Monday, May 01, 2006


On Sunday, April 30, I attended the "Student Showcase" program at the Johns Hopkins Film Fest, where I was pleasantly surprised to see celebrity alumni John Astin show up to introduce Prelude, a film he made back in 1968. Astin is best known as the patriarchal Gomez Addams on the 1960s TV series The Addams Family (1964-1966). And most people also know that he was married at one time to Patty Duke (during her "Patty Duke Astin" period, 1972-1985) and that their son, Sean Astin (whose biological father was rock promoter Michael Tell - Patty Duke's previous husband), went into acting, starting in 1981 at age 9 when he starred with his Mom in the ABC After School Special Please Don't Hit Me, Mom, continuing with 1985's The Goonies, right up to his plum Sam Gamgee role in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy (it must run in the family - his dad John Astin had appeared in Jackson's The Frighteners).

Less well-known is the fact that the 75-year-old John Astin was born in Baltimore (March 30, 1930) and graduated from Hopkins, where he studied mathematics and theater. And even less well known is that fact that the film he wrote, produced, directed and starred in - Preludes - was nominated for an Oscar in 1969! (It lost to De Duva (The Dove), a rare, out-of-print spoof of Ingmar Bergman films (as well as Madeline Kahn's first film) that you can find on 16mm at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.)

A half-dozen years ago, Astin appeared as Edgar Allan Poe in a remarkable one-man show at Hopkins called Once Upon a Midnight, based on the play by Paul Day Clemens and Ron Magid and directed by Alan Bergmann. Afterwards, he stuck around and did a Q & A with the enthusiastic crowd, and I remember being impressed by how affable, charming and accessible the guy was. Well, he hasn't changed. John Astin showed up on Sunday night to screen his film and apologized for the color print being somewhat faded. Explaining that he made the 30-minute black-and-white film as a commentary on "noise pollution" (still relevant in today's Cell Phone and Boom Box Culture), Astin pointed out that in the supermarket scenes, viewers could take comfort in the fact that prices haven't changed very much.

John Astin's wife in Prelude was redheaded beauty Quinn O'Hara (pictured left), a former Miss Scotland best known for her beach movies (1965's A Swingin' Summer and as Sinistra in 1966's The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini) and her roles in 60s TV series, including a regular role as Smitty on The Lively Ones, a 1962-63 summer replacement series starring Vic Damone. She also filmed three movies with Jerry Lewis (including The Patsy and The Errand Boy) and a few Sci-Fi/Horror films, including opposite Vincent Price in Cry of the Banshee and in front of the camera of Grade Z schlockmeister Larry Buchanan (In the Year 2889). She also appeared in a film with Jay "Dennis the Menace" North, 1974's The Teacher.

Astin's obscure object of supermarket desire in the film was played by Victoria Shaw, another redheaded beauty. Shaw was an Australian-born model who was discovered by Bob Hope while touring Down Under.

Aston's cinematographer for Prelude was noted cameraman Vilmos Zsigmond, who would rise to prominence in the 1970s lensing films like The Long Goodbye and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Zsigmon was a fellow student with Laslo Kovacs in Budapest during the 1956 Hungarian revolution; both cinematographers shot footage of the anti-Soviet uprising, which they sold to CBS after escaping to the West. Zsigmon's most recent film was 2006's The Black Dahlia.

John Astin Links:

IMDB listing
John Astin (Wikipedia)
Dagon bio
Knowing Poe

Quinn O'Hara Links:

Quinn O'Hara's Website
IMDB listing
Brian's Drive-In Theater
Drive-In Gals by Tom Lisanti
Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies by Tom Lisanti


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