Remembering My Friend, Bill Longen (1947-2023)

By Steve Vertlieb: It was in September, 1965, when I first “officially” entered the world of film and science fiction fandom.  My brother, Erwin, and I had received an invitation from Forrest J Ackerman (Forry or 4e) to attend the very first “Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine Convention,” being held at Loew’s Midtown Manhattan Motor Inn in the heart of New York City.  It was at that convention that this eager nineteen-year-old fan met Forry, along with other youthful movie fanatics such as Allan Asherman (author of The Star Trek Compendium), famed collector Wes Shank, and actor George Stover (Editor of Cinemacabre, and Black Oracle magazines, as well as the subject of a recent documentary film, “No Stopping The Stover.”).  Now, Wes working as a film editor at the local Philadelphia CBS Television affiliate, WCAU TV and, through Wes, I was introduced to yet another film editor and science fiction film fan by the name of Bill Longen.  Bill and I began our friendship somewhere around 1966 when I was a mere lad of twenty years.  In the decades that followed, Bill and I would often see one another, either at his home in Clifton Heights, PA, where he lived with his mother or, perhaps, at Wes’s home theater where a variety friends, and science fiction aficionados would congregate for an evening, laugh, and talk about their favorite films.  I would often chat with Bill on the telephone and, from time to time, he would visit my home.  I was working in television, as well, in the capacities of a film editor, cameraman, and sometimes “announcer” at our local Taft Broadcasting affiliate, WTAF TV 29, and so we were able to share many war stories.

Steve, Forry and Erwin

Some years later Bill decided to move to San Francisco where he worked for quite some time as a senior film editor at the local CBS television station in the Bay area, but we always managed to remain in touch, either by mail or on long winded telephone conversations. Television was changing rapidly, however, and Bill decided to leave the industry for newer, greener pastures. Wishing to stay in his beloved San Francisco, Bill eventually left the TV station, and found work as the manager of the world renowned Castro Theater, a one-time elaborate movie palace that had now become a haven for classic film lovers with cult film festivals and art house screenings.

In the Fall of 2007, I received a telephone call from Bill.  He was thinking about scheduling a major retrospective of classic films featuring the music of three time Oscar-winning composer Miklos Rozsa, and asked if I’d be interested in programming the festival.  Needless to say, I agreed quite enthusiastically, and chose the seventeen films that were to be included in the nine day event.  I also wrote the liner notes for the printed program, describing in some detail the backgrounds, stories, and technical information surrounding each film.

Now, earlier in the year, I had attended a unique, celebratory, one hundredth birthday event honoring Dr. Rozsa at The Hungarian Embassy in Washington, D.C.  I’d heard that the composer’s daughter, Juliet, was scheduled to appear, along with her daughters, and famed concert cellist Janos Starker who was an old friend of Miklos Rozsa.  I had been corresponding with the composer for many years, and had spent some quality time in his company, but I had never met his daughter.  Having written profusely about the composer’s career in a variety of publications for many years, I found myself introduced to the audience by the then Hungarian Ambassador to The United States, Dr. Ferenc Somogyi, and invited, along with Juliet Rozsa and her family, to the “royal residence,” following the ceremonies for a state dinner.

I had remained in touch with the Ambassador and so, when Bill asked me to put together a Rozsa festival, write the program notes, and host the event, I invited Juliet and her daughters to attend, and asked Dr. Somogyi if he would consider writing a special Embassy Proclamation, honoring the late Hungarian composer.  He told me that he would be quite pleased and delighted to do so, and that I might present it to Juliet on the stage of the Castro Theater.  Juliet and her daughters drove to San Francisco from Los Angeles, while Juliet joined me on stage for a thirty minute in-person interview, discussing her famous father’s career.  After our interview a 35 millimeter print of Ben Hur was run for an appreciative audience of some seven hundred movie goers on the giant Castro screen.

I arranged for The Mayor of San Francisco to offer a written tribute to Rozsa, which I read from the stage, as well.  When Ray Bradbury got wind of the tribute, he asked if he might contribute to the festivities with his own remembrance.  He had written the Orson Welles’ narration for MGM’s production of King of Kings, which Rozsa had also scored, and had sat in on some of the recording sessions in Los Angeles with Rozsa conducting.  The festival was covered by the local press, and was exceptionally well received.

After some years of ownership changes at The Castro, Bill moved on yet again, and found himself managing a prestigious chain of movie theaters.  He would visit me at my apartment from time to time, whenever he happened to find himself in Philadelphia once more.  We would continue to exchange birthday and Christmas cards … until Bill grew ill with Cancer.  I spoke with him at length by telephone in December, and he spoke hopefully of a surgery he’d agreed to that might, at last, render him cancer-free.  I received a message on Facebook the other day from another old mutual pal, David Gregory Lee, who let me know that Bill had finally succumbed to his illness, and passed away on January 2nd, 2023.  I knew Bill for some fifty-six years.  He was bright, funny, knowledgeable, and charming.  He was a good and loyal friend.  I’ll miss him terribly.

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4 thoughts on “Remembering My Friend, Bill Longen (1947-2023)

  1. Great piece Steve, very well done. Well worth reading.

    You might want to fix one bit, where before the screening of Ben-Hur you say “Our interview lasted roughly minutes”. If it was thirty minutes, you say that in the previous sentence anyway.

  2. Sorry to read about your loss of a dear friend! Thank you for sharing your years with him and all the many conversations pertaining to motion pictures! What a treasured memories!
    George Matthews

  3. Nice tribute to Bill, Steve, and quite a journey overall! Bill and I had been friends for a long time, since we entered high school in September 1962. We used to watch all the Universal classics on 8mm film in the cramped attic of his foster-Mom’s home in Clifton Heights. That was an experience, especially in the summertime! And Abbott & Costello films. He did a pretty good Lou Costello back then. Had the ‘weight’ for it! But he went on a diet regimen and dropped it all. So Billy Linton and I gave him the nickname ‘Slim.’ And by the time he moved to San Francisco (1971), he became an award-winning bodybuilder as you know. But back in those early 60’s years, we decided to make our own film on the Bergdoll Castle property, which is now the Blue Route cloverleaf at West Chester Pike! Long time ago, man. Although we took lots of pictures, the “big production” never got made! But of course, we both became projectionists, and the rest, for Bill, was as you have shared. Though our paths diverged sharply by the time he moved, we still kept in touch, and got together when he came to Philadelphia. And the phone calls! I will miss him!

  4. Bill actually worked at the independent KTVU in Oakland, one the most popular stations in the San Francisco area. He collected 35mm trailers and had a huge collection but sold it (eventually going to The Academy of Motion Pictures as part of a collection reportedly of 60,000 trailers). He had become very sick and moved to Palm Springs where he beat the odds and recovered, coming back stronger than ever. That is when he started at the Castro, a most perfect match for him.
    There will be a celebration of his life this Sunday,February 26 at 4pm at the Castro.

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