In 1958, Universal Studios hired my father, Jeff Corey, to work with John Gavin on his leading role in A Time To Love and a Time to Die, a film about a German soldier on the Russian front during WWII. Gavin was one of those up and coming stars who was tall, dark, and sexy in that 1950s stilted sort of way and not a particularly good actor. Universal was hoping Gavin would be the next Rock Hudson. Hedda Hopper, the red baiting gossip columnist, found him charming and predicted he would be the “new white hope” of Hollywood (words that further pushed Hopper into the arena of racism and bigotry that defined her columns).
The reviews for A Time To Love and a Time to Die were weak. While it was generally agreed the acting wasn’t bad the script was deemed “abysmal” and Bosley Crowther, the New York Times reviewer wrote the film had, “an air of studied contrivance and artificiality.” In spite of the negative reviews, Universal remained loyal to Gavin and sent him once again to work with my father, this time on his role as Sam Loomis in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
A bit straight-laced himself, Gavin told my father he was disturbed by the sex and violence of the film. Dad tried to help him find ways to reconcile his private beliefs with what was called for in his public role. Without making accusations or judging Gavin’s morality, my father showed him that even the most prim and proper characters have a bit of the devil and destruction lurking somewhere inside of them. The trick, he said, was to play the “rich, multi-layers” that are always available to an actor.
One afternoon, out of the blue, Gavin said to my father, “Jeff, I appreciate and respect the way you work with me but I’d be less than candid if I did not tell you that I deeply disapprove of your intransigence in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee.“ Dad looked at Gavin for a moment and said, very simply, “You’re entitled to your opinion” and left it at that. The two men never spoke about politics again.
When Psycho was done filming Gavin asked dad if he could join one of his weekly classes. Dad said yes, demonstrating clearly that admission to class only had to do with an actor’s enthusiasm and interest in learning and nothing to do with celebrity, personality, or political leanings.
Note: John Gavin died this week at the age of 86.