John Furlong: Stalwart of Russ Meyer films
Friday 11 July 2008
The film director Russ Meyer called upon a succession of male collaborators at various stages in his career as a sexploitation auteur and self-styled "King of the Nudies", although their work was often overshadowed by the voluptuous charms of Tura Satana, Babette Bardot or Kitten Natividad. The actor John Furlong was a Meyer regular, often required to provide narration or a voiceover with just the right amount of gravitas and urgency.
He did this most famously with his monologue at the beginning of the cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! in 1965. Meyer liked Furlong's voice so much he used it to replace his own in Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, his last film release, in 1979. Furlong added a dash of Humphrey Bogart for good measure, turning the final scene, during which a lone Meyer addresses the audience while packing up his equipment, into a poignant farewell.
Born in Albany, New York, Furlong was one of five brothers. After graduating, he served in the US Navy and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. In the early Sixties, he moved to California and fell in with Meyer's crowd. He made his début in 1965 playing Calif McKinney, the drifter whose arrival on a farm in Depression-era Missouri sets off a tragic chain of events in Meyer's sleazy melodrama Mudhoney.
Following the failure of Faster, Pussycat! (the film only found an audience years later) Meyer made the pseudo-documentary Mondo Topless in double-quick time – six days, with a budget of $12,000 – in 1966, adding new scenes to footage he had shot in strip clubs for Europe In The Raw three years earlier. The man of a thousand voices, Furlong was supposed to make sense of it all.
Meyer locked him in a cupboard with a big pad containing several monologues he had written and just told him to get on with it. "You've only dreamed there were women like these, but they're real, unbelievably real, in Mondo Topless," was one of Furlong's more memorable utterances.
The shoot of Common-Law Cabin in Arizona in 1967 turned into an ordeal for everyone involved. Furlong played Dr Martin Ross in the film, but was also required to work as a grip and to carry reflectors down a muddy river bank. He vowed to look for alternative employment and began getting parts in television series such as The High Chaparral and Ironside, though he returned to the Meyer fold to portray a customer in a go-go bar in Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! (1968), Sam, the gas station attendant in Vixen! (1968) and a CBS commentator in Supervixens (1975).
Throughout the following decades, Furlong was in demand as a character actor. He appeared as Duffy in Billy Wilder's version of The Front Page in 1974, played a news-desk editor in All the President's Men (1976) and portrayed Father Joseph Molina in the horror-meets-western Vampires (1998). He retired to Nashville in 2001.
John Thomas Furlong, actor: born Albany, New York 14 April 1933; married Terry Mahaffey (two sons, two sons deceased, one daughter deceased); died Nashville, Tennessee 23 June 2008.
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