Tag Archive: David Durston

Happy Birthday Bhaskar!

Bhaskar as "Horace Bones"

Bhaskar as “Horace Bones”

Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, star of I Drink Your Blood would have turned 83 years young today.  In 1977, just seven years after IDYB, he suffered a tragic accident leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, cutting short the career of a very talented hoofer.  He died in 2003.  

His exploitation film career probably came with meeting David Durston socially in New York City in the late 1960s and was something of a lark–Bhaskar is better remembered as a dancer and teacher of aspiring dancers celebrating his native India.  Here he is in the 1961 Oscar-nominated short, The Creation of Woman:

Happy Birthday David Durston!

Durston on the set of IDYB, c. 1969-70.

Durston on the set of IDYB, c. 1969-70.

He’d have been 92 today.  He directed several films, but is most known for I Drink Your Blood.  I profiled his film career several months back, as my debut post in my still ongoing project to dig into the careers of the film’s cast.  Durston died in 2010 at the age of 88, here’s his obit from the NYT and here’s a nice post/gallery by Stephen Thrower, another blogger and author with a serious interest in the man, the source of this photo.

Jadin Wong getting a blood facial

Jadin Wong in I Drink Your Blood

Jadin Wong’s appearance in I Drink Your Blood  is perhaps the biggest surprise in this film. Like Bhaskar, she had a well established career at the time of the film, and also like Bhaskar, had established herself as a dancer.  Wong was seventeen years older than Bhaskar–she’d have been celebrating her 100th birthday a couple months ago had she not passed away at 96 in 2010–and was a pioneer for Asian-American women in Hollywood, who, beyond dancing, had a well established career as a singer, was one of the first Asian-American female stand-up comedians, and frustrated at the lack of Asian-Americans on stage and in film, she started her own company and became a talent scout and agent all by the time IDYB came around.  Eventually her career was celebrated in the US Congress and she was invited by President Ronald Reagan to visit the White House.  All this begs the question: why on earth would such a pioneer take a roll in a cheap exploitation flick, especially one in which she portrays the Asian stereotypes she spent her career trying to overcome?    

Norman Foster and Claudette Colbert Discovered Jadin Wong

Norman Foster and Claudette Colbert Discovered Jadin Wong

Before we try to get to that question, let’s have a look at Wong’s career.  She was born in Marysville, California on May 24, 1913.  At 17 she was sneaking out to perform with a young Danny Kaye, who also would have become a centenarian this year. She left home at an early age for Hollywood and danced in the streets for change and slept on park benches at night. She also performed at Chinese-American nightclubs, in places along the so-called “Chop Suey Circuit”.  Later, these were the experiences she was most known for and was sought out for her perspective on these experiences by scholars of Chinese-American identity and historians. Wong was discovered by actor/director Norman Foster who took Wong to meet his then-wife, Claudette Colbert.  This was apparently a fruitful meeting, as it led to her getting a bit part in Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939), as a dancer.  You can see the 26-year-old Wong in this clip, at 2:45-:53 in the background:

Wong toured as a dancer in the 1940s with her first husband and dance partner, Li Sun, before their divorce and spent a couple years in the 1950s entertaining troops in Europe with Bob Hope, and Josephine Baker. She was a friend of Noel Coward. She married again in 1960, to Broadway powerhouse director Edward Dowling (1895-1976) and in these years she transitioned away from dance, and reinvented herself as a stand-up comedienne.  She was pioneering again, becoming one of the first Asian-American women comics.  She recalled:

A booker in the Catskills said, ‘You’re a dancer, you’re a woman and you’re Chinese. It’ll never work. If you’re so funny, say something funny.’ I told him ‘Fuck you!’ and I got the job. … I’m unusual for an Asian girl. They’re very subservient. I’m very nice to people, but I’m not your average Chinese girl– I kick tush. [source

In the 1970s, just after I Drink Your Blood hit, she reinvented herself once again, this time as an agent for other Asian-American performers on stage and film.  Her clients included Lou Diamond Phillips, Bai Ling, and Lucy Liu, among more than 400 others, but this reinvention was a reluctant one–it came when her own agent’s office burned down, and after thirty years as an agent she became known as the foremost scout for Asian performers in New York, and a tireless advocate of Asian-American performers aged 8 to 80.  She is remembered for blazing a path through racist stereotypical roles that were commonplace in her early career. Wong established the Jadin Wong Educational Fund to continue the work of supporting Asian-American performers.

I drink your blood13This brings us to Wong’s performance in I Drink Your Blood.  In this film, she is nearly silent, and seems to play the part of the inscrutable Asian–one whose ways are all but totally incomprehensible to non-Asians.  She is cruel, enjoys the shocking violence visited upon the hippie cult’s victims.  Her most exploitive scene, apart from being splattered with blood early on in the film (see top pic) was her demise (sorry, I don’t warn of spoilers for 40-odd-year old films!) by self immolation in one of the final scenes of the film.  It brings to mind the self immolations of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam War, which was very much a going concern in 1969-70.

As interesting as Wong’s career and role in this film is, I have not been able to find much about how she came to be in this role.  The question we started out with in this post remains unanswered as of this writing: why did Wong agree to be in this film?  The histories of her career do not mention IDYB among her film accomplishments.  The academic writing using her as a source or as a subject–usually in the context of Chinese-American identity or film history do not mention Wong in IDYB either.  This leads me to think that either a) there were, in yet another similarity with Bhaskar, more than one actress named Jadin Wong floating around at this time, or b) that the real history and lore of exploitation cinema is preserved and retold by us fans, as opposed to historians or “serious” film magazines, critics, etc.  This is a point that Stan Hyde made on his interview on Kaijucast a couple episodes ago in relation to how the history and lore of Toho Studios and the Godzilla films is preserved.   

As of this writing, I have two leads to see if we can find more information on Wong and IDYB.  First, I’ve emailed one of the scholars who interviewed Wong, but this being summer, I don’t expect a timely response.  If I hear anything noteworthy, I’ll make a point of providing an update.  Second, there is a small collection of Wong’s “ephemera” at the New York Public Library.  That is:

The Jadin Wong ephemera spans approximately 1930-1996, and consists of clippings, photographs, programs, advertising materials, reviews, correspondence, etc. Seven folders consist of clippings and photocopies of clippings from articles about the career of Jadin Wong, including the Life magazine cover story of December 1940 devoted to the Forbidden City, San Francisco nightclub where Asian performers entertained a mostly white clientele. There is also material devoted to FORBIDDEN CITY, U.S.A., a 1989 documentary film devoted to the nightclub and its performers in which Jadin Wong appeared.

New York is just a few hours away by train, and I’d love to go see the collection and see if I can scare up other leads.  But I’m not optimistic, since there’s no mention in this description of any ephemera related to I Drink Your Blood.  My gut tells me that probably what happened was that Wong met IDYB director David Durston socially–they both were New Yorkers–and this was, again like Bhaskar, probably a fun little lark for Wong to appear in a campy horror flick.

Bhaskar as "Horace Bones"

Bhaskar as “Horace Bones”

The first thing you need to know about Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury (1930-2003)–satanist hippie cult leader in “I Drink Your Blood” was that he was a master hoofer. His specialty were the dances of his native India, and he had his own dance company, taught these dances at the university level, and was a celebrated choreographer–these talents were Bhaskar’s career: IDYB was a bit of a fun one-off, and something he probably didn’t see as playing any part in his legacy, even though it was his best known role on film.

One can read the high points of Bhaskar’s career on his IMDB page, but as is often the case with actors in exploitation cinema, this does not do nearly enough justice to his career.  It’s too bad that most references to Bhaskar–either online or in print–mention the great performance he turned in for IDYB and then simply regurgitate IMDB without probing any deeper.  To get beyond a simple listing of his film appearances, I tracked down someone who can help us get to know Bhaskar a little better–my contact worked with Bhaskar in the 1970s.  The association also gave her some insight into the parts of his life that are gaps for the usual sources of info and showed some areas where these sources appear incomplete.

Baskhar and Candace in a 1976 publicity shot

Baskhar and Candace in a 1976 publicity shot

My contact for the project of getting to know Bhaskar a bit better is Candace Hibbard Lillie, now living in Oklahoma.  37 years ago, about 6 years after IDYB was released, Candace was Bhaskar’s dance partner in his dance company–Bhaskar: Dances of India–and came to know him and his story pretty well.  I noticed her website dedicated to the dance company as I started researching this post, and I started e-mailing her with questions, which she was all too happy (I think) to answer.

Sri Bhaskar Burmin Roy Chowdhury Jr., was born into an elite family in Madras, India that was deeply involved in the arts.  His father was a painter, and his mother–an actual princess says Candace–encouraged Bhaskar to sing and dance.  He also had a short-lived boxing career, but a match with someone called “Tiger Terry” cost him his front teeth and that particular career path.

In the mid-1950s Bhaskar emigrated to the US, became a citizen, and was involved in several touring dance companies before starting his own.  Candace tells me that in 1956 he had a small uncredited part in a TV musical version of Marco Polo that starred the legendary Broadway actor Alfred Drake in the leading role.  Bhaskar was a comparative religion major in college, and married an American woman, who died very shortly afterwards of heart failure.

Within his dance companies, Bhaskar taught dancers, and he also occasionally taught in colleges, and held classes at the former Jerry Leroy Studio.  Bhasker suspected that Jack “the father of theatrical jazz dance” Cole (1911-1974) stole some of his moves that he taught at Jerry LeRoy’s place, which shut its doors in 2008 after 73 years as a dance studio.  Here is perhaps where is real legacy is seen: dancers he trained on a pro bono basis, often in their homes.  Leading directly to careers made.  Bhaskar was a hard teacher, but as many said of him at his funeral in 2004:

This man was impossible, he drove me crazy, he drank way too much, he worked me harder than anyone ever had before. Giving freely of himself, he taught me at no charge, put me on the stage, and I owe him more than I can ever say.

Bhaskar dancing as Brahma in "The Creation of Woman"

Bhaskar dancing as Brahma in “The Creation of Woman”

Bhaskar got his start in film in 1960 by choreographing and starring in “The Creation of Woman”–Indian creation myths, with some Christian elements as well–set to dance.  Bhaskar was already on top of his game and one gets the sense that securing him for the film was something of a coup for film producer Ismail Merchant.  The film, a 14-minute short, was nominated for best short at both Cannes and at the Oscars in 1961, but didn’t score either award.

The film is also notable for being the backdrop–during its run at Cannes–for the introduction of Merchant and American film director James Ivory, (who went on to helm A Room With a View, Howard’s Endand The Remains of the Dayamong many others) who, together established Merchant Ivory Productions, which developed more than 50 films, often set in India and/or period pieces like the above films for the next 40 years, earning 6 Oscars in the process.

DVD cover for "Pratidwandi," known internationally as "The Adversary"

DVD cover for “Pratidwandi,” known internationally as “The Adversary”

Back to Bhaskar, the decade after The Creation of Woman  was spent back at his dance company, but he returned to film in 1970 with a trio of films, The Epitaph, The Adversary, and of course, I Drink Your Blood.  The Epitaph is an Indian film which I cannot readily find much information, except that it too was nominated for best short film at Cannes 1970.

The Adversary, on the other hand was directed by the great Indian filmmaker, Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) and this film was the first of his “Calcutta Trilogy,” looking at social and spiritual malaise in urban India after colonialism and the partitioning of India and Pakistan.  Ray was a major influence on the Merchant Ivory films, and Ray’s early (1967) screenplay The Alien was copied and revised so many times in the Hollywood machine that it arguably became the basis of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in 1982.  (An argument Spielberg denies.)

Mark LaRoche's head!

Mark LaRoche’s head!

So, with a promising film career and already well established dance career, what would possess Bhaskar to seek out a role in a movie like I Drink Your Blood?  Candace seems to think Bhaskar ran into David Durston socially and/or Bhaskar needed the money.  Either way, Bhaskar did not consider IDYB to be any part of his artistic legacy.  Mainly, this was a fun break for him.

Turning to Bhaskar’s private life, in 1960, a few years after his wife passed away, Bhaskar became involved with Mark LaRoche, who had a bit role in I Drink Your Blood–mainly as a model for the severed head tossed around in the finale–and was so for the rest of his life.  Candace says Bhaskar and Mark were “married” in 1960–I’m not sure what that means most of a decade before Stonewall, but I take the point that they had a loving, committed relationship that stood the test of time, even if Mark’s head literally rolled in one movie.  As an aside–in a post full of asides–we may note other homosexual couples in the broader story here: I Drink Your Blood director David Durston was in a longterm relationship with John DiBello (also known as “Jack Damon,” who must be the “John Damon” playing “Roger Davis” in the film?)  Landis and Clifford in Sleazoid Express talk about a “gay sensibility” Durston brought to the imagery of IDYB.  Ismail Merchant and James Ivory of Merchant Ivory were also a longterm gay couple.

Bhaskar had three more film roles: in 1971 he teamed up again with Durston in Blue Sextet, in 1972 he was the male lead in the Bollywood film, Trisandhya.  More specific information on these two films is hard to come by, it seems.  In 1978 Bhaskar had a bit part in Ghar, another Bollywood film, this one about a couple dealing with emotional issues in the aftermath of the wife’s rape.

Tragedy struck Bhaskar on October 25, 1977 when he was rehearsing for a dance performance at Purdue University and took a 35-foot fall and was paralyzed from the waist down for the remaining 26 years of his life.  He lived for a while at New York City’s Rusk  Institute, and then went back to his apartment in The Big Apple’s Upper West Side.  He did one performance from his wheelchair, but for a man who never let others even see him brush his teeth, he found the idea of performing from the chair humiliating, and would not permit himself to become anyone’s object of pity.  After his accident, he won his lawsuit against Purdue, he took to painting, wrote (but did not publish) a children’s book.  He died in 2003 at the age of 74.

Bhaskar in his later years.

Bhaskar in his later years.

Next up in this series, the life of Jadin Wong.  But before that, some comments on Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox for Nitrate Diva’s blogathon on Italian cinema.

Durston on the set of IDYB, 1969.

Durston on the set of IDYB, 1969.  Source.

We all know Durston, who passed away a couple years back at the age of 88, as the director of I Drink Your Blood.  But what else did he do?  In this post, I want to share a bit of what I found from rooting around to give a fair shake to Durston’s film career.  I’m not sure I’m any closer to feeling like I understand the man, but giving a little more on his body of work he left us is hopefully a step in the right direction.  Limiting to feature films–as opposed to his radio and TV credits (a comprehensive list of these contributions here)–in the thirty years ending in 1994, Durston acted, wrote, directed, produced or edited not quite a dozen films, from exploitation fare as in IDYB, by far his most famous film, to gay hardcore porn.  Not the most prolific career, but an interesting one, to be sure.

Some say of Durston, reflecting on films such as Stigma (1972), Blue Sextet (1970), and Felicia (1964), let alone Manhole (1978) and Boy-Napped (1975), that he, in the words of Classic TV History Blog “seems to have been one of those figures who hovered on the fringes of the movie industry for decades, carving out a marginal career with an energy that surpassed his talent.”  While Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (FAB Press, 2007) remembers Durston in a much more positive light.  Both could well be true.

According to Randall Rutledge‘s problematic book, From Movie City to Music City USA: My Journey through Showbiz and how it Works [sic] (Magic Valley Publishers, 2008), Durston started as journalism major in Missouri, but ended up a contract player in George Cukor’s Winged Victory in 1944.  Durston’s IMDB entry, which contains a lot less work and awards than Rutledge claims he accomplished–Durston did not earn seven Emmys, for example–says he was also in the cast of Winged Victory’s Broadway production.  He worked as a writer and producer on a couple of radio and television shows in the 1950s (Navy Log, Your Hit Parade), presumably learning various jobs behind the camera.

il_570xN.140569380Durston took the helm of several films in the 1960s.  First up was Felicia in 1964, but since it was not released in the US, not much info about it is readily available.  It did have a novelization (see bookcover, right) by the very prolific Michael Avallone (writing as Mark Dane), and probably the first film role by a young–he’d have been about 24 at the time–Raul Julia.  The lead was played by Louise Allbritton.

ab_251430_0_TheLoveStatueLSD was the topic of his next film, The Love Statue, in 1965. This was an early exploitation movie about the drug, and Durston actually dropped acid (under the watch of a physician) to get a better feel for his subject matter.  The name of the film was changed from The Love Drug to The Love Statue when newspapers of the day would not run ads with the former name.  In 1967 Durston directed the English dubbed version of the pathbreaking 1964 Turkish film Susuz yaz (also known as “Dry Summer,” or sometimes as “Reflections”).  However, Durston did not have anything to do with the original making of this one.

This brings us to I Drink Your Blood in 1970, which I won’t dwell on much here since I talked about it at length last time.  This film was inspired by a couple things on Durston’s mind: an article about a rabies outbreak abroad, the then-recent Manson murders, and tales from a friend who’d just emerged from a cult. These fun little vignettes come together in IDYB.  For more information on IDYB’s history, especially on the existence of several different cuts and its cult status, see Horror at the Drive-In: Essays in Popular Americana (McFarland, 2008).

The next year, Durston put out The Blue Sextet, a vampire movie starring two actors from I Drink Your Blood–Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury and John Damon.  The latter was also a producer for The Blue Sextet. Blue Sextet

In 1972, Durston’s other moderately famous film, Stigma  came out, which launched the short career of Phillip Michael Thomas, as a physician suffering horrible racist slurs while treating a super duper virulent STD in a small town:

Another I Drink Your Blood actor makes an appearance in this one: Rhonda Fultz (the pregnant and inexplicably bewigged “Molly” in IDYB)

From here, Durston’s career as a filmmaker goes into its swan song. Durston had “always had a hand in the specialized and insular netherworld of gay hardcore porn,” according to Landis and Clifford’s indispensable book, Sleazoid Express (2002).  Durston wrote and directed these last couple films under the name “Spencer Logan” and/or “David Ransom.”  In 1975 he made Boy-napped! a hardcore gay porn film starring the late Jamie Gillis-who, as it happened, passed away just a few months before Durston in 2010.  In 1978 another gay hardcore film Manhole was made, also with Gillis.  Landis and Clifford say this last film was called Manhold, not Manhole, as IMDB has it, and that it was not released because one of the cast members got a role in Escape from Alcatraz, and the association with gay hardcore would have been bad for this unspecified person’s career, as well as for Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster.  At any rate, I don’t have much elaboration on Durston’s apparent long relationship in this  “insular netherworld” of the cinema world.  Durston seems to have left cinema in the 1980s and 1990s, returning only in 1994 as the editor of Hard Drive, an independently produced softcore flick.

There’s not enough information here to get a sense of Durston as an individual, nor much about his legacy.  So to jump to the conclusion that Durston “seems to have been one of those figures who hovered on the fringes of the movie industry for decades, carving out a marginal career with an energy that surpassed his talent” seems too harsh, especially since most accounts of him dwell on his cult hit I Drink Your Blood, and them list out his other work without saying anything more about Durston or his work.  Hopefully, I’ll find more info to fill in some of the gaps here.

Next time,  I’ll see what I can find about IDYB’s main tour de force, Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, who passed away in 2003.