BREAKING BOOK NEWS . . .

 

While work on my new-look website continues – thanks to Jungle Jonathan Wooley, the hardest-working webmaster in the business – I have to take just a few paragraphs here to let you know that March 2011 has just become the biggest month ever for me in my writing career (such as it is).

— First, on March 15, John Wiley & Sons officially released my new biography: Wes Craven – the Man and His Nightmares. I was a fan of Craven even before he optioned (but, unfortunately, never filmed) my novel Old Fears, which Ron Wolfe and I co-wrote back in the early ‘80s, so getting to do this project was a real joy for me. As it unfolded, I found myself in a position to write about things that have been kicking around in my head for decades, ideas having to do with the connections between art and exploitation, for instance, as well as what youthful exposure to the concept of an endless, burning hell full of tortured souls might have on a writer or filmmaker. I’m proud of the book, proud of the exhaustive research I was able to utilize (unearthed mostly by one of the best researchers in the business, Rachelle Vaughan), proud of the fact that Wes Craven himself consented to a pretty thorough interview. Plus, it’s my first book to be available on Kindle!

–Next comes Shot in Oklahoma: A Century of Sooner State Cinema, my look at the history of Oklahoma filmmaking, from the University of Oklahoma Press.  Beginning at the very first part of the 20th Century, when Edison’s boys headed down from New Jersey to get some authentic cowboys and Indians in front of their lenses, it wraps up with a look at several of the theatrical features that came along in the wake of the Movie That Changed Everything, the Tulsa-lensed Blood Cult. Acknowledging that picture’s rightful place in film history – it was actually the first made-for-home-video feature — was especially important to me. Of course, it was fun to write about as well, as were such off-trail movies as Just Between Us, This Stuff’ll Kill Ya, and the amazing Prince of Peace.

I was able to do lots of new interviews – with famed novelist S.E. Hinton, for instance, as well as Godfather of Gore Herschell Gordon Lewis – and those complement the great you-are-there stories I dug out of newspaper accounts stretching back to the 1910s. The good folks at the Tulsa World, my erstwhile place of employment, allowed me access to their extensive library (or morgue, in classic newspaper slang), which helped the book immensely.

— Finally, my longtime pal and collaborator Michael H. Price invited me aboard for the newest entry in his long-running and acclaimed Forgotten Horrors series of movie books. Forgotten Horrors Vol, 5:  The Atom Age. Once again propelled by the Lovecraftian notion of horror being where you find it, and focusing as always on small-budget productions, volume 5 covers the years 1949 through 1954 and includes fresh takes on many of the usual suspects (Ghost Chasers, Robot Monster, and the cover-featured Man from Planet X) as well as the less-obvious likes of She’s Too Mean for Me, It’s A Small World, and Skipalong Rosenbloom.

Released in mid-March by Cremo Studios,  it’s 300-plus pages of the good, the bad, and the exceedingly strange, bound together by Michael’s insight, wit, and intriguingly skewed vision, with assists by yours truly and Jan Alan Henderson, whose work I’ve long admired. It’s available on amazon.com, among other places.

 

As far as published output goes, I’ll probably never have another month like March 2011. I’m happy and thankful to have those three books out, and I hope that whoever reads this might find one – or more – to his or her liking.

As always, thanks for the support!

— JW

First Quarter ’09 Update

I’m guessing that Thomas Hardy, the 19th Century British literary figure, never met Thomas Duncan, the famed vocalist with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, despite the fact that they both had something to say about how, you know, things become different as time wears on. I never met either of those Thomases, but I know a third one — my good pal Thomas Conner. And he and I appropriated the “Time Changes Everything” title (we were thinking, frankly, of the Duncan-penned song rather than the Hardy maxim) for our one-act imagining of two meetings between the Oklahoma music icons Woody Guthrie and Mr. Wills, which I’m proud to say will be presented as a part of Tulsa’s SummerStage festival this year.

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING, the play, is set for June 25th in the Liddy Doenges Theatre at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Thomas and I have been able to get John Cooper and Brad Piccolo of the Red Dirt Rangers to portray, respectively, Bob Wills and Woody Guthrie, and the entire batch of Rangers to come out in the second half of the show and play a selection of Wills and Guthrie tunes.

The SummerStage production will mark the play’s debut, although we did have a table reading with Cooper and Piccolo at the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah last August, which drew a standing ovation and the teary-eyed approval of Woody’s sister Mary Jo (he says humbly, digging his toe into the carpet).

The premise is simple: Guthrie and Wills meet twice, their two encounters separated by some 15 years, and talk about themselves, their music and their lives. As far as Thomas and I have been able to ascertain, and we’ve done some research that included talking to close relatives of both men, they never actually met. But Thomas, a Guthrie scholar who got a grant to study the man at Columbia University, and I – a Wills fan from ‘way back – have long been intrigued by the differences in the two musical giants and their contrasting approaches to their profession.

Now, the Performing Arts Center Trust has given us the chance to share, and we’re grateful. We’re also grateful to Tulsa’s top stage director, Vern Stefanic, whom we can’t afford but who has agreed to direct the play anyway. A longtime friend and occasional collaborator of mine, Vern agreed to direct Time Changes Everything in return for my not telling anyone about his excised appearance in Weird Al Yankovic’s Tulsa-shot film UHF (1989). Hey, consider it done, pal.

So, please mark your calendars for June 25 and join us for the intergalactic premiere of Time Changes Everything. We’ll have more news here as it becomes available. You can also check out the Tulsa SummerStage Facebook page.
for info . . . which brings me to my next topic.

     Although I hold a master’s degree in English, I had not known until a few weeks ago that “friend” could be used as a verb. I have learned this courtesy of my older son and webmaster, Jonathan, who set me up on Facebook back in late February – despite my being, shall we say, considerably beyond the Facebook demographic.

What was I thinking? I was thinking I needed to do it because at the first meeting of SummerStage producers, Chad Oliverson, marketing and public-relations manager for Tulsa’s Performing Arts Center Trust, emphasized to us all how important a marketing tool Facebook was for our productions. Chad told us we should all get on it post haste, or words to that effect.

Unfortunately for me, he didn’t tell me what to do once I got there.

I’ve kind of figured a few things out, thanks to Jonathan and my other savvy son, Steven, who both explained that people I knew would want to “friend” me once I joined up, and that I should “friend” them back. So I’ve been “friending” the hell out of everyone who pops up on the site, and they’ve been “friending” me. Some of the people “friending” me are my “friends” in real life. (Overuse of quotation marks for allegedly humorous purposes stolen from Dave Barry.) Some are good acquaintances and former co-workers I’m fond of. Some are people whose name I’ve heard or whose work I’ve enjoyed. And a few seem to have beamed in from the planet Neptune. But I’m just promiscuous about it. You want to be my friend? Swell? Hop aboard, everybody! More the merrier! WA-HOO!

Now, though, I’m starting to understand that I’m supposed to do more than just join up. As I write this, I’ve been “friended” by 181 people, That’s swell, but some of them are asking me things about which I have no clue. And not only that, but they’re asking each other questions about me. I punch up the site every couple of days and stare warily at it for a while, and it looks as though people are wanting me to participate in fun things, surveys and such. But I’m too freaked out to allow myself to poke around for more than a few minutes.

Of course, we’re all afraid of what we don’t understand – a theme expressed again and again in popular culture, as I remind my OSU-Tulsa horror-movie class boringly often – and I think I’m subliminally afraid that if I type the wrong thing, some cyber-tentacle is going to burst from the screen and wrap around my neck, pulling me into a hellish place where I’m forced to fight off spiders with darning needles like Grant Williams in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN while responding to each and every Facebook question and request — including the one I got a few days ago telling me someone had thrown beads at me, and asking did I want to throw beads back? I mean, you know, I don’t see any beads. Where are the beads? WHERE ARE THE FREAKING BEADS?

I have no doubt that I’ll get better at this, eventually, and if you’re one of the cyberhip, you’ll probably dismiss this as simply a Grandpa Simpson-esque rant. But I really am confused; it seems to me that if you really wanted to do this Facebook thing right, you’d have to spend several hours a day on it.

I don’t have that kind of time. But I do plan to post something about this website blog on my Facebook page. Is that hypocricy, or just opportunism?

      Finally, the half-hour documentary BILL BOYCE – MONEY ACTOR – which debuted last year at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema, is now available for purchase via PayPal. (PayPal — now there’s an internet idea I can handle.)
A ten-spot gets you the remarkable story of Mr. Boyce, Oklahoma-born star of THE SLIME PEOPLE, who not only romanced Marilyn but kicked Elvis’s butt in touch football. Leo (HELL HIGH) Evans directed it, I produced and wrote it, and award-winning young filmmaker Jonathan (WITCH COP) Wooley (whom I’m planning to gravy-train in my old age) edited it.
Get it in an attractive case, postage paid, for $10.

Fourth Quarter ’08 Update

Oklahoma City’s gorgeous this time of year.

Okay, maybe not exactly gorgeous, but certainly cooler than it was a couple of months ago. So let’s call it tolerable.

On the morning of Oct. 3, I’ll be headed down the turnpike to OKC with my pal and partner in Reverse Karma Press, John McMahan, where we’ll join scores of our old comic-book, pulp, paperback, radio-show and movie-paper collecting pals for the big OAFCON 2008.

What’s that? Well, as my chum Bart Bush describes it in the press release, (written by another of my longtime buddies – and the proud co-editor of our 1971 fanzine TORTURE-MURDER PICTORIAL – Bruce Shults), it’s “more than 50 dealer’s tables piled high with comic collectibles and other childhood treasures . . . . Dealers coming from coast-to-coast will be mainly offering comic books and collectibles made before 1980. If you enjoy vintage items like movie posters, paperbacks, series books, sheet music, this show is for you. Former club members and long-time fans from across the country will be in attendance.”

OAF, you see, stands for the Oklahoma Alliance of Fans, a group of comic-book collectors who found each other back in the late ’60s. Through the untiring efforts of Bart and Robert “Bosco” Brown, dozens of us converged on OKC last year for the OAF 40th reunion, and once we got over the shock at what four decades of gravity can do to a person, we decided we still liked each other enough to get together this year and have a full-fledged convention (or “con,” to the uninitiated), the kind we used to have before people started buying and selling all their old junk – I mean, valuable nostalgic treasures — on the freaking computer.

McMahan and I have approximately 9,875 copies of Reverse Karma Press’ debut offering (in conjunction with Off Trail Publications, of course) SUPER-DETECTIVE FLIP BOOK left, and we’ll be happy to sign as many as you want or need. We even will have a few of the rare un-signed copies available. Reprinting two Jim Anthony – Super Detective pulp tales from the ’40s, it’s getting some nice reviews online and elsewhere.

So come see us. No matter where you live, if you’re into this sort of thing, it’ll definitely be worth your trip.

That’s OAFCON, set for Friday and Saturday, Oct. 3 &4, at the Biltmore Hotel, 401 S. Meridian in Oklahoma City. Admission is an incredibly low five bucks for both days.

For more about OAF and the convention, visit www.oafcon.blogspot.com.

And, if you can’t come to OAFCON and want a copy of SUPER-DETECTIVE, check the blog entry right before this one for instructions on how to order it from the comfort of your own home.

     I recently attended another great convention, Pulpcon in Dayton, Ohio (see www.pulpcon.org for more). As always, it was great to get with my publisher friends John Locke and John Gunnison to work over some ideas for new projects (along with a box or two of wine), and to see other good pals who share my love of pulp lit of the ’30s and ’40s.

Among the latter are Don Hutchison, Nick Carr, and Dave Walker, who always set aside time to have a martini or two with me as we gaze out the big windows at the top of the Dayton Crowne Plaza and talk about long-ago writers and writing. Sometimes, the topics ramble away a little. Dave reminded me of a conversation we’d had, sitting in that same bar high atop the hotel, a year ago.

“You and Don started talking about the movie version of The Grapes of Wrath, and how great it was,” Dave said. “You were going over scenes, and talking about the nobility of the Joads, and how there were so many moving things in it – and you both were just about in tears.
“That’s when Nick leaned in and said, ‘So, what do you boys think about King Kong?’ ”

I heard some great lines at Pulpcon this year, but the most memorable one came from Rusty Hevelin, one of the original organizers of the event back in 1971. As I passed Rusty’s table, stacked high with pulps, in the dealer’s room, I overheard him say, “The closer I get to 90, the less stuff I need for my collection.”

Second Quarter ’08 Update

Folks who like their adventure high and wild – especially when it comes from the pages of the pulp magazines of yesteryear – know the name Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, whose over-the-top tales from the ’30s and ’40s pulps found a whole new audience decades later as paperback novels (and, in fact, continue in new reprints today.).

He’s one of the major heroes from the pulps, an Olympian group that includes the likes of Zorro, Tarzan, and the Shadow.

So, maybe you know Doc Savage. But do you know Jim Anthony – Super-Detective?

If the answer’s no, we can take care of that in a New York second. By we, I mean my pals and collaborators John McMahan and John Locke. Collectively, we have just produced a new trade paperback that reprints a pair of Jim Anthony adventures in what we’re calling the Super-Detective Flip Book: Two Complete Novels. It just hit amazon.com and other cyberspace outlets; you can find it there, or you can order it from Off-Trail Publications (offtrail@redshift.com) via PayPal ($18 plus $2.50 for media mail, $5 Priority) or by sending a check or money order to Off-Trail at 2036 Elkhorn Road, Castroville, CA 95012.

     

     What do I get for that geetus, you ask? Well, what we’ve done is reprint a couple of the best novel-length (using the admittedly generous word-count standards the pulps used to define a “novel”) Jim Anthony yarns, taken from two separate phases of the Super-Detective’s career.

The first, 1940’s Legion of Robots, can certainly be taken as, uh, an hommage to Doc Savage. Anthony, with his secret fortress and preternatural powers, will certainly remind the alert reader of Doc, something that was purely intentional on the part of Anthony’s publisher, the always opportunistic Trojan Publishing Corporation. At the time Legion of Robots came out, however, comic books were beginning to steal the thunder of what were known as the hero pulps, offering thrills and power fantasies more easily accessed by young readers. Still, the folks at Trojan figured there might be a buck to be made in another hero pulp, and so along came the underrated Anthony.

(Anthony’s relationship not only to Doc Savage, but also to DC Comics and its flagship character Superman, is explored in a fact-packed introduction by McMahan.)

By 1943, Jim Anthony had undergone a major overhaul, with the more juvenile aspects of his stories gone in favor of a more down-to-earth, hard-boiled approach. We were fortunate to find a great, timely-as-today’s-headlines tale, Murder’s Migrants, to complete our twofer flip book. It’s a fine effort, written by two of the most famous guys to come out of the detective pulps – Robert Leslie Bellem, creator of Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, and W.T. Ballard, whose Bill Lennox, written for the famed Black Mask magazine, was the first true Hollywood detective character in the pulps. Together, these two solid wordsmiths crafted a swift and entertaining novel (and the backstory of their collaboration is one of the things I deal with in my own introduction).

So there you have it: Two novels, bound together in a style intentionally reminiscent of the Ace Double Novels of the ’50s and ’60s, and brought to you by John Locke’s Off-Trail Press – purveyor of some of the best pulp reprints and associated non-fiction that you’ll ever see – and Reverse Karma Press, the little outfit McMahan and I have put together.

We’ve spent a couple of years delving into the world of Jim Anthony, and we find it a fine and exciting place. We think you will, too, and we’d be delighted to have you check out Super-Detective Flip Book: Two Complete Novels. and let us know what you think.

And, as always, big thanks for stopping by.

First Quarter ’08 Third Update

Both Dave Stevens and Mario DeMarco loved the romance and wonder of entertainment from days gone by – loved it so much that they filtered it through their own souls, reshaping it and recasting it, shining it up and sending it out.

Dave, of course, was the artist and writer best known for creating the great comic-book character the Rocketeer, a character rooted in the gosh-wow science-fiction movies and pulps of the ’30s and ’40s. His stunning work on the Rocketeer stories quickly made him one of the first and brightest stars of the independent-comics movement of the ’80s.
Mario, on the other hand, was less well known, his audience comprised mostly of fans of B-western movies, for whom he created pen-and-ink portraits and self-published paeans to the cowboy-movie stars of yesteryear. (His obituary in the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette indicates that he also had a 50-year-career as a cartoonist with the Navy Times.)

They both created a lot of their oeuvre in the ’80s, although I have no idea of whether they were aware of each other’s work or not. They both died in early March, within a week or so of one another. And I knew them both, at least a little bit.

I met Dave Stevens in San Diego in 1974, where I was fulfilling my obligations as a Navy Reservist – following two years on a helicopter carrier – by spending a couple of weeks as part of the crew of a fleet tug. My previous Navy service had included some time in that city, where I’d had the good fortune to meet Shel Dorf and Richard Butner, both of whom were heavily involved with the San Diego Comic Convention (which had then been going only a few years). I believe it was Richard who introduced me to Dave one weekend, when I was able to get off the tug and into town. I was impressed when I found out this young guy was inking backgrounds for one of my comic-book heroes, Russ Manning, on the Tarzan comic strip.

I recall Dave as being pretty shy and reserved that day, but we nonetheless hit it off. Both of us not only dug comics and pulps, but old movies and serials and – perhaps most important – the leading ladies of low-budget horror and science-fiction movies.

As the years went by, we’d exchange the occasional letter or phone call, in addition to seeing each other at conventions, where we’d make the time to do some catching up. After he’d begun dating the ’50s B-movie actress Yvette Vickers, I went to my mailbox one day to find an envelope with an 8X10 glossy, taken on the set of Attack of the Giant Leeches, she’d signed for me. For my part, I sent him a cassette tape of Dreamsville, one of my all-time favorite LPs, featuring Henry Mancini’s ultracool jazz orchestra behind vocalist Lola Albright, who played Edie Hart on the Peter Gunn TV series. In 1991, when Disney put out the Rocketeer movie, I was able to interview Dave for the Tulsa World, where I was working as an entertainment writer. Later, he told me that the picture had been the No. 10 moneymaker for that summer – which, unfortunately, wasn’t quite big enough to trigger the planned sequels and other spinoffs.

After the Rocketeer comic-book stories hit, and especially after the movie, Dave Stevens became a huge star on the convention circuit. His Betty character, a tribute to ’50s pin-up queen Bettie Page, led to Ms. Page’s rediscovery, and Dave ended up becoming the most famous pin-up artist since Alberto Vargas.

As fame increases, so do the demands on a person’s time and energies, and the last few times I saw Dave we talked through a stream of interruptions and distractions, which seemed to bemuse him a bit. It was clear that day that he did what he did from love, not a lust for fame or money. It may be clichâd to say that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Dave Stevens, to the end, remained one of those people you always look forward to seeing again. To know that you won’t be able to do that in this particular sphere of existence has saddened a great number of people, myself included.
While Dave died early – at 52, from leukemia – Mario DeMarco was 86 when he passed, having actually lived through the movie heyday of the B-western stars in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.

Mario and I never met, but we wrote one another, and I have several of his handcrafted B-western books in my library. I first became aware of him in 1979, after I’d left my college-teaching job to move back to my home turf and try to make it as a writer. The very first gig I got was at a tabloid-sized newsprint publication called The Big Reel, published out of North Carolina by a man who was, I believe, had a day job as a carpet cleaner. His name was Don Key, and his publication, slanted toward the old westerns, was for folks who – in those pre home-video days – collected, sold, and traded stills, movie-related publications, and 16mm films. Just after we’d moved, I saw a notice that he was looking for a book reviewer for The Big Reel. The pay was a penny a word, and you got to keep the books and magazines sent to you for review, as well as receiving a gratis subscription to the publication itself.

I’ve never been much of a reviewer, but it was a paying gig, so I applied. For the next couple of years or so – before the mag was inundated with amateur critics who’d do the job for free – I got a check every three months right on the dot, and that $45 paid for a lot of groceries in those days.

Mario DeMarco was doing line drawings, coupled with biographical nuggets, for The Big Reel, and he crafted a little logo for my column. Right after I started working for the magazine, he sent me his self-published Yours Truly, Tom Mix, a “photostory” of the great western star, along with a letter talking about how the book “wasn’t meant to be a ‘classic’ – it was printed at my expense (and extremely expensive) for the fans who really loved Tom – and for the collectors too – for in it went a lot of love and care.”

There was a lot of love and care in everything Mario did to help keep the B-westerns alive, and perhaps to help telegraph their joys to a generation that didn’t grow up with Saturday afternoon shoot-’em-ups. And a lot of love and care went into Dave Stevens’ wondrous work as well. They were working very different sides of Nostalgia Alley, certainly, but Dave Stevens and Mario DeMarco covered their respective turfs with joy and wonder, working with the benign ghosts that haunted them to create new images for our dreams and daydreams.

For my money, those were two lives well lived.

(The Internet is full of obituaries and tributes to Dave Stevens. My friend Jim Vance has a very nice one at http://www.james-vance.com/jvblog/?p=80)

First Quarter ’08 Second Update

My webmaster and cyberspace advisor, Jonathan Wooley, having educated me recently about the importance of website blogging, has now advised me that it’s a good idea not only to regularly add links to other websites, but also to write a bit about the linkees. With that in mind, here’s a little something about the folks behind the web addresses:

–Jim Vance ( http://www.james-vance.com ) has been a very good friend and occasional co-conspirator of mine for more years than I’d like to remember. I will not embarrass him here by relating where we met, but I will say that it was at the world premiere of a local movie in which he had, shall we say, a major part. I will also note that he was the sober one at that meeting. In the immediately subsequent years, we visited a lot of comic-book conventions together, notably Larry Lankford’s late and much-lamented Dallas Fantasy Fairs and Festivals, and entered the independent comic-book market as scripters, with Jim receiving well-deserved acclaim. (Among other things, he won a Harvey and two Eisners for his superb graphic novel with artist Dan Burr, Kings in Disguise , a Depression-era tale told from a boy hobo’s point of view. Recently reprinted by W.W. Norton, it belongs in every American’s library. Honestly.)

Jim continues to turn out great work full of wisdom, compassion, and clarity. I also envy him for his ability to knock out first-class blog entries on his site http://www.james-vance.com, most of them having to do with comics and graphic novels, which is where he’s doing most of his work these days.

— Chuck Ayers (http://www.chuckayers.com ) is the creator and host of a fine radio show called the Red River Jazz Cafe, which I’ve been enjoying beginning at noon Saturdays on radio station KZLI (1570 AM). KZLI is (along with oldies station KRVT, 1270 AM) half of a great northeastern Oklahoma AM-radio combine that’s bravely swimming against the current (forgive the mixed metaphor) by offering programming that couldn’t be different from the soulless corporate effluvia clogging our airwaves.

Chuck’s show is a great example of what I mean. It’s full of laid-back, small-combo jazz – often including something from my favorite, Oklahoma boy Chet Baker — strung together with Chuck’s equally relaxed conversational reminiscences of his younger days in California and Oklahoma. KZLI, for all its wonderful qualities, isn’t exactly a clear-channel flamethrower, so if you’re not in the Tulsa area, pick up the cafâ on Chuck’s website. Heck – you can even order up a show from the menu. Plus, there’s some old-time radio programming and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll available there as well.

And while we’re on the topic of music . . . Broadway, concert, and TV star Sam Harris (Did you catch his laugh-out-loud character on last year’s sitcom The Class?) is working on a new album, and he’s released a track on YouTube. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulqENsff5bw to see “War on War,” an anti-war number that, to me, is a first-class, spirited, re-imagining of the late 1960s, when kids marched for peace and love was in the air. (Following my time as one of those peace marchers, I ended up on a helicopter carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, but that’s another story.) Sam’s song hits all the right buttons, spiritually and musically – there’s a little echo of the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” in the chorus, a Beatles evocation on the bridge, and a nod to Edwin Starr’s greatest hit.

Sam’s organized a music-video contest around the song, so those of you who are into that sort of thing should check it out. So should everyone else – except, maybe, those who still believe that folks like Bill O’Reilly speak for America.

Finally, check out the newest two issues of Fangoria the world’s No. 1 horror-movie magazine, for a couple of pieces I’m proud of. I visited the Oklahoma City-based set of the new movie Soul’s Midnight for my report in Fangoria No. 270. It includes a sidebar interview with director (and stand-up comedian) Harry Basil, who talks about both Soul’s and Fingerprints, a second Oklahoma-lensed feature that’s generated a lot of pre-release buzz.

In Fango No. 271, the current issue, my pal and frequent collaborator Michael H. Price joins me for a look at the underrated 1980 horror film Without Warning, which was undoubtedly an “inspiration” for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The big studios co-opted every good idea the low-budget drive-in filmmakers had, pumped ’em up with money and starpower, and released ’em as major movies, without acknowledging their cheap-film roots at all. The Without Warning/Predator similarities, I think, were a harbinger of this practice, which still exists today, you bet.

First Quarter ’08 Update

If you happen to be interested in Oklahoma-related movies and music, you might want to check out a couple of newly released articles penned by your faithful (sort of) correspondent.

The current issue of Fangoria, No. 270, carries the story of my visit to the set of Soul’s Midnight, a vampire film starring Armand Assante that’s due out on DVD even as we speak. My Oklahoma City-based friend and entertainment insider Bud Elder, who was helping with publicity for the movie, got me down to OKC and in to see Gray Frederickson, the Academy Award-winning producer who was overseeing Soul’s Midnight for his company, Graymark Productions. Long affiliated with Francis Ford Coppola, Gray was a producer on the Godfather films (he won his Oscar for Godfather: Part II), Apocalypse Now, and The Outsiders, among many others.

An Oklahoma native, Gray decided to return home a few years ago and make some movies that, thanks to his skill and savvy, look a lot bigger that their budgets would suggest. On Soul’s Midnight, he had a solid group of familiar faces in the lead roles, topped by the veteran Assante. I was able to visit with Mr. Assante in his trailer, and I’m happy to report that he was pretty much how you’d hope he’d be — sophisticated, kind, thoughful, and articulate. In fact, everybody on the set — beginning with Gray — seemed to go out of their way to tell me or show me whatever I might need for the story. In my nearly 30 years of writing about entertainment, I can say that this is something that doesn’t always happen in set-visit situations, and after my evening on the Soul’s Midnight set, I came away pulling for Graymark and for everyone associated with the picture.

One of those people, by the way, is Harry Basil, a stand-up comedian as well as a director, who was a protege of the late Rodney Dangerfield. Basil is justifiably proud of Soul’s Midnight, as well as another Oklahoma-lensed Graymark picture, ,Fingerprints — as you can tell from the sidebar interview I did with Harry for the Soul’s Midnight story.

I’m proud to say I’ve been appearing in Fangoria, the world’s most popular horror-movie magazine, since issue No. 23, which came out in November of ’82. I broke into Fango by writing up an interview with the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘s Ed Neal, who was a fellow guest at one of Larry Lankford’s wonderful Fantasy Fair conventions in Dallas. For more on the magazine and the whole Fango empire, check out www.fangoria.com

The music story appears in the current issue of Oklahoma Magazine (Vol. XII, No. 2), in which I have a bimonthly (soon to be monthly) column, It’s an interview with my pal David Teegarden, the Top 40 hitmaker (Teegarden & Van Winkle’s “God, Love, And Rock & Roll” in 1970) and longtime drummer with Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. Dave tells the story of the long-suppressed rock ‘n’ roll/political documentary, Ten for Two, in which he, Seger, and Skip “Van Winkle” Knape appeared. It’s a fascinating story, and I hope I did it justice.

You can judge for yourself — for free — by picking up Oklahoma Magazine‘s latest issue, available at finer restaurants and clubs (and possibly, a dump or two) in the Tulsa area. I believe they’re also in some Oklahoma City venues as well. And they don’t cost a dime.

For more info, check out www.okmag.com

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Fourth Quarter ’07 Update

So my webmaster son, Jonathan, who is a 23-year-old filmmaker and hip to these sorts of things, tells me the other day that if I don’t start doing a little more blogging in this space no one’s going to visit any more.

I have to tell you that I’m fairly reticent to plunge into this blogging thing, which is no surprise to anyone who’s taken a look at this website over the months and noticed that I update it once or twice a year, when a new book or something else of mine comes out. I figured that would do the job, but apparently not.

Okay, look. Here’s the deal. When I was Jonathan’s age, the closest analogue to blogging we had was fanzines, little magazines done for the sheer love of it, usually having to do with comic books or science fiction and fantasy or old pulp magazines and other nostalgia/escapist topics. A few of us like-minded kids would talk our way into church or school offices and commandeer a duplicating or mimeograph machine, and crank out these little publications in editions of 20 or 50 or 100 and mail them off to people across the country, hoping to get back at least what we called an LOC (letter of comment).

Yes, those were the ’60s and early ’70s, and things change. But chances are if you’re one of those folks who were around when dinosaurs ruled the earth, like yours truly, you’ve got a bit of an approach-avoidance problem with cyberspace. I think some of it can be boiled down to this: It just seems too easy.

Probably, this is just the latest manifestation of that line the old folks have used on every new generation: “Well, in my day, we didn’t have it so easy!” Of course, that’s true. Things do get easier in a lot of different areas as the years pass, thanks to unrelenting technological breakthroughs. And that’s all fine. But I’m with another old poop, the unfortunately late Kurt Vonnegut, who opined toward the end of his life that we’d advanced technology enough – how about trying to advance humanity a little bit?

These days, anyone in the world has the potential to communicate with loads of people via the internet. A person can do this regardless of whether he or she has anything to say, or even whether he or she has the skills necessary to communicate it. (And don’t get me started on how cowardly it is to hide behind a fake name and take ugly potshots at others.)

Chances are, if you’re of a certain age (hint: mine), you’ve blanched at the execrable communications skills flaunted by many of the denizens of cyberspace. Forget such niceties as subject-verb agreement, modifiers that don’t dangle, correct spelling, or actual sentences. Some of the stuff is absolutely incomprehensible, and it’s going out there where tons of people are supposed to see it. In some cases it’s like – as Raymond Chandler wrote in a different context — an idiot with a machine gun. There’s all this power to communicate, and, if you’ll excuse the expression, it’s being pissed away by people who don’t care enough to learn how to communicate.

It’s the same thing with radio call-in shows. Now, I don’t spend one millisecond of my life listening to the saliva-slinging political airhorns, but I do like sports talk about major league baseball and pro football, and I especially like the syndicated Jim Rome show. But we have some good local guys on our sports-talk stations around here too, people who know their topics and do their homework and come up with some intriguing ideas and angles –

And then, they open the phone lines. And here come people who, in what seems to me to be the overwhelming majority of the cases, haven’t given any real thought to what they plan to say (something along the lines of “How ’bout my Sooners?” is all too typical) and don’t have any new angle and just take the air out of everything. Even the callers to Rome’s show — who tend to be of a higher caliber, or at least a weirder bent – are hit and miss, and I find myself switching the channel when they come on almost as much as I do when our local guys open up the phones. I simply prefer to be entertained by professionals.

Just because you can get access to the airwaves doesn’t mean you automatically have something to say. Or, as my pal Jim Millaway once put it, there’s a reason you have a radio receiver and not a radio transmitter in your car.

Now, of course, thanks to the internet, we all have our freaking transmitters, and we can use them at any hour of the day or night. We don’t have to go with an unexpressed thought, and I’m not sure that’s particularly healthy.

I’ve brought up a lot of this with Jonathan, and he’s asked me how communicating on the Internet is any different than writing for the fanzines.

It’s a good question, and maybe it’s simply the far greater number of participants, but I think it’s more than that. I remember when I wrote my first piece for a fanzine – Paul McSpadden and Steve Fears’ MASTERMIND, back in 1964 – I saw it as a huge opportunity, and a big responsibility. I strove to get everything right. I used every English skill I’d learned in school, and went over it several times, looking for the slightest error. I did not shoot it out into cyberspace like some wobbly, slapped-together projectile and go on to something else. I took a lot of time with it.

So, yeah, it was harder. Maybe I even made it harder than it should’ve been. But the people who really interest me in cyberspace are the ones who insist on taking the time to craft something, who realize that just because it’s easy to communicate on your computer, you shouldn’t just throw something out there. Scattering some random thoughts with no regard to communications skills doesn’t make you a writer, just like a bunch of blank verse scribbled after your girlfriend dumps you doesn’t make you a poet. To be good at anything, you’ve got to work at it. I think it may just be that simple.

I realize that I’ve tackled a number of different notions here – but, hey, isn’t that a part of blogging? And please don’t construe this as a rant. I’m more bemused than anything else, and I’m just trying to dope the whole thing out rather than dismiss it out of hand. So, if you’d like to enlighten me, or explain why I’m not looking at it right, or even agree with me, please feel free to send me an LOC. Yes, I’m kidding. Please email me at webmaster@johnwooley.com

Meanwhile, here are a couple of things written in the spirit of the holiday season. The first is a little poem that came unbidden to me yesterday morning. The other is a story I wrote back in 1995 for the Tulsa World editorial section. Those of you who are comic-book fans might want to know that the man I refer to in the opening paragraph of the newspaper piece was the great Funk Age artist and writer Leonard B. Cole, whom I was proud to call a friend.

Puppet plays in black and white

And a starry sky

Gently snowing Jesus Christ

 

(THIS ORIGINALLY RAN ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 1995, AND IS POSTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF THE TULSA WORLD.)

    About a week after we’d sent him a chatty Christmas letter with a
picture of the family, my wife, Janis, and I found out that an old
friend in New York had died. The death of any friend is a tragedy;
the death of a friend you haven’t seen as much as you want to can
be especially unsettling — especially at this time of the year.

“You know,” Janis said as we talked about it that evening, “it
just doesn’t seem right for people to die around Christmas.”

No, it doesn’t. All the accouterments of Christmas, from the
manger scene on the living-room table to the star at the top of the
tree, symbolize joy and hope, not sadness and death. The whole
story of the Savior’s birth is the story of hope fulfilled by God,
delivering on a promise. These days, we react to the spirit of that
fulfilled promise by giving some of what we have to make other
people joyous. The Tulsa World sponsors a drive to help the area’s
neediest families. Churches and radio stations and service
organizations and merchants all organize efforts to help others,
and it’s a rare working man or woman this holiday season who won’t
be helping someone else — a stranger — realize some Christmas
hope.

Maybe in the middle of all of this necessary and wonderful
effort, though, it would be good to remember that without sadness,
there would be no need at all for hope. If we were all joyous and
content, why would we have to hope? For me, the most poignant
Christmas moments of all are those in which sadness and hope are
intermingled, with people nobly overlooking their own sadnesses in
favor of providing hope and joy for others.

It’s the sight of cardboard letters proclaiming “Merry Christmas”
in the smeared window of a subsidized apartment on the wrong side
of town. It’s the aging members of a dying organization pulling
together to decide how many Christmas baskets they can afford to
give away this year. It’s a poor kid, a kid that’s maybe been
kicked around, buying a can of peas — or taking one out of a
meager pantry — to donate to a church food bank. It’s a guy, two
days off the street and two days sober, volunteering to pull on a
Santa hat and ring a bell in front of a Salvation Army kettle. It’s
a child wrapped in rough garments approximating the clothing of
Christ’s time, shivering as he or she stands stock still in a
“living nativity,” watching the cars roar by on the street in front.
It’s even ourselves as adults, remembering our Christmases as
kids, and the precious innocence and sense of wonder that gradually
fell away from us like shed, shimmering skin as we grew up.
There’s no joy, no hope, without sadness. Even the Savior was
born in a stable, to bedraggled and undoubtedly stressed-out
parents who’d looked all over town to find a decent bed and instead
ended up sharing a stable with animals. The moment their blessed
child was born, he was on his way to the cross. And the star of God
shone over it all, over this sweetly transcendent mixture of hope
and pain, sadness and joy.

In this season, we strain toward the light of that star, and its
light, in turn, illuminates us from within, lighting up the
darkness of our lives. We call that light the Christmas spirit, and
nothing is more holy. It continues, as long as we live, to see us
through our sorrows and to shine just often enough through our
mortal eyes in this, the most joyous, most hopeful and saddest
season of them all.

If you’re a fan of ’60s and ’70s music, you might want to catch another piece I’ve just reprinted, concerning my musical hero Augie Meyers.

(Click on the picture to read the article)

That’s it for this go-round – except for a piece of subliminal advertising buy my books and my best holiday wishes. Many thanks, as always, for dropping by.

 

 

 

           — Back atcha soon, you bet…

03 JULY ’07

“You have to be sentimental to be sensitive to impressions of terror, mystery, or the occult. After all, sentimentality is nothing more or less than an overactive imagination, a tendency to try to dramatize impressions.”- FREAKS director Tod Browning, quoted in BELA LUGOSI: DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES by Gary D. Rhodes with Richard Sheffield (Collectables, 2007)

Welcome to the John Wooley website, maintained, supervised, folded, spindled and mutilated by my No. 1 son, Jonathan (check out his award-winning Witch Cop shorts on the new DVD from VCI Entertainment, VCI: Short Films Contest Winners – with, in what I’m sure Jonathan and his filmmaking partner Joey Hambrick see as a primo example of typecasting, yours truly cast as the cranky character “Sarge”).

If you’re one of the new listeners to my Swing on This western-swing radio program (found in the Tulsa area at 89.5 FM and streaming everywhere else in the world at www.kwgs.org every Saturday night at 7 p.m. Oklahoma time), scroll ‘way down on the left-hand side to find (theoretically) the latest two playlists for the show. Maybe you’ve just discovered the show. Perhaps you were in the audience at Snyder, Texas, early in June, when I was honored to emcee the West Texas Western Swing Festival and plug the show. Whatever the circumstance, very glad to have you aboard.
I’m writing this the day before my friend and colleague John McMahan and I leave for the annual Pulpcon in Dayton, Ohio, an event I’ve been attending since the late ’80s. It’s a grand celebration of pulp literature, of a time when working-class folks – and others, of course – found escape from the Great Depression and other challenges of everyday living in the pages of garishly colored, cheaply printed all-fiction magazines. Not meant to last, these pulps from the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s are slowly if inexorably deteriorating, but even though most of them have to be read with care these days, there are those of us who believe there’s nothing better than to read an old Spider or Hollywood Detective or Operator No. 5 in its original form, with the indescribably transcendent smell of the decaying wood pulp adding another sensory level to the experience.

A few Pulpcon attendees are working to preserve some of the best of the thousands of pulp tales printed in the first half of the 20th Century. I’ve been honored to be able to work on some of those projects with my friends John Gunnison at Adventure House (www.adventurehouse.com) and John Locke at the relatively new Off-Trail Publications (so new, in fact, that the usually tech-headed Locke doesn’t yet have an Off-Trail website.)
John McMahan (enough Johns for you?) and I are going to be talking about some pulp projects with both these gentlemen – perhaps over a martini on the rocks with blue-cheese stuffed olives on the top floor of the Dayton Crowne Plaza, but more likely over a few hearty glasses of box wine in one of our rooms – and I should have a new pulp-related project or two to announce here soon.

Meanwhile, I should tell you that Off-Trail has just published a dandy called Doctor Coffin – the Living Dead Man, a collection of stories featuring a character created by early-Hollywood denizen Perley Poore Sheehan. Imagine what might have happened if Lon Chaney had decided to become a crimefighter, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of these immensely entertaining off-kilter tales. I wrote the introduction, and on the back John decided to dub me “the world’s foremost authority on Hollywood detectives.” I guess that’s kind of like being called the fastest gun in the West, except there aren’t as many people gunning for you.

The next weekend, July 13-15, I’ll be at the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma, doing a Saturday morning panel and signing copies of my current music book, From the Blue Devils to Red Dirt: The Colors of Oklahoma Music – now in its second big printing – as well as the music-related ghost story, Ghost Band. It’s my first time at the annual event, and I’m looking forward to seeing shows from several of my favorite acts, including the Red Dirt Rangers and Kevin Welch.
In other news: Forgotten Horrors 4: Dreams That Money Can Buy, is now out from Midnight Marquee Press. Once again, my pal and prolific Renaissance man Michael H. Price has been good enough to let me gravy-train the franchise he started with the late George Turner, and while Michael is always responsible for the bulk of the work on those books, it’s been a real trip getting to visit, or revisit, some truly strange pictures from late 1946 through 1948, and then put my impressions down on paper. One of those films is Beauty and the Bandit, whose innocuous title masks the most bizarre Cisco Kid movie ever made.

There are, I’m guessing, a couple hundred other titles of that same ilk, with lots of illustrations and an introduction by Michael that is absolutely riveting – and, in fact, that ties in with the recent post-deathbed revelation from a Roswell, New Mexico scientist re: the alleged crash-landing of a flying saucer in ’47, the very year that the bulk of the films in Forgotten Horrors 4 were released. It’s a weird but persuasive personal reminiscence, chilling and funny and mighty fine.

You can order Forgotten Horrors 4 from your local bookstore, the virtual bookstores, or the Midnight Marquee website at www.midmar.com.

In other news: Michael and I continue to write the “Forgotten Horrors” columns for the world’s No. 1 horror-movie magazine, Fangoria. Next up: The amazing story of how Baptist minister Lynn Lemon, of Plan Nine from Outer Space, found himself in the quasi-skin flick, Invasion of the Bee Girls. The story comes from the 90-year-old reverend himself – who, by the way, is an extremely good guy!

Please continue to look for my feature stories, publishing under the general heading of “The Insider,” every other month in Oklahoma Monthly. And Best In Texas magazine is set to publish a piece of mine on Red Dirt Music very soon.

Finally, those of you in the Tulsa area who are matriculating right now should know about the courses I’m teaching on the OSU-Tulsa campus, under the auspices of the American Studies program in the History Department. Starting in late August, I’ll be teaching a 3000-level course called Studying Oklahoma’s Culture Through Music and Movies, and then in the spring I’m set to do one called Horror Movies: Reflecting America’s Fears. These classes will satisfy a number of different requirements, depending on what program you’re in, so if you’re interested, check with your counselor.

That’s it for now. As always, many thanks for dropping by.

Cornball

I’d rather take a chance on being called cornball than to die a wise ass.” — Jim Harrison

The other day, my webmaster and older son (not necessarily in that order) told me that it was past time to update my website, reminding me gently that it was easier to do it now that he’d shown me how I didn’t have to go in, kill everything out, and build it from the ground up any more. The look he gave me while he was explaining all that was the kind of look you’d give a whimpering stray puppy just as you were setting out a big bowl of Kibbles ‘n’ Bits. So, then, here we are with an update, in which — as Jonathan intimated — I need not be logorrheic. Or, as Jack Webb (kids, ask your baby-boomer parents) might’ve said, it’s just the facts, ma’am.

And here are those facts:

1)       Since leaving the newspaper on Sept. 1 of last year, I’ve been able to get into a variety of projects. Perhaps the most high-profile of them was a gig doing all the text for the tour book celebrating music legend Roy Clark’s 60th anniversary in show business. I’ve known Roy for many years, and his manager, Taylor Seale, has also been my pal for just about that long. They are both very good men, and I was honored to do the job. Roy has a year-long tour planned for this year, so if you see him in concert, check out the deluxe tour book, and you’ll not only see the words I wrote, but a wonderful selection of photos — many of them rare — from Roy’s career. The book even includes a CD featuring some of Roy’s most enduring hits.

2)       If you’re in Oklahoma, check out the latest issue of Oklahoma Magazine ( www.okmag.com ), which has a profile of yours truly made to look far better than I actually am by the fine writer Marnie Ducato. Next issue, just in time for Easter, the magazine will feature a story of mine on the strange relationship between one of the all time-great exploitation filmmakers and the annual Lawton, Oklahoma, Passion Play. It’s the first of a bimonthly series Oklahoma Magazine’s publishers have asked me to do.

3)       I’ve also been doing some enjoyable work for the feisty Texas-based music magazine Mavrik (www.LoneStarMusic.com). The January/February issue cover-featured my piece on the guys of Cross Canadian Ragweed, and the new one will have a similar story on the Red Dirt Rangers and their new disc. Working at the Tulsa World gave me the opportunity to cover the still- emerging phenomenon of Red Dirt Music from its very beginning, and it’s a pleasure to put some of that first-hand knowledge to work in a music magazine — especially one out of Texas, where the Stillwater-based Red Dirt and the singer-songwriter style known as Texas Music tend to get all smooshed (to borrow a term from Grandpa in Grapes of Wrath) together.

4)      After a frustrating several months of non-publication (when we expected the opposite, obviously) by another imprint, Mike Price and I are happy to be back with Midnight Marquee Press for Forgotten Horrors 4: Dreams That Money Can Buy. A recent mass email from MidMar’s Susan Svehla indicates that the book will be out by the end of April.

5)        In a related story, look for some new “Forgotten Horrors” columns for Fangoria (www.fangoria.com). Michael and I have a couple in the can, and a couple more on the way. I’m also working on some solo stuff with Fango in mind. Editor Tony Timpone was very kind to me when I left the newspaper, emailing me with the assurance that I’d always have a home at Fango. I’m in the process of gratefully taking him up on that.

6)       I’m happy to say that both of my current books are doing well, even though if you only check www.amazon.com, it’ll look like — in the words of Raymond Chandler — they’re trying to crawl under a duck. I’ve come up with the little conceit that my books are like beer from a microbrewery. They’re not Bud or Coors, and they don’t have a huge corporate distribution machine behind them, but many discriminating souls — bless ’em — people find them not only just as satisfying as the stuff from the big guys, but in some ways, even better.

So, if you haven’t picked up Ghost Band, my novel about a touring musician trailed by specters, or From the Blue Devils to Red Dirt: The Colors of Oklahoma Music, my non-fiction look at national music trends that originated in Oklahoma — which just became a finalist for an Oklahoma Book Award — this might be a good time. If you’re in the Tulsa area, both are available at brick-and-mortar bookstores, including Steve’s Sundry Books & Magazines and Barnes & Noble. Otherwise, you can them from the usual online sources or order them from your bookstore. Check out the “Books” section of this site for more info.

7) Finally, because of my, ahem, changed circumstances, I find myself doing a lot more personal appearances than I used to. Just this week, I’m going to Bristow, Oklahoma, to speak to their library group, to Claremore for a similar thing, and then to Stillwater for a lecture in its citywide Big Read event. If you know of any similar groups where an Okie writer might fit behind a podium, give a crowd a few laughs, and sell a few books, please let me know.

Many thanks, and so long for now.