Zip Codes had yet to become a part of our culture. Cable Television had yet to be connected, and there was no such thing as a VCR, much less a PC. (But, it would have been nice.) Now, looking around, we have, or seem to have, Just about everything... everything but that special kind of Magic that I recall so well, as do those of my generation. We may have things we'd never dreamed of back in the 60's, but along the way, we lost something else, something, that I'm afraid we'll never see again.
Writing this piece, a felt a bit of that "old magic" return, and I hope that while reading this much condensed version of that period, those of you who were not yet born, might, but for a second, get a whisper from the past...from a time when dreams could come true, and many of them did...
Wallace Wood's 5 story walk-up apartment cum studio on West 74th Street and Columbus Avenue in New York was a beehive of activity in those final months of 1963. Woody was trying to ease his way out of 'Mad' magazine, and I thought that I'd come up with the method.
Months before, I'd sold the McNaught Syndicate on what Woody and I believed was a 'natural' for a Sunday page. An historical strip, titled: "This Is the Week To Remember..." (Alan Barbour printed several of these years later). I had drawn up one on 'The Battle of Bull Run,' had it photo engraved by Koppel Color in New Haven, Connecticut (who did the majority of all the syndicate Sunday color work), and Charlie McAdams of McNaught loved it.
In fact, they loved it enough to put some development money behind their words. They requested that six Sunday pages be completed, so they could give their sales people a variety of subjects to go out there and pitch to newspapers throughout the country. Boy! Were we excited! But, it was not too be. Woody had been suffering with what he termed 'The never ending headache.' He seemed up one minute, down the next. The work he produced for the strip was nothing short of fantastic, but the problem seemed to be the time factor. McAdams thought that he'd have his pages in two months.
How long it took, I really can't recall, but it was a lot, lot, longer. This wasn't good, since at that very time, the McNaught Syndicate was having problems with a strip titled, 'Dan Flagg,' by Don Sherwood. McAdams wasn't in the state of mind to take on another property that he might have to worry about. They loved the work, but passed, taking both the loss of the strip, and their advance money.
I was worried. How in God's name could I tell Woody that the strip was dead? I couldn't. Not in the frame of mind he was in. I bundled up all the samples, and hit every syndicate in New York. Several expressed interest, but none bit. I broke the bad news to Woody at what I thought was an appropriate time. He didn't say much. He didn't have too. His expression said it all.
Right: At Shepperton Studios, during my period with Milton Subotsky. (Left to Right) Myself, David "Sir Hugo Baskerville" Oxley, Rhodes Reason, Frank Maher and Ken Ryan. Ken worked for Bernie Robinson on most of the Hammer Films as art director. Photo by Ricky Smith, who shot most of the stills for Hammer.
We did an incredible amount of work during this time for Vince Colletta. All kinds of stuff; war comics, romance, etc. The bulk for Charlton and Marvel. It has all become one giant blur. Pages would literally fly from one board to the next, nothing in any real sequence. Gallons of Higgins Extra Dense India Ink, and Windsor/ Newton, Series #7 & #3 brushes were devoured. We'd work all night, deliver the goods to Vinnie's studio in the west 40's, go home, collapse, sleep, then begin again. It was wild.
Enter Warren. Lurking in the back of my head was the germ of an idea. It had been hiding out there for quite a long time. Actually, I wondered why nobody had done it yet. It had been done before. Before the coming of the Comics Code Authority, and it had been successful under the guiding hands of Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein. Sure, I'm speaking of the undying legend, EC Comics.
My dream was to re-create EC, but not as a four color comic book. In 1963 that would be the kiss of death. I knew Bill had tried a black and white line called 'Picto-Fiction,' but it never made it. Mostly because distributors were afraid to touch anything that might bite back. 'Mad' was the only title that had survived, out of the entire EC line. I knew Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, Nick Meglin, Jerry DeFuccio and the entire crew at 'Mad.' With great humility I approached Bill Gaines with my insane dream. Bill thought it was great, but had no interest in getting involved. He'd had enough trouble as a result of the 'Wertham Witch-hunt' of nearly a decade earlier, and its result. No.
Right: Forrest J. Ackerman , Editor Famous Monsters of Filmland.
This time Bill Gaines would simply sit back and watch. I must say, looking back, he was always supportive, and passed to me some very good advice. So did Nick, Jerry and Al. I learned a great deal from all of them in those dim days of yesteryear. When one sees the product comic publishers produce today it's hard to explain to anyone who wasn't there during that dreary period of the early 60's, just how much power the 'Comics Code' had. Believe me, they had it, and the publishers that survived the "Witch-Hunt" never forgot, and followed the rules.
There was one maverick in those days. A guy who didn't follow anyone's rules but his own. Jim Warren. Jim had filled the void left by EC, and the other publishers of horror comics, with his 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' mag. It had all started as a 'one shot' by Jim and Forry Ackerman six or seven years before, and had been more than a modest success. When I met Jim, he was publishing four titles, and had big plans for the future.
Back in 1963, I was living at 127 West 79th Street in Manhattan, at a huge building called 'The Clifton House.' 'The Clifton' had very spacious apartments, and I mean spacious. They were all close to fifteen hundred square feet, and the one I had on the 4th floor was well over two thousand. Cost? Believe it or not, with utilities included, the rent was two hundred and twenty five dollars a month (More on this great place later).
Jim Warren had recently moved his offices from the 'Choc Full O'Nuts' building, to his penthouse apartment on East 47th Street. 'The Embassy House.' He was on the 14th floor I think, where the phones never stopped ringing. For this duplex apartment, with a fantastic view, Jim was paying a bit over four hundred dollars per month. But we're talking about 1960's dollars. It was a different money, a different Country, and a very different New York.
It was a magic time, that I'm afraid we'll never see again. It was a time when anything and everything was possible. You could feel the excitement in the air. The whole city seemed to pulsate with activity. America was still a great place, even scant months after Dallas. Too bad it didn't last. People hadn't started protesting Vietnam as yet, and were discussing a new thing called 'Zip Codes,' that the Post Office was planning within the next year or so.
I recall my first real business meeting with Jim Warren. The living room had been converted into his office. Jim's desk faced the entrance, a bank of windows with a large patio to his right, a large sofa against the wall to his left. On the floor were piles of current Warren magazines.
Upstairs was a small bedroom and bath, and downstairs another small bedroom that had been converted to a storage area. It was filled with art, magazine flats, filing cabinets, and other cast-off office materials. I seem to recall another very small room, next to the bathroom, where Sam Sherman was assembling his 'Screen Thrills' motion picture magazine. A blank eyed, 35mm projector sat on a table. Cores of film were piled in cardboard boxes. A small kitchen completed the tableau.
I don't recall much in the way of art hanging on Jim's walls. He did have a framed picture of Hugh Hefner, autographed, and I recognized a lone Ml Rifle resting in a corner. I knew that weapon, since I was responsible for one of its brothers in the four years I spent in the Marine Corps.
I tried to sell Warren on my great plan to revive EC Comics, but he resisted. He told me he had a plan to publish film mags in comic form, using photos rather than art. We chatted for a time, and as I was leaving to head cross-town, I knew that something was going to 'click' with Warren. I just felt it.
The next meeting, Woody came with me. Jim knew Wally's work, and both of us felt for sure something good was going to come when the meeting had ended. We spoke about it later, as we cranked out endless pages for Vince. As Woody and I ground out the pages, Tatjana, his wife, made us gallons of coffee, and served Canadian bacon sandwiches.
I'll never forget those sandwiches! We'd eat, drink coffee. and smoke tons of cigarettes. Pages would be inked, erased and cleaned, and stacked onto the 'finished' pile. It was a factory. Piece meal work, at the alarming rate of twenty dollars per page. It was hard work, but through it all, we had fun. The record player would be on, and 'The Easy Rider's would be singing, or, 'The Weavers,' with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, etc.
During breaks, Woody and I would play guitar together. We were in our own private universe, turning out work for an unknown audience. Big conventions had yet to become part of a comic book artist's landscape. It was just work, work, and more work. Recognition lay several miles down the road.
Well, I think my first score with Warren was The Mummy' comic book job. I wanted it to run at least eight pages, but Jim said it would be six...or nothing. It was six. This was to run in Famous Monsters, but sat on the shelf for quite a long time. Jim liked it, but comics still frightened him. For some reason, he believed the dreaded 'Code'would start to pry into his territory. The next assignment was the redoubtable Horror of Party Beach, photo/comic magazine.
This was an incredible thing to work on for a number of reasons. To begin with, Woody, and I went to a screening of the film at Fox in New York. We were bewildered why Fox was distributing the film, and why Jim was going to devote a magazine to it. It was at this screening that I met Tom Lazarus, whom I wrote a Hunter episode for many years later. Well, after weeks of misery, Woody and I finished Horror of Party Beach. It had been a 'horror,' and Wally was beginning to back away from any further involvement with Warren.
I delivered the flats on Horror to Alex Soma at Harry Chester's offices at 501 Madison Ave. Alex did all the production on Jim's titles, and he is, and has always been, a fan of horror films, but not this one! It remains a joke between Alex and myself to this very day. In fact, when Tom Lazarus and I got together on the Hunter episode, he said, "What the hell was the name of that terrible project we worked on years ago at Fox?"
We had a good laugh about that one. I knocked out the cover for said magazine, then Woody and I did the cover for the Spacemen Yearbook. I believe that was Woody's last work for Warren for quite a long time. I, naturally, continued on. I was on a mission...
The Clifton, as I mentioned, was spacious. What I didn't mention, was it was a haven for artists, since its discovery by Irwin Hazen, who drew the Dondi comic strip. When I arrived on the scene, an apartment on the l5th floor was the studio for John Prentice, who was doing Rip Kirby, and Bob Lubbers, who was working on three strips, Long Sam, Secret Agent X9 and Lil'Abner. Bob did the pencils for the Abner Sunday page. Howie Post completed the trio.
Howie was working at that time for Sid Jacobson at Harvey Comics. I recall he was doing Casper, and Wendy, about that time, but, I spent most of my time with Warren. He was really quite adept in the business world, and had a keen sense of humor. It was a lot of fun. If the Horror of Party Beach had been a nightmare, what followed, was in its own way, worse.
The Mole People was Jim's next venture into photo-style comics. I had just completed the painting of Bela Lugosi as 'Dracula' for Famous Monsters #30, when Jim asked me to go to Pathe Labs way up town. My mission, a 35mm print of this epic Universal picture, to pull frame blow-ups from. I recall that day very, very well. Pathe Labs had more guards than Fort Knox and I had to sign dozens of forms before picking up this massive metal film container. Also, it was one of those hot, humid New York days of summer when everyone is a bit on edge.
I finally managed to get back to The Clifton with my burden, and sweating like a hog, placed it on the floor, and cranked up the air conditioning. When finally I decided to open the 35mm carrier, I looked down at its contents in disbelief. They had given me the camera negative of the film! I called Jim at once, telling him that somebody at Pathe had really screwed up. Jim told me to call them, and to return the can for the proper one.
I told him I wasn't going back there again, but I'd call. Within an hour, Pathe delivered to my door the fine grain print, and claimed the negative. The anxious voice on the other end of the phone had asked me if I'd handled the neg. I hadn't. Boy, you could hear the tension lift from that fellow's voice. He still had a job. For The Mole People I enlisted the assist of Maurice Whitman. "Reese," as he was known, had worked for Fiction House Comics, and had been an editor at Charlton. I knew him through my association with Vinnie j Colletta.
When The Mole People was still on the board, I continued to bombard Warren with the idea of publishing an EC style comic magazine. By now, The Mummy had appeared in Monster World # 1, and Joe Orlando and I had completed yet another six page wonder, The Mummy's Hand, for 1' Monster World #2. Jim slowly began to see that he might have a future in comic publishing after ' all. But not quite yet...
The work load was incredible, and the rates were just as incredible. Incredibly low. For the Horror of Party Beach and The Mole People, and later, The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula titles, the gross payment (and was it ever), came to $350.00. Cover art was $200.00. I did the cover for The Mole People in one night...and it looks it. The art for the Curse of Frankenstein, and Horror of Dracula mag was destroyed the way it was printed. The background colors were changed, and the heads cut from the bodies. It was worse on the oil painting of Christopher Lee's 'creature.' (I was embarrassed when I noticed Christopher had a copy of the mag at his London home).
Warren used that art in total on the Famous Monsters paperback, Son of Famous Monsters. However, he neglected to pay me any re-print fee. I always made a point to write on the back of the illustration board "First print rights only." Naturally, this was overlooked. Even back then, publishers didn't have the right to use an artist's work as often as they wanted to.
However, I don't know anyone, including Basil Gogos who challenged them. I didn't. Several years later, Frank Frazetta did, and won! By now the studio at the 'Clifton' was busy. Artists were coming in and out every day. Joe Orlando was there full time, and many others would be there on jobs. Al Kilgore, Manny Stallman, Angelo Torres, Reese Whitman, etc. Finally, Jim Warren gave in. I was going to have my comic magazine. But, we didn't have a title. Jim gave it one. It was called...Project D.Left: Cartoon drawn by Joe Orlando during prep period for Creepy #1
I have heard through friends who were involved with Project D while it was being developed, that they had read somewhere that Larry Ivie was behind the creation of the mag. I have not read Larry's article, and I can't believe that he'd make Such a claim. Maybe he tried to promote a similar idea at one time or another, but I don't know if he did or not. Larry knew what I was doing, for he lived a scant few blocks from The Clifton.
Larry did write several stories for me, and it just so happens, that a fellow, straight out of the army, was staying at Larry's apartment. Who? Well, it was none other than Archie Goodwin, combat boots and all, one of most talented, quick-witted people I've ever known. Project 'D' had a very bumpy start. Originally it was to be a 64 page magazine. Jim cut it back to forty-eight. What none of us knew at the time, was that Famous Monsters was in trouble. Sam Sherman and Bob Prices' Screen Thrills Illustrated was cancelled. I made a sketch of my "host" for the mag, and sent it off to Jack Davis to work up a cover. Still no title.
Titles are tough. Ask anyone who ever had to come up with one. One night I was sitting in the studio alone, looking at Woody's tear-sheets from the EC's, when Warren called. He was furious, and demanded a name for Project D. I was looking at a balloon over an Ingles 'Old Witch' and in her narrative the word CREEPY grabbed out at me. I muttered the name to Jim, and he paused for a long moment he has it" he said "with excitement, and hung up "We now had a title for out mag...but the real trouble was still to come.
Note: warren had only published one comic to this point "Flyntstones at the Worlds Fair" Putting a magazine together isn't an easy task least when you're trying something as ambitious as recreating the legend that was EC. We needed good stories. but it wasn't only the art that made EC the success it had been , but the stories were there as well . Jim stated peering at me over his black, horn rimmed glasses, that he wasn't able to shell out allot of money for scripts. He didn't want to spend much for art either. A double threat.
My deal with Jim Warren was five hundred dollars an issue. I was editor, and packager. The headaches had already started, when some of the proposed talent began to complain about Jim's page rate. He wanted to spend thirty dollars a page for art...not a cent more. I began to wonder if he really wanted to do the mag, since obviously, he didn't want to pay what both Dell and the newly formed, Gold Key Comics were paying-thirty five per page.
Finally, I simply told Jim to deduct five dollars a page from my editor's fee, and give it to the artists. If I'd done the same with the scripts, I would have done everything for free. The script rate was the same as that of Charlton Comics. Five dollars a page. A writer could look forward to making between thirty to forty dollars for an original story. I knew that Robert Bloch wouldn't be writing for Creepy. So, my pay was now three hundred twenty five dollars per issue. Even in 1964 that was no money, and with Creepy on a bi-monthly schedule, it was ruin. But I agreed.
The writing chores for issue number one were divided between Larry Ivie, and Archie Goodwin, although Bill Pearson may well have been in there too. You see, I do not have a copy of Creepy #l archives... at least not here. If anyone were to ask me how the whole thing came together, I would have to say without the supreme effort of al Williamson it probably wouldn't have.
I saw That Joe Orlando had a gift for story development that the industry did not recognize for many years to come. Joe and I would go into fit of laughter after going over the plots. Joe was at the studio just about every day, so we had plenty of time come up stories, that would, for most part, never see print. The scripts were written, and assigned to the appropriate artists. Warren had set down his own code. We would show no blood and gore. Nothing that would bring the Comics Code Authority knocking at his front door. About the only EC artists we didn't have, were Ingles and Wood.
We were also missing (until later) Johnny Craig, and Jack Kamen who was never used. But we did have a great talent in Gray Morrow, and Angelo Torres. Angelo had done some work for EC toward the end, now he was primed and ready to do some absolutely fantastic pieces. Anxiously I waited for the art to arrive. I had Ben Oda, who had done lettering for the Kurtzman titles at EC, and just about every major comic strip in America, at the ready. Like an expectant father, I paced around the studio. A magazine was about to be born. Jim was excited as well. He decided to throw a small, private party at the 'Cattlemen' restaurant in New York, inviting all the artists. "No writers," he instructed me, 'just the artists." I broke the rule, and Archie was present. Jim never said a word. That was the first of several private dinners that I went to.
I don't know if this tradition continued as the magazine grew. Recently, Academy Award Nominee, Ed French, make-up artist supreme, and a good friend, showed me his copy of Creepy #1.1 had not looked at this issue in probably twenty years, and was in still in I was stunned how great the art looked. Crandall, Evans, Williamson, the incredible Frank Frazetta, Gray Morrow and Angelo Torres, et al "What do you think" Ed asked. "Think it'll sell?" "I forgot how good it looked," I replied. "I guess it's got a chance."
That's what Jim Warren and all of us were hoping in 1964, as a very young Ed French was laying out his thirty five cents for that premiere issue. Ed French and a couple hundred thousand kids, who had been waiting; waiting for horror comics to return. The magazine business is, and always has been, a crap shoot. Once its in the hands of a distributor (Kable News Company was ours), this is pretty much what happens. After the magazine is on sale for ten days, you get your first report of sales. Naturally, this is far from accurate. The true figures, at least what the distributor says are true, you receive thirty, sixty, and ninety days off sale.
This means, on a bi-monthly schedule, that you're putting issue #4 together about the time you find out what issue #I did. And, everyone knows that a mag needs time to find its target audience. Many people miss the first issue, discovering the title later. That's why Warren did so well, selling returns in his Back Issue Department. The main reason that. Jim Warren managed to keep going for so many years, was not because of the sales of his magazines, but sales through his mail order company, Captain Company.
There was money in mail order. Jim explained to me on more than one occasion, that it cost roughly five cents per copy to print a mag, and with a 15 page catalogue in the back of the magazines, that five cents was a cheaper than mailing out two hundred thousand catalogues. He was correct. plus magazines were in the hands of people who loved the genre. Jim had been the founder of Captain Company, but it was Lee Irgang, who made it all work. Lee went to all the product shows, and made the best deals on any item he thought would sell. Just look through a pre-Irgang Warren magazine, then the issues that Lee's name appears. The approach is quite different, and the product line very diverse.
Before Eerie came on the scene. I sold Warren on doing yet another EC style Comic magazine. This was the ill-fated. Blazng Combat. A bout this time and I could be wrong, I got married. That, I remember very well. March 15th, 1965. John Prentice was my 'Best Man,' and Kathy, John's wife stood up for Dee Gee. As my new union was getting started, my union with Warren began to fall apart...but it was a slow process. I put together the first issue of Blazng Combat, following the Kurtzman formula that had worked for EC. But even with the old team back together again, the magazine was bound for failure. Much had changed in America since the heady days of Two-Fisted Tales.
Vietnam was was blistering sore on the soul of America, and the last thing readers wanted was a war-mag. But we did know this at the time. Jim phoned me one day and said that we had a major problem. Another publisher he'd heard, was planning on coming out with a 'knock-off'' of Creepy, with our title, Eerie.
I believe that publisher was Myron Fass, who had published a comic book with that title before the Code came in. What could we do to protect our new title yet to be released? Warren had an "ash-can" edition of Eerie printed overnight This was a small, digest was to go to my neighborhood and place this cheap-looking first issue on the stands. Jim said this would protect the title and the way things turned out I geuss he was right.
I did as Jim had requested, and at my local magazine stores, placed a few issues of Eerie #1 and kept the bulk of what Jim had given me, and gave quite a few away to the guys. The rest, I placed in my filing cabinet, where they were forgotten.
As I was in the process of assembling Creepy #4, Jim threw yet another dinner for the magazine's personnel, again in one of The Cattlemen's private dining rooms. This turned out to be my last Warren outing. Jim had stated during one of the prior get togethers that he wanted, and planned to raise the page rate to a hundred dollars. Naturally, this made the artists happy, and Jim was a master at keeping the proverbial carrot out there, but just slightly out of reach.
This night I'll never forget, and I'd bet that none of the people at the table have either. Jim stood at the head of the table, and gave one of his hype speeches, then, with great panache, brandished from his jacket, a bound stack of one dollar bills...new bills. He then peeled them, one at a time, placing them next to each artists table setting.
"This is what it's all about," Warren said, grinning. "This is what you guys want, and this is what you guys are gonna get. Lots of it!" I looked at the talent assembled in the room, and watched their expressions. Gray Morrow looked like he was about to get up and leave. Frazetta looked dumbfounded, and if this had happened a decade before, probably would have thrown Warren through the wall. Jim's plan to impress had failed. Later when I spoke to the guys, one on-one, they were all pretty bewildered by Jim's actions. Oh, it had plenty of flair, but where was the real money? Some of them were still waiting to get paid for jobs already completed. The arrangement had been, payment upon receipt. The mood was not happy. It got worse. Soon, my phone was ringing more than ever. I recall Gray calling; he had yet to be paid. He was really pissed, and he could not contact Warren. Nobody could...and that included me.
It was as though Jim had been swallowed up. I'd call his number, and get the answering service. This profound silence lasted about two weeks, just long enough to make everybody involved less than happy. I believe that just about every artist had said they were going to quit...pack the whole thing in.
They were angry, frustrated, and quite possibly hurt. I caught the venting, but could do nothing. I didn't have authority to sign checks...I never had, that was Jim's domain, and Jim's alone. When he finally surfaced, I had a big blow-out with him. That was it. I wasn't making enough money to catch it from all sides. I was the middle man, and I didn't like it. Jim accused me of, quote: "Having aspirations of being a publisher." End quote.
I didn't. Not at the time, but things have a strange way of happening...especially in that world. So, sometime in 1965, I quit. But Jim as usual, had the last word. In this case, in the form of a telegram. It stated that I was fired, and could not speak to anyone who worked for Warren Publishing Company. It's true. I could no longer speak to Frank, Gray, Joe, Reed, Angelo, George, Archie, Jack, et-al. It was the most absurd piece of communication I've ever received, before or since.
Naturally, when any of the gang were in the city, they'd stop by the studio. Frank Frazetta, with his camera tucked under his arm, along with Roe Krenkel were frequent visitors. Gray and Angelo would stop in as well. I'll never forget some of those conversations...Roe Krenkel had a wit second to none, and I stayed in contact with Roe right 'til the time of his death. I was in Europe at the time, and was given the sad news by Bob Stewart and Ellie Frazetta, both by letter. Creepy, my answer to EC, was gone from me. I knew there was no going back. I felt good that the mag was in the very talented hands of Archie Goodwin.
Now, I was free to move on. 1965 was a major turning point for me. There were all kinds of possibilities lying out there, and I was going to try as many as I could. I contacted Ian Ballantine, publisher of the imprint bearing his name, and did The Illustrated Dracula. Christopher Lee was kind enough to write the introduction for me. I've been told, that this book may well be one of the first, if not the first "Graphic Novel.
"It got rave reviews, and the one from The Sunday New York Times, I still have in the archives. Al McWilliams did the art from my layouts, and Ben Oda did the lettering. Much comic work was done for Bill Harris at Gold Key, and Jack Schiff at DC Comics. Also, during this time frame, I spent quite a bit of time in England. One project, was the Dracula double album recording, narrated by Christopher Lee. I was just back in New York, when the phone rang. It was Art Ainger, Vice President of Kable News Company. MONSTERMANIA.
When I was with Jim Warren, he often voiced that he wanted to get out of his contract with Kable. In fact, he had me put together a presentation of his magazine line for a proposal meeting at Independent News. Independent was the largest magazine distributor in the country, and one of their companies was DC Comics. Aside from the comic books, they distributed magazines such as Playboy. They were big, very, very big. Independent passed, since they had obtained the true sales figures for the Warren line. But, sometime after my departure from Warren, he managed to get a deal with PDC. Lee Irgang, the brains behind Captain Company, had also left Warren's employ. I knew Lee, and together we set up a meeting with Kable News. It was the world's shortest meeting.
Art Ainger, and George B. Davis, the heads of Kable, needed a monster magazine to fill the void Warren had left, and they had determined, that Lee and I were the guys to fill that void. As we left the meeting, and stepped out onto 3rd Avenue, we were stunned. Suddenly, we'd become publishers...we had a real distribution contract. Now we had to produce a magazine, and produce it on a shoe-string budget. Why not? We'd learned how to do that from the same master, Jim Warren.
Kable News Company did distribute another monster magazine, and that was one of the many reasons Warren wanted out of his contract with them. It was Castle of Frankenstein, published by Calvin Beck, and edited by Bob Stewart. In fact, Bob did pretty much the whole magazine, from design to completion, but COF had no real schedule. It was supposed to be a bi-monthly, but on average, two issues a year was about it. Kable wanted a title that would really be on a schedule, and that meant getting it to press on time. We settled on the title, Monster Mania, and Ben Oda did our logo. Lee was to handle the mail order from his home in Elkins Park, Pa, and I would be responsible for the editorial chores from the studio at The Clifton.
Today, producing a magazine would be a "cake-walk," compared to what it was in early '66. Computers have, in a sense, solved just about every problem that fell across our path. For one, Lee lived in another state, and that's where we had our type set. It was prophetic that I had to make a business trip to Los Angeles, just before Monster Mania #1 went into full production. I knew to punch-up the editorial content of the magazine, it needed something different an interview with a major star of the genre, perhaps?
I was at a motel on Highland Avenue, wondering whom I could obtain for an interview on short notice, when suddenly I thought of that master of make-up, Jack Pierce. I had heard that Pierce didn't give interviews, but decided to give it a shot...afterall, what did I have to lose? I was surprised to find Pierce listed in the telephone book, and that he was living in Sherman Oaks, not very far from Universal Studios. I called him. A woman answered the phone, but shortly, I was speaking to Mr. Pierce. He explained that he was bed-ridden with arthritis, but would do an interview if it were brief, and not contain any "trick questions."
Right: Lon Chaney Reads Monster Mania #1 on the set between takes.
I agreed to his terms, and with a big Revere tape recorder, drove to his home in the valley the next morning. Although quite ill, it was the same Jack Pierce I'd seen in all those production shots, applying his skills to Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, etc. The room was dimly lit, and the woman that had answered the door, quietly left the room. We reviewed the questions that I'd outlined, and Jack Pierce agreed. However, some of the insights he gave me before the tape machine clicked on, were far more interesting than the interview that followed.
Pierce spoke openly about Universal, and many of the actors he had worked with, including Lon Chaney, Sr. There were no startling revelations, but, in several cases, Jack Pierce's personal observations, that he didn't want to see in print. A few moments later, I pushed the record button, and we did the short interview. When we were finished, I thanked Jack Pierce for his time, and the unknown woman showed me to the front door. I didn't realize for many years to come, that in a sense, seeing and interviewing Jack Pierce had been quite an accomplishment. Many had tried, but were not granted their request. I can't say for sure, but that brief interview in Monster Mania #l, may well be the last interview that Jack Pierce ever gave.
I feel honored that I had the opportunity to meet, and interview, the man who was responsible for creating the monsters that we, and those who will follow, will always appreciate and love. I sent Jack Pierce a copy of the magazine when it came off press, and about a week later phoned him. He was pleased by what he'd read, and that pleased me. I never spoke to Jack Pierce again.
We had to use 'Special Delivery' post for everything in those days. I'd send the type-written pages to Lee, and he'd take them to his type house. Lee would send me the proofs to correct, which in turn, I'd send back to him. It was all very convoluted, and took much longer than it would today. I would then do the design and paste-ups for the issue. Well, I did issue #1. For the next issues, I did the design, but the actual mechanicals were done by a couple of young artists that lived close to Lee. This in a sense, made it more complicated, since when they had finished, they'd mail me the flats, and I'd end up having to change things, or replace missing photographs, or correct typos.
What I needed was Alex Soma sitting there with me, designing the magazine. But Alex was still knocking out the Warren magazines at Harry Chester's. Alex did help out. He supplied many stills and other materials. So did Mort Drucker, who did our subscription ad art. In fact, we got support from many.
Right : Bearded Russ Jones 4 time Oscar winning director, Robert Wise.
For what it cost, Monster Mania didn't look half bad. Cost? On issue #I we had NO editorial budget. Except for the mail order pages, and the Peter Cushing bio, I did the whole thing. Wrong. A fellow who worked at 20th Century Fox, Bill Mahon, wrote a piece on The Reptile. Within a couple months I began to get a Publishing." My address was on the title page of the mag, and that meant it was open season for many fans to seek-out where this new monster magazine was coming from. And did they ever. Then there were the budget problems. The magazine took at least a month to produce (logistics, etc), and this meant I had to drop several of my money-making accounts. I just didn't have the time to do everything. Now, I was out of pocket getting photos, and other materials to fill out our 64 page baby.
This baby was starting to eat me alive. But it wasn't all terrible. I still recall a very special evening, when Frank and Ellie brought their kids into town to see for the first time a 16mm print of King Kong. This turned out to be a real event for Frankie and Billy that they still remember. The print belonged to Bill Gaines, a fellow film collector, and I was thinking about buying it. The problem was, it was a pretty bad dupe. I returned the film to Bill, who gave me his classic frown.
Back in '66, a hundred bucks was a lot of money...especially for a dupe print of a film, and somehow I think Bill knew I needed the hundred more than he did. Frank agreed to do the cover for Monster Mania #2, which I believe was possibly the best issue. It was a double-truck painting of cave people and prehistoric creatures. I think we were the first magazine to show a nude female butt on the front cover.
Lee thought we were in for it, but nothing was ever said. The painting was a knock-out, and that little bit of business looked like it belonged there, as it did. It wasn't as though we were trying to get away with anything. We didn't have that in mind. By the time we were working on issue #3, my marriage and everything else seemed to be falling apart. It seemed that just about every cent that would come in, ended up going back into the magazine.
Then on top of that, we were still getting the drop-by fans, as well as some wannabe writers, that began to get on Dee Gee's nerves. I know that one of these people really freaked her out, and seemed to appear only when I was away. The paperback, illustrated anthology, Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror, was released, and that helped a bit, but we were still months away from knowing if the magazine was doing well in sales. It was rapidly becoming a very bad scene. John Zacherle gave the mag a nice plug on his TV show, and stopped by the studio on a regular basis. John always managed to crack us up with his humor, and he was a good friend.
By the time issue #3 hit the stands, I'd already decided that there was no way for me to continue in the publishing arena. Dee Gee had also had enough, and we decided to seperate. We'd married young, perhaps too young, and both of us had things we wanted to do. This was a painful period for us both, but somehow we'd known from the very beginning that it wasn't going to work. We were both very independent people, and in a relationship, at least in ours, it was the kiss of death. So, we went our seperate ways.
Dee Gee went to South America, where she worked as a model for better than a decade, and I went to LA then London. But, sitting here, writing this piece, I'm recalling many wonderful times during that era when everything and anything was possible. Time does funny things, and you don't have any idea what's going to stand its test. I'd say that Creepy did. I'd say that the Famous Monsters #30 cover did as well. Even Horror of Party Beach is demanding a hefty price at conventions and specialty shops. You just never know about these hings. And, it's no good trying to second-guess the future.
In the 30 years plus since Creepy, Monsler Mania and the rest, I've had a most interesting time out there; the years in England, back to New York, back to England and Spain, and now California... (although I still call Spain home). But, as Uncle Creepy might say,"...all that's a different story. Cover Page Index