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Dean Torrence doppelganger shares his memories

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Actor Bruce Davison has been in front of the camera since 1969. Some consider his most noted role to be “Willard,” but his career is one of longevity and diversity. His most notable role to music fans was when he portrayed Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean in the television film “Deadman’s Curve” in 1977. Today, Bruce discusses his memories of being in that film, as well as “Return Of The Killer Shrews;” the film that reunited him with Torrence.

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DEADMAN’S CURVE

What was your initial impression of Jan & Dean?
Bruce Davison:
I certainly remember them from my teen-hood…and growing up through that era. I knew Richard Compton from my Laurel Canyon days…and came to me originally and had me in mind for Dean from the beginning. He said, “You look just like him, and I want you to be in it,” so that’s how I got the role. There was a whole enclave of us living in Laurel Canyon at the time. It was really quite an interesting thrill to meet both of them. It was particularly strange when – a lot of times – Jan thought I was Dean. We had auditioned with Don Johnson…and Richard Compton and I wanted him. The producer threatened to pull the plug, so Richard Hatch came in and he was wonderful. I really enjoyed working with him.

Jan would say to me, “Do you remember that time I took that girl away from you in Dallas?” Jan was so brilliant that you didn’t know for a while (in talking to him) that he had any trouble until he would start talking about corn being mash potatoes…but he was still a smooth operator in so many ways. The last time I saw Jan he was on roller-skates at a celebrity roller skating event…and I tried to help him out and he said, “No, I’m fine man!”

I particularly enjoyed watching you get out of the car, ask the old man for directions, and the proceed to act out as the old man. Was Dean on hand to lend ideas?
Bruce: I forget if Dean was on the set on that day…I just sort of picked it up as an improvisation. Dean was there a lot (though).

What do you remember from your scene with Wolfman Jack (who went by the name “The Jackal”)?
Bruce:
It was great because my first cross-country experience was driving across Texas from New Orleans to California. And this incredible voice came out of the vast emptiness of the desert…and I had never heard anything like it before in my life. I thought what have I been missing (living in Philadelphia and New York with Cousin Brucie) all these years? This incredible creature lives out there in the desert. He created such an aura in my imagination, that it was great to finally meet him and spend the day together.

In “Deadman’s Curve” there is a sequence where you ride a skateboard (while “Sidewalk Surfin” is playing) over a bridge… Is that really you on that skateboard?

Bruce: Nope…I had to get a stuntman there.

If that had been me on the skateboard, I would have been hit by the oncoming truck.
Bruce:
Exactly! Me too. I was young and wanted to do all of my own stunts, but when I saw how they were rigging the truck and how fast it was coming the other way I thought this could chunks of apples all over the road in a real short second.

What was it about Jan & Dean’s personal relationship that surprised you the most?
Bruce:
There was a very strong love/hate thing there the whole time. I got a real feeling that Jan was so cruel to Dean in so many ways that it was really my challenge to get through all of that and save someone you truly love. They were family, they really were. Dean got the shitty end of the lollipop several times.

Tell me about the beach scene… “Barbara Ann”…jumping on and off the piano, etc.
Bruce:
My son just recently watched the film and he said, “Gosh dad, there was actually a time when you could jump off a piano?”

What do you recall from the show at the ROXY in 1979 with Richard Hatch?
Bruce:
That was incredible! I remember Dean calling me up and asking me, “How would you like to be a rock star for a night?” [Laughs] I don’t think we added anything to the singing capacity with everybody there on stage. The whole feeling of getting to play a rock star for that period of time was really like nothing I had ever experienced before. … Being on stage with thousands of people going crazy like that is quite an experience. You’re flying close to the sun…the wings melt.

RETURN OF THE KILLER SHREWS

What was it about “Return Of The Killer Shrews” that peaked your interest to get involved?
Bruce:
It was just such a ridiculous gas that I thought this is going to be so bad that it’s gotta’ to be a lot of fun to do. I wouldn’t get another opportunity to play (a character like) Willard again. I really enjoyed filming my scenes in Batman’s cave. That cave has been used so often in so many ways.

On Wednesday, October 5, 2011 you reunited with Dean and joined him on the “Shrewd Awakening” music video. What was it like for you to see Dean after all these years?
Bruce: It was wonderful to see Dean and his daughters. It’s really interesting in our business, because we get very close to people during the course of making a film. It’s like being war buddies. You spend a lot of time together, and then you don’t see people for years…sometimes decades…sometimes you never see them again. It’s just wonderful when you meet somebody again and you just pick off where you left off. Five minutes of catch-up and then you find yourself right back where you were when you had a friendship.

With Dean, having played a real person’s life story, we were very intimate. We got to know each other quite well, and he shared so much with me that I’m sure he wouldn’t share with others. We did get very close, but that’s something you don’t lose. It was easy to get back in the groove.

When watching you bite Dean’s neck during the filming of the “Shrewd Awakening” music video I thought that’s something Dean would do.
Bruce: [Laughing] Yeah! We do have a lot in common. I owe that to Richard Compton and Paul Morantz. I knew Richard and he told me, “You are Dean! You’re the guy I want to play Dean…you’re the guy.”

Bruce Davison's official site
Jan & Dean's official site
Deadman's Curve DVD
Return Of The Killer Shrews
Shrewd Awakening music video
Shrewd Awakening digital EP
Buy the soundtrack album by The Bamboo Trading Company

©2014 David M. Beard / All rights reserved
COPYRIGHT STATEMENT: If you would like to use any portion of this article, please email requests to esqeditor@esquarterly.com.

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