21 September 2014

JANUARY 2001

Don Stroud is a familiar face to motion picture buffs and television fans.

The Terror Trap had the pleasure of talking to the former beach boy and Hollywood heavy, who appeared in over 100 features and 200 TV shows.

Stroud, now living in Manhattan Beach, California with his wife, talks about his life, his loves, and a 40-year prolific career (quite often playing the horror villain).

The Terror Trap: You were born in Honolulu, Hawaii. Were you raised there too?

Don Stroud: Born and raised in Hawaii. I went to a great high school in which I was the only Caucasian. I was the white boy and I was one of the few white kids to actually work on the beach.

As a teenager, I worked teaching surfing and helping with the tourists. Those were great days in my life.

TT: So you ran in the surfer crowd?

DS: Yes. They were wonderful, heavyweight guys. Kind of "Hell's Angels" type guys...these guys weren't flower children. Tough, ballsy guys that surfed 20-foot waves.

TT: We understand you placed fourth in the Duke Kahanamoku World Surfing Championship in 1960. Is it true that actor Troy Donahue somehow discovered you?

DS: I was a beach guy...a great surfer. That's how I got into the business. Yes, I was Troy Donahue's stand-in and I got that job when I was down in Waikiki Beach and they were filming Hawaiian Eye with Donahue, Robert Conrad and Connie Stevens. They were shooting on the beach and said, "Hey kid, can you surf?" You bet I could surf!

TT: As son of vaudeville legend Clarence Stroud, did you feel pressure to go into show business?

DS: Clarence and Claude - my dad and uncle were twins and were in vaudeville together. I really didn't know them. I know nothing about them. In all the interviews I've given, a lot of times I can't remember my uncle's name from my father's name.

TT: Were you raised by your mother then?

DS: Yes. My mother Ann McCormack and my stepfather Paul Livermore, owned a restaurant and nightclub called the Embers Steak House. My mother was a blues singer. She toured with Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis. She's a terrific gal...and 80 years old now.

TT: That's great. Does she still sing?

DS: She does shows in Las Vegas, where she lives. She's one of the few people that loves Vegas. I mean, I wouldn't want to live there!

TT: How did you end up in Hollywood?

DS: Troy Donahue said, "Why don't you come to L.A. and try to become an actor?" I came to Los Angeles and got a job parking cars at the world famous Scandia Restaurant. And then I got a job at the Whisky A Go-Go, the greatest experience of my life.

TT: Why is that?

DS: It was a club like no one had ever seen. The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Chicago, The Byrds - they were all unknowns who played there. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor came in every time they were in town. The Rolling Stones and the Beatles used to come in. The QUEEN OF ENGLAND came in with her entourage!

I remember Johnny Rivers one night. The Doors were up there and he said, "Tell that asshole to turn it down!" He was talking about Jim Morrison, who was blown out of his fucking mind! (Laughs.)

TT: That place is legendary. It sounds like quite a scene.

DS: Not too many people drank in those days. Everyone was on LSD. You can imagine, with all the hippies. The chicks and go-go gals were gorgeous...you wouldn't get home until 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning.

TT: What did you do there?

DS: I was the bouncer and then I became the manager. Sidney Poitier used to come in and he's the one that really turned me on to acting. I told him I wanted to act and he's the one that said, "Well...you gotta do this, you gotta do that, because there are some rules." He told me I had to get some pictures and said you can't just say, "I'm here, I want to be an actor." I never studied acting.

TT: What happened next?

DS: I became an actor! Poitier found an agent called Dick Clayton. He had James Dean, Michael Douglas, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds - and he took me on.

TT: Tell us about your early work.

DS: My first movie was called Games with Simone Signoret, Jimmy Caan and Katharine Ross. It was a pretty good little movie.

TT: One of your first film roles was in a Doris Day film called The Ballad of Josie from 1967, correct?

DS: That was a great, fun part. I found myself starting to realize that I was going to be playing characters and bad guys. And I'm so happy that I made that decision.

TT: What was Doris like?

DS: You know, she was so great. She looked like a million bucks. She looked like a fourteen-year old girl in her forties! She was gorgeous. I loved the way she loved her animals and she took care of the horses.

TT: You've made a lot of so-called "B" movies.

DS: Well, I live on this SAG pension now that every man in the world should have, doing all that crap that I did! I did a lot of B movies that I didn't want to do. Every other day, someone would say, "I want you to do this, I want you to do that." It went on for like ten years.

To be an actor that worked as much as I've done. I'm not bragging...I made a business out of it and made a lot of money. I know a lot of my buddies that are fucking broke, man. And they made twice as much money as me.

TT: How do you feel about your reputation as one of the great Hollywood "heavies"?

DS: I think I could play those parts REALLY GOOD. It just stayed that way.

TT: You also did a lot of television work.

DS: I was under contract at Universal. I did Charlie's Angels, Starskey and Hutch, The Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, Cannon, Hawaii Five-O. Those shows were terrific. I also appeared in Marcus Welby, Ironside...

TT: We grew up with them. Did you ever want to be a leading man?

DS: Oh, I'd play a killer and then after that a surfer. I thought it was great. I guess playing a romantic lead just wasn't meant for me. I got a few but I had to rape or kidnap the girl to get a kiss! (Laughs.)

TT: Are you serious?

DS: I was in The Streets of San Francisco with Cheryl Ladd and her character's car, a convertible, breaks down. I go to the window and knock on it. And then I take a knife, cut the top of the convertible and forcibly kiss her! (Laughs.) And it was Cheryl Ladd, long before she was a star. I was playing parts like that.

TT: Television doesn't generally get the same respect as the big screen. Which do you prefer or do you see benefits to both?

DS: Both. I could do Hawaii Five-O and then go do a James Bond film. To me, I'm the luckiest guy that ever lived.

TT: You had the good fortune to work with someone we admire, Clint Eastwood, in Coogan's Bluff and Joe Kidd.

DS: Clint and I are the best of friends. He's about forty minutes away from my wife and I.

TT: Did you have a close working relationship with him?

DS: When you work with a star or a great director such as Clint and you do another movie with him, something went right. He must have liked you an awful lot.

TT: Did you enjoy your role as Herman Barker in 1970's Bloody Mama?

DS: Oh, what a great part. Working with Shelley Winters, Robert De Niro - and Roger Corman, who became my very dear friend to this day. He directed me more than once.

TT: Did you learn anything about your craft from him?

DS: I learned everything about business and about directing and about how to shoot fast. How not to waste money. Roger Corman is one of the classiest guys.

TT: What was Shelley like?

DS: Shelley is a dear friend and we almost got married.

TT: Really?

DS: I was a lot younger and she introduced me to limousines, Lear jets and her penthouse near the Dakota, where John Lennon was her neighbor.

TT: Did you see any potential back then in Robert De Niro, who played your brother Lloyd?

DS: You want to know something? No, I didn't. Why would you do that? I was the star of the movie. I was doing my own trip and he was just one of the guys. Bobby Walden and Bruce Dern were good too, wonderful.

TT: What else did you do with Roger Corman?

DS: He also directed me in Von Richthofen And Brown. It was about the Red Baron. We shot it over in Ireland. It was quite a time. I was in a plane crash.

TT: Tell us about that. Were you hurt badly?

DS: I didn't get hurt at all, that's the miracle of it. I saved the pilot's life. We were in Ireland and I was playing a Canadian pilot in an open cockpit double-winged plane. I played the guy that supposedly shot down the Red Baron, who was the ace pilot in Germany at the time. The pilot was in the front seat, I was in the back. We're in the air and the camera is on the wing.

And BAM, a duck came through the window and knocked the pilot out. We crashed into this river and the plane sank. I took my seatbelt out underwater after I realized I was still alive - I swear to God, it's from all those years of surfing that I could do that. I took the pilot's seatbelt off underwater and pulled him up and held him up in the water for 45 minutes before they found us.

TT: That's a great story.

DS: That might have been the beginning of my back problems. I also hit the wall on the freeway in my motorcycle. That didn't help. I've had my ups and downs. I was drinking quite a bit in those days. I don't drink now. I've been sober for eleven years. The way I feel about Hollywood nowadays with Robert Downey...

TT: What do you mean?

DS: Well, I've been in the stock market for ten years now and I realize now what it is when it's DOWN. I realize what it is to lose. All these young people know only from win. Robert Downey Jr. and these guys, they don't know how fucking lucky they are.

They get out of jail and they get these series. I got off cocaine and if these kids continue to take it, it is gonna get them and ruin their lives. They're on the verge of stardom or DEATH and most of them are choosing death. It's just the weirdest thing in the world. You gotta know your lines and you've gotta be in shape and you've gotta be ready to go.

TT: You played THE villain in Death Weekend aka The House By the Lake with relish. It's a great revenge film.

DS: That film holds up. Brenda Vaccaro is a dear, dear friend of mine. We met on that film and I lived with her for about four years. It was a rough time in her life because we were both doing a lot of cocaine and drinking a lot. That was a pretty nasty little film.

TT: So you two were a couple? That changes the dynamic of the film.

DS: Brenda and I came close to getting married. We had a MAJOR affair during that period and for at least three years after that.

TT: She's got a great face.

DS: Gorgeous. I love Brenda a lot. She's quite a gal.

TT: Was it a good experience?

DS: That was up in Canada, which I love. It was wonderful and I love the Canadian people and the directors.

TT: Did you find the material exploitative at all?

DS: At that time, I don't think people thought much about the subject. Brenda and I both liked the script and Brenda was certainly the girl to play that part, wasn't she?

TT: She was perfect for the role.

DS: I consider that one of my B films. That was just a good little film that I think we got lucky on because I thought the actors were real good and we had a pretty good story. It's a true story, you know.

TT: It is?

DS: That really came down with some dentist and they wrote a story...in Canada, I think.

TT: The Amityville Horror is one of our guilty pleasures. Did you believe the Lutz story when you took the project?

DS: Not really. I didn't think the film was that good. I think that movie should have been a brilliant film but we missed.

TT: After playing so many bad guys, was it a relief to play Father Bolen?

DS: Well, I think that's why they gave me the part. They wanted the audience to think that I was the bad guy all the way along. I don't know what that part was. It was a part that I did for a lot of money and I'm glad I did it.

TT: You share nearly all your scenes with Rod Steiger, who sometimes appears to be in his own movie (i.e. somewhat hammy).

DS: That's about right! He's my buddy too and I know him from Malibu. He's a good old guy.

TT: Do you have an interesting anecdote about the film?

DS: Well, Jimmy Brolin and I became the best of friends. I had done several shows with him. We went back to Marcus Welby...later we did Hotel together. I just did a show with him, one of my last shows, called Wings Of Gold. Jimmy directed it.

TT: Have you seen him recently?

DS: We did the show just before his wedding to Barbra Streisand. That's a whole other world. I'm living in my own world now. Actors become friends but they don't necessarily hang out.

TT: Do you remember your slasher film called Sweet Sixteen?

DS: Only that it's another B film that I did. But I was drinking a lot in those days.

TT: How was working on the TV show Mike Hammer in the mid '80s?

DS: We were against The Golden Girls on Saturday nights and came in second! It's the kind of show that could have gone on for twenty years. But Stacey Keach got arrested for cocaine and the whole deal fell apart. That's the shame of it. We had 22 shows ordered. That's unheard of nowadays.

TT: Did you like working with Stacey?

DS: Oh, Stacey is my brother to this moment. We play football and talk every Sunday. We like to wager a few.

TT: Would you do another series?

DS: Well, I've done five television series in all, including Hammer, Kate Loves a Mystery with Kate Mulgrew, and Gidget with Sally Field. It depends on the deal. I'm mostly happy being invested in the stock market now.

TT: You seem really straightforward, laid back. Was there anyone you met through the years in which the concept of a "star" really hit you?

DS: Well, you know, when I met Barbra Streisand, she was a huge star. When I went out with Shelley, she was a big star. And Sidney Poitier was a major star. And I ran with Donald Sutherland for quite awhile when he was doing M*A*S*H. And Brenda was a star.

Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason. I'm from the old school. These guys were big players, let me tell you! Burt Reynolds and Jimmy Caan are good friends of mine. Clint, Katharine Ross...

TT: Katharine Ross is one of our favorites. A class act.

DS: Her husband, Sam Elliot, is one of my best friends.

TT: Why don't we see her more often?

DS: Oh, I think she kind of just retired. Sometimes show business is really tough and I think for a woman, it's even tougher. You get a couple of wrinkles in your face and a little gray hair and you go, "Oh God, it's over." It's not that way for a guy at all. The balder I got, it seems the better parts I got.

TT: That reminds us, what made you decide to pose in the buff for Playgirl in 1973?

DS: I got paid $10,000 for that. They don't get paid for it anymore - but Burt Reynolds and I were two of the few people that got paid. People figured, oh these guys did it, let's just do it for free and they lined up for miles! (Laughs.)

TT: Stars don't really do that anymore.

DS: Well, I never gave a shit about that. That's why I played so many bad guys. I got away with it a lot more.

TT: You appeared at the Chiller Convention in New Jersey last October. Do you enjoy those things?

DS: That was a lot of fun. It's like taking a nice vacation. That week, the World Series was happening and it was an exciting time. The group that puts Chiller on, those guys are tops.

TT: Do you enjoy meeting your fans?

DS: There are thousands of people at those things. I've never looked at myself as anything famous. I've always looked at it like a business that I love doing and it was just a privilege to do it.

TT: Tell us about your family.

DS: My wife Teri and I live in Manhattan Beach, California. My mom is in Las Vegas and she's doing fine.

TT: How long have you two been married?

DS: We've been married about eighteen years. We're old-timers now!

TT: Do you have kids?

DS: No, I don't have any kids at all. They never came my way. I'm waiting for somebody to knock on my door any minute and say, "I'm your boy."

TT: What do you think the future holds in store for you?

DS: I'm basically retired now and it's a pretty good deal. I have a great pension from SAG and I'm taking it from here. I've been offered a whole bunch of films and television shows these last two years, but I'm still recuperating from back surgery. That surgery was nasty. I don't wish it on anybody.

TT: Can you still surf?

DS: I quit surfing last year. I had hurt my back a little bit and I figured I'm 57 years old. When you get wiped out in a surf at my age, it tears the shit out of you.

TT: Are there any lingering complications from the surgery?

DS: Aside from the fact that I can't surf anymore, I can't sidekick like I used to. I was pretty good at martial arts. (Laughs). I can't jump up in the air and kick twice anymore.

But my surfing life was the best. Those are probably my happiest days and the things I dream about - it's the surfing, not the movies.

TT: With such a long career in both features and episodic TV, do you get a lot of fan mail?

DS: I get like 100,000 letters a year. I've got two girls that work for me. We do our best. I've got info on my career in there and what's playing on television. I have more fans than I ever thought I did.

TT: What work are you most proud of?

DS: I'm most proud of simply the amount of stuff I did. I've done over 100 films and over 200 television shows. How many actors get to work like that? I did.

TT: Well, Don, good luck with everything and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. It's been a great pleasure. You're one of our faves!

DS: Thank you too, guys!

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