Eye On Science Fiction: 20 Interviews With Classic SF And Horror Makers by Tom Weaver (book review).
Just when I thought Tom Weaver wouldn’t have any other books to surprise me, I came across ‘Eye On Science Fiction: 20 Interviews With Classic SF And Horror Makers’ in Eurospan’s back catalogue. Looking at the twenty people interviewed, there are several who worked well into the 60s and 70s, far beyond Weaver’s usual cut-off point. As usual with Weaver’s interview books, he lets them talk beyond the questions so you get a lot of insight into the Hollywood life style from the period they worked in, let alone insight into the various people. My snippets here are barely covering what I learnt on all manner of subjects.
Herman Cohen was asked to talk about Lon Chaney Jr. but gives far more about how he became a producer, learning on the job. He classically explained wherever he was asked a question he didn’t know the answer to, he would say he’d have an answer in the morning and then research it properly.
Actor Mike Connors looks over his time working for Roger Corman to the times he did some producing himself, but not liking it. Although the focus was on his films in our genre, I made another mental note on looking at more of his work. I can’t recall seeing ‘Mannix’ TV series back in the 1960s in the UK for instance.
Most surprising was to discover comicbook writer Arnold Drake had sold four film scripts, although he was grateful only three were made. His interview on how the 1964 film ‘The Flesh Eaters’ was made was insightful, especially with dealing with film unions and how credits were given for little work to appease the unions.
Alex Gordon’s reveal on how a film can make money for a studio but little for the people who made it on ‘The Atomic Submarine’ (1959) for Allied Artists shows how problematic it was. It also re-enforces about the type of people in charge as well.
There are some, like Brett Halsey, whose name was less familiar until I read his interview and realised I had seen him in ‘Return Of The Fly’ (1959). He also acted a lot in Italian and Spanish films and familiar with a few famous Italian directors before they switched to horror films.
The name John Hart should click with you as the actor who replaced Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and who reveals that he got the part because the producers didn’t want to pay the original actor more money. His career as both actor and stuntman in that time period is equally revealing.
I did wonder if the interview with actor David Hedison was the same as the way Weaver in an earlier book but looks like it was more recent. Considering that ‘Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’ has gained new fans who discover it over the years, I did have to ponder on its continued success. I think, despite some of the more silly stories, the Seaview still looks pretty futuristic and you don’t see enough of regular life from the 1960s to date the period.
Richard Kiel’s description of one of his earlier films, ‘Eegah’, by Archie Hall Sr. was used as part of his learning process and along the way learnt how to navigate press interviews when he went on to the James Bond movies and added some humour to the part making himself a little more three-dimensional.
I was expecting the interview with Robert Nicholls as an opportunity to hear something about ‘This Island Earth’. As it turns out, he doesn’t remember much about that film but is more informed on ‘The Thing From Another World’ (1951) and gives a lot of information about director Howard Hawks and the cast.
What was the biggest surprise was the interview with William Self. You probably know him more as the producer and head of 20th Century Fox TV Productions but he started off as an actor and was in the aforementioned ‘The Thing From Another World’. When he switched to production, he ended up being significant in many things. He advised Rod Serling against using a particular story for ‘The Twilight Zone’ pilot and I couldn’t help wondering if the more upbeat ‘Kick The Can’ in season 3 might not have happened without it. Self was also involved in overseeing all of Irwin Allen’s TV series and, of course, a certain 1966 ‘Batman’ TV series. You come away from this interview with a lot of insight into the TV producing side of things and probably the most significant interview in this book. When you consider the competition about information about Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi that’s quite an achievement.
The interview with Natalie Trundy was also very informative, both with time in the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ films and about her late husband, producer Arthur P. Jacobs, and her role as proxy producer where his heart condition wouldn’t allow him to travel to hotter locations.
Writer Martin Varno’s problems with ‘Night Of The Blood Beast’ (1958) for Roger and Gene Corman stemmed from them changing the script while he was actually on set pushing for a court case against them that he won.
I have vague memories of Beverley Washburn and the connection between ‘Old Yeller’ and the ‘Star Trek’ episode ‘The Deadly Years’ shows a career from childhood to adulthood.
Now here’s an odd interview to end the book on. An interview with actor William Wellman Jr. about the film ‘Macumba Love’ (1960) and how nicely the Brazilians treated the cast when recording there. The film has an odd reputation but oddly not available to see for ourselves as to how bad or good it was.
From the looks of things, I think I’ve now read all of Tom Weaver’s interview books. In one of the books of his I read a while back, he did say it was becoming an impossible task to do now with so many now deceased. If you have an interest in older Hollywood films, please seek some of them out. They are extremely long reads and informative not only on careers but behind-the-scenes as well. I doubt if we’ll see this kind of Hollywood ever again.
(pub: McFarland, 2007. 373 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £43.50 (UK), $39.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-3028-4)
check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com