There is nothing Big Gay Horror Fan loves more than when the Golden Ladies of stage and screen sharpen up their claws and start digging around in the fertile soil of terror. Watching regal Patricia Morison (best known for Broadway’s Kiss Me Kate) weave a confused Lon Chaney Jr. into her twisted web in Calling Dr. Death (1943) – pure heaven. Dorothy Lamour (famed from the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road comedies) warning a frightened Kate Jackson away from a pink yet purloined palace in Death at Love House (1976)– oh, just sigh! Watching the beloved star of theatrical classics such as The Unsinkable Molly Brown and High Spirits shill monstrous treats or encourage a young woman to sacrifice herself to the frozen gods of anger – oh, my, oh – hand me that napkin now, please!
Like an eccentric, pulse raising Catwoman fused with a dramatic West End socialite, actress Tammy Grimes (who was actually born in Massachusetts) is one of the more unique artists to appear in the last century. Best known for her stage roles (resulting in two Tony awards), Grimes also appeared in a couple horror productions that are as unique as her curiously clipped British coated accent.
The Horror at 37,000 Feet. In this bizarre 1973 horror-disaster relic, Grimes plays Mrs. Pinder, a dog loving preservation advocate. Coming at Roy Thinnes (Satan’s School for Girls among others) with a furious petulance for removing a centuries old relic from his wife’s inherited estate, Grimes is both beautiful and creepy. Soon, we see why Grimes is so upset when the Druids trapped in the artifact soon weave a wicked wave of paranoia and frosty death throughout the plane.
This flighty feast is armed with an amazing cast including square jawed Western king Chuck Conners (Tourist Trap, Summer Camp Nightmare), a hysterical William Shatner (reliving his Twilight Zone days), distinguished Paul Winfield (Serpent and the Rainbow, White Dog), Russell Johnson (Gilligan’s Island, Attack of the Crab Monsters) and beautiful yet doomed soap actress Brenda Benet (who, tragically, killed herself after the death of her young son with the Incredible Hulk’s Bill Bixby).
Even with a truly bizarre scene where the terrified passengers adorn a crying child’s doll with make-up, human hair and fingernails to try to appease the body hungry spirits, Grimes stands out here with her strange mannerisms and heartfelt passion, ultimately making The Horror at 37,000 Feet a truly interesting television horror.
The Stuff. In Larry Cohen’s 1985 gooey anti-consumerism monster piece, Grimes plays herself in a hilariously odd commercial for the latest (deadly) dessert treat, The Stuff. Here, Grimes purrs with enough Eartha Kitt sensuality to make it seem like the product will not only appease your appetite but your every carnal desire, as well. Yum!
Grimes real life has been as noteworthy as her films, as well. Attacked by white radicals when her friendship with Sammy Davis Jr. was highly publicized in 1965, she also has been noted as the original choice to play Samantha on the popular Bewitched series. Her multiple marriage partners include respected actor Christopher Plummer (Starcrash, The Clown at Midnight) and Jeremy Slate (multiple Elvis Presley and biker flicks) and she was reportedly fired from a Neil Simon comedy in 1983 for an inability to remember her lines.
Lastly, if any one doubts that a ‘Broadway Baby’ knows the more gothic side of life, intimately, one need only to listen to her spookily string plucked version of “Tom Dooley” on The Unmistakable Tammy Grimes CD. Her vocal take on the doomed thoughts of the song’s title character are soft, smoky and knowledgably chilling.
So, until next time – Sweet love and pink Grue, Big Gay Horror Fan