Sunday, October 23, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom, Chapter Eleven

Undersea Kingdom made a name for "Crash" Corrigan.  As it happens, the name it made for him was "Crash" Corrigan.  Before this serial, he was credited—when he was credited at all—as Ray Benard.  (And even that wasn't his real name.  It was Raymond Benitz according to IMDb, and the closer Raymond Bernard according to Wikipedia.)  But it was under his character's name from this serial, with his own "Ray" appended up front, that he was known for the rest of his career.

And while it wasn't one of Hollywood's great careers, it was, at least, a career, stretching from an uncredited role as an ape in 1932's Tarzan the Ape Man to the title character of 1958's It! The Terror from Beyond Space.

There are several different stories as to how Benitz/Benard came to be called "Crash."  IMDb claims it "derived from his powerful physique and willingness to undertake dangerous stunts."  Wikipedia notes that when he appeared on Groucho Marx's game show You Bet Your Life, he ascribed it to "the way he tackled other players in football and the way he fought."  But they also point out a far more likely, though prosaic, possibility: since Undersea Kingdom came out in the wake (no pun intended) of Universal's hit Flash Gordon, "Crash" may well have been invented at Republic for its similarity, and the actor simply adopted the character's name as his own.  (It happens now and again.  Doctor Who's Sylvester McCoy—né Patrick Kent Smith—also adapted the name of an early character he played for his stage name.)

After getting his first lead role in Undersea Kingdom, Corrigan co-starred as Tucson Smith in 24 features in the "Three Mesquiteers" series before leaving Republic in a pay dispute.  He then starred in a long western B-picture series of his own.  Really his own: again, "Crash" Corrigan was his character name as well as his stage name.

But at beginning and end of his career, what made ends meet was costume work.  He owned his own gorilla suits, and got a lot of work out of them.  He appeared as apes in two of Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan films, in Murder in the Private Car (1934), and in Darkest Africa (1936).  And he even appeared as an "Orangopoid" in the original Flash Gordon serial.  After his westerns petered out, he played the title roles of The White Gorilla and White Pongo (1945), and other apes in numerous other movies.  Even while in the height of his career, he played the occasional gorilla—including a second role in one of his Three Mesquiteers pictures.  As Bugs Bunny would have it, "Eh, it's a livin'."

In 1948, Wikipedia says, he sold his gorilla suits to another actor, Steve Calvert.  I guess, at 46, he was getting too old for these monkeyshines.  Which would mean IMDb was wrong in assigning Corrigan the role of the gorilla in the infamous would-be comedy Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.  Which is too bad, in a way; it would be kind of neat if two former serial stars were abasing themselves in that disaster.

Besides gorilla suits, Corrigan made another film-related investment, buying his own ranch, Corriganville, which he converted into a combination full-service film location and Western-themed tourist attraction.  He sold it to Bob Hope in 1966, at which point it became Hopetown.  It's a shame he didn't sell it to Zazu Pitts.  She could have named it Pittsburgh.

7:14 "Gah!  The submarine again?!  Are you sure there isn't anything else you're going to need from there?  Heart attack pills?  Your iPod?  Change of underwear?  I swear to you, we're not going back one more time."

8:11 It kind of ruins the illusion that the submarine is fairly wide below the waterline when it's so close to shore.

12:15 Hey, they're got a big locker full of dander in the sub!  I wonder why they'd... oh.  It says "Danger."  My mistake.

13:41 "Oh, boy, oh, boy!  Field trip!"

14:00 That's an unusually short Volkite.  Did Republic run out of tall extras?

17:57 "Control disc"?  Sounds like there was a miscommunication between the script and prop departments.

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