John Saxon: 1935 to 2020

Longtime, prolific actor John Saxon passed away on July 25th at the age of 83.

Born as Carmine Orrico in Brooklyn NY on August 5, 1936, Saxon was one of those actors who, if you watched enough movies or television, sooner or later you would almost inevitably see him in something, if not multiple somethings.  Saxon worked on nearly 200 projects in a career that spanned 60 years, from 1954 to 2015.

Due to his Italian American heritage and his rugged good looks, Saxon was often called upon to play characters of various different ethnicities early in his career.  From the 1970s onwards he slipped into the niche of character actor, portraying a variety of cops and criminals.

One of Saxon’s most high-profile roles was in Enter the Dragon (1973).  Saxon played Roper, a seemingly-untrustworthy gambler who surprisingly ends up fighting alongside Bruce Lee’s heroic martial artist against the forces of brutal Hong Kong crime lord Han.

Two years later Saxon played corrupt trade union lawyer Walter Deaney in the action movie Mitchell starring Joe Don Baker.  The critically panned movie was rescued from obscurity two decades later when it was brutally eviscerated by Joel, Tom Servo and Crow on a 1993 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Another noteworthy role in Saxon’s career was playing the evil mutant warlord Sador in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980).  Written by John Sayles, produced by Roger Corman and directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, Battle Beyond the Stars was a space opera re-imagining of The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven.  Although a low-budget movie with an initially modest box office, Battle Beyond the Stars has gone on to become a well-regarded cult classic.

Saxon portrayed police lieutenant Donald Thompson in Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and reprised the role in the sequel A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987).  Saxon’s character was killed off in that later entry, although he was able to return to the horror franchise with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) playing himself in a story that saw the fictional Freddy Kreuger invading the “real” world.

One of Saxon’s later roles was Walter Gideon on the two-part CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode “Grave Danger.”  Directed by Quentin Tanantino, “Grave Danger” was one of the most disturbing, horrific installments of CSI ever made.  Saxon’s brief but memorably sinister appearance in the story was the icing on the nightmare fuel cake.

I was fortunate enough to meet Saxon when he was a guest at a horror convention in New Jersey about a dozen years ago.  It’s definitely not an ideal situation to meet anyone when they’re answering questions about movies they made decades ago and signing photos for a succession of enthusiastic fans, but nevertheless you can often get a general impression of what sort of a person someone is at these types of events.  Saxon certainly came across as a polite and professional individual at that show.

I imagine that was one of the reasons why Saxon had such a lengthy career: he was a reliable and easy to work with professional who could always be counted on to turn in a good, solid performance.  That seems borne out by director Joe Dante, who yesterday tweeted:

 “RIP John Saxon. I had the privilege of working with him once in 2006. Very good actor, very nice guy.”

That feels like an appropriate epitaph for John Saxon: concise and effective.

My nutty Thanksgiving weekend

This year my Thanksgiving weekend was crazier than usual.  Last Monday, I received a phone call from a temp agency that I registered with some time ago.  I’ve been trying to get work thru them for a while now, because it seems that they have a lot of good positions with really big companies, openings that pay well and might eventually lead to something permanent down the road.  It turned out that this temp agency wanted to send me out on an assignment, all right, but not for an office job.  No, it was a retail job at a big department store in the Herald Square area of Manhattan.  I would go in for a half day of training on Wednesday, and then return for an eight hour shift on Friday.  Yep, that’s right: Black Friday.

I’ve worked retail during the holiday season before, about a dozen years ago.  It wasn’t pretty.  Crowds of people packed in tight, scrambling to grab all the big “deals.”  I do not even like the idea of shopping on Black Friday.  So the thought of actually working on it filled me with genuine fear.  Nevertheless, I accepted the assignment because, as I said, I’ve wanted to get work from this agency for a while now, and I thought this would be a good way to get a foot in the door.

Everything went fine on Wednesday.  I showed up, did the four hours of training, and left.  Thursday I was nervous, but I tried my best to stay calm.  I went to bed early, so I’d have plenty of sleep.  Friday rolled around, and I got up around 6:15.  Made it to the store in plenty of time of the beginning of the 9 AM shift.  I get assigned to the third floor, and one of the supervisors tells me to walk around & straighten things up, because customers were leaving things in a mess.  I do this for about 45 minutes when the store manager calls me over and takes me to the back office.  I find out that there’s been a mistake made.  Of the 16 people who showed up on Wednesday for training, only 12 were supposed to actually return on Friday to work.  I was one of the four who wasn’t picked to work Friday, but somehow there’s been a miscommunication and everyone came back.  I’m told they don’t need me, and I should call the temp agency to find out what happened.

Hmmph!  After all that worry, I’m in & out the door in under an hour!  So I call up the temp agency, and they have a totally lame excuse.  According to them, everyone who the store wanted to return on Friday received a confirmation e-mail telling them to come back, and if you did not get an e-mail, you should have known not to return on Friday.  They acted like this was so blindingly obvious, and seemed to take the attitude that I made some sort of moronic mistake.  Uh huh.  If it was so obvious, why did everyone come back on Friday?  If all four people who didn’t get an e-mail were clueless that they were not supposed to be there, then it’s not so obvious, is it?  Really, it seems very apparent that the agency should have notified everyone as to whether or not they were supposed to report to work.

Anyway, since I was already in Manhattan, I decided to walk over to Midtown Comics, which was having a 25% off everything until 12 noon sale.  I purchased a handful of trade paperbacks that I’d been meaning to get for a while now, but that I’d been putting off buying for an occasion such as this.  So it wasn’t a total waste of a morning.

Back-tracking to Thursday, Thanksgiving itself was fun.  When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I used to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon each Thanksgiving morning.  I miss those.  They used to be one of the highlights of the whole day for me.  I decided to recapture some of the spirit of those days by playing a couple of MST3K episodes on the DVD.  First up was the Turkey Day edition of Night of the Blood Beast, a 1958 cheese-fest produced by schlock filmmaker Roger Corman.  The monster in this movie looks like a giant flame-broiled parakeet.  Next I watched the MST3K edition of Gamera, which was the first of the giant flying turtle movies to come out of Japan.  Strangely, while it was on, I could have sworn our pet turtle Meeshee was watching the TV from her tank.

For dinner, Michele and I met up with her parents, and we ate out.  The restaurant put together a pretty good Thanksgiving Day spread, with turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, and vegetables.  I wish we could have stayed out longer, but I thought I was going to be working the next morning.  We all know how that turned out.

After the Black Friday mix-up the next day, I returned to Queens.  Michele had been invited to a party by her friend Pam, so that night we headed to Brooklyn.  It was a cool get-together.  We were there most of the night.  It’s a good thing I quit drinking a few years ago, because there was a ton of booze at the party.  If I had been imbibing, I’m sure I would have gotten totally smashed.  As it was, I ended up spending most of the night watching a Jackass marathon on television.  I’ve never actually sat down and watched Jackass before.  Damn, what an incredibly stupid show… yet at the same time, absolutely hysterical in a really sick, twisted way.  I was totally laughing my ass off.  I really had to wonder at what sort of astronomical premiums Steve-O, Johnny Knoxville, and the rest of the gang need to pay on their insurance policies.  That is, assuming any carrier would be willing to cover them.

Around three in the morning a bunch of us headed out to a local bar, the Cobra Club.  With a name like that, you would think it would be a douchebag type of place, but turned out to be really cool.  While we were there, I ran into this guy Alex who I knew from way back when I was living in London, England for six months.  I’d bumped into him in NYC a couple of times since, but it had been years since I’d last seen him.  That was cool.  Back around 2004 he was in this local industrial metal band Still Life Decay whose work I liked.

Shortly before last call, the DJ played “Imagination” by Xymox.  I had not heard that song in years and years.  It was so long, in fact, that I’d forgotten who recorded it.  I ended up downloading it off of Amazon the next day.  It’s always cool to re-discover old music like that.

The rest of the weekend was pretty low key.  I was mostly relaxing and reading comic books.  Sunday night I popped another MST3K episode into the DVD player.  Warrior of the Lost World is one of my all time favorite episodes of that series.  I’ve mentioned it before on this blog.  Suffice to say, I was laughing non-stop as Joel, Tom Servo, and Crow went to town on it.  It was a fun way to end the holiday weekend.