From stardom to jail cell
Actor finds his life took unplanned turn
The road from Zabriskie Point should have been a route not taken for Mark Frechette, star of the 1970 Antonioni film of that name and now an accused felon.
Still, darkly handsome, his hair bushy but short, an inchoate mustache ornamenting his lip, a chain-smoking Frechette, 25, surveyed his circumstances last week and he was afraid.
"I don't know how this thing is going to turn out," he said. "It just went so fast, and look where I am now," he said, gesturing to the peeling yellow walls on the second floor of the condemned Charles Street Jail.
The "it" Frechette referred to was both a specific event and a blur of history that led the young star of the acclaimed director's movie from the glitter of Hollywood to the clatter of tin cups and iron bars.
Specifically, Frechette was arrested last Wednesday inside the Roxbury branch of the New England Merchants National Bank, which police say he and two others were attempting to rob at gunpoint.
One of the three, Christopher Thien, 25, of Auburn, Wash., was shot dead by a Boston patrolman, summoned to the scene by a silent alarm.
Frechette and Sheldon T. Bernhard, 31, claimed to have met Thien only a week before. Both men pleaded innocent to armed robbery charges the day after their arrest.
But when asked what brought the three men together Frechette, shaking his head, said: "Just say a dream, a crazy dream."
To many people, Frechette was the American dream fulfilled and in no need of any new reveries. Work, maybe, more dreams, no.
While thousands of young men bus tables, take bit parts, scheme, connive and hope waiting for lightning to strike, Frechette, who could not have cared less, was "discovered."
The story which he said last week was fairly accurate is that Frechette, an apprentice carpenter, was standing at a Roxbury bus stop in 1968, kibitzing during an argument between a sailor and a woman.
But he became more actively involved in the fight, and Frechette found himself expressing strong hostility and berating another person, then pushing and shoving.
Suddenly, Frechette was grabbed from behind by a man who snapped, "How old are you?" A bewildered Frechette answered and the man dragged him into a limousine and said, beaming at a female companion: "He's 20 and he hates."
Frechette, born in Boston and until then heading for the same life as every little fish in a big pond, was on his way to stardom.
What went wrong?
The film which he starred in with another young unknown, Daria Halprin reflected its director's high hopes of making a definitive statement about the malaise of American youth.
Although directed by Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni (whose other credits included "Blow-Up" and "L'Avventura,") "Zabriskie Point" was a critical and financial flop.
"Everybody told me that with such a great director the movie was sure to [be] a big hit and I'd really make something, really get going," Frechette said.
"Goddamn movie was awful. I couldn't believe how bad it was ... You probably think I had it all, the whole thing, the American dream. Don't believe it for a second. I went out there for about six months. It was six months out of my life no more, no less.
During that six months, Frechette became involved with a Roxbury group that had formed around Mel Lyman, who became the nucleus of an extended-family commune on Fort Hill and in other cities.
After shooting the film Frechette returned to Fort Hill, reportedly with Miss Halprin, who had become his constant companion.
He denied that Miss Halprin, now the wife of filmmaker Dennis Hopper, accompanied him to Boston, but he would neither confirm nor deny widely circulated reports that he had turned over his entire film salary to Lyman.
All Frechette would say was that he made "less than $50,000" from the movie and that he had "a few dollars" to pay the legal fees arising from his present difficulties.
He said he left the commune several times to "just drift around the country" and that he was married and divorced.
Asked about his parents, Frechette said: "God, those poor people are going to die when they hear about this. You can talk to them if you want, but they don't know a thing about me. I haven't seen them in about a year. I completely out of their lives."