Troy Donahue, a blonde, blue-eyed teen idol who captivated the hearts of many on the large display in the course of the ’50s, as soon as discovered himself homeless and dwelling in New York Metropolis’s Central Park.
The actor, who struggled with alcoholism, finally had a Hollywood comeback earlier than his loss of life in 2001 at age 65. Now, his life is being explored in a brand new ebook titled “Inventing Troy Donahue – The Making of a Film Star,” the place a number of co-stars and others who knew the late heartthrob spoke out about his rise and fall.
“I spotted there was no ebook about Troy Donahue and his life was way more attention-grabbing than individuals even realized,” writer Michael Gregg Michaud informed Fox Information Digital. “He achieved a excessive stage of stardom after which nearly disappeared. I met him just a few instances and he was only a pretty, pretty man. And I used to be taken with how a younger actor might undertake a profession that blossomed so shortly after which it all of a sudden ends.”
Donahue’s profession in Hollywood was practically over from the beginning. The actor, born Merle Johnson Jr., drove cross-country at age 20 from New York Metropolis to California in hopes of discovering work in movies. One night, Donahue sat alone at The Golden Pheasant within the San Fernando Valley. His sun-kissed options caught the attention of William Asher, a producer at Columbia Studios and James Sheldon, a TV director who labored with James Dean. He was shortly provided a display check at Columbia.
However on the weekend earlier than his large assembly, Donahue suffered a near-fatal accident. Donahue, a heavy drinker, “acquired bombed” earlier than hitting the street. His automotive skidded off Malibu Canyon Street and plowed via a picket guardrail, plummeting 40 toes down into the canyon earlier than smashing right into a tree that stopped the car from falling 250 toes under.
“They are saying my face was simply two blue eyes staring out of a bucket of purple paint,” Donahue as soon as recalled.
Donahue slipped out and in of consciousness for 2 days. He suffered two cracked ribs, a bruised spinal twine, a concussion, a cracked kneecap and a crushed kidney. In keeping with Michaud’s ebook, Donahue misplaced a tooth and wanted 10 stitches in his nostril, in addition to 40 in his scalp.
“He, after all, missed his display check,” mentioned Michaud. “He was extra upset about that than his accidents. He slowly, however certainly recovered. Then in the summertime of 1956, a good friend launched Troy to an actress named Fran Bennett, who was represented by Henry Wilson, a infamous agent. Henry thought Troy could be nice and wished to signify him. Troy went to Common for a check and he was signed instantly. He was simply 21 years outdated.”
It was Wilson, who gave Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter their names, who informed his protégé he was “a Troy Donahue.” Whereas Donahue made a couple of dozen movies in a 12 months, it was 1959’s “A Summer time Place,” a sweeping melodrama starring prime actress Sandra Dee, that made him a star.
“It was an unlimited success,” mentioned Michaud. “However the fact is, he wasn’t prepared for that overwhelming success. He actually wished to be a film star, however he wasn’t prepared for this in a single day tidal wave. He all the time had points together with his vanity. He suffered from insecurity, which might be why he was ingesting at a really early age. His father, whom he adored, died of Lou Gehrig’s illness. He by no means actually acquired over that.”
“It was very onerous on him,” Michaud continued. “As soon as he started ingesting, he didn’t cease for many years. He wished to do an excellent job. He actually appeared the a part of a film star, however he wasn’t skilled as an actor. The director of ‘A Summer time Place,’ who was extraordinarily affected person, later mentioned it might take 11 or 12 takes earlier than you might get something out of him. I believe it was simply an excessive amount of on this younger man. He was good-looking, he had all kinds of girlfriends that he didn’t all the time deal with very properly and he was a celebration animal… However then he needed to bathe for work and be mobbed, stampeded in every single place he went. It was an terrible lot.”
A few of Donahue’s co-stars described him as a loner.
“Connie Stevens and Diane McBain mentioned the identical factor,” Michaud defined. “I believe all of it goes again to his father’s loss of life. He watched him endure, wither away and die… He wished individuals round him, however he was a lonely individual… Diane mentioned he was candy and humorous, but additionally a loner within the crowd. I believe that’s what drove him into all these romantic relationships as a result of he didn’t need to be alone. However a number of instances, he chased after emotionally unavailable individuals… I believe he was simply afraid individuals would depart him… I believe it haunted him, truthfully. He was a misplaced soul. He graduated from easy booze and pot to cocaine, uppers, downers and all the things else.”
The peak of Donahue’s fame solely lasted about 5 years. Throughout that point, he was receiving as much as 7,000 fan letters per week. Many even climbed over the fence of his residence, hoping to get a glimpse of the star. The roles stored coming each in movies and tv. However by the late ‘60s, the studios stopped making the identical “youth movies” that catapulted Donahue to stardom. His clean-cut picture was not fascinating.
In 1969, Donahue, struggling to seek out work, left LA.
“Diane McBain talked about how they had been all minimize free,” mentioned Michaud. “They had been terminated from the studio one after the other. They’d no thought what to do. He did a movie known as ‘My Blood Runs Chilly,’ which was simply horrible. It was such a departure from the attractive blonde, blue-eyed boy on the seaside. He was making an attempt to transition into different sorts of roles. He was beforehand in ‘Palm Springs Weekend,’ which he hated. He objected to it. He known as it a ‘seaside get together film within the desert.’ He was drunk out of his thoughts all through filming. Carole Prepare dinner, who was within the image with him, mentioned he was essentially the most stunning man she’s ever seen, however he was bombed from morning ‘til night time. Regardless of all this, he was uninterested in enjoying an adolescent on spring break, and he did put his foot down. He was suspended instantly. It was the start of the top.”
An unemployed Donahue, who was a drinker for the reason that seventh grade, relied closely on alcohol to manage. He moved again to New York, the place he tried to attain gigs. Cash was operating dangerously low.
“He ended up submitting for chapter after his second divorce,” mentioned Michaud. “There was no extra work. For six months, Donahue mentioned he lived in a bush in Central Park [in 1970] and stored all the things he had in a backpack.”
“I went residence with followers for a sizzling meal or a bathe,” Donahue as soon as admitted. “And a sofa or mattress to sleep in.”
A former classmate – Francis Ford Coppola – heard about Donahue’s plight. It was the filmmaker who provided him an element in his new film “The Godfather Half II.” Donahue performed Merle Johnson.
“Coppola heard about what Troy was going via and wished to assist,” mentioned Michaud. “He was paid $10,000 for the function. It was a small function, however a memorable one.”
After starring within the 1974 movie, Donahue joined Alcoholics Nameless. Through the years, he landed bit elements, together with one in John Waters’ 1990 movie “Cry-Child” reverse Johnny Depp.
“He was very completely satisfied,” mentioned Michaud. “He labored quite a bit. He did largely direct-to-video, low-budget motion pictures. However he was working once more. And he loved his sobriety. He was pleased with himself. He inspired individuals to get a grip in the event that they had been having an issue with habit as a result of he was capable of do it. Life for him grew to become very peaceable. After 4 marriages, he discovered love with mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao, and so they had a quiet life in Santa Monica. Troy even mentioned at one level, ‘I’m actually completely satisfied to only be Mr. Cao.’… After which he found he had a son and a daughter he didn’t find out about. They had been then launched to him in his life… I imagine he was very completely satisfied in the long run.”
Donahue suffered a coronary heart assault in 2001. He regained consciousness, however died the following day.
“Once we talked about Hollywood, he had a beautiful perspective about it,” mentioned Michaud. “There was a screening of ‘A Summer time Place’ that he attended – he hasn’t seen the movie in years. He mentioned, ‘After I noticed the close-ups of me and Sandra Dee from so a few years in the past, we simply appeared so stunning. Simply take a look at us. Impulsively, I understood.’”
The Related Press contributed to this report.
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