Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"More wolfbane?"

Going through the long shelved archives, amongst the programs of plays done at John A Rowland High School and the Diamond Bar Players, the goofy bits of writing for the High School Newspaper, THE BRANDING IRON ("yuck"), and poetry that actually ended as a runner up in a Buffalo Springfield lyric writing contest (more on that later), I found a number of artifacts pertaining to my long running relationship with THE COUNT DRACULA SOCIETY of the early '60s to mid '70s.  I am always amazed at how many important, interesting and influential persons were at those get-togethers, be they at some multi-purpose building in a Los Angeles park, a celebrity's home in old Hollywood or a vintage hotel like the Knickerbocker.  I've discussed days with THE COUNT DRACULA SOCIETY on these pages in the past.  And have included photos with Vincent Price, William Marshall, Robert Quarry and Ray Bradbury.  But rediscovering the programs for the annual awards banquet, reminded me how rich the company was.  Especially for a 15 or 16 year old boy.

These were relaxed times.  Where fans of gothic horror movies, literature, fantasy and science fiction, could rub elbows with top professionals in all fields, and not be corrupted by blatant commercialism or attempts to hustle a gig.  It was for the love of the genre.  How things have changed.  And why I gravitated away from it by the late '70s, early '80s.

It all started with the youthful obsession with FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine and its enthusiastic editor Forrest J Ackerman (he never liked a period after the middle J).  This magazine was the bible for twisted youths in love with weird movies.  And its editor was very available to its fans; being run by the biggest sci-fi fan of all.

In a way, like in the bohemian past, Forry ran a sort of salon.  The door of his home was almost always open to seekers of the strange, in awe to walk through his collection of mind-bending artifacts.  His Robotrix from METROPOLIS at the front door, his collection of Universal Monster Heads, his original sci-fi magazine art, film posters and photos.  Ray Guns and movie props.  It was a trip, Man!

Getting to know Forry led to the discovery of a new organization called The Count Dracula Society.  "Devoted to the serious study of horror films and gothic literature."  I got my sympathetic, fantasy loving father, to take me to a meeting in some multi-purpose room at some park in South Los Angeles, where we met Forry and the Society's Founder and President, Doctor Donald A. Reed.  This is where I sat next to a still rather unknown George Kennedy, there to say hello to Forry, as he had just finished filming a movie written by PSYCHO author Robert Bloch, whom Forry was his literary agent.  And so an association began with the society lasting under 20 years.

I'm always dazzled by the company that one elbowed with at those meetings, award banquets and film screenings, public and private.  Three of the earliest award recipients, I never met: Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr.  But Vincent Price crossed my path at an awards dinner and the world premiere of DR. PHIBES at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.  Hosted by Army Archerd, I also got to meet eccentric voice actor Paul Frees, who was on the soundtrack album, doing impressions that had nothing to do with the film.  Still, this was Boris Badenov from ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE, company member with Stan Freberg, the Pillsbury Doughboy and every other voice in the English language release of RODAN.

 I met two of my three favourite sci-fi authors there:  Ray Bradbury and A. E. Van Vogt.  Also Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber, Jr.  Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster sat next to me at a dinner once, which I didn't realize till halfway through the meal.

Many of my fellow youthful enthusiasts went on to careers in the field.  Randall Kleiser, Joe Dante and John Landis, who I got to work with in two of his movies, THE BLUES BROTHERS and INTO THE NIGHT.  Special effects and makeup people came out of this group too.  Stop motion animator David Allen was a good friend; he living in Anaheim while I lived in Fullerton.  David was a student of masters Willis O'Brien of KING KONG and Ray Harryhausen of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.  David went on to work for George Lucas, another fan, in STAR WARS and likewise fan Steven Spielberg in YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES and John Landis in OSCAR.  The circles were small in those days.

The more one participated in the Society, the more one was rewarded by Donald Reed with governing positions in the club.  Over the years I became a Governor, Vice Chairman and Assistant Secretary.  The perks of this meant hobnobbing at organizational meetings with Forrest J Ackerman, Ray Bradbury and others.  Donald Reed was a very nice guy who had endless enthusiasm for gothic literature and classic horror films.  I liked the classic gothic edge the society had in the beginning, with many worldwide scholars attending and lecturing.  That aspect of the society diminished over the years as the Hollywood aspect pervaded and the use of The Count Dracula Society as a publicity machine for new projects.  The organization tied in with the Hammer Film release of DRACULA A.D. 1972.  I had letters of introduction and was able to contact Peter Cushing and his wife Helen in Kent and Christopher Lee at his home in Cadogan Square in London in January 1970.  Later when Christopher Lee moved to Los Angeles, he attended one of the awards banquet (at that particular affair, one not only met Lee, but actors Strother Martin and John Agar).

I remember one time, under my official capacity as one thing or another, I had the privilege of giving out to the other Governors, a skull & crossbones pin that had been designed by Bud Abbott of Abbott and Costello fame.  They had been made as parting gifts for cast and crew of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD with Boris Karloff.  They were quite beautiful, with red stone eyes and the words "Your Pal, Bud Abbott." in the mold underneath.  I kept two for myself, one of which I gave to FIRESIGN THEATRE friend David Ossman.  At the banquet I had the pleasure of pinning one on the lapels of director Robert Wise, there to accept an award for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and THE HAUNTING.  Did I mention that Bud Abbott was a friend of Reed's and had donated his remaining collectable pins to the Society? 

Those were heady times.  I've posted pictures here in past entries, with Vincent Price, William Marshall, Robert Quarry, Rock Hudson, Ray Bradbury.  There's more, of course.  I remember one banquet with director Curtis Harrington, there to pick up an award with a table filled of cast members from his film GAMES.  Method actor Don Stroud was there, quite intoxicated, laughing hysterically at all of the speaker's foreign names, like Devandra P. Varma.  Otherwise, the more intimate meetings at old Hollywood mansions in classic screening rooms were pure magic.  Was it the home of director Rouben Mamoullian, who did THE MARK OF ZORRO and THE GARDEN OF ALLAH that we joined actress Carol Borland in a rare screening of THE MARK OF THE VAMPIRE?
Pure Magick!