How did you start your relationship with the cinema?
We had a 16mm movie camera in our Chicago home since before I was born. Even at a very young age I loved movies, especially science-fiction, Western, fantasy and comedy films. I was nine years old, loved dinosaurs too, and had just seen Ray Harryhausen’s BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS at a drive-in. I wanted to show that movie on our home screen anytime I desired. But in those days there were no VCR’s, DVDs, etc., and you couldn’t generally buy copies of monster movies for home use. So, as a nine-year-old kid in 1953, I decided to make my own version of “BEAST”…which turned out to be my first effort, “DIPLODOCUS AT LARGE.” I shot the whole thing in my backyard using a homemade “Ollie the Dragon” hand puppet for the dinosaur.
With the present advances it’s much easy make films. How was it in those times?
Very challenging! In those days you had to shoot on film – mostly 8mm and then Super 8, but in my case the more professional format of 16mm. There were books then about movie directing and so forth, that I did not read, and a few books on theatrical make-up, which I did read, borrowed from my local library. But there were no books or magazines that told you how to do special effects. You had to figure everything out yourself – how to do things, like stop-motion animation, miniature explosions, man-to-bat transformations, and so forth. That was a lot of the fun, really – figuring it out and then attempting to do it. Sometimes what you tried actually worked, which was most rewarding.
Besides the classic movies, were the comics an inspiration source?
You bet. A lot of the amateur movies I made were based on comic-book characters, like Batman, Superman, Captains America and Marvel, the Spirit, and others.
Did you used to see the series of those characters?
I’d seen and continued to see a lot of the old movie serials made by Republic, Columbia and Universal that featured masked heroes, many of them from the comics – and, of course, the “Adventures of Superman” TV series.
How did you manage to get so many series stars for your movies?
People like Glenn Strange, Roy Barcroft, Kenne Duncan, and then character actor Fred Stuthman? I just asked them – and they said that sure, they’d be delighted to be in my little movies. You can imagine how delighted I was!
You had the pleasure to have Mr. Glenn Strange as the Monster of Frankenstein. My favorite Frankie after the one of King Boris!!!!!
Yes – it was really a fan’s coup to have Glenn play the Monster. I met Glenn on Fourth of July, 1963, through my “honorary Big Brother” Bob Burns. Glenn was still working on the “Gunsmoke” TV series and the time and had a mustache, so we had to resort to using a Don Post 1948-vintage rubber mask instead of doing the make-up that we’d planned, which Bob – a skilled make-up artist in his own right – would have done.
Bob Burns is very good as "Kirk Reeves" Did you see George’s series? What do you think about his roll as Superman?
I agree; Bob did a nice Superman in my first “serial,” “THE ADVENTURES OF THE SPIRIT.” I’ve seen the George Reeves TV series so many times I can recite much of the dialogue from the episodes by memory. I thought the only time Reeves really had the Superman character down was in the second (black and white) season. In the first, he was too grim…nasty…violent…and in the color episodes he just got too silly.
Many of the costumes look like the originals used in the movie. How did you get them?
Yes, I got to use the original Captain America costume from the 1944 Republic serial. That was through Bob Burns. I used that first in “THE ADVENTURES OF THE SPIRIT” in 1963 and then again in 1964 in “CAPTAIN AMERICA VS. THE MUTANT.” Most of the other costumes, however – Batman, Captain Marvel, the Green Hornet, Superman, Spy Smasher, etc. – were homemade, either by my Mother, myself or were borrowed from friends, like Larry Ivie and Dick Andersen.
Spiderman looks like it was shot in Bronson Canyon. Did you use other historical locations in your movies?
It was indeed Bronson where I shot much of “SPIDER-MAN.” I shot a couple movies there – and also shot some of my first professional movie, “DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS,” at Bronson. No other really “historical” locations, other than Griffith Park in a few of them, after I’d moved to California in 1964. Griffith Park was used as a location in numerous “real” movies. And, of course, I used the famous Jewish Graceland Cemetery in Chicago a number of times.
Why did you choose Batman & Robin?
çFor a long time during the early 1960s I’d wanted to do a Batman movie, but didn’t know how to make a decent-looking costume. (Remember how silly Robert Lowery looked in that costume in the second Batman movie serial?) Then, in the summer of 1964, several things happened. I’d decided to finish my last two years of college at the University of Southern California, majoring in Cinema. Also, the World’s Fair had opened in New York, and life-sized dinosaurs were being featured there courtesy of the Sinclair Refining Company. I wanted to see the Fair before moving away from home. Finally the World Science Fiction convention was to be held on Labor Day weekend that year in Oakland, California. Here was the plan: Go to New York first, then return to Chicago, then continue on to Oakland, and end up in Los Angeles to start school at USC. I had a friend in New York – Larry Ivie, who was also a comic-book artist and amateur moviemaker. Larry would come back to Chicago with me, then continue on to the World Con, after which he’d return to New York. Larry just happened to have on hand outfits for Batman and Robin, which he and science-fiction fan Les Gerber had worn in the costume contest at the 1962 World Con, held in Chicago, where I’d first met Larry. Taking advantage of the availability of those costumes, I decided – on the spot, so to speak – to make “BATMAN AND ROBIN.” It was shot over a period of two days in the summer of 1964.
Is true that you started this film in Chicago?
Yes, I shot about half the movie in a Chicago suburb called Wheeling. I’d always thought my cousin Jerry Blum resembled Dick Grayson, so I cast him as Robin. I played Batman and also a crook, while Larry Ivie and I both, in various scenes, played the villain called the Mask. I’m not sure why we didn’t shoot the whole movie in Chicago while we were all present. Thinking back and trying to remember, I think it might have been because I wanted an attractive girl (Vickie Vale) in the movie and couldn’t get one in Chicago. Larry said that, if we waited until we got to California, he could get his cousin to play that role. Larry’s hometown was Milbrae, just outside of Oakland. So we’d be spending some time in Milbrae before going to the convention. So – we shot some of he movie, using Larry’s cousin and her brother, in Milbrae. Actually it cut together quite well and no one seems to know that the interconnecting scenes were shot in two different parts of the country – not to mention the fact that I play three characters! By the way, almost simultaneously in Milbrae, I also made “CAPTAIN AMERICA BATTLES THE RED SKULL,” again using costumes made by Larry.
You made the costumes? Didn’t you get the ones from the series?
No, Larry had made the costumes for that 1962 World Con. I didn’t have access to the costumes from the old movie serials, and, of course, the TV series was still in the future.
Did you use any Batmobile?
No, my Batman had to get around on foot. I guess he wasn’t as wealthy as the comics’ version!
Why you didn’t you any classic batvillain like “The Joker”?
This movie was made very fast and in a very short time. Remember that I was really on a trip that spanned New York, Chicago and Oakland. There was no time to whip up a costume for a villain…and Larry also happened to have a gold hood that worked as mask for an original villain character.
For the script, did you take ideas from any of the Batman comics?
There was no script! All the scenes were in my head, and a lot was improvised – made up as we went along. Miraculously it all hung together. It has a campiness to it, and that was before the Adam West TV series. I added a soundtrack, with dubbed-in dialogue, and my acting style for those lines is remarkably similar to Adam’s.
What had happened when you saw the Adam West series the year after?
I really liked the TV series when it began, followed it almost religiously. Then, after a while, I thought the jokes got a bit tired and the show just got too silly. The TV show also used the Bronson caves, which I’d already used for the villains’ lairs in “SPIDER-MAN” and “ATOM-MAN VS. MARTIAN INVADERS.”
Did the movies look new to you?
I hated the Batman movies – for too many reasons to go into here.
Don’t’ you think that today with so much technology there is a risk of ruin the movies?
I agree. Movies now seem like long trailers, nothing but high points, short cuts accompanied by loud noises, too many unconvincing CGI effects, etc. I just saw “Van Helsing” and felt like I was trapped in a videogame. Was halfway through and couldn’t wait for it to end. And I’m really tired of seeing “heroes'” wearing long, black leather coats – and you can add the “Birds of Prey” TV series to that list.
Today we have the technology that allows people to make their own movies. Did you see the one called “Batman Dead End"?
Never heard of it.
Did you like our web? We have our own script to make a “Bat movie
Yes, you have an impressive website. Good luck with your movie.
Are you working in any other project right now?
professional movies (see
http://www.FrontlineFilms.com). Our company Frontline Entertainment just
finished “COUNTESS DRACULA’S ORGY OF BLOOD,” out now on DVD (Image
Entertainment). Next up – once we can raise the money – is “THE MUMMY’S
KISS: 2ND DYNASTY.” Both are sequels. Then, there’s a possibility
of me directing a superhero movie for another company…but that’s all I can
say for now, except that the hero is more like Batman than Superman.