I've heard Teri McMinn mention that it was thanks to her picture appearing in the local Austin, TX newspapers that she was cast in the meathooked role of Pam in the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (hereafter: TCM). She said that at the time, she was appearing on stage with the actor who played Sgt. Carter on the Gomer Pyle television series.
Wait. What? You mean Frank Sutton?
I'm a '60s sitcom kid. GOMER PYLE, U.S.M.C. (hereafter: GP) was one of my "never miss" programs. It was a top ten ratings monster for its entire five year run. GP's viewership was was absolutely staggering.
Let's see... Frank Sutton/GP... Teri McMinn/TCM... both co-starring in a play. I had to know the backstory.
The role of Drill Sgt. Vince Carter opposite a bumbling Jim Nabors provided Sutton with a steady paycheck for five TV seasons. It was a role that ultimately typecast him. GP left the CBS Television Network in the spring of 1969. By mid-1973 when Tobe Hooper and company were casting TCM, Sutton was augmenting his sporadic TV income by hitting the dinner theater circuits. Lots of travel, but his popularity was such that his appearance could easily fill seats.
Meanwhile, Teri McMinn was a student at St. Edward's University. On the campus is the Mary Moody Northen Theatre, a venue that serves students well as a professional arena to hone their skills. During the summer, it would offer an eight-week theater apprentice program for aspiring area talent. The main draw was the participation of celebrities, a rather exciting opportunity where New York and Hollywood expertise came to you.
For the 1973 lineup, Sutton was the first of three celebrity actors who were booked that summer. The other two were Mercedes McCambridge and Peter Breck. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, a 1965 adaptation of a French play, starred Sutton and ran from June 19-July 1. Teri McMinn was no stranger to the Mary Moody Northen Theatre stage. She'd performed there many times. The reviews were positive and McMinn was singled out as an excellent performer. She returned to the campus stage to co-star with Peter Breck in THE RAINMAKER which started Aug 7th. It was during this period when TCM was in production. McMinn said in her interview that she'd met and performed with many celebrities thanks to this experience.
As for Sutton, he continued appearing on stage in between scant TV gigs such as LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE and two TV movies. His son, Joseph, was attending Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and his younger daughter, Amanda, was still in elementary school. He was fortunate to still be in demand, even if it meant time away from home.
By the spring of 1974, Sutton had hit the road again to appear in LUV, a 1964 Tony Award-nominated comedy that was also made into a 1967 feature film starring Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk. In late May, he arrived in Shreveport, Louisiana to begin rehearsals at the Beverly Barn Dinner Playhouse. LUV was scheduled to open Jun 11 for three preview nights and officially begin its month long run on June 14. Locals enjoyed the presence of a familiar face that they'd invited into their homes for so many years. Sutton charmed the local media, as well.
On the night of June 28, 1974, Sutton was in his dressing room waiting to go on stage when he suffered a fatal heart attack. His wife, Toby, and his daughter had joined him in Shreveport when the horror of losing a husband and father unfolded. It was left to his co-star, Elizabeth Ives, to go on stage and tell the audience that the show was canceled due to Sutton's passing.
The Beverly Barn went into revenue replacement mode. After all, the show must go on. With such a horrible tragedy occurring on their premises and having to close down for a week, it was none other than fellow CBS sitcom colleague, Bob Crane, who hauled the two act play, BEGINNER'S LUCK, down to Shreveport to bridge the theater's scheduling gap. Crane had been successfully booking BEGINNER'S LUCK throughout the country. Even though he'd been performing in it a few years prior, he'd bought the rights in 1973 and took over as its director. It was a quick solution to the Beverly Barn's dilemma.
Crane, of course, would also die while hustling on the dinner theater trail. He was still milking BEGINNER'S LUCK in Scottsdale, Arizona when he was murdered in the wee hours of June 29, 1978 in an apartment the theater rented for its visiting star talents. It was exactly four years and one day after Sutton had died.
An interesting aside to the Sutton and Crane connection are the exterior set locations of their respective hit series, HOGAN'S HEROES (hereafter: HH) and GP. Both were situated on Desilu's "Forty Acres" backlot in Culver City. The sets were adjacent to one another, literally walking distance apart. In this aerial view of the lot's western-most area, HH's Stalag 13 is on the left, seen during a filming day (note the many parked cars, trailers, etc.). At the right are the Quonset huts that comprised GP's Camp Henderson.
Thank you for reading. We return you now to your regularly scheduled surfing.