The film's release on October 21, 1949, was accompanied by a nationwide promotional fete that included the packaging by Kellogg Foods of cornflakes boxes bearing photographs of Victor in his revealing Samson costume.

Despite the criticism of such journals as the weekly Variety ("It's a fantastic picture for this era in its size, in its lavishness, in the corniness of its story telling and in its old-fashioned technique"), the public took to the film--to the tune of $11.5 million in distributors' domestic rentals. Variety further said of Victor's character, "For the kids, Samson is the greatest invention since Superman." For nightclub comedians, this Biblical epic provided the basis for many jokes, one of the more famous being, "Samson and Delilah proves one thing for certain: Victor Mature has a bigger chest than Hedy Lamarr." The colossal film and its comic-strip role may have given Victor's screen career new impetus, but it was a part that he has not yet been able to live down.

Offcamera, Victor went into the retail television business. From his dressing room (where he frequently lived whenever things got emotionally rough at home), he sold television sets at discount prices. In spite of his unconventional carryings-on throughout much of his Fox days, he confided to Aljean Harmetz in a 1971 interview in the New York Times, "I took acting five times as seriously as anyone else. I just couldn't show it. Some kind of complex, I guess. In the car, driving to a premiere, I used to be scared to death. Then the door opened and I would leap out, going like ape dung."

Of course, there were those writers and co-workers who considered Mature to be nothing more than a conceited ham. "I'm not really like that," he told J. Marks of Interview in 1972, and added: "It's my face, you see. I just have the kind of expression which makes me look as if I smelled something bad. When I used to walk into a room, unless I was wearing a great big smile, I always looked bored or self-impressed. But, to the contrary, I was generally scared. In fact, the trouble with my whole career was that I didn't stand up and say my piece like Bette Davis and other stars like that who really fought the studios and got what they wanted. Me, I was the very model of a modern major studio-owned star, doing what I was told to do and keeping my mouth shut."

To columnist Sheilah Graham, in 1949, he confessed, "I'd like to leave this picture business with $250,000. Half a million would be even better." Miss Graham named him as one of her ten favorite male stars because: "His gaiety is infectious. His energy is irresistible. He never makes plans. I love Victor because he's such a crazy, attractive, friendly son-of-a-gun."

By 1950, the bliss of the wedded Matures had degenerated into a relationship wrought with arguments and separations. One Hollywood fan magazine columnist gave an opinion: "Friends of the Vic Matures fear their near break-up may be the last." (Mrs. Mature sued for divorce in 1949, but there was a reconciliation, and she dismissed the action. After one of their quarrels in November, 1949, Victor admitted, "I've been in the doghouse all week, but that's par for us, you know. I didn't dream this was going to happen. She was home with me last night... I'm certainly surprised."

"You couldn't buy me a back scratcher if I had the seven-year itch," Betty Grable smartly informs Victor in Wabash Avenue (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1950) as she, a shimmy dancer in old Chicago, refuses the favors of the gambler he portrays. Later, when she lays a slap across his smug face, he says, "You enjoy doing that don't you?" This fast-paced musical remake of Grable's Coney Island (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1943), with Victor and Phil Harris in roles previously played by George Montgomery and Cesar Romero, has a plot that is played for fun and is not to be taken seriously. In the fourth Grable-Mature outing, Betty scampered through the ninety-two colorful minutes aided by such Mack Gordon-Josef Myrow tunes as "Down on Wabash Avenue" and the titillating "May I Tempt You with a Big Red Apple?" Ben Gage again performed Victor's soundtrack vocalizing.

After making a token guest star appearance in I'll Get By (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1950), an updated musical remake of the company's Tin Pan Alley (1940), Victor joined with Ann Sheridan in Stella (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1950). In this modest comedy, he is one of the few sane people involved in the dizzy scheme of a dizzy family to cash in on the double indemnity insurance policy of a boozed-up uncle. As the insurance investigator Victor falls in love with Ann, the daughter in the loony clan. The family's antics are orchestrated by brother-in-law Carl (David Wayne), who has buried the uncle in an old Indian cemetery, thus making the uncle's remains not so easily extractable. Carl then provides a "stand-in" for the dead man. Although Victor and Miss Sheridan shared top billing honors, their roles were actually supporting Wayne.

Back in 1947, RKO had decided to rehash the Cary Crant-Laraine Day feature, Mr. Lucky (1943), and to disguise the revamping, had acquired the rights to a gangster story. The amalgam was geared to be Victor's 1948 studio picture. However, career-conscious Victor was wary of the script as it stood, and made Easy Living instead. When RKO revived the project for the 1950 releasing season, Mature was still dissatisfied with the scenario and went on suspension in January of that year, rather than abide by Fox's ultimatum that he report to the RKO soundstages or else. RKO eventually agreed to rewrite the script to Mature's requirements, and the film, Gambling House (1950), was produced and released. In it he was foreign-born crook Marc Fury, who is acquitted of a murder rap, but is then threatened with deportation. Social worker Terry Moore enters his life and convinces him that being a law-abiding American is the nearest thing to heaven. He disavows his underworld connections and really becomes her all-American. The film was a long eighty minutes of melodramatic folderol.

Eleven months were to pass before he appeared in another film; during his screen absence he discovered the profitability of investing in real estate.

Back on the screen for Howard Hughes' RKO release, The Las Vegas Story (1952), he is a deputy sheriff involved with Jane Russell, Hughes' buxom darling of the crooked-mouth pout and the sometimes-whiney voice. Alone and together, they come into contact with murder, dice tables, Hoagy Carmichael, and Vincent Price. However, Russell's song, "My Resistance is Low," Carmichael's chirping of his own novelty tune, "The Monkey Song," and an extended helicopter-car chase did little to lighten this leaden screen offering.

It was more out of expediency than out of a desire on Victor's part that he appeared in Androcles and the Lion (RKO, 1952). George Bernard Shaw's one-hour play had been staged several times (in 1915, 1925, and 1946--it would be staged again in 1968). When it was announced that the play would be filmed, Howard Hughes allowed producer Gabriel Pascal and director-co-adaptor Chester Erskine their freedom in assembling the cast. However, the casting would undergo several changes from Pascal's and Erskine's original choices. At first, Rex Harrison was chosen to play Caesar, Jean Simmons to play Lavinia, Dana Andrews for the Captain, Robert Newton to portray Ferrovius, and--in a bit of unique casting--Harpo Marx was the choice for Androcles. But when the film was five weeks in production, the eccentric billionaire Hughes had a brainstorm; he had seen comedian Alan Young on television and decided that he, instead of Marx, would be ideal as Androcles. The filming was stopped to accommodate this casting change, and by the time production could resume, Rex Harrison was no longer available. He was replaced by Maurice Evans, and when filming finally got underway again, the new cast included Victor in the role of the Captain and Elsa Lanchester as Megaera, as well as Jean Simmons, Robert Newton, Evans, and Young.

Wabash Avenue Stella

Gambling House