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Science Fiction Confidential by Tom Weaver

1/12/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Science Fiction Confidential in the USA - or Buy Science Fiction Confidential in the UK

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pub: McFarland. 312 page illustrated softcover. Price: GBP35.50 (UK), $39.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-4516-5).

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Having reviewed a couple of Tom Weaver’s interview books in recent years, I have found them a fascinating read, not only for inside information about films but a lot about filming conditions, especially on a low budget, and stories about people. ‘Science Fiction Confidential’ is the eighth book in the series with a lot of gems. There’s a marvellous story related by John D.F. Black relating a John Barrymore and John Carradine risqué encounter. Black, by the way was a producer on the first season of the original ‘Star Trek’ but his interview focuses on how he sold his first screenplay.

Another ‘Trek’ reference comes with actor Robert Ellenstein who played the Federation Council President in ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’, who gives some insight into his friend, Leonard Nimoy, amongst other things in his own interview.

If you’re interested in Steve McQueen’s first starring role and the film itself, ‘The Blob’, then producer Russ Doughton’s insights are fascinating, even more so that the studio he was associated with was on the religious side and did it to make some money. There is also an interview with its writer, Kate Phillips.

Phoebe Dorin’s accounts of her time with ‘The Wild, Wild, Wild West’ star Michael Dunn is equally fascinating and I can give her the reason why Dunn changed his name from Gary Miller, as there was already a singer with that name over here and an actor in America and I suspect American Equity wouldn’t allow duplication.

I used to read Alex Gordon’s column in ‘Fangoria’, so having an interview here with him and a later one with his brother, Richard, makes it some of my treasured moments because they were so knowledgeable. Not that we’ve had many opportunities to see their films over here but both their knowledge of the period is so insightful.

We also have another interview with David Hedison about his first starring role in ‘The Fly’ and how he realised why Irwin Allen was do eager for him to star in ‘Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’. Mind you, most of us knew it was because Allen wanted to use ‘The Lost World’ footage soon as he wore an identical shirt to that film instead of his Seaview shirt. Not just with Hedison with my comment now but across the stretch of these interviews, there is a seemingly absent of knowledge on odd subjects that you would have thought those interviewed would have known something about over the years, even from just being curious.

What is very interesting is how the various actors are candid about the films they’ve been in, especially those that have gotten some serious panning and often agree with the faults. Better still, they reveal why various things happened the way they did.

Suzanne Kaaren’s insights into Bela Lugosi in the film ‘The Devil Bat’ are fascinating. Even more so are Denny Miller’s only ‘Tarzan’ film, ‘Tarzan, The Ape Man’, and how material was clipped in from other movies and how much of it was on the backlot. Dan O’Herlihy’s career is looked at more extensively in his interview and covers how in court that he got his agents brought to task for restrictive practices which is again insightful of the period.

Another fascinating interview is with Warren Stevens, whose career spans being on the first Broadway plays before moving to TV and films, seeing it all as work. His insights into ‘Forbidden Planet’ and them having no idea what the special effects was going to be like until they saw the completed film shows the level of acting at that time. There’s also a couple snazzy behind the scenes photos from the film as well.

If you ever wondered about the casting couch way to get roles in films, reading Lyn Thomas’ account of what happened when women said no is very revealing.

One thing I do like about this book is that there are occasional photos of what the various interviewees look like today and each has a film credit list so you can track their other appearances. Even if you’ve never heard of some of these people or not remembered them, they still bring a fascinating time capsule to the table. Beyond these, there are photos from behind the scenes that should have many of you gaping. I love the photo of Denny Miller posing with a toy Cheetah, duplicating an earlier pose he did with the real chimp, and there’s an interesting photo of David Hedison with the title mermaid from an episode of ‘Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’.

If there was one major criticism to be made then I wish Weaver had included the dates when the interviews were conducted because it gives a better time frame for when they were conducted. There are the occasional hints but not always but places many of them around the turn of the century.

I should point out that this book, like others in the series, uses twin columns so there is a lot of reading here which does make it worth its price. With interview books like this around, these memories will never be lost and praise to Tom Weaver for preserving them.

GF Willmetts

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