Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"It is the middle ground between light and shadow."

The recent death of science fiction author George Clayton Johnson brought me back into orbit with my early passion for '50s and '60s sci-fi literature.  George co-wrote LOGAN'S RUN, several TWILIGHT ZONEs and the first episode of STAR TREK (not the pilot).  He also wrote the only decent Rat Pack film, the original OCEAN'S ELEVEN.

Quite possibly an equal influence on my deviant youth was his founding and co-ownership of the beat(nik) Orange County coffee house, CAFE FRANKENSTEIN, in Laguna Beach, California.  My parents loved driving in the car.  Hauling me and my sister in the Ford de jour for quick, but not quick enough, jaunts through all points SoCal.  Trapped in the back seat, missing my comic books back home or something cool on the telly, I would stare out the right hand window, observing the apocalyptic landscape that was (and still is) Door Hinge County. 
What newest grove of Orange trees has been mowed down to make way for the latest crop of tract house?  The natural carnage had spread out from hyper-urbanized Fullerton and Anaheim, to once pastoral Placentia and Yorba Linda.  Out beyond to the hills and valleys of Orange and Santa Ana.  Spreading beyond to the doorsteps of Corona and Riverside.  If the parents had opted not to head to Riverside, with an end destination to be the 31 Flavors Ice Cream Store, then the journey might wind through the Sleepy Hollow hills and valleys that would ultimately lead to the off beat beach community of Laguna Beach.
The town was not like other beach communities; somehow slightly off kilter.  To my youthful perception, it had an exciting, Romantic feel.  A calling to my sleeping Pirate subconscious.  If we were there during the day, we would probably notice two things: the wild and gently crazy man who waved at all the cars on the main thoroughfare; a visit to the Pottery Shack, where the aquariums with the shells that opened up contained unusual flora and odd stuff.  A nighttime visit would bring out the oddly colour lighted seaside buildings and shacks.  On the posh end was the Victor Hugo restaurant.  On the mystical and bohemian side was the CAFE FRANKENSTEIN.

This was doubly exciting to me as a kid.  The beatnik mystique was calling me through art and images in MAD MAGAZINE.  And to name this pad after the Good Doctor's Creation.  I was drawn to what secret initiate mysteries might await inside.  And the taboo cult was spreading.  In Brea, a little coffeehouse opened up called DRACULA'S DEN.  Yet another clubhouse named after the sacred Universal Monsters.  Is it little surprise that I opened up a Beatnik Lemonade Stand in front of my house in Fullerton called KING KONG'S KORNER?  TRUE!

Also, on the drive into Riverside, there was a cool looking place called DIOGENES' LANTERN.  The Hermit!!!  My fate was pre-ordained.  All the Signs were there...and usually lit by a red and blue light bulb.

But I digress...
So George Clayton Johnson was a member of the Southern California science fiction circle, which included Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson.  It was Beaumont who introduced him to Rod Serling and resulted in seven episodes for the show.  Johnson was a true eccentric, perhaps not as literary driven as his mates.  He would hitch-hike to and from the events, where a young sci-fi fan as myself would attend, enjoying the company of these professional dreamers.  Places like the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (or LASFS), the Count Dracula Society and the later Academy of  Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.

The photo above is of one such gathering of the Count Dracula Society, probably 1966 (held at a place called Rudi's Italian Inn on Crenshaw Blvd., I believe).  We are listening to Ray Bradbury speak.  Yours truly, bespectacled, seated in front of the dais, waiting to get my copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes signed by the author.  Forrest J Ackerman and others are there.  This photo was published in the English hardbound book The Dracula Scrapbook by Peter Haining.  Anyway, it was heady company for a high school kid.  So glad I missed those football games.