The 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, whod 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 Steinbecks novel.
Charlie told Skouras that Id be perfect for the lead and I was
already under contract to Fox. Thats 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 youre both
Marc Newman whod been the other unhappy presence in Charlies
office, called me, almost crying on the phone, begging me to come back. But he
wouldnt tell me why, so I said no deal. He finally broke down and said I had the Wayward
Bus part, but if I didnt go back, Charlie would nix it. Anthony Quinns
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 couldnt explain why, because Id 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 Id be playing Johnny Chicoy in The Wayward Bus, one of the
studios main projects for the year. Id stopped in to see Frank Tashlin the day
before to tell him the good news and thank him again for all hed done and tried to
do. We had a drink together.
Victor Vicas, a Frenchman whod 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, hed talked the movie mogul into believing that he
was a great director. Zanuck had given him a three-picture deal. He hadnt 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 20ths biggest
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 didnt 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 cameramans chair and watched this idiot do everybodys 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 industrys answer to
all its problems.
Every morning as Dan and I stepped onto the sound stage wed say to
each other, "Which one of us is going to murder the bastard today?" One day it
would be me whod 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
hadnt the slightest idea how to handle actors. Hed never worked with any
before, so it was up to us to more-or-less direct ourselves.
Pictured Left: Rick Jason and Jayne Mansfield in The Wayward
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 days work. Wed 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 dont think I want to live past forty."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because, after forty a womans looks begin to go. For someone
like me thered be no future. Im a bleached blonde theres no way
Id ever get into character parts, and I wouldnt 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."
"Too much pain."
"I think sleeping pills."
"So how would people know it was suicide and not murder?"
"Oh, Id leave a note on my chest saying: I dont dig old
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.
Pictured Right: Rick Jason and Joan Collins in The Wayward
Joan Collins was a little aloof, though always friendly. She got along
with everyone. I dont think, aside from several scenes wed played by the third
week of shooting wed 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 wasnt unusual, and when actors ate
together the waitress always wrote separate checks. As we finished lunch, Joan said to me,
"You know, were not going to be needed on the set until after three
"I know," I said.
"Well, lets go to my dressing room and fuck."
I put my dessert fork down and turned to her. "What?"
"I said, Lets go to my dressing room and
"Im married," I said.
I sat looking at nothing in particular. I thought about Mary Castle.
Compared to Joan, shed been a Girl Scout.
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, "Dont you know that Collins is known around
town as The British Open?"
Rick Jason and Joan Collins play husband and wife in The Wayward Bus, 20th
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 hed 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.
"Im doing a picture with Gary Cooper, Ten North Frederic and
theres a part in it Id like you to play," he said. "Its not
very big, but it is flashy."
I was a little full of myself, having starred in one of the
studios 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, Im 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.