Maximum Respect (and a kingdom) to
Earthling Adam Gross, who supplied and emailed the many
megs of scans that make up this article. Cheers
Adam. Images and words (c) Starlog
magazine Issue 41 December 1980
Sam J. Jones
A New Career is Born for the Latest Portrayer of
America's Original Space Hero, Flash Gordon.
By KAREN E. WILLSON
Two generations of Flash Gordon were brought together when Buster Crabbe and Sam Jones presented the "Best Makeup" award to William Tuttle (Love at First Bite) at the 7th annual Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films Awards program in July, On stage, Crabbe turned to Jones and said, "I played Flash Gordon in the future - but in the past. The same role I p1ayed in the past, you'll play in the future." With this, the veteran actor acknowledged the new star of Flash Gordon in the role originally lensed with Crabbe in the 1936 Universal serial. During an interview with STARLOG, Sam Jones returned the compliment.
"When I found out that they were casting Flash Gordon, that they wanted to see me, I called a couple of friends who were really into watching the serials," Jones explains, "and they filled me in on everything." Familiarity with the series helped Jones adjust to the fantastic universe created by comic artist Alex Raymond. What Jones shied away from, was any influence by Buster Crabbe's performance. "'Why play it like somebody else?' I said. Besides, I'm not going to be able to play it like somebody else. They cast me for some reason; I think they want to see me." And "see" Sam Jones we do. As Flash Gordon, Jones is featured in 80% of the movie, even doing most of his own stunt work. "This was an action-adventure film," Jones says. "I think 80 to 90% was physical. The 10% that was mental, if it was, (was) probably the opening scene (with Dale Arden)."
A New World
The first scene in the film, remarkably, was the first scene to be shot. Jones remembers that "it was in Scotland. I was amazed, because we had to take a charter plane, then a private plane, then a helicop1er to this place, nowhere. We had a Coast Guard helicopter, three airplanes, all these trucks, all this equipment... I said, 'My God. This is how you make a movie!' Big budget, big budget... it was exciting just to be a part of it. We were shooting all the exteriors for the plane. Just Flash Gordon and Dale Arden meeting for the first time in his private plane before they leave Earth. You'll have to go see it to find out how they leave Earth...."
For Jones, the world of movie making is still new enough to be enchanting. Born in Chicago, he joined the Marine Corps at 16, then moved on to Washington to play semi- pro football with the Burien Flyers. To supplement his income he began modelling and then doing television commercials for a local sporting goods store. This brief taste of acting convinced Jones to head for Hollywood.
"I arrived in Los Angeles with a car and a box of crackers, that was it!" Jones says with a laugh. His first film appearance was in the movie 10 with Bo Derek, and then his luck changed. "I went on the Dating Game because I needed the money. I was SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and they pay the actors," Jones explains, "I went on, and lost the date but got the job! (Flash Gordon). Dino... I should say Mr. De Laurentiis, or a member of his family was watching. They called me, and the next morning I went in with my manager for an interview to meet Dino and his staff."
Jones was flown to London almost immediately after the interview to begin a gruelling schedule of rehearsals, costume fittings, and daily workouts to prepare him for the many action sequences. At first, De Laurentiis planned to stunt-double Flash Gordon for the more dangerous scenes. But Sam Jones had other ideas.
"I had to beg with the people to let me do my own scenes. I said, 'Look - you'll be spending more time trying to hide the stuntman's face, shooting around it. Just let me do it.' There's a scene where I'm fighting guys who are 6'6", 6'7", and they have this outrageous thing on... masks and costumes. I have to do a front roll and - sort of like a
bowling ball - wipe all these people out. I did, and I got up and I could barely walk... but it worked! It looks great!"
Jones not only participated in the action sequences, he also helped choreograph them.
"I wrote all the action scenes," he explains. "We had stunt people who would put [them] together, 'You walk here and you hit him,' but I wrote all the fight scenes. In the scene where Flash Gordon is acting like a quarterback and throwing these alien eggs shaped like footballs, I choreographed basically everything for it. But I can't say, 'l did it,' because it would take away from the stunt coordinator's credit. They give him the title, like saying they give the filmmaker the title of making the film. He doesn't make the entire film; he has a crew of a hundred people with him and all these ideas. That's how you make a film. I gave them some ideas and they accepted quite a few."
No Expense Spared
For the 1936 Flash Gordon serial, Universal bought leftover props, effects and stock footage from the 20th Century Fox film, Just Imagine. The 1980 remake has been handled with a great deal more loving care. The lavish, 40 million-dollar budget of the new Flash Gordon features stunning effects and sets, and private acting coaches for the stars.
"There was an acting teacher on the set for everybody," Jones comments, "except people like Max von Sydow. They had European actors and actresses who didn't speak very good English. That coach was on the set for me every day of shooting. It got to the point where I felt as though I might have been acting for him. But when you're doing a 40 million-dollar film like this, working with 300 extras, bombs going off and special effects... sometimes it takes away from the acting. It's a very big job to have, to be directing all of this at the same time." This approach was a new experience for Sam Jones.
"Blake (l0) Edwards didn't have to worry about special effects, or the timing. Flash director Michael Hodges had the optical expert right there saying, 'We've got to shoot this in a certain amount of time.' or 'I've got to matte it this way'." The extensive camera set-ups necessary for the effects gave Jones time to consider his approach to the character of Flash Gordon. Jones feels Flash is a cut above other superheroes, such as Superman.
"He doesn't have any powers," Jones says. "He's just an athlete. Plus, he has to use his mind a lot, whereas Superman didn't... but... no, he doesn't fly, he can't eat bullets or drill holes in the Earth and this makes him different. He can be caught. He can be hurt! He's very vulnerable."
"I like the character," Jones continues. "I thought that everybody would like him, especially the kids. I'm not taking anything away from Chris Reeves, but kids will look at the character and say, 'Look, the guy's real. He doesn't fly, he can't do this or that, he likes people, he wants to do good."
Despite Flash's sterling character, Jones would have liked to develop the role. "I would have liked to see a different side of Flash. Maybe see Buster Crabbe playing Flash Gordon's father, but that wasn't there. It wasn't there for all the characters." Jones realizes that Flash Gordon, as a superhero, is a stereotypical role. "He's not supposed to be weak in the sense that anyone macho can't cry," Jones says. "We're brought up thinking that men aren't supposed to cry, it's a sign of weakness. I never cried in Flash Gordon, because I think the kids would interpret it the wrong way. Maybe we should do a second Flash Gordon where they show that Flash is macho, and that he can cry, and that being macho is not what life is all about."
For Sam Jones, portraying Flash was a little like portraying himself. He explains: "I'm not saying that Sam J. Jones was Flash Gordon - there's no such thing. No actor can be the person, that's a bunch of crap. People pay to see an actor be himself, whether he plays Hamlet or whatever. But I fit right into it because of the athletics. I think Sam J. Jones is a bit naive about everything about this business. There's a lot to learn, and I think this is basically similar to Flash Gordon."
Getting Into Character
Although Dino De Laurentiis felt Jones was perfect for the role, the movie magicians tampered with his appearance in an attempt to match the actor to the comic strip.
"They dyed my hair blonde, and they tried to tint my eyes blue with lenses. They had a soft and a hard pair for my eyes. The day I went out for the screen test, I didn't even put them in they hurt so bad. So I had two make-up artists stacking lenses in my eyes to turn them blue. For the screen test in England they shot without them. They (finally decided), 'Blonde hair, brown eyes - okay, we'll accept it..' "
With hair, makeup and costume fittings out of the way, Jones sat down and began the real business of making Flash Gordon live.
"I have to compare (getting into the role) to the first film I did, 10. I played the groom. Blake Edwards came up to me and said, 'This is your wife walking down the aisle, be nervous'," Jones chuckles. "I didn't have to be anything. I was nervous. This applies to Flash Gordon. Here I am, thrown into this spacecraft, landing on a different planet with no idea of where I'm at or where I'm going. The whole idea is shock, surprise... so, the emotion was there."
Jones played the character "very seriously. The film's very campy, very adventurous. We played it straight; we couldn't have played it any other way. When the crew watched the rushes and were laughing hysterically, Dino said, 'Why are you laughing?' And then they discovered they had a comedy, that it was camp. I've heard from the screenings that some people couldn't hear the words because of all the applause and laughter... but we did play it seriously."
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