Camp David

CAMP DAVID APRIL 2009: FERDY MAYNE

By • Apr 2nd, 2009 • Pages: 1 2

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IN THE NAME OF HELLFIRE AND BLOOD: FERDY MAYNE

Whenever I am pressed to make a choice as to which actor in the history of movies gave the best performance playing a vampire my answer is simple: Bela Lugosi. Lugosi IS Dracula in thought, word and deed. He gave the devil his soul the moment he stepped before the cameras over at Universal in 1930 and he is quite beyond criticism because he OWNS the role of Count Dracula and always will, regardless of whoever assumes the mantle as time goes by.

Now, having said that, I would also say that of all the actors who ever played a vampire after Lugosi, the greatest performance definitely belongs to Ferdy Mayne for his magnificent turn as Count Von Krolock in Roman Polanski’s DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES. This masterpiece has been a long time coming in recognition by film critics, yet the fans always knew this was a very special film in the history of the genre.

I first saw this film at a drive-in under the title THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS OR, PARDON ME, BUT YOUR TEETH ARE IN MY NECK. This version was cut and re-dubbed, however this was all yet to be discovered. Even in this bastardized form the magic was still there in Douglas Slocombe’s superb compositions, the enchanting score, unforgettable from longtime Polanski composer Krzysztof Komeda, and of course the performances, hand-picked by Polanski, then placed under the utter perfection of his direction. This film is now restored on DVD to the version Polanski meant for people to see, and it is now rightfully regarded as a classic.

I had loved this film for years before finally meeting the actor who played the master vampire Count Von Krolock. The timing could never have been better as I was at the time living in Beverly Hills and working in the business; yet I was still very much a monster kid at heart and Ferdy Mayne was horror royalty. I had been at a dinner party at the home of Marion Rosenberg, a powerful producer who had already done dozens of films including X, Y AND ZEE with Elizabeth Taylor and Micheal Caine, WHERE EAGLES DARE with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood along with one of those little British sleepers that very few ever see (unless, say, you are reviewing films for FILMS AND FILMING, like I was at the time), THE WALKING STICK starring Samatha Eggar. Now the last two films also had the distinction of having Ferdy Mayne in small but showy parts, none of which gave him the majesty Polanski did for that one and only moment of time in the actor’s life when personality and performance became one.

Marion knew just about everybody worth knowing in show business, so try and imagine just how funny it was for her to be asked if she knew Ferdy Mayne, and would an introduction be at all possible. Marion laughed and laughed, saying to me, “My dear boy, Ferdy will be over the moon to meet someone like you that knows his films and has such respect. You must know, of course, that he feels exactly the same about that film, so you two have to meet—that is all there is to it.”

Within 24 hours my phone rang and when I picked up the receiver I heard this unmistakable voice on the other end say, “Mr. Del Valle? This is Ferdinand Mayne. I believe you wanted to speak with me.” Did I ever! And with that we arranged a time and of course the place was mine. I invited him for cocktails at 7 pm. He then asked if I would mind if he brought someone. I told him that as far as I was concerned he could bring as many peoples as he liked. He laughed that deep wonderful laugh I would come to know so well and replied, “Oh, one will do. I would like to bring my lady if that is alright,” and so we were on for drinks at seven at my place.

Ferdinand Philip Mayer-Horckel arrived at my front door on time and with a striking blond about half his age named Jan. She was, he told me, a make-up artist and they were a couple. Ferdy wore a tailored, dark blue jacket with a hand-made yellow silk shirt, and a red ascot finished the picture. Ferdy wore a monocle around his neck and knew just when to put it in his eye for the right effect. He was everything I knew he would be: a class act and a gentleman of the old school as well.

I had iced some Champagne to mark the occasion and his lady had rolled some joints for us to smoke and before she could say a word, Ferdy looked over in my direction and said, “Sometimes I will have a puff or two for color.” Oh my God, I was not only meeting my idol for the first time but I was about to get high with him as well—this never happened with Christopher Lee!

I had also invited my best friend Peter from my days in Sacramento, who also loved the film and Ferdy just as much as I did. In fact, he managed to get a 16mm print of FEARLESS in scope six months after it played in theaters. We knew that film backwards and forwards, so much so that after a few glasses of bubbly we stood in front of him and did his dialogue from the film verbatim. Ferdy was genuinely moved, so much so that he asked us to do it once more. As Ferdy would say later, “It was like hearing poetry, and what an honor to be so remembered.” In other words, it was love at first sight.

At that time Ferdy was going back and forth from the flat in London that had been his for decades, off the old Brompton Road, and a series of houses and apartments in and around Beverly Hills. Ferdy lived off Mulholland Drive in a leased flat belonging to his long time friend, director Gabrielle Beaumont, whom he always referred to as “Gay Beaumont.” This was a very comfortable place except for the parking, which was wicked. One late afternoon he went for a stroll down the lane where he ran into a neighbor who, without knowing who he was, told him that way back in 1969 the killers of Sharon Tate washed the blood off their hands in this pond over by the fence. This of course just creeped him out as Ferdy had been in living Europe when the Manson killings took place, so to discover that he was now living so close to it all was nightmarish to say the least. Ferdy never liked to discuss his relationship with Sharon as he had grown quite fond of her, as had most of the cast and crew during the filming of VAMPIRES. “Sharon was a very kind and sweet person in life and of course Roman adored her and that was obvious from the first day of filming.”

Ferdy had made another vampire film not too long after the Polanski film for cameraman-turned-director Freddie Francis. It was shot in Germany under the title THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING. This film tried to capture the same spark that made Polanski’s film a classic and just missed the mark entirely.

THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING had no humor or charm and very little sex, so there would have been no reason to bother seeing it except for Ferdy’s star turn, this time as Count Dracula himself (or rather a parody of the master vampire). His part was played for broad laughs including the unlikely sight of seeing Dracula with his pants down after a night of bawdy bloodsucking. He tells a young girl “something has come up” as he peels a banana. I mean, really… He does get to fly away in a helicopter made especially for Dracula, so if you must, “for color” as Ferdy might say, just watch the last half and catch Ferdy’s remark about Christopher Lee. No one will stop you.

The leading lady in the film, Pia Degermark, had been quite the star and jet-setter before and after filming as she had once played the title role in the classic ELVIRA MADIGAN and then married a millionaire playboy only to lose everything in the end to drugs and drink. Pia actually wound up going to prison for a while, but as of today she is clean and sober, a sadder but wiser girl no doubt. Ferdy would always wonder what it was about his vampire films that seem to curse the leading ladies.

I had been following his career ever since the Polanski film and now we had become friends. At the time we met I was doing a column for John Russell Taylor’s FILMS AND FILMING magazine out of the UK, so I was able to be in London at least twice a year. I got to know not only Ferdy but his two beautiful daughters: Belinda, who was following her dad’s lead into acting while his other daughter, Fernanda, chose to raise a family instead. Good choice as it would turn out since she seems from all accounts to be happy and content with her life today.

There are not many actors that one could forge such a friendship with, and Ferdy certainly did not suffer fools gladly, so I counted myself blessed to have him in my corner. I was still trying to act as an actor’s agent when I first met him and had only recently lost my own agency in a year-long commercial strike, so Ferdy being Ferdy was always arranging meetings with other agents and businessmen in hopes of helping me get back in the game. However, I was writing more and more and in time I decided to work as a journalist and leave artist representation to Sue Mengers and her kind.

Ferdy loved shirts and collected them as kind of a hobby. He had dozens and dozens of beautiful handmade ones and now just needed enough hours in the day to wear them all. After awhile he moved out of Gay Beaumont’s flat and bought a condo right around the corner from the place where I lived for 25 years, at the corner of Oakhurst and Beverly. Ferdy bought this condo, which was about eight floors up in a high-rise building on Doheny Drive. At this time in his life he was working more than ever in both television and movies. I am so pleased to have known him during this stage of his life as he loved what he was doing so much. Belinda was also working at this time and getting bigger and bigger parts in films like KRULL and LASSITER, with Tom Selleck. Ferdy took out wonderful full-page ads when he was in such demand. One that I still have, from THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, has two handsome portraits of him, one as himself and the other full-flood as Ben Ishak from Coppola’s RETURN OF THE BLACK STALLION. This film was special for Ferdy as he went on location for it and sent me postcards describing himself as “feeling ten feet tall walking around this ancient city as the star of a Coppola production.”

Ferdy had such elegance in his appearance in private life. I can still see him, always natty in bright colors wearing his beloved monocle around his neck, enjoying the attention he seemed to create where ever he went. Ferdy loved women and was always in pursuit when opportunity presented itself.

He was gone quite a bit during the eighties, doing the Dan Curtis mini-series WINDS OF WAR playing Herr Rosenthal, a part my friend Barbara Steele suggested him for after meeting Ferdy during a casting call. Ferdy always referred to Barbara as “Miss Cheekbones,” always grateful to be employed and especially in such a project as this one with almost every working actor in Britain playing in one part or another.

I have one very special memory with Ferdy and that was our time together on the film THE HORROR STAR, also known as FRIGHTMARE. Now this could have been a little classic sleeper of a horror film if the script had paid more attention to details and actually tried to be a black comedy about the picture business and especially the horror film picture business as it was being done in Hollywood at the very moment we were shooting our epic of terror. The director, Norman Thaddeus Vane, was a real piece of work in his own right as he had worked in England for years trying to get projects off and running, and sometimes he actually did succeed. Norman wrote the occult Indian thriller with Jan Micheal Vincent and Chief Dan George called SHADOW OF THE HAWK. THE HORROR STAR seemed to be written for Ferdy; at least he was a veteran of the genre, having even done a Hammer film (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS) so he had the right persona to play Conrad Ratzoff, horror star. Norman could never raise the bar beyond luring a bunch of teenagers into a haunted house and then killing them off one by one, which is a formula we just don’t need to see anymore, and this was 1985 already.

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12 Responses »

  1. David
    That was a simply wonderful piece you have written on this great actor-a fine tribute. I always thought Mr. Mayne as the type who should have lived in the past of Hollywood, hanging out at the Hollywood bowl, maybe knocking back a few with Bogey and Flynn.
    Thankyou for sharing this with us.

  2. Hello, David,

    I still have a VHS of Fearless Vampire Killer that I got from BeckPerson a zillion years ago. I’ll plug it in at least once a year & almost always think of you and Peter.

    Hope all is well.
    *Peg*

  3. Hello to Peggy and Sharon

    the Camp David column has been up and running for several years now if I miss a month it is not because there is no column but most likely Roy is backlogged and the column is then delayed till the following month. For example I turned this current one in mid April but they did not get it online until now.

    send me your emails through the editor and I will email you both privately.

    David

  4. I wish more reminiscences’ of this kind would be available to fans of fine character actors. We will, at least, have something written about these fabulous thespians. Wouldn’t mind though, having them put in tome of some sort.

  5. David,
    I stumbled over this beautiful and very moving article tonight and felt compelled to say thank you.
    Thank you for remembering ‘papa’ with obvious love and thank you for reminding me of all that he achieved and was.
    I’m now going to bed having smiled and wept!
    Good night

  6. Hi David,
    I have also just stumbled over your wonderful and moving article today not even looking for it, how weird is that!
    Thank you for your thoughts . I think that Dad had a fantastic a career, maybe not in the classical sense, that was the path he chose but certainly a very interesting and varied career he was a fantastic actor and a wonderful teacher. He was my mentor my best friend and the best father. I miss him dearly.

    Thank you

    Belinda

    Please could you e mail me. Thank you

  7. Hi David,

    Just ran across this beautiful piece you wrote about Ferdy Mayne, it made my day and I thank you for writing it, well done. I very much admire your friendship with Ferdy, my relationship did not have the number years to develop as yours did–I’ll tell you about it briefly, as you’re one of the few who will truly understand and appreciate my experience.

    We met at The Four Seasons hotel bar by chance, he was there for his 4:00 p.m. tea, I was there for a friends wedding and by myself, I arrived early so I headed to the hotel bar and lounge. Just as I ordered my drink I heard that deep, unusual voice saying hello to the bartender. I was drawn to him and began a friendly chat. The Fearless Vampire Killers was my favorite film, but I did not recognize Ferdy as it was 1994 and he’d aged so much–when we finally introduced ourselves I about dropped my cocktail as I exclaimed, “I know exactly who you are!”

    Ferdy and I sat at a table together for about 30 minutes and we were fast friends–the next day we met as well. We met about 6 times after the fact over the next year or so. I told him if I ever went to Paris, I’d like him to call Roman and arrange for me to meet him. I went to Paris in 1997 on business, and sure enough, Ferdy paved the way. My business partner and I had drinks with Roman at Hotel D’Atheinne and it was there I got to discuss all I wanted about Fearless Vampire Killers as well as other Polanski films–Roman was very gracious, I cannot say enough about how kind and patient he was to virtual strangers, clearly it’s because he respected Ferdy’s friendship. At the end, Roman had a surprise–opening night of the stage production of Vampire Killers was taking place in Vienna–and by chance that was our next stop. Roman then arranged for us to attend, it was incredible. How lucky I was to meet Ferdy Mayne and have the opportunity to get to know him–I also introduced him to my Grandfather who was about 10 years older than Ferdy. He was a Christian book author–and he and Ferdy began a nice correspondence as well. Ferdy was ill and in a period of his life where he was looking for spiritual guidance–evidently my Grandfather gave him some peace of mind in that regard.

    I hope my story with Ferdy resonates with you, as it seems we have the same delight and intrigue with the talent and grace of this man–and the sheer luck behind our meetings. Thank you again for sharing your great story.

    Kindest Regards,

    John Berner

  8. John
    what a great encounter and believe me I envy you the time with Polanski……Ferdy was as you pointed out the kindest of men….not to mention a fine actor….your recollections have really touched me as it seems like he is still just around the corner….perhaps only a phone call away. I miss him every day of the world…….

    thanks again for the kind words
    David

  9. Dear David….just ran across this great piece you wrote about Ferdy Mayne. Wow. What a wonderful experience for you to have met and the friendship that developed between the two of you. Im a big fan of Ferdy and especially “The Fearless Vampire Killers”. I was wondering if you know where Ferdy was buried after his death? Much thanks and thank you for sharing this online.

    With kind regards,

    Gary Mosher

  10. Thank you so much for your response Gary….I still find it amazing that this article which was posted over two years ago is still finding it’s way to Ferdy’s admirers. If you notice here in the letters column both of Ferdy’s daughters have responded favorably as well. This is what makes all of this work worthwhile…sharing my recollections with the people who care about film history as well as the artists that devoted their lives in the process.

    I will try emailing his daughters to discover where Ferdy has been laid to rest. Please take note this article as well as 30 others are collected in one volume entitled LOST HORIZONS BENEATH THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN……There is a link on the home page to order a copy….if you liked this one you may want to check out the rest of my work as well.

    Cheers
    David

  11. Thank you for this great article on Ferdy Mayne. I’m a big fan of Sharon Tate and I, fortunately, came across with this great website. I fell like buying a poster of FVK – autographed by F. Mayne – and I would like to ask you if you think it was really his. How do I send you the archive with the photo? Thanks again

  12. Thank you Carlos…you can send me an email to delvallearchives@gmail.com and I looking forward to seeing what is being offered to you because I had a rather small Australian poster from fearless in which Fedy signed it “to David who understands the bat its mysteries”…..

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