1/09/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: McFarland & Company, Inc. 314 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £39.95 (UK), $45.00 (US). ISBN: 0-7864-1000-0.
check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com
The title, 'I Was A Monster Movie Maker', is a bit of a misnomer because Tom Weaver's book is interviewing twenty-two actors, actresses, producers and scriptwriters who've been involved in SF and horror films. Some of them are known purely for the parts they play and the interview brings out more about them.
Take the opening interview. The name Phil Brown probably doesn't mean much to you but if I said he was the actor who played Lars Owen, Luke Skywalker's uncle, in 'Star Wars', then the name should click. When you read his interview, you suddenly become aware of how long and interesting his acting career was. The same could be said for all those interviewed.
Some are easier to recognise than others for the parts they've played. Booth Coleman was Zaius in the TV series of 'Planet Of The Apes'. Faith Domergue was the female scientist in 'This Island Earth'. Michael Forest was in the original 'Star Trek' episode 'Who Morns For Adonis' and I'm sure he's preferred to be remembered for that than a lot of the Italian productions he'd been in.
What I did find odd is when it came to a scriptwriter like Nelson Gidding who scripted a lot of director Robert Wise's films, like 'The Andromeda Strain', that there was no credits listed. Even a limited selection would have been useful but that's a minor quibble.
It wasn't until I read the really long interview with the multi-talented Norman Lloyd that I discovered how much he'd been part of the industry and although he's likes a lot of 'wonderful' people, his insights into Hitchcock and such really made for an interesting read as he was also a mind full of information.
Even if you've never been able to see some films, getting some insight in how they were made is always useful. Producer Anthony M. Taylor's insight into the only Esperanto spoken horror film 'Incubus' directed and written by Leslie Stevens shows the ups and downs of production, not to mention how the original prints were destroyed. Scriptwriter/producer William Read Woodfield (you might know his name from the original 'Mission: Impossible' series) explains his low budget film 'The Hypnotic Eye' and how it evolved from a desire to hypnotising the audience into thinking they saw a movie into a proper film.
There were a couple interviews related to the 1953 'House Of Wax' film with stars Paul Picerni and Phyllis Kirk make for interesting reading that has made me go after the DVD. Indeed, the same could be said for several of the interviews. Indeed, the effect of reading this book had me re-watching 'This Island Earth', 'Them!' and the original 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers' again from my collection.
Joan Weldon's interview about the 1954 film 'Them!' actually sums up the attitude towards Science Fiction films being 'weird films' of the time which probably explains why they were just seen as another genre to exploit with no promotion at the time until the sales figures made millions. Her interview also gave some insight into what it was like being a contract player for Warners working six days a week for seven years. Actors have it light compared to those days.
Dana Wynter's account from 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers' shows how much of a prankster director Don Siegel was leaving a pod outside her door one morning. Rather interestingly, I also learnt from this interview that Siegel ducked the debate as to whether the film had anything to do with the Communist menace of the time.
A lot of the films these people appeared in are decades old. Many of them have also succumbed to age and are no longer with us. Interviewer Tom Weaver himself explains that he sees these interviews as being time capsules available for future generations. Although there is some emphasis on films done within our genre, Weaver is not afraid of asking about studio systems and politics of the time which builds up a better picture of what was going on. He also knows a lot about the people he's interviewed that they've forgotten until now and isn't afraid to cross-check information he got from other interviews where clarification can be gotten from the horse's mouth so to speak.
I've barely touched on the various people who are interviewed in this book. I could talk about Maureen O'Sullivan and her 'Tarzan' period to Ray Walston and his association with Bela Lugosi on stage or even June Wilkinson describing how scenes in her film 'Macumba Love' were filmed differently for the more prudish America and the rest of the world and still only be scratching the surface of the contents.
If that hasn't convinced you to read this book then are a lot of rare black and white photographs, a few from the films and many behind the scenes and at premieres and occasionally what those alive in 2001, when this book was released, look like today. These books are informative, interesting and additive reading. Better still, Tom Weaver has a lot of these books out so there is something for everyone. I'm just rubbing my hands with glee as it's less sticky than slime.
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