By FRED OLEN RAY
Sometimes the phone would ring and I'd answer it -- "Freddy-O,
Freddy-O!" would come the deep, gravelly voice. It
would be John Ashley. He liked to call me that -- it really
made his day.
I first met John when he came
to a screening of Sorceress, a movie I had produced
with Linda Blair, Edward Albert, Michael Parks and a
few others. Since I had heard John was going to be there
I brought a copy of my book, The New Poverty Row,
which detailed his career as a producer -- most people
remember John from his acting.
The next day he called me, saying
he had read the entire book overnight and that he was
delighted by its accuracy. We started getting together
after that and became friends.
John was a wealth of show biz
stories, especially the kind dealing with his low-budget
exploitation films. He didn't have a presumptuous bone
in his body -- he also swore a lot -- that was part
of his persona -- smooth as silk and classy, but with
a street-wise savvy. He never looked down on the films
he had made, but would often shake his head disbelievingly
at some of the things he had done to get the films onto
the drive-in screens.
I'll remember him as a generous
person -- a very real person -- and a friend. He once
said that I was the only person he would come out and
do a cameo for and I was pleased to feature him as Stella
Stevens' husband in Invisible Mom. I was also
pleased to be able to assist him during the making of
his last film as a producer, Scarred City. He
literally passed away during the making of the film,
which, I like to think, is just the way he would have
A fistful of
John's films that are well worth seeking out:
As in the subsequent
Dragstrip Girl, John portrays the irksome nemesis
of clean cut Steve Terrell. Smarmy and sleazy, Ashley
makes an effective villain, though a grownup Carl "Alfalfa"
Switzer is hardly typecast as a burly biker.
spoiled rotten by rich elders, Ashley appears as a class-cutting
Capone, manipulating a network of homeroom thugs who
carry out his dirty work. 'Mob rule in a High School,'
crowed the posters. The theme song rocks.
hard to outshine sexy Fay Spain, whose well-to-do parents
just don't understand her need for speed. Steve Terrell,
slayer of Saucer-Men, is the good kid. The ubiquitous
Russ Bender is on hand and Frank Gorshin mugs without
Hot Rod Gang
a fake beard and string tie, "like one of those
Greenwich Village cats," that he might clandestinely
further his singing career, raising sorely-needed dough
with which to fund his rubber-burning shenanigans. Rockabilly
great Gene Vincent in his only speaking film part swings
through several souped-up numbers.
Ashley stands out as
the single credible element in this seamy shocker. They
say that makeup man Harry Thomas, apparently unaware
of the film's title, constructed a male monster. To
rectify this mistake, a dab of lipstick was smeared
across the mummified menace's kisser. The film's true
highlight is Harold Lloyd Jr. singing Daddy Bird,
poolside, backed by the Page Cavanaugh Trio.
When the focus
of teen films shifted from hot rods to surfboards, Ashley
gamely made the transition. Here he lends debonair balance
to a cutesy cast that includes Frankie Avalon, Annette
Funicello, Jody McCrea and surf guitar-slinger Dick
Beast of Blood
alone, depicting a cadaverous monster decapitating himself
with his bare hands, are worth the price of admission.
Ashley is out to stop demented Professor Lorca in this
lurid sequel to Mad Doctor of Blood Island.