie in the sequel and Lassie in the original, reunited with Lawford in 1947 in the non-Lassie, non-credited role of Larry in the film My Brother Talks to Horses. As for Pal‘s other Son of Lassie co-star, Lockhart, the two technically never worked together again, despite the fact that he played Lassie in the pilot episode of the long-running1954-1973 TV series, Lassie, while Lockhart played Lassie‘s human mom, Ruth Martin from 1958-1964.
Back to the marathon. At 8am/7c, Lawford stars in Rogue’s March from 1953. The film, Lawford‘s 40th, features him in what had become a very familiar role, that of military man. This time, it’s turn-of-the-century London where Lawford is cast as a man facing court martial. It’s a convoluted story involving secret documents, missing money, love lost and found and eventual discovery that Lawford‘s title character isn’t such a rogue after all. The mostly male cast includes: Richard Greene, Leo G. Carroll, John Abbot, Patrick Aherne and others. Janice Rule co-stars asLawford‘s love interest.
At 9:30am/8:30c, Lawford goes from court-martial to courtship in the romantic comedy, Just This Once (1952). With a screenplay written by Sidney Sheldon, based on Max Trell‘s story, Lawford is cast in yet another familiar role, that of a carefree playboy. Mark MacLene IV (Lawford) finds himself in debt. In an effort to help him learn responsibility for his money, Judge Samuel Coulter (Lewis Stone) appoints Lucy Duncan (Janet Leigh) in charge of Mark‘s finances. Mark doesn’t take well to his new $50-a-week allowance and cooks up a few schemes to get Lucy to quit, one being moving in with her, in spite of her relationship with her boyfriend, Tom Winters (Richard Anderson).
Also from 1952 is You and Me, airing at 11:15am/10:15c. It’s another romantic comedy, but this time, it’s a throwback to screwball comedies so popular in the 1930s. Lawford is again cast as a playboy, this time, he comes between a beautiful nurse (Jane Greer) and the doctor she loves (Gig Young). Look for Barbara Ruick as Mrs. Elcott.
1950’s Please Believe Me is next at 12:30pm/11:30c. Lawford plays…you guessed it, a wealthy playboy. The difference, Jeremy Tayler (Lawford) is ready to settle down and find a wife, but he and his lawyer Matthew Kinston (Mark Stevens) are leery of gold diggers. As luck would have it, he hears about Alison Kirbe (Deborah Kerr), a pretty young girl living in London who learns she’s just inherited a cattle ranch in Texas. Single, pretty and wealthy….Tayler‘s problems could be solved. Tayler and Kinston book themselves on the very ship Alison is traveling to the states on in hopes of wooing her. Problem is, Jeremy isn’t the only one with his sights set on Alison. There’s alsoTerrence Keath (Robert Walker), a bit of a scoundrel with a penchant for gambling, who sees Alison as a means to clear his debts. Did I mention thatTayler‘s own lawyer also finds himself attracted to young Alison? High jinks on the high seas follow. Spring Byington, who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses to spot on TCM, plays Mrs. Milwright.
With that ship sailed, it’s time forLawford to get a little sand between his toes in 1948’s On an Island with You, airing at 2pm/1c. Aqua-star Esther Williams plays Rosalind Rennolds, a movie star shooting a film on a tropical island in the South Pacific. While there, she becomes the object of affection of Naval officer Lieutenant Lawrence Y. Kingslee (Lawford). Now, I love Williams, but the near-blackface makeup in this film is laughable and just bizarre. I’m still not sure how they kept it from washing off in the water, or rubbing off on Lawford‘s hands when the two embrace. The film co-stars Richardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse, two of Esther‘s co-stars the previous year in Fiesta. Their dance sequence in this one is simply fun to watch. Also on hand are Xavier Cugat (and his orchestra), Kathryn Beaumont (who would later become the voice of Disney‘s Alice In Wonderland) and Jimmy Durante, who wrote or co-wrote three of the movie’s musical numbers including: I Can’t Get Along Without Broadway, I’ll Do the Strut-Away (in my Cutaway) and You Gotta Start Off Each Day with a Song. Years later, Montalban and Lawford would work together again when the latter guested on several episodes of Montalban‘s ABC series, Fantasy Island.
Lawford‘s most famous musical is next when TCM airs 1951’s Royal Wedding at 4pm/3c. Just a few years before the movie, the world was obsessed with England’s royal wedding of then-Princess Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. This movie uses the real-life event as a title and plot set up when brother/sister dance partners Tom and Ellen Bowen (Fred Astaire and Jane Powell) board a ship and head to London, where they’re booked for a gig during the same time the royal nuptials are occurring. Lawford plays Lord John Brindale, a Brit returning to the homeland to attend the wedding of his distant relative. Ellen quickly becomes smitten with the Brit. This particular plot point mirrors another real-life royal romance, that of Fred Astaire‘s sister and former partner, Adele, who met and married Lord Charles Cavendish in real life. With his sisterEllen otherwise occupied, Tom recruits Anne Ashmond (Sarah Churchill) as his new dance partner and budding romance. Three of Astaire‘s dance routines, two solo and one with Powell are particularly worth watching. The solo routine, in which he substitutes a hat-stand for sister Ellen is fascinating because his’ fluidity brings the inanimate objects around him to life. A ship-board routine during a bit of bad weather cleverly convey the ebe and flow of a stormy night as Astaire and Powell seem to glide, and occasionally stumble, across the floor as if they ship were actually rocking back and forth. Finally, Astaire‘s footwork during You’re All The World to Me, literally has him dancing on the ceiling, the floor and both walls! Genuis! Keenan Wynn co-stars.
Another musical, It Happened in Brooklyn, is next at 6pm/5c. This one stars Lawford and fellow-Rat Packer Frank Sinatra. When Danny (Sinatra) returns home to Brooklyn after four years in the service, he finds he has to make a new life for himself. He gets an apartment withNick Lombardi (Jimmy Durante), meets a pianist (William Roy), his teacher (Kathryn Grayson), who has dreams of being an opera singer and Jamie Shellgrove (Lawford), newly arrived from England and ready to take the modern swing word by storm. Together they help each other’s dreams come true, find love and friendship. Among the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne numbers featured, Sinatra (then Grayson) singsTime After Time.
Also from 1947, TCM settles into primetime with Good News at 8pm/7c. It’s a remake of a 1930 musical about college in the Roaring 20s. This time Lawford is cast opposite June Allyson and Patricia Marshall in a co-ed love triangle. Bookish Connie (Allyson) falls for football hero Tommy (Lawford), but he’s got eyes on sexy Pat (Marshall). With his mind on girls, Tommy‘s grades suffer and he’s booted off the team. With Connie‘s help he gets back on the field and realizes who he really loves. Musical numbers include the title song, He’s a Ladies Man, The Best Things in Life Are Free and Varsity Drag. I love the glitzy dance sequence lead by Allyson during Varsity Drag, but it’s just a little too polished, too Hollywood. The difference between it and the same scene in the 1930’s original featuring Mary Lawlor is kind of like how Saturday Night Fever‘s dance sequences were much sharper and more choreographed than real disco ever was. Then again, if life were like a movie, who’d be watching TCM? Or reading my column for that matter.
At 10pm/9c, Judy Holliday stars asGladys Glover in It Should Happen To You from 1954. Directed by George Cukor and written by Garson Kanin, it’s the story of what happens when an out-of-work model becomes an overnight sensation after a advertising mix-up results in her name being plastered all over billboards throughout New York City. Jack Lemon plays a filmmaker partly responsible for Gladys‘ accidental success, who’s in love with Gladys after their first meeting. Lawford plays a wealthy playboy (Yes, again!) who is also interested in the newly-famous starlet. Actresses Constance Bennett, Ilka Chase and Wendy Barrie all appear as themselves in the movie. Watch for a very young John Saxon in the uncredited role of the boy watching an argument in Central Park. Saxon would go on to have recurring roles on Falcon Crest, Dynasty and Melrose Place, to name a few.
1968’s Salt and Pepper, airing at 11:45pm/10:45c, features Lawford and fellow-Rat Pack member Sammy Davis, Jr.. In spite of having endured a falling out between himself and Rat Pack leader, Sinatra a few years prior, Lawford and Davis remained close. So close in fast, the two not only co-starred, but also co-produced this spoof of the then-popular spy thriller genre. It also marked the fourth time Davis and Lawford had appeared on-screen together; Oceans Eleven, Sergeants 3 and A Man Called Adam being the others. The duo would star together in the 1970 Salt and Pepper sequel, One More Time.
Lawford teamed with another Rat Pack associate, Dean Martin‘s frequent sidekick, Jerry Lewis for 1969’s Hook, Line and Sinker. George Marshall, who at the same time was directing Lucille Ball’s TV series, Here’s Lucy, directed the film. You’ve likely seen some of Marshall‘s other films during TCM‘s Summer Under The Stars , including Paulette Goddard’s Pot O’ Gold, Shirley MacLaine’s The Sheepman, and three Debbie Reynolds films:The Mating Game,It Started with a Kiss and The Gazebo. Hook, Line and Sinker features Lewis and Lawford as best pals who also happen to be patient and doctor, respectively. When Lewis is told he’s dying, he decides to live life to the fullest, mounting up huge bills in the process. When he learns he’s gonna live after all, but doesn’t want his wife (Anne Francis) to be stuck with all his bills, his best pal comes to the rescue by helping him fake his own death. Things go according to plan until he realizes his best friend is really only doing this so he can move in on his wife. That’s right, he’s fallen for the whole thing, Hook, Line and Sinker.
TCM‘s Peter Lawford marathon comes to a close at 3:30am/2:30c with 1949’s Little Women. Directed by Mervyn LaRoy, the film marked the first time Lawford would co-star with Janet Leigh. It also reunited Lawford with Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he starred in Julia Misbehaves one year earlier. June Allyson, his 1947 Good News gal pal is among the cast as well. Also of note in the film: Mary Astor as Marmee and Ellen Corby as Sophie. Corby would go on to play Grandma Walton in the beloved CBS family drama, The Waltons.
With that, TCM‘s marathon dedicated to the career of Peter Lawford comes to a close. It should be noted that Lawford, while simultaneously making a name for himself on the big-screen, was also gaining notoriety on TV. In the fifties, he was frequently featured on the popular playhouse series of the day. He also had a starring role as the man behind a lonely hearts column on Dear Phoebe. Interestingly, a few years after Lawford‘s series, Montgomery Clift starred in The Lonelyhearts, a feature film with a very similar storyline.
Lawford did a bit of a reversal himself in 1957, when he starred in a TV series based on the popular William Powell Thin Man movies of the 30s and 40s. When his film career began to slow down in the 70s, Lawford‘s TV appearances continued. He appeared in episodic TV ranging from Bewitched to Hawaii Five-O. He also co-starred alongside Doris Day in an eight-episode arch of her self-titled early 70s TV. Once a big-screen leading man, Lawford didn’t give up movies entirely, he just made them for TV, including Ellery Queen: Don’t Look Behind You (1971), The Phantom of Hollywood (1974), Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and The Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women (1979). Lawford‘s final acting gig came in 1984 in the UK-produced Where is Parsifal? starring Tony Curtis. AmongLawford‘s co-stars: Donald Pleasence, Orson Welles, Ron Moody and post-CHiPs Erik Estrada…it was the 80s after all.
As for Lawford‘s personal life, he came his playboy typecasting naturally. Quite the ladies man, he was linked romantically with several of his co-stars, including: Allyson and Holliday. He also reportedly dated Lee Remick, Kim Novak and Dorothy Dandridge. Married four times, first to Patricia Kennedy, sister to President John F., it was during his marriage to Kennedy that Frank Sinatra famously dubbed him The Brother-in-Lawford. He met his second wife Mary Rowan while appearing on her father Dan Rowan‘s TV show, Laugh-In. At the time, she was almost twenty-one, while Lawford was forty-eight. He had known wife number three, Deborah Gould for three weeks before marrying her. Their wedded bliss lasted less than a year. Before his marriage to Gould was even finalized, he met then-17-year-old Patricia Seaton. Seven years later, just five months before his death , Seaton became his fourth and final wife.
Lawford died Christmas Eve 1984 of heart failure. It was widely publicized at the time that his heart problems were brought on by years of over-indulgence in drugs and alcohol. Lawford was never nominated for any major acting awards, but received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for his work in television, on February 8, 1960. His star is located at 6922 Hollywood Blvd.
TCM continues their Summer Under The Stars with a Saturday, August 28 marathon featuring Linda Darnell.
To see how Lawford and his co-stars connect to other stars, simply click the hyperlinks included throughout the article above.
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