Saturday, February 26, 2011

In The Outer Limits Tavern with Jeffrey Frentzen


THE OUTER LIMITS TAVERN:
Jeffrey Frentzen and
the Battle for OUTER LIMITS



JEFFREY SCOTT FRENTZEN cruised by the Outer Limits Tavern* in search of soulful sustenance and stayed long enough to imbibe several bottles of fair-to-middling Cold Zanti (it has a very insouciant nose but a crisp finish with hints of Raid).  And reminisce.

Now serving vintage Cold Zanti from 1978!**


DJS: Account for yourself, Jeff — pretend you have to excrete a capsule bio for some kind of job interview or something.

JSF: I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. In my home town, there was maybe one black family. I have had careers as a freelance writer, journalist, magazine and newspaper editor, filmmaker and cameraman, and variations on the above.
I lived in New England for 23 years, raising a family but ultimately I drifted into the movie business in LA. I have worked on several feature films in the US and TV documentaries for German TV. I became skilled at low-budget filmmaking and remain involved in both movie production and the publishing business. I recently completed a feature film and the future looks bright.

Your congenial Tavern Host and Maitre’D, swilling Cold Zanti, no doubt.
DJS: Now, indulge me in a bit of time-travel.  There was this magazine.  You may remember that it was called Cinefantastique (hereinafter, CFQ).  The first time I think I saw your name, you were already established writing interviews and features for it.  But that probably wasn’t your first foray into print, right?

JSF: Early on, I wrote movie reviews. Even before that, my grandmother would tell amusing anecdotes and I would write them up and submit them to Reader's Digest. They published a few of them, so that was my first sale as a writer. When I was 14, I published a large volume of movie reviews and showed it to horror movie TV host Bob Wilkins. This was sometime in the early 1970s. He interviewed me on his Creature Features program four times. During high school and college, I wrote and produced an original play, Brief/Pestilence, and directed student-run theater productions like Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Guys and Dolls, and Our Town.

DJS: I would pay cash money to see a Jeff Frentzen interpretation of Guys and Dolls.  I did Our Town, too, during my brief flirtation with a university education.  I would pay cash money for you not to see that.

JSF: I also acted in and directed student films. When I started selling my writing to newspapers and fanzines, I began contributing to CFQ, which was the magazine that said it had "a sense of wonder." It was run by Frederick S. Clarke. The first thing I wondered was: why publish CFQ in suburban Chicago when almost 100% of its reporting and reviews are generated via the Hollywood genre scene?

DJS: I think I broke the ice with a Capsule Comment in the Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger issue.

JSF: My first movie review appeared in Vol. 4 #2, the "Phantom of the Paradise" issue.*** I had been assistant manager at a hardtop moviehouse in suburban San Francisco, the Capri Theatre, and we were playing Horror High, first run. I wrote a capsule comment of that movie and Fred published it.
           I would go to drive-in theaters with my high school girlfriend and we would watch psychotronic movies — sometimes three at a time. The Airport Drive-In in Oakland and the Hilltop in Richmond were great places to catch triple bills. Unfortunately, the best venues were located in the worst parts of town. I would scribble down the credits and go home and write a review for CFQ, maybe 100 words, and fire it off to Fred Clarke. He would provide 3-by-5 prepaid cards for his contributors to write their "capsule comments," which he published at a clip of 5 to 10 per issue. He paid around $5 for a capsule comment.
Right away, I convinced Fred to assign stories to me, as I was close enough to LA for day-trips. At the time, San Francisco was a fantastic movie town where you could see some truly off-the-wall B-movies and arthouse pictures, all of which I wrote reviews or articles about, for different newspapers and journals.

DJS: I arrived on the scene between the Star Wars and Close Encounters issues, which most readers retroactively pinpoint as the beginning of the end for the mag.  (I knew it was my fault!)

JSF: As a magazine for cineastes, CFQ went away gradually. But in other ways, CFQ became more successful than ever after those two double-issues. Fred Clarke wanted to continue publishing and was quite open at the time about how he needed to make editorial changes to reach a national audience. CFQ did not run paid advertising. And around the time of those Star Wars and Forbidden Planet double issues, CFQ had gained a reputation in the movie industry for producing well-researched stories, exclusive photography, and intelligent critique. Fred had ambitions to run a series of magazines devoted to different genre topics, such as Femmes Fatale. He succeeded. CFQ was an attempt to take the fan-generated magazine to a national audience. Prior to that, CFQ was distributed almost 100% via subscription. I recall times in a corner of the tiny CFQ offices — which was the second floor of Fred's home — stuffing hundreds of single issues of CFQ into vanilla envelopes. Fred wanted to grow the business, so CFQ "grew up." What was the alternative? There was no future in publishing a subscriber-driven magazine with purely esoteric content.

DJS: Somebody needs to write a book about the kind of aberrant psychological case studies that were drawn toward publishing what were then called monster magazines.  Fred Clarke was, in many ways, another iteration of Castle of Frankenstein’s Calvin Beck — running a magazine out of a house he shared with his mother.  I seem to recall Fred had a degree in physics, was an ex-shoe salesman, and had two more successful brothers who were a doctor and a lawyer, which his mom, Olive, was always ragging him about.

JSF: Both men lived cloistered lives, for certain. I would guess the only other comparison between Beck and Clarke was they took care of their elderly mothers. Clarke was book smart and knew how to run a publishing business. Beck lived like Norman Bates and was a terrible businessman. When I knew Fred, he lived in a very modest Oak Park home and took care of his aging mother. He had no girlfriends and he was not gay. He loved the magazine. His mother was quite elderly and unwell. She did not understand the magazine but she did have two beautiful Siamese cats.
Just before he decided to work full-time on CFQ, Fred was a salesman of medical gear like wheelchairs, prosthetic legs, hospital beds, etc, for home use. Fred's publishing empire at the time was in a small room right next to his bedroom.

DJS: I remember the “CFQ Bookshop” was the closet in that room.

JSF:  The original office was not computerized in any way, except for a computerized typesetting unit that we learned to master. Prior to that, Fred would typeset CFQ using an IBM Selectric typewriter capable of kerning.  He did it a line at a time; painstakingly.  It was a primitive work environment. That's because there was no money. 

DJS: None of that, of course, has anything to do with the topic at hand — The Outer Limits.  I’m sure you had no idea “you were about to participate in a great adventure.”  When were you first exposed to the show and how did it impact you?  Was the seed for research planted then, or later?

JSF: I was around 7 when The Outer Limits debuted on TV. Up to that point, TV science fiction and horror was geared more for adults. I watched The Twilight Zone but it was too cerebral for me at the time. The Outer Limits was a gut punch — monsters and men in spaceships, pushing the boundaries of the imagination.

DJS: First episode you ever saw?  Circumstances of that first exposure?

JSF: I watched "The Galaxy Being" when the program premiered in September 1963. In Fall 1963, I was in a TV market where the first appearance of the Thetan in "Architects of Fear" was not censored, and when I first saw that monster lumber across the screen, as a 7-year-old, I ran to hide behind the sofa. It was a kid's show, at heart, but dark and scary, too. I was there every week, and even after the show was cancelled I watched reruns.

DJS: In the days before DVD supplements and McFarland books on every genre topic under the moon, CFQ was temporally established as a kind of go-to zone for intel on the “fantastique.”  There weren’t really any “book models” for this sort of thing, except for Gary Gerani’s Fantastic Television and Chris Steinbrunner and Burt Goldblatt’s Cinema of the Fantastic (Saturday Review Press/Dutton, 1972), that kind of laid the bones for a more scholarly approach to genre fare.  They existed in the “hammock” period, following the few seminal tomes that were on everyone’s bookshelf:  Carlos Clarens’ An Illustrated History of the Horror Film (Capricorn Books, 1968), Ivan Butler’s The Horror Film (A.S. Barnes, 1968), and John Baxter’s Science Fiction in the Cinema (A.S. Barnes 1969) — which lived in the same neighborhood as Walt Lee’s 3-volume Reference Guide to Fantastic Films (Chelsea-Lee Books, 1972-74).  The earliest books existed as surveys, overviews, or indexes and ran light on critical thinking.  The inevitable next step was more an objective research, go-to-the-source kind of thing with less fan froth, by Famous Monsters kids who were growing up and getting tired of all the puns.  CFQ began life as an mimeographed fan newsletter (on horrific green pulp paper) in April, 1967, co-edited by Clarke and Vern Bennett.  It was an outgrowth of Garden Ghouls Gazette (21 issues, 1962-66), started by Dave Keil, then run by Gary Collins, and finally taken over by Clarke.


CFQ debuted, in the form most people remember it, in late 1970.  It broke out, I believe, with 2:2 (July 1972), which was nearly an entire issue devoted to the Planet of the Apes films. That kind of set CFQ’s “personality” for both the classic retrospectives and bitchy, cynical reviews.  I remember Clarke once saying:  “If a person hasn’t heard of Ray Harryhausen or Christopher Lee, then I don’t want to talk to them.”

JSF: As someone who was really not plugged into the scene he was covering, Fred came off as arrogant to a lot of the people he spotlighted in his magazine. His reasoning was he had an advantage in being on the outside looking in. This came out of his mentality as a fanzine publisher, a guerilla publisher who does his thing as a labor of love. At one point, Fred turned over the day-to-day editorial duties to an editor and staff. This was very revealing. Perhaps Fred's magazine outgrew Fred. The early issues of CFQ were pretentious. Journalistically, CFQ hits its stride after being in existence for 12 years. I would call that very slow growth.
I had not seen an issue of CFQ until about a month before I started writing for it. I was hooked, pretensions and all. I immediately pitched article ideas to Fred Clarke, including one for an Outer Limits retrospective.

DJS: Which, then, would have been in the style of the previous Retrospectives, like the one Steve Rubin had done on Them!

JSF: I had just finished researching a proposed CFQ article on the classic ghost story, Carnival of Souls, and wanted to repeat the process and get better at interviewing and writing these kinds of articles. I proposed a bunch of articles to Fred, one of which was a multipart retrospective work on The Outer Limits.

DJS: That would have been, what, about June of 1975?

JSF: Yeah, somewhere in 1975. Fred liked the idea, and after networking a little bit with others who shared an interest in the program, I met you.

DJS: Where the hell did I first meet you?  What were you wearing?  Did I try to bum money from you?

JSF: We met in Hollywood somewhere. Probably an all-night coffee house. I remember you seemed to know more about The Outer Limits than anyone else.

DJS: I recall the “Outer Limits CFQ,” as a concept, was announced by Clarke as early as April, 1978 — maybe earlier.  By then I suppose your own digging had begun in earnest.

JSF: I had interviewed a few people, including Joe Stefano. I truly was at a serious disadvantage, as I hadn't seen the episodes in many years. The show made a deep impression on my imagination, as a child. When I pitched the idea to Fred, I was thinking of the magazine article as one more possible sale. I did not even think about The Outer Limits after I was 12 years old or so and started watching girls instead of TV. But I felt the show's power and thought, what a cool subject to investigate. I didn't realize at the time how far the research would travel.

DJS: You may dimly recollect that there was the threat of another Outer Limits book on the horizon, compiled by two fellows named Ben Weissman and C. Jerry Kuttner, which was doomed — I think for licensing reasons — never to see print.  I wonder what became of that, or if it was ever really real?

JSF: My feeling then was, who else would be crazy enough to do the dozens of interviews and compile into the semblance of a time line? I guess we beat everyone to the punch.

DJS: What was your original target date?  By that I mean, when did you think The Outer Limits piece would be done, and out of your life?  I remember you saying:  “This project is like a pyramid, except we started at the top and worked downward.”

JSF: I was talking about how each interview resulted in our deciding that additional interviews had to be done. We had a very patient subject in Joe Stefano. A few others, like Bob Justman, were very approachable later. In putting the research to paper, I remember we were interested in getting good sourcing and getting more than a single account of events on the record. That was important, journalistically.
When the Outer Limits/CFQ project was ongoing, we all sat down one time and drew up a schedule but it never happened. Nothing substantial came of the work for CFQ.

DJS: Yeah, especially as far as generating coherent copy was concerned.  We still hadn’t figured out how to attack it. Not being  paid a dime, or ever seeing a contract for that work was not encouraging, either.  The commitment, as such, was all on us.

JSF: I kept putting off Fred. By then, UATV was shipping 16mm prints of Outer Limits episodes to Oak Park so we could watch each episode anew and continue our research. Fred was supporting that effort. We didn't want to rock the boat.

DJS: That was after you actually became CFQ’s first full-time “employee.”

JSF: My first job out of school was managing editor of CFQ. That was in 1978. Fred hired me as his first staffer, and I moved to Oak Park and lived there for a couple of years, doing what I could behind the scenes to raise the overall literacy of the magazine. Fred was peculiar and brainy. Not a good “people person.” He read Variety and cut out pieces to save — these became his “news items.” He loved Star Trek. He likened Star Trek to The Outer Limits, even though historically Star Trek owes its debt to The Outer Limits in important ways.

DJS: My feeling was that Fred wanted to assess The Outer Limits as a poor stepbrother to Star Trek, and that kind of sucked all the urgency out of covering the show for the magazine, since Fred tended to rewrite articles to reflect his point of view.

JSF: Fred seemed to look down on The Outer Limits; I don't think he was too crazy about The Twilight Zone, either. Another reason we opted out of the CFQ retrospective was because we witnessed ample evidence that Fred rewrote articles, not always improving them by the way. He did this mercilessly to some of his writers. For example, Fred so completely changed Steve Rubin's Forbidden Planet retrospective piece that Steve demanded his name be taken off. Fred kept Steve's name on it but then added his own in the first position! Soon after that, Steve withdrew from the magazine altogether.

DJS: Steve had a Time Machine Retrospective all set to go.  I remember I had the cover painting on my desk.  And Steve pulled it, because of the Forbidden Planet fiasco.

JSF: The signs were ominous and could not be ignored. By the way, I don’t mean to make this sound all downside; I have many fond memories of working on CFQ as well. I met the mother of my children working for Fred Clarke so working for CFQ had benefits that carry over to this day.

DJS: So here you are in the wilds of Oak Park, Illinois, answering phones and pasting up copy and dealing with Fred’s mom on a day-to-day basis.  What else was going on?

JSF: Life at CFQ mostly revolved around movies, either writing about them or going to watch them. The only social activity there was for Fred was moviegoing.

DJS: For a movie fan, at the time, it was a completely immersive environment.

JSF: To his credit, Fred had a few friends with connections to the industry. Lyle Conway lived in a very nice Southside neighborhood that was completely surrounded by some of the most godawful, badass neighborhoods in all of Chicago. That town was weird like that. The downtown Chicago theaters, though,  were amazing fortresses in dying mode. I saw Blackout (1978) at one of these caverns and in a scene where fire destroys a building, you suddenly saw a hundred scurrying rats running beneath the curtain near the screen.

DJS: Migod, that was the theatre on Division Street!  A total shit-pit, featuring a double-bill with Toolbox Murders!  You and I tootled out there in your egg-shaped 1958 Volvo, and I remember the theatre seemed nearly entirely blackout-out inside — no EXIT lights, nothing.  One of us saw an upside-down popcorn tub moving across the floor by itself.  We had our feet off the floor anyway, because the center of the auditorium was like a half-inch deep in water, from the snowmelt leaking through the roof!

JSF: You and I traveled out to the northern suburbs in the dead of winter to see badly edited, practically destroyed prints of Herschell Gordon Lewis movies at a drive-in and the heat went out in the vehicle.

DJS: Another classic night out at the cinema, and probably the worst single drive-in experience of either of our lives.  I remember the drive-in as being in Berwyn.  We had to schlep all the way there for an all-nighter consisting of Color Me Blood Red, Blood Feast, 2000 Maniacs, and … Magic.  They issued us a little cigarette-lighter, fan-driven heater with a bent blade; when we plugged it in, the fan went ting-ting-ting forever, until we were ready to start gibbering.  Then it touched on a stray coat or seat upholstery or something and began to smoke up the car.  By then we realized the gore films had all the gore cut out, because each was like a hour long. We pitched in the towel because we were freezing and didn’t want to sit through Magic.  There were maybe two other cars in the theatre, and we speculated on whether the people inside were alive or dead or just homicidal and waiting, patiently.  So here we are, about to make our escape… and the wheels of the Volvo had frozen to the pavement!

JSF: See?  Nothing was too adventurous, when it came to us seeing a rare movie.

DJS: Plus, by now you had me up your ass — you got me a position at CFQ and I showed up with a 30-pound manual typewriter and no clue whatsoever, no to mention a complete lack of winter clothing.  I remember our short-term goal was to collaborate in person at least through getting the Outer Limits issue done; my head wasn’t really dancing with visions of a career at CFQ.

JSF: We took extra long lunches when you and I worked at CFQ. This drove Fred Clarke bananas, because he was so anal and we were both viewed as hard to handle.

DJS: But in the meantime, we inaugurated the First Outer Limits Room — your office in the Elmwood Park apartment.
The only extant Polaroid of the 1978 Elmwood Park Outer Limits Room.

JSF: I think The Outer Limits took over at least two rooms in that apartment. Fred didn't really know what we were up to, but I assured him we were busy researching — which was true. But the more we watched those episodes, the more I was convinced we should not be doing it as an article for CFQ. At the same time, I grew disenchanted with CFQ altogether. Although I understood why Fred wanted to cover more commercial movies in-depth, I found those movies personally uninteresting. Writing about Han Solo in an article on Page 3 struck me as a sell-out. Also, Fred's managerial style was not good. I refused to work all-nighters — that’s where I drew the line and Fred was irritated even with that.

DJS: By then you and I were dealing with United Artists Television syndication, where I had procured the sponsorship of a wonderful benefactor named Murray Oken.  And I remember Murray told us that because Outer Limits was in black-and-white, and its 49 episodes made a lousy syndication package, UATV’s view was that it “had about five more years left” before it was put out to pasture permanently … and Murray saw the CFQ opportunity as a last-gasp to inject some life into sales.

JSF: We were lucky to get Murray. The original Outer Limits retrospective article for CFQ represented an early stage of the research for the book, as it turned out. Murray was a PR guy for UATV — a real doer. When UATV was supporting the CFQ article, Murray arranged to ship those 16mm prints of episodes to CFQ. Fred Clarke paid enormous fees to UPS to shuttle those 16mm prints back, as well. There was that level of support, in early 1979. I finally got a chance to see all of the episodes in the context of researching. After you and I split from CFQ, that was the end of the CFQ magazine article project.

DJS: That’s awfully politic of you.  Clarke fired me because he couldn’t stand me, and one I day I told him “no” — kinda like your refusal to work all-nighters — and he sacked me on the spot!  And you wound up marrying my replacement.

Jeff Frentzen performs some of the wetter editing chores.

JSF: Fred asked me to stay, but I was finished, too. He was certain that I would fall back in line after you left, but no. I packed it in within months of you leaving. Fred had to find employees who were not familiar with CFQ as correspondents. He hired a local girl named Elaine to run the office and she stayed with him for the next ten years.

DJS & JSF in Los Angeles, circa 1983.
DJS: Was Leslie Stevens your next contact?

JSF: I think Joe Stefano placed some calls to make Leslie Stevens available; at first Leslie was very inaccessible and then — bam, he would call up asking what do you need. Leslie made an enormous impression; he seemed to be dipping his cup into some primordial stew, ahead of his time. He connected The Outer Limits to the transformations of the Aquarian Age and other mystical sources. That was a mind-blower. Of all the things that amazed me about Stevens, the first was how he figured out — or already knew — what the Outer Limits Project needed, during our interviews. His hindsight view of the series and its lasting effects definitely inspired us. Beyond that, he exposed a very compelling story about Daystar Productions and its place in the history of independent TV producers working in Hollywood. His personal story is fascinating.

DJS: There’s a biographer on the East Coast whomping up a Stevens bio right now.  What’s fascinating about it is that its primary focus is Stevens’ career prior to The Outer Limits.

JSF: Stevens was an early interview. At the very start of my interviewing Outer Limits folk, I worked with a couple of freelance writers who helped with interviews early on, sometimes to set them up. These were situations where more than one writer was present at the interview. This was the case with Laszlo Benedek. Benedek seemed old school to me, as in Dr Caligari-old-school. With him, you knew the interview you were getting would be the last word on the subject. In the case of Stevens, we got a few shots at interviewing him, and it was worth it.

DJS: Somewhere in there, you got married and relocated, I think, to Half Moon Bay.  I met you up there and we sat down with a big pile of files and tried to figure out what we had.

JSF: We were still possessed by “The Project.”

DJS: As in:  “Nothing can stop the Project!” (a line from “the Inheritors,” just so you’ll know).

JSF: What changed for me was my first son was born. That was a project of a different sort!

DJS: Meanwhile, I got established in Los Angeles.  And the Carnival of Souls piece finally appeared in CFQ — much to your dismay.

JSF: By the early 80s, Fred had gotten got his act together in a business sense — sort of. Michael Kaplan was the new editor at CFQ, he knew what he was doing, and I would credit him with forcing Fred to do a much-needed magazine redesign. CFQ began appearing on newsstands, in Borders, etc. It was some time after that that I saw my Carnival of Souls retrospective in print — eight years after I had written it.  It was actually the second thing I ever wrote for CFQ.  It was squeezed into the double issue devoted to 3-D Movies, and was rather high-profile. Years later, director Herk Harvey told me that CFQ article drew media attention to Carnival of Souls as a cult classic.

DJS: That came out in 1983.  I recall Herk couldn’t get his one-of-a-kind photos back from Clarke, and you took the heat.
          Earlier, in 1981, Twilight Zone Magazine debuted and I began to hammer editor T.E.D. Klein with submissions.  Once their episode guide to the original TZ series began to wane, I sounded him out on an Outer Limits piece.  He said, okay — one article.  I wrote a piece that was so compressed it was nearly incomprehensible; you had to have an encyclopedic knowledge of The Outer Limits BEFORE you read it, or nothing would track! 
Ted relented, and asked me to have mercy on the readers, so it became a two-parter.  Just a general series overview, but in a then-national publication, because TZ was distributed by Montcalm, which did Cavalier.  I wrote Part One.  When Part Two came around, Ted said why don’t we add an episode guide and make this a four-parter?  The four-parter eventually grew into an eight-parter, which meant we had a constant issue-by-issue “check-in” with The Outer Limits on the newsstands for a year and a half, running.
           And during all this time we were expanding our reach and our grasp, contacting more and more Outer Limits personnel.


JSF: The TZ Magazine pieces forced us to take the research to a new level. We became very Woodward-and-Bernstein in our approach to documenting The Outer Limits. If someone who worked on The Outer Limits was still alive, now we were hunting them down for an interview, and cross-checking their story against others.

DJS: In 1982, Zicree’s book came out, and by then we were already thinking in book-length terms but didn’t have an excuse to broach all this stuff as a book.  The Twilight Zone Companion became that excuse.  By publication of the third installment of the TZ series, we had enough stuff in print to present publishers with an idea of what an Outer Limits book would look like.  And you began coming back to LA, over I-don’t-know-how-many trips, and Outer Limits Room Phase Two was born in my apartment, which was a nice symmetry. We did several long hauls of interviews in the daytime and writing at nighttime — all this without the benefit of videotape.  We had one single phone.

 
JSF: We looked closely at Zicree’s book to further define what could be done, editorially, in telling the history of a TV show. We both had manual typewriters and at least 3 bottles of Wite-Out nearby; and the music of choice to play during work hours was Frank Zappa and UK (defrocked King Crimson).

 
DJS: Zappa actually later titled a warm-up tune as “Zanti Serenade” … although the idea of Erotic Love Music for Zantis sounds more like something Frontiere would have done.  Get me back on track, Jeff …


(Jeff dashes to the Outer Limits Tavern loo to purge, then returns, quite refreshed.)

JSF: In earnest, we commenced follow-up with Stefano, Stevens, Bob Justman, and others. And we found people who knew a lot about the series, like Calvin Ward, a “mere” assistant to Ben Brady, who remembered a ton of stuff that Brady chose to forget. These people filled in a lot of blanks in the research. I can't say enough how personally interested and committed Joe Stefano was to this project. His memory was good about many details and he was open to us prodding him and asking him to go down memory lane repeatedly.

DJS: Then Fred Clarke objected to your co-credit on the TZ articles.
 
JSF: That was the last time I ever spoke with Fred. Somehow, he still believed — in the mid-80s — that a CFQ article by Schow and Frentzen on The Outer Limits was still in the works. It was like he was calling me from inside a time warp. Frankly, I thought he was full of shit. Fred never provided a writer’s agreement for us to sign (and we asked him for one repeatedly), so he had no ownership claim. Next case.

DJS: Then you relocated again — to New Hampshire!

JSF: I was renting a haunted house in New Hampshire. Part of that house had been constructed in the mid-1700s and the landlord's mother had died in the master bedroom a year prior. There was unaccountable swirling water in the dirt basement and noises in the walls. A skunk lived under the kitchen. We were warned to stay out of one of the upstairs bedrooms. The floors were ridged from the house settling and the sills were rotted. My office had no heat or A/C and was unlivable. We lived there for 3 years, but the next house was … better.

DJS: Wherever you were, you bounced back and forth and we settled in for a long, grueling marathon of completing our first real flurry of interviews — nearly all of them local to Los Angeles.  We did Bob Justman, several times, and then I did Lee Katzin solo, up at his house on Mulholland.  Lee actually had a vintage “party room” up there — you know, with the Day-Glo astrology poster assigning sex positions to signs of the Zodiac?  He was a knee-slapper.

JSF & DJS confer with Claude Binyon, Jr. in his office near Universal… his dark office…
JSF: I think Claude Binyon was the most animated of that groups of ADs and UPMs.  Claude told us the story of how he got cancer by holding loose ends of raw negative in his mouth, while reloading cameras.  (He beat it, by the way.)
           (Stefano assistant) Tom Selden was a great find. Unlike some of the interview subjects, Selden recalled everything he did on The Outer Limits as if it happened yesterday.

DJS: He was like B. Ritchie Payne in that regard — except you could never get Payne to stop talking!

Never Shoot Toward a Light:  DJS and Gerd Oswald with Gerd’s dog Toro.
JSF: Seeleg Lester was, likewise, very insightful. The afternoon with Byron Haskin stands out to me as the best time had at an interview.

JSF, Byron Haskin & DJS in Haskin’s backyard, most likely taken by Mrs. Haskin.
DJS: We went up to Haskin’s house in Montecito, and the whole afternoon was a laugh riot because Byron was so irascible.  I’m convinced we shot the last pictures of him ever taken for publication — Hallowe’en, 1983.  He died the following April, so he never got to see the book, but he did see the first few installments of the TZ article series and was pleased by them.

JSF: The most difficult guy to reach was Ben Brady. Mr Brady did not want to associate with us for quite some time. This went on for years, and for reasons still mysterious to me.

DJS: Our conjecture was that Ben Brady didn’t want us to rake him over the coals about The Outer Limits, that he was dreading the inquiry, so to speak.

JSF: Robert C. Dennis used to write Perry Mason episodes for Brady at CBS and the two of them were friends. And Dennis liked us; he was very helpful; he opened doors. He finally got Brady to talk to us.
           Seeleg Lester likewise got us to Robert Culp and Harlan Ellison.

DJS: I knew Harlan by then, but I did him as a phoner.  Subsequently he chewed me out for noting that Seeleg had written some of the insert stuff for “Soldier.”  My bad.
Talk a little about meeting Ellis St. Joseph.

Ellis St.Joseph.
JSF: Ellis St Joseph was a charming little man in a yellow suit, who lived in the flats of Beverly Hills, near where Gerd Oswald’s apartment used to be. He had fond memories of and a high respect for Joe Stefano. Only this year, I finally saw Flesh and Fantasy, the strange 1943 omnibus movie that St Joseph co-wrote. He was very cordial and served a Greek dinner in his apartment to me and a female friend of his. The crackers came with blue dip.
           Overall, though, I remained most impressed with Joe Stefano, and his willingness to endure our repeat visits. I think some of the best psychotherapy I've ever had came out of a few of those interviews we did with Joe.

DJS with Joe Stefano at Villa di Stefano (Jeff took the picture).
DJS: We enjoyed a brief, furious period where we actually broke ground on the book text … and then, you had to leave!

JSF: I was torn between the book and supporting my family back East.

DJS: Yeah — that’s a contest I knew I had to lose, but the damned deadline stayed the same.  Circumstances forced me to crank it all.  But I never would have gotten to the point where I could do it — fast, and with that level of concentration — if you hadn’t been riding shotgun the whole way.  If we hadn’t transcribed all those interviews and rewritten and rethought certain bits over and over.

JSF: Did Joe love the Companion?

DJS: Not only did he love it, promote it, and buy a ton of copies he handed out for free, but one Christmas party at his house he singled me out in front of roomful of guests — I was the youngest warm body there.  Henry Silva promptly said, “Wait … there’s a book?”  And I hustled him back to Joe’s office to show Henry his citations.  The book got passed around from guest to guest for the rest of the night.  I was completely afloat.
           Once the book was out, what kind of reaction did you get, personally?

JSF: Most of it was positive. I read a few reviews that were complimentary. I was very pleased with The Outer Limits Companion. It did, I believe, expand the language and form — so commonplace, now, when you read TV show histories. The design of the first edition was very low-budget, which was unfortunate. The material really did not get the best kind of presentation until you released the updated Companion.

DJS: And today, all I see are the mistakes …

JSF: By 1987, I had started and folded my first video production company and then took a day job as a magazine editor in the high-tech trade press, where I stayed for 10 years, eventually working for a top firm. My beat was writing about computers and the Internet.

DJS: You became one of the nation’s foremost authorities on JavaScript programming, no less.  You had a very popular column for PC Week titled “Jeff’s Internet Adventures.”

JSF: And in 1998, MacGraw-Hill published my book in internet programming — JavaScript Annotated Archives.

DJS: I think that’s how I tracked you down — through reviews of tech stuff.  Once I found the first one online, they popped up all over the place.  Or was it the Dark Waters website?

JSF: Through the 80s and 90s, I was involved in early online publishing experiments. I published Dark Waters to refine my movie reviewing skills, and chose to do serious critiques of movies that were basically unknown or forgotten. The site attracted cineastes from around the world and I made several new friends. When I became involved in feature film production, I stopped writing about computers and closed down Dark Waters.

DJS: Where in this timeline did you fall into the clutches of Ulli Lommel?

JSF: I was also selling freelance writing projects throughout the 90s. In 1997, Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog agreed to publish a career article on German director Ulli Lommel. Ulli and I became friends and started working together for the first time on his movie The Nothing Generation, a grim tale about homeless children in LA. He wanted to remake it as a horror flick and I was involved with that. It was a crash course in low-budget moviemaking. Ulli was a protégé of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, himself the master of making enormously artful and successful movies on practically no money. Ulli adopted the same strategy. Like Fassbinder, Ulli knows every aspect of movie making; but unlike Fassbinder, Ulli is not a good writer. The new version of The Nothing Generation (retitled Bloodsuckers, 1997) played at film festivals.
Around 2004, after Ulli made the first few grindhouse horrors for Lions Gate, he called me and asked if I would join him on producing several more. We shot one of them in New Hampshire just before I moved to Los Angeles — Killer Pickton (2006). It was a very small production. I wrote-produced and played the lead, that's how small the crew was.  I don't know how it happened, but Ulli's Zodiac Killer direct-to-video was a successful DVD release for Lions Gate in 2004. The follow-up, Green River Killer (2005), was also a success. This led to other productions, and pretty soon we had an assembly line going.
People give Ulli a very hard time because of the direct-to-DVD horror flicks we made for Lions Gate. I produced several of these; was very much involved in every aspect of their production. We tried for a Reality-TV version of the old serial killer archetypes. I say archetypes because the serial killers in these movies were not true to life. They were mostly the wacky artistic creations of Mr Lommel. The supernatural movies we did, The Raven (2006) and The Tomb (aka H.P.  Lovecraft’s The Tomb, 2007), were better than the serial killer flicks. We had a reliable group of actors we used repeatedly, in different disguises. We used warehouses and would cordon them into sets, which were cleverly reused in other movies.
One should look into the fact that Ulli's best movies were never properly released, like Heaven and Earth (1987). Watch Every Minute is Goodbye (1996) and tell me that isn't a brilliant piece. He works effortlessly in any genre of film. Ulli and I worked very closely on projects for a German TV network; one of which, Monkey Rap (2000), also known as Danny and Max, was completed as a feature film. It was a very lightweight family comedy starring a chimpanzee that can talk.

DJS: And now, you’re back in Los Angeles?

JSF: I moved to LA when the Lions Gate projects started. I directed, wrote, co-wrote, produced, and/or acted in the ones Ulli made in 2005-06. I stopped working with Ulli and started doing my own projects — House on the Hill (2007), The Date (2007; short), Dreamer (2009; short), The Head (2011) I had a good time working on those movies with Ulli, though — what an education!

DJS: And it only took us the better part of 20 years to hook up again.  After all this time, what do you think of when you think of the words Outer Limits?

JSF: A lot of the episodes hold up for me. My favorite is “The Man Who Was Never Born” — just an extraordinary interpretation by all involved, especially Martin Landau. Anthony Lawrence was known as one of the more literate TV writers of the day.  But all the episodes resonate with source material from my youth. Some of the shows are artistic triumphs of their time, mostly in cinematography and production design, but also in the ideas conveyed from the mind of Joseph Stefano.
It would be easier to list the episodes I do not like, such as “Expanding Human,” “The Special One,” and “The Probe.” I even enjoyed those shows for their failings. To be objective about the series? I don't think it's possible, because I know the context of the lives of the people who made the series happen.

DJS: Yes, I think I lost my Outer Limits objectivity a long time ago …

JSF, Control Voice Vic Perrin, and DJS … apparently facing a nuclear blast wave of overexposure.
JSF: Some of the best episodes are experimental grotesques — “Forms of Things Unknown,” for example, is a unique experience for anyone and seems to reside in a movie genre all its own. I have watched the first season episodes more than the ones from Season Two.
If there were to be a last word on the subject of The Outer Limits, it would be a major motion picture titled The Outer Limits that was based on an idea by either Stefano or Stevens. If Star Trek and Lost in Space can be redone as major Hollywood motion pictures, so can OL—!


___________________________________________________

*Where is the Outer Limits Tavern, you may ask?  (We thought you’d never!)  Why, it’s on Outer Limits Street … where else?

** A genuine bottle of Cold Zanti, courtesy of Ted C. Rypel (used to toast the completion of the first volume of The Outer Limits: An Illustrated Companion in 1978). (Art by Gary Dumm.)

*** In the shorthand used around the office, Volume 4, #2 would be referenced as 4:2.  Having to hump stacks of these through second-class mailings and all, Jeff and DJS were so familiar with the contents of each issue that we immediately knew 4:4, for example, was the Day the Earth Stood Still issue, or 6:2 was Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

17 comments:

  1. I haven't even finished this amazing -- and hilarious! -- article, but I had to jump in right now and say my thanks for mentioning Murray Oken. I had worked with Murray when I was at KTLA, and then when I went to work for Turner in Atlanta he was living and working there and I socialized a bit with him and his wife. The NICEST man ever, such a wonderful guy! Smart, thoughtful, upfront, enthusiastic -- a real gentleman and human being. It's so nice to read that he was terrific to you, too. I'm sure you know that he died of throat cancer some years back, had a really tough time of it. So sad for such a truly incredible guy.

    Thanks for bringing back memories of one of the nicest guys I ever worked with in the TV industry. Very few are like him, that's for sure.

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  2. Okay, now that I've finished the article -- such an incredible journey for you guys! Enthusiasm, wit, wisdom, tenacity -- OMG, you were an incredible team!

    You guys are really funny, too! Love all the crazy movie-going adventures, haunted houses, and cramped offices -- what a journey!

    It's wonderful of you to share all these memories with us! xoxox

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  3. I'm not sure which is more interesting, the legacy of OL, or the various living quarters Mr. Frentzen's had over the years.

    CINEFANTASTIQUE was a magazine I remember seeing as a kid once in a while, but I'd pass it up in favor of the cheap thrills of Fangoria, with all of its gory photos. Ah, the ignorance of youth. I never had any idea it was a local publication until the spotlight post with Ted Rypel.

    What intrigues me is how you two characters were bumming around in my neck of the woods in that particular era. I'm a big fan of the 1970's-early 80's. Neighborhoods and entertainment establishments just seemed to be so much more colorful (sleazy) back then. I have no idea what movie theater you fellas went to on Division st. though it sounds like Chicago had its own type of Times Square grind houses back then.

    Legend even has it that a drive-in movie theater, across from Triton College in River Grove, once existed that played porno films. Okay, I'm starting to ramble. Thanks for the very cool spotlight. You two sound like you've crammed in several lifetimes in your existences.

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  4. Fantastic interview, filling in a lot of gaps concerning you guys' endless odyssey to create THE authoritative source for TOL's production history. And a great job of humanizing all that mythic effort. I had only heard fragmentary anecdotes from you, David, over the years, which barely skimmed this trove of info. Nice to hear the human struggle side of what was ultimately set down so smoothly in the COMPANION.

    Fascinating reading, and a colorful chronicle of those venue-hopping days when being a film fanatic meant traveling long distances, enduring weird conditions and ambiences, to see the movies that stoked your passionate curiosity. Great nostalgia, gentlemen, on top of all the intriguing personal history!

    And thanks for the nice Cold Zanti product placement! I'm sure sales of the alien bubbly will increase a hundredfold!

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  5. Very entertaining saga. I collected Cinefantastique and Castle of Frankenstein back in the day (not much work to collecting CoF). It's absolutely gobsmacking to see the reletentless work ethic, commitment, dedication and also the good times that went into the Companion. Quite a legacy. Thanks again!

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  6. Just great, guys! I ate up every issue of TZ. I still miss that mag.

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  7. I don't know which is more comprehensive, research on The Outer Limits, or research on OL research! I always wondered, Dave and Jeff, how your work on the original Companion came together- I didn't imagine the crazy adventures you both had getting there! I still love the cover header "The Definitive Work On TV's Science Fiction Powerhouse". If there is a third edition, this phrase would apply even more with all the new info now in focus. Kudos again.

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  8. Murray Oken was fundamental in my cracking the ice on REAL research. A contact at KZAZ Channel-11 in Tucson, AZ referred me to Murray, and we exchanged several cordial letters.

    Then I fell into the maelstrom of running something called The 1977 Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy World Expo (the only one of its type!), which nightmare is chronicled in the article “Bloodstock: Four Days of Stress, Chaos & Wonderment” (published in MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT #27, Spring 2010 — and nominated for a Rondo, by the way; for the curious, a link should be up shortly).

    Soon thereafter I got another letter from Murray. He had BEEN in Tucson during the event and had wandered over to the (then-) Marriott Hotel to investigate. He never introduced himself. He wrote that he got a look at me from “afar” and that “you were surrounded by groupies, well-wishers, or creditors” and he sought not to intrude.

    But after that, packets started arriving from UATV, paper-clipped with the adjunct that Murray Oken had said, “give this guy (DJS) whatever he wants.”

    And all of this was BEFORE I made the hell-trek to Chicago.

    I heard from Murray a few times after he moved back to Marietta, Georgia, and he was unfailingly warm and helpful. It’s no accident that the Companion is partially dedicated to him.

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  9. “give this guy (DJS) whatever he wants.”

    Wow. Forry had Laemmle, you had Oken, and the rest is history.

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  10. Really enjoyed this background on the Companion, and just wanted to say that all that hard work you guys did was evident on every page in the final book. I've always been grateful that my favorite TV show had its book done by guys who really cared and really went into it with thoroughness and passion, and that it wasn't just some schlock toss-off job. It's always been a prized possession around here!

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  11. Marvellous piece, had me enthralled on my iPhone. It's a lazy way of saying it and I try to avoid it as much as possible, but I've always considered 'The Companion' the 'Citizen Kane' of it's genre. Thank you for this.

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  12. Dave--

    Great to hear from (and see) Jeff again. I write now as an TOL acolyte who talked his way into meeting you guys and sharing a few 16mil film marathons projected on the wall at Jeff's Oak Park place back in '79, and in retrospect I want to thank both of you's guys for your amazing dedication and perseverance. What a saga!

    PS--I remember dropping you off at your hangout in Oak Park one day in the dead of winter--you were wearing a green army jacket and were freezing your a___ off. Chicago had just experienced a MAJOR blizzard a few weeks before, and then-Mayor Bilandic was about to lose his butt in the upcoming election due to voter outrage over his pathetic snow-removal (if any of our readers have heard about this famous incident---THAT'S WHEN IT HAPPENED--in Jan/Feb, 1979---and YOU had the misfortune of being there!)

    Incidentally, that first day I met you guys (Feb 10, '79), I was still driving my favorite-ever car: a white '67 Buick Special, V-6 standard trans, that had taken me all over the country several times and back. The very next day--after watching a butchered version of "Children of Spider County" on local UHF, I was slammed while driving by some jag who was flying along on a street about 40 mph on SHEER ICE. End of Buick, and almost of me. But I had enjoyed a great time the day before with Mssrs Schow and Frentzen..so what the hell?

    Great interview/article with Jeff.

    LR

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  13. That was the infamous blizzard that got Jane Byrne elected mayor. Snowplow operators were pulling 18-hour shifts. One ran over a guy in his frozen car; another pushed a guy in his car and all into Lake Michigan!

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  14. Equally Infamous: Pat Broeske's article on CFQ from the March 16th, 1986 issue of Calendar, via the LA Times:

    http://articles.latimes.com/1986-03-16/entertainment/ca-26911_1

    ... and Jim Danforth's rebuttal, "Not So Fantastique," a week later:

    http://articles.latimes.com/1986-03-23/entertainment/ca-5517_1_cinefantastique-o7-f7

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  15. That's some intriguing vitriol---the Broeske piece and the curt Danforth rebuttal. Thanks for posting these links, DJS.

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  16. Nice work guys, especially the references to my alma mater, CFQ. Great memories. Fred gave me my first paid writing gig. Well, technically it was a paid gig, but my payment was a bunch of back issues which I could sell at science fiction conventions. In fact, I was probably the first person Fred ever trusted to take a trunks worth of CFQs and sell them. I would sell out the bunch and split the profits, so, for instance, for my six months of work on The Day the Earth Stood Still cover retrospective, I netted out about $85.00. Eureka!

    Best,

    Steve Rubin

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