April 10, 2016

Jack's Dungeon of Death: an Interview with John F. Kearney

The detective business has been slow recently. Lotta door knocking, not a lot of answering. I feel like a canvasser. So, desperate for an interview, I decided to pose questions to my reliable first cousin, once removed— "exploitation veteran" John F. Kearney.

Actor John F. Kearney playing a priest in the Gary Graver "classic" SOCIETY AFFAIRS (1982)
Actor John F. Kearney in Gary Graver's SOCIETY AFFAIRS (1982)

Blood is thicker than water, right? John has always kept somewhat of an open-door policy with me, mostly because he enjoys talking about himself. A lot. Some could think you've failed as an investigative journalist-slash-detective when the only interview you can score is with your last remaining relative in the hemisphere. To them, I'd say, "I was never particularly successful at either to begin with," and "Shut up and read."

Actor John F. Kearney, born 1931 in Gravesend, Kent, UK.
John F. Kearney
(b. 1931, Gravesend, Kent, UK)
But first, a little backstory. John Francis Kearney was born on August 26th, 1931 in Gravesend, Kent, UK to Winifred Kearney née Bateman, and Michael John "Jack" Kearney, an Irish laborer from Nenagh.

Just one day later, John would taste fame for the first time when he made the front page of the local newspaper—both of his tibias were fractured during labor. It must've been a slow news day in Gravesend.

Actor John F. Kearney in the 1950's, throwing a googly (I think).
John F. Kearney
(circa 1950's)
Like most working-class British lads of his era, John's childhood was less-than-stellar; apparently, my great-uncle Michael John "Jack" Kearney was no great shakes as a father. "He told me every week that he'd take me to the circus," John has said, more than once, and with more than a trace of bitterness. "And he never did! Not once did we go to the circus!" I bet Joe Orton and Sid Vicious had the same problem.

However, being born semi-noteworthy due to two broken legs may have been a portent of career things to come. At age 33, newly married Kearney packed his bags and headed for the United States to "get famous" as an actor. In his words, "Kennedy was President, the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, and it seemed like a great time to be an American. My wife never fails to point out to me that when we first met, I wore a long raincoat and a flat cap, the epitome of a working-class geek, if that term had existed at that time. Now look at me. On second thought, better not!"

EERIE MIDNIGHT: John, long time, no see, cuz! So, I guess you're not dead?

JOHN F. KEARNEY: No, not dead. Why do you ask with bated breath? Because I hadn't heard from you for so long, I thought YOU were dead and had ceased to look in it. Until today! So, it would seem, reports of our respective deaths are possibly premature. Sorry about that, chum. Let me also add that any thoughts you may have of my demise are grossly exaggerated. Rumors spread by wannabe actors jealous of my accelerating career, although if it were to move any faster, it would reach the speed of stationary.

EERIE MIDNIGHT: How's the entertainment biz?

JOHN F. KEARNEY: I am doing absolutely nothing, zilch, nada. Just plodding along; doing what I can to salvage what is laughingly called a career. It gets more difficult the further I get away from the 18-34 demographic. But enough about me.

EERIE MIDNIGHT: I'm your closest living blood relative, but we have the worst relationship.

JOHN F. KEARNEY: You are right. We have the worst relationship ever. Don't quite remember how it came about. In the midst of memory, I seem to have this image of not meeting up with you one time, and then being hit broadside by a salvo which we won't go into now nor ever more. See how subtly I mention this subject? All that is now water under the bridge, or as Samuel Goldwyn used to say: "We've passed a lot of water under the bridge since then!"

[Editor's Note: The incident he's referring to is the time I asked him to see a movie with me, and he declined. I may have called him an asshole, but it's okay, 'cause we're family. And Irish.]

Ad mat for the horrendous classic karate horror film Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon of Death (1979)

EERIE MIDNIGHT: Let's talk about that career of yours. Your first film was Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon of Death (1979), one of my favorite bad movies of all time. Can you tell me anything about that particular flick? Perhaps what the budget was?

JOHN F. KEARNEY: Sixty eight hundred dollars.

EERIE MIDNIGHT: That sounds awfully low. Are you sure it wasn't $68,000?

JOHN F. KEARNEY: I honestly have no idea. They say by the time a man reaches my age, he's lost one of his two most potent assets. And let me tell you: my memory ain't what it used to be! Ha! Anyway, I do recall that I got the role because the director/producer had seen me on stage in Marin County, paying Dr. Seward in Dracula. That film was a strange experience that I'm still trying to wrap my brain around. I think they were all on drugs. All in all, I thought of it as "an amusing interlude" as Richard Burton would say. I'll never forget, my wife's family was visiting from England, and I took them to the premiere to impress them. It was a long time before I could live that one down.

John F. Kearney in Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon of Death (1979)
"You're a fiend, Jekyll!"
John F. Kearney as "Professor Atkinson"

EERIE MIDNIGHT: Soon afterward, you appeared in two, um, 'adults only' features—Indecent Exposure (1981), and Society Affairs (1982)—both directed by the late Gary Graver. What can you tell me about those classics? How was Graver to work with?

John F. Kearney and Georgina Spelvin in Gary Graver's Indecent Exposure (1981)
John F. Kearney and Georgina Spelvin

JOHN F. KEARNEY: This is s blast from the past, all right! From my pre-union starving-actor days. My agent at that time thought it a good idea I play the role of a butler called "Harmon" in some independent feature being shot in a house in downtown San Francisco. I read the script... It seemed odd that certain scenes were not spelled out but "left to the discretion of the director."

Kelly Nichols, John F. Kearney, and Harry Reems in Gary Graver's porno-chic classic Society Affairs (1982)
Kelly Nichols, John F. Kearney, and Harry Reems

JOHN F. KEARNEY: (continued) I had never heard of any of the principals involved and only remember vaguely how bad the acting was. Oh, yes, the producers looked remarkably like character extras from The Godfather. Graver was okay. I think for some reason he liked me and got me the role, which was non-sexual and quite inconsequential. I had an impression the producer who interviewed me thought hiring me was a waste of money. Probably was.

EERIE MIDNIGHT: According to IMDB, you were also in a British drama with Glenda Jackson called Giro City (1982).

JOHN F. KEARNEY: I don't know where they got the idea I was in Giro City. I think they must be smokin' something at IMDB or are plain sloppy verifying info. However, I never allow a fact of any kind to alter the truth as I see it, hence I don't call 'em on it. Reading the reviews though, it was a helluva neat flick to have been in. About the time it was produced and released I was wandering the streets of San Francisco convincing myself I was the best thing to happen in film since John Ireland.

EERIE MIDNIGHT: Coincidentally, you also appeared in another of my favorite bad films—as the English butler "Sebastian" in the hilarious action-drama Hitz (1992) starring Elliott Gould, Karen Black, and Emilia Crow. I have to admit, I think it's one of the funniest comedies of all time.

JOHN F. KEARNEY: Well, I never thought of it as a comedy, but in retrospect it could be classified as a giggle! William Sachs directed, but is better known in Hollywood as a script doctor. The female lead and her husband spent two years writing that puppy. I can't tell you how they managed to cajole Elliot Gould to sign on, but I can tell you how I got the role. The audition was total improv from beginning to end, and I was told that as soon as Gould saw the tape he said: "That's my Sebastian!" Gould is apparently a great advocate of improvisation, as he demonstrates in the late Robert Altman's MASH and his The Long Goodbye, a favorite of mine. Anyway, Sachs wanted to include my improv into Sebastian's scripted dialogue in the movie but the idea was dropped after Gould reminded him (as per SAG rules) that I'd be entitled to a writer's credit!

JOHN F. KEARNEY: (continued) No love was lost between Sachs and Gould. At one point, they weren't speaking to each other. From what I overheard, apparently the director changed the storyline during the production without prior consultation with his principal star. I understand this is a practice done all the time. You sign a "big name" offering one script while fully intending to shoot an entirely different movie with another. Such are the vagaries of Hollywoodland!

Helen Hunt, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Shannen Doherty bother John F. Kearney in Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)
John F. Kearney as The QuickPrint Guy

EERIE MIDNIGHT: You've also had quite a long career as a featured extra. Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985), Blind Date (1987), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), even episodes of the Joss Whedon shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Do you think you're typecast?

JOHN F. KEARNEY: Ha! Yes, Mike, you are now convinced I'm sure that acting is a lousy job, but someone has to do it. As for me, I heed what they tell every new recruit to the Army: You shouldn't have joined if you don't have a sense of humor!

John F. Kearney plays an elderly fast-food worker in the Doublemeat Palace episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2002)
"I'm a part of it, too!"
John F. Kearney in his blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo from the
classic "Doublemeat Palace" episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
EERIE MIDNIGHT: Any new roles on the horizon?

JOHN F. KEARNEY: I recently appeared in a film that was listed as being in "post production" on IMDB for two years, before it disappeared entirely. When I first talked to the director, he was enthusiastically trying to interest festivals. The second time I called, he was deftly trying to avoid gentlemen from the IRS. I was invited to a screening of the epic for critics but no one turned up except another actor who brought along a friend who guffawed in all the wrong places.

John F. Kearney headshotJohn F. Kearney headshot

JOHN F. KEARNEY: (continued) I have a yen to do a stage play; casting in the commercial and movie/TV fields is as bankrupt as ever. Los Angeles, too, is as boring and bland as ever. Personally, I am getting more and more inclined towards places that are peaceful and have fresh air to breathe and broad horizons to explore. Places like New Zealand and the islands of the South Pacific. Not much nightlife there. No film industry to speak of. But that's just me.

EERIE MIDNIGHT: I've been experiencing a similar ennui in my own pursuits. Any advice?

JOHN F. KEARNEY: Well, you know, laziness runs in the family. Whatever hats you like to wear, the one of writer is the one that best suits you. All that journalism has taught me is to communicate other people's thoughts and ideas without the need to insert my own into the equation. Like a frightened horse, I shy away from exposing what is going on inside my head for fear of being hurt. You would think that after years of being rejected as an actor I would heal more rapidly. But noooooo!

Scary headshot of actor John F. Kearney

JOHN F. KEARNEY: (continued) You know, you are not exactly an orphan, although I recognize neither your father, nor myself are brilliant role models. We were not there with the support when you needed it. Maybe this is an item on which you can capitalize because, as we all know, no artist can reach true potential unless he has suffered. Look at Wagner and Ernest Hemingway. I can't believe I'm saying this!

Anyway, whatever you decide to do with that sliver of advice, you might try this. Phase out the smoking and drinking gradually and channel the energy into something of more lasting value. Like the riveting screenplay that we all know you have inside you. I'm looking forward to your comeback.

EERIE MIDNIGHT: Awww! Thanks for the pep talk.

JOHN F. KEARNEY: I have to go. I hear the mailman and need to see if a residual check from Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon of Death has arrived for me today! Ha!

* * *

If you'd like to see some pre-Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon pics of the tanned, 1970's Kearney sitting on a Herculon couch, check out this post over at Mystery Snapshot Adventure.

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