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ADAMS, NICK
(Nicholas Adamshock 1931–1968). American actor.

IMDB credits "Johnny Yuma was a rebel, he roamed the West ...." If the words to this theme song bring back memories of its melody, you identify yourself as someone not particularly young, and as someone not particularly a connoisseur of quality television, because The Rebel (1959–1961) was a pretty lousy series, and lead performer Nick Adams was a pretty lousy actor. Yet improbably, the short-lived series was successful enough to establish Adams as a star, and a prescient viewer might have predicted at the time that he would someday earn a place in the annals of science fiction film. After all, once you link together the phrases "handsome young actor," "absolutely no talent," and "briefly famous," it is almost inevitable that "recurring star of bad science fiction movies" will be added to the string.

The only quality that Adams could persuasively project on film was a desperate desire to be popular, to be liked. Initially, one is virtually forced to respond positively to this insistent congeniality, which helps to explain why Adams got his foot in many doors; but his one-note, puppy-like eagerness to please can also become very tiresome very quickly, which helps to explain why Adams always wore out his welcome and had to move on.

As part of the steadily downward spiral that defined his career in the 1960s, Adams made the rounds as a television guest star; I unfortunately missed his contributions to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea ("Turn Back the Clock" in 1964) and The Wild, Wild West ("The Night of the Two-Legged Buffalo" in 1966, and "The Night of the Vipers" in 1968), but his inept, strained heroism in "Fun and Games," a 1964 episode of The Outer Limits, stood out in a series that usually relied on skilled performers shrewdly cast. He took a break and traveled to England to serve as the romantic lead in the Jerry SOHL-scripted Die, Monster, Die (1965—later retitled Monster of Terror), but even a decrepit, indifferent Boris KARLOFF effortlessly upstaged him. At this point, the only voices answering his agent's phone calls were in Japanese, so Adams dutifully packed his bags and flew to Tokyo to serve as the token Caucasian star who would lure American viewers to two Ishirô HONDA epics. In Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), Adams seems annoyed by the unusually inane plot and makes no attempt to transcend his characteristic mediocrity. But Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965—also known as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and other titles) is an anomaly; as if Adams was anxious to land a contract for a third Honda film that never materialized, he throws his heart and soul into this initially serious space adventure that degenerates into an interplanetary duel of rubber-suited monsters, trying ever so hard to show how much he likes all his Japanese friends and how much he cares about the urgent need to prevent evil aliens from conquering the world. It still doesn't qualify as great acting, but if an actor can make you feel for him, even for all the wrong reasons, you have to concede that he has done something to earn his salary.

After returning to America for the rarely seen, and utterly dreadful, Mission Mars (1968), Adams was then caught up in the most involving drama of his career: his sudden, unexpected death at the age of thirty-seven. The most probable cause of death would seem to be suicide by means of a deliberate overdose of a prescription drug he was taking, but skeptics have murmured that Adams couldn't possibly have taken his own life because he was—get this—scheduled to fly to Rome to star in a new Italian movie, precisely the sort of assignment to fill the heart of a former Academy Award nominee with unalloyed ecstasy. Yet it requires a certain amount of mental toughness to follow in the footsteps of Cameron MITCHELL and John SAXON, endlessly working as the only American in forgettable foreign films, and Adams may have been horrified to see his career turning in that direction, since it would require him to be constantly separated from his family as he traveled from country to country, constantly striving to impress new filmmakers and new audiences. And, if suicide wasn't the cause, who in the film community could have been angry enough at Adams to arrange for his murder? After all, if incompetent acting was enough to inspire homicides, the streets of Hollywood would be strewn with corpses. Conspiracy theorists can spin their webs, then, but I strongly suspect that Adams had simply worn himself out in his ceaseless efforts to find a home on a set, any set, to keep trying to make a living as an actor when he really couldn't act. His short, unhappy life ultimately invites consideration as another Hollywood horror story, far more affecting than anything Adams ever portrayed on the screen.

Still, even if he never managed to provide the world with a genuinely memorable film performance, Adams can be credited with one lasting achievement which is unusual in the company he kept: he remained married until his death to the same woman, actress Carol Nugent (who he undoubtedly met when she made a 1959 guest appearance on The Rebel), and the couple raised two well-adjusted children, Alysson Adams and Jeb Stuart Adams, who went on to enjoy film careers of their own, though both have been relatively inactive since the 1990s. And his children were evidently quite fond of their father, inasmuch as Alysson Adams sent me an email, in response to the original version of this entry, describing me as "a cruel and nasty commentator." Well. I prefer to see myself as a necessarily truthful commentator; for life is short, people can only watch so many films and television programs, and however much one might admire Adams as a good husband and attentive father, I cannot in good conscience advise anyone to waste any time watching any of his film appearances.

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