Robert Quarry Remembered: The Deathmaster Knocks at the Madhouse of Dr. Phibes

During the past year, I have been following the online the trials and tribulations of actor Robert Quarry, from being victimized by a con artist poising as a fan to being rescued by caring admirers into the safety of the Motion picture home. Thanks to the personal generosity of men like producer Fred Olen Ray (whose heart is as big as the sky), when Quarry died last Friday, it was with the knowledge he was loved and respected by literally thousands of his fans and peers both in and out of the movie industry.

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Martine Beswicke, Robert Quarry, David Del Valle

Bob had been on my mind a number of times during the four years I have remained out of the loop since leaving LA. There was a time as the ’70s ended and the ’80s took full swing that Bob Quarry was more like Uncle Bob to his friends – if by “uncle” you meant Keith Moon’s outrageously antic performance as Uncle Ernie in TOMMY, that is! I have already penned a memoir about those times entitiled “The Bitter Tears of Count Yorga” in the July 2007 installment of my monthly column Camp David over at Films in Review, but I would like to take this opportunity to bring to light my impression of what Robert Quarry was like before the personal disasters took their toll. As I was reading the dozens of threads on the Internet from fans who met Bob over the last ten years, I began to realize that the Robert Quarry being discussed bore little resemblance to the man I knew and partied with in the mid-1980s in West Hollywood.

The Robert Quarry in those days was a savvy, worldly actor at the top of his game enjoying a night on the town. As I have already written in the Camp David piece, I was introduced to Bob by fellow actor Richard Deacon during his birthday party at a dinner club on the strip.We hit it off and phone numbers were exchanged. From that came a lasting friendship that was based on having the same lifestyle with active interests in all things show biz.

Occasionally, Bob would enjoy watching one of his old films if it happened to show up on the tube. My favorite memory of watching a film with him was night they ran A KISS BEFORE DYING on the nine o’clock movie. Bob set this one up by saying, “I was younger than springtime and stupider than shit if memory serves. Joanne [WOODWARD] was and is a close personal friend from that picture, and RJ [WAGNER] was such a pretty boy that it was hard to take him seriously in those days.” At one point the actress Virginia Leith appeared on screen, and Bob looked over at me and said, “Would you believe that girl is now remembered by the fans as THE BRAIN THAT WOULD NOT DIE while I am now and ever shall be COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE!! What kind of a crazy fucking business is this?”

I called him once when they ran HOUSE OF BAMBOO as I was taping it for Cameron Mitchell, and he said, “Well don’t bother making me a copy. If you cough you’ll miss me – I am in it that much”. I do believe he liked watching some of his work, although from what I am told that changed in later years.

Robert Quarry was in those days jaded but optimistic about his career, since he was represented by a good agent and was doing his share of episodic television like THE ROCKFORD FILES and BATTLESTAR GALLATICA. I remember Bob telling me that after he had done the James Garner detective show, he was made up as a half man half robot for the sci-fishow and felt completely disguised. He was walking through Universal in full regalia, and as he went by Garner, the Rockford star looked up and said, “Hi Bob,” as if noticing nothing unusual – which just cracked Bob up. He also hit it off withco-star ElizabethAllen, whose sense of camp matched Bob’s. He told me it was such fun to get up and go to work with talent like that.

As many of his fans know, Bob was a gourmet cook who loved to give dinner parties at home, or he would pack up his pots and pans and do it at your place if that is what the party called for. This always fasicnated me: Bob and Vincent Price had so many things in common and yet they never really connected after those two films (DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN and MADHOUSE) that  they did together in London. Bob knew that I was in touch with Price, and so he explained that in spite of what I may have heard, Bob admired Price both as a movie star as well as a erudite, cultured man in private life. “We were put at odds by the bastard Sam Arkoff and his slimy errand boy Deke Hayward,” Quarry explained.

When the AIP years were brought up at a dinner party or if he was in that kind of a nostalgic mood, these memories brought on a kind of angry vent from him. Bob did not possess the luck of the Irish when it came to his career. DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN should have brought him and Vincent Price together like Cushing and Lee; however, according to Bob, the atmosphere was decidedly Macbethian, with Price being told by Heywardthat Quarry was being groomed to replace him. This, coupled withHayward’s going behind Bob’s back and talking trash to his London friends, terminated any good will on the set for all concerned. Bob did bond with Peter Cushing whom he cooked for at his London flat on several occasions. 

I had an opportunity speaking with Vincent Price personally about Robert when I was working as publicist on THE OFFSPRING. Price bought him up in conversation, asking, if I knew what had happened to him. After I explained that Bob was still around, Price shook his head and reflected, “This town can be a Paradise or a Hell, and I have seen it both ways in my career. He should have had a bigger career than he did. Robert was a good character man; he just couldn’t carry a tune.”*

These last two days have created a flood of memories with all the parties and dinners at my place or his in NorthHollywood, where he lived with his mother Mabel, whom he sometimes referred to as “Mimi.” She occupied her own quarters as his apartment was more like a duplex; this allowed him some privacy, yet he could keep an eye on her as well. Bob was a good son in every way. I remember how my heart went out to him when she was getting weaker. He called me one afternoon from the hospital, and I could tell he was worried.

“The doctor asked me if I would mind if they called a priest in to give Mimi the last rites, and I simply had to get out of that room – I couldn’t take anymore.” This is especially meaningful for me at this very moment in my own life, as I am caregiver to my mother, who will be 94 in June. Bob said to me that day, ‘David, you will go through this someday, so try and remain strong when it comes your way.” Now I think of that just about everyday of my life.

What stands out now more than anything else in my memory of Robert Quarry was the way he treated my domestic partner Chris Dietrich. From the time they were introduced he became Chris’s Uncle Bob as well. After our first dinner with the three of us, Bob took me aside and said, “You know this kind of friendship comes around once in your life so cherish it. I wish to God I had someone as loyal and loving as Chris in my life.” I lost Chris on December 4th2004; he had suffered from both liver cancer and HIV. It would be later in the following year that I would see Bob at a Ray Court’s show; he had put on quite a bit of weight but was still Uncle Bob. I went over during a break as I was doing Richard Stapley’s table that day and knelt down by Bob’s chair and told him we lost Chris. The look on his face said more than I could bear and we quickly hugged; then I went back to my table on the verge of breaking down for the umpteenth time.

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Poster art for the unfilmed project

I decided to go through my box of pictures from those days and could not stop looking at the ones with Bob and Martine Beswicke. I wish I could recall more of the night they met - all I can tell you is it was love at first sight. They decided they should play vampires together and soon. I did try to put a film together for Bob and some of my other friends like Reggie Nalder and Angus Scrimm, but the money could not be raised for something that did not have more explosions and sex, so another opportunity was lost and THE BOARDING HOUSE never got to open it’s doors to the public.

One thing that I am sure had never changed with Bob was his uncanny ability to remember nasty tales from his days of Broadway. “Oh my god, Richard Burton – let me tell you about Burton,” he would say. “He had the worst body odor on the planet because he never bathed. I ought to know – I sat in his dressing room when he was on Broadway in Camelot.” Robert was no stranger to theater, as he really shined on the stage. I remember he was doing Butleyin the San Fernando Valley one year, and I thought his performance rivaled Alan Bates in the title role. I wish I could have seen his George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.

It is more than amazing for me to realize that I actually knew four men at the same time, all of whom had played master vampires in the ’60s and ’70s: Robert Quarry, Reggie Nalder, Ferdy Mayne, and William Marshall. Each and everyone of them was a gentleman of the old school, classically trained, versatile and modest with their public. As of last Friday, the last of them – who played not only Count Yorga but also the vampire-guru in THE DEATHMASTER - has passed into legend, leaving a void in the cinema that can never be filled.

I have wondered what it would have been like to have seen Bob out at the motion picture home during this last six months of his life and in a way perhaps it is better that I just keep my memories as they are now. In my mind’s eye Bob is his old self, laughing that laugh with a devilish twinkle in those sparkling eyes. Somewhere in the scheme of things, if we wish to believe, the aforementioned gentlemen are having one hell of a reunion somewhere over the rainbow…way up high.

FOOTNOTE:

  • Price was refering to an incident during the making of MADHOUSE, when Quarry was singing in the dressing room. Quarry told Price, “I bet you didn’t know I could sing.” Price jokingly replied, “Well, I knew you couldn’t act.”

About the Author

David Del Valle

Since leaving San Francisco State University in 1974, David Del Valle has achieved national recognition as a journalist, columnist, film historian, radio & television commentator and is one of the leading authorities on the horror/science-fiction/cult & fantasy film genres. He has contributed to magazines internationally and has been interviewed by the BBC, A & E Network, Channel 4 (London) and The Sci-Fi Channel. He appeared prominently in American Movie Classics documentary entitled IT CONQUERED HOLLYWOOD!, the history of American-International Pictures. He is also the producer and on-camera host of Vincent Price's only interview regarding his career in horror. Del Valle oversees The Del Valle Archives, a collection in progress of thousands of still photographs, artwork and ephemera dealing with the horror/fantasy/sci-fi and cult genres. He produced and hosted a series of television interviews entitled "Sinister Image," featuring guests that ran the gamut from Cameron Mitchell to Russ Meyer. His print articles and interviews have appeared in such publications as Cinefantastique, Scarlet Street, Cult Movies, Fangoria, Films and Filming (Del Valle was Hollywood correspondent for this British magazine from 1983-1987), Video Watchdog, The Dark Side (UK), Fantastyka and L'Ecran Fantastique of France for which he was also West Coast correspondent. Del Valle recently completed a year as a radio host in Palm Springs, California in an entertainment-oriented program on AM as well as on the Internet around the world.

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