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Posts Tagged ‘Elleston Trevor’

On the occasion of 107th birthday, we revisit this SF-oriented profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

While his work epitomized the Gothic horror tales that secured the fortunes of England’s Hammer Films, director Terence Fisher (1904-80) also made his mark in the SF genre, there and elsewhere.  After unsuccessful careers in the merchant marine and a department store, he joined the industry in 1933 as “the oldest clapper boy in the business,” and worked his way up to editor.

Aptly, Fisher’s directorial debut was a supernatural comedy, Colonel Bogey (1948), while another early indication of what lay ahead was the suspense thriller So Long at the Fair (1950).  He began his association with Hammer in 1952, receiving one of his two screenwriting credits on Mantrap (1953), adapted from the novel Queen in Danger by Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor).

Fisher and Paul Tabori also co-scripted Four Sided Triangle (1953), based on William F. Temple’s novel about scientists in love with the same woman.  Bill (Stephen Murray) believes he can solve the problem by duplicating Lena (Barbara Payton), using their experimental process of turning energy into matter; unfortunately, “Helen” also prefers Robin (John Van Eyssen) to Bill.

Tabori and Richard Landau adapted Spaceways (1953) from a BBC radio play by Charles Eric Maine, whose novels became such films as Escapement (aka The Electronic Monster, 1958) and The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970).  Howard Duff starred as a scientist planning a space trip, to prove that he did not murder his wife and her lover and conceal their bodies in a previous rocket.

As with Universal in the 1930s, Hammer kicked off its successful cycle of Gothic horror films with back-to-back adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, although in reverse order.  Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula, 1958) made stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, with their signature roles.

Hammer elected to follow the fortunes of Frankenstein (Cushing) rather than his creation (Lee) in its sequels.  Except for Freddie Francis’s The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), they were all directed by Fisher:  The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974).

Fisher largely left the Dracula series to other hands, with Francis following him again on Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), although he directed the first two sequels.  The Brides of Dracula (1960) brought back Cushing’s Van Helsing, but not the Count himself, who returned sans dialogue in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), due to Lee’s dissatisfaction with the script.

Also using those two stars to excellent effect was Fisher’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), with Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes among the screen’s greatest and Lee as the endangered Baskerville heir.  Soon, Fisher was revisiting horror classics left and right in The Mummy (1959), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (aka House of Fright, 1960), and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961).

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) was a remake of a more obscure film, The Man in Half Moon Street (1945).  But the box-office failure of The Phantom of the Opera (1962) led to a brief exile from Hammer, during which Fisher directed Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes (Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, 1962), with Lee taking a turn as Holmes.

He also made a pair of films for American producer Robert L. Lippert, who distributed much of Hammer’s early output in the U.S.  The Horror of It All (1963) was a spoof, written by Ray Russell, while The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) marked Fisher’s return to SF with a low-budget, star-free tale about the survivors of an alien invasion that utilized robots and zombies.

Reunited with Hammer, Cushing, and Lee on The Gorgon (1964), Fisher still continued alternating horror and SF with two projects for the short-lived Planet Films.  In Island of Terror (1966), a solid script and a good cast, headed by Cushing and Edward Judd, helped to make up for the somewhat silly appearance of its tentacled silicates, which consume the calcium in bones.

Based on the novel by John Lymington, Night of the Big Heat (aka Island of the Burning Damned, 1967) displayed similar strengths and weaknesses.  Tensions simmer among Cushing, Lee, and the romantic triangle involving Jane Merrow, Patrick Allen, and his on- and off-screen wife, Sarah Lawson, but the rock-like alien blobs besieging them leave something to be desired.

Fisher next made the outstanding Dennis Wheatley adaptation The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil’s Bride, 1968), scripted by the acclaimed Richard Matheson.  Sadly, health problems prevented him from following through on several Hammer projects for which he was scheduled, and helped precipitate his retirement, but not before he brought the Frankenstein series to a close.

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Believe it or not, it’s been almost fifty years since Swiss goddess Ursula Andress arose from the sea, clad only in a white bikini with a knife at her hip, and set the standard unbelievably high for all future Bond girls in 007’s first big-screen adventure, Dr. No (1962).  That’s only tangentially related to the subject of my post, but since a more attention-grabbing piece of pulchritude could scarcely be imagined, she can certainly serve the same purpose here.  Robert Aldrich wisely built up to another memorable Andress entrance in 4 for Texas (1963) as she directs a fusillade of rifle shots at Dean Martin from offscreen, before realizing he is her new partner and revealing herself.

Aldrich’s film is one of a quartet with Martin, Frank Sinatra and, in some cases, other members of the Rat Pack such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, each of which has a numeral as part of the title.  The others are Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s 11 (1960), on which our very own George Clayton Johnson shared story credit with Jack Golden Russell; John Sturges’s Sergeants 3 (1962); and Gordon Douglas’s Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964).  I’m no numerologist, but I noticed, back when they used to air some of them on The 4:30 Movie during my youth, that the numbers added up in several ways (e.g., 3 + 4 = 7, 4 + 7 = 11); maybe it’s a gambling thing?

I’m also no expert on Aldrich—I’d love to read a good book on him, if there’s one out there—yet knowing what I do, I had trouble imagining such a strong personality getting on with the notoriously volatile Sinatra.  Then I read on the IMDb that he “intensely disliked Frank Sinatra’s non-professional attitude and tried unsuccessfully to have him dismissed from the film” (since it was produced by The SAM Company, as in Sinatra And Martin, it’s a wonder it wasn’t the other way around).  It’s certainly interesting that each film had a different director, although Douglas did work with Sinatra on Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968), and several others.

It’s also interesting, in light of the lounge-lizard personae of the Rat Pack (epitomized by Oceans 11), that two of the films were Westerns made by masters of the form.  Sergeants 3 transplanted Gunga Din (1939) to the West, and featured Martin, Sinatra, and Lawford in the roles created by Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., with Davis as the Din analog.  Sturges made Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), its underrated sequel, Hour of the Gun (1967), and The Magnificent Seven (1960)—itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954)—while Aldrich directed Burt Lancaster in Apache, Vera Cruz (both 1954), and Ulzana’s Raid (1972).

Although by no means a classic, 4 for Texas has several things going for it, including Andress (who, in my view, completely eclipses co-star Anita Ekberg) and Charles Bronson as Matson, the killer hired by crooked banker Harvey Burden (Victor Buono).  Both men appeared in other Aldrich films—most notably The Dirty Dozen (1967) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), respectively—as did Martin’s right-hand man, Nick Dennis, who essayed a similar role in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).  But along with The Choirboys (1977), disowned by original author Joseph Wambaugh, and The Frisco Kid (1979), it showed that comedy was not Aldrich’s forte.

Fortunately, 4 for Texas is more of an adventure film than a comedy; such inanities as Martin’s mugging and double takes (including his reaction to a walk-on by Arthur Godfrey), plus a cameo by the Three Stooges, take a back seat to the action.  Bronson gets to kill Jack Elam in an early scene, as in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), and is gunned down twice by our boys, finally succumbing to a head shot on the paddle wheel of a riverboat that is central to Frank and Dino’s rivalry as would-be gambling bosses of Galveston.  I seem to recall reading somewhere that Bronson later sued somebody for promoting this as a starring vehicle for him.

I’ve been wanting to write something about Aldrich here for a long time, something a little more substantive than including several of his films in the B100, and this post is a roundabout excuse to do so.  I can’t think of a single filmmaker, alive or dead, who could do no wrong, be it Bava, Hitchcock, or Kubrick, and Aldrich is certainly no exception, but he had more than his fair share of noteworthy credits in his oeuvre.  Among other things, he worked with Lancaster, a big BOF favorite, on four films—more than any other director except The GREAT John Frankenheimer—which in addition to those aforementioned Westerns included Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977).

At his best when prefiguring or subverting entire genres and subgenres, Aldrich made heroes of a sympathetic Indian in Apache, at a time when few would do so, and unsympathetic—but weirdly compelling—p.i. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) in Kiss Me DeadlyThe Flight of the Phoenix (1965) anticipated the wave of all-star disaster films launched, as it were, by Airport (1970), and Ulzana’s Raid used a Western setting to make a statement about the war then raging in Vietnam.  In The Dirty Dozen, he turned the star-studded WW II epic on its head twice, first by making a bunch of convicted criminals his main characters, and then by making us really care about them.

With Baby Jane, Aldrich could lay claim to creating an entire subgenre of his own, unleashing a torrent of “dotty old lady” thrillers, which he perpetuated as both a director (Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte [1964]) and a producer (What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? [1969]).  In fact, he often produced his own films and, like Dino De Laurentiis, used his early success to establish his own production company, only to have it shuttered by a series of flops.  Among his directorial efforts, he’s credited as a writer on only three (Ten Seconds to Hell [1959], 4 for Texas, and Too Late the Hero [1970]) and, perhaps predictably, was never so much as nominated for an Academy Award.

Clearly, Aldrich inspired loyalty among his actors, many of whom worked with him repeatedly, from stars like Lancaster to such supporting players as Richard Jaeckel.  Lee Marvin appeared with Jaeckel in the anti-war film Attack (1956) and The Dirty Dozen, also starring in the Tom Flynn fave Emperor of the North opposite Aldrich regular Ernest Borgnine, while Jack Palance toplined the Hollywood exposé The Big Knife (1955), Attack, and Ten Seconds to Hell.  Other familiar faces include Cliff Robertson (Autumn Leaves [1956], Too Late the Hero), Bette Davis (Baby Jane, Sweet Charlotte), and Burt Reynolds (The Longest Yard [1974]; Hustle [1975]).

I won’t keep you from your DVD player much longer, but I can’t resist closing with a couple of quotes, courtesy of the IMDb.  On Davis:  “[She] is a tough old broad and you fight.  But when you see what she puts on the screen you know it was worth taking all the bull.”  On Lancaster:  “He has matured gracefully, plays men his own age and understands the need not to win the girl.  He is much more tolerant of other people’s point of view.”  On Marvin:  “Look, this feller is a pretty good boozer, he’s got a short fuse, but he can be handled okay.”  And, finally, on Sinatra:  “Unpleasant man.  No one has yet worked out what really makes him tick.  But he sings well.”

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The Other Titan: Coda

A photographic addendum to our reflections on the late, great Elleston Trevor.

I wanted to wait and post these images when I knew they could accompany the news that my interview with Elleston Trevor, conducted in 1994 about a year before his death, had been posted on The Unofficial Quiller Web Site (http://www.quiller.net/trevor/trevormemorandum.html).  Now, without further ado, other than special thanks to Simon Drax for logistical assistance…

This is one of the Quiller Club cards Elleston used to give his friends.

The cover of the British first edition of my favorite Quiller novel that Elleston autographed for me at Bouchercon in Omaha.

Elleston’s comment:  “Tailgating distinctly dangerous.”

With Elleston at his home in Cave Creek, Arizona, when I visited him during the Left Coast Crime Conference in Scottsdale.  Note the Quiller paperback jackets over my left shoulder.

I have no idea what we’re drinking—possibly sherry—but if memory serves me correctly, it’s too light to be Fernet Branca.

Me, Elleston, and Chaille at one of our convention encounters.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve forgotten which one, or who the other two people are, but it was the only photo I had that included Chaille.

Elleston’s dog, Katrina.  Chaille say she is smiling.  She was a total sweetheart, so that’s probably true.

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The Other Titan, Part VI

Continuing our reflections on the late, great Elleston Trevor.

After our initial meeting in New York, the few times I was blessed to see Elleston and his charming wife, Chaille, in person were at the annual conventions for mystery writers, readers, and publishers that are held in different cities each year. I was able to represent Viking and my many genre authors at Bouchercon (named for author and critic Anthony Boucher, who as a founding editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction also published many of Richard Matheson’s short stories, including his first) in Omaha in 1993 and Seattle in 1994. And when the 1995 Left Coast Crime Conference miraculously took place in Scottsdale, Arizona, I was able to visit their home in nearby Cave Creek, where Chaille painted and raised her celebrated Brusally Arabian horses.

It bespeaks the warm relationship I had with my authors—one of the reasons I most regretted leaving Viking—that two of them, Justin Scott and Stephen White, got me a British first edition of my favorite Quiller novel, The Tango Briefing, in the dealer’s room in Omaha. Among my most treasured possessions, it had been inscribed to its original recipient twenty years earlier (“Christmas ’73: May you enjoy this story as much as we enjoyed giving it to you. Love, Anthony & Shirley”), but they bought it, had Elleston re-inscribe it (“For my generous friend,” so forth), and presented it to me. I will never forget their kindness, and although I own multiple editions of the novel, I have just been reading that one to reconnect with his great spirit before writing the last and most difficult in this series of posts.

I can’t recall when I first found out about the cancer that killed Elleston on July 21, 1995, but as Chaille’s “impressionistic literary biography” reminds me, they put out a cover story—how apt for Quiller’s creator!—that his weakened appearance in Seattle was due to a fall from a horse. I have a fragmentary, and possibly false, memory of his confiding in me while sitting in his car at the horse ranch a few months before his death, but in any event I believe that when I got the news from Chaille’s mother, Sally, it was not unexpected, albeit no less a blow. I wish I remembered more of our last meeting; vestiges include being awed by the 360-degree Arizona desert sunset, accustomed as I was to concrete canyons and green mountains, and my introduction to Quiller’s favorite drink, Fernet Branca, which to a guy who favors white Zinfandel tasted like road tar…but road tar being savored with Elleston Trevor!

It doesn’t help that our correspondence became much sparser once we were no longer working together on my ill-fated “shadow publicist” campaign for Quiller or in an editorial capacity on Flycatcher. As gracious and friendly as Elleston invariably was, I always hated to disturb him unnecessarily, in case he was working, and I’m sure that only increased when he was fighting both for his life and to finish his last book, Quiller Balalaika. Yet we did have one last professional association when I conducted a lengthy telephone interview with him.

What little I have in my file indicates that the interview was conducted on behalf of my former St. Martin’s Press author and sometime mentor, John McCarty, but whether for its eventual home, Mystery Scene (where it appeared in issue #49, Sept.-Oct. 1995), or for another venue that fell through, I don’t know. Clearly, there was some sort of delay, because I had an original deadline of April 22, 1994, to turn in the piece, yet Elleston did not live to see it published with my introductory tribute as “The Trevor Memorandum: A Final Interview with Elleston Trevor.” It goes without saying that he was generous, cooperative, and patient throughout the process of my preparing the questions and conducting and transcribing the interview, which Chaille later called “the best of what I remember hearing or reading.”

The last written communications I have from Elleston are some reviews of Quiller Salamander that he sent me in November 1994, and a quick fax from the same period asking me if the title Quiller Balalaika “grabbed me.” (Thumbs up, natch.) But my file also contains letters and notes I have continued to receive from Chaille and Sally in the years since his death, accompanied by photos from my visit; updates on his delightful dog, Katrina, and the abortive Quiller film series; copies of his earlier books; and various pieces Chaille has written about Elleston, herself, and their life together. Five words stand out above all others: “You were like a son,” from Chaille’s letter of August 14, 1995, in which she added, “Your phone calls, notes and faxes did much to enrich his life.” Mind you, this was a man with a perfectly good actual son, Jean-Pierre, born in 1948 to his first wife, Jonquil, who died in 1986, but come to think of it, Elleston was very close in age to my own father.

I was able to meet J.P. (who has a wonderful essay about his father on the Quiller site) on September 27, 1995, at a memorial tribute to Elleston at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, which I attended with my parents. I was tremendously honored when Chaille asked me to speak, and while many of my remarks merely echo my earlier posts, these will serve as a fitting conclusion: “Seeing him in action…at conventions and booksignings, one of the things that most struck me was the way he made every fan, no matter how tediously persistent—and I suppose I’ll have to put myself in that category—feel like the most important person in the world. Well, I never did get to be his official publicist, though I was able to act on occasion as what Quiller would call his shadow publicist, but I did get to be his friend, which is more than I ever dared to dream.”

Go to Coda.

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First of all, my very special thanks to the like-minded members of Quiller@YahooGroups.com for their interest in, and kind comments on, these posts.  It’s great to know there are so many avid Quiller fans out there.

Now, back to our story

“…Bob Gleason at Tor is a friend of a friend and has also just signed up several books by another favorite author of mine…” Those seemingly ordinary words, penned by me to Elleston Trevor on January 6, 1992, augured not only a new phase in our friendship, but also a harmonic convergence of the most amazing kind. For that “favorite author” was, you guessed it, The GREAT Richard Matheson, and to have both of my literary Twin Titans under the roof of a single publishing house, let alone one where I had a personal connection, was almost beyond belief.

Moreover, said friend was my oldest in the industry, Greg Cox (see “Steel Trap Mind”), who soon became the editor of the Matheson books Bob had acquired, as Greg related in his contribution to The Twilight and Other Zones. Interestingly, I see from my trusty correspondence file that I first read Matheson’s inaugural Tor novel, 7 Steps to Midnight, when it was on submission at Viking. But with my usual luck, they turned down that (despite having published two of his finest novels, Hell House and Bid Time Return, in the 1970s) as well as Elleston’s latest book and backlist. What I wouldn’t have given to publicize either of those guys in a formal capacity!

I’d had a solid relationship with Tor ever since I worked at St. Martin’s Press, which in my day distributed Tor’s books (subsequently acquiring the company outright), and the celebrated SF and horror writers in which Tor specialized made me uniquely qualified among the SMP staff to publicize them. As a matter of fact, the one time I came close to leaving Viking Penguin before I ultimately decamped for the now-defunct GoodTimes Entertainment—where the opportunity to write about movies and TV full-time was too good to pass up—it was for a job at Tor.

Bob, who is still with Tor after twenty-seven years, edited Elleston himself, and had acquired The Sister, a belated sequel to his bestselling 1979 horror novel The Sibling. (Now that I think of it, both The Sibling and Matheson’s Earthbound were published by Playboy Press, where Bob had previously worked; it really is—if you’ll pardon the pun—an incestuous business.) By December I was able to get a copy of the just-completed manuscript into the hands of my slightly better-known Viking author, Stephen King, with an eye toward a blurb, but despite being an avowed Trevor fan, he disappointed me due to rewrites on the miniseries of The Stand. Again, what might have been…

In the fall of 1993, Bob kicked it up another notch by asking me to prepare a reader’s report on Elleston’s next Tor thriller, Flycatcher, which I was of course thrilled to do. Actually, “thrilled” is too feeble a word to convey my excitement over working with him in an editorial capacity, a feeling exceeded only when I formally edited Matheson’s Duel & The Distributor (still available from Gauntlet) a decade later. At the same time, I was also ghost-writing press materials on The Sister for Tor’s publicity department, and it appears that I ended up writing the jacket copy for Flycatcher as well.

Imagine, here’s a guy who’d won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award for The Quiller Memorandum when I was just a tyke, soliciting the editorial input of an inexperienced fan on his work. Per my report, “Trevor and I have now discussed the manuscript several times in some detail. He has already revised the ending completely in accordance with my comments, removing a subplot…[that] I felt detracted from the effectiveness of the ending and took the novel too far into Exorcist territory.” Thus did my Shadopub sobriquet (short for “shadow publicist”) become Shadopubed.

Next: The final days—and beyond.

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The Other Titan, Part IV

Continuing our reflections on the late, great Elleston Trevor.

I didn’t get to see Elleston in person very many times, since I live in Connecticut and he lived in Arizona, which is a story in itself. Robert Aldrich’s adaptation of his novel The Flight of the Phoenix (see “Bradley’s Hundred #31-40”) was shot in the Arizona desert, which Elleston first visited as the film’s technical director. An English expatriate then living on the French Riviera, he fell in love with the area’s stark beauty, subsequently moved there with his first wife, Jonquil, and later met Chaille, whom he married after Jonquil’s death.

Elleston’s relationship with Chaille was the kind I can only aspire to in my own marriage (happy though that is). Here was a guy who routinely wrote about every kind of international adventure and cold-blooded espionage deviltry, yet when it came to her, he was like a star-struck schoolboy. Whenever I saw them, his first thought was always for her comfort, and his devotion to her was truly inspiring. He never lost that quality, remaining a hopeless—and I mean that as a compliment—romantic until the end.

At any rate, that magic day came when we finally met face to face in New York on June 3, 1991, when the Trevors were, I believe, attending the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association. They took me and my wife to dinner at the Algonquin Hotel, the home of Dorothy Parker’s famous Round Table, and although most of the evening is a blur by now, I do have one very specific memory that tickles me to this day. I was utterly charmed when, after the management seated us at THE Round Table in honor of the celebrated author, Elleston asked if we could sit someplace more intimate instead! I also see from my correspondence file that it was there he gave me an inscribed copy of the manuscript for the soon-to-be-published Quiller Solitaire, a typically generous gesture he continued for the rest of his life.

By year’s end, perhaps oddly impressed with my spectacular self-immolation chez Morrow, Elleston had formalized my role of “shadow publicist” by hiring me to moonlight on Quiller’s behalf. I was to promote the fifteen new and classic titles forthcoming from Morrow, Avon, and HarperCollins (which was reissuing the older books in paperback), and to that end, I wrote the material now adorning the Quiller page accessible above. Needless to say, between nine and five I was still giving my all for good ol’ Viking—which, like the other publishers I worked for, allowed me to freelance on my own time—so it was only evenings and weekends that I had to devote to Quiller.

With the aid and patience of my phenomenal wife, who at that point had time available during the day (and, oh yeah, a two-year-old daughter) while working in retail, I turned our condo into one giant mailroom, from which we sent books and/or press materials to some 300 people. Coordinating with the publicity department at each publisher, I solicited blurbs, reviews, and interviews, urging the booksellers and critics I knew (since one of my specialties was mysteries and thrillers) to celebrate 1992 as the “Year of Quiller.” I’d be lying if I said I was especially successful, but it wasn’t for any lack of effort or enthusiasm on my part, and since I was doubling as Stephen King’s Viking publicist, I was able to elicit from him the fact that he was a Trevor fan as well.

One thing I did succeed in doing was getting an item placed in Paul Nathan’s “Rights” column in the industry bible, Publishers Weekly. I wrote to Nathan—on my thirtieth birthday, yet—to point out that amid this publishing flurry, Elleston had signed an option with Gary Lucchesi Productions for a series of Quiller films. The former president of production for Paramount Pictures, Lucchesi was then hot off the success of Jennifer Eight, but the first film, which was to have been an adaptation of the second novel (and one of the best, in my opinion), The Ninth Directive, sadly never materialized. Yet there, in black and white in the July 12, 1993 issue, Nathan’s column leads off with my item.

Next: Shadopubed.

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The Other Titan, Part III

Continuing our reflections on the late, great Elleston Trevor.

Twenty years ago, I was working as a full-time book publicist at Viking Penguin, while bringing in a little extra money in my “spare” time (among the precious few upsides of a four-hour daily commute) by freelancing press releases for other publishers. One of my biggest clients was William Morrow, and one day I received their catalog of upcoming titles…including Quiller Barracuda by Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor). My eyes practically bugged out of my head: not only was Quiller finally making a comeback in hardcover, but if I played my cards right, maybe I could get involved.

Please, please, please, I begged them, could I write the release for that one? I did, and was eventually able to get Elleston’s address from them, and that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. After receiving my first fawning letter, Elleston telephoned and ended up talking to me (at work, yet!) for twenty minutes. That was all too typical of a man who, if you’ll pardon the cliché, was as gracious as he was talented, the most courtly, cultured, well-spoken and elegant gentleman imaginable.

Okay, time out for something truly bizarre: I’ve just discovered that somebody—not me—posted my release online (http://www.quiller.net/novels/barracudapress.html). I’m not sure if this Quiller website is still being updated (no response when I offered to let them post my Trevor interview), but either way, it’s full of wonderful stuff. And there, staring right back at me, is something I wrote twenty years ago. Talk about twisting your melon.

I’ve also found a marvelous quote from that period in my aforementioned correspondence file. In a letter to a former colleague from St. Martin’s Press, who was then working at Morrow’s sister imprint, Avon (which would be publishing Barracuda in softcover), I wrote, “You may remember that at St. Martin’s, when I used to get a call from Berkley that they had reissued another of his books in paperback, I would start to foam at the mouth, drop everything, and literally run uptown to Madison Avenue to lay hands on it immediately. Like, this guy is a religion for me.” Not much of an exaggeration there.

In 1991, in a rare quixotic moment, I also managed to lose William Morrow as a client. When I had asked earlier to work on Quiller Bamboo, I learned that they were cutting back and would not even be issuing a measly press release for the book. Came their next entry, Quiller Solitaire, and Yours Truly offered out of friendship to write some press materials for free as a kind of “shadow publicist.” (A play on Quiller’s position of “shadow executive,” this led to the nickname “Shadopub” in my correspondence with Elleston.)

As I later wrote to Elleston’s agent, Eleanor Wood, Morrow’s then-director of publicity responded to the letter in which I made that offer “with a vituperative phone call claiming that I had embarrassed him, that they had publicity on Elleston completely covered, that he was shocked at my suggesting that he ‘hire a publicist from another house’ to work on Elleston’s book (which I wasn’t), that he couldn’t believe Morrow was using publicists from other houses to write press releases (which they had been doing since before he joined the company), and that he didn’t think they would be using me again for freelance work (which they haven’t).”  All attempts to explain my position or make amends were met with stony silence, and I was blackballed therafter.  No good deed goes unpunished.  Well, at least I went down swinging, and in a good cause.

My proselytizing for Quiller knew no bounds. Years before co-editing The Richard Matheson Companion, I unsuccessfully pitched a Quiller companion to Otto Penzler, who published the first U.S. edition of Quiller Balalaika after its original publisher—which shall remain nameless—had the temerity to reject the manuscript that Elleston had practically kept himself alive to finish, three days before his death. (Think that still rankles after fifteen years? Bet your ass.) I talked him up to the buyers and booksellers with whom I had contact through my day job, and even approached strangers I saw reading espionage fiction on the train to ask if they’d ever tried Quiller. It’s amazing to recall my youthful chutzpah now.

Next: Face to face…at last!

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The Other Titan, Part II

Let’s digress from my walk down memory lane today to examine the frustratingly slender Elleston Trevor filmography. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), which I will discuss in more detail in “Bradley’s Hundred #31-40,” is probably the best of the lot, although there are several I haven’t seen. These include Wings of Danger (1952), based on the novel Dead on Course; Dunkirk (1958), based on The Big Pick-Up; and a 1958 episode of Armchair Theatre based on The Pillars of Midnight.

I am particularly on the lookout for Mantrap (1953), adapted from one of Elleston’s Hugo Bishop mysteries, Queen in Danger, and starring Paul Henreid of Casablanca fame. It was an early credit for two soon-to-be Hammer mainstays, director Terence Fisher (who co-scripted) and the lovely Barbara Shelley, then billed as Barbara Kowin. With the late Lois Maxwell (immortalized as Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films) and Kieron Moore from The Day of the Triffids (1962) topping the supporting cast, it’s sure to be fun.

The Pillars of Midnight was also made into the feature film 80,000 Suspects (1963) by writer-director Val Guest, who holds a place in my personal pantheon for his work on Casino Royale (1967) and Hammer’s first two Quatermass movies. I recently saw this taut tale of a doctor and his wife (Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom, who co-starred in Robert Wise’s The Haunting the same year) trying to mend their marriage during an outbreak of smallpox, and although I have yet to read the book—and thus cannot comment on Guest’s adaptation—I thought the film was splendid.

Along with The Flight of the Phoenix, the best-known Trevor film is, of course, The Quiller Memorandum (1966), which sadly represents a mixed bag of the highest order. The screenwriter (the late Harold Pinter) would seem to bode well, as would the supporting cast: Alec Guinness as Quiller’s local control, Pol; Max Von Sydow as the neo-Nazi villain, Oktober; and Senta Berger, hardly embodying the novel’s female lead but undeniably lovely. Alas, this assemblage of talent was offset by the dire leading man (George Segal) and director (Michael Anderson).

I believe the script called for the protagonist to be an American, for obvious reasons, but this just doesn’t cut it with a character as quintessentially British as Quiller, while Segal is somebody I simply can’t abide, on top of being totally miscast. And much of Anderson’s work could best be described as “soporific,” most notably the 1980 miniseries of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, about which you can read in copious detail in Richard Matheson on Screen. Incredibly, this would be the last time Elleston’s work was adapted on the big screen for almost forty years until the 2004 remake Flight of the Phoenix, which—inexplicably shorn of its initial article—was inoffensive but utterly superfluous.

Two undistinguished telefilms were later made from his novels. The self-explanatory Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976) was a sort of soap-opera-cum-disaster-movie, adapted from Expressway and directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (represented in the B100 by Horror Hotel and The Night Stalker). The Penthouse (1989) was based on the book of the same name, which I believe grew out of Elleston’s interest in hostage negotiators, and starred Robin Givens (!) as a rich high-rise hostage. Although there was talk of a new Quiller film, or even a franchise, in the years immediately following Elleston’s death, it all came to naught, leaving the character’s only other onscreen incarnation a single-season 1975 BBC-TV series.

Quiller starred Michael Jayston, remembered as Nicholas in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), but beloved by me for playing Peter Guillam in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979). The show was held in such low regard—especially by Elleston—that I don’t think it was ever repeated, although I’d love to get my hands on it for curiosity’s sake. Most bittersweet is the fact that the second of the thirteen episodes was not only scripted by the man himself, but also based on my favorite among the novels, The Tango Briefing. I believe this was the only one actually adapted from any of Quiller’s published adventures.

To be continued.

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The Other Titan, Part I

Those of you who have heard or read me going on at great length about The GREAT Richard Matheson may be surprised to know that for many years, he was but one of my “Twin Titans,” two authors whom I not only greatly admired and tirelessly championed as criminally underappreciated, but also was blessed enough to befriend.  The other was Elleston Trevor (1920-1995), famed for his nineteen novels featuring the British spy known only as Quiller, which were written over thirty years under the nom de plume (one of many, as it turned out) of Adam Hall.

I was devastated when Elleston died of cancer, a piece of news that his mother-in-law, of all people, had the unenviable task of reporting to me.  I vividly remember standing in the kitchen of the condo where we lived in Danbury at the time, breaking down in tears and near-hysterics when I got the call.  Since then, I have kept in sporadic contact with Elleston’s widow, Chaille (pronounced, and alternately spelled, Shelley), who recently sent me a marvelous manuscript that has catapulted me back to the days of our friendship.  Borrowing its title from the 1970 World War I novel that he considered his greatest achievement, it is called Bury Him Among Kings: Intimate Glimpses into the Life and Work of Elleston Trevor.  May this essay, a somewhat impressionistic response to Chaille’s manuscript (bolstered by consulting my fat correspondence file), and the Quiller page added above serve as my own tribute to Elleston.

A quarter-century later, I can’t recall exactly why I picked up my first Quiller book (which was actually the eleventh), published simply as Quiller in the U.S. and as Northlight—the code-name of that particular mission—in England.  I’m 90% sure I spotted it in a rack of paperbacks at a convenience store and simply grabbed it on impulse.  It was 1985, the year I graduated from college, and I was most likely looking for adventure (the same spirit in which I attended a showing of Day of the Dead in Times Square that summer, which was an adventure of another kind).  I was dimly aware that there had been a movie years earlier called The Quiller Memorandum, which I probably hadn’t yet seen, and since I loved spy stories, I guess I figured that if this guy was still at it, he must know what he was doing.  Did he ever.

There’s an element of irony and chance here that I find fascinating.  That was, I believe, the first of the series to be published as a paperback original, at least in the U.S., and also marked a departure in the style of their titles.  The Quiller name had hitherto been used only on the film and the U.S. edition of the first novel, The Berlin Memorandum.  The succeeding books had titles with the same construction (e.g., The Ninth Directive, The Striker Portfolio), and I recall thinking, in my ignorance, that he had stolen the style from Robert Ludlum (e.g., The Scarlatti Inheritance, The Osterman Weekend), until I learned that Quiller predated Ludlum’s work.  It had been four years since The Peking Target, the longest gap in the series, and I’ve speculated that the new title was an attempt to “rebrand” the books, since each subsequent one started with the word “Quiller.”

The point (you knew there was one, right?) is that if the book had been published as a hardcover instead, it wouldn’t have been sitting on that mass-market rack and I never would have seen or bought it, and you wouldn’t be reading this post today.  Adding to the irony is the fact that in publishing circles, at least in those days, paperback originals had something of a stigma attached to them, as books that weren’t “good enough” to be hardcovers.  But more on that later.  Then came Quiller’s Run and Quiller KGB, and I was absolutely hooked by this spy whose adventures were consistently more entertaining than John le Carre’s, more plausible than Ian Fleming’s, and more comprehensible than Len Deighton’s (although I dearly love all of those in their own right).  In the meantime, I ransacked my local library for the earlier books, devoured them all, and settled on The Tango Briefing as my favorite, which it remains to this day.

To be continued.

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