Fans of the superhero series Ultra Seven (1967-68) from Tsuburaya Productions should know the name Melvin Webb. In episodes 14 and 15 of the series, Melvin Webb is a Secret Service agent sent to Kobe, Japan, to help keep the Earth safe from King Joe and his evil alien forces.
In this interview, we will get to know the man behind Melvin Webb: Terry Farnsworth.
Terry Farnsworth was born on August 27, 1942. After graduating high school and attending a couple of years of a pre-college program in Canada, he left for Japan at age 20. Originally, Mr. Farnsworth went to Tokyo for three months but eventually stayed for six years.
After earning his black belt in Montreal (and after getting cold feet about at engagement at 19 years old), he came to Tokyo to pursue judo. After leaving Japan, he returned to the family textile business, which at the time was experiencing some problems. In order to turn things around, Mr. Farnsworth transformed into a leather-skin importing business, and as a result traveled all over the world importing leather skins. Ultimately, it became the third-largest leather importing business in Canada. Eventually, Mr. Farnsworth began liquidating the business and invested in a start-up company in Montreal, which provided him with a hefty windfall. For the last 25 years, most of his income has come from trading in the stock market.
Aside from his work in Ultra Seven, Mr. Farnsworth appeared as an extra in The Green Slime (1968), battled onscreen with the legendary Japanese star Ken Takakura in The Drifting Avenger (1968), and had a small part in Cary Grant’s last movie, Walk Don’t Run (1966). In his first interview about his entertainment career in Japan, Mr. Farnsworth spoke to Brett Homenick for Vantage Point Interviews.
Brett Homenick: Please take me back to the events that led up to your coming to Japan.
Terry Farnsworth: Basically, I wasn’t happy being in the family business. I was a bit of a rebel. I became engaged to get married, and I came to the realization that I was too young. I’d just gotten my black belt in judo, so I thought a great place to go would be Tokyo and pursue my judo, which I did, and never looked back.
BH: So how did you know where to go?
TF: Well, in the judo circles at that time, Kodokan (Judo Institute) was like the Mecca, and foreigners came from all over the world to practice there. So we knew where to go. I was fortunate that I had a girlfriend at that time, a sort-of girlfriend, that happened to be on the same boat as me. I took a boat from Vancouver to Yokohama. She happened to be on it, a total coincidence, and she was third-generation sansei Japanese but could speak the language. So she and I lived together for a while, and of course she was able to find the place to live, and she could speak Japanese, so it was quite easy for me at that time.
When I was over there, I enrolled in Naganuma School of Japanese. I was going to school three hours a day every day studying, so I picked up the language fairly rapidly. I was also immersed in a total Japanese atmosphere. I was the only foreigner to train in judo at Chuo University. Nobody spoke English. So we had the guy talk, my girlfriend with the feminine talk, and at school you got the basics. So I picked it up fairly fast.
BH: While you were in Japan in the beginning, you were practicing judo, you were going to school. What other activities were you doing at that time?
TF: Judo, karate, teaching English, and then I got discovered in a bathhouse (laughs) in Kasumicho, just off of Roppongi where I was living and became a movie actor.
BH: Well, tell me about that meeting. Who discovered you, and what did they say to you?
TF: So here we are, sitting in the ofuro, and as you know, it’s women on one side, and men on the other side. Then there’s a row of buckets that all the guys would sit on. We’d shave, rinse ourselves off, and wash ourselves before going into the hot tub. As I was sitting there shaving, this fellow (Eddie Arab) with a beard came behind me. I could see him through the mirror. He said, “Oh, you very handsome. Are you American?” That’s with his thing dangling three inches from my ear! I said, “No, actually, I’m Canadian.” “Oh, you very handsome. You should be movie star!” I said, “Yes, thank you. Everybody tells me that.” So he tells me he’s a movie agent, and I go, “Yeah, yeah, okay, that’s nice.”
A day later, I see him outside my apartment with his wife and his brand-new baby, strolling in a carriage. It turns out he is a movie agent and legitimate! So I go up to his apartment, and we have a discussion. Three weeks later, I’m the star of a movie called Lala in Fog. Now Lala in Fog was considered to be a blue movie in those times. Not sex, but blue. Lala was the name of the actress, and there’s only two of us in the movie – her and I – and it was a narrated film. Lala was a half-white, half-Japanese stripper at the Nichigeki Theater, I think. Gorgeous body, by the way! Didn’t speak a word of English. We went up to Bandaisan (Mount Bandai) with the movie crew for three weeks on location. First time I had ever shot a movie. It was a great, great experience – really nice people. She was naked on the beautiful white stallion, which was a white farm horse that the farmer rented to the movie people. But I always held the reins, so they had to cut the reins part out of the production.
That was that! We shot that movie in three weeks. Great fun. This movie was so stupid that it was actually hysterical. I was catching butterflies in my little shorts in the forest when she appeared as an apparition out of the ocean or out of the river, and I fell down a 120-foot cliff, which I by the way for $7 a day I think I was getting paid at that time, refused to fall down 120-foot cliff, and we compromised on a seven-foot hill. And then she nursed me back to health. That was that movie.
I took my friends who came from Canada just as the movie was being shown. I took them to see it. Took a taxi to Shinjuku, took about a half an hour to find the movie theater. Even though my billboard was there – I actually had a billboard with my picture on it – I paid the fee. There was another movie on before. By the way, you had to go through a kitchen downstairs, and there was a movie theater that sat about 200 people. After the first movie, out of 200 people, there were maybe 50 people left. When my movie finished, I thought I should walk out with my coat over my head so nobody should recognize me! That’s how good it was! So that was my first foray into movies.
Then I found a different agent called Johnny Yusuf. I did a lot of TV work. I did Attchan, which was a kids’ show, in Kamakura. I did some gangster movies. I forget who was in that, but all quite famous Japanese actors. I had a small part in Walk Don’t Run (1966) with Cary Grant and Samantha Eggar, which I kind of talked my way into. I was an Olympic walker in that one. The best movie was from Toho. (The Drifting Avenger was) a cowboy movie starring Ken Takakura, who’s died now. He was a great, great guy. I had to get interviewed at Toho, and they said, “Can you ride a horse?” I said, “Excuse me, have you ever been to Montreal? It’s all ranches. I grew up on horses!” So I got the part! They took five foreigners out, and they used stunt men for the other four. They wanted to use one for me, but I actually could ride a horse, so I had a great time. That was a great movie. Again, we spent about three weeks on location in a town called Tamworth (Australia). That was a real movie. It had stagecoaches. I got killed in a shootout with Ken Takakura. A stunt man was falling off a 60-foot water tower into cardboard boxes when he got shot. We just had a great time.
I almost got killed there because we were driving from Tamworth to Sydney, and a 17-year-old stunt driver who was Australian hit an oil slick in the road. The car almost ran into a 40-foot van, but he managed to miss that. We went down an embankment. The car turned over twice. It was the first year they came out with seat belts with shoulder straps, so I put it on as a giggle because I’d never had a shoulder-strap seat belt on, which saved my life because we ended up upside-down in the car. I opened my eyes, and Johnny’s sitting there upside-down moaning, and I said to him, “Johnny, Johnny, are you okay?” He said, “Ooohhhh…” I said, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” “Oooooh, it’s a brand-new car, and when my parents find out, they’re going to kill me!” Then we walked out, crawled out the back window. We were okay, got a little banged up, but made it back, finished the movie. That was it. There were a few other small parts. Usually, I was the bad guy or a soldier in the army. But that was basically the career. Then I got married in Tokyo. My first wife was a fashion model, Japanese. Then we spent a two-month honeymoon back to Montreal.
BH: Let’s go back to Ken Takakura. Did you get to spend much time around him, and if so, what do you recall about being around him?
TF: We spent a lot of time together. We were all in this hotel. Ken Takakura was hysterical. He spoke perfect because he’d lived in London for a while – or England. He had put – I don’t know if I should even tell you this one! – but he had bugged the director’s room, and the bug came on to the radio in his room. (The Drifting Avenger was directed by Junya Sato.) So he could turn on the radio and hear what they were talking about. We all sat around and listened because he said, “This is important for my career! I must know what’s happening.” (laughs) So he was secretly bugging the conversations so he’d know what was going on, but he was a great guy and an excellent, great actor, also. A lot of fun and a wonderful human being. He only got upset with me because the makeup girl was from Hong Kong, and somehow I ended up with her when he was trying everything to get her. One day, we sat there, and he said, “I don’t understand how you get this girl. I’m famous actor, and I try to catch her, but you get her. How you do this?” I didn’t really have an answer for him. I did, but I didn’t want to tell him! (laughs) And that was it.
BH: This is really fascinating. Do you have any other stories about Mr. Takakura and what he was like?
TF: Not really. I used to meet him at the gym sometimes. He went to Clark Hatch’s gym in Roppongi for a while. I remember a couple of years later I ran into him. The only thing I could tell you is, the first day I met him to the end, he was a complete gentleman, very confident in himself and his abilities. For instance, in the movie with Cary Grant, Cary Grant was a complete snob. If you got caught taking a picture of him, you’d be fired off the set immediately. Ken Takakura was completely the opposite. He was accessible, he was a gentleman, he was nice to talk to, he was fun if you’d eat supper together. Very nice man. I have absolutely nothing bad to think about him or say about him.
BH: Do you remember the director on this Western film you made in Australia?
TF: No, not a bit. I’m going back 50 years, don’t forget! I really don’t remember.
BH: Let’s go back even further. Johnny Yusuf, talk about him and your relationship with him. What was he like to do business with, and what he was like away from business?
TF: Johnny, I think, was Turkish if I’m not mistaken. A big guy. He was like a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He was a legitimate. He’d arrange an interview, I’d go for it, and I’d either get the job or not. And I would get paid. I forget if the money came through him or directly from whoever I was working for at the time. I knew him quite well. I think we had supper a couple of times. Nothing special to say either way. He seemed like a nice guy. He was connected in the movie trade. Based on that, he got me jobs, and I had a good time.
BH: You also worked with Eddie Arab. Is that correct?
TF: Yeah. Eddie was a different kind of guy. (laughs) He looked like an Arab; he had a big, long beard. He was married to a Japanese. He was my next-door neighbor. He also had a modeling agency. Very nice guy. Like I say, my neighbor; we’d talk a lot. Didn’t socialize particularly, but again, one of the guys who helped me. Even when I came back to Japan, I went to his office and met him. We remembered each other, and we chatted, and that was about it.
BH: Let’s talk about Ultra Seven now, which of course is your best-known credit around the world. If you remember how you got cast in that, please tell us.
TF: I really don’t. It was probably through Yusuf. Honestly, I don’t remember how I got cast. I only remember going to Kobe, I guess, and being impressed with the car, which that ultra-modern kind of car at the time. But I don’t remember how I was chosen, only there was two of us – the young American girl and myself.
I did see it briefly on TV. The crew was great. The cast – I forget the actors’ names – they were famous, I know that. Great guys, really fun guys. We’d go out and party after, go out for supper, drinks. Nice people to be around. I was very impressed with all the Japanese actors, especially the more famous ones, because they didn’t have that stuck-up or that I’m-better-than-everybody philosophy that many of the American actors had.
Then again, I met some of the American actors in the top echelon that I did small parts, such as Richard Jaeckel or such as Robert Horton, who were great, fun guys, also. So it was individuals; some people would be nice and some not. A lot of the parts I had weren’t big, but they were decent. For me, it was all fun. I appreciated it wasn’t that hard to become an actor in Japan because they needed white people. It was like doing judo; the more movies I did, the better I got at it! I didn’t take it that seriously. I took it as total enjoyment and had a great deal of fun. Once you’re in that environment, you get swept up into it. My daughter’s doing the same thing right now. She just finished a movie in Malaysia. She was a month on location.
BH: Do you have any particular memories about shooting in Kobe during that time?
TF: Yeah, just generally. I remember the crew was very cool. The one funny thing I remember is, I forget which actor it was, but he was one of the famous ones, and he decided we should all go out for supper, and we went to catch a taxi. It was the busy hour, and the taxis don’t stop unless you hold up two fingers like paying them double, so he got pissed off and started throwing rocks at the taxis when they wouldn’t stop! (laughs) Nothing major, it was a fun time, good shoot. I never realized that this TV series was anything that special. I knew it was popular, but that 50 years later we’re talking about it surprises me! (laughs)
BH: There was a story that while filming in Kobe, a lot of the cast and perhaps some of the crew were out late at night, going to dinner, having a party, and at the hotel there was a curfew, so when they all tried to return to the hotel, they actually couldn’t go inside and were locked out for the night.
TF: No, I don’t recall anything about that. Maybe I wasn’t with them that night. I remember staying someplace where they had a curfew. That was very common in ryokans, business hotels.
BH: Do you remember working with the fishing pole?
TF: Now that you mention it, I was a Secret Service agent, and I was spying on something. In the script, I was supposed to look innocuous and be fishing while I was actually checking out whatever. I haven’t even thought of that in 50 years until you brought it up. Vaguely I remember something about that.
BH: Any memories of director Mr. (Kazuho) Mitsuta on Ultra Seven?
BH: Do you have any general memories of any of the studios you worked at, for example, Toho, Daiei, Toei, Tsuburaya Productions?
TF: Well, the only one I recall is Toho. I don’t have any real memories; I just remember being interviewed by about five or six Japanese, sitting around talking to them, probably in English because they didn’t think foreigners could really speak Japanese in those days. Nothing really comes to mind. I was impressed with the studio, Toho. That was the first major studio that I’d gotten a part in a movie for. I’d never been interviewed for any major studios, per se. So no real recollections of it.
BH: Why did you end up leaving Japan?
TF: My father’s business took a major bankruptcy, and my father was old and retired, basically. My mother was running it. One, they asked me to come back, so I did. Two, I was working for a real estate company in Japan, and in ’67 I was making about $4,000 a month commissions, which was huge money in those days. I was a Canadian working from the third floor of a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo, selling Florida real estate to American GIs during the time of the Vietnam War. I was the pitchman as well as the salesperson. So I was making pretty good money, and then the company closed up. They went bankrupt. There was nothing I could really do in Tokyo to make that kind of money anymore, so I went home and got back into the business and changed it into a leather-skin business. Through my connections, I started importing leather from Japan. I would take my customers’ products to Japan and sell them. So that’s how I was able to maintain my contacts in Japan.
The main reason I left was, I was then fifth-degree judo, and I wanted to compete. In order to compete, I had to go back to Canada, obviously. So I ended up being in the Olympics and world championships and competed internationally for five years. That was also one of the main reasons I went back because I’d been studying judo for all these years; now I wanted to see what I could do with it back in Canada.
BH: You were there in ’72 (at the Olympics in Munich during the hostage crisis).
TF: Yeah, I was 50 feet away. I saw that famous picture, the Arab with the mask, standing on the balcony. I saw the guy. I mean, we had to run underneath where the Israelis were, and one of my buddies had an Israeli friend, went to visit him, and he came back at 1:30 in the morning, and the terrorists came in at about 3:00. So he was an hour and a half away from being dead himself. That was horrible. We were 50 feet away from the whole thing.
One interesting story was, separating us was the Korean housing, and when it first happened, I walked down to the Korean apartments, and I saw the door open in one apartment. I see a Korean guy sitting in the window with his rifle, facing the Arabs or where the Israelis were held. He told me he was an ex-American Marine, but he was a Korean citizen. He was on the rifle team. He said, “I’m going to get one of those f*cking Arabs!” (laughs) But they came and took his rifle away! (laughs) I was there for the whole thing and saw everything.
That’s it! I’ve had quite some events.