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In part one (see here) of my Talk to Me, Baby! blog—inspired by our new clutch of FANGORIA TV interviews on this site (four on THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE alone this week! More to come on the Tribeca Film Festival, George A. Romero, SPLICE and BEST WORST MOVIE), I recalled the early interviews that set me off on a career in journalism, a trajectory that led straight to FANGORIA for the last 25 years. Anyway, to pick up the story…
When I first started at Fango in July 1985, I immediately showed my enthusiasm to then-editor David Everitt in regards to writing for the mag. Typing up free subscriber ads and filing photos would not be permanent fixtures of my job description for long. So I pitched Dave on an interview with diminutive actor Angelo Rossitto, who had been appearing on the silver screen from 1927’s silent MYSTERIOUS ISLAND to the biggest role of his career, that summer’s MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, in which he played one half of the memorable Master/Blaster combo. Dave gave me the gig, and thanks to the swift intervention of genre publicist extraordinaire Jeff Walker (a legend in the biz), Rossitto was quickly on the horn.
During our conversation, he warmly reminisced about his many parts alongside his pal Bela Lugosi (THE CORPSE VANISHES, SCARED TO DEATH, etc.) and his appearance in the legendary FREAKS. To make ends meet, Rossitto sold newspapers on Hollywood Boulevard, where schlock producers would spot him and enlist him in their movies. (On Rossitto’s final film, 1987’s THE OFFSPRING, director Jeff Burr told me that he had to tuck Rossitto in bed at night while on location down South!)
Anyway, editor Dave liked my Rossitto piece, which he titled “Big Little Man.” I was thrilled, not only with Dave’s clever moniker, but the fact that I was finally being published in FANGORIA. The piece ran in issue #50 with just one problem: the art department forgot to put my byline down! I vowed to never let that happen again, to me or any other poor scribe. Ironically, and equally bittersweet, the text of my first STARLOG article (Merritt Butrick, issue #95) ran out of order! I was cursed!
Dave then began handing me more writing assignments for Fango, including another old-timer I queried about, oldies sci-fi actor John Hoyt (ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, original STAR TREK, TWILIGHT ZONE, etc.). As an octogenarian, Hoyt was going through a career renaissance at the time, playing Grandpa on TV’s GIMME A BREAK! I actually interviewed him from the set, while he was on break. That, too, was a fun discussion (published in Fango #51), in which Hoyt confessed that he felt STAR TREK would never amount to much after he appeared in the series’ initial rejected pilot, “The Cage” (he played the dry Dr. Boyce).
When asked which interview I enjoyed the most, I always point to the piece I did on filmmaker Roberta Findlay for Fango #52. The reclusive lady, best known for toiling on such grindhouse cheapies as SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED and SNUFF, had a ton of great stories and anecdotes from the low-budget trenches, and even nonchalantly told me how her husband and film partner Michael Findlay had been decapitated by the rotor blades of an out-of-control helicopter on top of NYC’s Pan Am Building in 1977. When I told her how sorry I was about her loss, she jokingly responded, “Oh, that’s OK. We were divorced!”
The key to getting a good interview is developing a solid camaraderie with your subject. During my first trip to LA in 1986, I made a point of going to breakfast with the great Dick Miller, a featured player in many B-movies of yesteryear (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BUCKET OF BLOOD, THE TERROR, etc.) and a hero of director Joe Dante, who has put him in almost every one of his movies and TV shows, including his most recent film, THE HOLE. Before me, Dick had been lionized in the pages of Fango by editor Everitt, and I had spoken to the friendly ex-New Yorker several times and become chummy. The journeyman actor always got a thrill seeing his name in print. Dick took me to a greasy-spoon restaurant in Hollywood that was filled with other bit and character actors, like CAMERON’S CLOSET’s Chuck McCann and RETRIBUTION’s Mario Roccuzzo. The comfortable setting was the perfect place for our interview (see Fango #61). When I connected with Dick a year later in the Valley at a different restaurant, STAR TREK’s Walter Koenig was dining in the booth next to us, and EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY was shooting in the parking lot with Jeff Goldblum and Jim Carrey!
When it comes to genre Q&As, no one does them better than Fango contributing editor Tom Weaver, whose bylines have been regular fixtures in Fango, STARLOG, VideoScope, Video Watchdog and many others since the ’80s. Tom, the author of more than a dozen books of collected interviews, has an amazing knack for drawing the best out of his people. He thoroughly researches his subject and leaves no stone unturned, digging up esoterica and revealing details about his interviewees that even they have forgotten until mentally jogged by the amiable Weaver. I accompanied the writer on one such interview in 1985, when we met with AIP cofounder Samuel Z. Arkoff at his Manhattan hotel. During the interview, I managed to sneak in just one question (“Would AIP have hired Bela Lugosi if he had lived during the drive-in studio’s prime, like they had drafted Price, Karloff, Lorre, etc.?” “Sure,” Arkoff simply answered). But for the most part, I left it up to the masterful Weaver to grill the talkative Arkoff. Weaver’s latest book, A SCI-FI SWARM AND HORROR HORDE, came out from McFarland in February and pulls together 62 (!) conversations. Looking back at my Rossitto and Hoyt interviews today, I realize how much better they would have been if Weaver—the undisputed master—had done them.
How many filmmakers has Weaver spoken to so far in his decades-spanning career in genre journalism? Are you sitting down? “In my 13 interview books, there are probably about 350, but a bunch of my STARLOG/Fango magazine and website interviews didn’t end up in them,” Weaver says. “Then I did ‘short’ interviews with tons of people for projects like UNIVERSAL HORRORS, POVERTY ROW HORRORS!, JOHN CARRADINE: THE FILMS, etc. I have probably interviewed [collector/gorilla suit performer] Bob Burns 15 times on various subjects for various publications. Ballpark figure: probably about 600 interviews with about 500 interviewees, because some got interviewed twice, three times, four times…”
So did you enjoy this two-part edition of Elegies? I can go on and talk about the fun—and not so fun—interviews (scores of ’em) we did for FANGORIA RADIO, plus offer up more personal Q&A anecdotes, like face time spent with Christopher Lee, Quentin Tarantino and the hundreds more talks I conducted for Bravo’s 100 SCARIEST MOVIE MOMENTS, Fango’s SCREAMOGRAPHY series, etc. Let me know. Next blog, however, I will pull out my memories of the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise and how Fango rode—and helped launch—the Freddy phenomenon of the ’80s. Also coming soon: Tribeca Film Fest notes (the reason I’ve been AWOL from here for the last two weeks) and the Joy of Sets!
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