Quantcast ICONS OF FRIGHT presents TIM SULLIVAN'S SHOCK N' ROLL ISSUE 9: ROBERT QUARRY "GOOD NIGHT, SWEET COUNT"

This past weekend on February 21st, Robert Quarry left us. He was 83. He had been ill for some time, with the last year particularly hard with his move to the Actor’s Home. Through it all, the love displayed by his fans was a constant source of comfort to Bob. When the call went out to fandom that Count Yorga was moving into a new crypt and needed both basics and some simple frills, the response was overwhelming. Within a mere two weeks, Bob’s new room at the Actor’s Home was completely furnished with gifts sent by fans and friends from all over the world.

The music he loved, the movies that mattered to him, all replaced with brand new CD’s and DVD’s. Bob got a chance to read each and every one of the notes and emails that were sent to him, a true testament not just to the caring and kindness of those that make up the horror community, but a striking tribute to the man who inspired this outpouring, Bob Quarry himself. A true giant of the genre, one of the last great icons of fright to grace the crimson screen. I will always cherish my friendship with “Uncle” Bob.

I am deeply grateful for the following interview that started it all with Bob in all his candid glory, the subsequent screening of both Yorga films that emerged as a result after dear Frank Darabont saw the interview and ordered 35mm prints to be shown at the American Cinematheque, an amazing event that put Bob back in the spotlight where he deserved to be. I thank all of Bob’s friends, fans and extended family for showing the love, especially Fred Olen Rey and Terrill Langford, who were right by his side to the very end.

Goodnight, Sweet Count. We will never forget you. Like Yorga, you live forever.

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For those supping at the North Hollywood Diner one hot Friday afternoon, the elderly man and his younger companion sitting at the back corner table were probably just another grandfather and grandson sharing a meal. Little did they know they were dining in the presence of Count Yorga and one of his most ardent admirers. Yes, Robert Quarry, the man who in 1970 would wear the cloak of Count Yorga and create a legendary screen vampire… And me, the little boy who discovered that performance at the tender age of seven and would spend countless afternoons smearing his face with jelly, stalking about his neighborhood in search of hapless victims (and usually getting beat up in the process). Back then, when the world had gone psychedelic but monsters had gone Gothic stuffy with imported Hammer horrors, Count Yorga, both movie and monster, was hip. Current. Cool. With his elegant wit and calm disdain of the clumsy mortals trying to stake his undead heart, there simply hadn’t been a performance in a horror film quite like Robert Quarry’s (Imagine Hannibal Lecter as a vampire). I was hooked. God knows, I never dreamed that years later I would be sitting across from the man who played a starring role in my childhood nightmares. The man who, for my money, rightly holds an equal place alongside Karloff, Lugosi, the Chaneys, Price, Cushing, Lee and Englund as one of the GREAT horror icons of all time. And yet, many of you, especially those weaned on Jason and Freddy, are probably scratching your head, asking yourself, “Robert Quarry who?” Well, shame on you. But read on… And as you do (to quote the old Yorga ad campaign), Beware the eyes that paralyze! Beware the stare! For the Deathmaster has returned! (And he still has that Yorga cool!)
How did you come to be cast as Count Yorga?

I had been part of a theater group in Los Angeles. I come from a theater background, you know. Studied with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler. Those were the days when you had to have real acting training. Now it’s more about working out in a gym and being willing to take your clothes off… But anyway, after doing lots of theater, I had been under contract to several film studios. They would contract you for a year, give you fencing lessons, horseback lessons… I felt like I was being trained for the Olympics rather than an acting gig. So I soon tired of that, and I was working in this little theater group in the late 60’s, tired of the studio system, when one of its members, Michael Macready, came to me and told me he had $64,000 to make a movie, and he was going to make a “Nudie”, a soft core porno film, and he wanted to make it about vampires. He asked me if I would play the vampire, and the film was to be called “The Loves of Count Yorga”. I read the script which was actually quite good, and asked him why he didn’t just do a straight horror film. He was concerned about getting his money back, as it was all his own personal cash, and knew that nudies were a sure sell. Well, I also knew that horror pictures were a sure sell, so we compromised. We would shoot the movie straight, but he would also shoot additional soft core scenes that could be inserted later (pun intended) if the film turned out to be a disaster. That is why there are so many random female characters such as the nurse and the secretary. Well, as it turned out, the film played tremendously well, and so the decision was made to release the film as a straight horror film and keep those scenes out.

You were right. “Count Yorga Vampire” was a huge success. An instant classic.
Oh, tremendous. When it was released in 1970, it was the number one picture that weekend. Made $7 million. To this day, it is Am erican International’s third highest grossing film. And it was a critical success, as well. I must say, I got the best notices of my career. My performance was praised by the critics, which was quite wonderful, but I couldn’t help but think, “Gee, where were you guys when I did “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” or “Shakespeare in the Round”?

It was a bold performance. Very physical. Ferocious. And quite unique at the time, for other than the TV soap DARK SHADOWS where you had Barnabas Collins, this was the first time that a vampire was portrayed in a modern context with sympathetic attributes.


Yes, that is true. And honestly, initially, it was simply because the budget wouldn’t allow for a period setting!

Those wonderful budget constraints. But sometimes, they actually lead to creative breakthroughs.

Yes, and low paid actors! (laughs) Once Bob Kelljan, who wrote and directed the first picture, realized we were constrained to modern Los Angeles, he embraced the concept as did I. Bob certainly wrote a place for me to go with Yorga, and I always want to credit him with that, but so many of the choices were mine. I feel that as an actor, you have to go for it. Just go for it. And I did. Running down the halls wildly chasing after my misbehaving vampire brides, that showed the animal side of Yorga. But I also wanted Yorga to have a human side. I wanted to show the human side of a non human character. So I constantly insisted and got more scenes. More dialogue. Once the producer and director saw how I was playing Yorga after the first day of dailies, they let me run with it.


Which was smart. I think of all those Chris Lee Hammer movies where you have this amazingly capable actor with an incredible voice- and producers who simply didn’t take advantage of it.

I had more dialogue in the first Yorga picture than Christopher Lee had in all his Dracula movies combined. Poor Christopher. They would have him just stand there with red contacts and whitened face, lightning and fog behind him. He had very little to do other than play the costume. Play the fangs. And that is what I think is wrong with so many of the “monsters’ in movies of late. They are just men in masks with knives going Boo! There’s very little for them to do as an actor. I hate those gore pictures. You know, the ones where one minute you’re alive, next minute your dick’s on the floor! (laughs) Anyway, with Yorga, I had the opportunity to show his charm, his elegance. I figure if you’ve lived 250 years, buddy, you better have a sense of culture and a sense of humor, or else you’re not gonna make it thru lunch!

That sense of humor really comes through. Like in “Return of Count Yorga” when the kid playing rock and roll asks Yorga if he likes that kind of music, and he replies…

“Only if played well.” (laughs) Yes, that droll wit of Yorga. Well, we were really trying to create a vampire for a new generation. That’s why you see Yorga driving a Rolls Royce, you see him dressed so stylishly. There’s that great scene in “Return”, at the costume ball where one of the characters is dressed as a traditional Hollywood vampire, looking absolutely ridiculous, and there is Yorga, so cool in his modern threads. That was very deliberate of the director’s part, to underscore that difference between then and now.
Yorga certainly is far more interesting than the human characters. You find yourself rooting for him and not the “heroes”.

That goes back to something from my acting training. Lee Strasberg taught me that there are no villains. Which means, the so-called villainous character doesn’t think he’s wrong at all. He truly believes he is right in all his actions. And that’s how I played Yorga. An entity simply trying to do whatever he had to do, in order to continue to exist.


And to love.

Yes, to love.

As a kid I used to wear rubber fangs and walk around my house in a cape my mom made me, pretending I was Count Yorga. I’d recite that great romantic speech he gives Mariette Hartley in “Return.” It kind of became a mantra for my pathetic teenage love life.

Oh, yes. “I have survived many years. Now you appear. The most fragile emotion ever known has entered my life. The one I must fear the most, or it will surely threaten my ability to survive. You have brought to my life a gentle pain which I can only define as love…”

That’s it! Wow. I can’t believe you still remember it!
Please. I had to say it so many goddamned times. One of the problems of the Yorga pictures was that any time I had to speak my lines with the fangs in my mouth, it was impossible! It gave me a lisp that made me sound like Daffy Duck. Every line had to be dubbed in later, but getting it in the can was living hell, especially with Mariette Hartley, who simply could not stop laughing at me! I don’t blame her. “Now I will thuck the thweet nectar of you thoul…” (laughs)

Yorga was incredibly charismatic. Like a cult leader in his dominion with all those vampire women ready to do his bidding. I always felt the murder of Mariette Hartley’s family in “Return of Count Yorga” was disturbingly reminiscent of the Sharon Tate murders.

Yes. That whole situation was very much on our minds when we made Yorga. Charles Manson was definitely in the consciousness, so much so that I truly decided to expand upon the theme in the film I did after the first Yorga, “The Deathmaster”. There was no beating around the bush there. I played a vampiric Charles Manson who lived on a commune with a bunch of hippies which he used to bring him victims. Good idea, terrible picture. And it indirectly led to the death of Count Yorga.
How was that?

Yorga’s producer Michael Macready, got all bent out of shape over “Deathmaster”. He said I was ripping off Yorga, and actually sued me, for God’s sake! He said I ripped off the Brudah character by having this brutish character as the Deathmaster’s side kick. I mean, please. Since Lugosi’s Dracula set the pattern, certain themes are always repeated over and over again. Every vampire needs a guy to lock the coffin! (laughs) Anyway, Macready was so bent out of shape, he never forgave me. AIP did the second Yorga picture, which Michael directed, and he was so horrible to me I vowed never to work with him again. He wouldn’t let anyone else direct a Yorga picture, and so, there you go.

What a shame.

Yes. And I actually had a great idea for a 3rd Yorga.


Me, too! When I was in 6th grade, we were assigned to write a children’s book complete with illustrations which the teacher would then bound. Most kids wrote “The Poky Little Puppy Goes to London” or what have you. I wrote “Count Yorga Strikes”.

Well, that would explain a lot (laughs). Well, my idea for the 3rd Yorga (still laughing), was for him to return as a complete mess. You know, the second picture never explains how he retuned from being destroyed in the first picture. He simply shows up and is asked, “How did you get here” to which he replies, “I flew”. Okay… Well, I figure after being staked with a hatchet at the end of “Return” Yorga is reduced to soot and ashes. So in the 3rd, someone inherits his house, does a Mansonesque blood ritual which spills on Yorga’s ashes, and he returns—but he’s completely broke and broken. Everything he had is gone, he’s completely scarred… So he turns to the streets. Lives in the sewers where he becomes king of the homeless, the addicts. Turns them all into vampires, and has one final bloody laugh on LA.


That would have been awesome.

Yeah, well, it’s always difficult when you do sequels. The first time, there is such an element of surprise. The tonality is new. The story is new. And where is that story going? Who is this character called Yorga? From that point on, you are always trying to rise above the expectations set by the first time around, and very seldom succeed.

So no more Yorga’s, but you did do “Dr. Phibes Rises Again” (1972) and “Madhouse” (1974), both with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing.

Yes, Yorga’s success got me a contract with American International. They were grooming me to take over the mantel of Vincent, which some reporter actually questioned him about on the set of “Madhouse”. That didn’t sit very well with him. From that point on, he pretty much kept the press to himself whenever they came to the set. And so, when James Nicholson (who was one of the nicest men I ever met) left AIP and Sam Arkoff (who wasn’t) took over, there was little enthusiasm for me. Sam had always dismissed me and Yorga. In fact, Sam would never get the name right. On purpose, I do believe. Used to call me “Yorba”… “Yorba the Geek”! Cocksucker! (laughs) Well, as it turned out, at that time, AIP had pretty much left the horror game for blaxploitation pictures. And I can’t say there were that many roles for me in that genre!

You didn’t really act in horror pictures after that for quite some time.

Unfortunately, I suffered a huge setback in the early 80’s. I was mugged and beaten by two men while getting out of my car one evening. Like a fool, I had let my SAG insurance lapse, lesson all you SAG members out there, and within a year my nest egg was completely gone. I was broke, and not in the best physical shape. Thank God for Fred Olen Ray, a very dear friend, who put me in nearly every one of his horror pictures thru the 80’s and into the 90’s. Fred has pretty much single handedly kept me alive.

Robert, you’ll always be alive in the hearts of your fans. We love you.

Thank you. Truly. You know, I keep hearing Quentin Tarantino is a big fan. Quentin, if you’re listening- I may not be able to tip toe on the edge of a bushido blade, but I can still shoot a gun from a wheelchair! (laughs) Call me!


Click here for Robert Quarry Fan Appreciation Site:

http://www.geocities.com/agentbillh/ROBERT_QUARRY.html


VISIT TIM SULLIVAN AT: WWW.MYSPACE.COM/NEWREBELLION
 
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