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Rick Jason in The Wayward BusThe Wayward Bus starring Jayne Mansfield and Joan Collins

Pictured right: Rick Jason as Johnny Chicoy in The Wayward Bus

About ten months into my contract with Famous Artists, I knew Schreiber was going to let me sit until my contract ran out, then drop me. I asked Al Rocket for a release so I could try to jump-start something. Charlie Feldman was on the Riviera with Zanuck and Jack Warner, and Rocket had no excuse not to let me go.

I signed with a fine agent, Herb Tobias, who’d wanted to handle me for some time. Less than two weeks later, things changed and I was no longer with Herb.

On his way back from Europe, Charlie Feldman stopped off in New York to have lunch with his old friend, Spiro Skouras, the president of 20th. The studio was going to do The Wayward Bus from John Steinbeck’s novel.

Charlie told Skouras that I’d be perfect for the lead and I was already under contract to Fox. That’s all it took.

Charlie returned to his office in Hollywood and announced the great news to Al Rocket…then he blew a gasket when Al told him I was no longer at the agency. Words flew out of his mouth to the tune of, "Get him back here or you’re both FIRED!"

Marc Newman who’d been the other unhappy presence in Charlie’s office, called me, almost crying on the phone, begging me to come back. But he wouldn’t tell me why, so I said no deal. He finally broke down and said I had the Wayward Bus part, but if I didn’t go back, Charlie would nix it. Anthony Quinn’s tongue was hanging out to get that part. Marlon Brando had been offered it and was thinking about it. But I had it!

So now I had to go to my new agent, Herb, and ask him for a release. When I couldn’t explain why, because I’d been sworn to secrecy, he turned me down, said he was sure he could get me a picture. So I told him why, on condition that he not repeat or use the info. He agreed, if the reason was good enough. When I told him the good news, Toby sadly released me.

After re-signing with Famous, the announcement came out in the trade papers that I’d be playing Johnny Chicoy in The Wayward Bus, one of the studio’s main projects for the year. I’d stopped in to see Frank Tashlin the day before to tell him the good news and thank him again for all he’d done and tried to do. We had a drink together.

Victor Vicas, a Frenchman who’d never set foot in the States, was going to direct Bus, a typical Americana movie. His experience extended no further than that of a newsreel cameraman, solely in France. A year or so before, having met Zanuck at a party on the Riviera, he’d talked the movie mogul into believing that he was a great director. Zanuck had given him a three-picture deal. He hadn’t as yet done anything under the contract and 20th was going to have to start paying off very soon. The other stars of the picture were Joan Collins (who played my wife), Jayne Mansfield (playing a stripper with a heart of gold), and Dan Dailey (as a traveling salesman). Dan is a great song-and-dance man and fine actor, who was also one of 20th’s biggest stars.

Dan Dailey

Dan and I hit it off as soon as we met. He was never without a flask of Irish whisky, a lot of fun, great raconteur, and a man after my own heart. He and I immediately saw that Mr. Vicas didn’t know what the hell he was doing.

Vicas had been assigned the top black-and-white cinematographer at the studio, Charles Clarke, who had an Oscar nomination or so under his belt. Vicas sat Clarke in a corner and set his own camera and lights. Charlie fumed for a few days, then just sat in his tall cameraman’s chair and watched this idiot do everybody’s job, except the acting. Vicas showed no respect nor patience for anyone on the set, and put up with the actors as a necessary evil. He behaved as if he was the film industry’s answer to all it’s problems.

Every morning as Dan and I stepped onto the sound stage we’d say to each other, "Which one of us is going to murder the bastard today?" One day it would be me who’d pull Vicas through the ringer, the next day Dan would make life hell for him. The crew knew what we were doing and they loved every minute of it. He treated them like shit and we were the only ones who could get back at him. Vicas hadn’t the slightest idea how to handle actors. He’d never worked with any before, so it was up to us to more-or-less direct ourselves.

Jayne Mansfield
(see Jayne Mansfield Posters and Photos)

Rick Jason and Jayne MansfieldPictured Left: Rick Jason and Jayne Mansfield in The Wayward Bus.

I came to see Jayne Mansfield in a completely different light than that which she projected. Jayne was shrewd. She knew her limitations as an actress, and she knew exactly how to sell herself. She was a master at obtaining publicity and kept gigantic books of all her press clippings. She had a great sense of humor, particularly about herself. Most important, of course, up on that screen Jayne had a presence.

She and I would stay late after shooting ended for the day and see the rushes of the previous day’s work. We’d be the first ones in the projection room, waiting for the producer, director, and editor. One evening as we sat, idly chatting, she said, "I don’t think I want to live past forty."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because, after forty a woman’s looks begin to go. For someone like me there’d be no future. I’m a bleached blonde — there’s no way I’d ever get into character parts, and I wouldn’t want them anyway."

"So what would you do?" I asked.

"Check out," she said. We were both just clearly having fun with a dark subject.

"How?" I asked, "with a gun?"

"No, too noisy."

"A knife?"

"Too much pain."

"How, then?"

"I think sleeping pills."

"So how would people know it was suicide and not murder?"

"Oh, I’d leave a note on my chest saying: I don’t dig old age."

Also see:

We chuckled about that. Jayne was about twenty-four at the time. Some years later, as her career began to wind down and she was making personal appearance tours for a living. She and her manager were driving at high speed from one town to another one night in a low-slung sports convertible. In a patch of fog, they rear ended an eighteen-wheeler. They went completely underneath it and the windshield was completely sheared off. Jayne probably never knew what hit her.

She was precisely forty years old.

Joan Collins

image61.jpg (175725 bytes)Pictured Right: Rick Jason and Joan Collins in The Wayward Bus

Joan Collins was a little aloof, though always friendly. She got along with everyone. I don’t think, aside from several scenes we’d played by the third week of shooting we’d said two dozen words to each other. One morning, she came to my box trailer on the sound stage and asked if she should make a reservation for lunch at the commissary for us. I said, "Sure." It wasn’t unusual, and when actors ate together the waitress always wrote separate checks. As we finished lunch, Joan said to me, "You know, we’re not going to be needed on the set until after three o’clock."

"I know," I said.

"Well, let’s go to my dressing room and fuck."

I put my dessert fork down and turned to her. "What?"

"I said, ‘Let’s go to my dressing room and fuck’."

"I’m married," I said.

"I know."

I sat looking at nothing in particular. I thought about Mary Castle. Compared to Joan, she’d been a Girl Scout.

"Well?" she finally asked.

"I told you, I’m married."

"Is that your answer?"

I nodded. She got up, left the table, and never spoke to me again unless we were doing a scene together. I got stuck for the lunch check.

A year or so later, I was telling a few friends about the incident and a writer in the group piped up, "Don’t you know that Collins is known around town as The British Open?"

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Rick Jason and Joan Collins play husband and wife in The Wayward Bus, 20th Century Fox.

Shortly after we finished principal photography, the editor threatened to quit the studio unless he was taken off the project. He said Vicas was driving him crazy. He was having a difficult time as it was putting the film together, and all Vicas did was louse up his work by going into the cutting room after hours and re-edit most of what he’d done during the day. Buddy Adler and Charlie Brackett took a look at the rough cut up to that point and Adler made a unilateral decision. Vicas was paid off the remainder of his contract and shipped back to France. They figured it was cheaper to pay him than let him do two more movies. By the time Bracket and the editor got through putting everything together, the film did good business. A few months later, Charlie asked me up to his office.

"I’m doing a picture with Gary Cooper, Ten North Frederic and there’s a part in it I’d like you to play," he said. "It’s not very big, but it is flashy."

I was a little full of myself, having starred in one of the studio’s big films of the year, and my ego got the better of my judgment. The Wayward Bus was only a so-so picture and my performance, in retrospect (having seen it more recently on television), would have been far better in the hands of a good director.

"Charlie, I’m looking for another lead, not a third supporting role." The upshot was that a new player whom Lew Schreiber had put under contract got the part. It was, as Brackett had promised, flashy. It would have done more for me than The Wayward Bus. Stuart Whitman, who played it, got his big break.


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