Big Gay Horror Fan spent his youth imagining he was a male version of The Young and the Restless’ Nikki, pursued by slobbering, wild eyed psychopaths with swarthy, rescue minded studs in hot pursuit. Then he was attacked by that Shakespeare quoting, green armed arsonist his freshmen year of college and being the dude in distress no longer seemed like such fun!
Meanwhile, multi-talented performer Gregg Marx spent his young adulthood enacting terror stricken plotlines as David Banning on Days of Our Lives (1981-1983). With its Salem Strangler, Salem Slasher and devil possession plotlines, Days proved, without a doubt, the correlation between daytime dramas and horror films.
Now, though, Marx has found success with his true love – singing. On the eve of bringing his tribute to Cole Porter to the Midwest, this genial entertainer agreed to chat about Porter (and his horrific struggles with pain) and his muse, 40’s genre icon Patricia Morison (Calling Dr. Death, Dressed to Kill). Of course, we also engaged in some chatter about his days in Salem when David Banning was the #1 most wanted, for more reasons than one!
BGHF: Hey, Gregg! I know we’re gonna talk about sophisticated stuff, so I’m hoping its okay that I’m not dressed in a tux or what-have-you.
Gregg: You’re not?!?
BGHF: No. I guess I’m a bit too punk rock for that.
Gregg: (laughs) You’re punk rock and we’re talking about Cole Porter!?
BGHF: C’mon! Cole Porter was totally punk! Just like Kurt Weill, Noel Coward and Lorenz Hart – all those guys! Besides, everybody loves Cole Porter!
Gregg: I know! I’ll say I’m doing a Cole Porter show and everybody says, “Oh, I love Cole Porter!” I think it’s obviously an individual thing for everybody. But for me I think, musically, he was brilliant. But, also no one wrote songs the way he wrote songs. The lyric and music together – he was just unique. And I think you’re right – he was a little bit punk for his time. He was breaking boundaries. He was definitely saying things in ways that I’m sure polite society was a little bit taken aback by. So maybe I like that –
BGHF: -The naughtiness?
Gregg: Well, the well dressed renegade, you know. – And the naughtiness, too, yeah. He did it with such class -and panache. This is a digression, but it was really fun for me. I live in LA and a friend of mine is also a singer who has a friend who is very good friends with a woman named Patricia Morison.
BGHF: I love her!
Gregg: You know her?
BGHF: She did tons of genre films in Hollywood in the 30’s and 40’s. Inner Sanctum, Sherlock Holmes, jungle flicks – she’s amazing! From what I gather, Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with her and Porter kind of gave her a foundation.
Gregg: I knew that she had been Cole Porter’s pick to play on Broadway when they had done Kiss Me Kate. My friend said she’s 97 years old and she is still very vital and asked me if I wanted to meet her. So, we went over for an afternoon. We brought her cookies, which she loved, and we had tea with Patricia Morison! She lives in this high rise in a beautiful building. But I don’t think I looked out the window once because on this table is a picture from Cole Porter autographed to her – and here’s another letter from Cole Porter over there! She brought out these two photo albums when she was with Alfred Drake in Kiss Me Kate and with so and so and this person or that one. She was still stunningly beautiful and it was just literally like opening up a history book. I’ve always thought it would be such fun to hang with Cole Porter and this way I got the next best thing. It was quite extraordinary. I felt like I was literally with a living piece of history! Because she was there, man! It was great.
BGHF: Totally! One thing I found interesting was that due to a tragic accident, Porter lived much of his adult life in immense pain, but he created so much.
Gregg: He wrote over 1000 songs!
BGHF: Of course, they finally amputated the problem leg, later on in his life. I read that Noel Coward saw Porter’s physical relief and thought he would enter into his greatest period of writing. But he never really wrote again. One theory is that his sense of vanity was so crushed that he was unable to create.
Gregg: Who knows what was in his heart? I remember reading when he had that horseback riding accident, the doctors wanted to amputate then – this was a lot earlier in his life – and Linda (his wife) and his friends said absolutely not! It will kill him. It’ll kill his writing. So, they forestalled that and he went through all those years and years of pain and suffering. But, when they actually did, he apparently became literally so depressed – and I think Linda was gone at that point, as well, or no – close, she died after. But, still, I wouldn’t call it vanity. Maybe it was. It certainly seems that the life was taken out of him. Although, I think he kind of rallied, but I don’t think he wrote much at all afterwards – certainly nothing of note after that. The book that I read, a wonderful biography of him, described how people would come over for dinner and he just kind-of retreated into himself, I think. So, who knows? But try to put yourself in that position. Especially for someone who was very vital and — (laughs) who liked having young men to party with! It seems like it was a huge shift in his life that took a lot out of him – including his desire to write.
BGHF: Interesting. So, I know this is probably an impossible question – do you have a song or songs that you like to sing the most by Porter?
Gregg: Wow. There are a number of them. The very first song by Cole Porter that I learned was “Night and Day”. I have a very soft spot for that. Actually, it was a song that I made some breakthroughs as a singer just by tackling the material. So that one is very close to my heart. I, also, love “Just One of Those Things”. I love what he does with it, and so many songs. It’s this combination of wit and beauty and pathos. Also, I’d have to say “In the Still of the Night”. It’s far less jaunty than the others, but is stunningly beautiful – and simple. And deep, in a way, too. Those are three. There’s not one. I always dread it when someone says what’s your favorite —-. Who’s your favorite singer, you know. Well – God! If I were on a desert island who would I want serenading me? Well, okay. I’ll try figuring that one.
BGHF: Maybe you could have Susan Seaforth and Bill Hayes serenading you!
Gregg: (Laughs) Oh, I miss them. I haven’t talked to them in so long.
BGHF: Well, that was my none too subtle way of bringing us into your Days of Our Lives era! In an interview last year Barbara Crampton (Chopping Mall, ReAnimator, From Beyond), who has done tons of soaps and horror films including Days, noted that there was a huge crossover audience between the two genres. I think the time you spent on Days is a perfect example why. David Banning was accused of murder every other month it seems like!
Gregg: (laughs) Yeah, really.
BGHF: So many of the plotlines had horror angles, as well. The Salem Strangler, whom your character was accused of being at one point, especially.
Gregg: Oh, my god, that’s right.
BGHF: So what are your memories of that time? Is there anything that stands out?
Gregg: For me, other than a couple little commercial things I had done, that was my very first job. So, I was learning as I went. That was training on the job! I had not planned to be an actor at all. I had planned to be a lawyer. I sort of shifted gears right out of college. And it all happened relatively quickly. So, I was really soaking up things – hitting my mark, where is the light, where is my camera, what are my lines…It was a great experience, but it was really consuming. And the storylines on soap operas – especially at that time – were pretty preposterous. So, you just kind of had to go with it and learn how to justify it in your character’s and in your own heart and soul and brain. It was also a lot of fun because it certainly wasn’t boring, you know, like you mentioned the Salem Strangler. Also, I remember that not that long before I joined the show Bill and Susan were on the cover of Time Magazine. So, they were really soap opera royalty in a time when soap operas were huge! So, to be swept into that family and that world was really kind of heady. It was very exciting for me – and a little overwhelming at times, too.
BGHF: You worked with some amazing woman on that show, as well: Patty Weaver (Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It!”), Philece Sampler (The Incredible Hulk, live and animated) and poor Brenda Benet (The Terror at 37,000 Feet, countless classic television shows like The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and I Dream Of Jeannie).
Gregg: So, you really know that time. When Brenda committed suicide that really rocked the world of our show. I don’t know if we ever really totally recovered from it. It was pretty intense. And Philece and I remain friends to this day. I see her every once in awhile. We have a really great friendship. I haven’t seen Patty Weaver in a long time. But we were really, really tight. When you think about it, it was a great time. I ended up enjoying my time on As The World Turns more as an actor because I had the experience of Days and I was more mature as an actor. I was able to work on a level that I hadn’t been able to when I was on Days – just by virtue of experience and time. But, both of them were very extraordinary experiences that I don’t take for granted.
BGHF: Just like we don’t take all the joy you’ve given us for granted, either!
Gregg: Why – thanks!
BGHF: Although, I don’t know if Alex Marshall would agree!
Check out a clip from Day’s Salem Strangler escapades (featuring Marx, Benet and Sampler) here:
Marx, meanwhile, will be in Chicago on February 14th and 15th, 2013 doing his amazing cabaret show at Davenports (www.davenportspianobar.com), 1383 N. Milwaukee. Tickets are $20 with a two drink minimum – with a 2 for 1 being offered on the 14th for Valentine’s Day revelers.
Big Gay Horror is always welcoming handsome accused murderers at http://www.facebook.com/#!/BigGayHorrorFan, as well.
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!