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Thursday, October 08, 2020

Go Way Far Back To #1

 


Visiting a Genre Zine At Its Start


All hail Filmfax, thirty-four years since starting, and repository for film lore second to none. I misremember in-print fandom as something we had in abundance through the sixties and part of the seventies, followed by parch earth lasting a decade at least. Being a self-centered sort as is most of humanity, it took long while to recognize it was me what built a wall from genre publications for simple reason I outgrew them, or thought at the time I did. Castle of Frankenstein had quit in 1975, but Famous Monsters lingered till 1983, long after I gave it up. FM would surprise me thereafter for still being on stands, one Star War cover after another as reminder that new days were upon us, and who needed them? There was The Monster Times, begun in 1972, which for some reason I never came across, so imagined it sold only in boroughs of NY or kiosks in Jersey. A few I saw looked interesting, more tabloid than mag, which made MT distinctly urban-based. “Fanzines” emerged from a seeming desert, obscure but for pen-pals spreading word or tom-toms beat among those who kept lamps lit. But there were plenty circulating for those who paid attention. Cinefantastique went glossy and mainstream by 1970, heavy toward sci-fi, plus focus upon current releases. Fangoria sprung in 1979, but gory covers kept me at bay. Mags were thus out there in abundance, but I had taken my ball and gone home, wailing the while that FM/CoF bred readers were not being served as they should. Narrow is the path for ones who demand meals be cooked precise. Filmfax was a first to speak again for a fan base rooted most in 50’s and backward fare.

Fox Placed This Ad on Page Two of Filmfax #2, Skies The Limit Thereafter. Also Note Ad Below, From Issue #3, for a Collector's Meet Circa 1986



Old mags are lots like standard DVD’s I mentioned a couple weeks back, orphans of a streaming or Blu-driven storm. My run of Filmfax sat lonely on shelves too long … why commit to closure of a set if you stop reading them? Issue One beckoned, so I took it down to see if charm was still intact. Nothing of the 80’s will move me unduly, no near-tears like a vintage CoF might arouse, but are there those for whom Filmfax was a beginner point and touchstone for genre dedication to follow? They might cry copious for recall of Filmfax beckoning from a store shelf long ago, and let’s face it, the 80’s was long ago. Filmfax has outlasted other genre mags but for a couple, Little Shoppe of Horrors, began by editor-publisher Richard Klemensen in 1972 comes to mind, then there is Midnight Marquee, which goes back to an astounding 1963. Appropriate that Shoppe should be in midst of memorializing genre-devoted magazines. But back to Filmfax #1. Like any issue, there are must-pieces and ones less a priority. #1 surprised me for being near-one hundred percent of interest, and not in a sense of info told/retold to tedium since. These 1986 articles were fresh as a daisy to me. From so much that was good, I pick an outstanding three to mention, each a treat. You read stuff this good and say yes, let’s push forward to (current) #156, not forgetting spin-off Outré (1995-2003). Trouble is but one lifetime to go back and again enjoy all of things we like.



I visited Space Patrol and similar ilk in 2006, have lost not my enthusiasm for early TV orbit-operatic since. Bugaboo is familiar, as in born too late to be transfixed before the tube at uniquely impressionable age, unique the more because Space Patrol could no way work unless you were there for its acme, plus access to gimcracks sold off cereal boxes or mail-in. Here was forty million earned in 1952 alone for plastic toys barely out of a box before they’d crack or go discarded. The Space Patrolling cast dashed from cloudy telecasts to supermarket opens, kid hospitals, any place intergalactic warriors might go to be worshipped. Familiar dismiss as mere “radio with pictures” might apply to Space Patrol, that neither fair, or enough, to describe magic the show wove for half a 50’s decade celebrating all things otherworldly. Filmfax coverage was in two parts, exhaustive (but not exhausting), and written by Jean-Noel Bassior, who grew up on the daily dose (radio, fifteen-minute live broadcasts, then nationwide feed on ABC in half-hours). Space Patrol was afternoon serial fix laced with gentle push to eat cereal that sponsored it (the Chex variety --- ever try them?). I seldom went box-top route, my loss in face of what it meant to a writer like Bassior who evangelizes yet for Space Patrol (via webpage, plus a McFarland book).



Ed Bernds directed a lot of Bowery Boy films and lived to tell it for Filmfax. He blows no kisses, however. Leo and Huntz were tabbed “the idiots” by producing heads, herewith Ed’s Gorcey estimate: “Leo was a pig, a miserable person, but he had a lot of talent --- which he eventually dissolved in alcohol.” Now there’s damning with faint praise, or should I say praising with un-faint damning? Gorcey would “have a shot of booze just before the camera started rolling,” a basis for Slip’s consummate wit? As to “Sach”/Hall, never mind. “Of the two, I disliked Huntz the most,” said Ed. So why stick around? Bernds said the work was genial otherwise, and there were creative opportunities, plus steady checks due to well-oil by overseeing Ben Schwalb. Ben, said Ed, “was very concerned with the quality of the pictures … willing to spend money to get an extra laugh.” I checked a Warner disc of High Society, nicely 1.85 instead of the old square screen, with fine quality, but could not stay a dreary course. Trouble is no child years sentiment for these. I hoped High Society was the one where Sach masquerades as landed gentry who by error spreads caviar on his monocle (it dropped among the crackers), pops it in his mouth, then says “Hmmm, kinda crisp” as we hear glass breakage on the track. Did I miss that highlight for not staying High Society’s course, and was Sach eating the monocle part of Loose In London?



Keep Watching The Skies
author Bill Warren contributed a chapter on Tobor The Great to Filmfax #1, this to preview Volume Two of KWTS, which would publish in 1986 and complete his definitive saga of sci-films released from 1950 through 1962. Tender feeling for fantasy went far back for Warren, who saw Tobor The Great in 1954 at age eleven. That made it a great picture, certainly by his definition. He viewed Tobor as a king-size robot customized for a kid-size audience, nuff said so far as my own view (a first time) of the DVD, which has Tobor wrecking no more than living room space before clomp-pursuit of Red operatives poised to blowtorch little Billy Chapin so his granddad will give up state secrets. Best thing about Tobor The Great may have been robot art on posters to fortify any den wall, assuming one has thousands to make the score, that after locating a specimen. Took invest like Warren’s to truly know and love Tobor, us the poorer for not being eleven when he was, so not able to write of the ‘54 experience so fluidly. Warren and Jean-Noel Bassior were birds of a feather in that respect. I enjoy writers who get personal in expressing love for this stuff. Their voices translate easy and inspire us to dig out and watch what was meaningful to them, Filmfax the ideal host for the many who made pages so entertaining and informative for years since 1986.


21 Comments:

Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

The Ed Bernds Bowery Boys pictures, which he usually co-wrote with Elwood Ullman, are warmed-over Three Stooges movies -- as you might expect, given the Bernds-Ullman Stooge connection -- with gags written for Leo Gorcey as Moe, Huntz Hall as Shemp, and Bernard Gorcey as Larry, with David Gorcey and Bennie Bartlett shoved into the background. Gorcey and Hall play the action very dumb, which is why you may have had a tough time with HIGH SOCIETY. Try one of the Monograms instead: BLUES BUSTERS, FIGHTING FOOLS, HOLD THAT LINE... or one of the Gorcey-free entries with Stanley Clements (HOLD THAT HYPNOTIST, LOOKING FOR DANGER), where Hall is more relaxed and no longer having to spar with Gorcey on camera.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

BLUES BUSTERS = PHYLLIS COATES = WORTH WATCHING

7:35 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer remembers genre magazines from his youth:


I remember a Friday afternoon many, many years ago. It was late winter and I was trudging home from school through the lingering slush. I stopped at the little drugstore by the town water tower to see if anything interesting had come in for its magazine rack. To my delight, I saw an issue of Castle of Frankenstein, which was my favorite. I would spend hours poring over its densely packed pages, with its “Movie Noose Reel,” a continuing series of capsule summaries of all science fiction and fantasy films ever made, and articles and reviews by the likes of William K. Everson, Richard Bojarski, and Lin Carter. Finding it, though, was like discovering a quarter someone had dropped. Months might go by before an issue would appear, and then it would rarely be where you’d expect to find a magazine, but in some out-of-the-way place like this drugstore. As I pulled the issue from the rack, I saw that it had a companion, the 1967 Annual “Fearbook.” My mouth dropped agape, that such a wonder even existed. That weekend, all pretentions towards academic excellence vanished before the prospect of investing myself into what was truly important to me.

I imagine that your article has struck a chord in many of your readers, as to what they experienced in discovering films, especially those of a genre, and the magazines that seemed to provide them with the arcana of secret worlds removed from the commonplace realities of this one. Certainly, this was true for me as I became more involved with films. Over the years, there were fanzines like Leonard Maltin’s Film Fan Monthly and Mark Frank’s Photon, and professional journals like Cinefantastique and the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures’ Films in Review. I also subscribed to an industry publication, Film Bulletin, and a completely inappropriate fanzine, Rick Sullivan’s outrageous Gore Gazette.

I found that there might be differences in the skill of design or quality of production between the fanzines and commercial journals I read, or the frequency of publication, but not in enthusiasm or depth of knowledge. In the writing and research, each tended to reflect the intensity of someone in love with what he was writing about. As such, it was a communication from writer to reader on a level that, again, transcended the more commonplace aspects of living in this society. Filmfax has undoubtedly been a favorite with some of the readers of this blog, as it has been for me over the years, and for the same reasons.

Filmfax is still published, of course, and earlier this year I risked the subscription price of The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope. So, it is still possible to approach films today very much as we did before. This is a digital age, however, and not without its own wonders. Perhaps, for a young film buff, Greenbriar Picture Shows will provide its own entre into strange and fascinating worlds. It is a different medium, of course, but the presentation is elegant and the illustrations abundant and reproduced with an accuracy that the print publications of old could not even have aspired to. There is also the voice of its author, unique and personal, and with a literary merit that would alone set it apart.

I should say then that I am content with my memories, as in those magazines that were so much a part of my growing up, but also that I look forward to all the tomorrows to come.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Sitting here contemplating my own stack of aging genre magazines, the thought occurs that it would be nice if pages on the internet steadily and progressively changed color as they aged too.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

It's a shame James Warren kept FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND firmly aimed at 11 year olds as it should have been the standard by which all others were judged. My first issue was #12. I ordered the available back issues. I was hooked until Warren began to republish old articles. Yes, CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN was every thing FM could and should have been except it came out so irregularly. The special issue of PHOTON on THE CURSE/NIGHT OF THE DEMON I still have. FILMFAX is a gem.

I sold my near complete collection of Famous Monsters to cover the costs of bringing Grim Natwick to Toronto in 1982 when the theater I did it with left me high and dry (very dry).

I now have digital copies of FM.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I, too, was a Filmfax fan, until they started to run out of interesting topics. I think I gave up when they did a two-part dissection on "Abbott & Costello Go to Mars."

About 10 years ago I tried selling my collection. Had I tried in the 1990s, I was told, there would have been a market for them. Now they were essentially worthless. I gave them to my daughter, who cut out some of the photos to make collages/mash-ups with her own photos. They look pretty cool.

3:34 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

A few decades ago I moved, and I asked around to see if my back issues of MAD and National Lampoon (80s – 90s) had any street value. They didn't, and went to the recycle bin. My Playboys went some years previous, when I had a near-miss in traffic and envisioned my obit: "Local Man With Pile of Playboy Back Issues Under Bed Dies".

I never got into film magazines, beyond reading Cinefantastique and a few others at the UCSC library in the 70s (no TV in my dorm room). At an early age I started accumulating film books, leaning away from academia and into lots of pictures. "The Films of Laurel and Hardy" and others by William Everson, Alan Barbour nostalgia titles, Kalton C. Lahue's Keystone histories, Sherlockania, Disney animation, and others from when such books were not quite as common as they are now. Even then, one had to be discerning. There were a lot of "Films of" and pictorial histories that boiled down to near-random photos with text even I knew was inaccurate.

Most of these still fill my shelves, although I did let go of some that were really just placebos for not being able to see the films (dialogue printed under frame blowups of the Marx Brothers, etc.). At some point it became automatic to knock out a fat "Making Of" coffee table book for every high-budget movie, but for me at least the fun is mostly past.

Still remember the excitement of getting "The Disney Version" and "The Art of Walt Disney" as gifts (there was a time when a Disney book with meat on it was a rarity). Walter Kerr's "The Silent Clowns" was an event -- I checked it out of the library, then bought the softbound edition. Pictures AND great reading!

The closest I've come to the old thrill among more recent books are Leonard Maltin's anthologies of his long-ago zine, a very handsome bio of Douglas Fairbanks (from a clearance table!), and our host's "Showmen Sell It Hot" and "The Art of Selling Movies".

5:06 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

That's a great color shot of a Paramount Theatre marquee promoting THE MUMMY -- where's this from?

It isn't the New York City Paramount -- the marquee is far too small and narrow. It isn't the Brooklyn Paramount, either (marquee too small for that venue as well).

CURSE OF THE UNDEAD is an ideal co-feature for MUMMY in many ways, though. I was surprised to find that MUMMY went out in NYC with AA's THE BAT and not another U-I picture. MUMMY also failed to score a major Times Square booking -- another surprise, given the past Rialto successes of CURSE and HORROR at the Paramount and Mayfair respectively.

MUMMY opened in NY in mid-December of '59; perhaps there were no major Broadway houses available during the crowded holiday season. JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH opened the same day as an exclusive at the Paramount; THEY CAME TO CORDURA was in its last week at the Criterion (SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER would open there in a week); THE LAST ANGRY MAN was playing at the Forum; ON THE BEACH would premiere in a day or so at the newly refurbished Astor; the DeMille (formerly the Mayfair) had the now-mostly-forgotten BEHIND THE GREAT WALL (in AromaRama!); LI'L ABNER was at the Roxy; BEN-HUR was into the second month of its 74-week reserved seat run at Loew's State; HAPPY ANNIVERSARY was at the Victoria; PORGY AND BESS was still hard-ticket at the Warner; THE BIG FISHERMAN was also still reserved seat at the Rivoli. Loew's Capitol was briefly shuttered for some renovation; it would open SOLOMON AND SHEBA as an exclusive on Christmas day. OPERATION PETTICOAT was the Christmas booking at the Music Hall. That's just midtown -- THE 400 BLOWS, THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, ROOM AT THE TOP, TIGER BAY, SAPPHIRE, THE COUSINS, THE LOVERS were among the city's top specialty offerings; BLACK ORPHEUS would open in a few days.

Okay, I got distracted.

[I was further distracted by a 12/16 item concerning Josef von Sternberg's million dollar suit against Fox; Jo was seeking damages over the production of the studio's recent remake of THE BLUE ANGEL. The director charged, per the Times, that the film was made without his consent, and "was so inferior that it decreased the value of the original."]

So... what "Paramount Theatre" is that?

Regards,
-- Griff

JOHN REPLIES:

Wish I knew. Surely someone out there can tell us.

7:34 PM  
Blogger RTWhite said...

I don't think I've ever known ANYONE who admitted to even knowing about Filmfax! (I've been a loyal subscriber from its start.) How about a post on Films of the Golden Age- I'd love to know your take on it (and Classic Images, too!)

7:38 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Have been a CLASSIC IMAGES subscriber since 1968 when it was Sam Rubin's THE CLASSIC FILM COLLECTOR. Great publication!

9:33 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Ha, ha! I could roll up not only this wonderful post but also all the comments to date and chirp in agreement "Yeah!!! Like you said!!!"

Consumed all the monster magazines as a kid, even the crappy Stan Lee efforts featuring unidentified stills with witless cartoon balloons (I mean, sheesh! Those weren't even as funny as the trading cards!) Loved Famous Monsters, but Castle of Frankenstein was not only my first, but remained the gold standard. The crazy inconsistent distribution and publishing schedule just made it all the more special. Didn't drift away until sometime after college.

As a middle aged adult I had a longtime subscription to Filmfax, relatives often re-upping it as a Christmas or birthday gift. Many years of enjoyment then a minor misunderstanding. The publisher shorted me an issue or two, asked for my renewal with no apparent interest in making good on any gap. Alas, by this time, I was on the verge of entering you-damn-kids-get-off-my-lawn geezerhood and easily slipped into a little generational crankiness."To hell with 'em!" Dropped the matter and the magazine. Gave the back issues to my son. Am sure they were recycled years ago.

In the last few years, now as an undeniably official old gumper, I did track down a handful of Famous Monster issues from my misspent childhood, with those glorious Basil Gogos covers (Ron Cobb wasn't bad either.) Fun for an hour or so. But once I started eBaying old copies of Castle of Frankenstein (far more affordably priced than FM by the way) I knew I was eating nostalgia potato chips. Could not stop. I have re-read and re-re-read these things, cover to back. Since CoF had a fairly finite run (many years but less than 20 issues) I'm sure I'll eventually end up with a complete set.





11:18 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

SCREEN THRILLS ILLUSTRATED was always a blast for me.

6:56 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer has located the Paramount Theatre in this week's banner:


The Peter Cushing Appreciation Society blog ran this picture on August 5, 2012 with the following caption:

"Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee star in Hammer Films Productions 'The Mummy' playing at The Paramount Theater, Syracuse, NY in 1959 with 'Curse of the Undead' with Eric Fleming and Michael Pate. Egypt, Vampires, A Mummy and a western. What a great double bill!"

https://petercushingblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/peter-cushing-christopher-lee-hammer.html

11:11 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Reg and Kevin:
I have FM#1 signed by 4SJ at the 1972 LunaCon in NYC.

11:14 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Postscript from Dan Mercer re the Paramount Theatre:


The Paramount Theatre was located at 426 S. Salina Street and was the first theater in Syracuse to be converted to CinemaScope in 1953. It was demolished in 1967.

11:15 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

That looks like a Pontiac Super Chief parked in front of the Paramount. I'm not a car guy, but my dad had a red one back in the day. That car could really move on "no speed limit" desert straightaways. Top speedometer speed was 120 and I know we hit 100 a few times.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

This topic inspires a 100 paragraph response that I'll spare everyone. :D However, I was the ultimate '60s monster kid, starting with FM. CoF always stood out as something exceptional whenever I could find it. The magazine had an aura unlike all others. Later on I took up with Filmfax and even Fangoria, a kind of second wind monster kid time. CFQ too. But since the late '90s all of that has drifted off, and I even got rid of 99% of back issues I kept, only keeping a stray one for sentiment. Now it's all an online thing to me, such as this terrific blog. But what a great time while the print heyday lasted.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Good scans here: https://www.zomboscloset.com/zombos_closet_of_horror_b/magazine_morgue/

12:52 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

I gotta point out -- no one else has -- Amanda Blake sure looks like Jane Wyman in that photo.

This is Greenbriar -- a place where smart, erudite cineastes congregate -- so I am almost reluctant to recount the famous story (everyone knows this one) about HIGH SOCIETY's controversial, short-lived Oscar nomination. But as it reflects well on Mr. Edward Bernds, a good guy whose many interviews (and entertaining memoir) about his long career as a sound recordist, writer and director significantly informed and enlivened film scholarship, I will simply quote from the Academy website:

HIGH SOCIETY
Allied Artists
1956
WRITING (Motion Picture Story) -- Edward Bernds, Elwood Ullman
[NOTE: THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL NOMINATION. Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman, the authors of this Bowery Boys quickie, respectfully withdrew their own names and the nomination, aware that voters had probably mistaken their film with a 1956 MGM release with the same title written by John Patrick and starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. (Even so, MGM's HIGH SOCIETY would only have been eligible for adapted screenplay.)]

I wish I could have present on the AA lot when the '56 Oscar nominations were announced and seen the faces of Mr. Bernds and Mr. Ullman when they learned the news. They opted to do the right thing, of course, but they probably laughed for a few minutes and at least fantasized letting the nomination stand.

Regards,
-- Griff

12:32 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Ted Okuda interviewed Bernds. He reported that Elwood Ullman, seeing the humor in the situation, wanted to let the nomination stand, but Bernds convinced him that they should withdraw it.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Linwood said...

Filmfax was an entertaining and informative read, but it lost my readership when they started continuing their cover articles in the following month's issue.

3:44 PM  

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