Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Brief Appearance

Here's a better view of the "U.F.O." video box, this time including its reverse side. As mentioned previously, the videotape from MGM Home Video hit the market in 2000, but disappeared from the shelves about two years later. It was never offered in DVD format. The box hype surpassed some of the original publicity for pure absurdity: "The film the government doesn't want you to see" turned out to be the film a potential audience didn't rush to see. In 1956, they just didn't get it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not Not Not!

Good grief, even the United Artists press book asserts that Capt. Ruppelt (see color photo) played his own part in "U.F.O." Despite my ultimate error in stating that Ruppelt played himself, even I knew back in the sixties that the actor depicted in this black and white photo wasn't Ruppelt. As you've seen in a recent blog entry, Ruppelt was played by actor Robert Phillips (see previous photo), and this man is definitely neither Ruppelt nor Phillips. Confused?

The Main Attraction: Actual UFO Films

If movie posters showing the frightened face of a pilot didn't draw viewers into the theater, the proclamation that two previously unseen color films of UFOs, deemed unexplained by government authorities, had been made public certainly worked the magic.

Today's visuals include two articles about the Montana (Nicholas Mariana) and Utah (Delbert C. Newhouse) films, acquired directly from the "U.F.O." press book. Color pictures from lobby card number one depict Newhouse in his Navy uniform and businessman Mariana. The black and white photo is an 8" x 10" promotional glossy print showing Mariana himself as he is questioned about his UFO film by an actor portraying an Air Force officer. The "articles" are standard items issued by movie studios, intended to be printed directly on newspaper entertainment pages once theater names, locations, etc. are added on a local basis.

One small detail not disclosed in either the movie or its publicity efforts was the admission by both Newhouse and Mariana that the best frames of their films were missing when returned by the government, and this has been discussed in UFO literature of later years. Perhaps this isn't surprising, for UFO history is sprinkled with instances of witnesses with UFO films and photos making similar claims. A significant number involve military personnel.
Additional Note: While making a UFO documentary for Canada's History Channel a few months ago, Canadian producer David Cherniack visited the United States and was intent upon interviewing Delbert Newhouse, who was then of an advanced age and confined to a nursing home. Unfortunately, incredibly, Mr. Newhouse died just hours before the production crew arrived.

The Credits Sheet

This little notepad-size sheet was affixed with tape to the back of an 8" x 10" glossy photo from the movie. Removing it would probably damage the photo, so it remains in place. Its only apparent purpose was to list major motion picture credits, and I assume many hundreds or thousands were created to augment other publicity items -- such as miscellaneous glossy photos distributed to the media.

Greene's Green Glitter

Mediocre scanning capabilities prevent me from offering this document in two scans instead of four, but it's all here. I simply emphasized "UFO Means Business" in a fifth scan to highlight the question asked on the first page: What Does UFO Mean?

Look at the artwork and behold the text. Would you expect a war with aliens in deep space, or a UFO documentary? Yes, I know what the words say, but these outrageous illustrations were the catalyst inviting the (particularly) theater owners and audience to anticipate considerably more spine-tingling entertainment than they received. The trouble with movies in those years was that people wanted films to make them laugh, cry, be scared and/or just take their minds off their own lives for a while -- but in a post World War II era, still on edge with hostilities in Korea, moviegoers weren't ready for a celluloid think tank exemplified by emotionless characters mouthing words and demonstrating very little action.

In my opinion, if not for two factors -- the impressive Montana and Utah UFO films, and Ernest Gold's captivating musical score, conducted by Emil Newman -- "U.F.O." would have sunk like a rock, its chances for reincarnation even on late-night television questionable. Don't get me wrong, I love the film, absolutely, and most UFO researchers familiar with history feel much the same, but when you consider the audience and its unfamiliarity with the subject, it isn't hard to figure out why the movie lost big at the box office, and those all-important return visits via word-of-mouth recommendations weren't happening.

We might speculate, considering all the additional information coming to light over the decades about the importance of UFO incidents in the forties and fifties, what a new production crew could do with a remake of "U.F.O." Tom Towers, however, would surely wish to remind the producers -- keep the facts, but don't forget to add a little "hokum."

The Affidavit

United Artists' publicity department must have worked overtime to get the word out about "U.F.O." In April of 1956, a scant month before the movie's release, producers Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse signed a sworn statement affirming the movie's authenticity, and the resulting affidavit was rushed into advertisement format (see).

Maybe it's worth noting at this point that Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse produced some well-received movies during their career, listed prominently via Internet movie sites. If you ever saw the (original) movie, "D.O.A." starring Edmund O'Brien, another black and white fifties release, maybe you noticed that the screen writers were Greene and Rouse, probably just on the verge of forming their own production company. Greene's former association with the industry included working with Popkin Productions, which produced the important movie, "The Well" in 1951 (Greene had told Tom Towers he would have been perfect for the key role of sheriff in this film about racial tensions in a small town).

It's rather obvious that the extraordinary publicity campaign preceding the motion picture's national opening reflected far more excitement and glare than "U.F.O." itself, and that tremendous build-up seemed almost guaranteed to precipitate a huge yawn from members of the audience who anticipated more. Documentary or not, Greene and his director could logically have bent a little more toward the dramatic effect that Al Chop and Tom Towers craved from the start. But Greene wouldn't budge. The affidavit and other publicity vehicles subsequently failed to impress audience members who expected aliens and saucers, not merely huffy historical recreations, to leap threateningly from the screen and into their popcorn bags.

Nevertheless, one can't help thinking simultaneously of William Castle and the fifties gimmicks he employed to attract audiences into the theater to see his own scary movies, features such as "The House on Haunted Hill" (a fake skeleton suspended in the air would fly over the audience), "Macabre" (the promise of a life insurance benefit paid to the family if anybody died of cardiac stress while watching) and "The Tingler" (some theater seats were equipped to give miscellaneous audience members a mild electrical sensation during frightening scenes). I've gathered these tidbits about Castle from memory, so if any film buffs are in a mood to correct me, please feel free.

While the affidavit looked great, this wasn't the only version. When I was seeking and purchasing publicity material in the sixties, one seller somewhere in the country kindly threw in an unexpected brochure, a four-page movie ad printed in green and black that I never saw anywhere else. It boasted not only the affidavit, but also played up the artwork and movie to the point that one would almost expect a fifties sci-fi flick instead of the documentary Clarence Greene painstakingly wished to portray. The routine movie posters were suggestive and over-hyped enough, but this additional item pushed the sensationalism envelope to the max -- and we'll feature it in the next blog entry.

The Scientist's Advice

Albert M. Chop (originally, so it seems, Mathew Albert Chop, according to Richard Hall and obituary information that emerged after Mr. Chop's death) started out as a confirmed skeptic when first exposed to UFO cases in his government position. However, over time the evidence "crystalized" (the word used in "U.F.O." narration) until he could only conclude that UFOs were real with intelligence behind their identity.

UFO incidents alone weren't the impetus for his change of mind. He also met military people and members of the scientific community on a regular basis who influenced his thinking significantly. In this scene from the movie, based upon a true event, a highly skeptical Chop (Tom Towers) is asked by a top scientist what is new regarding "flying saucers." When Chop dismisses the question, he is advised, if not chided, by the scientist (portrayed by William Solomon) that we must keep our minds open to all possibilities.

Robert Phillips: The Ruppelt Factor

In the mid-seventies, I came to the very wrong conclusion that Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt played his own role in "U.F.O." In fact, until I recently found a 30-year-old letter from Al Chop, I had forgotten that Al's erroneous confirmation that Ruppelt played himself weighed heavily on my assertion that this was the case. In recent years, thanks to the tireless work of researchers such as Wendy Connors (Faded Discs) and the availability of the Internet, it became apparent that Ruppelt was portrayed by another. Unfortunately, my early magazine article put the false information into print for all time.

Researcher Barry Greenwood has kindly provided information about Ed Ruppelt's "double." His role was filled by actor Robert Phillips (see photo, said to be either from CBS-TV or Paramount Pictures, depicting him in Star Trek's "The Menagerie" episode), and Greenwood recently updated Phillips's site at imdb.com. It is interesting to note that, unlike most of the "actors" in the movie, who were actually off-duty Los Angeles law enforcement personnel, Phillips was a professional actor as well as an L.A. policeman. Significant details: Phillips was born on April 10, 1925 in Chicago, was six feet in height and played pro football for both the Washington Redskins and the Chicago Bears. As a Marine, he taught swimming and self-defense.

Phillips served as bodyguard for Adlai Stevenson when he was governor, and worked undercover for the L.A.P.D. And who would have guessed that his experience as a cop (lieutenant) provided the framework for "Tightrope," the popular TV show starring Mike Connors? Phillips also put out a book during his career, entitled Sixty-One Ways to End an Argument.

One glaring discrepancy, by the way, in "U.F.O." occurs as Ruppelt (Phillips) explains to Al Chop (Towers) how a planet shining brightly in the sky was responsible for a UFO sighting. The Ruppelt character states the incident happened on December 1, 1952 -- but that date would actually be far in the future, because not even the July, 1952 UFO events over Washington, D.C. had occurred at this point in the motion picture script. Just another one of those things. . .

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tom Towers: The Final Note

The motion picture, "U.F.O." apparently didn't significantly advance for Tom Towers the prominence already demonstrated in his long career as a journalist and champion for noise abatement at California airports, but the kind of fame that surrounded him didn't create a pompous celebrity, either. From everything I learned, Towers was liked and respected by his associates, and evidently not forgotten at the L.A. Dept. of Airports. When I sent a spur-of-the-moment e-mail to LAX about three years ago, inquiring of his whereabouts after so many years, I actually received a prompt response from a representative who informed me not only that Tom was deceased, but who also included an approximate year of death.

Frankly, I was both surprised and gratified that Tom would continue to correspond with me on occasion for over two years, months after the Official UFO and Argosy UFO articles on the film had been published.

His brief note (see) of April 28, 1978, to my knowledge, was the last I ever received from him. The "new UFO pix" to which he refers was NBC-TV's debut of producer/actor Jack Webb's series, "Project UFO," based (more or less) on Project Blue Book files. If you've never seen this short-lived (put out of its and our misery during its second season, as I recall) dramatic series, simply picture in your mind Jack Webb's TV show, "Dragnet" and then transpose Joe Friday and his partner Frank into a time warp, where they wear Air Force blues as members of Project Blue Book -- and instead of questioning victims and chasing criminals, they search fruitlessly for elusive UFOs based mostly upon the least appealing UFO cases on record.

Anyway, "Project UFO" was the subject of Towers' note. From the start, he realized the value in adding "hokum" to make the show "interesting" -- a direct comment in reference to the spice and drama he believed Clarence Greene should have injected into his movie.

I answered Tom's note on May 18, 1978, offered a few comments about Jack Webb's new series and jokingly suggested that he approach the producers about recreating his role as Al Chop for the show.

By coincidence, this was also a time when Central New York was experiencing an impressive wave of UFO sightings involving witnesses of reputable caliber, and I was investigating many of them for various UFO organizations (I covered this more thoroughly in my main UFO blog, see link in the margin). I enclosed a newspaper clipping for Tom regarding the situation, and also mentioned a profound lack of cooperation from local government and law enforcement officials in getting the facts. Even the National Enquirer had sent reporters to Syracuse because the UFO reports provided highly interesting aspects, including apparent electrical interference and close encounters.

Nevertheless, this final letter to Los Angeles remained unanswered for reasons unknown, as my correspondence with Tom Towers had at last reached the end of a long and fondly appreciated trail.

Greene's Press Book Article

In an entry about producer Clarence Greene a few days ago, I shared with you what appeared to be his statement from the sixties about his reasons for making "U.F.O." On that occasion, I asked if anybody knew the source of those words, parts of which had wrongly been attributed to comments he made to me.

Part of the mystery has been cleared up, but not the sum total. Significant portions were actually extracted from the U.S. press book in a publicity mock-up article intended for newspapers in 1956 (reproduced here), but the Internet page from which I copied Greene's text earlier contained extra paragraphs. When I reviewed the press book (and it's been many years since I've taken a closer look at it) I thought perhaps this held the complete version, but it did not. I can only assume there was additional publicity material containing further comments by Greene, and from that presumably missing document the additional comments were obtained.

Also today, I'm putting up the full picture of Chop (Towers) holding LIFE Magazine, in his wife's presence. As mentioned in an earlier entry, the real issue featured Marilyn Monroe, not President Truman on the cover -- though the "interplanetary saucers" title remained correctly positioned.

The Second Movie Article

Argosy UFO, published by the editors of Argosy, traditionally a "man's magazine" in the same sense that True and Saga catered primarily to adventure-seeking males, turned out some good writing about UFOs. I had contributed an article here and there to Argosy UFO and developed a nice working relationship with editor Audrey Hunter. One of my early articles ended up briefly as a prop in the 1977 movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (discussed months ago in my main UFO blog, linked in the margin), to my surprise.

At some point during the movie research conducted for rival magazine Official UFO, I found the British pressbook for "U.F.O." and inside discovered a story synopsis presented in more detail than the U.S. press materials offered. I suggested to Audrey that we reprint the synopsis and I would add comments along the way, in addition to publishing promotional movie photos. The idea was acceptable to her, and it turned out that the same Winter 1977-78 issue would carry two other articles of mine, one on U.S. presidents and their UFO views, and the other on a UFO course I had taught at Onondaga Community College, just outside of Syracuse, NY.

When the issue reached subscribers and newsstands, I was thrilled that Audrey gave all three articles billing on the cover (see). However, by this time I was far less than thrilled with something else: A foreign corporation had purchased Popular Publications, Argosy's parent company, and Argosy UFO and several sister magazines were being axed. The magazine cover displayed here heralded the final issue.

These are the three articles Tom Towers mentions on March 13, 1978, in a letter (see) he unhappily bangs out on an old typewriter (much preferring his own IBM electric) in the press room at the Los Angeles City Hall. Though Tom often seemed rather jaded about various aspects of Clarence Greene's motion picture, his dedication to resolving airport noise problems over the years appeared unwavering. Today's photo from "U.F.O." shows Al Chop (Towers) seated on the right as he discusses a UFO case with an Air Force officer.

"UFO" Around the World

Reviews and articles about "U.F.O." in Europe and elsewhere were likely very prolific, and maybe someday other researchers will excavate the foreign history of "U.F.O." Researcher Gary S. Mangiacopra, noted especially for his work in cryptozoology, has also spent years amassing articles and other material about the movie, and I expect that one day he will assemble his own tribute (he and Dwight G. Smith published via Coachwhip Press, PA, in 2007 the book, Does Champ Exist? Notes on the Historic Lake Monster Conference held in Shelbourne, Vermont, 29 August 1981).

I did receive mail from readers about the article and movie. The letter displayed here came from Werner Walter, director of Germany's civilian UFO organization, CENAP. He references something of mine printed in the CUFOS International UFO Reporter, though I don't recall its contents at the moment.

Summer and Fall: Notes from Tom Towers

Once the Official UFO article was out, correspondence decreased significantly between myself and the motion picture principals. The project was complete.

Well, almost complete. I still hoped very much to gather all the material edited out about Tom Towers for another article focussing just upon the "star" of "U.F.O." That's why he references future use of information about him in his July, 1977 note. When I again heard from him in November, he had travelled Europe and learned (and, I'm sure, taught) about airport management.

The photo from the motion picture shows, standing, radar expert Wendell Swanson (left) and Tom Towers as Al Chop, in a segment where Chop gains insight into radar operations.

Chop Pleased, Towers Has Deja Vu

Seeming a bit jaded about his old movie, Tom Towers wrote to enclose something or another about UFOs and also informed me that "U.F.O." was again getting a TV airing. He was probably seeing that film in his sleep by now.

Early in June I received a letter from Al Chop praising the movie article, and this meant a great deal to me. In fact, he asked me to forward copies to his two sisters in Ohio and I was more than happy to do so. Still writing in longhand and hating it, Chop bemoaned the necessity to find a replacement typewriter somewhere at a bargain rate. Be he ever so humble -- his comment at the end about my relegating his letter to the waste basket simply because he requested extra copies further impressed me, and by now there was no doubt in my mind about what a down-to-earth, good man Al Chop was. I think he could have run for Congress on sincerity alone.

This June 5, 1977 letter would be my final communication with Al Chop. The next time I really heard anything about him occurred when a newspaper, I think it was the Houston Chronicle, printed a story about how Al had once met personally with "Peanuts" creator Charles Schultz to convince the reluctant cartoonist that NASA badly wished to use "Snoopy" in a 'Snoopy the Astronaut" campaign. Schultz relented and agreed. How could anybody say no to the affable Al Chop?

Movie Article Eclipsed by Cover Model's Tragic Plea

Winter was solidly in control by the time the February, 1977 issue of Official UFO hit the nation's newsstands late in December or early January. though I really don't recall exactly when I received contributor's issues and a very, very small check which couldn't begin to cover research expenses. Like so many other things, shallow payments were the publishers' invention.

The movie article, entitled " 'U.F.O.' Revisited," looked good and finally seeing it in print was great, but there was one little disappointment worthy of a groan: The magazine's cover.

"Mother Says UFO Took My Daughter to Eternity," screams the headline, as the photo of an old woman beckons the sympathetic readership. But, unknown to subscribers and newsstand purchasers who plunked down their money to read of this tragic UFO abduction, not a word was true. Fabricated by the publishers with the assistance of a staff member, obviously there existed some expectation that profits would rise significantly.

Nevertheless, it's not the cover I would have chosen to either herald or hide my article about the important 1956 motion picture. Frankly, the whole stunt tarnished the magazine's standing amongst contributors, and as far as I'm concerned a magazine cover reflects both the contents and the reputations of every writer inside.

Copies were promptly mailed out to Clarence Greene, Tom Towers, Al Chop, Dewey Fournet, Willis Sperry and others who helped with the research and to whom I will always be profoundly grateful. Towers seemed pleased with the article (see note) and Fournet, busy and wrapped up in events as usual, approved of comments about his role (see letter). Chop wrote later on (see next blog entry), but I recall receiving no response from either Clarence Greene or Willis Sperry, though a note from Sperry may still be in my files somewhere. Regarding Greene, I sort of had thoughts that he might be ticked off because, now that Towers' name was corrected, Tom probably did look him up for a pleasant conversation about those movie residuals he assumed United Artists and Greene owed him!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Al Chop: The Move to California

Because of Al Chop's serious back injury, I knew he was hurting and retreated from asking more questions about the movie and his role in it. But by September of 1976 he was not only "up and around," but in June had moved from Richland, WA to Palm Desert, CA, the final and apparently favored location where he and his wife Dolores would happily spend their remaining years.
The relocation, however, proved to be of nightmarish proportions when destructive flooding repeatedly wiped out the Chops' hard work, replacing attractive landscaping efforts with tons of mud. The letter (see) written by Al in longhand late in September tells the story.

Back at Official UFO Magazine

Official UFO gained a new editor, Dennis William Hauck, who brought along a good working knowledge of UFO history. This was extremely lucky for me, because I re-submitted my movie article to the magazine upon learning of his arrival. Though my writing through the years has certainly been no stranger to the world of rejection notices, Saga's decision to return the movie article served up one heck of a crushing blow after all the work I had done. Nevertheless, I respect that editorial decision because the editor's job is, by necessity, to pick and choose based upon any number of criteria.

Dennis immediately recognized the importance of the movie, "U.F.O." and its depiction of Al Chop (see letter), unquestionably a prominent figure involved in the early government UFO investigation, from the public information aspect. The article was accepted in the fall of 1976, for publication a few months later. Dennis also sent along a package of special issues for distribution to students in a UFO class I taught at a small college at the time.

In the meantime, Tom Towers wrote a brief note (see), hoping that the article found a home. Coincidentally, the portion of my article that editor Hauck decided to cut for length was all about Towers, and as mentioned in a previous entry it would be about 30 more years before the excised portions were rewritten for an appearance in the CUFOS International UFO Reporter.
Despite the talents brought to Official UFO by Hauck, he, too, would have a short stay there and tendered his resignation as O'Connor had, a pattern followed by one or two other editors who succeeded Hauck.

I Panic in the Streets

Rumors started to fly late in April or in early May of 1976 indicating that all was not well at Official UFO. In fact, the magazine was about to become the editorial Titanic, rammed, splintered and dismantled board by board under immense pressure as it sank slowly into the dark seas of newsstand and subscriber oblivion. The force behind its ultimate destruction, however, came not from an errant iceberg, but from its own captains, specifically two brothers and an associate who owned and sailed the good ship Publisher, otherwise known under the international flag of Countrywide Publications. They no longer wanted good, solid articles about UFOs. Instead, in efforts to raise circulation dramatically, their call went out for the craziest pieces of print nonsense that one could muster. They got it, and they printed it.

I didn't receive editor Bernard O'Connor's letter until the end of May, informing his writers (see) that he had resigned on May 1. He was far too much of a gentleman to explain what he meant about resigning due to "personal matters," but we who contributed articles realized he wouldn't trade his integrity for the new policies instigated by the publishers. To my horror, though unavoidably, he returned my article on the movie, "U.F.O." and all accompanying visuals. At last, I had placed the completed project in his hands, he liked it, and now there wasn't a darned thing he could do with it.

My first move following this development was to inform movie principals about this predicament and begged patience, especially amongst those such as Tom Towers, who had loaned me visuals whose return would be further delayed.

Obviously, Official UFO shared the world of magazine circulation with several popular UFO-related monthlies, but most were absurd. However, both Saga and its attractive companion publication UFO Report were widely read and I decided to query the editor to see if my article might have a home after all.

Saga editorial director Martin Singer wrote back (see) and agreed to take a look at " 'U.F.O.' Revisited," so I sent it off, and within days also received a card from Towers (see) expressing concern, but still okay with my keeping his material for an extended period.

Nevertheless, further devastation was in store when Marty Singer rejected and returned the package in July, deciding (see) the article wouldn't appeal to UFO Report's readership. My options were becoming fewer as I started to wonder if anybody other than I would ever care to read about Clarence Greene's obscure 1956 film. Can panic in the streets ensue if carried out by only one frustrated, silently screaming person, I wonder?