|Subject: ARCHIVE: October 4, 1997 ~Affable 1960s actor John Ashley, best remembered as leads in low-budget fair, such as "Gidget", "Beach Party" and "Beverly Hillbillies", later becoming a producer, dies unexpectedly at 62, another to die alone in his car of apparent heart attack. ...
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Date Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 04:35:16pm
American actor, producer and singer. He was best known
for his work as an actor in films for American International Pictures,
producing and acting in horror movies shot in the Philippines,
and for producing various television series, including The A-Team.
(December 25, 1934 – October 3, 1997)
Born John Atchley, he was reared in Oklahoma and attended Will Rogers High School in Tulsa and Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics. While a student, Ashley visited a friend in California and accompanied him to the set of The Conqueror (1956). He was seen by John Wayne, who was impressed with the young man's good looks and guided him to a role on a TV anthology, Men of Annapolis.
American International Pictures ...
...Ashley broke into films when he accompanied a girlfriend to an audition at American International Pictures for a part in Dragstrip Girl (1957). Writer Lou Rusoff asked him if he wanted to audition as well, and he ended up getting the part; his audition included an Elvis Presley impersonation. AIP signed him to a four-picture non-exclusive contract expected to run for two years. For another company, he had a small role in Zero Hour! (1957).
Ashley was a particular favorite of the daughters of James H. Nicholson, one of the main figures at AIP, and Nicholson always hoped Ashley would become a big star. Ashley unsuccessfully auditioned for the lead in I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) but appeared in several of AIP's other movies. His second role for the studio, Motorcycle Gang (1957), was almost identical to Dragstrip Girl. By this stage, Ashley had been drafted, and production was held up until he completed his basic training.
He only served six months in the army. The studio got him an early release to appear in a war film, Suicide Battalion (1958).
...Outside AIP, he had the lead in Frankenstein's Daughter (1958) and guest starred on Jefferson Drum (1958).
He was given a cameo in AIP's How to Make a Monster (1958) at the request of Nicholson.
AIP wanted Ashley to make a film called Hot Rod Gang (1958). He was offered a part on the TV series Matinee Theatre and asked for the movie to be postponed so he could take it. However, Samuel Arkoff of AIP refused, and got an injunction preventing Ashley from appearing on TV. "I never really forgave him for that", said Ashley.
In addition to acting, Ashley also made a number of records in the late 1950s.
After his AIP contract wound up, Ashley worked steadily on TV. He was cast in the episode "Elkton Lake Feud" of the syndicated western television series Frontier Doctor, starring Rex Allen.
He also appeared in The Deputy, and The Millionaire. He returned to features with the lead in High School Caesar (1960), then was back to TV, guesting on Death Valley Days.
From 1961 to 1962, Ashley was cast in a co-starring role with the late Brian Kelly on the ABC adventure series Straightaway, set in an automobile mechanic shop and often focusing on the sport of drag racing.
He also had a semi-recurring role as one of Ellie May's suitors on The Beverly Hillbillies ...
Likely Ashley's strongest casting came in a strong part in Hud (1963), perhaps his most acclaimed film.
Beach party movies ...
Ashley was one of the few AIP lead actors who made the transition from juvenile delinquent movies to beach party films when
he was cast as Frankie Avalon's best friend in Beach Party (1963). This lead to AIP signing Ashley to another multi-picture contract.
Ashley returned in the sequels Muscle Beach Party (1964) and Bikini Beach (1964). He was not in Pajama Party (1964), but did appear in Sergeant Deadhead (1965), once again playing Avalon's best friend, as well as in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1966). He did not appear in the final "beach party" movie, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1967). These were all supporting roles.
Ashley was given a lead role for AIP's The Eye Creatures (1965), filmed in Texas for Larry Buchanan. For Allied Artists,
he played Baby Face Nelson in Young Dillinger (1965). He also appeared in a stock car racing film, Hell on Wheels (1967).
In the late 1960s, Ashley received an offer to make a film in the Philippines. As his first marriage had just broken up, he was keen to
get out of the country and accepted. He made Brides of Blood for producer Eddie Romero, then returned to Oklahoma where he ran some theaters.
A distributor friend of Ashley's found success screening Brides of Blood and suggested that Ashley return to the Philippines to make additional similar movies.
Ashley agreed and returned there to film The Mad Doctor of Blood Island as an actor and producer. He also had a role in a war film for Romero, Manila, Open City (1968).
This began a long-running association with the Philippines and producer Romero. Ashley returned to make Beast of Blood (1970) for Hemisphere Pictures.
When the owner of Hemisphere fell ill, Romero suggested to Ashley that they finance their own movie. The result was Beast of the Yellow Night (1971).
Additional funding for Yellow Night came from Roger Corman and his New World Pictures. Ashley began acting as Philippines liaison for movies shot there like Corman's The Big Doll House (1971). He starred in and produced The Woman Hunt (1972) for Romero and Corman. He and Romero made The Twilight People (1972) for Dimension Pictures.
He and Romero produced Black Mama White Mama (1973) and Savage Sisters (1974) for AIP, and Beyond Atlantis (1973) for Dimension. Ashley returned to
acting for Black Mamba (1974), but the movie was not widely seen. Neither was Smoke in the Wind (1975) which Ashley appeared in, or Sudden Death (1977).
Ashley acted as Philippines liaison for Apocalypse Now (1979). He then returned to the US in order to concentrate on his theater interests and move into American production work.
US producing career ...
Ashley launched his producing careers in the US with some Robert Conrad TV movies: Coach of the Year (1980) and Will: G. Gordon Liddy (1982).
He had a big hit with The A-Team (1983-87), and served as the narrator of the opening title sequence during the show's
first four seasons. Less successful were The Quest (1982), Something Is Out There (1988) and Hardball (1989).
Personal life ...
...Ashley married actress Deborah Walley in 1962. They had one son, Anthony Ashley, before they divorced. Ashley later married his second wife,
Nancy Moore, and had a son, Cole Ashley. He later remarried to his third wife, Jan Ashley. The couple remained married until John's death.
On October 3, 1997, Ashley died of a heart attack in New York City at the age of 62.
He had just left the set of the movie Scar City, and died in his car in the parking lot outside the studio.
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