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PULP FANTASY.COM (MIKE CLARK)

Updated: August 31, 2005

By MIKE CLARK: (Contributing Writer)

IRWIN ALLEN:

Even as a kid, I used to read the credits as they rolled by at the end of my favorite TV shows. That's how I learned about Gerry Anderson, and the surprising fact that his show Supercar, set in Black Rock, Nevada, was actually produced in Slough, England. In 1964, I became aware of "Irwin Allen." Of course, you didn't have to wait to see Allen's name at the end of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" it was pasted right up front in the main titles. "CREATED AND PRODUCED BY IRWIN ALLEN." It was quite a name "Irwin Allen" rolls off the tongue very easily, almost as smooth as the Seaview gliding through an underwater scene.

Producers were seldom stars in the early 60's. Maybe the only exceptions were Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock, because they actually hosted their programs. Most behind-the-scenes people toiled in anonymity; their egos satisfied by huge salaries and the "single-card" credit common at the time.

As time went on, I noticed Allen's name again on "Lost In Space," then "The Time Tunnel," and "Land of the Giants." What a busy guy! Four shows in production at one time...how the heck did he manage them all? Most producers burn out doing only one show (read Herb Solow's book about Star Trek for a good example).

In the 70's, Allen's named appeared on several hugely successful films, such as "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno," and then some lessor ones... "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure," "The Swarm," and "When Time Ran Out." Mixed with a few made for television movies, Allen was very active until the mid-80s...when time ran out!

Around 1980, my good friend (and "Voyage" enthusiast) Bill Cotter and I decided to pitch a "Voyage" episode guide to STARLOG magazine. They bit and during the writing of it, we decided to see if they could also use an article on the show itself. Our editor, Dave McDonnell, said "yeah" and we began our research. We interviewed people from the show, including Del Monroe, who played seaman "Kowalski." We talked to the Seaview's designers, including gentlemanly Herman Blumenthal and scrappy Jack Martin Smith.

We also had our sights set on "the Big One"..."Irwin Allen himself. I had heard various descriptions of Allen, usually "larger than life," "difficult," "a perfectionist," and so on. From newspaper stories and TV Guide articles, I had learned of Allen's consummate organizational skills. It seemed he had a complete breakdown of every show's productions status...how long filming took...how much film was used... how much time was lost due to talent problems or special effects. Allen frequently was on the set of his series, cracking the whip when a director got behind in shooting. He was totally on top of everything. With four shows in production, this was an extraordinary feat. But then, Allen was not distracted by family concerns. He had none! Allen was a bachelor until he wed actress Sheila Matthews in 1974. Yes, Allen had quite a bio, and even before we made the phone call, Bill and I were intimidated. Later on, we would be even more intimidated!

Allen had left 20th Century Fox after "Towering Inferno," and set up shop at Warner Bros. Studios. A phone call was made to his publicist, Tony Habeeb, who granted us an interview. Tony's directions to Allen's huge office were a little vague, and the Warner lot is a labyrinth of buildings and sound stages. Bill and I maneuvered to Allen's building, and, holding our breaths, knocked on the large, wooden door. A few minutes later...we knocked again. No answer! Our appointment time was passing as we becoming more distressed over what to do. Here we were, at the king's gate, but no one to lower the drawbridge! I think the darn office was just so big nobody heard us.

Now, we were late to an important interview with Irwin Allen! Panicking, we located a studio phone nearby and called his office. Quickly explaining to the secretary that we could not get in, that we were there, and could someone open the door?? We rushed back, and were let in by Tony. Shaken, but not stirred, we gathered our thoughts as we sat in Allen's outer office. Secretaries and assistants breezed in and out, since Allen was in the midst of producing several TV movies, and in post production on "When Time Ran Out."

Bill and I exchanged a few "how 'bout that" glances, and finally, the king called for us.

Tony gestured for us to come through another set of large, wooden doors, and we entered the realm of Irwin Allen. It was a large office...probably 60 feet from entrance to the back wall...and two stories high. Larger than life. It was tastefully decorated, with only a hint of show-business adorning the walls. A large production painting from "When Time Ran Out" hung on one wall, while a two foot model of a masted sailing ship rested on a book case.

And there, standing behind a very, very large desk was Irwin himself. At the time, Allen was in his mid sixties, dressed in a slightly outrageous blue-gray suit, with his brillo-like hair swirling atop his head. His eyes were attentive, but not piercing. Even so, he sized Bill and myself up as we took the long walk to his desk (nothing intimidating about our appearance...in fact, we probably resembled the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz," about to meet the Wizard himself.)

After a cordial but somewhat stiff introduction, Irwin shouted "HORATIO!!!" and from out of nowhere a man appeared. "Would you like something to eat?" asked Allen. Bill and I, in no mood to disagree with anything, said "yes" and Horatio flew away to gather some pastry. Bill and I returned our attention to Allen, who scanned us with a slightly inquisitive gaze. Tony sat nearby, ready to bail out Allen in case we sprouted antenna or made any menacing gestures. I think Allen had spent little or no time with younger people, aside from his cast members, in quite a while. And he had spent even less time with fans...so there we were...young fans. Bill and I quickly told him what admirers we were of his projects, and that we were doing a "Voyage" article for STARLOG. We then had to explain what STARLOG was, and how many readers it served. And yes, they really were sincerely interested in "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea." Allen, no stranger to working the press, was careful in his reactions. He had been burned many times by reporters, and probably wanted to know if we were hostile or not.

Horatio appeared again with the goodies, and Irwin questioned him relentlessly about what was on the tray. Poor Horatio...I knew him well. (Not really). He slipped out of the room to fetch some orange juice, while I foolishly began noshing on a bagel, filling my mouth with so much bun that my conversation became inaudible. I almost choked under Allen's stare as Bill answered his questions. Somehow, we explained our intentions and Allen relaxed enough to answer a few questions. I always use a tape recorder to get accurate quotes for my articles, and the appearance of this device made Allen a little edgy.

It had been quite a while since Allen had talked about "Voyage," and in some ways we knew more about the show than he did. Still, he was a fairly cooperative interview when it came to dealing with facts. As I later discovered, it's harder to nail him down on "the soft" stuff. For instance, I asked him what movies he liked. He replied, "I like successful movies." I thought he didn't understand my question, so I provided several examples of movies like "Star Wars" and "Jaws" and asked if he enjoyed them. Allen wouldn't reveal any more. "I like successful movies."

Experienced writers can wring an emotion or two out of a subject, but Bill and I were on our first assignment and were readily out matched. We generally stuck to the facts, got a few usable quotes, and bid our farewells to Allen, Tony, and Horatio.

Outside, we caught our breaths in the stunned revelation that we had actually accomplished an interview with a very big name in Sci-Fi. Just getting in the door seemed like a major triumph (especially true since the door had been locked!). We had asked Allen to be available if any other questions came up, and he agreed. However, after our frightening introduction, I wasn't sure I was up to it. My research for the "Voyage" article took me back to Allen's old studio, 20th Century Fox. It was there that I was permitted to photograph miniatures of the Flying Sub and the Seaview. I even had to lift the show's eight foot long Seaview miniature, and place in upon some seamless paper for a photograph. The damn thing must have weighed about 70 pounds! Still, "Voyage" was and is one of my favorite shows. In a future article, I'll describe how the show's 17 foot long Seaview ended up in my garage for several years.

In the meantime, Bill and I completed the article on a primitive Compaq computer, and shipped it and tons of photographs off to Starlog. 3 months later, I returned to Allen's office with copies of the magazine.

Allen had mixed feelings about the article, which STARLOG had titled "Up from The Depths...the making and Breaking of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea." I explained that the title was not our idea, which he accepted. A reference to the uneven talents of "Voyage's" most prolific writer, William Welch, did not go down so well either. Overall, Allen felt we hadn't knifed him and I suggested that there was a lot more we would like to discuss.

Allen agreed, and it started an 11 year association that I will continue to describe in the next PulpFantasy.com.


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