I Talked With A Zombie by Tom Weaver (book review).

The 2009 release of the book ‘I Talked With A Zombie’ where Tom Weaver interviews 23 genre stars could really have been called ‘I Talked With Time Travellers’ when you consider three of them starred in ‘The Time Tunnel’.


What I like about Weaver’s interview books is that they don’t just dwell on particular films but also what these people did with their careers and a bit of their professional lives outside our genre. Doing this gives a lot more insight and brings these people to life. Even when I haven’t seen particular films, learning about them and their often small budgets in earlier decades puts things in perspective.

Picking out highlights is always tough. I read some of Eric Braeden’s interview in ‘Starlog’ many years back but here is a more complete and frank discussion about his life. Although not an SF or indeed fiction reader, having him interviewed after seeing a performance of his starring role in ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ is very revealing, especially when others thought he knew something about computers and he bluffed them.

I had moments of déjà vu with the Robert Colbert and James Darren interviews. Apart from the removal of the discussion about Darren having his green jumper adjusted so he can undo it and prevent chaffing, I can’t help feeling I’ve read them more recently than the deceased ‘Starlog’. Even so, I actually enjoyed reading them again which probably shows I’m a sucker for interview books.

This shouldn’t belie the rest of this book though because the interviews with Maury Dexter and Pat Fielder gave insight into each of their careers as director and scriptwriter as they progressed to (if that’s the right word to use considering how it was initially regarded as second grade to work there) television work. For those who don’t know Dexter directed many of the B movies including ‘I Married A Monster From Outer Space’. Actress Pat Fielder was in ‘The Monster That Challenged The World’ amongst others.

Ron Harper’s review of the thirteen part ‘Planet Of The Apes’ TV show is quite instrumental in showing the suits wanted action all the time and turned the series in to ‘fugitives with fur’ and became repetitive than varying the stories that would have keep it going. I’ve commented in the past about how some shows are lucky not to have too much top floor orders dictating what they should do, so it’s a good reminder to see what happens when they do and what kills a series.

The interview with child actor Charles Herbert is instructive in how little protection they had with their money back then, where it all went to the parents and no trust fund for them. Educationally, their tutors towed the line of doing what they were told when their charges were needed than being taught. Herbert’s list of actors who were nice to young actors and who weren’t will give you some surprises.

Reading Lee Meriwether’s notable appearances, I liked her memories of when she took her two daughters to the ‘Batman’ film set because I remember the photo taken of that event at the time. I hadn’t realised she was also quite a film buff and likes our genre.

As I’ve frequently noted throughout this review, the insights into how things were done in this bygone age certainly add a set of colours that you wouldn’t have seen through watching the films. William Reynolds memories of being one of the last contract actors for Universal and racing actor/stunt man Jock Mahoney to a heat swimming for the film  ‘Land Unknown’ raised a chuckle when the latter was too breathless to say his lines. It was also an interesting observation that the directors were more herders than directors and how the budget on the B movies went on monsters than cast.

For those of you who like the old Universal horror films, the interview with composer Hans J. Salter will give you insight into how much of a grind factory it was back then. I loved his comments about how music saves a film. I think it’s something we take for granted outside of the opening theme music because we don’t see that many films without it these days as it subliminally sets your emotional state. The fact that it doesn’t always register in the conscious mind does tend to illustrate the subliminal effect it has on your mood. I should point out that Salter also did a lot of non-horror films, some of which have been on British TV in recent years and is available on CD.

Practically all of Jay Sayer’s acting work was for Roger Corman and, if anything, reaffirms all the stories you’ve heard about his cheap budget ways as well as the good stuff like giving people their start in the business. I guess ‘exploitive’ wasn’t just in the output but it’s a good reminder of how to develop any talent you had back then.

Finally, even though the ‘Tom Corbett, Space Cadet’ never reached our shores, the reunion with the original three actors, Frankie Thomas, Al Markin and Jan Merlin again pointed out the rigors of a three times a week live TV show, not to mention the number of advertising sponsors they had.

As always with Tom Weaver’s books there is a lot to digest and I really am only touching the surface here. I’ve found in recent years that I’m more actively looking around for some of the films mentioned in these interviews, even outside of the genre, so it shows the influence these books are having. If you enjoy 1950s and earlier films, then these books deserve to be part of your collection.

GF Willmetts

July 2013

(pub: McFarland. 222 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £24.50 (UK), $29.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7868649-571-9)

check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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