TV… Recalling Robert Morse in Two Telly Retro Roles

#1970s #2010s

 

Revisiting two dreams (with a twist) with Robert Morse…

 

Robert Morse in a favourite Mad Men moment and in one of his guest star roles where he met those white-suited dudes on an island of fantasies.

 

Fantasy Island: Season 2 (1/7) Michelle Pfeiffer Clip (1978), Shout Factory

 

I was sad to hear about the passing of actor Robert Morse, an actor I’d last seen on telly in a surreal moment in the retro based TV series, Mad Men (2007-15). Looking through his filmography I spotted that Morse starred in everything from films with Doris Day in Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968) to guest star retro favourite telly shows. These shows included episodes of The Fall Guy (1981-86), The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-85), Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88) and Murder, She Wrote (1984-96).

However, delving further, I discovered he starred in an episode of Fantasy Island (1977-84). This was in a leading guest star role in a story from two stories in one episode. This is found in Season 2, Episode 10 named The Flight of the Great Yellow Bird / The Island of Lost Women. Morse stars in the latter story – written by Arthur Rowe – and it’s now mainly remembered for a young actress in her TV debut, going by the name of Michelle Pfeiffer.

Before I write more intensively on Robert Morse’s role in this story, I’ll briefly mention the story of The Flight of the Great Yellow Bird. It stars Peter Graves as explorer and cryptid hunter, “Singapore” Eddie Malone who hopes to find the Big Foot. And as luck would have it, the Fantasy Island head honcho Mr Roarke – the always enigmatic Ricard Montalban – and his wee assistant, Tattoo (Herve Villechaize) say he might just find one on their island.

So the now safari suited Malone pairs up with Professor Smith-Myles (Barbara Rush), another cryptid seeker. She believes that the Big Foot should first be tracked by them both and then it should come to them, as the Sasquatch has Extra Sensory Perception. Later it’s noted that the Big Foot hide out in the same place as Star Trek’s  Captain James T Kirk fought the Gorn…

Meanwhile in The Island of Lost Women written by Morse plays a sailor, Barney Shore. He’s a naval submariner who has studied islands which have women-only populations. But he hasn’t had luck in finding one to date. Mr Roarke – the old dog – knows of a mythical island fitting this description, allegedly inhabited by Greek lovelies and can take him there…

Roarke warns Barney that the last man who went there was never heard of again and the island is off the grid (which roughly translates here as not covered by Fantasy Island’s guest insurance policy.) Tattoo meanwhile is investing in the stock market, in throwaway comic scenes with Villechaize.

So after parachuting onto the island, Barney saves a blonde-haired lovely from the clutches of a man in a toga. This is by knocking him out as he lands on the island and kicking him as he drops down from a tree. She gets superexcited – as opposed to scary (see the TV Movie, The Island of Beautiful Women (1979))- and asks if he’s a God. Barney agrees to this and then he meets more of the girls, including one line of dialogue from Michelle Pfeiffer. Cue Morse as a man whose dreams have come true…

Barney gets taken to the ladies’ leader, Queen Delphia (Cyd Charisse) who hates all men.. and has a huge backstory, which only makes sense in watching this episode. Queen Delphia sits on a purple velour throne with button studs, as you do. She tells Barney he can have as many brides as he wants, and Barney naturally picks all of them (apart from the Queen). The girls get super excited, as he will get to “harvest” them all. Barney gets excited too until he spots some of the girls making a bonfire, which he’s casually told is his funeral pyre…

Morse was a real treat in this episode as his character seems like all his Christmases have come at once. This island was reminiscent of a cross between Westworld (1973)’s Roman World and The Island of Beautiful Women. But this time, Barney is surrounded by 70s lovelies in skimpy Classical Greek inspired outfits with Farrah Fawcett hairdos.

His joy is told in this script, as he says he feels like a kid with gallons of ice cream to choose from. At first, the thought of dying in the arms of a bevvy of 70s lovelies doesn’t bother him. As he says to Rourke before leaving, knowing he might not come back, “what a way to go”. But he’s upset at the thought of dying on a funeral pyre, and he then tries to escape from his captors. His character has a last-minute character arc and he gives a heartwarming monologue to show this.

And finally, returning to his role as Bertram Cooper in Mad Men where this eccentric character was like an avuncular character to many of the characters. But in his final scene of the show in a scene set in 1969, his character passes away after the moon landing. Later the show’s protagonist Don Draper has a vision as Morse is seen once more, in this character with a song and dance number surrounded by 1960s ladies.

It was a fitting goodbye to this character and now the ultimate retro remembrance of Robert Morse. This was the perfect way to go moment for a much loved on-screen character and actor. And these memories of Robert Morse, now belong to you too, and me.

 

Bert Coopers Last Dance, Alistair Cunningham-Gray

 

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