Thursday, March 7, 2013

Stars of Public Domain: Johnny Sands & THE BASKETBALL FIX (1951)

Before Franke & Annette; before BEACH BLANKET BINGO; indeed, before Tommy Sands, there was Johnny Sands, nee Elbert John Harp, Jr. and of Lorenzo, Texas. Young Elbert had apparently hitchhiked to Los Angeles where he found employment as a cinema usher. But Elbert loved the beach and it was there, in Santa Monica, that he was spotted by a talent scout. He reportedly chose the name "Sands" to commemorate the discovery on that Southern California beach.

The newly named Johnny Sands played the boyfriend of an awkwardly adolescent Shirley Temple in THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER (1947), a supporting role if a prominent one, but he was star-billed in something called BORN TO SPEED (1947), and later played the title role in ALADDIN AND HIS LAMB (1952).Sands, alas, never enjoyed the success of other hunky bobbysox idols like Guy Madison or Bill Williams.

By the time of THE BASKETBALL FIX, Johnny wasn't even the top male ingenue - that honor going instead to Van Johnson lookalike Marshall Thompson - but played a dim country club lifeguard completely baffled when would-be femme fatale Hazel Brooks tells him that she would learn how to swim quite easily considering that she's a Pisces. Marshall Thompson, meanwhile, is a semi-professional basketball player getting himself in trouble with a match fixing racket headed by Miss Brooks' boyfriend, William Bishop. Enter muckraking reporter John Ireland and everything works out in the end. Naturally, considering that this is the early 1950s, the basketball world is a lily-white world of young WASPS.

Johnny Sands ended his seven year or so screen career playing Clayton "Lone Ranger" Moore's sidekick in a dreary Republ, JUNGLE DRUMS OF AFRICA (1953). Perhaps in an attempt to escape playing dimwitted lifeguards for the rest of his life, or simply out of embarrassment of being caught in the dreaded serial department, Sands billed himself Johnny Spencer this time only.
§After that he sought greener pastures selling real estate in Hawaii. He died age 75 in Ainaloa, HI.

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