Monday, March 8, 2010

"If you must go, wear this for your mother's sake."

As a crazed young man, my passions seemed to be divided between two points: horror and humour. Things that fueled the imagination and things that made me laugh. My love of comic books and magazines in general seemed to be defined by either of two major influences: MAD magazine and Famous Monsters Of Filmland. (Actually it could be three points: humour, horror and hedonism; as I was also obsessed with Playboy and any other adult magazines I could find lying in the trash, like Swank or Cavalier.) I intend to speak in upcoming thoughts regarding the influence of MAD on my world view, so at this point I will speak of the effect of the latter, Famous Monsters Of Filmland. The magazine led me in the very early 60s to discover a new organization called the Count Dracula Society. Founded by Dr. Donald A. Reed of Los Angeles, the society was made up of professionals in the horror and fantasy film business, as well as enthusiastic fans of the genre. It was a wonderful time, way before the commercialization of sci-fi fandom, for lovers of horror, sci-fi and fantasy films to get a chance to informally hobnob with the top professionals of the film world. It was totally unpretentious and non-commercialized. I was very lucky as a young boy to get into the Count Dracula Society and become one of its long time supporters.

Meetings for the Society would happen in multipurpose rec rooms at various parks and schools throughout the L.A. area. Each year an awards ceremony and banquet would be held in numerous Hollywood hotels and locations. It was amazing to discover who you would meet at any particular get-together. At my very first meeting, which my father had brought me to, I found myself sitting on a cheap folding chair next to a gentleman on my left who looked vaguely familiar, but to whom no one particularly acknowledged. Famous Monsters Of Filmland editor Forrest J Ackerman was the main speaker, followed by a make-up technician from the studios. After the meeting was over, the gentleman to my left who had been very gracious to me and my father, walked up to Forry and introduced himself by saying, "My name is George Kennedy. I just finished filming a horror movie written by Robert Bloch." Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, was represented by Forrest, as he was a literary agent. The film was William Castle's "Straight-Jacket," which would be released in 1964. This would be way before Kennedy would win an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in "Cool Hand Luke."

That was the beginning of meeting an incredible variety of actors, writers, directors and technicians in the film world. It was quite mind-boggling. Having dinner with Vincent Price or Robert Wise or Rouben Mamoulian or Rock Hudson or Strother Martin or John Agar or Ray Bradbury or Ray Harryhausen or Christopher Lee or...

Which leads me to the photo shown. That is the great character actor William Marshall. I love character actors. I'm going to ramble on about character actors for a long time to come. William Marshall was a standout. God was he good. Brought to a sort of fame for doing the "Blackula" films, he was an actor of sublime nuance prior to that. As a human being, he seemed a cut other than the typical Hollywood actor. As an actor, he was astounding. He had that voice. Oh, how the voice is so important. Perhaps like how the way you feel when you hear James Earl Jones. When William Marshall spoke to us at that dinner, we were transfixed by that voice. I loved his work in the very first episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." He also appeared opposite Patrick McGoohan in "Danger Man." I can't think of a finer stage and screen actor than William Marshall. And probably one of the most gentle people I have every met.