The Dinosaur Club – Lamont Johnson
Posted May 17, 2012on:
In his 80s he still had that amazing voice…
One of the members of our “club” was Lamont Johnson (1922-2010)(1)(2), who used his dynamic bass radio voice on network radio while still in his teens. He enjoyed a long and successful career as an actor (radio, stage, screen, television) and director (I can’t begin to list all of his credits).
One time we were talking about overcoming difficult situations, and he gave me three examples he experienced, one serious, and two humorous:
Lamont Johnson was a sickly and painfully shy child who was an invalid until age 10 because of suffering TB of his leg. He said his voice helped him get good parts in school plays, and that plus years of psychoanalysis, brought him out of his shell.
Lamont played Tarzan in “Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle”(3) on Mutual Radio in the early 1950s, which was sponsored by Post Cereals. On one occasion Post asked him to perform the Tarzan yell while saying the words “P-o-s-t R-a-i-s-i-n B-r-a-n,” a difficult job to do under any circumstances, but he had to do it live, and with only an hour to rehearse. He succeeded, and gave me a spot-on rendition 50 years after the fact…muted so as not to disturb the other restaurant patrons!
Lamont’s first feature film as a director was “A Covenant with Death” (1967)(4). The famous Mexican actor Emilio Fernández(5), notorious as a loose cannon on the set (and everywhere else), played the role of Ignacio. The evening before the first day of shooting Lamont was up late obsessing about his first effort for the big screen. Around 2:00 AM he got a phone call from the local police…Emilio was in jail; he got into a bar fight and knifed someone! Lamont rushed to the jail, where Emilio, still woozy, was in tears, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, Mr. Johnson, for causing you this trouble!” Much to Lamont’s relief, the police brought the remorseful actor to the set in handcuffs, let him play his scenes. They put the cuffs on him and brought him back to jail…a scenario repeated until the filming ended.
Lamont was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and throughout his life aligned himself with progressive causes. He told me he worked extensively as a director of made for television movies, because that medium, rather than the big screen, was much more receptive to portraying controversial subjects. Lamont wrote the screenplay as well as directed what he told me was his favorite TV movie, “The Execution of Private Slovik” (1974)(6), the story of the only American soldier executed (since the Civil War) for desertion during World War II.
Into his 80s he never tired of answering my questions, and especially articulating his ideas for future movies dealing with social causes.
With that booming voice of his I would have been happy to listen if he simply read from the phone book.
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