On this date the American actor and writer TOM TRYON was born (d. 1991). Tryon was most famous as the Walt Disney television character Texas John Slaughter (1958-1961), as well as author of several science fiction, horror, and mystery novels. He was born Thomas Tryon in Hartford, Connecticut and is usually credited and listed as an author under his birth name.
Tryon’s film roles were mostly in B-horror and science fiction films, most notably I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958) and Moon Pilot (1962) and in westerns, especially Three Violent People (1956), with Charlton Heston, The Glory Guys and a remake of Winchester ’73 (1967). His best role, however, is considered by many to have been in the 1965 film, In Harm’s Way, which is itself considered one of the best films set in the period of World War II. He also appeared, among many other stars, in The Longest Day, one of the central films of the World War II generation. Darryl F. Zanuck saved 20th Century Fox with it, after the disaster of Cleopatra.
In 1962 Tryon was cast to play the role of Stephen Burkett (“Adam”) in the unfinished Marilyn Monroe-Dean Martin comedy film, Something’s Got to Give, directed by George Cukor, but lost that role after Monroe was fired from the movie. The part went to Chuck Connors when the film was finally completed as Move Over, Darling with Doris Day and James Garner. (Completed footage from the Monroe version has recently been released on video and DVD in the documentary Marilyn: The Final Days.)
He was also considered but eventually passed over for the role of Janet Leigh’s lover, Sam Loomis, in the classic thriller, Psycho. Television roles included the Texas John Slaughter series which ran on The Wonderful World of Disney in the 1950s (based on actual historical figure John Slaughter), guest appearances on The Virginian and The Big Valley, and a live television performance of The Fall of the House of Usher. He also co-wrote a song, “I Wish I Was,” which appeared on an obscure record by Dick Kallman, star of the short-lived and now largely forgotten 1965 television sitcom, Hank.
Tryon was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1963 for his role in The Cardinal, but the honor barely compensated for the trauma and abuse he suffered at the hands of director Otto Preminger. At one point during filming, Preminger actually fired Tryon in front of his parents when they visited the set, then rehired him after being satisfied that Tryon had been sufficiently humiliated. Disillusioned with acting, Tryon retired from the profession in 1969 and began writing horror and mystery novels. He was successful, overcoming skepticism about a classically handsome movie star suddenly turning novelist.
His best-known work is The Other (1971), about a boy whose evil twin brother may or may not be responsible for a series of deaths in a small rural community in the 1930s. The novel was adapted as a film the following year, starring Diana Muldaur, Uta Hagen, and John Ritter. Harvest Home, about the dark pagan rituals being practiced in a small New England town, was adapted as The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, an insanely campy television mini-series starring Bette Davis in 1978. An extensive critical analysis of Tryon’s horror novels can be found in S. T. Joshi’s book The Modern Weird Tale (2001).
His other novels include Crowned Heads, a collection of novellas inspired by the legends of Hollywood. The first of these novellas, Fedora, about a reclusive former film actress whose relationship with her plastic surgeon is similar to that between a drug addict and her pusher, was later filmed by Billy Wilder. Though the film was only moderately successful, it is considered by many to be a minor classic of the thriller and horror genres. Another novella in the collection was based on the murder of Gay silent screen star Ramon Novarro. Lady, written in 1975, concerns the friendship between an eight-year-old boy and a charming widow in 1930s New England and the secret he discovers about her. Many consider this to be Tryon’s best work. His 1989 novel Night of the Moonbow tells the story of a boy driven to violent means by the constant harassment he receives at a summer boys camp. Night Magic, written in 1991 and posthumously published in 1995, is currently slated for a screen adaptation.
During the 1970s, Tryon was in a romantic relationship with Clive Clerk, one of the original cast members of A Chorus Line and an interior designer who decorated Tryon’s Central Park West apartment, which was featured in Architectural Digest.
Tryon was also involved in a relationship with Calvin Culver, also known as Casey Donovan, the Gay porn star. Tryon reportedly spoke of an unseen lover throughout his life, a lover he had dubbed “Patrick Norton.” This Patrick resided in the dreams and imagination of Tryon and is the basis for many of his characters (all of which, notably, die horrific deaths.) Tryon continued writing through the 1980s and 1990s, before dying at the age of sixty-five from stomach cancer.