Merlin Among the Stars!

DATELINE: Jan Merlin’s Final Book!

Hand-made card drawn by Jan at Kilimanjaro during film Woman & the Hunter.

My dear friend and coauthor Jan Merlin died a few months ago. He lived a long and creative life. That does not lessen the effect of a hard loss, and I have managed to complete something that was brewing for decades.

Jan knew that I kept all his letters, copies of his emails, and took notes on many of our conversations over the course of thirty years. He steadfastly said he did not want a biography in any traditional sense. But, as the years passed, he often gave me a flood of memories about his years on Broadway, in early TV, and later in movies. I have completed a memoir in his own words.

He worked with so many famous—and he was one of them, knew their foibles and secrets. If I learned anything, it was a secret society—and they all kept their privilege sacred. Yet, he provided me with anecdotes with people from stage like Josh Logan, from movies such as Marlon Brando, from literature like Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, from TV like every Western TV star over 15 years (from Chuck Connors to Michael Landon).

So, I have compiled his memories to provide some amazing insights into the profession of acting and the business of movies. It did not take long to do—as I had been adding bits and pieces after each chat or text.

Now, I have for you a record of an era: the star of two TV series, Tom Corbett and Rough Riders,who played mostly the bad guy on TV westerns, committing every dastardly act and finding come-uppance weekly in a variety of ways.

His voice is clear and direct on every page; he never pulled punches, never played the social game, and he felt he damaged his career with projects like The List of Adrian Messengerwith Kirk Douglas, and he felt John Huston misused him. Even today, he is the man under the masks—but Douglas takes credit for the performance (even in an Oscar compilation clip!).

He gave me a title:  We Were All Six Feet Tall,which I have kept with the main focus, Merlin Among the Stars.It is now available on Kindle as an ebook and the paperback will soon be out for his fans and friends.

When I re-read his letters, there was so much I had forgotten—and never followed up. One example was his friendship with noted crypto-scientist Willy Ley who was tech advisor on his show Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

There are gems from the era—and can only be appreciated by those with a grand sense of the past.

 

 

Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0831S1RVZ

 

Jan Merlin: Statuesque Among the Stars, 1925-2019

  Jan with his Emmy Award!

My co-author and most important literary collaborator has gone from this world.

Jan Merlin might be recognizable to a generation or two of film and TV fans as the villain who populated a hundred TV shows. He made movies with Ann Sheridan, George C. Scott, and Woody Allen. He starred in two 1950s TV series, The Rough Riders—and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, with Frankie Thomas.

A veteran of the Navy in World War II, Jan went from the military during the big war to the Neighborhood Playhouse where he learned the craft of acting, though he had many talents. He always thought his acting fame was a lesser role. He was always the antagonist to some western star, or some dubious military man.

Yet, despite playing dastardly villains almost constantly, with his Aryan looks (Polish American out of New York City), he was a genteel man with a sense of art and brilliantly self-educated. Like a generation of those who were never able to attend college, he more than made up for it with a dozen books to his credit. He loved fiction—drawing  upon his movie background, or his experiences in Japan after the war.

Together we did a half-dozen books of which I am most proud. We did only one work of fiction, The Paid Companion of J. Wilkes Booth. Most of our Hollywood history tales were based on his insider knowledge of how a set work, from knowing nearly every star of the 1950s and 1960s. He laughed they were all “six feet tall,” no matter what the truth might be.

We wrote about Boys Town, Billy Budd, Reflections in a Golden Eye, among other films, giving a unique perspective on daily life during the studio shoot. He knew Brando, Taylor, Clift, James Dean, in ways that others could never understand. He threw James Dean out of the Pier Angeli house at her mother’s request.

When we did not write books together, he gave me editorial and research insights for my books on James Kirkwood and Audie Murphy. Oh, he knew them too.

Now he is gone, irreplaceable in my life and in Hollywood history, with all those insights and memories. He had stories he would not tell about the damaged figures of show business. He took those secrets with him, as much as I wanted to hear them. He was loyal to the memory of the business he loved and hated.

Once I called it ‘Tinseltown’, and he reprimanded me: it was a cherished professional location, not a frivolous tabloid fantasy to him. He introduced me as his “son” on occasion, which amused me–and made movie star Frankie Thomas look at me with quite an impression.

Goodbye, dear Jan. I am so lucky to have known you and to have worked with you. I have been left a treasure trove of his life, and maybe one day I will tell what he told me. He was my touchstone to a bygone era and glorious movie history.