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A return to 'The Poseidon Adventure'

Classic Hollywood: Cast members of 1972's 'Poseidon Adventure' will be on hand for a 40th anniversary screening at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre.

December 24, 2012|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • The cast of "The Poseidan Adventure."
The cast of "The Poseidan Adventure." (Photofest )

Making 1972's "The Poseidon Adventure" was a memorable voyage for several of the actors who starred in the fondly remembered disaster flick.

Carol Lynley was forced to confront her fear of heights. Former child star Eric Shea had a blast shooting on location at the Queen Mary as well as climbing, swimming and running around the massive sets at 20th Century Fox. And then-fledgling actor Ernie Orsatti discovered a new career path as a stuntman after he performed a death-defying fall.

Lynley, Shea and Orsatti are scheduled to join fellow cast members (schedule permitting) Stella Stevens and Pamela Sue Martin Saturday evening at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre 40th anniversary reunion screening.

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It's also a homecoming for "Poseidon Adventure" because the film premiered at the Egyptian 40 years ago this month. According to Shea, who played Martin's adventurous little brother Robin, the premiere party even featured Groucho Marx as Santa Claus.

There had been all-star disaster movies before "Poseidon," including 1954's "The High and the Mighty" and 1970's "Airport," both of which were set on airplanes. But producer Irwin Allen ( "Lost in Space") took the genre to another level with "Poseidon."

Based on the novel by Paul Gallico, the Ronald Neame-directed epic follows the survivors of an ocean liner that capsized after being hit by a gigantic rogue wave New Year's Eve, as they ascend from the bowels of the upside-down liner to safety.

The cast included four Oscar winners: — Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons and Shelley Winters — and enough real-life action and stunts for five movies. After the film's success, Allen became known as the "Master of Disaster" and went on to make several more in this genre, most notably 1974's "The Towering Inferno."

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"The Poseidon Adventure" earned eight Oscar nominations, including one for supporting actress for Winters and for William Creber's stunning production design. It won an Academy Award in the song category for "The Morning After" and a special achievement award for its landmark, pre-CGI visual effects.

The ultimate popcorn film, "Poseidon Adventure" has spawned fan clubs, chat sites, two musicals, one tepid TV remake and an equally disappointing 2006 feature reboot.

"The movie has a life of its own," said Lynley, who played the hot pants-clad singer, Nonnie. "It just gets to people and the fact that it has lived as long as it's lived is extraordinary."

The anniversary screening will also feature a memorabilia display, and "Poseidon" expert Brian Boskind will do a behind-the-scenes presentation on the film. For Boskind, who saw the film as a child in 1973, ""there is something about watching strangers band together and try to get themselves out of this situation. You are living with them."

Though Nonnie was terrified of swimming, Lynley herself was petrified of heights, especially in a scene where she has to climb rickety stairs. But she managed to get through the arduous shoot because of the help of stuntmen.

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Lynley recalled that the cast also had to get used to the upside-down set. "What happens when you are in an upside-down environment, you get sick to your stomach," she said. So before shooting commenced on that set, they were taken to the sound stage for 20 minutes a day to get acclimated.

Shea, who was 12 when he made the movie, "enjoyed the heck out of it. I liked climbing the Christmas tree. It was like a jungle gym for a kid. The only stunt I didn't do was where I am swimming underwater and that was because it got to be too late in the day. So they had my stunt double do it. "

Orsatti had been hired by Allen, an old family friend, to play Terry, the ill-fated passenger who asks Martin to dance.

"They had this bright idea that the actors would do their own stunts," said Orsatti, 72. So he ended up performing Terry's spectacular stunt falling from an upside down-table through what had been the ballroom's ornate glass ceiling.

On the day of the stunt, recalled Orsatti, Allen told him that "'the water will come through the windows, the extras will be yelling and when I count to nine, you go.' But with all the extras yelling, I couldn't hear a thing, so I just picked up the count myself. When I felt it was nine, I let myself go."

For more information about the screening go to http://www.americancinematheque.com.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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