Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Yes, we remember the guy from the Portland Beavers who played Benjamin Pontipee

 Sometimes Julie fans ask "Who was THAT guy?" 


He passed away on July 28, 1989. For some who watched "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" on small square TV sets in the 60's and 70's, he was the guy you didn't always see. 

He was matched with Julie because of his height, but somebody forgot to note that while he had been an amateur baseball player (for the Portland Beavers) he was not much of a dancer. the widescreen scenes, he and partner Julie were usually placed at the far end, with the better dancing couples in the middle. When "fitted for your screen," he (and Julie) disappeared entirely. 

One of the more "authentic" brothers in the film, Richard Mansfield Taylor actually was born in rugged lumber territory; Oregon (November 1, 1924). Oregon is the setting for "Seven Brides," of course.

After Navy service, the 22 year-old joined the Portland Beavers as a shortstop, and moved on to the Seattle Senators. At that time, there were no West Coast professional baseball teams, so he wasn't scouted by either the S.F. Giants or L.A. Dodgers. After a ligament injury, the tall, good-looking ex-athlete turned to a career in movies. He played a baseball player in the 1950 comedy "Kill the Umpire," and was signed to MGM the following year. That's when Richard Taylor became Jeff Richards. 

He played a baseball player - again - in "Angels in the Outfield" (1951) and yet again in "Big Leaguer" (1954). That was the year, age 30, he became one of the brothers in "Seven Brides..." He was nearly a decade younger than his dance partner. 

His career kicked into gear with "The Marauders" (1955) and "The Opposite Sex" (1956),  where he didn't quite have seven bride possibilities, but wasn't doing badly at all. You might recognize Joan Collins and Ann Miller among his admirers.

While some of the other guys who played brothers in "Seven Brides" didn't amount to much, and may not have been able to put their arms around many or any famous women,  Richards was considered a very promising star in his 30's. Mamie Van Doren is a victim of rope in this odd publicity still for the 1958 cult item "Born Reckless." 

Not one to brood over those "sobbin'" women in "Seven Brides," Jeff moved on to the "Island of Lost Women" in 1959 with John Smith. A variation on "sword and sandals" flicks, it was a bare chests & sarongs epic. If the film was re-made today, it might be the men in sarongs and the women showing the bare chests. 

Starring roles in mediocre films and TV shows didn't help his career.  He starred in the forgotten "It's a Dog's Life" (1955) and "Secret of the Purple Reef" (1960). Well, the ONLY other young brother from "Seven Brides" to actually be the star of a movie was Russ Tamblyn, so nice going, Mr. Richards. PS, you were fortunate not to get a dog bite in that 1955 epic...

Richards was the title character "Jefferson Drum" in 26 episodes of the NBC series (1958-59). 

So, "that guy" who was just another brother in a favorite film musical, actually was quite a guy, with some starring opportunities on TV and in film, and a pretty good credit list in the 50's. 

After a six-year drought, his last screen appearance was in "Waco" (1966) starring his pal from the "Seven Brides" days, Howard Keel. 


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