Ron Mankowski: From New York to Goona, and back again
Interview by Mike Barnum
Ron Mankowski and Val Phillips
For most of the cast of Wild Women of Wongo, working on this film was a joy, and Ron Mankowski, for one, chalks up his experience as quite a thrill. Ron was a 25 year old University of Miami student when he was cast to play one of the handsome young men of Goona who are taken captive by the beautiful women of Wongo. With much of the location filming done at a botanical garden, he found himself surrounded by lush landscape as well as luscious women.
Although acting was a profession that he would have gladly gone into, he thought it more lucrative to enter the business world instead, and after earning his degree he returned home to New York where he settled down, raised five children, and worked as an electrical contractor. Currently living in Shelter Island, New York, he was very happy to share memories of his adventures on the island of Wongo.
MB: How did you become involved in Wild Women of Wongo?
RM: I was working out at Steve’s (Klisanin) gym at the time, in Coral Gables, and a casting crew came over. They were looking for bodies, and guys with enough hair on their head (laughs), to play these cavemen.
Ron Mankowski and Steve Klisanin (right) as two of the men of Goona (photo courtesy of Steve Klisanin)
MB: Do you have any recollections about the others in the cast?
RM: A lot of pretty girls! But I tell you, I didn’t know any of their names. I didn’t really get to know any of them. Now, Ed Fury was in it and he was an actor, more so then we were, but for most of us it was a one shot deal.
MB: Nobody seems to have many recollections of the director James L. Wolcott.
RM: All I can remember is that I think the man was bald and had glasses, and he kept telling me to stop over-acting! “Don’t overact, young man!” he’d said. (Laughs) You know, part of it was filmed in Fairchild Gardens and somebody had carved this castle out of sandstone or limestone someplace down in Miami where the rest of it was filmed. The thing that impressed me was that (the castle) had a stone door that must have been two feet thick, which opened up just like a closet door.
MB: What did you think of the finished movie?
RM: Well, a bunch of us went to the drive-in in South Miami and we had a ball watching it. It was a lot fun.
MB: Did you have plans on continuing your career in show business?
RM: Oh, I wanted to be an actor, sure, but at that point in time I was taking the business administration courses at the university and there was an article that I read about the Actor’s Equity and it said that less than 1% of all the actors made more than $5000 a year. Everybody else simply starved! I said “Well, that’s not for me.” But, it was fun working on this film and we had a great time. And I got a great tan running around in that loincloth! (laughs) Acting would have been fun, but there seemed to be too much politics involved.
Ron Mankowski and Steve Klisanin smile for the camera in this 1958 snapshot (photo courtesy of Steve Klisanin)
MB: I understand that you have a connection with actor Tony Curtis.
RM: I had worked in a little camp in New York called Camp Hombre and Tony was a counselor or worker there, I believe. He would put on the skits for the campers and he was very funny, and so I had an association with him there. Later he was doing a film with Cary Grant down in Key West and Steve Klisanin and I drove down to see about getting a job in the film, but it was already cast. Operation Petticoat was the name of the film. We sat and chatted with Tony Curtis when he wasn’t on the set, and that was the last time I saw him. So, that was that, and Wild Women of Wongo was my little claim to fame.