Sunday, March 23, 2014

FANS OF VINTAGE SCI FI -- Check out this first in a series of columns by Ken and Kevin Jones


Our pal George, who kindly gives us space on his blog asked us if we had any new ideas about content here. Both my son Kevin and I love monster and science fiction movies of all kinds as well as TV shows, cartoons, etc. so we thought we would do an irregular column where we shined a flashlight into some of the maybe not quite so well known corners of this vast topic. We dedicate this work to the memory of a fine gentleman named Forrest J. Ackerman who did far more to promote this topic than even the general public thinks that he did.


Ken L. Jones
Kevin L. Jones


Children of the Night #1

 Was "Gunsmoke"’s Dodge City A Literal Ghost Town?



Ken L. Jones and Kevin L. Jones

Is there anybody that hasn’t seen the venerable "Gunsmoke" TV series? This great old western show which was on from 1955 to 1975 was a true delight for all lovers of sagebrush sagas. Yet we have found something about it that spoke to us even more for we realized early on one of its deepest secrets was that it was an abode for monsters a true ghost town and that almost all of its leading characters had heavy credentials to prove just that. Here the original Thing From Outer Space drank a beer that was served by the most prolific Frankenstein’s Monster of old Universal Movies fame and that was only just a fragment of what lurked in its shadows.

To prove our thesis let’s start with Marshall Matt Dillon himself. Of course you probably recognized him in the 1954 giant ant classic Them where he played FBI agent Robert Graham next to amongst other notables a beardless Santa Claus Edmund Gwenn of the original Miracle on 34th Street fame.

Still perhaps you might not have recognized Matt Dillon as the imposing walking giant carrot killing machine in the classic 1951 sci-fi/horror hybrid The Thing From Another World but you should have because he was the title character.

Arness who was a huge imposing man made a great monster in that one and its too bad he didn’t chose to make more such fare because imagine what a natural he might have been as Frankenstein’s Monster. 

Arness’s reluctance to be in such other programming was more than made up for by his little brother Peter Graves but that’s a whole other column by itself.


Milburn Stone who played “Doc” Galen Adams with such grumpy lovableness was in his younger days in lots of our favorite monster and sci-fi movies. He was in the 1943 Universal classic The Mad Ghoul with such horror heavy weights as Turhan Bey, Robert Armstrong of King Kong fame, and the mighty George Zucco. This is quite an interesting movie in which Mayan gas brings the dead back to murderous life.

Stone was also in the extremely underrated 1947 Universal weird war/horror hybrid The Invisible Agent starring the more than cool Jon Hall in the title role. Milburn also did a nice turn in the chilling classic 1953 Invaders From Mars where he played Captain Roth in one of our very favorite science fiction movies of all time.

Finally our favorite Milburn Stone monster role was Universal’s 1943 Captive Wild Women where he played the very heroic lead role in it. This movie was a very interesting departure for such Universal monster fare because of its unique circus orientated storyline. Stone was ably doubled in the big cat arena by circus legend Clyde Beatty and talk about horror how about actress Acquanetta who was turned from a sideshow gorilla into a wild and violent but beautiful human woman by none other than John Carradine himself?  There is also a 1944 sequel Jungle Woman with much the same cast and which we would like to see and think we would like but it’s not yet out on DVD so we haven’t had that pleasure yet.


Now Marshall Dillon had two main deputies in Dodge City.

The original, Dennis Weaver, made his mark on the world of the weird by starring in Rod Sterling’s 1961 Twilight Zone epic "Shadow Play" which is kind of like Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day if it was set on death row and was deadly serious.

But even more famously the man who played Chester Goode went on to even more renown playing David Mann in the TV movie Duel which is considered to be one of the best TV movies of all time probably owing to the fact that a very young Steven Spielberg directed it. This tale of a haunted car with an unseen driver that begins chasing and trying to kill an everyday Joe gains much of its power from how naturally and realistically Weaver played the whole thing.

Ken Curtis who played Festus Hagen, Matt’s other number two man, had an even heavier commitment to horror films than that. That Curtis, originally a debonair big band crooner, made the dirty, bad smelling Festus lovable and well remembered is more than enough to admire him for but beyond that he was quite a mover and shaker in horror movies in general also.  Of course he had a pretty nice cameo in Universal’s sequel to The Black Lagoon, The Creature Returns where he was a radio reporter but after that he attained true autership when he backed two monster classics the renowned Killer Shrews and the extremely underrated 1959 movie The Giant Gila Monster.

“Gila” is fun from start to finish and features teenage hot-roders vs. a giant lizard in this rock and roll extravaganza. Also worth noting that in it lead actor Don Sullivan memorably played a miniature banjo and sang Laugh, Children Laugh, a Sunday school type rock and roll song that actually made it to number one nationally as unlikely as that might sound.  Curtis never appeared in that one but he certainly did have one juicy role as one jerk of a drunken scientist in the 1951 horror classic Killer Shrews where he helped mutate tiny gerbil like creatures into German shepherd sized monsters who were relentless flesh eaters.

James Best well remembered for his many appearances on the original "Twilight Zone" and later on the "Dukes of Hazzard" as lawman Rosco P. Coltrane, was the lead in this universally well regarded movie and Curtis produced both of these movies and rather skillfully too we might add.

But we’re not done with the citizens of Dodge yet. How many of you recall Burt Reynolds when he was there? Everybody should also remember him from a hilarious Twilight Zone he did where he played a thinly disguised Marlon Brando called Rocky Rhodes who drove a time traveling William Shakespeare to distraction when he preformed the bard’s newest works on live TV. 

Later there was something even tastier than that a 1986 USA original movie called Frankenstein and Me that is much in the same vein as The Monster Squad if you’ve ever had a chance to see that. Here’s a bit of trivia how many of you remember that Reynolds played Quint the town black smith on "Gunsmoke?"

Also worth mentioning is Buck Taylor who played Newly part-time deputy and town gunsmith.   After the show ended he became a well-known western artist. Before that we knew him from the original "Outer Limits" series where he starred in an episode called "Do Not Open Till Doomsday" that was about a very strange camera that had an alien dimension hiding inside of it. Most recently Buck did a nice turn in the big screen version of Steven King’s The Mist which came out in 2007.

Oh yeah and did we mention a fellow most of us wrongly refer to as Frankenstein? Yes he was there in Gunsmoke every week and most entertainingly so.  Glenn Strange is one of our true idols. Of course he was in 1944’s Universal classic The Monster Maker as J. Carroll Nash’s assistant. Even more gonzo than that was PRC’s The Mad Monster made in 1942 where he played a gardener named Pedro who Lionel Atwil turned into one of the most interesting and believable werewolves ever. (We love all the PRC monster movies and think they are more than worth picking up in any of the many discount packagings in which they exist)

All of this pales next to being the longest lived of all the Universal Frankensteins. After standing in for Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney in the role he eventually graduated to full-time work in such classics as House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and of course one of the finest horror movies ever made Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein. By the time of this meeting with A & C he was regarded as the go to guy when you wanted Frankenstein thus he also did TV cameos, commercials, supermarket openings and was many times a special guest host at midnight monster movie matinees in many theaters.
Even more indelibly than that he personally trained Fred Gwynne when he became Herman Munster on TV and Gwynne was picked because he looked and sounded so much like Strange. Through all this Glenn Strange graduated to an even more prominent role as a western star which wasn’t at all peculiar since he was a real cowboy. Strange was on Gunsmoke from start to finish and every week he could be seen serving a mean rotgut rye in a dusty shot glass in Dodge City’s Long Branch Saloon where he was known as Sam the gruff but ever helpful barkeep there.

Speaking of the Long Branch I wish I had something spooky to report about Amanda Blake aka Miss Kitty who was Marshall Dillon’s main squeeze as well as the owner of the place but her rap sheet is clean of anything like this. Still it makes you wonder if given the proclivities of all the other cast members there if Dodge City’s most prominent Madam maybe wasn’t bathing in a bathtub full of her most comely saloon girl’s blood when no one was looking?

Most of these stalwarts mentioned here have now departed this veil but in Gunsmoke they live on during the normal waking hours and beyond that they live on even more so late at night  in the morbid off center masterpieces of horror that people such as we love to watch. Of course every flick and TV show mentioned here carries our own personal recommendation and if you haven’t seen any of them we suggest you seek them out but when you do don’t forget the next time you catch Gunsmoke on the METV channel to salute all these true icons of horror as well as to pause to wonder if the cast at least on Halloween might not have discussed the far more interesting ways they had killed people on the screen other than using six guns like on their current show?

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