It Came From Dallas – The History of the Show
by Gordon K. Smith
What do these posters have to do with Dallas? Read on and find out…
Welcome to the It Came From Dallas! blog. Since we first started this unique Dallas institution in 2005, many folks have recommended that ICFD! have its own blog. Being the foolhardy sort and still, at age (cough cough), a frustrated writer, I volunteered. (Hey, if you can get famous by blogging about recipes from 1961…)
First, in the words of Austin Powers, allow myself to introduce…myself. I am Gordon K. Smith, a writer, filmmaker, film historian and sometime actor, based in Dallas. I was born in Houston, but from second grade through college (go Raiders), grew up in Lubbock. A card-carrying nerd who couldn’t have hit the side of a West Texas barn with a baseball, I was hooked on movies and TV from an early age (there wasn’t a helluva lot else to do in Lubbock). As a kid I saw Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea* at The Village Theater (unaware then it was already a 10-year-old reissue) and became particularly fascinated with science fiction, fantasy and horror (*20 years later I was an extra in one of the last films by that director, Richard Fleischer, the Dallas-filmed Tough Enough). My favorite childhood series was “The Wild Wild West” which I am currently rediscovering via DVD (and man, network standards have certainly changed since the ’60s). And like a lot of baby boomer guys, became, uh, enthralled by Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC and Diana Rigg on “The Avengers”. (30 years later I got Raquel, a one-time Dallas model, to sign my One Million poster).
After graduation I lucked into my first film biz job on a legendary Alamo Village mess called The Code of Josey Wales (aka The Return of Josey Wales) — look it up on imdb.com — and moved to Dallas. In October 1985 I hooked up with Blockbuster Video, days after they opened their first store, and worked for them for the next 16 years in Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and back in Dallas. Remember those synopses paragraphs on the back of the blue and white VHS amarays? I’m the guy what wrote’em, thousands in fact, over several years. Might have been the widest read author in the USA during the peak years of home video, sort of. Also was one of the creators of the video programming that played on the in-store monitors (Homer watches Blockbuster monitors in a classic “Simpsons” episode). During that time I also contributed research to some network TV programs such as “Reflections on the Silver Screen” on AMC and “It’s Alive: The True Story of Frankenstein” on A&E.
next: the birth of “It Came From Dallas”.
Never heard of it? One of the most important of all Dallas movies…
PREVIOUSLY ON IT CAME FROM DALLAS!
I introduced myself, revealed some childhood obsessions, and told you how I came to Dallas and spent years in the home video industry. By the way, when I was a kid, my mom used to grab me by the ear and drag me from in front of the TV while admonishing, “No one’s ever going to pay you to watch TV!” Decades later, when they were paying me to watch TV, I just had to rib her about that…Get on with it already! Okay.
When all that ended I became an independent contractor, calling myself “Altair IV Productions” and if you’re a true fanboy/girl, you’ll get that reference (hint: Leslie Nielsen got it right away). Fast forward your old Mitsubishi top-loader to early 2005. At his request, I met with Garry Potts of the Dallas Producers Association at Starbucks. Prior to that I had been doing a little one-man show around town called “Attack of the Big D B’s”. I had been collecting trailers and other memorabilia of Dallas’ glorious B-movie past, and accompanied the visuals with a lecture in which I extolled the virtues of such Dallas-spawned gems as The Giant Gila Monster, Rock Baby Rock It, Beyond the Time Barrier and, of course, Mars Needs Women. Garry wanted to expand that idea into a big scale production that would honor the trailblazers of the Dallas film industry, an annual DPA fundraiser that would benefit, among other things, the newly developing Texas Motion Picture Alliance, and wanted my participation. Glad to. I was introduced to other DPA folks who would make this event possible — Bob Dauber, Clayton Coblentz, Todd Sims, Scott Hadden, Don Stokes of Post Asylum, Kelly Kitchens, David Friedman, Rebecca Preston, Brandon Jones and many more. In choosing local film pioneers to honor, we started by going back to the 1940s:
Spencer Williams (1893-1965) was known to America at large in the 1950s as “Andy” on the “Amos ‘n Andy” TV series, but in the ’40s, he was living in Dallas and was the first man to make narrative feature films (as a writer/director/actor) on a regular basis here (and other Texas cities). They were very low budget and sometimes amateurish by today’s standards, and at the time not seen outside of all-black movie theaters. Thirty years later, many of Williams’ films were discovered in a Tyler warehouse. Today they’re seen as unique representations of wartime African-American history, including the jazz, gospel and blues of the period. The most famous of these is the deliriously surreal Blood of Jesus (1947), which was inducted into the National Registry of Film in 1991.
Next on IT CAME FROM DALLAS! CHAPTER THREE: ROCK BABY ROCK IT! and Dallas radio giant Gordon McLendon delivers the greatest Dallas drive-in double bill of all time!
Dallas rocks drive-in screens in the 1950s!
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How two movies of the ’60s with Dallas connections influenced my life (see Chapter One – and BTW, those two flicks are directly related to each other as well — do you know how?) and led to my interest in Dallas’ film history, and the 2005 meeting with Garry Potts and other DPA members that spawned, like a mad laboratory experiment, the show we’ll be doing again on October 15, 2009. And now, more about the Dallas films and pioneers we honored on show number one — now we’re in the late ’50s.
ROCK BABY ROCK IT! (1956)
Not , as the ad proclaims, “The First Motion Picture Produced Completely in Dallas!” (see Chapter Two), but the first that got wide distribution. Dallas music producer J. G. Tiger gathered the top regional rockabilly acts in Dallas and the South along with a slight plot about gangsters (played by Dallas wrestlers) trying to take over a teen club. Among its many pleasures is seeing local versions of Elvis (Johnny Carroll), The Everly Brothers (The Belew Twins), and such do-wop groups as The Cell Block Seven and Preacher Smith and The Deacons. Featured dancer Kay Wheeler (“The Queen of Rock ‘n Roll!”) was then, at 16, the president of the nation’s first Elvis Presley Fan Club. She and other cast members were dubbed over by obviously older actors, by order of a distributor who wanted to pass it off as something made in L. A. He also deemed the original title, Hot Rock, too “suggestive”. The coolest, daddy-o!
THE KILLER SHREWS/THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (1959)
One of the greatest drive-in double bills ever was the lasting cinematic legacy of Gordon McLendon (1921-1986). McLendon was a Dallas radio entrepreneur (known as “The Old Scotchman”) whose many innovations included the Top 40 AM radio format and the recreation of baseball game broadcasts. He was also by and large the Rush Limbaugh of his day, a right-wing commentator who even figures in some JFK conspiracy theories. In the late ’50s he tried to branch out into another medium, movies, with his “McLendon Radio Pictures” (with a logo that conspicuously resembled RKO’s). This sci-fi horror duo, coming towards the end of the ’50s teen monster cycle, was the result, and was actually quite successful for a regional production (and both have been given their props by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew). Shrews features James Best (“The Dukes of Hazzard”), Ken Curtis (“Gunsmoke”, also the producer of both flicks), Ingrid Goude (Miss Sweden 1956) and McLendon himself battling giant carnivorous shrews loose on an island near Lake Dallas. GGM is a rebel reptile hassling hepcats out on, what was then, rural Spring Valley Road. Hollywood stunt/FX vet Ray Kellogg directed both (10 years later he co-directed The Green Berets with John Wayne). The actual FX budget must have been, uh, modest, as the shrews are played by hand puppets and dogs wearing rugs, and the gila is the real thing, crawling over model hot rods and getting blown up with fireworks (pre-PETA). McLendon’s obscure third/final movie, My Dog Buddy, about a non-shrewish dog, seems to have permanently run away.
See the trailers on our Facebook page!
NEXT ON IT CAME FROM DALLAS! — Zontar, Batgirl, and a basement to avoid!
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We discussed some of the Dallas B movies and producers we honored on the premiere ICFD! show. Now, for the main event of that evening – the most prolific local producer/director of the ’60s and ’70s, and a classic local fright flick.
Larry Buchanan (1923-2004)
The man who did for Dallas what Roger Corman did for Hollywood, Buchanan interned at the major studios and was a writer on “The Gabby Hayes Show” before returning to Dallas in the late 1950s. He worked originally for Jamieson Films, directing religious, industrial and commercial pieces before launching on his own with a long series of exploitation pics, filmed in and around Dallas. Although most could be aptly described as Oscar-challenged, they did business for drive-ins and grindhouses across the nation and created a film-making infrastructure in North Texas. Seriously, who could resist titles like The Naked Witch, Naughty Dallas, Common Law Wife, Free White and 21, and High Yellow? In the mid-’60s, Buchanan struck a deal with Hollywood’s famed American International Pictures (who had distributed Free White) to remake several of their late ’50s schlockfests in color for TV syndication. These became Buchanan’s best-known films, as they turned endlessly-recycled late show fodder. Zontar Thing From Venus was a redo of It Conquered the World (’56), The Eye Creatures rehashed Invasion of the Saucer Men (’57), and so on. They reused the music and dialog from the originals, had an average budget of $30k, and were destined for camp classicdom. The most enduring of these, Buchanan’s piece de resistance, is 1967’s Mars Needs Women. Former Disney star Tommy Kirk, as martian mastermind Dop, lands in Big D with his crew, in search of breeding stock for the XX-chromosome deficient Red Planet. Wunjaknowit, he falls for “Outer Space Sexologist” Yvonne Craig (a woman any planet needs!) and faces a moral dilemma of intergalactic proportions. MNW is set in Houston, and filmed in Dallas, right down to Love Field and an SMU homecoming game. It even got a mention in the “AFI’s 100 Heroes, 100 Villains” TV special, something Buchanan sadly didn’t live to see. In his later years, Buchanan returned to the west coast and cranked out a variety of B’s, everything from cheap monster epics (Loch Ness Horror) to pseudo-biopics (Goodnight Sweet Marilyn). We honored him posthumously with our Pioneer Filmmaker Award, which was accepted by Buchanan family friend Pat Lindsey.
DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT! (1973)
Dallas’ answer to that Austin gore classic from the same year is still the most famous horror flick from our fair town. Thanks to being acquired by Hallmark Releasing, it was double-billed with the original Last House On the Left, shared that flick’s infamous ad campaign (“It’s only a movie! Only a movie!”) and even a few seconds of LHOTL in its trailer. It continued to play drive-ins throughout the ’80s, and is now widely available on DVD, for a whole new generation of gorehounds to savor that legendary paper spike scene. It was spoofed as one of the fake trailers in 2007’s Grindhouse, and a remake starring B-movie scream queen Debbie Rochon is in the works. “The Day the Insane Took Over the Asylum!” was the lasting contribution of S. F. “Brownie” Brownrigg (1937-1996), who started as a sound man and editor on many of Buchanan’s films, and went on to helm four more features and numerous other film and TV productions in Texas. In addition, he was president of Century Studios, a top Dallas production facility.
We packed the Studio Movie Grill in Addison for our premiere ICFD! show, on October 6, 2005. WFAA’s Gary Cogill and I co-hosted, with some outstanding guests:
From Rock Baby Rock It! :
guitarist Donnie Gililland, still performing locally;
Kay Wheeler, joining us by phone hookup from San Jose, California – at the time, she was president of the world’s first Elvis fan club, and went on to appear in Hot Rod Girl and become a teen idol herself.
From the films of Larry Buchanan and S. F. Brownrigg:
Producer Clyde Knudson (High Yellow), actors Bill McGhee, Hugh Feagin, Robert Dracup, soundman Skip Frazee (It’s Alive!), longtime Dallas special FX guru Jack Bennett, and more;
Libby Hall (The Naked Witch) and Anthony Brownrigg, wife and son of S. F. Brownrigg; Tony’s an actor and filmmaker himself, with tons of local cred.
Yvonne Craig, via live phone link from Pacific Palisades, CA, a true showbiz vet who is fondly remembered by baby boomer TV junkies as “Batgirl” and as Capt. Kirk’s green space babe. She also appeared in major Hollywood films and countless other TV episodes. A former Dallasite herself, Yvonne related how she went to her first meeting with the unknown Buchanan, packing a just-in-case gun in her purse, and also hooked up in Dallas with Warren Beatty, who was in town to make Bonnie & Clyde at the same time Mars Needs Women was shooting.