Rod, poolside and more

Let’s travel back in time for a visit with Rod Taylor in 1966. His parents were visiting from Australia and he was in the midst of making “Chuka.” Hope you enjoy these as we mark Rod’s January 11th birthday!

The following snapshots were taken poolside at Rod’s first Palm Springs getaway, which he owned in the mid- to late-1960s. The house was at 444 W. Mariscal Road, in the area known as Little Tuscany. It was across the street from Dean Martin’s and not far from the Racquet Club. (Rod was an avid tennis player.)

These two snapshots aboard a boat show (1) Rod with his parents, Bill and Mona, and his then-wife Mary and (2) Rod with his agent, Wilt Melnick.

Finally, here are some snapshots of Rod with his parents and wife on the set of “Chuka.” Also pictured behind the scenes are actors Ernest Borgnine and John Mills.

Malibu bachelor pad

Welcome to Rod Taylor’s place, circa 1956! With the stability of an MGM contract under his belt, Rod moved from a tiny Hollywood apartment into this house at 19210 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California.

Rod shared the three-bedroom/two-bath house with two roomates (more on that later). It was built in 1948 and is located along Las Tunas Beach.

So, here’s a treat for Rod’s fans while we observe his January 11th birthday.

Scroll through the following galleries for scans from a series of proof sheets. The photo shoot took place in 1956 to accompany a Photoplay magazine article that ran in March 1957. Rod has his “Raintree County” haircut at this time.

Below, we go inside for a look at Rod reading, joking and playing Mr. Fix-it!

A quick change of shirts and here’s more of Rod around the house.

For the series of pictures below, the photographer must have asked Rod to pretend he’s getting an early call? Cute way to get Rod in bed!

Finally, Rod hits the beach and romps in the surf with dogs and surf board.

Here’s the result from the photo shoot, leading in to a nice feature story about Rod in Photoplay, March 1957 (PDF). Surprisingly, only one other photo was used to accompany the article, making the above galleries even more special.

Rod shared the Malibu pad with fellow actor Jeff Richards and casting director Bob Walker. Other roomates came and went, including Charles Bronson. A neighbor was Russ Tamblyn. Below are Bob and Jeff at a cafe in Malibu from the same photoshoot as above. The one of Rod and Jeff fishing was taken at another time.

Finally, below are two later renovations of the house, which is now valued at more than $2,700,000. There’s a Zillow listing that shows the interior and its views. Quite a difference from 1956!

Snapshots: ‘Chuka’ and the Taylors

Rod Taylor was the producer one film during his long career: a 1967 Western titled “Chuka” in which he also played the title role. I’m working on a lengthy project about the film, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share some special snapshots from behind the scenes.

Rod’s parents, Bill and Mona Taylor, made the trek from Australia in 1966 while Rod was making “Chuka.” These photos are from a small photo album that had once belonged to Bill Taylor and were acquired through the magic of eBay.

  • Photo of Ernest Borgnine, Mona Taylor and Bill Taylor.
  • Photo of Mona Taylor, Bill Taylor and Ernest Borgnine.
  • Photo of Mona and Bill Taylor, Mary and Rod Taylor.
  • Photo of Mona Taylor. John Mills, Bill Taylor, Rod Taylor and Mary Taylor.

Western stars and “Hong Kong”

Sometimes the wealth of Rod Taylor material I want to share makes it hard to know where to begin. Just to start chipping away at the stack, I thought I’d post something simple: A single photograph.

One parade and a Mai Tai later, the story (as always) led in unexpected directions.

Rod Taylor
From left: Paul Brinegar (Rawhide), Sheb Woolley (Rawhide), Rod Taylor (Hong Kong), John Smith (Laramie), Luana Patten (actress & John Smith’s wife), James Arness (Gunsmoke), Henry Calvin (Zorro), Roger Smith (77 Sunset Strip), Victoria Shaw (actress & Roger Smith’s wife), Eric Fleming (Rawhide), Clint Eastwood (Rawhide), Betty Lynn (Texas John Slaughter), Tom Tryon (Texas John Slaughter).

Last year, I bought the above photo in an eBay auction of items from the James Arness family collection. The description said it was a group of CBS Western stars from the 1960s. Yes, there are several CBS TV stars, notably James Arness of “Gunsmoke” fame and Clint Eastwood from “Rawhide.” But there are also Disney stars and … Rod Taylor, star of of the ABC show “Hong Kong.”

What was the story behind this photo?

A plunge into turned up the answer: These stars and more were part of San Francisco’s third annual Pacific Festival, held Sept. 9-18, 1960.

Specifically, the celebrities were featured in the festival’s Youth Parade on Sept. 10, 1960. The parade took three hours, starting at 4 p.m. at the Ferry Building and rolling up Market Street to the Civic Center. About 200,000 spectators lined the parade route to watch the procession of stars, bands, floats, Samurai swordsmen, a Chinese dragon, military units and costumed representatives from 44 nations around the Pacific Ocean.

James Arness — Marshal Matt Dillon of “Gunsmoke” — was the parade’s grand marshal and rode the route on horseback, as did some of the other Western stars. Other parade marshals were carried along on floats.

At the time, the premiere of Rod’s first TV show was about two weeks away, so naturally he rode on a float befitting “Hong Kong.” In looking for someone to accompany him on the float, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce reached out to Mai Tai Sing, the civic-minded owner of a local establishment.

A native of the Bay Area, Mai Tai Sing had been educated in Hong Kong and then returned to California as a teenager. She toured the U.S. as a dancer before joining her brothers in opening the Ricksha bar in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The popular cocktail lounge had a piano bar and attracted many show business types, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland and the Beatles.

At the conclusion of the parade, upon Mai Tai Sing’s invitation, Rod Taylor became another famous name at the Ricksha.

Not long after Rod returned Los Angeles and “Hong Kong,” Jack Kruschen left the show. He played Tully, owner of Tully’s Bar, a rough-and-tumble watering hole that was a prime locale in the TV series. Obviously a change in venue was needed and the decision was made to make a plush Chinese restaurant — the Golden Dragon — a new permanent set for the show.

Now the restaurant needed a hostess. Rod knew a natural — the hostess from the Ricksha in San Francisco.

“We kept in touch after he returned to Los Angeles,” Mai Tai Sing said in a January 1961 interview with columnist Joan Crosby, “but I wasn’t prepared later when he telephoned me to ask if I’d like to be in the series.”

Mai Tai Sing and the Golden Dragon made their “Hong Kong” debut in the show’s 13th episode, airing Dec. 21, 1960.

Reflecting on the first few episodes, Mai Tai told a Miami Herald interviewer in January 1961, “I find myself getting keyed up on the set. Acting is all so new to me. At such times, however, Rod has been wonderful. He’s quieted me down and told me to act natural, just the way I do in my own club in San Francisco.”

The two shared a brief romance and “Hong Kong” was canceled after another 13 episodes. Both Rod Taylor and Mai Tai Sing proceeded to have long lives and successful careers. Sing died in 2018, and you can read more about her in an excellent obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

Back to the mystery picture that started this post…. Here’s the full line-up of stars who were rounded up for the third annual Pacific Festival Youth Parade in 1960:

  • James Arness of “Gunsmoke.”
  • Rod Taylor of “Hong Kong.”
  • Eric Fleming, Sheb Wooley, Clint Eastwood and Paul Brinegar of “Rawhide.”
  • John Smith and Robert Fuller of “Laramie.”
  • Tom Tryon and Betty Lynn of “Texas John Slaughter.”
  • Henry Calvin of “Zorro.”
  • Roger Smith of “77 Sunset Strip.”
  • Kathy Nolan of “The Real McCoys.”
  • Actresses Luana Patten and Victoria Shaw.
  • Michael Landon and Pernell Roberts of “Bonanza.”
  • John Russell and Peter Brown of “Lawman.”
  • Richard Simmons of “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.”
  • Don Sherwood, a San Francisco disc jockey.
  • Bob March of “Captain Satellite” in Oakland, California.