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There's a great deal of beauty--physical and artistic--in Tom Weaver's latest book of filmmaker interviews, I Talked with a Zombie: Interviews with 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-Fi Films and Television.
Among the actors Weaver interviewed: Lee Merriwether (Batman, 4D Man), Tandra Quinn (Mesa of Lost Women, The Neanderthal Man), Betta St. John (Tarzan and the Lost Safari, Corridors of Blood), Olive Sturgess (The Comedy of Terrors/The Raven, Thriller), Robert Conrad (The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series), James Darren (The Time Tunnel), Ron Harper (Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series), William Reynolds (Cult of the Cobra, The Land Unknown, The Thing That Couldn't Die, The Twilight Zone, The FBI), and Frankie Thomas, Al Markim, and Jan Merlin (all stars of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet).
Weaver also talked to Pat Fielder, one of the first female auteurs and screenwriter of the brilliant film The Return of Dracula (The Return of Dracula/The Vampire), a horrific melding of Alfred Hitchcock's film Shadow of a Doubt with Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. No one who saw Return of Dracula at a young age can forget it, especially the scene where the heroine's best friend, lying in her coffin, has a stake driven through her breast. Weaver also gets stories from producer-director Maury Dexter, who was involved with the films I Married a Monster From Outer Space, House of the Damned, and The Day Mars Invaded Earth.
As in most of Tom Weaver's interview collections, themes emerge when he talks to people who knew each other, worked on the same films, or had similar experiences. One of the most interesting things in I Talked with a Zombie was the different experiences child actors had.
Ann Carter was only six years old when she worked with stars Fredric March and Veronica Lake in I Married a Witch. As a little girl Ann Carter worked in several high-quality pictures. She acted in the war film The North Star with Ann Harding and Anne Baxter, in Commandos Strike at Dawn with Paul Muni, and most famously in The Curse of the Cat People (Cat People / The Curse of the Cat People) starring Simone Simon.
Carter's memories of going to school on the set as a child actor are pleasant. "I remember some great teachers . . . you learn more one on one . . . even if it was [just a few minutes], the teacher and I were so close . . . and you can't beat that."
Even though it disappointed her mother, Carter went to college and became a teacher. But her experience of growing up in Hollywood was the complete opposite of another child actor, Charles Herbert.
Charles Herbert's most memorable role was the little boy whose scientist father invents a matter transport device in the fifties science fiction-horror classic starring Vincent Price, The Fly.
Herbert was abandoned by teacher-social workers on the set who let the directors interrupt his education for the sake of the production schedule. The teachers would be replaced if they insisted the child actor finish his lessons, so they let the schoolwork slide.
Besides barely receiving an education, none of his salary as an actor was put aside for when he grew up.
Herbert says the reason abused child actors often can't make the transition to adult actor is they aren't allowed to develop an identity. "In other words, you have to be able to look in the mirror and see somebody . . . if one week you're Roberto . . . and the next week you're Tom Sawyer, it's hard to know who Charlie is."
There's a little more information on television shows like The Wild Wild West in this collection. (Most of Weaver's books concentrate on filmmakers and movie actors.) Jumping from the sixties to the seventies, actor Ron Harper talks about the TV version of Planet of the Apes, a continuation of the multi-film epic that Eric Greene dissects in his book, Planet of the Apes As American Myth: Race And Politics in the Films And Television Series(McFarland Publishers). Eric Greene's book is one of the best on science fiction film I've read. If any movie series was ever a mirror held up to America, it's the Planet of the Apes films (Planet of the Apes - The Legacy Collection (Planet of the Apes  / Beneath the / Escape from the / Conquest of the / Battle for the)).
One of the most interesting interviews is with current soap-opera star Eric Braeden. Braeden was going by his German name, Hans Gudegast, when he starred on the TV series Rat Patrol in the sixties. He starred in one of the best mid-budget science fiction films of the seventies--Colossus - The Forbin Project, based on the novel Colossus by D. F. Jones. Then Braeden played a bloodless scientist in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the film that was more than just a sequel in a profitable series, but was the movie that turned the Apes saga into a Sophoclean tragedy. In fighting to prevent the future they fear, the humans bring it about. (I wonder if some of Braeden's comments on the balance between "security" and "freedom" in an age of terrorism will affect other readers they way they did me.)
Fittingly, the book ends with an interview with the three stars of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, which first aired in 1950. That show was the first effort to depict the fantastic on television.
From cat people to giant tarantulas to space cadets. I Talked with a Zombie has it all.