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Tom Graeff

Tom Graeff in the film Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)
Born Thomas Lockyear Graeff
September 12, 1929(1929-09-12)
Ray, Arizona, USA
Died December 19, 1970 (aged 41)
La Mesa, California, USA
Other name(s) Tom Lockyear

Tom Graeff (September 12, 1929 - December 19, 1970) was an American screenwriter, director and actor. He is known for the 1959 b-movie Teenagers from Outer Space.

Contents

Biography

Thomas Lockyear Graeff's father, George Graeff, worked as an engineer in the Ray, Arizona mines. The family relocated to Los Angeles where a second son, James, was born a few years later. As a young adult, Graeff enrolled in the UCLA Theater Arts Program, which allowed him to study filmmaking and theater. When he graduated from UCLA, Graeff went on to work independently around Hollywood and Orange County. His greatest achievement was the film Teenagers from Outer Space, though he only worked on a handful of films in his lifetime.

Stressed by his slow-moving career, in 1959 Graeff bought a bizarre advertisement in the Los Angeles Times proclaiming that he was to be called Jesus Christ II, and that God had shown him truth and love. A second ad appeared on Christmas Day listing a group of sermon dates at local churches, but the ad was quickly pulled from rotation. After being thrown out of a number of prominent religious centers in Hollywood, Graeff filed to have his name legally changed to Jesus Christ II. With vocal opposition by the Christian Defense League, the petition was denied.

After this incident and a subsequent arrest, Graeff vanished from Hollywood, fleeing to the east coast. He returned to Los Angeles in 1964, but, unable to get much work or have his films produced, Graeff moved to La Mesa, California, near San Diego in 1968. He committed suicide on December 19, 1970 at age 41.[1]

Career

Graeff's first outing in Hollywood was a 20-minute short about Delta Chi fraternity life entitled Toast to Our Brother, which starred Graeff, a Paramount ingénue named Judith Ames (later Rachel Ames), and guest-starred actor and comedian Joe E. Brown (Some Like it Hot), a UCLA alumni. The film premiered at the Fox Village Theater in Westwood Village on December 18, 1951 during Graeff's senior year at college as a benefit for the St. Sophia Building Fund. The film garnered some industry attention because of the work Graeff put into it.

Graeff's next film was created for Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, near where Tom was living. The 16-minute recruiting film, entitled The Orange Coast College Story, was shown on campus in May 1954. The film was narrated by Vincent Price, who was a friend of the faculty advisor, and starred a young actor named Chuck Roberts (aka Charles Robert Kaltenthaler), who became romantically involved with Graeff.

In the summer of 1954, Graeff began production on his first feature, a comedy entitled The Noble Experiment to be shot in color in Orange County, California. The film took a year to complete and premiered at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach, California, on August 2, 1955. Graeff played the lead opposite local beauty queen Phyllis Yarwood. The film was not well received by the local audiences and was only shown once afterwards. Around this time, Graeff also produced a short art film, Island Sunrise, starring Chuck Roberts, but it was rarely screened. In 2008, the film finally had its theatrical Hollywood debut during the Outfest Film Festival, with a prologue, epilogue, and new music score added by documentary filmmaker Jim Tushinski.

Tom was hired as Roger Corman's assistant on the film Not of This Earth in the summer of 1956, and he also played a small role in the film. However, unlike many of Corman's other collaborators, Graeff decided to strike out on his own and wrote a heart-felt science-fiction script entitled Killers from Outer Space, whose alien visitors spoke much like the lead in Not of This Earth. Graeff set about getting investors, hiring actors, and planning the production. Securing most of the $14,000 budget from actor Gene Sterling, Graeff placed a small ad in the Hollywood Reporter looking for more investors. The ad was answered by British actor Bryan Pearson (billed as Bryan Grant in the film), who put up $5000 in exchange for playing the role of Thor, the evil alien, and casting his wife Ursula Pearson (billed as Ursula Hansen) in the small role of Hilda.

Filmed in the fall of 1956 and winter of 1957, the film changed titles several times before it was eventually released as Teenagers from Outer Space by Warner Brothers in June 1959. Though the film made money, it had little effect on Graeff's career.

Graeff's next and final credit was as an editor on David L. Hewitt's 1964 ultra low-budget science fiction film The Wizard of Mars (aka Horrors of the Red Planet), where he worked with some of his former classmates at UCLA. In 1968, Graeff took out a small ad in Variety, announcing that his screenplay, entitled Orf, was for sale for the unprecedented sum of $500,000. (A Hollywood record had recently been set when a script was sold for $400,000.) His breakdown was not forgotten, and after Graeff insinuated that a number of high profile people were attached to the project, (including Robert Wise and Carl Reiner), he was publicly lambasted by LA Times Columnist Joyce Haber.

Teenagers from Outer Space

The film tells the tale of Derek (played by David Love, a.k.a Chuck Roberts), a space man with a conscience who must save Earth from an invasion of giant flesh-eating Gargons. It was shot entirely on location in Hollywood, California, utilizing much of the area where Tom and Chuck were living at the time. Tom was notorious for wheeling and dealing to get his films done, and with Teenagers, he stretched himself thin, making promises that he could not afford to keep, as he did not even have enough money to pay lab fees. Though he managed to hold a premiere for the film, he never paid any of the actors, which led to some being fined by SAG. Bryan Pearson eventually sued Graeff to get his original investment back when the film was sold to Warner Brothers in 1959. Graeff was then cut from the publicity and marketing of his own film.

When the film was finally released, it appeared as the lower part of a double bill alongside the second Godzilla film, Gigantis the Fire Monster, and was shown almost exclusively at drive-in theaters throughout the country. Critics were not kind to the film, though Graeff was mentioned in the Los Angeles Times and Variety as a director with talent and a creative approach to a minimal budget. Despite a slew of negative reviews, the film had a 650% profit for Warner Brothers.

In the early 1960s, the film was sold to television, where it played frequently for the next thirty years, noted for its infamous ray gun that turned living things into instant skeletons, an original effect that showed up again in Tim Burton's film Mars Attacks!. It was featured in the movie-spoofing television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (series 4, episode 4), and was included on their Volume 6 DVD box set. The movie was included as an extra on the 2005 PS2 video game Destroy All Humans!.

An article written by Richard Valley and Jessie Lilley was published in a 1993 edition of Scarlet Street magazine which purporting to tell the true story behind the making of Teenagers from Outer Space. Extensively researched, the article featured interviews with Bryan and Ursula Pearson, who revealed that Tom Graeff and David Love were romatically involved; for over 25 years, rumor had circulated that David Love was Tom Graeff.

Shortly after the article appeared, fans dubbed Graeff the gay Ed Wood. With the rise of the Internet, several rumors began to appear about Graeff,[citation needed] David Love, and other actors who appeared in Teenagers from Outer Space, even directly contradicting evidence uncovered by Scarlet Street. Dawn Bender did not die of alcohol poisoning, as sites like IMDB reported through 2006; she is in fact alive and well.

Graeff is the subject of several media projects in development, including an in-depth biography called Smacks of Brilliance.[2], a graphic novel, and a documentary film about Graeff and the making of Teenagers from Outer Space, entitled The Boy from Out of This World.

Filmography

Year Title Role Cast
1951 Toast to Our Brother Writer/Director/Actor Tom Graeff, Joe E. Brown, Rachel Ames
1954 Orange Coast College Story Director/Cinematographer/Editor Chuck Roberts, Donna Schlessinger, Leslie Koivisto, Glen Kaminsky. Narrated by Vincent Price.
Island Sunrise Writer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor Chuck Roberts
1955 The Noble Experiment Writer/Director/Editor/Actor Tom Graeff, Phyllis Yarwood
1956 Not of This Earth Assistant, Actor Beverly Garland, Paul Birch, Morgan Jones. Graeff appears as a car park attendant.
1959 Teenagers from Outer Space Writer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor/Actor Chuck Roberts (as David Love), Dawn Bender, Bryan Pearson, Harvey B. Dunn, King Moody
1964 The Wizard of Mars Editor John Carradine, Roger Gentry, Vic McGee, Jerry Rannow, Eve Bernhardt

References

  1. ^ The Boy From Out of This World, at LA City Beat, November 2008
  2. ^ The Boy From Out of This World, at LA City Beat, November 2008

Further reading

External links

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