An Interview with Don Glut

Anyone who grew up in the late 50s and 60s remembers the monster craze, generated by the release of the Shock Theater package to television. Magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland, World Famous Creatures, Fantastic Monsters of the Films, Screen Thrills Illustrated, and Mad Monsters and Horror Monsters, were the popular genre 'zines of their day. Readers of these mags will no doubt recognize the name Donald F. Glut. His letters to these publications were always informative, complete with photographs of his upcoming amateur film efforts. Heads and shoulders above the other letters and stills (most depicting kids in amateurish homemade, ill-fitting costumes), many readers wondered what these productions by this Chicago native looked like on the silver screen. In the 60's and early 70's, if Glut happened to be at a convention you attended, it was a possibility you would be treated to a Don Glut Film Festival. This author attended one such festival at a convention in 1968 in Los Angeles.

Happily, all of Don's amateur films are available on DVD from Frontline Entertainment, Inc., on a deluxe double DVD collection which includes a full documentary, and over twelve hours of bonus features, accompanied by a soundtrack CD and a McFarland book, all bearing the title I Was a Teenage Moviemaker. All items are available at Amazon.com

Glut relocated to L.A. in 1964, and attended film school at U.S.C. He continued his film productions, which could now be considered semi-pro rather than amateur, for his class assignments. Rounding up a host of serial and western character actors for these productions, Glut managed to add an authenticity which most student films lacked. From his cinematic renderings of classic characters such as Superman, Captain Marvel, the Spirit, and Rocket Man, to his forays into the monster genre with Teenage Frankensteins, Draculas, and Wolf Men, these short subjects were rich with atmosphere and showed a professionalism beyond film school curriculum.

Glut went on to become a respected writer, publishing first in Chicago the fanzine entitled Shazam. Contributers to Shazam included the late Ron Haydock, Jim Harmon, Larry Ivie. Glut wrote and edited the last two issues of Modern Monsters, and contributed stories to Warren Publications, Marvel Comics, and Key Comics, among others. He has also written acclaimed volumes for Scarecrow Press, The Frankenstein Legend, The Dracula Book, and Classic Movie Monsters. He wrote the novelization for The Empire Strikes Back, and has written several books on paleontology, as well as giving lectures on the subject.

Glut, a multi-instrumentalist, began his musical career in several rock bands in the 50s and 60s, namely The Wicks, The Penny Arcade (the latter produced and managed by Monkee Michael Nesmith) and has played on and produced his own musical projects, Dinosaur Tracks Volumes I, II, and III with The Iridium Band (available from Fossil Records).

His first professional feature length film, Dinosaur Valley Girls (Frontline Entertainment 1996), has been aired on the USA Cable Network and Pay-Per-View cable channels. Films that followed were The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula, The Mummy's Kiss, The Mummy's Kiss (Second Dynasty), Countess Dracula's Orgy of Blood, and Blood Scarab.

GLUT When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, I liked cowboy movies, and the serials that used to be on television and in the local theater Saturday matinees. I was enthralled by the early television space shows like Tom Corbett, Space Patrol, Captian Video, Rod Brown and the Rocket Rangers, Commando Cody. I made my own Flash Gordon ray guns and helmets out of cardboard. In those days, science fiction was a limited thing, and not readily available. I remember my mother taking me to the theater to see Destination Moon. The characters in Destination Moon reminded me of the characters on the Tom Corbett show, especially the Roger Manning character played by Jan Merlin. After that, I saw Day the Earth Stood Still.

I was fascinated by astronomy. I would go to the Field Museum in Chicago and became intrigued by skeletons, both animal and human. At the age of seven, I became interested in dinosaurs through these trips to the Field Museum. On the Tom Corbett show they would visit planets that were inhabited by lost civilizations and dinosaurs.

Creature From the Black Lagoon made me a monster movie fan. At that time I saw an article in Collier's Magazine, which explained how they did the make-up effects for Creature From the Black Lagoon; an expose on make-up man Bud Westmore's work on the film.

JAH You were inspired by Saturday matinees?

GLUT I was inspired in the late 50s by the live spook house type shows that toured the country, like Doctor Sylkini's Chamber of Horrors, which was revived in Glendale, California, seven or eight years ago. These were started in the 30s, and were most popular after World War II. The shows consisted of monsters, a gorilla, glow in the dark bats which were flown over the audience's heads during a blackout, with loads of scary music.

When I was a kid, there was a theater within walking distance from my house called The Music Box, which is where I saw a lot of serials, B westerns, science fiction movies; I saw Superman and the Mole Men, Atom Man vs. Superman. Another of my passions was radio drama. There was a lot of fantasy on the radio at that time. I enjoyed comedies, like The Great Gildersleeve, Jack Benny. I was a fan of adventure shows like Superman, Straight Arrow, Gene Autrey.

JAH When did you make your first film?

GLUT I made my first amateur film after I saw The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). The reason I started making amateur movies was not because I wanted to be a film maker. We always had a 16mm camera and film projector in the house. My mother used to shoot a lot of home movies of the family. In those days, the only commercially available movies were Castle Films. They hadn't put out science fiction or horror movies at that time. Their catalogue consisted of adventure films, Hopalong Cassidy pictures, comedies like Abbott and Costello, cartoons and newsreels. I wanted to be able to show monster movies with my 16mm projector, and I couldn't get them anywhere. It occurred to me that I could make my own.

We really didn't have scripts. We'd start with the germ of an idea, and we would improvise until the film ran out. The trick was getting the last shot on film before you hit the tail leader. I acted, directed, edited, did the makeup, and later did stunt work in them. I used to put on little shows in my basement, and charge admission, like the Spook House shows.

The first film I made was called Diplodocus At Large. I used an Ollie the Dragon hand puppet for the monster, which attacked a Plasticville town that I built. I didn't make another film until four years later,1957, when I shot another prehistoric picture called Earth Before Man. I used plastic models on wires, and real life lizard pets. That same year I made another film, which was called Frankenstein Meets Dracula, where I played the monster. Victor Fabian (who is deceased) played Dracula. At that time, he was the only person I knew in Chicago who was into horror films. He was in a lot of our productions.

The move from prehistoric films to monster movies came after I attended a triple bill of Universal horror films. They showed The Mummy, House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula. From that time on, I was a Universal horror fan.

I got into the whole teenage monster bit because I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein both came out in 1957, and it dawned on us that we could play characters our own age. Before that, we were 11 and 12 year olds attempting to play adults with fake mustaches and sideburns, which didn't quite cut it.

JAH What was your first teenage monster film?

GLUT That was The Day I Vanished. We decided to start out with a teenage character that had not been used previously, the Invisible Man. Around this time we also did our version of Teenage Werewolf. The Werewolf picture spun off a whole Werewolf series, where the Werewolf met a teenage Frankenstein, a teenage Dracula. Some of these movies were in color, some were in black and white.

JAH Were these silent or sound movies?

GLUT They were silent, some of them with title cards during the dialogue sequences.

JAH Around this time you made some films based on serial heroes.

GLUT Around 1961 or 1962, I wrote a letter to Forrest J. Ackerman, and suggested some coverage of science fiction related superheroes in Famous Monsters. Forry gave the letter to Ron Haydock, who wrote me back and told me that there were people like myself who were interested in these serial superhero characters, and that there would soon be a magazine that he was putting together for Warren Publications that was going to deal with these types of films. They didn't really fit in Famous Monsters, and they didn't really fit into Spacemen. That was Screen Thrills Illustrated, which was edited by Sam Sherman. [What is ironic is, Spacemen did run articles on serialized space adventures.]

Ron pretty much put the first issue of Screen Thrills Illustrated together, but he was fired before it hit the newsstands. It was my understanding that Ron wrote most of that first issue. The reason for Ron's dismissal from FM and Screen Thrills was that Ron needed to make a living, and writing for FM and Screen Thrills wasn't providing him with enough income, so he also went to work for Charleton Publications, who published Mad Monsters and Horror Monsters. The Warren people considered this a conflict of interest. Ron went on to do Fantastic Monsters in the early 60s.

Screen Thrills Illustrated was the inspiration for my superhero films. When I saw the photos of the Phantom, Captain Marvel, and the Kirk Alyn Supermans, I decided to try my hand at that type of picture. The first superhero that I did was my version of Captain Marvel. I played Captain Marvel, and a friend, Rich Agopian, played Billy Batson.

JAH After the great Lydecker special effects in the 1941 serial, how did you tackle the problem of Captain Marvel flying?

GLUT I drew a picture of Captain Marvel, cut it out, stuck it on the window of a car, and shot it from the inside of the car as we drove along. The photo you saw in Screen Thrills #5 was glued on the window of my back porch, and I just took a photograph of it. Over the years, our flying techniques evolved.

At one point, I would just glue a straw to the back of whatever model needed to be flown, and put clear fishing line through it. For Rocket Man Flies Again, I used a GI Joe. We also found a cave in the Malibu Mountains that resembled Bronson Caves, and we did some forced perspective miniature stuff there, such as rockets taking off. Unlike the Lydeckers, I only used one wire, on both the space ships and the heroes. We borrowed the original Rocket Man helmet from Bart Andrews, who had gotten it from Western Costume. He later claimed it disappeared at the beach.

I did Superduperman right after Captain Marvel, which is based on the EC Comics story appearing in Mad Magazine. It was a comedy, the same as the original story. Batman and Robin, which followed, was shot in two different states. Part of it was shot in a suburb of Chicago, right before I moved out to California. Part of it I shot in northern California at Larry Ivie's house. Larry had a part in this, and we used his Batman and Robin outfits.

In 1964, I started my first semester at USC Film School in Los Angeles. My first roommate was Randall Kleiser who went on to direct The Blue Lagoon and Grease and Honey, I Blew Up the Kids. I had classes with George Lucas and John Millias. One day John Millias and I were exploring the art department, and found a skeleton hanging on a hook. I found a long piece of wood, and we ran it between the ribs and left it there, imitating John Carradine's staking scene in House of Frankenstein.

JAH What about the student films you made at USC, featuring Kenne Duncan, Roy Barcroft, and Glenn Strange?

GLUT I first came to California on a vacation which was a graduation present from high school. On the trip, I met people like Ron Haydock, Forry, Bob Burns, Jim Harmon, and Bert I. Gordon for the first time. I met Ray Craig, who was a student at USC, and was a big science fiction fan. One day, he gave me a tour of the campus. I was blown away at the idea of actually having to make movies for homework. For me, that was a dream come true. So I decided, this is where I'm going to school. Suddenly, I was making student films instead of amateur films.

JAH What were some of your first student films?

GLUT The first film I made at USC was Captain America vs. The Mutant. Randall Kleiser played Captain America, wearing the actual Dick Purcell suit from the Republic serial, that we borrowed from Ron Haydock, who owned the costume at that time. For the Mutant, we used the first Don Post Metaluna Mutant mask, which Bob Burns wore. We armed Bob with a prop ray gun from the Space Patrol television show.

All of these films were assignments, with specific requirements. The Captain America assignment was, we had to shoot 100 feet of film, unedited, that had one pan shot, one close up. I worked the whole script out based on those requirements. The whole thing was edited in the camera. We had full shots of Captain America leaping off things, then I did a cut in mid-air to a long shot of him landing on the mutant.

After the film was returned to me, I tinkered around with it. For example, we added a ray gun effect later by painting a black ray on the negative, which printed white.

The second film I did at USC was Wrath of the Sun Demon. Bob Burns played the Sun Demon because he had the Sun Demon mask. The third film was Superman vs. The Gorilla Gang, which almost got me thrown out of school. I was called up on the carpet, in fact I received two calls, The first call was from Irv Blacker, the writing teacher. He called me in one day, and said, "Don, I've got to talk to you. They're thinking of expelling you from the cinema department." I said, "What? Why?" He said, "Well, because they know you like to read comic books, and that you like these monster movies." I said, "What does that have to do with my ability to make films?" The Superman film fulfilled all the requirements of the class - it was a cinematography class. Bart Andrews played Superman. (Bart Andrews was a stunt man/collector, who was murdered some years later.) Bob Burns played the gorilla using the Kogar suit.

They gave me a D for the class. The dean called me into his office, just before graduation, and said, "You cannot graduate next semester, because you got a D in this camera class." I said, "It's still a passing grade." He said, "You cannot get a D in your major." I said, "Why did I get a D? My film was better than most of the films made." I was hoping to start directing the next year, and I had a script ready to go, called Torpedo Man Strikes Again. He said, "You have to talk to the instructor." (A man named Gene Peterson).

So I asked Peterson, "Why the hell did I get a D? I fulfilled all the requirements." and he replied, "Because you made a Superman film." I said, "You're grading me because of the subject matter?" Because of this faux paux, I literally had to stay a half year longer. This was in the days that the films that the faculty were promoting and wanted you to emulate were boring avante garde French and Italian films. The instructors used to tell us that none of us were ever going to work in the film business; it was a closed business, and maybe the best we could hope for would be doing documentaries, working in camera shops or working as projectionists. They took our tuition and preached negativity.

One of the things I used to do that would annoy professors would be to commandeer classrooms that were not in use, and Bart Andrews and I would run serials in these vacant classrooms till all hours of the morning, and that's where people like George Lucas got their introduction to serials.

My experience with the faculty at U.S.C. turned me off to making films. I started to play music on the West Coast, and became involved with a band called The Wicks. The next band was with former Monkee Mike Nesmith backing it, called "The Penny Arcade." I was in the music business for several years after that.

JAH What about the veteran character actors that were in your student films?

GLUT I met Glenn Strange through Bob Burns in 1963. I wanted to shoot an amateur film out here, and planned on making a film called Superman at the Earth's Core. I had a Superman costume. When I was at Bob Burn's house I saw his collection of Paul Blaisdell props. So I said, "Why don't we forget Superman at the Earth's Core. Let's make a film in which we can have all these different characters. The question was, who would be the star? We went from Superman to having the main character be The Spirit. It involved me wearing a trench coat and a mask instead of a whole Superman outfit - things you could get inexpensively at a magic shop.

Bob Burns was a good friend of Glenn Strange. One day I just blurted out without thinking, "Wouldn't it be great if we could get Glenn Strange to do a cameo in this as the Frankenstein monster." So Bob said "I'll ask him" and he did, and Glenn wound up playing the monster. I met Glenn on the fourth of July, 1963. Bob got invited to a party at Glenn's cousin's house, Billy Strange, King of the 12-String Guitar. When we arrived, Bob made introductions, and Glenn cracked a big smile, shook my hand and said to me in a gruff voice, "Come on, have some beans - cooked 'em m'self!"

At the time he was in production on Gunsmoke, so he had a mustache, but he agreed to go through the makeup process. Bob Burns had come down with his makeup kit and was all set to transform Glenn into the Frankenstein monster for the fourth time. We got to the point of shooting, and we were all set with everything but the makeup. So I said, "What are we going to do about the mustache?" And Glenn said, "If you want, I'll shave it off." None of us could bring ourselves to say, "OK, Glenn, shave your mustache off for this stupid amateur film we're doing, and risk getting canned from Gunsmoke, where you have a recurring role." Bob had the non-standard Don Post Frankenstein mask - not the one everyone associates with Don Post Studios. He had the one Glenn actually wore when he was doing his personal appearances, the silvery one. So we had him wear the mask.

JAH What about Kenne Duncan and Roy Barcroft?

GLUT Roy was listed in the telephone book, and I looked him up and gave him a call. He was real responsive and friendly, so I invited him to this serial get-together at Bob Burns house. He said, "Hey, if you want I can get Kenne Duncan to come along." At the time my knowledge of both Roy and Kenne was primarily from their serial work, and not from the westerns. Kenne always reminded me of an evil-looking Hopalong Cassidy. We got to be friendly, and I got this assignment at school for Superman vs. The Gorilla Gang. So I asked Roy if he wanted to be in it. He said, "Sure, no problem!" And I asked him if Kenne would do it. And Roy said "I'll get Kenne!"

Now Roy used to good-naturedly pick on Kenne when we were filming. Kenne would say things to Roy "Aw, I don't know about this, I'm an old man." Roy would roar with laughter "Aw, come on you big sissy, all the gang is going to laugh at you if you don't do this." These guys had a comedy routine going on between one another. It really was like Laurel and Hardy, which was great. Quite touching. Those were great days.

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