Wednesday 26 April 2023

Laird Cregar of the 1960s

The Batman TV show got silly when Victor Buono showed up.

Until then, the villains on the show may have been a little over-the-top, but they were still menaces. The Riddler was crazy and liable to do anything. The Penguin and Joker were a little more calculating. Catwoman slinked around to try to challenge and defeat Batman’s moral turpitude.

But King Tut was just ridiculous.

A university professor gets bumped on the head, believes he’s King Tut and surrounds himself with people who buy that? Yeah, sure.

Still, 10-year-old me liked Victor Buono. At least he seemed to be having fun on the screen, unlike someone like Rudy Vallee, who was just boring.

I knew nothing of Buono’s background. I doubt many 10-year-olds at that time had seen him try to keep up opposite Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

This feature story is from the Charlotte News of April 24, 1964; pre-Batman of course.

Is Buono Too Good?
Real Sweet Guy
News Entertainment Writer
Is 300 pound Victor Buono too good for the likes of modern-day movies? He may be. His insistence that filmmakers follow a strict moral code in scenes in which he appears may cost him his career.
"I've lost several good parts because producers couldn't see things my way," says Buono. "And frankly, I expect to lose more."
Buono is the fat fellow who played piano for Bette Davis in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" He won an Academy award nomination for his role and could scarcely have hit the screen with more impact had he jumped into a kettledrum.
Buono didn't win the award, but the nomination helped him sew up the title role in an upcoming tingler called "The Strangler."
NOW WE COME to the meat of the story. The script called for Buono to step into a boudoir and throttle the scantily-clad lady occupant.
"Huh-uh," said Buono. "I won't do it."
"Of course you will," soothed the picture's producer. "what do you think you're in the picture for?"
"I'll do it," said Buono, "but not until she puts on some clothes."
"She can't do that," the producer argued. "This picture is based on a case in Boston and every one of the strangler's victims were nearly nude when killed.
"Well, this one's not going to be," said Buono. "Either she puts on a robe or she doesn't get strangled."
And with that he stalked off the set and retired to his dressing room. Fifteen minutes later came a knock on the door. He could return to the set. He had won his argument. The lady, a blonde named Davey Davison, had put on her robe and was waiting for Buono's firm grip of death.
"They had to give in to me—that time," said Buono later. "I was holding up production and it was costing them money. But I don't think they've forgiven me yet."
VICTOR BUONO, a Shakespearean actor before he turned to the screen. is trying to hold the tide against the onrushing salacious films in Hollywood. In short he is a conscientious objector in the midst of the morality revolution now taking place on the screen.
Pressed by shocking and sometimes distasteful foreign films on one side and innocuous TV shows on the other, Hollywood is squeezing out a brand of entertainment that contains a few elements of both. And Victor Buono, known as Hollywood's practicing Christian, is trying to hold out.
He insists he is not a prude. "I think the proof of that is in 'The Strangler' itself," he said. "I'm still a sex maniac in the picture. But it all depends on how you do a scene like that. There were some things at which I had to draw the line in sheer conscience."
BUONO'S STRUGGLE began shortly after he started work in the picture.
"That argument about the girl in the scanties was nothing to some squabbles we had before production began," he said. "I made them eliminate some scenes from the picture."
By the time the strangling scene came around the picture had been half completed. The producer couldn't afford to argue too much with Buono about it. He put a heavy mark against the big man in a little black book and told him to get on with it.
"I don't think I would have got away with it if it hadn't been for that Academy Award nomination," said Buono. "Aside from the billing and the money it's wonderful what one of those things will do for you.
"But it's no guarantee of success. I've already lost several good parts because the producers couldn't see my way and I expect to lose more.
"With pictures going wild it's a serious situation for me and I don't mind admitting I'm worried about it."

Buono relished villainous roles. He was cast in a pile of them, including one in a 1977 TV series. He talks about it in this interview published August 25th

Buono's heft helps his menace
By Bob Thomas
Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – What is so menacing about fat men? Sidney Greenstreet, Laird Cregar and other bulky males proved to highly effective as film heavies—a term that aptly fitted their profession.
Victor Buono carries on the weighty tradition in today's Hollywood. Ever since "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" (1963), he has earned a handsome living as menace of more slender leading men and women.
"I don't mind at all," he says airily. "The heavy is usually an interesting character, he moves the story, and his misdeeds teach a lesson. What's more, he usually has the best lines."
The Buono craft will be seen on NBC Television this fall with "Man from Atlantis," a series that may ptacate the public's hunger for sci-fi fantasy, as evidenced by "Star Wars." Handsome Patrick Duffy is found dying on an ocean shore. Navy doctor Belinda J. Montgomery discovers his problem: the poor man is from a water-breathing civilization deep in the sea. She repairs his gills and from then on the series really gets fantastic.
"I'm a semi-regular on the series; you might say an 'irregular," Buono explained in his MGM dressing room. "I appeared in the pilot film as Mr. Schubert, a madman who plays the cello in Schubert quartets between schemes on how to take over the world.
"In one of the plots I try to melt the polar cap with microwaves, the same device you use to make tuna-melts in the kitchen. My main aim is to force Pat to help me in my schemes, since he is a superior critter. So the first 45 minutes of the show I am in the ascendancy; in the last 15 he takes over.
"I always have magnificent plans to take over the world. The only trouble is that I hire certifiable nitwits to carry out my directions."
Buono, 39, seems to be enjoying himself in this amiable nonsense, and why not? Wasn't he King Tut in "Batman"? And Carlos Maria Vincenzo Robespierre Manzeppi, the menace of "Wild Wild West"? Not to mention Bongo Benny in "77 Sunset Strip."
"One of the things I like about 'Man from Atlantis," said the actor, "is that there are no guns, no knives, no gratuitous violence. There is some rough stuff, of course, but not with recognizable weapons.
"I am not anti-gun, but I am anti-handgun. A rifle was invented for shooting long distances in order to acquire food. A handgun was devised to kill human beings at short range."
Victor Buono grew up fat in San Diego.
"I recently came across a photograph of myself at eight, and I was heavy even then," he remarked. "It has never bothered me, though when I got up to 355 pounds a while back, I felt fat for the first time.
"Then I went off to Honolulu for a 'Hawaii Five-O' and in Hawaii you don't feel like eating. I went down to 320 and felt rather uncomfortable. Now I stay at 330." At six feet four he doesn't look that heavy.
The heft helps his menace, he believes, and so does his beard. He wears one that circles his face like an eskimo hood. "Without the beard my face looks like a blue-eyed omelet," he explained. "It's a picture of total innocence. And that's terribly bad in my line of work."

If Buono was interviewed about his experience working on a cult TV show, I haven’t been able to find it. He didn’t have a lot of time to talk about it. Buono was found dead of a heart attack in his home on New Year’s Day 1982. He was 43.


  1. Enjoyed watching Buono in "4 For Texas" in the sandwich scene with Charles Bronson

  2. I've been a fan of his since his days as Tut. A bit later I discovered his roles on The Untouchables, The Wild Wild West and many others. I bought his album, Heavy, when it was first released.
    I was very sad hearing he passed.
    RIP, King Tut.

    1. I also have "Heavy" - "The Fat man's Prayer" is brilliance. "You are what you eat said a wise old man, and Lord if that's true, I'm a garbage can!"
      However, the track "I Am" is an awful downer. Starts off cute and funny, talking from the perspective of a baby in the womb. It ends with "Today my mother killed me".

  3. I lived for his original poetry readings whenever he would appear on " The Tonight Show ".The line I remember most, and one that got a big laugh ; " One day, we will take Jack LaLanne and his ilk, put them all up against a wall........and *make* them eat cake !!! ".Of Laird Cregar, two of my favorite films are " The Lodger ", and as Major Carter in " Ten Gentlemen from West Point ". Another sad loss at such a young age. I believe that happened when he went on a really bad crash diet to get " Leading Men " roles.

    1. I remember his poem where he bemoaned his weight, which began: "I think that I shall never see... my feet."
      Perhaps the closest that we have to Buono nowadays is Wayne Knight... but he's not half as urbane as Victor was.

  4. He was always one of my favorite guests on The Tonight Show.