Rhodes Reason (1930-2014) is an actor whose roles in the science fiction genre are still celebrated to this day, particularly his starring role as Commander Carl Nelson in King Kong Escapes (1967), alongside Akira Takarada and Mie Hama, and as Flavius Maximus in the “Bread and Circuses” episode of Star Trek (1966-69). In the second part of his July 2007 interview with Brett Homenick, Mr. Reason answers audience questions about his decades-long body of acting work.
Brett Homenick: Now that we’ve had my questions, are there any questions some of you would like to ask Rhodes Reason?
Rhodes Reason: Wake up! Wake up! (audience laughter)
Q: Was there a difference in the star treatment between a Hollywood movie and a Japanese movie?
RR: Oh, big difference. In Japan, I was treated like royalty, by royalty. I was the emcee during my time there of a wonderful spring charity show for all the European people who were there — the Catholic and religious organizations, and I was selected to emcee it. It was a wonderful spring ball at the Hilton Hotel in the Pearl Ballroom, which was quite impressive. All the chandeliers were made of long strands of real pearls; you can imagine there must have been thousands of pearls in the Pearl Ballroom, probably worth $20 million just for the chandeliers themselves.
We had some wonderful dignitaries at that event. We had the American ambassador, we had Princess Shimazu, the daughter of Emperor Hirohito. In fact, I had the last dance of the evening with her because her husband was rather rude and danced with some little bimbo.
She was sitting at my table, and I said, “Do you mind if I have the last dance with you, Princess?” She said she’d be delighted, so we got up and danced and had a good time. Of course, the joke in Tokyo was that they couldn’t find a pair of tuxedo pants long enough for me, so there was a big quest on to find these tuxedo pants. It got around Tokyo, “Did Reason-san find his pants yet?” (audience laughter) And she heard about that and said, “Oh by the way, Reason-san, do the pants they got you fit?” And I said, “Well as long as I hold my elbows to my sides. But if I lift them up, my pants fall down.” (audience laughter) And she started going, (holds his hand over his mouth and turns to the side) and that was so cute. She was a delight. So I had experiences like that, which were quite amazing, really.
Q: You said you knew Raymond Burr when you were working with him on Perry Mason. At that time, did you ever talk to him about his work on Godzilla King of the Monsters?
RR: I was only aware of that from watching it. We actors don’t really have a chance to talk about our work. We’re so involved with working with each other at the time that unless you’re really good friends, and you’d want to make fun of each other, then I might have talked to him about that. (laughs) But other than that, no. Actors, it’s amazing, we don’t usually talk about what we do. It’s you (the fans) that talk about what we do. (laughs) Most of us don’t remember what we did. (audience laughter)
Q: You seemed to be quite the ladies’ man back then. Is that true? (audience laughter)
RR: Well, the word’s gotten out! (audience laughter, applause, Rhodes takes a bow) I finally did something worthwhile! (audience laughter)
Q: When you were working on “Bread and Circuses” (on Star Trek) with William Shatner, that episode was a great opportunity for William Shatner to take his shirt off, but he didn’t, and I’m wondering what it was like working with him, and if he felt upstaged by you because of your deeper voice, several inches taller. When you read about Shatner and how he got along with people, I’m wondering if he was bothered by that at all. Do you remember that?
RR: Well at that time, I didn’t realize that Shatner wasn’t a very nice person. I learned that from other actors who had worked with him. I never had any problems with Bill at all. I thought he was very professional, very courteous, very underplayed. I got along famously with De (DeForest Kelley) and Len (Leonard Nimoy) because they were very gregarious and charming guys. Shatner was very quiet and to himself — into himself and very self-indulgent, so I didn’t get any vibes from him that were negative or positive. We’d just do the scene, and he’d walk away, and I’d walk away.
Q: Did you and your brother (Rex Reason) have a rivalry, or did you work together cooperatively in the movie business? How did that work?
RR: Not at all. Rex had his own career that went his direction; I had my own career that went my direction. Several times, we had opportunities to work together, but they didn’t really (pan out). But Rex had a wonderful career at a very young age, and it lasted for about eleven years, and then he retired. He went into real estate, which is surprising because he was 32 years old. Most actors don’t even become stars until they’re 32. He had done about thirty extremely nice motion pictures before that.
He was always under contract with a studio. When he was twenty years old, he was under contract to MGM. He went from MGM to Columbia, from Columbia to Universal, from Universal to Warner Bros. Then he had two series of his own. Really, his landmark movie was This Island Earth, which was a big sci-fi movie. Spielberg and Lucas went to see it when they were little kids growing up. That was their focus: “Boy, if we could make a movie like that.” They did, and ten times better, of course.
Q: Thank you very much.
RR: You bet.
Q: I noticed on your highlight reel that you had projects done with Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. Do you have any impressions you can give us?
RR: Well, first, Carol Burnett is a delight. I’ve known Carol since she was at UCLA years ago. So I knew her before she became a big star. (referring to the highlight reel) That was the first role I ever played with Lucille Ball on that show, and she liked me so much that I did about eleven shows with her after that. They called me “Steve Stunning,” that was her (nickname for me). “Oh, this is a Steve Stunning part; call Rhodes.” (audience laughter) My agent would tell me, “Lucy wants you on the show.” “Okay, what do I do?” “You’ll find out.” Anyway, that was my first show with Lucy and really the first and last time I worked with Carol Burnett. They were both fun to work with, as you can see, they were both a lot of fun.
Q: When you were filming King Kong Escapes, did you get to see the monster suits in action?
RR: Oh, of course. In fact, I saw the person who used to climb into the suit every day. He was a big star in Tokyo. He wore a bandanna around his head and sat there on his little chair, and when they’d be ready to shoot, he’d climb into the gorilla suit and they’d zip up the back. (laughs) For the purists who watch King Kong, “Oh, that’s just a zipper up the back. That’s a man in a suit.” (audience laughter)
No, he used to do all those (monsters). He was very acrobatic, very strong little guy who did all those animals, all those movements. He was wonderful. I used to watch him get into the suit and step out into the lagoon with all the miniature trees.
Occasionally, I’d have time to go over and see the second unit shooting. That was fun because I’d see — I forgot the man’s name, the director, but he was marvelous. He had all those wonderful miniature helicopters flying around on wires, little explosions going off. It was great fun watching all that. I (saw) the miniature streets and miniatures of Tokyo — oh it was just a lot of fun. I felt like a kid when I was watching all that stuff.
Q: Have you ever been involved in producing a film?
RR: Me, being a producer?
Q: Producer, co-producer, or whatever.
RR: Not really. In fact, there’s a joke about being a producer. When you start out as an actor, and you find that you’re not a very good actor, you become a director. And then when you become a director and find you can’t direct very well, then you become a producer. (audience laughter) That’s ascendancy. That’s how we look at it as actors. Producers and actors are natural enemies. (audience laughter)
Q: When was the last time you’ve been acting?
RR: Last night! (at the opening ceremonies — audience laughter and applause) What do you think I’m doing up here? (audience laughter)
Q: When was the last time you saw King Kong Escapes before last night, and how do you think it holds up today?
RR: Oh, that was yesterday morning! (audience laughter) No, that’s not true. I’ve seen it probably, over the past four years, maybe ten times, only because friends want to see it. They say, “Can we see King Kong Escapes?” I say, “Sure, come on.” So we go to the room and turn the thing on. (audience laughter)
Q: And how do you think it holds up today?
RR: Well, after seeing it last night, I was very pleased with it. It was fun. The audience was pleased; they had a lot of fun laughing and giggling, and that’s the kind of movie it should be. It’s just a fun movie.
RR: Well, sometimes I’m a little upset because I see some of my best scenes on the editor’s floor and not in the movie. I’ve had that happen to me many times. But that seems to be with a lot of actors. They’ll be in love with a certain scene, but they never see it in the movie because they’ve cut it out. And you get very upset. Other than that, I see myself as a working actor, and I’ve made a good living. I didn’t have to become a plumber or anything, although that’s probably a more honorable profession than acting. (audience laughter)
And I’ve enjoyed my life, and I’ve had a very wonderful career as far as being very diversified. I’ve been on the stage, I’ve done films, I’ve had television series, I’ve had good friends. There’ve been a lot of actor-friends of mine through the years; that’s another thing. There’s a great camaraderie among actors — not producers, but actors. (audience laughter)
Q: Were you offered roles in any Westerns, and did you know Lee Van Cleef?
RR: Ah, I knew Lee very well. Lee was a great fellow. He was just the neatest guy. He played the most wonderful bad guy in the world, that Lee Van Cleef. But he was a sweetie pie. We played a lot of golf together way back in the late ’50s. We founded a group called Hollywood Hackers, We had a group of about ten actors that got together, and that grew into a huge organization, and Lee was one of the founders. And then I didn’t see Lee for a long time because he ran over to Europe in the late fifties and got into those Westerns with Clint (Eastwood), and they all had a good time over there with the Spaghetti Westerns. But Lee was a beautiful guy, and a good actor.
Q: After King Kong Escapes, were you ever offered any other roles in Japan?
RR: No, because they found out how I acted, so they figured, “We don’t want him here anymore.” (audience laughter) No, I was never offered any other roles in Japan, not that I know of. You never know with your agents. They’re the ones who select roles a lot of the time, and you never know you’re up for a part many times. That experience was so indelible and such a beautiful experience, I don’t think I could ever top it.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring actors out there.
RR: Yeah, I hope you have talent! (audience laughter, applause) That didn’t really answer that question, I’m sorry, but (a girl asked) Helen Hayes when she was touring in a play of young aspiring actors, and she wanted to get advice from Helen Hayes. She said, “Oh, Miss Hayes, I need advice. What do you think if I went to the Village Playhouse in New York and learned acting?” And she (Hayes) said, “Well, it would be fine if you had talent.” That’s just the beginning of the story. Acting is very simple; it’s not brain surgery. You just mumble and grumble and they put it on film, and they say, “Gee, isn’t he natural?” That’s because he’s so dumb he doesn’t know what he’s doing, anyway. (audience laughter)
Q: This is more on the lighter side, but I just noticed in the movie — I don’t know if you and Akira (Takarada) had a gentleman’s wager on who could hug or hold Linda (Miller) the most.
RR: It never even crossed my mind. I mean, that wasn’t in the script. (audience laughter)
Q: Well, I think that’s maybe why he didn’t bring his wife on the set.
RR: Oh, no, that’s a Japanese thing. They protect their wives from being in public because they’re number one; the man is number one. The wife is number two. If he goes out in public, she stays home. They’re very covetous of their wives.
Q: Were there any scenes in King Kong Escapes that you liked, that you found on the cutting room floor?
RR: Not really, because most of the scenes that we shot, I would say ninety percent of all the scenes we shot, were prearranged and used in a kind of pre-cut situation so that everything that I shot, as I remember, was on the screen. There was nothing cut out of it. It was one of the first movies that some of my scenes weren’t cut out of; I must have been improving. (audience laughter)
Q: What did you think of the designs of the monsters in the movie. How’d they look?
RR: Well, I’m not an authority on that, and all I know is what I saw. What I saw was those monsters fighting each other. They were acceptable to me. They had a certain realism within the fantasy of the whole story. I was pleased when I was watching because I realize all the work and effort and time put into those sequences. They weren’t something they just set up; it took a long time to develop those scenes, to choreograph them, to set the lighting and all the technical aspects of it — quite amazing.
Q: What were the working conditions on the set? Was it difficult?
RR: Oh, no, we were accommodated with every nicety you could think of. It was just a beautiful time to work at the studio because everything was there for you, whatever you needed was right at your fingertips — every comfort. It was very easy working on that movie, believe me. Very slow, graceful. I was falling asleep most of the time, as a matter of fact.
Q: Do you have any memories of Mie Hama?
RR: Oh, sure. Mie was a delight. She was a beautiful, beautiful young lady. She was also a very consummate professional, very accommodating. I did one thing in the movie that she didn’t like, and I did it to get some sort of reaction out of her. In the scene that we were together, and I grabbed her face and said, “You’re not Japanese — Korean? Who are you?” — that kind of thing. And it showed her; her eyes got big, and she pulled back, and that’s the exact reaction I wanted to get out of her for that scene. And they printed it, and from that point on she would kind of stand away from me like this. (leans back, audience laughter)
BH: So that whole scene was ad-libbed.
RR: Well, the whole scene wasn’t ad-libbed. The scene was as it was; there was no point at which I grabbed her face. We just talked to each other.
Like we’d say, “You’re not Japanese,” and I might grab her shoulder. But to give it more emphasis, and so that she would react — because she had rather a very placid, beautiful face, and I wanted to get a reaction, to me. And so, in that scene, when we were shooting, I grabbed her face and pulled her over, and I could see her eyes, and she became very animated and real. It wasn’t acting. But she went along with it, being a consummate actress, and I pulled my hand away, and we talked and so forth, and they cut the scene. From then on, she tended to look at me from a distance like that, “I wonder what he’s going to to next?” (audience laughter)
BH: Would you like to demonstrate for the audience what you did to Mie Hama on me?
RR: We haven’t even gone together yet! (audience laughter)
BH: Anything else?
RR: Yeah, how do I get outta here? (audience laughter)
BH: Yes, Jeri?
RR: This is my wife Jerrlyn.
Jeri Reason: Is there a person inside Gorosaurus?
RR: Sure, there’s an actor. I tried out for the role, but I was too tall. (audience laughter)
JR: How did he do all those kicks and punches? I’ve become a new fan.
RR: You can answer that, Brett.
BH: I don’t know if I can answer that. I would imagine that there was an actor in the suit as he was doing the kicks. I imagine he was held up by piano wires, and sort of brought up, and as he was brought up he did the kick and kicked Kong over. I would imagine that’s how that scene was done.
Q: A more general question about your trade. You’ve had a very long career. I was looking to see (the statistics) of actually having a long career in Hollywood because some people seem to go three or four years, and they can’t do it any longer, but you’ve had success over a very long period.
RR: Well, you’re absolutely right. When I first began acting professionally — when I got out of the Army in 1953, I started off onstage. I did a season of summer stock. Then I started doing live television in those days, like Hallmark Hall of Fame, for instance, which was a live television show that was produced every week on Sundays — stuff like that. In the early stage of work, it was difficult. A lot of my colleagues, they would fall by the wayside in a few years; they couldn’t stand the lapses between working. In fact, I got quite busy quite young when I was about 23.
All through my career, I really have had a full career and been able to pay my bills and raise a family and consider myself to be a professional actor, and that’s how I made my living. But you’re absolutely right, it’s very difficult, and it’s more difficult today because there are fewer roles, really. Although with cable television, maybe there are maybe more openings. But when I started, there were fewer actors and fewer parts, but my brother and I just got lucky and started working, and doing a lot of work. I kept working until I stopped, which was 1983, though I can’t believe it’s been that long since I last appeared onstage, as a matter of fact.
But to answer your question, acting is a dedicated profession, and you either believe in yourself or you don’t, because it’s like being pregnant — you either are, or you’re not. You can’t be afraid; you just dive into it and do it, and let the chips fall where they will. I was lucky because a lot of the chips fell my way. I feel very fortunate.
Q: What have you been doing since 1983?
RR: I’ve been trying to prepare for this convention. (audience laughter, applause) I didn’t quite make it, but 1 did my best. You’ve got to realize that this is the first sci-fi convention that I’ve ever appeared in. The only other convention I ever went to was in Asheville about five years ago, and that was a Western thing, and I only did it because my wife wanted a trip. (audience laughter) I said, “Okay, babe, let’s go.” I’ve been very private in my life, as far as giving interviews, as Brett will tell you. Right, Brett? He had to twist my arm about eighty times.
BH: Maybe not quite eighty, but…
RR: Seventy-eight. (audience laughter)
BH: I think that’s a little more accurate. Any other questions? Yes.
Q: Have you done any work in radio?
RR: I did a little work in radio, voice-overs for commercials, but that’s all. In fact, I heard myself on a couple of them, and I couldn’t believe I was that good. (audience laughter) I would turn on the radio, and it was for a series of commercials or something. “That guy sounds familiar. Sounds like the commercial I did two weeks ago.” And somebody said, “Well, that’s you, Rhodes.” And I said, “Really?! I didn’t know I was that good.” (laughs, audience laughter) Actors are sort of self-deprecating because they always think they’re not as good as they are. They’re always wondering, “How long can I fool my public before they get wise to me, and I have to get a job at Safeway or something?”
RR: Comedy? No, I find comedy very easy, but I’ve never been hired to do it, so I do it here. (audience laughter) I love comedy, but people have never hired me to do that, and yet I have good comedy timing and I enjoy comedy roles. They think I’m an authority figure. Well, you see that, I played Joshua, an authority figure, I played Col. Travis, an authority figure, John Hunter, an authority figure, Commander Nelson, an authority figure. I wish they’d give me a cute little comedy. I could prance around and have fun. But that’s history.
Q: Having lived through World War II and reading about it in the newspapers, did you want to do any war movies?
RR: As a kid, growing up I wanted to be in the war, but I was too young. I wanted to be an ace fighter pilot, but when the war broke out, I was eleven years old; they didn’t take fighter pilots of that age. But no, I followed the war day-to-day, as we all did. I recognized all the important fronts during the progress of the Allies, the Germans, the Japanese, and the Americans. I followed it to the bitter end. It was a very glamorous war if I could use that term, compared to what we’ve gone through today. The wars we’ve gone through since then should never have been fought.
Q: So did you want to do World War II type movies? Was that something you wanted to pursue at the time?
RR: When I was first growing up, I would have been glad to do war movies, but after the war was over, I don’t think I did a war movie. I did a lot of Civil War things, but no like World War II or Korean War movies.
Oh, yes, actually I did. I did a World War II television show called Silent Service where I played a submarine commander. It was a true episode of the Pacific Conflict during World War II. I’d forgotten about that.
Oh, also Jungle Heat, a movie we made in the Hawaiian Islands with Lex Barker, and I played a major in the artillery, married to a Japanese girl. It took place two weeks before Pearl Harbor. So that’s a World War II movie. I wore a uniform and pretended like I was a major and learned how to salute. No, I was a soldier in the Korean Conflict; I knew how to salute — keep your thumb up. (salutes)
Q: I just wondered, since you probably fit the mold at the time, do you recall, did you audition for Star Trek when they were auditioning for Captain Kirk?
RR: Oh, no, I didn’t even know they were auditioning for Star Trek. In fact, when I made Star Trek, they were getting ready to cancel the series, and Shatner and Leonard and DeForest, they were kind of weary of the series. They thought, “We can hardly wait to get off of this series.” And of course, as fortune would have it, it turned out to be the best thing in their lives that ever happened to them. Star Trek, after that, probably made them all multi-zillionaires. DeForest died quite early. That was a shame ’cause he was really a neat guy. And Leonard was a great guy. I loved De and Len.
Q: Do you miss acting in films?
RR: Uh, well, at my age, there are very few things I miss that I’ve already done because it’s a lot of work. It would be a lot of work for me now. I’m not really up to it physically, as I would have been twenty or thirty years ago. So I don’t really miss it, no.
Q: What qualities did you look for in a director?
RR: Well, I just wanted to make sure he was a better director than directing traffic. (audience laughter) That’s the joke about directors who couldn’t direct: “He couldn’t direct traffic.”
Q: What was it like to work with Ishiro Honda as a director?
RR: Well, he was very competent, very economical in his directing. We didn’t have any association. We never got closer to each other than my interpreter because he spoke Japanese, and I spoke English, and so any direction that would come from him would come from my interpreter. He would stand off in a corner and talk to my interpreter, my interpreter would come to me and we’d stand off in a corner, and we’d finally come together and decide how we’re going to shoot the next scene. He was always very cordial, and very competent.
Q: Did you have the opportunity to see any of the cast members (of King Kong Escapes) outside of the set?
RR: Very little social activity off the set. Akira Takarada and I used to hang out occasionally together. We’d get into a nice big tub of water together after a shoot, and that was kind of fun. And that’s about it.
Q: Would you happen to know if the was any Japanese cultural reason, or any other particular reason, that Dr. Who’s henchmen had to wear white gloves. It seems to be a recurring theme.
RR: I have no idea. That may be a Japanese cultural thing. Of course, I’ve seen other Japanese feature movies where they wore white gloves, too. Maybe it’s just because they had more white gloves than black gloves; I don’t know. (audience laughter)
Q: Were you a fan of Godzilla movies and Japanese monster movies before you took this role, and are you a fan now?
RR: I’m sorry, but I can really say that I was never a fan of any creature movies, except with Marilyn Monroe. (audience laughter) Until this movie. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know a Godzilla from a 1947 Ford. (audience laughter)
Q: What’s your opinion on Hollywood today?
RR: I really have no opinion because I’m not really involved in the Hollywood scene. I’m still a member of all of the unions, only because I like to find out how our unions are progressing with negotiations with new contracts with the producers. But it seems to be doing okay. They’re making a lot of bucks and having a lot of fun, and that’s all it’s about, anyway.
Q: Was Linda Miller’s role an English-speaking role, or was she speaking Japanese?
RR: She spoke English in the movie, and Julie Bennett dubbed her voice. So that wasn’t Linda Miller’s voice you heard; it was Julie Bennett’s. But she spoke English. She also spoke rather good Japanese. In fact, she’s the one that taught me my first Japanese phrase: ii tenki desu ne. “Nice weather.” Boy, am I a linguist!
Q: When did you meet your wife, and is she an actress?
RR: My current wife? Which wife are you referring to? (audience laughter) Oh, my current one.
Yes, I remember her now. (audience laughter) Actually, when I retired, I moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1994, moving up from Glendale. We met in Portland in 1996 and we courted, dated, and in 2000 we were married. We’ve lived happily ever after. She’s a beautiful, beautiful woman. (applause)
BH: The other part of the question: Does she have any acting background?
RR: Acting background? Well, she must have acted pretty good to get me. (audience laughter) No, actually Jerrlyn is the director of special events at the Portland Art Museum. That’s her job moniker.
Q: Have you been involved in any outside businesses after acting?
RR: A lot of monkey business, but… (audience laughter) No, I’m retired. I’m fully pensioned by my unions, and I’m very comfortable financially. But no, I’ve never attempted to get into any business or any venture of any kind. Unless you’ve got something in mind, we could get together afterwards. (laughs)
Q: What are your memories of working together with Boris Karloff?
RR: Oh, what a nice question. Boris was one of the most beautiful older gentlemen I’ve ever met. I respected his career so much growing up as a kid, watching all the movies, and I had an opportunity to play in a movie with him called Voodoo Island. We made it on the island of Kauai in 1956. I was 26 years old, and Boris had just turned 70. I was so thrilled to be able to act with him. He was such a delightful gentleman and had such a droll sense of humor. Of all the actors I’ve ever worked with, he was my all-time favorite. Just a beautiful, beautiful guy.
Q: What was it like on the set of Star Trek?
RR: It was a hot August, as I recall, and the set was very orderly and easy. Again, a lovely atmosphere. All those scenes when they first came down the hill, that was what they call Bronson Canyon, which was behind Paramount Studios up in the hills. It was just a hot summer, and for lunch I’d go — there was a lovely restaurant just outside the studio there; I’ve forgotten the name of it. It was just a very cordial, easy shoot. There were no physical or directorial or camera problems. It was a very congenial set.
You know, I’ve done so many shows where you just come in, and — I did the show. I didn’t know what Star Trek was; I never watched it. I was hired to play that role, and I played the role, and I went on to something else. It was only something like forty years later that it becomes sort of a cult thing, and I started to look at it (and think) you aren’t too bad in that show. But other than that — you see, as actors, we don’t know what’s going to happen to a product until the audience makes it into something else that we had no idea that it was to begin with. (laughs)
Q: What was it like working on The Time Tunnel?
RR: That was a really wonderful experience — the technological aspect where they would incorporate stock footage of historical events with the present. And they had that scientific laboratory with that huge Time Tunnel that would spin around. And I had the good fortune to be brought back out of the history of the Alamo. I’d stand in that Time Tunnel, and you could only go for one take because they had the arc lights flare out with flares and firecrackers, and everything would go off. You had to stand away from all the action until it was over, and then you had to walk out of this Time Tunnel into the scene and pretend like you were very upset and couldn’t believe where you were. That’s exactly how if felt, and that’s how I played the scene. It was a very well produced show. I really enjoyed that.
BH: Any other questions?
RR: That’s good! (audience applause)