Posts Tagged ‘George Clayton Johnson’

On the occasion of William F. Nolan’s 83rd birthday, we revisit this article written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

Logan’s Run (1976) was based on the classic 1967 novel by two giants of the genre, Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.  Unfortunately, their own script was not used, and the final adaptation by David Zelag Goodman, who had no track record in (or obvious affinity for) SF, is considered one of the film’s weakest links, along with the leaden direction of Michael Anderson.

Anderson’s box-office hit Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) was a rare case where the director of the year’s Best Picture did not receive an Oscar as Best Director.  This perhaps befits the man responsible for such critically reviled genre efforts as 1984 (1956), Doc SavageThe Man of Bronze (1975), OrcaKiller Whale (1977), and the miniseries The Martian Chronicles (1980).

The novel’s tortuous journey to the screen began with producer Stan Canter, whose final payment was $50,000 short of what was promised the authors, so he promptly tore up the check and ate the signature when they refused it.  There were also abortive productions by George Pal, with a surfing-oriented script from James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum, and Irwin Allen.

The MGM production used various futuristic locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as economical exteriors, and it was scored by the late Jerry Goldsmith, a perennial Oscar nominee who won only for The Omen (1976).  Logan’s Run received nominations for its cinematography by Ernest Laszlo, who won for Ship of Fools (1965), and for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.

In the 23rd century, humans live in a domed city until age thirty, then try for “renewal” in an elaborate ritual, Carousel; this supplanted the suicide parlors called Sleepshops in the novel, an idea MGM had already cribbed for Soylent Green (1973).  Runners who try to avoid their fate are quickly terminated by Sandmen like Logan 5 (Michael York) and Francis 7 (Richard Jordan).

Finding an ankh on one runner’s body, Logan is told by the all-powerful Computer that it is a symbol for Sanctuary, which he is ordered to locate in search of 1,056 runners unaccounted for—not one person has ever been renewed.  His life clock, which begins to flash red and black as Lastday (i.e., thirty) approaches, is advanced by the Computer so that he can pose as a runner.

Logan seeks the aid of Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), who wears an ankh, while Francis kills a runner he lets go in Cathedral, a ruined area inhabited by vicious children called cubs.  At the New You shop, plastic surgeon Doc (Michael Anderson, Jr.) tries to kill Logan, but dies under his own lasers, and his assistant Holly 13 (Farrah Fawcett-Majors) admits Francis is hunting him.

Accepted by the runners, Logan battles the Sandmen and flees through the bowels of the city with Jessica, as Francis follows.  In an ice cave, they encounter Box (Roscoe Lee Browne), a robot who creates ice sculptures and has frozen a number of runners for “protein,” and although the cave collapses as they fight their way out to freedom, they make it through, as does Francis.

Outside the dome, Logan and Jessica find that their life clocks have turned clear, as they are at birth, and in the ruins of Washington, D.C., they meet an Old Man (Peter Ustinov), who remembers life as it used to be.  Francis arrives, and after Logan is forced to kill him, he and Jessica decide to return to the city, with the Old Man as proof that life need not end at thirty.

Diving into a pool outside the dome, Logan and Jessica find an underwater entrance to the city and try to tell the people the truth, but Logan is captured by the authorities.  When he reveals that Sanctuary does not exist, this causes a malfunction that destroys the Computer, and as the city begins to collapse, the people leave their sheltered existence to meet the Old Man.

Both authors discussed the adaptation with me in separate interviews for Filmfax.  Nolan called the script “basically flawed since, by his own admission, Goodman knew nothing about writing science fiction.  His version of the novel made no logical sense and even [producer] Saul David confessed that he was not happy with it….The death age [was] moved up from 21 to 30 to allow more mature casting.”

Goodman, added Johnson, chose to “borrow the man with the faceted sides, the mirrored Box, from the North Pole, where [he was] in a prison colony, and put him underneath the city in some kind of a refrigeration laboratory, and swap this justification for that justification, and then when they show up there, there he will be.  Ta da!  But, where’s the logic of him being there?”

Despite its deficiencies, Logan’s Run contains many splendid visuals, and won a special Academy Award for its effects.  It spawned a Marvel comic book and an eponymous CBS series, both short-lived, while Nolan (sans Johnson) wrote an outline for an unfilmed sequel, which later became his novel Logan’s World (1977), and completed the trilogy with Logan’s Search (1980).  A remake is reportedly in the works.

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On the occasion of his 103rd birthday, we revisit this profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

Displaying a rare commitment to SF and fantasy, George Pal (1908-80) produced, and sometimes directed, a dozen feature films that had a profound impact on the genre.  Most of his works had their origins in literature, and perhaps his greatest achievement was his adaptations of two classic novels by H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1953) and The Time Machine (1960).

Born Marincsák György to Hungarian stage parents, unemployed architect Pal was hired by Budapest’s Hunnia studio as an apprentice animator.  Marrying and moving to Berlin, he rose to the top of the UFA studio’s cartoon department until the Nazis’ rise to power drove him out of Germany, and then lived and worked in various European countries before emigrating to the U.S.

During the 1940s, Pal directed, photographed and/or produced dozens of animated shorts, combining puppets and stop-motion in his famous Puppetoons.  He earned an honorary Academy Award for developing the techniques used in the Puppetoons, and seven consecutive nominations for the best animated short subject, from Rhythm in the Ranks (1941) to Tubby the Tuba (1947).

Unlike other forms of stop-motion, the Puppetoons used replacement animation, which substitutes a series of figures in various poses or emotions, instead of manipulating one model.  Animator Ray Harryhausen got his start in the Puppetoons, but after working under Frank Capra in the Army’s Special Service Division during World War II, he declined an offer to rejoin Pal.

Harryhausen told me in our Filmfax interview, “George…was a very easy man to work with, and I was one of the first animators he hired….It was great experience, although it wasn’t the type of animation I was really delighted to do, because…[Pal] had twenty-four separate figures to make one step, and that meant substituting a new figure for each movement, which wasn’t really my cup of tea.”

Pal’s debut feature, The Great Rupert (aka A Christmas Wish, 1950), was among the first to combine stop-motion and live-action footage, as the eponymous animated squirrel aids Jimmy Durante’s down-on-its-luck family.  After this transitional effort, directed by actor Irving Pichel, Pal focused solely on live-action projects, although animation still featured in many of his films.

Also directed by Pichel, Destination Moon (1950) was adapted by genre giant Robert A. Heinlein from his own young adult novel Rocket Ship Galileo, and indeed the script, written with Rip Van Ronkel and James O’Hanlon, lacks sophistication.  But Pal’s breakthrough project set a cinematic standard rarely equaled, dramatizing a lunar flight with scrupulous scientific accuracy.

Based on the novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, Rudolph Maté’s When Worlds Collide (1951) was the first of five films Pal made for Paramount, including the biopic Houdini (1953).  As two planets approach the Earth, one passes close enough to create mass destruction, also allowing forty colonists to travel there before the larger heavenly body demolishes our own.

Barré Lyndon’s updated script made The War of the Worlds more immediate, a precedent set by Orson Welles in his famous 1938 radio broadcast.  Pal’s initial collaboration with director and special-effects expert Byron Haskin, the film featured modern Martian war machines that are extremely impressive (albeit a far cry from Wells’s tripods) as they besiege the world’s capitals.

Although not strictly SF, The Naked Jungle (1954) nonetheless gave Haskin and Pal the opportunity to dazzle audiences with spectacular scenes of destruction, interwoven with human drama.  Adapted by Philip Yordan and Ranald MacDougall from Carl Stephenson’s “Leiningen vs. the Ants,” it starred Charlton Heston as a man trying to protect his plantation from army ants.

Haskin’s Conquest of Space (1955) marked Pal’s swan song for Paramount, undone by a melodramatic O’Hanlon screenplay.  Adapted by Yordan, Lyndon, and George Worthing Yates from a nonfiction book by astronomical artist Chesley Bonestell (a frequent Pal collaborator) and Willy Ley, it depicted a Mars mission jeopardized by a religious fanatic in conflict with his son.

With the fantasy tom thumb (1958), Pal moved to MGM, where he would remain for the next decade, and assumed directorial duties, as he would on his next four films.  A showcase for the acrobatic Russ Tamblyn in the title role, it featured Puppetoon sequences, songs, and rising star Peter Sellers as the henchman of Terry-Thomas’s villain, who tries to exploit the tiny hero.

The Time Machine won an Oscar for its special effects, as had Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, The War of the Worlds, and tom thumb.  The script was by David Duncan, while Rod Taylor played the intrepid time traveler who journeys far into the future, when evolution has divided the human race into the passive Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks, who feed on them.

Disappointing on all counts, Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961) was hampered by Daniel Mainwaring’s unusually outlandish script, adapted from a play by Sir Gerald Hargreaves.  Greek fisherman Anthony Hall rescues a princess and travels by submarine to her home, Atlantis, but it is dominated by mad scientists and destroyed by a volcano just after Hall has effected his escape.

Co-directed with Henry Levin, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) told the story of the brothers and dramatized three of their fairy tales:  “The Dancing Princess,” “The Cobbler and the Elves,” and “The Singing Bone.”  It featured an all-star cast and a screenplay by David P. Harmon, famed genre author and screenwriter Charles Beaumont, and William Roberts.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) was adapted by Beaumont from Charles G. Finney’s novel The Circus of Dr. Lao, with Tony Randall as Lao, who enlightens people by showing them their true selves while in various guises (e.g., Merlin, Pan, Medusa, the Abominable Snowman).  William Tuttle’s makeup earned an honorary Oscar; Jim Danforth’s special effects were also nominated.

Even a reunion with Haskin could not save The Power (1968) from tensions between Pal and MGM’s régime du jour, which dumped the film with little promotion.  Based on the book by Frank M. Robinson, it starred George Hamilton as a man on the run from an unknown assassin, a telekinetic superman who is eliminating his colleagues—and any evidence of his own existence.

Pal’s many abortive projects over the years included an adaptation of Wylie and Balmer’s sequel, After Worlds Collide, and a follow-up to The Time Machine.  One of the most devastating was his attempt to film William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s SF novel Logan’s Run, which after a long period of development was taken out of Pal’s hands and given to Saul David.

“Poor George was stymied one time after another while he generated new enthusiasm,” Johnson told me in a separate interview.  “Each new regime that came in would throw out all the old projects and say no to almost everything….[He] was linked to the deal for the longest period of time, during which he managed to teeter on there at MGM, trying to get one thing and another together…”

Pal’s final film, Doc Savage—The Man of Bronze (1975), showed how sadly out of step he had fallen with current public tastes.  Released by Warner Brothers, and directed by Michael Anderson, it sought unsuccessfully to recapture the spirit of the old serials, with Ron Ely (better known onscreen as Tarzan) playing the hero of Kenneth Robeson’s lengthy series of pulp novels.

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Third in a series of six previously unpublished profiles.

Accepting an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama for The Twilight Zone in 1961, Rod Serling thanked the “three writing gremlins who did the bulk of the work: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and George Clayton Johnson.” Born in a barn outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming, on July 10, 1929, Johnson has enriched the genre on both page and screen.

As an author, Johnson is best known for the classic 1967 novel Logan’s Run, written with William F. Nolan, which spawned an Academy Award-winning film in 1976, a CBS-TV series the following year, a Marvel comic book, and two sequels penned by Nolan. His stories have appeared in 100 Great Fantasy Stories, Author’s Choice #4, Masters of Darkness, and elsewhere.

Twilight Zone Scripts & Stories contains Johnson’s teleplays for “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “A Game of Pool,” “Nothing in the Dark,” and “Kick the Can,” plus stories adapted by others into episodes like “Execution” and “The Prime Mover.” His collection All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories includes scripts and treatments, some unproduced, as well as nonfiction.

Johnson has also written episodes of Honey West, Kentucky Jones, Kung Fu, The Law and Mr. Jones, Mr. Novak, and Route 66. He had hoped to launch a screenwriting career with Ocean’s Eleven (1960), until the script he wrote with Jack Golden Russell was bought “blind” as a vehicle for Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack” and heavily rewritten, earning them only a story credit.

Years later, he told this writer in an interview for Filmfax, “I was breaking into writing television, after having spent about five years digging dry holes in the desert, so to speak, not striking any water, and wondering what had happened to this credit that I could use to pry open the door…It wasn’t too helpful to me as I struggled.” Of far greater value was his relationship with several other writers.

Johnson cites as his “teachers” Beaumont, Matheson, Nolan, Serling, Robert Bloch, Jerry Sohl, Theodore Sturgeon, and Ray Bradbury, who was a mentor to many of them. “If you look at those names, you’re looking at a little literary movement that took place on the West Coast,” he said, and as authors and screenwriters, they revolutionized the field of SF, fantasy and horror.

Serling adapted two of Johnson’s hitherto unpublished stories into first-season Twilight Zone episodes: “The Four of Us Are Dying” (based on “All of Us Are Dying”) and “Execution.” At the urging of his friends and fellow writers, Johnson then insisted to producer Buck Houghton that the sale of a third story, “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” be contingent on adapting it himself.

Recalled Johnson, “I found it rather terrifying. I could see the great additional material that Rod had tacked onto my stories in order to make them filmable, to give them the fullness of a half-hour show. So I looked at that with great trepidation, although it was fairly simple and straightforward.” The episode stars Dick York as a man who can suddenly read people’s minds.

Beaumont’s legendary ability to charm producers landed him more assignments than he could handle himself, so he often farmed them out. “Beaumont had a very strange group of friends, and each one of his friends had his own kind of power, but a number of them, like OCee Ritch or Bill Idelson, contributed material to The Twilight Zone pseudonymously,” Johnson said.

Acting as a kind of front, Beaumont would secure the assignment and split the fee with a friend who provided an original story or first draft, sometimes without credit. In Johnson’s case, this included “Angels of Vengeance,” an episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive, the Western series with Steve McQueen, and “The Prime Mover,” both of which were credited solely to Beaumont.

Johnson and Nolan acted in Roger Corman’s The Intruder (aka The Stranger, I Hate Your Guts, 1961), adapted by Beaumont from his novel. “I loved being an actor, and between Bill and me we set up a couple of very archetypal evil guys,” he recounted. “It all came about because the people we were hiring on the spot [in Missouri] to read for these parts…could not say lines.”

“A Game of Pool” portrayed a match between young shark Jesse Cardiff (Jack Klugman) and deceased legend Fats Brown (Jonathan Winters), who is called back from the hereafter to play the challenger for the title of the world’s greatest player. Johnson was displeased when Houghton and Serling reversed his ending, in which Jesse loses—but vows defiantly to improve.

“Rod thought the idea of a limbo, where there sits the legend waiting to be summoned forth, and to which the newcomer will be doomed to replace him while he goes off to go fishing…was cute, and I thought that was dismal,” he said. During a writer’s strike, CBS remade the script without his approval for a 1980s Twilight Zone revival, ironically restoring his ending.

Johnson is especially proud of “Nothing in the Dark,” which, like “Kick the Can,” was directed by future filmmaker Lamont Johnson (no relation). In an early role, Robert Redford plays a wounded policeman given refuge by terrified tenement dweller Gladys Cooper, who finally realizes that this beneficent figure is the chameleonic “Mr. Death” she has so long feared.

“It isn’t an impossible dream to write some piece that is really perfection, does its own thing so well, is such a clean statement of itself—its intention, purpose, direction, message, all the things that are in it—that it’s a whole world all in itself, and in that world is totally complete…I must say in all modesty, I…achieved it myself with ‘Nothing in the Dark,’” he said.

“Kick the Can,” about retirement-home residents rejuvenated by the titular game, was remade as Steven Spielberg’s episode of Twilight Zone—The Movie (1983). Matheson’s script, rewritten by “Josh Rogan” (Melissa Mathison), used a new ending devised by Johnson himself, in which the children finally elect to return to their “old, nice bodies, but with fresh, young minds.”

Bradbury collaborated with Johnson on Icarus Montgolfier Wright (1962), an Oscar-nominated short film about the history of flight. “It was a way of adapting his five-page short story into seventeen pages of lyrical prose in which I would try to visualize paintings merging and melting into each other, so as to use superimposure and the moving camera on works of art.”

Johnson adapted the teleplay “Tick of Time” from his story “The Grandfather Clock,” but a staffing change ended his Twilight Zone run. “The new producer [William Froug] didn’t like it that much and wanted to change it around and brought in another writer, Richard DeRoy, who rewrote and retitled [it as “Ninety Years Without Slumbering”]. When I looked at it I was horrified,” he said.

Contributing to another seminal series, Johnson wrote “The Man Trap,” the first episode of the original Star Trek to be broadcast. “That title was tacked on it by [series creator] Gene Roddenberry. Originally it was called ‘Damsel With a Dulcimer,’…who in some mystic way could cast a spell upon you and make you see her the way you wanted to see her,” as he recalled.

Star Trek producer Herbert Solow “later on hired [The Green Hand, a corporation formed by contributors Johnson, Matheson, Sohl, and Sturgeon] over at MGM studios to try to develop a pilot or two. We never managed to get one developed to anyone’s satisfaction, that is to say we could never sell anything to the network, although we turned out various interesting notions…”

Logan’s Run depicted a dystopic, overpopulated future in which deadly Sandmen hunt those who “run” from society’s mandatory death age of twenty-one. Although disappointed that their own screenplay was not used when the novel was eventually filmed by Michael Anderson, authors Nolan and Johnson had the satisfaction of seeing it turn into a multimedia phenomenon.

“We plotted all of this in advance, prophesied it all,” Johnson said. “We saw just exactly how it could be marketed as a movie, a comic book, and this and that. We had it all planned out, talked enthusiastically to everybody about it, and kept getting delays. It took some nine years to get Logan’s Run to the screen.” (As of this writing, a remake has been announced.)

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