Cards Requested For Walt Lee

Cover Walt Lee Reference Guide To Fantastic FilmsBy Bill Warren: I just heard from Steve Lee, son of Walter W. Lee, Jr. — he of the Reference Guide to Fantastic Films and other genre movie research projects, starting as far back as the early 1950s, when he lived in Coos Bay, Oregon. He came to California, married, had two great kids, worked at Hughes, and produced the incredible Reference Guide, which I was privileged (and paid well) to type.

Walt’s birthday is next Saturday; his folks would love to take him cards and good wishes — to his care facility. Walt is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. This is a stunning shock to me, as one of his outstanding, most interesting and productive traits, was always his quick, sharp intelligence. And he was as funny as hell, from time to time.

It was the first truly major work of film scholarship in the area of science fiction, fantasy and horror. It wasn’t easy to do; while being a father and holding down a job, he researched that exhaustive book.

This was long, long before the iMDB, long before most books on movie research. He spent hours upon hours in the files of the Motion Picture Academy, UCLA, USC, Forry Ackerman (a lifelong friend) and elsewhere. He corresponded with people all over the world — he was determined to make the book as inclusive as possible, and he did. It was the first citation in print (other than industry books and magazines) for hundreds upon hundreds of movies. He was one of the first researchers to routinely include many of the great Hollywood cartoon shorts.  Walt was there first, before anyone. I still consider my work on his book to be one of the most important things I ever did.

The address to send cards:

Walt Lee
c/o Steve Lee
3431 Inglewood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90066

The family wants cards and letters more than eMails.  If you want to eMail Steve directly, here’s his eMail address: Hwlostandfound (at) yahoo (dot) com

Ackermonster Chronicles World Premiere

Ackermonster ChroniclesBy John King Tarpinian: This Sunday the 24th would have been Forrest J Ackerman’s 97th birthday. The Aero Theater in Santa Monica will be hosting a birthday party for 4E and also premiering the documentary The Ackermonster Chronicles at 5 p.m. 

There will be a discussion following the showing with Chris Alexander (Editor-in-Chief of Fangoria Magazine; moderator), George Clayton Johnson (Star Trek, Twilight Zone), William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run), Diane O’Bannon (wife of the late filmmaker/writer Dan O’Bannon [Alien]), Jason V Brock (Director/Writer/Producer), Sunni K Brock (Editor/Producer), and Bill Warren (Ackerman’s assistant and film historian).

Bill Warren: Ray Bradbury, Professional Writer

By Bill Warren: I’ve never met someone who was so enthusiastic, ebullient, upbeat all the time.

At the Oakland-Berkeley Worldcon in 1968 (or so), I was sitting in the coffee shop with some friends when we saw Bradbury enter the hotel.  He smiled and waved at me — then, to my surprise, made an abrupt turn and came into the coffee shop to talk to me.  He said I always knew where the best stuff was going on, so where should he go?  We chatted a bit, and he breezed out of the place.  My friends stared at me in shock.  Ray fucking BRADBURY?  Did I know Bradbury THAT well?  I said “Evidently so,” but I was quite puzzled myself — yes, I knew him (thru Forry), but I didn’t think I did know him that well.  So later I encountered him in a hallway and asked about it.  He was ready for me.  He said that at an early convention (I figure this was the post-WWII Worldcon in LA), he was with a bunch of friends when Leigh Brackett came up and chatted with him about his work.  He was puzzled; they WERE friends, but it seemed out of character for her to approach him like that.  So he asked her about it.  She said she was trying to encourage his career as a writer, by treating him as a fellow professional — and did it in front of his friends, to give him egoboo.  Bradbury said “Now you have to pass it on.”

People don’t quite seem to realize how VERY unusual he was — not really so much so in his fiction (though nobody else ever wrote like him), but in how he used his fame.  He was EVERYwhere in Los Angeles, turning up for many events, always upbeat, always booming and very much there (that stunned me when I first met him; I thought he’d be a shy, quiet poet type, not so much like say Jack Carson or Sonny Tufts).  He had a direct, forceful way of talking that still seemed fresh and spontaneous and friendly, dropping in little affirmations (“doesn’t it?” “don’t they?”) of what he’d just said.  He was just about the most PUBLIC writer I have ever seen, or will ever see again.  He was a very big booster of Los Angeles, so much so that it still seems a little odd that he ever lived anywhere else.

Side note: I read, then heard directly from him, about how he changed his mind about Disneyland.  At first, he was highly skeptical of the place, and of Walt Disney.  He refused to go to the park for a couple of years, then Charles Laughton, “the biggest child on Earth,” impatiently took him by hand and down to Disneyland, where he showed Ray that the place was not at all what he had imagined it to be.  Too bad there are no photos of Laughton leading Bradbury around Disneyland.  To me, that’s as wonderful a thought as imagining Ray Bradbury as a grandfather.  He would have been the greatest grandfather who ever lived — except maybe for Walt Disney.

Today, I thought further on the strange tale (I think I heard it from Bill Nolan) that in the 1940s, Bradbury had a big bonfire in his back yard, where he burned all his unsold stories–and he must have had hundreds of them.  At first, I was horrified — all that great Bradbury stuff, gone up in a gout of fire, undoubtedly burning at Fahrenheit 451.  But then I realized what it was: His way of ensuring that he would not be followed around by the ghosts of his past writing, of stories that he knew weren’t as good as what he was turning out by then.  He also knew he had become a professional writer; he couldn’t yet have been certain that he could be the sole breadwinner of his (new or about to be) family, but he knew he could write stories that would sell.

I hope someone more skilled than me can write about the habits of Ray Bradbury, Professional Writer.  He said he wrote a thousand words every day of his life, and I have no reason to disbelieve him; I’ve heard that he kept on doing it, up until a few months before he died.  That indicates a steely, hard-learned discipline — even though he came on like a house afire (which greatly surprised me), even though his reputation at LASFS was that of a practical-joking chatterbox, he was very serious about becoming a writer.  Then he was very serious about BEING a writer; he was just about the most public writer I’ve ever heard of.  He loved being famous, and he used his fame very wisely, and very often.  Okay, so his plays were usually not very good, and his poetry was limp, but long ago he won the right to be judged by his best work.  Don’t all writers have a falling-off period? 

Take a look at his Internet Movie Database (imdb.com, I think) pages; he wrote for a LOT of TV series in the 1950s, many more than I knew about, some of which seem highly unlikely as a venue for Bradbury material (Steve Canyon???), but he was a pro, and pros sell their stuff.  He even wrote 65 scripts for his own Ray Bradbury Theater, which was often not all that good, but by George, he did it, he did it.  There’s a whole lot of filmed Bradbury, much more than most people realize–and even more yet when you count all the student and amateur productions of his work.  He told me that he allowed any film student who asked to adapt his work, as long as they sent him a print of the finished product.  As he said this, he gestured sort of absently toward the darker recesses of his basement office, where there was a lot of room.  I hope his family considers collecting the best of those student films into a set of DVDs.

I’ll attach three or so photos.  The black-and-white was taken (by Daugherty) at a big surprise party for Forry in 1967, about five minutes after I first met Ray Bradbury.  We swapped glasses, and found our prescriptions were similar. 

Bill Warren meets Ray Bradbury at the Dracula Society banquet.

The shot of Ray talking was taken at the 2nd LASFS clubhouse in North Hollywood, when it was still under construction.

Bradbury addressing the LASFS.

The odd shot requires a little explanation.  Remember the Lytton Center for the Visual Arts?  (I think that was the name — the basement of a savings-and-loan place that was at the corner of Sunset and Laurel Canyon)  One night, they showed something of interest; Beverly and I, and our friend Jon Berg, went; so did Forry, Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen and his wife.  We were there for a movie, but there was also a current display of slightly eccentric wire sculptures.  One of them was of an elephant, and was about half the size of a baby elephant.  It had a door and a stool inside; you could sit there and waggle the trunk and ears.  I did this to amuse Harryhausen (“Is this how you do it, Mr. Harryhausen?”) but Bradbury got all excited and insisted I get out so he could get in.  He, too, waggled the ears and trunk and declared “I am the spirit of the elephant!”

Ray Bradbury as the Spirit of the Elephant.

Bill Warren: John Carter

[Bill gave me permission to post his reaction to the John Carter movie, part of an exchange with Bjo Trimble. It’s helpful to bear in mind Bjo’s first sentence about Bill liking the movie. The promotional campaign, not so much…]

Bjo: Good to hear that you liked John Carter. I hate the trailers, don’t like the look of the hero, and don’t care for the derivative monsters and things. But that’s all from the trailers. Maybe I’ll go see it.

Bill Warren: The entire promotion campaign for this movie was moronic.  The first big mistake was in not promoting it at the last two Comic-Cons; they chose to promote it only at an all-Disney proprietary convention.  Next, they dropped “…of Mars” from the title because focus groups told them no woman would see a movie with the word “Mars” in the title; they were going by the utter disaster of their own Mars Needs Moms.  They decided to do nothing whatsoever to connect it to the Tarzan lore, and initially didn’t even feature the name “Edgar Rice Burroughs” in their ads and trailers.  Those trailers emphasized the wrong stuff; they had little sense of adventure, of thrills, of the wonders of visiting another world, and nothing whatsoever of the occasional humor; even the one shot of Woola the calot isn’t amusing, but he’s funny in the film.  They said nothing about the fact that the Mars books were tremendously influential on Star Wars and especially Avatar; weird that they did not try to hook their movie to what is nothing less than the most successful movie of all time.  James Cameron himself has cited the Barsoom books as one of his main inspirations; so has Lucas.  The current promotional campaign is different (because it’s being run by completely different people than those who handled the first go-round)–and connects the movie to Star Wars, Avatar, Ray Bradbury, etc., even mentioning Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke as being among those who loved the book.  But it’s probably a day late and two hundred million dollars short. 

The movie has some problems — but they’re mostly in pacing, not in how the book(s) has/have been adapted (the Therns, prominent here, first showed up in the 2nd Barsoom novel).  It’s immense, a gigantic epic — there’s a scene of a few thousand Tharks shouting John Carter’s Barsoomian name.  And a wedding scene in Helium that is bigger than any other wedding scene, ever; it’s bigger than Cleopatra’s entrance to Rome in Cleopatra (the one with Liz).  Dejah Thoris doesn’t really need all that much rescuing, and is a brilliant scientist on her own–as well as tough as a buzz saw.  The relationship between Carter and Tars Tarkas, and between Tars Tarkas and Sola, are exactly as in the book.  There’s a bit more humor than in Burroughs, who didn’t use it often (though I love the “Chessmen of Mars Chapter” ‘Ghek Plays Pranks’), and quite a bit more to Carter’s character.  The special effects are, of course, perfect; this much money had to have that result.  We can even believe Carter leaping around like a flea (though it takes him a bit to learn to do that).  The movie is very well cast, especially Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris), Mark Strong (the main Thern) and James Purefoy (in briefly as Kantos Kan, but terrific, very amusing, very Errol Flynnish.  He was Mark Antony in the HBO series “Rome.”)

Warren: Frankenberry at LaCon

After seeing Mark Evanier’s story about Forry Ackerman and monster-themed cereal, Bill Warren sent this related fannish memory:

At the 1972 Worldcon costume contest, Don Glut went as Frankenberry, pink with that huge head. It was scrupulously accurate. (Linda [Gray, who soon wed Don] went hubba hubba as “Conana,” with a sword she borrowed from Bruce Pelz, a few ounces of copper, a few hard of filmy yellow cloth.)

Don Glut as Frankenberry at the 1972 Worldcon. Photo by Al Kracalic.

War Eagles by Conover and Riley

Bill Warren recommends War Eagles: The Unmaking of an Epic by David Conover and Phillip J. Riley, available in both hardcover and paperback from BearManor Media.  Bill writes:

Merian C. Cooper had a busy and productive career as a movie producer all through the 1930s, but his personal favorite remained King Kong; he loved the gigantism of the whole thing, the astonishing imagery. Toward the end of the 30s, he was at MGM, and envisioned a giant eagle with a Viking for a rider, perched atop the Statue of Liberty. Hot damn. He roughed out a story, apparently with historical-fiction novelist Harold Lamb, engaged Willis O’Brien of Kong fame to handle the extensive special effects, which would include a lot of stop-motion animation. The screenplay was written by Cyril Hume, who some 12-15 years later wrote Forbidden Planet. The book includes lots of production drawings obtained from many sources, including a couple of frame blow-ups from the test footage that was shot. These frames are in Technicolor; Cooper, a major backer of the process, was eager to shoot this big movie in color.

The story is somewhat cornball, and the hero (Slim) is very cornball–an eager test-and-military pilot who’s scared of girls–but the script makes the movie sound nothing less than swell, in the glorious old meaning of that word. Slim crashes in Antarctica, in a valley warmed by volcanic heat. Here he discovers the descendants of a lost tribe of Vikings, who speak English, more or less, and fly about on giant eagles. They are periodically menaced by a few dinosaurs. The tribe has a bard who sings legends in what reads like a cross between the usual form “Beowulf” appears in and “The Song of Hiawatha”–but, by George, it works. The climax: a suspiciously Germanic Evil Nation from Europe has developed an engine-killing “death ray” (and engines invulnerable to it); they launch an aerial armada to attack New York, disabling all American aircraft. Slim learns of this and leads his Viking companions to defend New York from the aerial menace–on the backs of giant eagles. Wow.

How Harryhausen Found LASFS

Harryhausen, Bradbury and Ackerman at the Three Legends event in 2008.

Forry Ackerman, Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen were three amigos for many years. How did they meet?

Let Bill Warren tell us the story:

I have been exchanging a lot of e-mails with Chris O’Brien, who’s working on what sounds like a major project: the bibliography of Forrest J Ackerman.  And yes, he’s going all out — tracking Forry’s letters in prozines and fanzines of the 1930s onward.  I originally feared he was a Famous Monsters fan who knew little about Forry prior to 1958, when the magazine began, but far from it; he’s doing lots of research on First Fandom itself, in addition to Forry; he recently did an interview with Dave Kyle which appeared in the two most recent issues of Filmfax. 

Today he passed along to me a link to eFanzines (the specific link is below) which was a reprint of a British zine [Futurian War Digest #9, PDF file] which featured a big chunk from an issue of VoM, written by Forry. I always knew that Ray Harryhausen saw some stills at a theater showing a revival of King Kong; he wanted to copy them, but was told they were the property of Forrest J Ackerman. The guy at the theater put him in touch with Forry, who put Harryhausen in touch with Bradbury–and so forth and so on.

The guy at the theater was Roy Test, Jr.  This is the first time I saw his name in conjunction with this encounter.

Roy Test Jr. in later years.

Roy was a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League (renamed the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society when it left the SFL). Roy died just about a year ago.

Ackerman’s account from that 1941 issue of Futurian War Digest (with Forry’s famous simplified spelling) reads:

“Cashing in on Fantasy” on pg 568 of Pop Mechanix for Apr. Fan pictured is LA’s own Ray Harryhausen (Hon Mem LASFS) who came to our notice when he attended, a revival of “King Kong” at a theater where imagi-native Roy Test Jr was working at the time. Stills loand by me to the theater attracted Ray to me & hence to the Club. I’m proud to be the owner, by the way, of that original of the Jupiterian Monster pic on 569.

[Thanks to Bill Warren for the story.]

Was that H.G. or He?

“Forry always said H.G. Wells had a high-pitched voice,” writes Bill Warren. “I never would have dreamed it was this high-pitched.”

Bill had just watched two British Pathé video newsreels, “H G Wells Offers His Solution For Economic Crisis”, and Wells’ press conference on America entering WWII.

“He sounds as though he’s speaking with a lungful of helium,” says Bill. “Imagine him reading his books aloud.”

Republic Films 75th Anniversary

Republic Pictures, historic home of sci-fi serials and B-movie cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, celebrated its 75th anniversary on September 25. In the meantime the former Republic Studios has become the CBS Studio Center, but its role in cinematic history is still remembered.

Click on the link to the 75th anniversary website for galleries filled with nostalgic images of old movie posters and photos of B-movie stars.

Those who attended the festivities in person saw screenings of Republic films, serials and trailers, live performances of swing and western music, entertainment by gun spinners, rope twirlers, trick horses, and cowboy poets, and a diverse collection of memorabilia. There also was a special Republic Pictures stamp cancellation ceremony of the U.S. Postal Service’s Cowboys of the Silver Screen postage stamps.

Republic Pictures was founded in 1935 by Herbert J. Yates and its fare became synonymous with Saturday afternoon matinees. It gave fandom science fiction serials like The Adventures of Captain Marvel and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe. The studio launched the careers of Gene Autry, Rex Allen, Roy Rogers  — and John Wayne who starred in some of its best-known movies, Flying Tigers (1942), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), and The Quiet Man (1952).

[Thanks to Bill Warren for the story.]

Ackerman Tributes Among Rondo Nominees

Online voting has begun for the 8th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

Nominees for Best Article of 2009 include two tributes to the late Forrest J Ackerman.

Steve Vertlieb’s “The Most ‘Famous Monster’ of Them All” originally appeared on his own Thunder Child site and was recently added to the newly-relaunched Famous Monsters website.

Daniel Kirk’s “How I Met the Man Behind Famous Monsters of Filmland” reminisces about the day Ackerman’s 1963 cross-country tour stopped at his house in Columbus, Ohio. His article ran in Scary Monsters #70.

Up for Best Book of 2009 is Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies, American Science Fiction Movies of the 1950s, the 21st Century Edition, the revised and expanded edition of the classic film study.

Any fan can vote. Send an e-mail containing your name and your picks to David Colton (taraco at aol.com) by April 3.

[Thanks to Steve Vertlieb for the link.]