John Ashley (actor)

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John Ashley
John Ashley 1962.JPG
Ashley in 1962
Born John Atchley
(1934-12-25)December 25, 1934
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Died October 3, 1997(1997-10-03) (aged 62)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
Nationality American
Education Will Rogers High School
Alma mater Oklahoma State University
Occupation Actor
Years active 1957–1997
Spouse(s) Deborah Walley
(m. 1964; div. 1966)

Nancy Moore
(m. 1966–??)
Jan Ashley
(m. 19??)
Children 2

John Ashley (December 25, 1934 – October 3, 1997) was an 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.

Early life[edit]

Born John Atchley, he was adopted by a doctor and his wife and reared in Oklahoma. He attended Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, where he was a champion wrestler, then went to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater on a wrestling scholarship, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics.[1]

Acting career[edit]

While a student, Ashley was holidaying in California. He visited an alumnus of his college fraternity, Sigma Chi, who was a press agent who represented Dick Powell and John Wayne. The agent took him to the set of The Conqueror (1956), where he met Wayne, who had also belonged to Sigma Chi. Wayne was impressed with the young man's good looks and set him up with an interview with William Castle.[2]

Castle was then making the TV anthology series Men of Annapolis, and was looking for someone to play a role that involved wrestling. Ashley's wrestling experience helped him get the job, and he did two episodes of the series, which helped him get an agent.[3][4]

American International Pictures[edit]

Ashley broke into films when he accompanied a girlfriend to an audition at American International Pictures for a part in Dragstrip Girl (1957), directed by Edward L. Cahn. Writer Lou Rusoff asked him if he wanted to audition as well, and he ended up getting the part as the villain; his audition included an Elvis Presley impersonation.[5] AIP signed Ashley to a four-picture non-exclusive contract expected to run for two years.[6]

Dragstrip Girl was a success relative to its small budget. Ashley became 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.[3][7]

Ashley's second role for AIP, Motorcycle Gang (1957), was almost identical to Dragstrip Girl (it was again directed by Cahn). By this stage, Ashley had been drafted, and production was held up until he completed his basic training and could go on leave.[5]

Ashley only served six months in the army, in the Presidio in San Francisco. AIP got him an early release to appear in a war film, Suicide Battalion (1958), directed by Cahn.[8]

Outside AIP, he had a small role as a singer for Paramount's Zero Hour! (1957), had the lead in Frankenstein's Daughter (1958) and guest starred on Jefferson Drum (1958) in the episode "Arrival".

Music career[edit]

In addition to acting, Ashley was also a singer. His manager, Jerry Capeheart, also managed Eddie Cochrane. Ashley made a number of records,[3][9][10] including the singles "Seriously in Love" (1958), "Let the Good Times Roll" (1958), "Born to Rock" (1958), "The Hangman" (1959) and "Little Lou" (1961).[11] Ashley would perform the occasional concert; one of his musicians for a time was Glenn Campbell.[12] Ashley later said Randy Wood, head of Dot Records, "was terrific... but the kind of music he wanted me to sing was the kind of material I really didn't feel I sang that well. He was a very clean cut image guy. He didn't necessarily want a hard rocker."[13] In 2001, the German label Hydra Records released Born to Rock, a compact disc collection of Ashley's music.[14]

Ashley was given a cameo as a singer in AIP's How to Make a Monster (1958) at the request of Nicholson.[15] Ashley later said "that was casting more or less against type at that point because I had been playing delinquents and heavies."[16]

AIP wanted Ashley to make a film called Hot Rod Gang (1958) aka Fury Unleashed, written by Rusoff and directed by Lew Landers. Gene Vincent played himself and sang several songs, as did Ashley. It was Ashley's first sympathetic lead role.

He was offered a part on the TV series Matinee Theatre, in an episode called "The Alleyway" with Janis Paige, 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.[17] "I was very upset about it. I felt they could shift the schedule one day to allow me to do it. As it turned out, and I'm sure they had their reasons, they couldn't do it." This led to Ashley refusing to re-sign his contract with AIP.[18]


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 and directed by William Witney.[19] He also appeared in the Henry Fonda show The Deputy ("The Wild Wind"), The Millionaire ("Susan Johnson", playing an aspiring singer) and Wagon Train ("The Amos Gibben Story"). Ashley thought he was often cast in Westerns because "I was from Oklahoma, and could ride, and had a bit of an accent when I first came out here. I always seemed the young Billy the Kid gunslinger."[20]

Ashley returned to features with the lead in High School Caesar (1960), playing a tyrant at high school; it was made for an even smaller budget than his AIP films and was distributed by Roger Corman's Filmgroup. He went back to TV, guesting on Death Valley Days ("The Holdup-Proof Sale").

Ashley later said that at this stage of his career, he had no interest in the production side of things. "I was just having fun doing it," he said.[21]


From 1961 to 1962, Ashley was cast in a co-starring role with Brian Kelly on the ABC adventure series Straightaway, set in an automobile mechanic shop and often focusing on the sport of drag racing. Ashley would occasionally sing.[22] It ran for 26 episodes.

Ashley did another episode of Wagon Train ("The Abel Weatherly Story"), as well as Rawhide ("Incident in the Garden of Eden"), The Beverly Hillbillies ("Elly Becomes a Secretary") and Petticoat Junction ("Spur Line to Shady Rest").[23] and guest starred on . Ashley had a part in Hud (1963), perhaps his most acclaimed film, although several of his scenes wound up being cut in the final edit.[24]

Beach party movies[edit]

Ashley was one of the few AIP lead actors who made the transition from juvenile delinquent movies to beach party films when he was called back to the studio to play Ken, Frankie Avalon's best friend in Beach Party (1963). "The wounds had healed," said Ashley later.[25] The movie was a success and AIP signed Ashley to do two more movies.[26]

Ashley returned for the sequels Muscle Beach Party (1964) and Bikini Beach (1964), playing "Johnny" (essentially the same role as in Beach Party). He guest starred on Dr Kildare in "Night of the Beast" (1964).

Ashley was not in Pajama Party (1964), but did appear in Sergeant Deadhead (1965), once again playing Avalon's best friend. He was in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), this time playing Avalon's rival. Both Sergeant Deadhead and Bingo featured Deborah Walley, whom Ashley had married in 1962.

Ashley later recalled shooting one of the beach party scenes with Avalon, saying, "Our backs were to the water camera and we were walking and talking and Frankie said, 'Man, can you believe us? Two 30-year-old guys out here in body make-up and red trunks.'"[27]

Beach Blanket Bingo was the only beach movie where Ashley had much to do. "That was the only one where there was really a character," he said. "Other than that, it was basically 'Frankie's buddy stands - the guy in the red bathing suit.'"[28]

Ashley was given a lead role for Azalea Films' The Eye Creatures (1965), filmed in Texas and directed by Larry Buchanan as a remake of AIP's Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957). Ashley later estimated his fee took up more than half the budget.

For Allied Artists, he played Baby Face Nelson in Young Dillinger (1965) alongside Nick Adams and Robert Conrad. He was reportedly going to do Three to Make Zero, a thriller with Conrad from a script by Dick Baklayan[29] but it was not made. Also announced but not made was Runaway Skis, meant to star Ashley and Walley, from a script by James Stacy and directed by Frank Paris.[30]

Ashley's final beach party movie was How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), where he played "Johnny"; he sang a few songs on the soundtrack. Ashley did not appear in the final film in the series, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), although he was originally announced as starring in it[31] and Walley did appear.

He guest starred on Conrad's show The Wild Wild West, appearing in "The Night of Watery Death", and was back on The Beverly Hillbillies in "The Cat Burglar" and "Mr. Universe Muscles".

The Philippines and Eddie Romero[edit]

In 1966, Ashley received an offer to make a film in the Philippines. As his marriage to Walley had just broken up, he was keen to get out of the country and accepted.[32] He made Brides of Blood (released 1968) for producer Eddie Romero, the second movie in Romero's Blood Island horror film series. Ashley also had a support role in a war film for Romero starring James Shigeta, Manila, Open City (1968).

Ashley starred in a stock car racing film, Hell on Wheels (1967), playing the brother of Marty Robbins.[33]

Ashley then returned to Oklahoma, where he ran some movie theaters. A distributor friend of Ashley's found success screening Brides of Blood and suggested that Ashley return to the Philippines to make a similar movie. Ashley agreed and returned there to star in The Mad Doctor of Blood Island, co-directed by Romero. It did well at the box office,[34] beginning a long-running association with the Philippines and Romero. Ashley returned to the Philippines to make a sequel to Mad Doctor, Beast of Blood (1970) for Hemisphere Pictures, directed by Romeo.

"It was a release for me, to live in the Philippines for three months a year", said Ashley. "I bought a condo there, it was like a vacation for me".[1]

Romero recalled Ashley as "very easy to get along with, very companionable."[35]


Four Associates[edit]

When the owner of Hemisphere fell ill, Romero suggested to Ashley that they finance their own movie. They formed their own company, Four Associates Ltd; its first release was Beast of the Yellow Night (1971).[36][37]

Additional funding for Yellow Night came from Corman and his New World Pictures. Corman told Ashley about The Big Doll House (1971), which he wanted to make in Puerto Rico; Ashley encouraged Corman to make it in the Philippines and the director agreed. Ashley worked as executive producer, providing the above above-the-line costs.[38] The film was a huge success and initiated a cycle of women in prison films.

Ashley starred in and produced The Woman Hunt (1972), a remake of The Most Dangerous Game, for Romero and Corman. Ashley and Romero then made The Twilight People (1972), an adaptation of The Island of Dr Moreau, for Dimension Pictures, which Ashley considered one of his favorite films.[39]

Ashley and Romero produced (but Ashley did not appear in) Black Mama White Mama (1973), a variation on The Defiant Ones, for AIP.

He appeared in and produced Beyond Atlantis (1973) for Dimension, a variation on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre starring Patrick Wayne and directed by Romero. The film was aimed at a family audience and was less violent than other Romero/Ashley films - it performed less well at the box office. [40] Ashley later said it was the only film he had money in which "didn't make it".[41]

Ashley produced and appeared in Black Mamba (1974), but the movie was not released until after Ashley's death in 1997.[42] He also acted in and produced Savage Sisters (1974) for AIP.

The Western Smoke in the Wind (1975) marked his first acting appearance in an American-shot film for a number of years; it was not widely seen.

Back in the Philippines, Ashley produced and had a support role in Sudden Death (1977), directed by Romero and starring Conrad.

Apocalypse Now[edit]

During 1975-76, Ashley acted as Philippines liaison for Apocalypse Now (1979). He said, "Fred Roos made up a list: Can you provide the following things? He used my company on a loan-out basis so he didn't have to go into the tax situation of starting a new company. One of the things we were able to provide was about a half-dozen Huey helicopters, the kind that had been used in Vietnam".[1]

Ashley spent a year working with Francis Ford Coppola and Roos on Apocalypse Now until he returned to Oklahoma to manage his theaters. By the late 1970s, the Philippines was becoming less attractive as a filming destination, and Ashley made no further films there.

Return to the US[edit]

Ashley announced he would make Cheerleaders (about three cheerleaders) and Hard Time Aces (the latter starring Conrad) for New World.[43] He did not make the films.

By this stage, Ashley had about 40 screens in Oklahoma, which he ended up selling to a major circuit. "I couldn't compete with the big boys", he said. He took about a year off, "watched my two sons play football for about a year, and then my (third) wife said, 'What are you going to do? You'll go crazy here.' So four years ago we moved to Los Angeles."[1]

Ashley went to work as a producer at Conrad's production company. He produced two TV movies starring Conrad, Coach of the Year (1980) and Will: G. Gordon Liddy (1982).[1]

The A Team[edit]

Ashley was hired by Stephen J. Cannell to work on The Quest (1982). During the filming of an episode in France, Ashley had a heart attack. "I was a little overweight, I had put on a few pounds, and I got some diet pills and they caused a spasm in my heart", he recalled.[1]

Ashley recovered, and when The Quest was canceled due to poor ratings, Cannell offered Ashley The A Team. He was one of three supervising producers, along with Frank Lupo, of a hit show that ran for 97 episodes (Ashley went from "producer" to "executive producer" for the last few seasons). Ashley also served as the narrator of the opening title sequence during the show's first four seasons and made a cameo during the first season.

"You can never predict a hit", Ashley later reflected, "but we were shooting the pilot... in Mexico, and a lot of crew members said, 'I got a feeling about this'. It's like catching lightning, this kind of success -- it only happens once in your life, finding someone like Mr. T and having him and the show become the phenomenon they have".[1]

Later career[edit]

Ashley then produced Werewolf (1987), created by Lupo, which ran for 28 episodes.[44]

He produced Something Is Out There (1988), a miniseries which led to a short-lived series.[45]

He also worked on Police Story: Gladiator School (1988) with Conrad, Hardball (1989), the TV movie Dark Avenger (1990), The Raven]] (1992) and the TV movie Journey to the Center of the Earth (1993).[46]

Ashley produced some seasons of Walker, Texas Ranger. He did another TV series for Cannell, Marker (1995), and a series starring Brian Bosworth, Lawless (1997), which was canceled after one episode.

Ashley briefly returned to acting with a small role in Invisible Mom (1996), directed by his friend Fred Olen Ray. He had previously turned down a role in the 1987 beach party parody Back to the Beach.[47]

His last film as producer was Scar City (1998).

Personal life[edit]

Ashley married actress Deborah Walley in 1962. They had one son, Anthony Ashley, before they divorced in 1967.[48][49] 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 his death.[50]

Ashley was a noted fundraiser for President Lyndon B. Johnson.[51]


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.[52]

Selected filmography[edit]


Unmade projects[edit]

  • Thorns of Bonaparte (1967)[53]

Select discography[edit]


  • "Let Yourself Go-Go-Go"/"Bermuda" (August 1957, Intro Records)
  • "Pickin' on the Wrong Chicken"/"Born to Rock" (May 1958, Dot Records)
  • "Seriously in Love"/"I Want to Hear It from You" (1958, Silver Records)
  • "My Story"/"Let the Good Times Roll" (December 1958, Dot Records)
  • "The Hangman"/"The Net" (April 1959, Dot Records)
  • "I Want To Hear It From You"/"Seriously In Love" (December 1959, Silver Records)
  • "Cry of the Wild Goose"/"One Love" (March 1960, Silver Records)
  • "Little Lou"/"I Need Your Lovin'" (May 1961, Capehart Records)

Compilation albums[edit]

Born to Rock (2001, Hydra Records)

From Hot Rod Gang[edit]

  • "Believe Me" (1958)
  • "Annie Laurie" (1958)
  • "Hit and Run Lover" (1958)

From How to Stuff a Wild Bikini[edit]

  • "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" (1965) - sung in the film
  • "That's What I Call a Healthy Girl" (1965) - sung in the film
  • "The Boy Next Door" (1965) - cover version of song from the film
  • "After the Party" (1965) - cover version of song from the film
  • "Follow Your Leader" (1965) - cover version of song from the film

Other songs[edit]

  • "You Gotta Have Eee-Ooo"
  • "Don't Let Them Tear Us Apart"
  • "Mean Mean Woman"
  • "Can't Let You Go"


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Kelley, B. (1985, Mar 17). ASHLEY FINALLY MAKES THE TEAM. Sun Sentinel Retrieved from
  2. ^ Lamont p 20
  3. ^ a b c Tom Lisanti, Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969, McFarland 2005, p353-354
  4. ^ Lamont p 20-21)
  5. ^ a b Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p134
  6. ^ 'Calypso Joe' Exploits New Craze; Cameron, Mary Murphy to Costar Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 30 Jan 1957: C7.
  7. ^ Herman Cohen, producer of Werewolf does say that Ashley never auditioned. See Tom Weaver, "Interview with Herman Cohen" Archived 2012-03-08 at the Wayback Machine. accessed 17 December 2012
  8. ^ George Pal to Delve Into Space Again; Akim Tamiroff Aids 'Colonel' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 Oct 1957: B11.
  9. ^ Billboard - 3 Nov 1958 "Dot's Randy Wood is recording four sides with singer-actor John Ashley to bring Wood's personal a.&r. tally to the 80-side level during the past two weeks. "
  10. ^ Billboard - 8 Dec 1958 - Page 36 "JOHN ASHLEY My Story DOT 15878— John Ashley sells this ballad about young love with fervor accompanied by a vocal group and real beat. A strong side by the lad that could step out. "
  11. ^
  12. ^ Lamont p 22
  13. ^ Lamont p 24
  14. ^
  15. ^ Tom Weaver, "Interview with Herman Cohen" accessed 17 December 2012
  16. ^ Weaver p 38
  17. ^ Gary A. Smith , American International Pictures: The Golden Years, Bear Manor Media, 2013 p 82
  18. ^ Lamont p 23
  19. ^ ""Elkton Lake Feud", May 16, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  20. ^ Lamont p 25
  21. ^ Weaver p 39
  22. ^ MacMINN, A. B. (1961, Oct 22). Music, music, music. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  23. ^ "No title". The Canberra Times. 39, (11,062). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 25 January 1965. p. 15. Retrieved 26 December 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  24. ^ Lamont p 23
  25. ^ Lamont p 23
  26. ^ Grand Guignol Set at Vine St. Cabaret: Huston 'Sells' Kipling Yarn; Sinatra, AIP Think Young Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 July 1963: D11.
  27. ^ Weaver p 40
  28. ^ Lamont p 23-24
  29. ^ Irene ryan to play mother, not granny. (1964, Oct 31). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  30. ^ Hopper, H. (1964, Dec 19). Notables return to cinema capital. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  31. ^ Martin, B. (1965, Jul 03). MOVIE CALL SHEET. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  32. ^ Weaver p41
  33. ^ Martin, B. (1967, Mar 14). Burke, bixby given roles. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  34. ^ Weaver p43
  35. ^ Leavold, Andrew (2006). "Strong Coffee with a National Treasure:An Interview with Eddie Romero". Cashiers du Cinemart. 
  36. ^ --LINDA GROSS. (1973, Dec 22). MOVIE REVIEW. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  37. ^ Weaver p 43
  38. ^ Weaver p 43
  39. ^ Weaver p 44
  40. ^ Murphy, M. (1972, Dec 26). MOVIE CALL SHEET. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  41. ^ Weaver p 44
  42. ^ Poggiali, Chris (20 January 2011). "Slinking Through the Seventies: An Interview with Marlene Clark". Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  43. ^ Kilday, G. (1977, Nov 23). FILM CLIPS. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  44. ^ WHAT'S THE 'WEREWOLF' STORY? (1987, Jun 07). Chicago Tribune (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from
  45. ^ Hill, M. E., & Brennan, P. (1988, May 08). Something is out there'. The Washington Post (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from
  46. ^ Kamhis, J. (1992). 'Raven' wrests prime-time nest. Pacific Business News, 30(13), 7. Retrieved from
  47. ^ Lamont p 25
  48. ^ Dorothy Manners:. (1967, Feb 07). Police cool katleman's 'happening'. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) Retrieved from
  49. ^ Scott, Vernon (April 25, 1968). "Divorcee Deborah Walley In No Hurry To Remarry". Hawkins County Post. p. 2. Retrieved December 23, 2012. 
  50. ^ Caitlyn Ashley, John Ashley's granddaughter
  51. ^ By, P. B. (1965, Aug 29). Liberals vs. their movies. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  52. ^ Lentz, Harris M. (1997). Obituaries in the Performing Arts. McFarland. p. 9. 
  53. ^ Senta to Play Secret Agent Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 22 Apr 1967: 19.


  • Lamont, John (1990). "The John Ashley Interview Part 1 1956-1965". Trash Compactor (Volume 2 No. 5 ed.). p. 20-26. 
  • Weaver, Tom, "Interview with John Ashley", Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: Writers, Producers, Directors, Actors, Moguls and Makeup, McFarland 1988

External links[edit]