Updated: August 31, 2005
PULP FANTASY.COM (MIKE CLARK)
By MIKE CLARK:
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
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
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
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.