I love stories about about totally random things that are somehow connected. Today’s tale is one like that.
We are going to start back in 1976 with the film The Shootist. According to IMDB.com, John Wayne’s final feature is about “a dying gunfighter [who] spends his last days looking for a way to die with a minimum of pain and a maximum of dignity.
That seems pretty interesting (and appropriate for his last role), but we are going to look at one scene in particular.
One night, as Wayne’s character lies in bed, he hears someone sneaking around his house.
The actor taking the bullet from The Duke is named Jonathan Goldsmith.
After completing work on this film, he continued to work through most of the 80’s, on seemingly every drama from the decade. Knots Landing, Dallas, Murder, She Wrote, Knight Rider, MacGyver, Highway to Heaven, St. Elsewhere. The guy even did a voice on the cartoon The Littles for thirteen episodes. The name may not mean much to you, but you may find him a bit more interesting by the time we’re done.
Now, let’s flash-forward to 1985.
A particular song swept through the nation those summer months. It peaked at No. 58 on the Billboard charts in August, but everyone knew the three-word title.
Summer of ‘69?
People Are People?
Power of Love?
Wow, looking at this now, we could have called this the summer of three-word songs.
Just looking at one week in August, in addition to those, we had Dress you Up, Walking on Sunshine, Freeway of Love, Lay It Down, What About Love, You’re Only Human, Money for Nothing and a personal favorite – Weird Al’s Like a Surgeon.
There were also a few tricky songs with two three-word titles: Bang A Gong (Get It On), St, Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion).
All told, 25% of that weeks chart consisted of three-word song titles. I don’t know what that means, but it feels like it should be significant.
While you think about the answer, let me tell you one thing.
You Look Marvelous
That’s right. Fernando-mania was sweeping the nation that summer. Unfortunately, most of the song’s fan-base had no idea who Fernando was.
His name was Lamas.
No, not llamas. Lamas. Fernando Lamas.
Yes, father of Lorenzo, but also so much more.
Fernando Lamas was An Argentinian-born actor and director who, after much success in Argentina, came to the U.S. in 1949. He immediately signed a deal with MGM.
His charm and the mystery behind Hollywood’s newest “Latin Lover” served him well. within a few years, he was starring alongside such women as Jane Powell, Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor.
By the way, before arriving in the U.S., he was a swimming champion in his native Argentina. It seems they found every opportunity they could to take his shirt off.
He also enjoyed working behind the camera and directed a number of TV episodes from such shows as SWAT, Falcon Crest and Starsky and Hutch. He even did eight episodes of Wayne Rogers’ House Calls.
Lamas was also a semi-regular on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. IMDB shows him having appeared 68 times between 1969 & 1980.
I started loving Fernando Lamas on The Tonight Show with Johnny because he was so suave. And he would come out and start talking to Johnny and everything was so Spanish. He always had a great tan, that George Hamilton hair, the double blazer with no tie. The light pants with no socks… Those Italian loafers that were… the really good leather.
While some talk show appearances help to humanize a celebrity, Lamas’ visits helped turn him into a bit of a legend. Much of what he said and did seem unthinkable in today’s #MeToo world, but they were very much a product of the times.
He would openly (sometimes quite suggestively) flirt with other guests and speak about his romantic exploits. He would frequently tell stories of his various exploits and adventures over the years.
Billy Crystal’s version, like most parodies, was not meant to be a realistic as much as just capturing the essence of who Lamas was. Crystal often cites his Fernando moments from Saturday Night Live as his favorite because he was given total freedom to be as wild as possible. His version of Fernando was an object of desire for every woman and the subject of disdain of every man.
Well, almost every man. Remember Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor from earlier? They met while Lamas was directing an episode of The Rookies in 1975. “I am looking for a crazy motherf–ker,’ and I think you are perfect,” Lamas told him. That began a wondrous friendship that lasted until Lamas’ death in 1982.
“Fernando was impeccable, wearing a jacket with an elegant monogrammed silk shirt and loafers. He had a deep tan and luxurious, shining hair. He was the epitome of a movie star.”Jonathan Goldsmith
The two spent time together on an almost daily basis, with Lamas often leading the charge, regaling him with tales of adventure so outlandish, people would often wonder what was true and what was fictional. To Goldsmith, though, it didn’t matter.
Perhaps the friendship was solidified because Goldsmith had his own wild stories to share. For example, according to Goldsmith, he used to frequent a coffee shop inside the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, mostly because it was always filled with “the most beautiful array of starlets.”
Soon, Goldsmith learned why – the women were visiting because Warren Beatty lived in the penthouse of the hotel and they were all hoping to meet and spend some time with him. Seeing opportunity, Goldsmith would often approach the young ladies with the line, “Warren is tied up at the moment, but he asked me to buy you a drink.”
Like Lamas, Goldsmith was also quite the ladies man, and claims to have had an intense relationship with Tina Louise (Ginger from “Gilligan’s Island“).
She was the most beautiful woman I had ever been with. She had such great stamina I was afraid I would have a heart attack by the third or fourth round . . . She refused to stop. She was a true beauty, tall, elegant, with a cool distance and complete, unfettered surrender.Jonathan Goldsmith
For a while, Lamas & Goldsmith were inseparable. They found many shared interests, especially sailing. In fact, when Lamas passed away, his ashes were spread from Goldsmith’s boat.
Flash forward again – this time to 2006. Goldsmith, once elbow-to-elbow with celebrities, had retired from the industry and had created a $150 million car wash business.
Unfortunately, that also collapsed. Now broke and homeless, no longer married and with few prospects, he heard about an audition and figured he’d give it one last go.
Entering the audition, he was amazed to see a line of actors out the door and around the block, most of them young and Latino. As a Jewish man in in 60’s, he felt completely out of place. His agent had told him that the company had wanted a “Hemingway kind of guy” for their new beer commercials.
The audition was simple. He was asked to come up up with an improv describing some of his life’s adventures, and ending with the line, “…And that’s how I came to arm-wrestle Fidel Castro.” They were obviously looking for someone with a Latino vibe, so Goldsmith called upon his old friend.
I thought about him and how funny he was and how charming and a great raconteur, so I put on my best Fernando imitation and they started laughing.Jonathan Goldsmith
The folks at Dos Equis loved him, but felt they needed to go younger. After some discussion, though, they realized that The Most Interesting Man in the World (TM) needed to be more mature.
He played the role for ten years, appearing all of their print and television ads, until the character was retired in 2016. During that time, though, Goldsmith added to his journeyed resume.
Elite athletes asked for a selfies with him, Leonardo DiCaprio crossed a restaurant just to shake his hand. President Obama invited him to be the guest of honor at Obama’s 50th Birthday celebration at Camp David.
He still makes personal appearances and commercials, but also spends time on philanthropic endeavors near his Vermont home. That is, when he’s not entertaining his eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
I have no doubt he’s sharing the kinds of stories that would make Fernando proud.
Stay thirsty, my friend. You do, indeed, look marvelous.