Obituary: Patrick McGoohan

Patrick McGoohan as The PrisonerSad news: actor Patrick McGoohan – who produced and starred in the esoteric cult show THE PRISONER in the 1960s – has died. From the Associated Press obituary by Andrew Dalton:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Patrick McGoohan, an Emmy-winning actor who created and starred in the cult classic television show “The Prisoner,” has died. He was 80.
McGoohan died Tuesday in Los Angeles after a short illness, his son-in-law, film producer Cleve Landsberg, said Wednesday.
McGoohan won two Emmys for his work on the Peter Falk detective drama “Columbo,” and more recently appeared as King Edward Longshanks in the 1995 Mel Gibson film “Braveheart.”
But he was best known as the title character Number Six in “The Prisoner,” a surreal 1960s British series in which a former spy is held captive in a small village and constantly tries to escape.

McGoohan’s career was too varied for him to be typecast as a genre star, but he did have a handful of impressive credits in science fiction, fantasy, and horror films, including THE PHANTOM, BABY: SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND, and David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS. Other credits include multiple appearances on the COLUMBO mystery show, the cruel warden in the Clint Eastwood film ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, and the crazy king in 1995’s Best Picture of the Year, BRAVEHEART.
But McGoohan’s biggest contribution to the genre was the television show THE PRISONER. A sort of unofficial follow-up to his previous hit spy series DANGER MAN (known as SECRET AGENT MAN in the U.S.), THE PRISONER began as a fairly conventional if cryptic tale of a spy who quits his organization and is kidnapped and taken to an isolated facility known simply as The Village. The unanswered question of this short-lived classic is whether the spy (who is known only as Number Six) has been incarcerated by an enemy organization or by his own people for fear that he would defect.
As the show progressed through its seventeen episodes, it became less of a straight-forward spy story and more of a surreal nightmare, a la TWIN PEAKS (which began as a murder mystery and turned into…something else). The stories became more bizarre, the connection to verisimilitude more tenuous. Metaphor and symbolism became more important than logic, and the whole thing wound up on a completely fantastic note (SPOILER: when the masks is finally pulled away from the man running the village, it is the face of the Prionser himself).
By virtue of leaving so much unexplained or open to interpretation, McGoohan guaranteed that THE PRISONER would become cult item. Proof of the lasting appeal came in the SIMPSONS episode “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes,” for which McGoohan provided the voice of “Number Six,” the only name by which his character in THE PRISONER is known.
McGoohan’s last credit was as a voice actor for the 2002 Disney animated film TEASURE PLANET.

Obituary: Pin-Up Legend Bettie Page

Bettie Page, the pin-up model whose scantily clad (and sometimes unclad) poses helped ignite a storm of controversy in the 1950s, has died at the age of 85. Although her fame is not specifically tied to science fiction, fantasy, and horror, many young boys first became aware of her through ads for her posters that ran in the back pages of magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Page provided the inspiration for the character of Betty in the Rocket Boycomic book; the character was played by Jennifer Connelly (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) in the movie version. One-named artist Olivia also based much of her erotic fantasy artwork on Page, re-imagining the vixen as a mermaid, a devil, an angel, etc. These paintings were collected in the coffee table volume Bettie Page.
Read the Variety obituary here.

Obituary: Nina Foch

Variety reports actress 84-year-old actress and acting teacher Nina Foch has died. Though never a star, before turning to teaching at the University of Southern California, Foch had a long Hollywood career, including two early roles in black-and-white horror films from the classic era: THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE with Bela Lugosi; CRY OF THE WEREWOLF (both in 1944). Other credits in her long resume include the CARRIE-ripoff JENNIFER (1978); the “Borderland” episode of the original OUTER LIMITS TV show; plus appearances on THE WILD WILD WEST, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER;, SHADOW CHASERS, and ALIEN NATION.

Obituary: Beverly Garland

Beverly Garland in IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956)
Beverly Garland in IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956)

Actress Beverly Garland, who starred in numerous low-budget sci-fi and horror films, died on Friday in her Hollywood Hills home, at the age of 82. Garland had a lengthy and varied resume, including roles in films and television, but she will always be fondly remembered by fans for playing strong, gutsy women in 1950s efforts like THE NEANDERTHAL MAN; CURUCU, BEAST OF THE AMAZON; and THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE. She had a featured role in the “House of the Seven Gables” episode of TWICE-TOLD TALES, a color anthology horror film starring Vincent Price in three episodes based on stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. And she played the unfortunate mother in PRETTY POISON (1968), a sort of PSYCHO spin-off starring Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld.
At a time when most sci-fi films offered only damsel in distress roles, Garland was something of an anomaly, often taking matters into her own hands – as when her character attempts, on her own (admittedly unsuccessfully), to kill the alien in Roger Corman’s 1956 effort IT CONQUERERD THE WORLD. Corman also cast her in NOT OF THIS EARTH (1957) and in one of her most interesting non-genre roles, the lead in THE GUNSLINGER (in which she plays the widow of a murdered sheriff – who straps on her dead husband’s guns to track down his killer).
Television credits include two episodes of SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE, an episode of THE TWLIGHT ZONE (“The Four of Us Are Dying”), an episode of DANGER MAN (known as “Secret Agent Man” in the U.S.), two episodes of THE WILD WILD WEST, an episode of THE PLANET OF THE APES, and several episodes of LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. Non-genre roles included appearances on REMINGTON STEELE, THE SCARECROW AND MRS KING, MY THREE SONS, and PORT CHALRES. Her last screen credits were for a recurring role on SEVENTH HEAVEN, which ran from 1997 to 2004.
Garland was a fun and fesity actress – and apparently an astute businesswoman as well. She parlayed her acting income into purchasing the Beverly Garland Hotel, a fixture of North Hollywood. Cult movie and sci-fi fans can get a kick out of entering the lobby of the classy-looking building – and seeing photographs from her old exploitation movies dotting the walls of the lobby.
Read the Variety obituary here.

Obituary: Famous Monsters Founder Forest J. Ackerman

92-year-old science-fiction fan Forest J. Ackerman – founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland– died last night, just before midnight. Ackerman became famous as the world’s number one fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films; at a time when the genre was considered beneath contempt by the mainstream media, he started the very first magazine devoted to the genre, Famous Monsters, which became famous for offering a cornucopia of rare and amazing still photographs, usually captioned with Ackerman’s infamous bad puns (e.g., a shot of a robot being repaired in FUTURE WORLD was accompanied by this bon mot: “First a Clockwork Orange. Now a Clockwork Lemon,” a joke so weak that Ackerman felt the need to explain that the robot kept malfunctioning). Fortunately, the silliness became part of the magazine’s charm, and eager monsters kids were thrilled to have a publication that filled with interviews and articles about everything from Dracula to Godzilla.
I was not an avid reader of the magazine, but it was good to know it was out there, doing its job, and the issues I did own made for engrossing reading during the long car trips my family took for summer vacations. In those pages, thanks to some photographs of Carlos Villarrias as the Count, I first learned of the existence of the Spanish-language version of DRACULA that was shot simultaneously with the famous Bela Lugosi classic in 1931. I was amazed by behind-the-scenes shots from the filming of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962). I learned behind-the-scenes details about many of the movies I loved while growing up: Poe films starring Vincent Price, Hammer horrors with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Ackerman also kept an eye on new movies, but his love for the classics could not be diminished. At one point he even opined that THE EXORCIST had earned a place among the greats, but it was no replacement for old black-and-white films like THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and FRANKENSTEIN.
Not content to sit behind the editor’s desk, Ackerman used his magazine to achieve his own small slice of fame. Low-budget filmmakers eager for any kind of recognizable name or face would put him in low-budget exploitation films like DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. Later, young filmmakers who had grown up reading Famous Monsters would give him cameos in their films (as when Joe Dante had Ackerman walk through THE HOWLING, carrying some old issues behind his back).
Ackerman eventually convinced foreign filmmaker Michael Bergman to make a film more or less about him. Bergman had contacted Ackerman, a former literary agent, about finding the rights to an old science fiction story, but Ackerman pitched himself as the subject for a movie. Bergmann agreed and concocted a tale about an obscure old silent movie monster who escapes from the screen into real life; desperate to find his way back into the movie where he belongs, he seeks out the world’s foremost authority on old horror films, Ackerman. The result was MY LOVELY MONSTER (1990). Ackerman helped add some “name” value to the low-budget production by having some friends from the industry show up to play bit parts in a party scene: actor Ferdinand Mayne (DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES, actress Bobbie Breesee, sci-fi writer Ib Melchoir, journalist Bill Warren, filmmaker and special effects artist Mike Jittlov, and horror icon Boris Karloff’s daughter, Sarah. Somehow, I myself managed to become one of the party guests, but you would need sharp eyes to spot me devouring kiwi fruits in the background. (Hey, they lured me down with the promise of a free lunch, but the only food was the stuff visible on screen.)
Ackerman’s fame was of a cult sort, but he did become the poster boy for Sci-Fi Fandom. Twenty years ago, in the wake of the post-STAR WARS blockbuster success of the genre, when a local television news station wanted to do a feature about the fact that science fiction was now mainstream, no longer the sole province of nerds and geeks, whom did they show as an example? Ackerman himself, draped in an old Dracula cape, creeping around dark corridors, doing a corny Lugosi imitation as he looked into the camera and urged, “Don’t be afraid…”
Since Famous Monsters ceased publication, Ackerman’s influence on the genre waned somewhat, but he was still the ultimate fan, beloved by other fans who remembered him from the childhood days. And Ackerman remained well known as a collector who frequently allowed guests to tour his “Acker-Mansion,” where they could see his extensive collection of books, posters, props, and costumes from classic movie monsters. In later years, Ackerman wanted to donate the collection to the City of Los Angeles for a museum, but that never came to pass.
I perhaps was born just a bit too late to be as fully enamored of the Ackerman Mythos as many fans are. I preferred a more serious approach to science-fiction, which is why I gravitated toward Cinefantastique. Yet even so, I have to acknowledge Ackerman’s work as a trail-blazer. There is something to be said for being first. And throughout his life, he retained his devotion to the genre that he loved, making personal appearances at local revival houses screening films like THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and SHE. Anyone who who makes an effort to get people to see old movies on the big screen – not at home on television – deserves my eternal gratitude.
I only ever met Ackerman once or twice, and he seemed just as affable in person as he did in any of his public appearances or television interviews. The wide-eyed, almost naive enthusiasm was, I think, not a pose but a genuine expression of his character. In the pages of Famous Monsters, this may sometimes have expressed itself in gag-worthy puns, but there is no doubt that Ackerman possessed, as few people truly do, a genuine Sense of Wonder.
You can read more details about Ackerman’s life in the AP obituary. Also, check out this tribute by David Del Valle (written shortly before Ackerman’s not unexpected death).

The Score: Remember Irving Gertz

Film composer Irving Gertz, a significant contributor to the music of the Universal science fiction film boom of the 1950s whose music was heard in dozens of the studios classic sf and horror films of the decade, died on Nov. 14 in Los Angeles, at the age of 93.

The youngest of eight children, Gertz was born May 19, 1915, in Providence, R.I. He played a variety of instruments at an early age and went on to study at the Providence College of Music. He became associated with the Providence Symphony and composed several chorus works for the Catholic Choral Society. In 1939 he began working at Columbia’s music department before joining the army two years later. After World War II, Gertz returned to motion pictures, scoring and arranging for many companies.

His first work in the genre at Universal was in collaborating with Herman Stein and Henry Mancini on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953), each of them composing about an equal third of the score (although the main thematic approach was created by Stein). Universal Pictures exemplified the team approach to film scoring, and most of the studio’s B-pictures were composed by a group of anywhere from two to half a dozen or more composers, each taking segments of the film and sharing musical motifs to generate a reasonably cohesive composition. Virtually all newly composed material went into the studio’s music library and these tracks were liberally re-used, under the coordination of music director Joseph Gershenson, in a multitude of other films. Thus Gertz contributed either original music or recycled library cues to the scores of THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US in 1956 (most of the score was written by Henry Mancini, aided by Gertz, Heinz Roemheld, and Hans Salter) and 1957’s THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (Gertz’s most memorable music from this film is the mysterioso in the early scene in which the ocean mist envelops Scott Carey), and he composed nearly all of the original music for THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957).

It was this film (with its unusual story of crystalline rocks from outer space that react chemically to the water on Earth, growing to monstrous, threatening proportions) that perhaps best exemplifies Gertz’s science fiction scoring of the 50s, and stands out as fine “B” movie music for the period. Most of the score was composed by Gertz, with assistance from Stein and Mancini, plus a short tracked cue that opens the picture, originally from THE DEADLY MANTIS, by William Lava. In fact, much of Gertz’s music for MONOLITH MONSTERS came from DEADLY MANTIS as well, as was often the case with B-pictures in those days. Gertz and Lava co-composed the score to MANTIS fairly equally, and their thematic material was delicate and discrete. But MANTIS had buried much of its music under the sound effects of the roaring, buzzing insect while MONOLITH foregrounds the music, which plays a larger role in the film.

For Twentieth Century-Fox, Gertz scored THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959), an intriguing if poorly visualized monster story about a man saved from death by an alligator gland formula (with the unfortunate and unexpected side-effect of gradually transforming him into two-legged crocodilian). Gertz provided a wholly original score that overcame the picture’s tight music budget not by reducing the size of the orchestra or the amount of music – both elements Gertz knew the picture needed to maintain a convincing atmosphere to enhance its fanciful premise – but by composing music that, with a few minor changes, could be used in more than one scene, thus saving considerable time and money.

Gertz composed music for Universal’s THE LEECH WOMAN (1960) before joining fellow Universal alumni Stein and Hans Salter on Irwin Allen’s television series, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and LAND OF THE GIANTS, where he composed the music for several episodes.

“Irving was an immensely talented composer with a unique style, and many of his classical works have been performed in concert through the years,” noted David Schechter, of Monstrous Movie Music, and a long time friend of Gertz. “More important than that, he was a gentle soul and one of the kindest gentlemen I have ever met in my life.” Schechter added that he had the opportunity to take Gertz and his wife Dorothy to the Long Beach, California film music concert, “where Irving had the first opportunity in his long life to hear any of his film music performed live, that being his brilliant ‘Eskimos Attacked’ cue from THE DEADLY MANTIS, authentically conducted by Bill Stromberg.”

Noted Jack Smith, a Golden Age film music devotee and historian, “I’m truly saddened to hear of this Hollywood Maestro’s passing. His great music is a treasure to those of us who spent our lives in the dark on Saturdays, watching horrifically fun movies while screaming our heads off and eating jujubes, popcorn, Payday candy bars and gulping those big colas. Thanks Maestro Gertz, for a richer kidhood – and wonderful memories as a graying member of the cognoscenti. THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE is my favorite…”

Gertz is survived by his wife of 64 years, Dorothy; two daughters, Susie Anson and Madeleine Herron; and four grandchildren.

Science fiction author Michael Crichton dies

Michael Crichton – who wrote such popular science-fiction novels as Prey and Sphere – has passed away. According to this Reuter’s article, the author died ‘died “unexpectedly” on Tuesday in Los Angeles after a private battle with cancer.’ He was 66. Crichton was a huge influence on cinefantastique. Not only were his books turned into such films as THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN,THE TERMINAL MAN,  JURASSIC PARK, and THE LOST WORLD; he also wrote and directed several feature films: WESTWORLD, LOOKER, and RUNAWAY. Cricthon was 66. His family plans to hold a private service.
RELATED ARTICLE: MIchael Crichton on adapting JURASSIC PARK to the screen.

Obituary: Stan Winston

Stan WinstonStan Winston – who built up a company that became one of Hollywood’s top suppliers of high-tech makeup and effects – died on Sunday evening of multiple myeloma. He was 62.
Stan Winston Studios contributed Oscar-winning prosthetic make-up and animatronic effects to such blockbusters as ALIENS, TEMINATOR 2, and JURASSIC PARK. When computer-generated imagery revolutionized the field of special effects, Winston moved with the times, supplying digital effects as well.
Winston sat in the director’s chair on a few occassions Read More

Obituary: Julie Ege alerts us to the sad news that Hammer horror heroine Julie Ege died from breast cancer on April 29. Ege starred in two of the British company’s less well received films, CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT and LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES. CREATURES was an attempt to do another prehistoric movie in the vein of ONE MILLION B.C. and WHEN DINOSAURS RULES THE EARTH – but without the dinosaurs. Ege of course played the ravishing cave girl. LEGEND was an attempt to revitalize the Dracula franchise by pitting vampire-hunter Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) against kung fu vampires in China. Ege played a woman who joins the expedition. Although a fairly typical role, there was some attempt to fashion a more independent female character, and she has a wonderful tragic scene near the end. She also appeared in THE FREAKMAKER, CRAZE (with Jack Palance), and and the Bond film ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE.

Obituary: Bebe Barron

The original soundtrack album for FORBIDDEN PLANETThe Los Angeles Times brings us the sad news that pioneering electronic composer Bebe Barron has died, at the age of 82. Along with her then-husband Louis Barron, Bebe scored the 1956 science-fiction classic FORBIDDEN PLANET. Before the modern synthesizer, the duo created music using tubes and circuits that emitted tones, which they would record and manipulate, speeding them up, slowing them down, or splicing them together. The result was a unique, futuristic sonic landscape that perfectly captured the beauty and terror of Altair IV. In fact, the avante garde soundtrack, which bridged the gap between music and sound effects, was credited as “Electronic Tonalities” rather than music. Read More