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What. Were. You. Thinking!?

What. Were. You. Thinking!?

First in a series of Unlikely Media Decisions

I had a recent conversation with a friend who laughed and said, “Thank goodness I did all my crazy stuff before the internet!” Well, you can rationalize all you like but there are plenty of examples of people who made weird decisions and there’s an audio and visual record to back it up….and they have to live down. Example: Platinum Pussycat.

Poster for DVD / Tubi release

There’s a term that describes films like this and it’s called “grindhouse”. It goes back to the strip of theaters on New York’s 42nd Street near Times Square before developers realized they were wasting prime real estate that could cater to the deep pockets of tourists. Those theaters are long gone, but the typical fare offered movies that took the word “exploitation” to its limit. That included violence, a good dose of horror, and plenty of gratuitous sex. Many grindhouse films are seen as cult classics, but plenty more were a waste of time, film and talent. Once again, Platinum Pussycat ranks among the latter.

New York’s 42nd street theaters (Grindhouses)

Here’s something to keep in mind. Films can be produced anywhere, and Cleveland was no stranger to cameras. A Christmas Story, Deer Hunter, Fortune Cookie, and even The Kid from Cleveland, put Northeast Ohio in a positive light. Natalie Wood, Jackie Coogan, Desi Arnaz and Bette Davis filmed some of their final performances in Northeast Ohio, but a local actor’s chances of landing a role other than an extra was usually slim to none. Independent films offered folks with a movie career in mind a better chance, but at what price? Back in 1968, a guy named Ed Montoro joined with James Somich to jump on the secret agent craze that was made popular by James Bond, Matt Helm, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and so on.  Montoro was from Cleveland, and the International Movie Data base shows he had an interesting background prior to movies as an industrial printer, and then an airline pilot who had barely survived a major plane crash. Following the pattern of “crash and burn”, Montoro decided that his next career move was to make movies. Not much is known about Somich, but this film doesn’t add any accolades.

Opening scene of the film

What’s most surprising is the cast. It includes several big-name radio and TV people that could have deep sixed their careers if this film got more publicity, including Jeff Baxter, Jack Riley’s old partner on WERE, who uses the name Jeff Baker…as if you weren’t going to disguise him. WHK’s Carl Reese ends up getting wasted, and the credits say WJW-TV’s Bob “Hoolihan” Wells was also in the cast but he’s hard to spot. Trust me, if you missed him, it’s not easy to watch the film a second time to locate Hooley. To round out the local talent is Steve Nemeth, better known as Doc Nemo, who had a sizable following of “heads and freeks” from his progressive rock shows on ethnic stations and would start at WMMS-FM the day after his part was filmed

Jeff Baxter in scene from The Platinum Pussycat and possibly regretting his role in the film

Now, before I describe this epic, let me stress that even though it was the “Swinging Sixties”…and that can be open to interpretation…the guys we mentioned were employed and making a good living a stations owned and managed by conservative suits who didn’t want to answer for questionable acts by their employees. To be perfectly honest, Baxter and company were taking a risk if this dog became an unexpected hit. The film centers on gangsters chasing down $100,000 and facing off against Baxter in a pseudo-secret agent role. The acting is atrocious, the script makes little sense, and the final scenes will have you slapping your forehead saying, “What the…..?”. It’s shot mostly in black and white. Mostly? Some of the ridiculous sex scenes are in color. It’s anyone’s guess why.

Cleveland Zoo Monkey Island scene

There’s no question the film was shot in Cleveland with scenes outside the federal courthouse, Terminal Tower, Monkey Island at the Zoo (?), the old school board building and the Flats. If there is any reason to watch this film, unless you are interested in prominent people risking career suicide, it’s to spot vintage shots of 1960s Cleveland. Now, keep in mind that two of the four I mentioned actually had film careers. Bob Wells appeared in TV series like Superboy, and films including Summer Rental with John Candy, though most of his work would be in the B-movie category. Bob moved to Florida years ago and had a long TV and radio career in the Sunshine State. I’ve known him for a while and tried to contact him, but I made the mistake of mentioning I wanted information on Platinum Pussycat.

Finale in the Flats

Crickets.

My next stop was my old pal Doc Nemo who, like Wells, has an acting resume. He roared with laughter when I asked him about the film. “It had another name, and I’ll be damned if I remember what it was, but I was hired because I had a brand-new motorcycle! There’s that scene in the parking garage next to Kay’s Bookstore on Prospect. That’s my only scene and I’m still listed as one of the stars!” Nemo adds that bike had star power. Just a couple days after the filming he gave a ride to Marilyn McCoo of the Fifth Dimension who were appearing at Leo’s Casino that week. Nemo would go on to work with Tony Curtis and Billy Barty in Lobster Man from Mars, but is best known for the role of Bixby Snyder, the guy who says, “I’ll buy that for a dollar” in the Robocop movies. Nemo is in high demand for autograph shows just for that line. All the names I mentioned are remembered as well-respected members of Northeast Ohio’s broadcast alumni….just not for this movie.

Shootout in the Flats

The amazing thing to me is that the film had any longevity. With streaming and home video all things are possible, and it’s available for sale on various websites and free on platforms like Tubi. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Trailer for The Platinum Pussycat

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Mike Olszewski

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