Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for Polly Platt, Who Survived Roger Corman and Much Else

The late Polly Platt is a natural choice for the letter P in the A to Z Challenge. She got her start with Roger Corman, went on to have a long and productive career, but didn’t get nearly enough credit for all she accomplished. Part of the problem is that she’s always been best known for her part in a real-life soap opera. She was married to wunderkind Peter Bogdanovich during the making of The Last Picture Show . . . and he done her wrong.

Polly and Peter were young marrieds, passionate about film, when they met Roger Corman in 1961, following a screening of Last Year at Marienbad. As Polly described it to me, “Roger wanted to make money and we wanted to make movies. It was a perfect marriage.” One of their first assignments was to take an effects-heavy Soviet film about space travel, add English-language dialogue, and incorporate new footage starring Mamie Van Doren, a large-bosomed Marilyn Monroe clone. Polly’s idea was that Van Doren and the other women added to the cast should play mermaids who cozy up to the space travelers. Polly rigged some very uncomfortable costumes out of rubber, with seashells decorating the breast area, and they chartered a boat at Venice Beach, sailing for Malibu.

Most of the mermaids got seasick en route, and -- because Van Doren was frightened of a possible shark sighting -- Polly had to double for her. The novice filmmakers made plenty of logistical mistakes, as when Polly, as production coordinator, tried to save money on rain effects. Instead of hiring a rain truck, she suggested pumping “rain” water out of ocean. But the water was full of sand, which clogged the pump machinery. Ooops. In any case, Polly and Peter survived Gill Women of Venus, which was later marketed as Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. When I first heard this story, I told Polly that it’s typical of Roger to find intelligent people with limited experience and not give them much in the way of practical information, instead saying, “Use your own best judgment.” She agreed this is exactly what happened.

Their best-known Corman collaboration was probably their first: The Wild Angels. Peter and Polly found themselves in the thick of things. They rewrote Chuck Griffith’s script (without credit), and soon Peter rose from his role as laundry-toting production assistant to become the director of second unit. He was also beaten up by the Hells Angels for real when he served as an extra in an on-camera fight scene. As for Polly, she designed the costumes, served as the stunt double for female lead Nancy Sinatra, and took seriously her role as Peter’s devoted spouse. Eventually, such experiences led to the opportunity to make Targets for Roger, after which The Last Picture Show brought them into the Hollywood mainstream. And, of course, brought Peter into Cybill Shepherd’s orbit.

Looking back at The Wild Angels, Polly remembered how puzzled she was by Roger’s behavior: “We were with Roger day and night on that picture, and we were his friends, and the remarkable thing is that even though we were with him more than anybody, there was no getting to know Roger. He was friendly, polite, pleasant, but there was no camaraderie. . . . He was literally unknowable.” She added, “He didn’t seem to take any pride in his work except how fast he could be. He bragged about that.” 


  1. A sadly unheralded talent in film. I did not know she'd done the stunt doubling for Mamie Van Doren and Nancy Sinatra (my N post subject!) I am very fond of the film Targets from 1968.

  2. I agree with you about Targets. More remarkable facts about Polly Platt: She wrote the story and screenplay for Louis Malle's Pretty Baby. She was nominated for an art-direction Oscar for Terms of Endearment. She produced Say Anything, as well as Alex Stapleton's documentary, Corman's World.