And we’re back…

Apologies for the long radio silence. It turns out our production Monsters, Martians and Mad Scientists was not as wrapped as we thought! Since our last update, we have interviewed Kenny Miller (I Was a Teenage WerewolfAttack of the Puppet People) and Victoria Price (daughter of Vincent Price).

i_was_teenage_werewolf_lc_02

In addition, producer extraordinaire Mark Gilman has been working on securing some vintage interviews for our show. So far this list includes John Agar (Revenge of the Creature, Tarantula, Journey to the Seventh Planet and more), Ricou Browning (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and Arianne Ulmer (daughter of director Edgar G. Ulmer).

We’ll post an update when we’ve re-entered the editing phase of the film.

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That’s a wrap! Production completed on “Monsters, Martians and Mad Scientists”

Operator 13 Productions has officially completed production on Monsters, Martians and Mad Scientists: Horror in the Atomic Age.

We have completed 31 interviews and will now enter the editing phase of the project. It has been a thrill to discuss the classic films of the Atomic Age with the people who made them — actors like David Hedison (The Fly), Julie Adams (The Creature From the Black Lagoon) and Pat Boone (Journey to the Center of the Earth), director Ib Melchior (The Angry Red Planet),  and many many more!

julie adams

Stay tuned for more “From the Set” reports as well as updates on our progress in completing the film.

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Just confirmed…Hugh O’Brian

We are very pleased to announce that Hugh O’Brian will be interviewed for Monsters, Martians and Mad Scientists: Horror in the Atomic Age.

Mr. O’Brian is probably best known for playing Wyatt Earp in the television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, which debuted on ABC in 1955. He also appeared in numerous films, including the very first Atomic Age outer space adventure film — 1950’s Rocketship X-M. 

The film was directed by Kurt Neumann (The Fly) and was one of the first to address the dangers of atomic warfare and radiation. In addition to Hugh O’Brian, it starred Lloyd Bridges and Osa Massen.

rocketship x-mIn addition to acting, Mr. O’Brian has dedicated much of his time to the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY). He formed the organization in 1958 after spending nine days in Africa with Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Since then, HOBY has gone on to host 355,000 high school students at its seminars.

We are looking forward to interviewing Mr. O’Brian about his role in the inception of Atomic Age cinema!

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Just confirmed…Paul Mantee

Paul Mantee has been added to the list of interviewees for Monsters, Martians and Mad Scientists: Horror in the Atomic Age! Mr. Mantee starred as Commander Kit Draper in Byron Haskin’s 1964 cult classic Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

The film was scripted by Ib Melchior and is notable for its attempt to be as scientifically accurate as possible. It is also one of the few science fiction films of the period that does not act as an allegory for the Cold War. In addition, it features fine performances from Mr. Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West — and Barney the Woolly Monkey!

Paul Mantee and Adam West in Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Paul Mantee appeared in numerous genre television series, including Batman, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Six Million Dollar Man and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

After semi-retiring from acting, he authored two novels; In Search of the Perfect Ravioli (Ballantine Books, 1991) and Bruno of Hollywood (Ballantine Books, 1994).

We look forward to speaking with Mr. Mantee. Watch this space for a “From the Set” report.

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The Horror Is in the Magnitude: An Interview with Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

In researching Operator 13 Productions’ latest project Monsters, Martians and Mad Scientists: Horror in the Atomic Age, I came across an excellent graphic novel entitled  Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb.  

In a mere 150 pages, writer/artist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm provides a compelling and complete look at both the personalities of the key players involved in the creation of the bomb as well as scientific details such as the difference between the Fat Man and Little Boy bombs used on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In addition, Fetter-Vorm’s arresting art work effectively highlights the grim reality of atomic warfare.

Mr. Fetter-Vorm kindly answered a few questions for us via e-mail.

What inspired you to write about the atomic bomb?
I grew up hearing very strange and mysterious stories from my grandparents, both of whom worked on the Manhattan Project at Hanford, Washington — the site of the first plutonium reactor. My grandfather was a welder and he worked at Hanford for several years, but he, like almost everyone else working on the project, was never told what was going on at these sites. He was paid to show up on time, to do his work, and to not ask questions. It wasn’t until I started researching the project as a whole that I got a sense of the scope of this secrecy. I think that that aspect of the atomic bomb resonates still: that the government could spend more than 2 billion dollars, employ more than a hundred thousand people, and operate facilities all over the country, and do it all in complete secrecy.
Many of the horror and science fiction films of the Atomic Age deal with giant creatures that result from radiation. Do you think this reflected America’s anxiety about atomic weapons?
I think the fear of mutated creatures is a pretty good metaphor for the bomb itself. All of the nuclear tests that were taking place in the 1950’s were very well documented, and the images that came out of those tests are more horrifying than any science fiction film. The only way we can explain the atomic blast — the way it glows in bright, unearthly colors; the threat that if you look directly at it you’ll go blind; the bizarre, gigantic forms that emerge from the blast — in a way that makes any sense is to refer to myths, to the monsters of our imagination. Oppenheimer was very vocal about casting the bomb in the guise of Hindu gods. I think movie-makers just capitalized on this. I’d argue that the anxiety among moviegoers was more about what happens when something we’re used to — whether it’s fire, insects, or human faculties — is amplified to inhuman proportions. The horror is in the magnitude.
Scientists “playing God” is another popular theme in films of the post-nuclear age. Do you think the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made Americans suspicious of science and scientists?
I should hope so. Unfortunately, though, a lot of what was going on was kept secret for many years. There is this trope of the scientist unbound by ethics, but that’s been with us since Dr. Frankenstein, if not longer. Certainly everyone involved in “big” science was forced to evaluate their work in a new way after the bombs were dropped on Japan. As Oppenheimer was fond of saying, “physicists have known sin”. He was being a bit theatrical, but he’s not far off. That said, I think the more accurate cause for concern was the emergence of the military-industrial complex. Not just scientists, but scientists with limitless government funds, with a mandate to develop weapons, and who are ensconced in an atmosphere of secrecy and paranoia.
Do you have a favorite Atomic Age horror or science fiction film and if so why is it your favorite?
I’ve really only ever watched Them!, which I enjoyed very much, in part because it does a good job of dramatizing that sense that the unintended consequences of our government’s actions can turn something completely benign, like an anthill, into the seeds of our own destruction. That said, I’m just as easily horrified by some of the Civil Defense films that came out in the 1950s. There is such a pervasive sense of dread and inevitability to them, and this drama is always played out in the minds of children. It’s very twisted.
The 1950s through the 1960s seem to represent the golden age of science fiction films. Do you think this is a product of the American space program? 
Certainly the space program has a lot to do with it, and the dawning awareness that space travel really was possible. But I’m also tempted to point to something more nebulous: there seemed to be a very volatile and contradictory atmosphere in the 1950s and 60s where on the one hand Americans enjoyed the great optimism of knowing that there was enough money and know-how to achieve any technological feat imaginable, and on the other hand, no one could ignore the fact that complete annihilation had never been more likely. It’s like no one was surprised that we had screwed up, but that we also had the imagination and technical abilities to fix our mistakes. It was a paradoxical mixture of hope and resignation. In science fiction that same mixture plays out over and over again: the hope of a new age, a new land, a new beginning; followed always by the resignation that we’re destined to bring our same old problems with us wherever we go.

Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

In researching Trinity, what did you learn that surprised you the most?
I was surprised by a lot of what I learned about the United States’ decision to drop the bombs on Japan. In the months before the Trinity test, when no one was sure that an atomic bomb was even possible, the US Army Air Force was conducting an unbelievably destructive firebombing campaign in Japan. Hundreds of cities were vaporized. Tokyo was incinerated over night; in fact, more people died in those six hours than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. But the firebombing doesn’t live as large in our collective imagination as the atomic bombs. I was also stunned to realize that an important criterion for the selection of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was that they were at the top of a very short list of cities that had been spared any bombing. In other words, these cities could provide important data about what an atomic blast does to a populated area. In a very real sense, Hiroshima was a test site.
Do you think Americans were really fearful of the bomb during that era or is that something that’s been exaggerated over the years?
I’m the wrong person to ask; my first awareness of the Cold War was when I saw the Berlin Wall come down on TV. But ultimately, the threat of nuclear war is a form of terror. Its power exists in the imagination. The whole discourse itself is exaggeration: one single thermonuclear bomb is an exaggeration; fifteen hundred of these bombs in an exaggeration that defies all reason; and the climax of it all — the calculus of how many hundreds of times these arsenals could destroy the world — is just absurdly terrifying and beyond reckoning. If anything was unduly exaggerated in the American consciousness, it was the sense that rationality and reason could somehow protect us.
Do you think Americans still fear an atomic attack? Should they?
With all this tension over Iran’s nuclear program, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fear of atomic weapons resurfaces. These weapons — and the radiological materials that make them so dangerous — are ubiquitous, and will always be something to fear. But I doubt the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction will return. Not to sound relentlessly dour, but there are plenty of other, more mundane dangers to be afraid of. Luckily, though, those dangers are  mostly things that we can do something about.
 

Trinity is available through Amazon.com. For more information about Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, visit his Web site.

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Just confirmed…Scotty Morrow

We are delighted to announce that we will be interviewing child actor Scotty Morrow for Monsters, Martians and Mad Scientists. Morrow appeared alongside legends Bruce Bennett and John Carradine in 1959’s The Cosmic Man. He also appeared in a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone entitled “The Shelter.”

In addition to these forays into science fiction, Morrow’s extensive resume includes appearances on classic television shows such as The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons, Wagon Train, Maverick, Gunsmoke and Death Valley Days.

Bruce Bennett, Scotty Morrow and Angela Green in “The Cosmic Man” (1959)

Stay tuned for a “From the set” report!

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From the set…Ib Melchior

On May 23rd, Mark and I had the great privilege of interviewing Ib Melchior, writer/ director of  The Angry Red Planet (1959) and The Time Travelers (1964).

I asked Melchior how he first came to be interested in science fiction:

“Actually I was born in Denmark and never heard of science fiction until I got over here in 1938. And then I met Sturgeon, Heinlein, Hubbard – L. Ron Hubbard – in New York and they got me interested. Then I started reading it and I found that good science fiction is really fantastic. A lot of science fiction predicts what is actually going to happen and that made me very interested.”

The Angry Red Planet uses a unique special effect called “Cinemagic,” which resembles solarization in still photography. The images of Mars in the film are a deep red with areas that resemble a negative. Melchior explained that before using the effect, he had to come up with a way to make it plausible to the audience:

“I don’t like to do something that doesn’t make sense. And it wouldn’t make sense to have Mars like that. I mean, why? But it was the remembrance of a woman whose mind was damaged and this is the way she saw it. Then it makes sense. And that’s how I used it. Whenever she’s thinking and talking, it’s in Cinemagic.”

Naura Hayden in “Cinemagic”

Mark and I  were also treated to a tour of Melchior’s home, including his office, which houses some sci-fi treasures such as original props from The Angry Red Planet and The Time Travelers.

You would be hard-pressed to name someone who has led a more fascinating life than Ib Melchior.  In fact you might say his time in Hollywood is among the least interesting of his experiences.

Ib Melchior

In addition to writing science fiction films, he is the writer of eight novels, and several non-fiction works, including a biography of his father, opera singer and actor Lauritz Melchior, entitled Lauritz Melchior: The Golden Years of Bayreuth. He also collaborated with his wife, designer Cleo Baldon on two books — Reflections on the Pool: California Designs for Swimming and Steps & Stairways.

In 1975, his short story The Racer was produced by Roger Corman as Death Race 2000. It was remade in 2008 as Death Race, starring Jason Statham with direction by Paul W.S. Anderson.

In 1982, he wrote the play Hour of Vengeance, based on the Viking story of Amleth, which is also the source work for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The play was awarded the Hamlet Award for best playwriting by the Shakespeare Society of America.

Melchior’s autobiography Case By Case: A US Army Counterintelligence Agent in World War II (1993) documents his time spent in Europe as a staff sergeant with the US Counterintelligence Corps.

If you want to learn more about this truly intrepid man, I recommend Ib Melchior:  Man of Imagination by Robert Skotak, an excellent biography.

 

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