Brett Halsey Art or Instinct in the Movies Review
Book reviewed by Phil Hardcastle
A foreword by Sir Christopher Frayling and opening notes from Clint Eastwood and legendary agent and manager Jay Bernstein are evidence (if any were needed) not only that Brett Halsey’s career has been a significant one but also of how highly he is regarded by his friends and peers in the world of cinema. In John B. Murray’s biography of the man, Brett Halsey: Art or Instinct in the Movies, we get a very personal look at Halsey’s life, both on screen and off and for a fan of commercial Italian cinema from the Golden Age of the 1960s it makes for a very interesting story indeed.
Halsey’s career is a unique one in that he has appeared in almost every type of film imaginable, both in Hollywood and Europe, as well as working in U.S. TV in everything from his own action drama in the early 60s to guest spots on such diverse shows as The Love Boat and Buck Rogers to regular stints on daytime soaps like Search For Tomorrow and General Hospital. He has also found time to work as a producer, scriptwriter and novelist. Murray’s book takes us on a journey through all of the above. Starting with his childhood the book covers each stage in Halsey’s long and diverse career, separating the story into bite size thematic chunks, both professional and personal. This is clearly a labour of love for Murray who admits to being a lifelong fan of Halsey’s. But it would be unfair to consider this merely a fanboy project. The author, who has previously published books on Robert Vaughn and Michael Reeves has done his research well and spent considerable time not only with Halsey but also interviewing many other names who crossed paths with the actor over the years. Most interesting perhaps for fans of Italian genre films would be Henry Silva who amusingly credits Halsey for introducing him to a lot of women while he was in Rome.
But much of the book is made up of direct quotes from Halsey himself and it is his memories and anecdotes which make the book genuinely interesting. Because his career spanned such diverse times and places there are innumerable mentions of actors like James Dean, Audie Murphy and Vincent Price and directors such as Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and William Wellman. Halsey was witness to some of the most interesting times in commercial cinema; the end of the Hollywood studio system, the rise of TV in the 50s and of course the rise and fall of Italian genre films. As a result his well of material is almost bottomless and is only limited by Halsey’s gentlemanly nature. This is not a kiss and tell book and if you are hoping for some insider sleaze you will be disappointed. His marriages are discussed (there have been five of them) but no personal coals are raked over. If there are any. It seems that Halsey remained on good terms with all his exes including bombshell actress Luciana Paluzzi and German singing star Heidi Bruhl. In fact a running theme throughout the book seems to be Halsey’s intrinsically nice naturedness and popularity. Jay Bernstein’s quote at the beginning of the book appears to sum up the actor’s character while also explaining the path of his career.
“ To be successful in Hollywood you need strong friends. To be very successful you need to make enemies. Brett couldn’t make any enemies.”
If I were to look for any real criticism of the book it would be that Murray’s thematic chapters sometimes confuse the chronology of the story. The chapters on his marriages, lost opportunites and offscreen scenes for example jump ahead when the reader is getting used to a certain pattern. From an Italian film fan’s perspective also the chapters on his Italian years could have been more extensive. But this is small matter. In general the book had more than enough to keep me turning the pages and the chapters on his Italian years, while somewhat brief, were full of interest for me and I suspect would be for other Eurocult fans.
As Christopher Frayling states in the forward, an appreciation of Halsey was long overdue. Murray’s book has finally put that right and is well worth a read for any fan.--Phil H 23:05, 7 December 2009 (UTC)