Mark Gottlieb is a composer and a lucky person to have been a lifelong friend of screenwriter George Clayton Johnson. This friendship led to a collaboration between Gottlieb and Johnson on “Zola,” a compelling musical that features the Dreyfus affair, a scandal that rocked France at the end of the 19th century and reverberates to this very day. There are a number of things to unpack and discuss here. We begin with an overview of what the infamous Dreyfus affair was all about and go from there, with plenty of recollections about the great ole storyteller, the timeless, George Clayton Johnson.
The Dreyfus affair focuses upon a wrongly accused man who made the perfect scapegoat for the time. Considering how Rod Serling was such a steadfast advocate for human rights, it is quite fitting to find George Clayton Johnson, one of Serling’s fellow writers on The Twilight Zone, as co-creator of this musical. Johnson was always a person to side with the nonconformist. So, it was natural when Gottlieb, in search of a libretto, came calling on George. The two entered upon a partnership and worked, off and on, on the Zola musical for many years. Since the death of George Clayton Johnson in 2015, the impetus has been to get the musical out into the world. To that end, Gottlieb is contacting like-minded souls such as myself to help spread the word. As someone who also got to enjoy a special connection with George, it is my pleasure to present to you this conversation I had with Mark Gottlieb recently.
Now, a little history: The Dreyfus affair occurred during France’s Third Republic. It was sparked by the wrongful imprisonment of French army captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. The matter would officially drag on until 1906. Dreyfus was convicted of treason for allegedly selling military secrets to the Germans in December 1894. At first the public supported the conviction; it was willing to believe in the guilt of Dreyfus, who was Jewish. Much of the early publicity surrounding the case came from anti-Semitic groups (especially the newspaper La Libre Parole, edited by Édouard Drumont), to whom Dreyfus symbolized the supposed disloyalty of French Jews.
The effort to reverse the sentence was at first limited to members of the Dreyfus family, but, as evidence pointing to the guilt of another French officer, Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy, came to light from 1896, the pro-Dreyfus side slowly gained adherents (among them journalists Joseph Reinach and Georges Clemenceau—the future World War I premier—and a senator, Auguste Scheurer-Kestner). The accusations against Esterhazy resulted in a court-martial that acquitted him of treason (January 1898). To protest against the verdict, the novelist Émile Zola wrote a letter titled “J’accuse,” published in Clemenceau’s newspaper L’Aurore. In it he attacked the army for covering up its mistaken conviction of Dreyfus, an action for which Zola was found guilty of libel.
What follows is my interview with Mark Gottlieb. Here we begin with the Dreyfus affair and quickly dig deeper into the issues involved. Then we steadily see how Gottlieb and Johnson joined together as a creative team. In the process, we get a unique inside view into the world of George Clayton Johnson, a unique voice in storytelling. He is best known for iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone like “Kick the Can,” and “Nothing in the Dark.” Among his work, he is also known for writing “Man Trap,” the first episode broadcast of Star Trek, as well as being the co-writer, with William F. Nolan, of the landmark science fiction novel, “Logan’s Run.” Lastly, I have to say, I believe this interview will really hook you in. The proper warm up and set up is done and off we go:
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!
My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?
Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.
Dane DeHaan, Luc Besson. and Cara Delevingne
There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.
Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.
Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.
The latest Star Trek movie pulls us in with great ferocity and it never lets go. “Star Trek Beyond” makes an excellent case for the franchise as it celebrates its 50th anniversary going back to the original television program. With the third in the new Star Trek movies, first launched by director J.J. Abrams, we have reached a point where we can afford a touch more subtlety. And, having explored the Kirk/Spock dynamic rather thoroughly, it’s a good change of pace to turn a bit more focus this time around to Scotty. Yes, Simon Pegg, as Scotty, comes away one of the big winners this time around. Pegg co-wrote the script and, it may come as no surprise, he found a lot of new wrinkles in which to place his character.
By and large, this latest Star Trek film continues with an action-heavy plot. What it tries to do is deliver on some of the less flashy aspects to the franchise and it does a fairly good job of that. You do get a generous amount of banter between the characters. You do get thrills and plot twists. But, even more than action, what a movie franchise of this caliber can always use, considering its stellar cast and resources, is more compelling content. Ease up on the warp drive, breathe in and out, and allow the story and the characters to engage with the audience. But, hold on, I do think this movie is quite engaging and it is not without its thoughtful moments.
Now, this is what is going on right. First, you’ll have a good time with Chris Pine as Captain Kirk. He’s grown with the character. He remains very credible, the guy you want to follow and root for. You get every bit of gravitas you’d expect as Kirk rallies his crew: “We’ve come to understand there is no such thing as the unknown, only the temporarily hidden.” Early in, we follow Kirk down a corridor during a quiet moment. He ponders to himself, “The more time we spend out here, the harder it is to tell when one day ends and the next one begins. It can be a challenge to feel grounded even when gravity is artificial.” Ah, those are the type of nuanced moments of reflection we want. Actually, a little more in and we have a marvelous exchange between Kirk and Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) over some bourbon they found in Chekov’s locker.
What J.J. Abrams aimed for all along was a high wow factor. And that is definitely in place here. It’s very useful to critique a movie within context. That said, as far a providing an all-ages wow factor, this movie is off the charts. Honestly, a lot of what we want is an ultimate razzle dazzle contemporary version of the original show. This is exactly the sort of thing that a big studio is designed to do. The opening sequence, for example, is the gold standard. Kirk walks into an exotic looking chamber. High above is a council of elders made up of imposing gargoyles. Kirk thinks he’s there for a simple ceremony until he’s subjected to harsh questioning by the tribal leader. Things turn ugly and CGI mayhem ensues. It has just the right touch of humor, Kirk swagger, and element of surprise.
This movie is definitely not to be taken for granted. At the end of the day, yes, this is an adventure with an imposing villain, Krall (Idris Elba), and his legion of deadly fighters. You can count on the original show on steroids in that regard. But there’s more to it as well. Running throughout all three latest installments is a grounded storyline: Spock (Zachary Quinto) struggles with survivor’s guilt after his home planet of Vulcan was destroyed. And he finds in Lt. Urhua (Zoe Saldana) a compelling human connection. Perhaps more powerful than his connection to Kirk. We seek a good balance in these kind of movies and, overall, this Star Trek movie delivers. And, if we keep asking for more, that’s alright. This is Star Trek we’re talking about after all.
“Star Trek Beyond” is available on DVD and Blu-ray as of November 1st. And, if you’re a Seattle local, you can always stop by Video Isle and pick up a DVD or Blu-ray rental at Seattle’s best video rental store. Visit them right HERE. And visit them on Facebook right HERE.
Kerry O’Quinn and Friends. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
Kerry O’Quinn is the co-creator and publisher of STARLOG, FANGORIA, CINEMAGIC, FUTURE LIFE, COMICS SCENE and more than a dozen other monthly newsstand magazines. Mr. O’Quinn is featured in an upcoming documentary on fandom, FROM THE BRIDGE, written and directed by Spencer F. Lee and hosted by George Takei. It was my pleasure to get a chance to interview Kerry. Here is someone who tapped into the world of fandom as if he were born to do so. O’Quinn and his partner Norman Jacobs got their start by creating and publishing a soap opera magazine in 1972. By 1976, they were ready to pursue publications aligned with their passions for genre cinema, television, and related pop culture.
Kerry O’Quinn, co-creator and publisher of STARLOG and FANGORIA
Starlog and Fangoria are the flagship publications from that golden era. Starlog was launched in 1976. Fangoria was launched in 1979 and continues in its great tradition of covering the horror scene. These are the prime publications, along with Cinemagic, that would go on to influence thousands of creative people including many of the most celebrated talents working today like J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. Before the internet, you got your in depth information on the entertainment industry from magazines. One cannot stress enough how significant Starlog and Fangoria were in their heyday.
Fangoria, Issue One, August 1979
Kerry O’Quinn would go on to celebrate the worlds of science fiction, horror, comic books, and fandom in various ways. Some of the most notable are his conventions that paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of Star Wars, the 20th anniversary of Star Trek, and the 20th anniversary of Starlog. It was during the 10th anniversary celebration of Star Wars that Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas would share a stage for the first and only time together. How was such a marvelous feat accomplished? Well, Kerry O’Quinn was friends with both of these legends. It was Kerry O’Quinn who landed an exclusive in depth interview with George Lucas that was so comprehensive that it spanned three issues of Starlog.
Gene Roddenberry meets George Lucas, 1987, the 10th anniversary of Star Wars
Over the years, Kerry O’Quinn has proven himself to be a man of many talents consistently exploring and creating new work. He has become an accomplished screenwriter with a number of projects including “Dragworms,” his unique take on zombies which is actually more character-driven than just blood and guts. What strikes me about Kerry O’Quinn is his energy and determination to pursue his dreams. I can relate to him on many levels. We’re both from Texas. We both love New York. We both juggle a number of passions: writing, drawing, acting, filmmaking. I think some people are just wired to need to do many things and will find ways to realize each goal over the course of a lifetime. That’s what is special about Kerry O’Quinn. That said, he’d be the first to say it is well within reach for everyone to follow their dreams. For more details on his remarkable life and his observations, check out his website here.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Kerry, I want to chat with you about fandom, and the upcoming documentary that you are featured in, “From the Bridge,” and cover as much as we can about your remarkable career. I want to begin by giving a shout out to your friend, Kurt Edward Larson. He conducted such a beautiful and heartfelt interview with you.
KERRY O’QUINN: Kurt and I have known each other for a long time and have a lot of fun things in common. Kurt is such a Star Wars fan–and, when he got married several years ago, I wondered about what to get him–a toaster? a blender? No, what he would want was a day at Skywalker Ranch. I arranged that. He and his wife had lunch there and got a tour of the ranch. So, he was in heaven!
I was talking to a buddy of mine about doing this interview and we got to speculating over the long lines for Star Wars on the very first day of release. We were just kids when it came out. I started to think about how Jaws had attracted long lines too a couple of years prior. From your special vantage point, Starlog was already on the scene having come out in 1976, would you share with us your take on the explosion of excitement over Star Wars in 1977?
It was phenomenal timing. My partner, Norm Jacobs, and I had launched Starlog magazine in 1976, the Bicentennial year. At that time, there was no science fiction that was alive and happening. It was all stuff from the past that was being consumed. You know, stuff from the 1950s, the movies made by George Pal. Those movies were popular with nerds like me. But they weren’t going to win any Academy Awards or get any mainstream cheers of any kind. It was considered trash, like daytime soap operas. Horror movies, stuff like that, was not taken seriously.
Starlog, Issue Seven, August 1977
When we started the magazine, there wasn’t anything like it like there is today. And we had great difficulty starting the magazine for that reason. But, lo and behold, the very next year Star Wars came out. All of a sudden, it made the cover of Time magazine, with exactly the same X-wing cover that we had for Starlog. So, suddenly science fiction was at least getting noticed by a mainstream audience all over the world. It has gone on to become an important part of the culture in the same way that Star Trek has. And in the same way that horror and superheroes have. It’s very trendy today to be a nerd. It wasn’t 40 years ago.
I remember when I first met George Lucas. He was telling me about having lunch one day at Hamburger Hamlet on Hollywood Boulevard. And it was right across the street from Mann’s Chinese Theatre. He said that he looked across and he saw lines of people. He asked what was going on. And a friend told him that it was his movie that was playing. It didn’t occur to George that huge lines were gathering along the sidewalk for his movie. He was delightfully surprised by the enormous fan reaction to his movie as all the rest of us were.
It was when Star Wars lit up the sky like it did that Starlog went from a quarterly to a monthly magazine. Indeed, we were already there. Starlog was the voice of science fiction. And George launched the science fiction that is very much alive and booming today.
That scene with the long lines, that’s in your interview with George Lucas.
For our Star Wars fifth anniversary issue, I had called to arrange an interview with George Lucas. He had turned down all the big magazines. I was told that he wasn’t doing any interviews but I begged and pleaded. George agreed. I flew out from New York to visit him. This was before he had build Skywalker Ranch. I did an lengthy interview with him in which he told me all kinds of wonderful tales. We were very comfortable talking with each other. We had many of the same values and things that excited us. We talked about everything from space to technology to classic cars. We talked for hours at that first interview. In fact, it turned out to be too much for one issue so I turned into three consecutive parts spanning three issues of Starlog. I believe it is the longest interview anyone has ever done with George Lucas.
Starlog, Issue One, August 1976
Share with us your insights on how Star Trek became a phenomena, after having struggled in the ratings when it was originally broadcast.
It did indeed struggle. In fact, after the first two years, NBC had cancelled the series. And an amazing lady by the name of Bjo Trimble and her husband, John, did something that, at the time, was phenomenal. This was back in the mid-’60s. They organized a letter writing campaign to NBC by fans that generated more than a million letters. A TV network had never received that kind of reaction to the cancellation of a show–and they were stunned by it. Don’t forget that this is before the internet. Fans contacted each other back then with mimeographed newsletters mailed to each other. And then, ten years after the first broadcast of Star Trek, there was Starlog maganzine and fans could communicate with each other through our letters forum–as well as at conventions.
Bjo had gotten a television network to renew a cancelled series. That had never happened before. What Bjo did was allow for a third season of Star Trek. However, NBC scheduled it on Friday nights, which is a dead zone for shows. So, NBC cancelled it for the second time. Everybody seemed to think science fiction was dead. But it was very much alive within this hidden fan culture. And the documentary that my friend, Spencer, is putting together covers how this fan base has grown in the last 40 years. It went from this invisible, almost ashamed, audience to what it has become today when you have 150,000 people show up at Comic-Con in San Diego each year in July. And the biggest movies today are superhero, science fiction, and horror, everything that our magazines were all about.
Star Trek is right at the root of that response, at the heart of it. Gene Roddenberry created a concept of the future that was positive and inspiring: rationality, science, and the better values of human nature would prevail. Star Trek not only inspired the original audience that tuned in for its three-year run. In syndication, Star Trek reached around the world with its universal concept that the human race can be better. Gene deserves everybody’s praise as Star Trek is one of the most inspiring things to be created in any genre. Sometimes science fiction warns us of things that we need to be careful about. And sometimes science fiction shows us that things are within our control, we can make it better, and gives us hope for the future.
I’m thinking of how Star Trek was ahead of its time and so it made sense that it would struggle in the ratings. The same is true for The Twilight Zone. Both of these shows have a lot in common. The primary thing is that they both have subtext. There was social commentary in the guise of fantasy and science fiction, very much ahead of its time–now, we take that for granted, don’t we?
We do but we still need it since we don’t have a lot of it. Even with the science fiction that we have today, with all the dazzling special effects that we didn’t have back in the ’60s. Visually, science fiction today is dazzling, uncontrollable, and amazing. Back then, the effects were kind of clunky, rubber monsters and the like, but nobody cared because–and this is certainly true about The Twilight Zone–the story talked about the issues, important values, and principles.
Science fiction does not show us the day-to-day reality but something that may exist in the future, something that could and that ought to exist. That is the noblest undertaking of art and science fiction is the best at doing that. Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry are hugely important and we featured them in the early issues of Starlog. At that time, there wasn’t any science fiction, like we know today, so for the first few years most of the content in Starlog was looking at things from the past in terms of movies and television.
Cinemagic, Issue 20, June 1983
You were commenting on the past but then, at some point, you were not only commenting but you were part of the industry. There’s the whole how-to aspect from Cinemagic. There was quite the evolution as you became part of the scene.
Exactly. When we began Starlog, we included everything even those things that were very loosely considered science fiction. And that included horror, and articles on special effects, and Hollywood technology workshops, all the way to NASA and the space program. As we evolved, we discovered that we had many different audiences reading our magazine. Some of these people wanted to be filmmakers. They wanted to make these movies that they loved. Therefore, we branched off and created the magazine, Cinemagic which taught young filmmakers the techniques of production and special effects. We had a short film contest each year. We gave out prizes and trophies at a big theater in New York with celebrities to present awards. Some of these award winners are working in Hollywood today.
A lot of folks, like J.J. Abrams and Robert Rodriguez were inspired by Cinemagic. Steven Spielberg, at one time, said that Cinemagic was his favorite magazine, the only magazine promoting the future of the film industry to young people who were unsure if they could recreate the amazing things that they adored on the screen.
Director/Writer Wes Craven, from “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986)
I was curious about the overlap between Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. There does not seem to have been a rivalry between you and Forry Ackerman. Famous Monsters began in 1958. Fangoria began in 1979. You have Forrest J Ackerman, the founder and editor of Famous Monsters, in your film, “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors,” which I must say is an outstanding documentary on fandom in its own right.
What can you tell us about Forrest J Ackerman? What did you learn from him?
He was obviously the precursor to all of our magazines. He did something very daring in his day: to do a magazine about monsters! What kind of freaks are interested in something like that? Well, it turned out that there was quite a few. Again, these people were all in the closet, so to speak. They bought the magazine but they didn’t have any social status whatsoever. They were outcasts. They were unusual. That was me. That was a lot of people. Our magazine brought people out of the closet. I met Forry many years ago, at a convention, and immediately we had a lot in common. We became friends and we remained friends, it makes me sad to talk about it…I was with him just a few days before he died. He was still in good spirits and still telling me jokes.
From “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986) segment with Forrest J Ackerman
Forry was such an important person in my world and he became a very dear friend. I actually went over to his old home out here in L.A. years ago, which was called the Ackermansion. And it was a museum of props and artwork and all kinds of things that he collected from these strange movies that no one gave enough credit to but that he knew that it was an important part of the culture that should be saved and preserved. And there still is no permanent museum for that sort of thing. And I’m hoping that, in the near future, there will finally be a museum that recognizes and preserves science fiction, horror, superheroes, fantasy, all of the films that are now way out of the closet–and a part of mainstream culture, not just in the U.S. but world-wide.
Kerry, there are so many things we can talk about. Ayn Rand. Cannabis. More about Star Wars. There’s your book on how to chase stars, chase your dreams.
Yes, “Reach For The Stars.” It’s a book that has a lot of practical advice on how to make your distant dreams come true.
I also have to touch on your project with HBO which may still find its way back to them. It’s a Twilight Zone type of show called, “Future Tales.” Boy, that would be some show!
I agree, it would be. And it’s still a good idea. I haven’t been able to sell it to the Syfy channel even though that ought to be just the sort of show they would be interested in. I enlisted 45 of the world’s greatest science fiction writers (including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison), we signed agreements, that they would create a story or that we could use an existing story as the basis for one of our episodes. It was an anthology series all about the world of tomorrow. When HBO had me develop it, we were calling it “Future Tales.” Now, I’m calling it, “Exploring Tomorrow.”
I love that.
Me too. Who isn’t interested in tomorrow?
Exactly! You know, Kerry, I’m over the moon. We share so many connections. I’m a cartoonist.
Yes, and I love New York.
And I can see your early interest in cartooning probably having to do with being able to control the whole production and allowing your vision to run free.
That also carried over into animation. In New York, years ago, I was so impressed with Disney and his multiplane animation that created three-dimensional pictures. I got a bunch of plumbing pipes and I built my own multiplane animation stand in my apartment in New York. At the time, my dream was to create a little film that was so damn good that I’d send it out to Disney and he’d have me come out to work for him. That was my dream: to work for Walt Disney! Now, it never did happen and I clearly changed my mind since then but I did produce a few short films on that animation stand. I still love animation, and illustration–that was my original career. I’ve done so many things since then that I have a resume that looks like I’m schizophrenic.
Well, I wish you and Spencer the very best with “From the Bridge.” I’m excited about it and I’m sure it will find a wide audience.
It’s going to be very popular with the fan community–because it’s all about them. And the power that they have grown to hold in the last few decades.
I interviewed George Clayton Johnson a number of times–a science fiction writer and big supporter of fans–and he always brought up people power. In the end, it is the fans who matter the most.
Absolutely. I’m going to do a panel at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo (newly renamed Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con) here in L.A. next month with Bjo and John Trimble and my friend, Tom DeSanto, who produced X-Men and Transformers, and we’re going to talk about fandom. That’s what it’s all about.
Well, very beautiful. Thank you so much, Kerry.
You’re very welcome, Henry. I always enjoy talking about what I enjoy most of all.
Here is the podcast interview to listen to. Just click below and enjoy:
Check in with Kerry O’Quinn at his website here. If you are in Los Angeles on October 28-30, come see Kerry and enjoy some pop culture fun at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con. You can find details on that right here.
“I started writing when I was eleven. I didn’t start writing at age eleven because I thought I was going to become a movie director. I did it because I enjoyed it. I fed off the movies I was watching and the comic books I was reading.”
–Spencer F. Lee, writer/director of FROM THE BRIDGE
FROM THE BRIDGE is a documentary that looks at the career of Kerry O’Quinn, one of the leading figures in fandom, and explores in depth the rich and exciting world of science fiction, comic books, and horror–and the fans who love it. At this point, those fans include a vast number. But it wasn’t always that evident. With this new documentary, due out in 2017, writer/director Spencer F. Lee shares with you his childhood passion that has blossomed into a deep understanding of some of today’s leading forms of entertainment.
FROM THE BRIDGE, directed and written by Spencer F. Lee, executive producers George Noe and Spencer F. Lee, produced by Philip Nelson, and hosted on-screen by George Takei, is a feature film documentary that tells the story of how fans worldwide have “come out of geekdom’s closet” in the last 40 years, largely nurtured and encouraged by Kerry O’Quinn. Having the opportunity to interview both Spencer F. Lee as well as Kerry O’Quinn, I’ve come away with a great appreciation for what this film will mean to an audience. The film features interviews with Stan Lee, Bryan Singer, Gene Simmons, Joe Dante, Nichelle Nichols, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Fuller, Rod Roddenberry, Howard Roffman and many more.
The full podcast interview with Spencer F. Lee is right below. Just click the link:
Up next is my interview with Kerry O’Quinn, co-founder of such landmark magazines as Starlog and Fangoria.
George Clayton Johnson and Charles Beaumont, circa 1960. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain
Editor’s Note: If you are heading out to Comic-Con, and you wish to learn more about what we covered in this interview, go to a special panel, “Star Trek 50th Anniversary and George Clayton Johnson Tribute,” on Thursday, July 21st, 9:00 – 10:30 PM. Room: 9 upstairs inside San Diego Convention Center. Having written the first aired Star Trek episode, “The Man Trap,” George has secured his place within Star Trek as much as Twilight Zone.
Jason V Brock is a filmmaker, writer, editor, and artist. For this interview, I draw from Jason’s extensive knowledge of golden age television and pop culture. Among his work in film, he is known for his documentary on the writer Charles Beaumont (1929-1967), which is a rich source for our talk. At the same time, Brock’s academic work is just as compelling. I consider Jason a friend in the entertainment industry: we both share a certain sensibility. I hope you enjoy this concise version our geeking out on George Clayton Johnson and related things. We were both en route to a special tribute for screenwriter George Clayton Johnson that took place this February. So, it all makes sense.
In this interview, we’re chatting about that golden time in television that was “The Twilight Zone.” This is digging deeper into the background of the show and its key talent. For this talk, we’re focusing on George Clayton Johnson along with other members of what became known as “The Group,” which met from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s. Within that gathering of writers, the leader was Charles Beaumont. Some writers from The Group went on to write for The Twilight Zone.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Jason, talk about Charles Beaumont, who remains something of a mystery: a great writer on the rise, dead at age 38. And then let’s shift to George, who also remains a mystery.
JASON V BROCK: There’s an interview with Charles Beaumont that was conducted by George Clayton Johnson. It was for a show called, “The Author and the Story.” And Beaumont recites from “My Fair Lady.” We include some of that in the documentary. If you can find that interview, it is well worth seeking out. Beaumont’s illness is a mystery. It does seem to come down to two possibilities: Alzheimer’s disease or Pick’s disease. I tend to think it was Pick’s disease as it fits in with what we know about Beaumont’s activity as he declined: slow and halting speech; a greater amount of impulsivity. What Beaumont’s friends believed was the main cause of Beaumont’s premature death was his routine use of Bromo-Seltzer, which had aluminum, a cause of dementia.
During this time that Beaumont was declining in health, he and George had a falling out. George was trying to figure out a new project. And they had a sort of disagreement. But, after a while, they mended fences. It was during that time that George discovered what was happening to Beaumont. Keep in mind that these were still young guys. The dementia started for Beaumont at around age 33.
Now, George will always remain a mystery. He was an enigmatic individual to be sure. A lot of people don’t know this but he was an underwear model for a time. He did whatever to make ends meet. He was, as he liked to say, “a dog without a collar.” He wanted to do things his way and succeed on his own terms. He was punk rock before that became a thing, and I admire that about him. He was a very intelligent person. He only had an eighth grade education. He was born in a barn in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He went through many phases. He was a beatnik and then became enthralled with hippiedom, and that aspect never left. He was a vegetarian. And he was involved with supporting the legalization of marijuana. Politically, he had more of a Libertarian ideal. He was also mercurial, open to new ideas, never crystallized in his mindset.
Ray Bradbury asked, “Who can explain the mystery of personality?” And I think George fits that perfectly. You could ask him one thing and he would answer back with the most unexpected things.
There was that aspect of overcoming the odds for George and his feeling a need to prove himself.
I look at The Group and think of it as the atom with Charles Beaumont as the nucleus. They’re all in different shells around Beaumont. The atom blew apart once the nucleus was gone. Everyone went in different directions. In the hierarchy, Beaumont was at the top. But, beyond that, in relation to success, was Richard Matheson in a role as mentor. Then there was Ackerman and Bradbury who were relatively older. What’s interesting is that Nolan and Johnson told me that they felt they were lowest on the totem pole in relation to the group. However, Nolan and Tomerlin were, in fact, closest to Beaumont. And then George was next to them.
George was more responsible. The three others did as they pleased. They would go to Monaco and crash a dinner for Princess Grace. They loved Grand Prix racing. They would run off and do all these things at the drop of a hat. Go hang out with Ian Fleming. George stayed home with his family. Richard Matheson stayed home with his family. George was one of the few who bought his house. He bought it early on and lived the rest of his life there. He hungered for that stability and security.
Considering those four core members, tell us more about John Tomerlin.
What’s interesting about him is that he was a catalyst for a number of things. He started in radio and that was his big love. He wasn’t really interested in television or film. The rest of the group dragged him into that. He was interested in competing and conquering. He was feisty. He became a bridge champion, and pilot. He was mostly in love with the Norman Corwin school of writing for radio. That’s like saying today that you’d like to write like the original Twilight Zone when we’re in the midst of Kardashian cult TV. It ain’t gonna happen!
Share with us more about other members of The Group. They seem to fade into the background and yet they’re all interesting in their own ways. There’s Chad Oliver, for instance, he seems pretty obscure but I come to find that he had his cult following.
Well, Chad Oliver really did enjoy science fiction. I don’t think that was where Beaumont’s heart was. It’s weird that Johnson and Nolan would think they were lowest on the totem pole since that was not true. After you move past the core, there are the top ten. Altogether, you could say there were thirty writers associated with The Group. If you’re thinking conceptually, outside of Bradbury, Beaumont was most influential closely followed by Richard Matheson. And then, after that, Nolan.
After that, it depends, as you give merit on a story by story basis. Stylistically, Beaumont was at the top. Followed by Nolan, and then Johnson. I would place Matheson at the bottom, as a stylist. His writing was very direct; he was not an atmospheric writer. His ideas and his characterizations are his strengths, and his novel way of looking at the universe. While Beaumont’s writing was more rich, a lot more substance to his delivery. Bill Nolan was a lot like that too, especially early in his career. Later in his career, his writing is more like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler or Hemingway. He started in the style of Bradbury, as did Beaumont. George also emulated Bradbury. And then they moved on. Bill did a lot of television with Dan Curtis. Mathewson wrote a tremendous amount for television and film, beginning with Roger Corman. His writing lent himself to screenplays. He wrote about a hundred short stories and then switched to novels.
Talk more about the dynamics of what was going on behind the scenes of The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury.
The Group would not have happened if not for Rod Serling. It was Serling who was the big shot in television. Ray Bradbury wanted to do that too. Serling came from the East Coast and steeped in great television, like Paddy Chayefsky. Bradbury has his side of the story of what caused the great rift between them–and we cover that in our documentary. I can see that it was jealously at play: Bradbury wanted what Serling had. But, The Twilight Zone, in fact, was always on precarious ground. Then there’s Night Gallery which left Serling without creative control which he regretted very much. Writers from The Twilight Zone went on to write for Star Trek and for Night Gallery. Nolan and Johnson both wrote a number of scripts for consideration on Star Trek. And, it was Johnson who wrote the first Star Trek episode aired, “The Man Trap.”
I can understand how Ray Bradbury would have felt that he could have done a better job than Rod Serling, even if that was not the case.
Bradbury would have directly said that. Serling got to the point too describing Bradbury’s style as best for the page and not the screen. Bradbury is more in line with Edgar Alan Poe. And that is more of an internal mode of writing. It is very difficult to transfer that onto a script. On the other hand, you can say Serling’s writing can be very talky. The modern equivalent to Serling would be Aaron Sorkin. Your mind is just snapping and crackling to that kind of writing. Serling was very much like that on his work for Playhouse 90.
Clusters of writers do crop up. You think of The Lost Generation Expats in Paris, The Lovecraft Circle, The Beats, The Group. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to form this bond online. You need that human connection.
Rod Serling is quite fascinating. And he did know what he was doing even if he had not been known for science fiction and fantasy prior to The Twilight Zone.
Yes, he had always been reading in the field. He had always been interested in science fiction and fantasy, reading it since he was a boy. He just didn’t have an outlet for it yet. He wasn’t a prose writer, that wasn’t his form of writing. He started in radio, just like John Tomerlin. Serling started writing from his direct experience in the war. He was in the Pacific during World War II. I recommend a memoir by Anne Serling, “As I Knew Him,” about her father. It is very well written. She describes how her dad wrote initially in a diary form to help him overcome PTSD. This would lead him to radio and, with his clipped style of talking, he was a natural for it. Later, he wins a writing contest for television. The writer who came in second was Earl Hamner Jr., who would go on to write a number of Twilight Zone episodes.
Indulge me and go even further into the background of the writing for The Twilight Zone. For one thing, everyone involved was hip to Weird Fiction.
If you break it down, story by story, what these writers were most interested in was Magical Realism. They didn’t really call it that back then in the United States. Bradbury had that aspect. Serling definitely had it. When you start looking at other writers from The Group, John Tomerlin and Jerry Sohl were much more interested in serious and realistic stories. So, it comes down to Nolan, Matheson, Beaumont, and Johnson.
They all loved F. Scott Fitzgerald. They all loved Hemingway. They could not help but admire Hemingway as he was the big force in writing at the time. Hemingway had that succinct style that fit right in with their interest in noir. They tapped into the Magical Realism in Faulkner. They all loved Poe. And they all loved Bradbury and wanted to follow in his footsteps and write for the pulps. Beaumont loved Lovecraft. He loved Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun.” Had Beaumont lived, he would have pursued more work with social commentary similar to Rod Serling. It’s very interesting as to how it all came together as it did. It is something I’d like to write about in the future.
Thank you, Jason. As always, a pleasure. I look forward to our next conversation.
Same here, Henry.
Keep up with Jason V Brock by visiting his website for his work and that of his wife, Sunni K Brock, right here.
“Maybe she is right. Maybe nobody is interested in another science fiction story about the paradoxical nature of time or the mystery of existence. Maybe all they want is a simple love story with a happy ending.
Fantasy and science fiction doesn’t really exist unless it has a reader.
He has come to believe he will have a reader, so he has always tried to make his behavior justifiable, and as a consequence he spends a large part of his time explaining himself to an invisible judge he calls, “Your Honor,” becoming verbally adept at defending himself.”
— George Clayton Johnson, from “Every Other War”
I am really thrilled to own this book. It is a book that you, dear reader, will likely never own. It is hard to come by. Originally published by Subterranean Press in 1999, it has long since gone out of print. But prove me wrong. Seek it out! In fact, I do hope that will change some day. I strongly recommend that Subterranean Press or some other publisher, say Penguin Random House, create a new version of this 450-page collection.
Keep in mind that the author of this collection, “All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories,” is George Clayton Johnson who wrote the first episode broadcast of the original Star Trek series. “The Man Trap” first aired on 8 September 1966. That first broadcast is what marks the 50th anniversary of what has become one of the most iconic television series in history. What was it about George Clayton Johnson that earned him that distinction? This was someone born into abject poverty at the start of the Great Depression, an 8th grade dropout, forced to leave home at age 15, and yet he would go on to great heights.
For those of you who faithfully keep up with my writing, you know that quite often the source of my various tangents goes back to my first meeting George Clayton Johnson some years back. When I found out about all the pop culture franchises he was a significant part of, then found out about his life, and then found myself charmed my the sheer decency of the man himself, I started seriously considering creating some sort of book about him. I was able to tell him about it as well as show him some of it before he passed away. He gave me his blessing. I told him, at the time, that I was still figuring out how to best present the issue of cannabis, as that was very important to him. He listened. He talked. He said to follow my passion. The meeting with him, in his home, in December of 2014, would be the last time I’d get to see him. I had gone to see him again, in December of 2015. I’d been invited and he still sounded hearty and joyful. But it was too late. He had been moved to hospice by then.
“I told you the other night how I’d re-read ‘All of Us Are Dying’ and how much I enjoyed it. When I came to the end of this story and read the last lines, I got goose flesh on my neck. What greater tribute can I offer you? Thanks for the neck bumps.”
George hung on until Christmas. George died on Christmas Day. His great mentor, Rod Serling, was born on Christmas Day. There certainly seemed to be some cosmic and poetic thing going on. And then you add George’s favorite subject, Mr. Death, the defying of death, the taunting of death. George, no doubt, left this world on his own terms. And here I am telling you yet again about what has become quite a subject for me: George and all things related to George. Yes, this is how creative people such as myself think. And, dear God, there will be a final resolution as I do intend to put the book out as soon as possible. It will be in a graphic novel format with plenty of room for the art and plenty of room for the text. They will need to trade places from time to time. Anyway, all this leads to my getting my hands on this particular book. I dare say, it is something of a Holy Grail for some geeks such as myself. My copy is a Publisher’s Copy and was from the library of writer Stanley Wiater. Stanley, if you wondered what became of your book, I’ve got it now, mate.
George Clayton Johnson with Robert Redford on the set of “Nothing in the Dark”
Each story in this book will tug at you. Take the story of two boys, George and Abraham. They just figured they’d make great friends, with great prospects, considering they each had the best of presidential first names. This was during the Great Depression when these two reveled in each other’s company. Neither of them had a cent between them. Then one day, they thought about how much they’d love to own a bicycle. If only they had a bike, the roads would be free for them to explore at will. They decide upon buying a beauty in flaming red enamel that they spot in a shop in town. The price of twenty-two dollars and ninety-five cents seems out of reach. But they find various odd jobs and their goal becomes attainable. They while away the time by mostly doing things that don’t cost them anything like listening to the radio perched on the windowsill of Abraham’s bedroom. George would be at that very same windowsill as he sits in vigil for his friend dying from scarlet fever. And so the friendship, the bicycle, that time and place make up this short story, “A Bicycle Like a Flame.” This is just one of the many gems to be found in “All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories” by George Clayton Johnson.
“All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories” by George Clayton Johnson
Fans of the original television show, The Twilight Zone, will readily come to see which of these short stories in this collection would have made for another great teleplay by Johnson. But, as this book makes abundantly clear, you don’t need any prior Twilight Zone knowledge to enjoy Johnson’s work. How about “The Hornet,” a story of man versus insect with the insect seeking justice? Or perhaps “Dealer’s Choice,” a story about soldiers endlessly playing cards in order to avoid death? Or “The Freeway,” a story set in the future when cars mostly drive themselves and contribute to much less alert humans. Johnson wrote some of the most memorable Twilight Zone episodes thanks to the show’s creator and main contributor, Rod Serling, taking a chance on him. Johnson’s first accepted story submission was “All of Us Are Dying.” Serling bought it and did the necessary reworking to have it better fit his vision, including changing the title to, “The Four of Us Are Dying.” Johnson always maintained that it was a great lesson in how to write for Serling. But, in the end, he liked his version best and thus the title to this collection. In both versions, it is essentially a shape-shifter story: a man who can change his face. In Serling’s version, there’s this specificity about the man attempting to exploit his gift. In Johnson’s version, the man is all the more vulnerable, not in control, and all the more universal.
As this book demonstrates, Johnson’s overriding plan was simply to create the best work. In later years, he went on to create more inventive work with the same care and precision as when he first started out. There’s the short story “Thorndyke,” for example. A couple argue at a party. It is a male and female. The female has been badgering the male all night. She wants to know why he won’t sleep with any of the other females. Thorndyke insists that he isn’t interested. Finally, at his wife’s insistence, he goes to see a psychiatrist about his disorder. It is determined that Thorndyke has a severe case of manogomy. And, as it turns out, these characters are actually rabbits. Thorndyke is the rebel seeking to remain faithful to his wife.
Check out the amazing cover art by Burt Shonberg, 1957.
Wow, what do you think of the book’s cover art? That’s by Burt Shonberg, 1957. George would have been around 28 years-old when that portrait of Frankenstein playing a saxophone was first created. George and Burt and Doug Myres (the Gateway Singers) together ran a little shack of a cafe on Laguna Beach called Café Frankenstein from 1958–59. Burt created various Frankenstein art for the cafe. Apparently, he always favored a Frankenstein motif and, in his own way, so did George.
The most unusual work in this collection is “The Edge of the World,” a screenplay commissioned by Sid and Marty Croft for quite a quirky movie. It is an ambitious and colorful romp of a tale with Christopher Columbus transported to modern day New York City. What a movie this could have been! It’s fun to read such a sprawling and loose work. Johnson manages to get Columbus down into the bowels of the NYC subway system where he makes friends with a tough motorcyclist named, Cheyenne. The two get along and share a joint. This is significant subtext as it brings in references to Johnson’s home state and his lifelong support for cannabis. It also cues the reader to the building conflict, and irony, of Columbus interacting with Native Americans.
Like a rocket, Johnson’s career blasted off with his co-writing the novel that was the basis for the Rat Pack classic movie, “Ocean’s Eleven.” Johnson was only 30 years-old in 1959, when he became part of the TZ writing team. By the mid-1970s, he had written for the original Star Trek TV series and co-written the novel, “Logan’s Run,” the basis of the blockbuster 1976 movie, the most lavish sci-fi film of its day, only to be surpassed the following year by “Star Wars.” Johnson kept on writing. He even created a show ahead of its time, “A Man’s World,” where women are in charge and maintain a male figurehead for appearance’s sake. While Johnson’s show was rejected, a similar show would subsequently get the green light, “Charlie’s Angels.”
“George Clayton Johnson continues to write what he believes in regardless of the marketplace. He is the real deal. He is what other writers mean when they point to someone and say that he is a writer. He is a fellow traveler in search of the Greater Truth, of a kind of unified field theory for the human condition. For this is the true subject of his writing and the abiding core that gives it such weight and strength.
–From the Afterword by Dennis Etchison
The case of George Clayton Johnson is unique in that this was a writer who was most concerned with quality and originality. His worst enemy, Johnson was prone to say, was a meddling producer eager to copy the latest hit show. Johnson was attracted to a challenge, something unusual. A perfect example is his flash forward narrative for an episode of “Kung Fu.” Instead of a conventional flash back, the main character to this story is dependent upon something happening in his future. It is this desire to strive for the most inventive, and most immersive, storytelling that is a hallmark of Johnson’s work. This brings me back to the above quote. For those who knew George Clayton Johnson, they know he was quite a jovial and energetic defender of his work, and deservedly so.
Reading “All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories”
You can always look up video of Johnson’s work for Star Trek, Ocean’s Eleven, Logan’s Run, and, of course, The Twilight Zone. Here is a quote from “Kick the Can,” one of the most iconic TZ episodes and one of the four that was later to be showcased in 1983’s “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” directed by Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante, and George Miller.
“Maybe, the fountain of youth isn’t a fountain at all. Maybe, it’s a way of looking at things – a way of thinking.”
–From “Kick the Can” (Episode aired 9 February 1962)
As Johnson describes in his short autobiographical novel, “Every Other War,” he had been struggling to sell short stories he knew in his heart would find a buyer–and yet did not. That includes the above mentioned, “A Bicycle Like a Flame.” Things looked very bleak at the time. “Kick the Can” was still in its early drafts. It would prove to be one of Johnson’s best works.
What I want to leave you with, the goal of my own book on George, is to celebrate an individual who fought for the integrity of his work and went the extra mile to be insightful, poetic, and heroic. Take a look at his teleplay for Route 66 and you see an unusual story of playing the game of life. Take a look at his teleplay for The Law and Mr. Jones and you find an offbeat path to seeking justice.
Boil it all down, and George’s favorite among his work is his Twilight Zone teleplay, “Nothing in the Dark.” And his favorite lines are delivered by Robert Redford with all the grace one could ever hope for.
“You see. No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder. What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper. What you thought was the end is the beginning.”
–From “Nothing in the Dark” (Episode aired 5 January 1962)
George was definitely attracted to the theme of death. It was H.P. Lovecraft who famously said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Death is the ultimate unknown. Lights out. What now? It’s the only game in life where, in the end, you’re guaranteed not to come out alive. It’s just a question of what you do while you’re around. George lived his life to the fullest. He won.
Fasten your seat belts, you can expect a wild ride starting this September and rolling on to the following September as Star Trek fans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of the original “Star Trek” television series. The first episode broadcast was on September 8, 1966. It was “The Man Trap,” written by George Clayton Johnson, known for his iconic episodes on “The Twilight Zone.” If you are looking for a true guidebook not only to the Star Trek phenomena, but also to a deeper understanding of the dynamics to the show, then you’ll want to seek out “Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Cast Adventures,” published by Rowman & Littlefield, edited by Douglas Brode and Shea T. Brode.
“Wagon Train,” first aired in 1957, became such a hit on TV that it symbolized the popular Western of the small screen. By 1962, NBC, sensitive to new trends, cancelled the show, still number one in the Nielsen ratings. Gene Roddenberry, a promising new writer, pitched the future to NBC: “Star Trek, a Wagon Train to the stars!” Old frontier meets new frontier! Space cowboys! The Final Frontier! It was the space age ahead: JFK’s promise of a man on the moon before the end of the decade! And so NBC could hardly resist, although Star Trek would endure a bumpy existence during its three season run.
Only in retrospect, would Star Trek gain the recognition it richly deserved. Douglas Brode kicks off the recurring themes in the book in the introduction. Brode dissects the creative connective tissue running throughout Star Trek: 1956’s sci-fi classic movie, “Forbidden Planet” and its connection to The Twilight Zone and so on. Star Trek is forever appealing because of its idealism and optimism. That is clearly demonstrated in this insightful collection of essays. The Wild West gives way to the Space Age while, at the same time, the old frontier is consistently subverted, deconstructed, and used as metaphor.
“Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Cast Adventures,” published by Rowman & Littlefield, edited by Douglas Brode and Shea T. Brode
In H. Bruce Fanklin’s essay, “Of Television in the 1960s,” we follow the evolution of Star Trek’s reaction to the Vietnam War. In two episodes, there are stories that suggest the war could be a necessary evil. However, once the war proves futile, there are two episodes that suggest the fatal consequences of a quagmire. An emboldened anti-war sentiment is clear in the episode, “The Omega Glory” (March 1, 1968). Kirk and his crew observe a planet that has been ravaged by war between the Kohms and the Yangs. Closer observation reveals that the Yangs, now reduced to savages, are actually Yanks, from a parallel Earth, losers in a war with no victors.
In John Wills’s essay, “Wagon Trains to the Stars,” we focus on the fantasy of the Hollywood Western in contrast to reality. In the episode, “Spectre of the Gun” (October 25, 1968), Kirk and his crew will only survive a reenactment of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral once they accept it is artifice. In the episode, “The Paradise Syndrome” (October 4, 1968), we see the problems with stereotypes inherent in the standard Western fantasy. All things considered, one has to wonder if NBC would have gone along with the more ambitious and unconventional content on the show had it known that when the first pitch was made that Star Trek was to be a “Wagon Train to the stars.”
As I say, Star Trek is hitting the Big 5-0. You can expect more about Star Trek coming to you from various directions. CBS is launching a totally new Star Trek television series in January 2017! There will be numerous seminars and celebrations in 2016 and 2017. For example, CBS Consumer Products announced a global Star Trek speaker series in celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary, Trek Talks. Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle has an exhibit, “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds,” on the Star Trek phenomenon, its enduring impact on our culture, and how Star Trek has inspired people to imagine, explore, and create.
“Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Cast Adventures,” is a 236-page hardcover published by Rowman & Littlefield. For more details, go here.
As many of you out there know, I am currently working on a graphic novel about the life and times of science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. I am also working on some other projects that are just as important. They all share something in common as they use the graphic novel format. I invite you to take a moment to complete a quick survey that will prove quite useful. For the first ten respondents, if you choose, I will send you a free copy of the first issue of George’s Run. Just reach me by email, which you can find in CONTACT right on the navigation bar, and let me know that you completed the survey. Thank you to all my loyal followers. You can go to the survey right here.
One of George’s favorite themes as a writer was that of cheating death. News outlets have already reported on his death but he is still among us, the living. This is an irony that I must think is appreciated by George. His legion of fans have entered a process of mourning. His spirit, I must think, is pleased, restful, and joyful. Some fans believe he will hang on with us until Christmas.
George Clayton Johnson is in hospice and nearing the end. Of course, he will always live on. His impressive writing career began when he thought up the ultimate heist story. That was to be the Rat Pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven.
George Clayton Johnson has led a full life as a writer, activist, and all-around humanitarian. He will always be an important part of some key pop culture: Ocean’s Eleven, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Logan’s Run. It’s pretty phenomenal when you stop and think about it. And such a decent man. Such a very decent man.
George came from humble origins, poverty-stricken Cheyenne, Wyoming during the Great Depression. He followed his heart, became great friends with legends and, in the process of living, loving, and creating, became a legend himself. This man did not seek out notoriety in some contrived manner. George had the great fortune of possessing just the right combination of talent, determination, and luck. As for luck, he gravitated toward other great talent. As for talent, he’d always had that. He loved to read since he could remember and writing came naturally to him. And, as for determination, that’s just second-nature to a man like George.
This is the man who co-wrote the novel that led to Ocean’s Eleven. He then went on to write iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone. He wrote the first aired episode of Star Trek. And, in a great capping off to a career, co-wrote the novel that led to the cult-classic Logan’s Run. But there’s much more to it than that. On a deeper level, it was always about maintaining one’s integrity and fighting to create something original in a world that demands the tried and true.
I had the opportunity to interview George for a couple of podcast interviews and got to chat a bit over the phone with him. During the course of one of our conversations, I suggested to him that his life and times would add up to an interesting book. I began work on it. We got to meet in person at his home in Los Angeles in December of 2014. For the next year, I began work on a book in a graphic novel format. It was through knowing George that I opened myself up more to my own love of writing. It was George who helped me rediscover Theodore Sturgeon. And it was George, because of his spirited way, that I opened myself up more to the world in general.
We had planned to meet again this year like before, in December of 2015, but, by then, it was too late. George was already in hospice care and, in the time that followed, it became clear that his time left was short. I had hoped to show him what I’d created thus far. But, I immediately understood, a significant page had turned. The time for asking questions or seeking advice had passed. I understood that I was alone to proceed. George had passed on the baton, just like he did for so many others like me.