The Wild Wild Interview
by Michael Barnum
Video Watchdog No. 128 Dec/Feb 2007
You've worked in most every genre of film during your career, and this included comedy with the film HONEYMOONS WILL KILL YOU [VIAGGIO DI NOZZE ALL'ITALIANA, 1966].
The film was also called HONEYMOON, ITALIAN STYLE and it starred the Spanish actress Concha Velasco as my wife. It was written by the same guy who had directed me in SWORD OF DAMASCUS, Mario Amendola. He turned out to be a great friend and he even became my son's godfather when Del had his confirmation at St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. Mario was a writer and a director and he wrote this story, which became a very cute movie. In it, I am having an affair with this girl I meet on the beach while at the same time I am on my honeymoon. I had married my wife for her money but I refused to consummate the marriage because I really didn't love her.
Did you enjoy doing comedy?
I loved doing comedy! When I got back from Italy, I directed several plays that were comedies. In fact, I directed BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, which is one of my favorites.
You were among dozens of American actors who immigrated to Italy to work in the 1960s. Did you get to know many of the others?
I got to know some of them only casually, but Gordon Scott I knew well, as we used to play poker together a lot. Gordon did very well over in Europe. I believe he owned two Ferraris and a Saab and a couple of motorcycles. He was making picture after picture, some of them with Steve Reeves. I met Ken Clark over there, and I remember Richard Harrison, who was the son-in-law of producer James H. Nicholson. And there was that big muscle guy, Mark Forest. Mark was of Italian heritage, also. George Nader had quite a career in Europe, but I didn't see him when I was over there. I had met him earlier, however, when he was going around with Rock Hudson. Rock used to show up at the Pasadena Playhouse a lot while George was doing a show there, which of course had a lot of people gossiping. I got to know Rock Hudson much later on when we worked on the movie THE VEGAS STRIP WAR in 1984. I can remember walking into the dressing room and seeing Rock and chatting with him. That evening I came home and I said to my wife, "Rock has cancer or something" and sure enough, before long he was gone.
When did you leave Italy and return to the United States?
In 1967. My wife was eager to return to the US as her family was here, and also I wanted my son to finish high school in America. Sometimes, though, you don't know when you've got a good thing, and I did have a good thing over in Europe, even though I was making one bad picture after another [laughs]! But, I was enjoying the work and I was living very comfortably. I was not only working as an actor but also in the dubbing business. I was dubbing films, my wife was dubbing, my son was dubbing.
In fact, you were the founder and president of the English Language Dubbers Association (ELDA) in Italy, were you not?
Yes. I united all of the voice work in Rome under one banner because, at the time, there were three dubbing organizations dubbing films into English, and they were cutting each other's throats. Everyone was dubbing for less and less and competing against each other and I finally succeeded in getting everyone together. It turned out great and the organization is still in existence, although under a different name.
Mel Welles was very active in the dubbing business in Europe at that time. Did you know him?Yes, I knew Mel very, very well. We were good friends. He was very talented, likeable, and quite entertaining. He was married at the time to a beautiful woman, an actress named Meri Welles. Mel directed some small movies in Europe, along with a guy named Robert Spafford. they got a young Englishman who had inherited quite a bit of money to invest in their pictures. His name was Nick Alexander.
A short anecdote about Mel Welles. He called me one day in Rome and asked for $500, because his wife as in the hospital and he needed the money to pay the bill before they'd release her. I met him on the Via Veneto a few hours later and gave him the money. Dissolve to a few days later and I discover that she'd had breast augmentation - that is why she was in the hospital! Well, Mell didn't pay me back for a few years, so one say, as president of ELDA, I knew he had money coming to him. So I told the secretary-treasurer to give me the $500 out of what we owed him for the last film he dubbed for us. My secretary-treasurer did it reluctantly, but I left a receipt in Mel's envelope saying, "Debt paid in full!" signed Tony Russo, the name I used as President of ELDA.
At one time, Mel Welles and I flew from Rome to Munich together. He was meeting with some prospective investors, and I was meeting with a German agent. I also took advantage of this opportunity to spend some time with Maria Perschy, the Austrian starlet with whom I starred in THE SECRET OF THE SPHINX. At the time, we were having an affair. This is something I was not proud of, but I do think we loved each other sincerely. It was the first time I'd had an extramartial affair, despite having worked with beautiful ladies in all my films. The temptation was always there, but I had always resisted. In the final analysis, I decided my wife and son were more important, so we split. In retrospect, who knows what might have been since my wife divorced me a few years later? Perhaps I should have thought of myself instead of others, but that's me, or rather more correctly, that is I.
Were you involved in hiring the directors who dubbed films for ELDA?
As head of the dubbing association, I had no influence, nor did I exercise any influence, on who directed. Most of the directors were established by the time I arrived on the scene. The producers and distributors selected the directors, based on their resumes, including directors such as Gino Bardi and Lewis Cianelli, the son of the great actor Eduardo Cianelli. I did some direction and others were Michael Thor, Ted Rusoff, and Gene Luotto. Sometimes the directors would come in from France or Spain or Germany, the co-producer nations of the particular movie.
Was it typical to have the stars of films dub themselves?
As far as stars dubbing themselves, in my case, I had it written in my contract that I would have the right to dub myself unless it was not possible because of my non-availability. As a result, I dubbed all of my fourteen or fifteen films except THE SECRET OF THE SPHINX. Dubbing oneself was important to actors who were real actors, because they were vocally equipped. But actors like Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott and some of the other muscle actors, and the European actors who hardly spoke English well enough, certainly they were not equipped to dub themselves, so they were dubbed by others.