Speaking Ill Of The Dead, by Mike Gold
As we were driving back east from two weeks in Detroit, Columbus, Chicago and Toledo – next time, I’m getting a campaign bus – we heard the news of Evel Knievel’s death. No, this blather isn’t about him, although I do think that saying you’re going to take your motorcycle and jump over 50 school buses loaded with nuns and orphans and then strapping rockets to the bike is cheating. Nope, this blather is about Irwin Allen, noted dead movie and television producer/director/writer and former cover story in Modern Asshole magazine.
Allen was best known for his disaster movies, “disaster” in the sense that the plots involved some sort of serious event (The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure). His connection to Knievel? When I was at DC Comics back in 1976, he called me in a fit of pique about his upcoming movie, Viva Knievel! It seems he heard we were doing a big ol’ comic book teaming Superman up with Muhammad Ali, and he thought a Batman vs. Evel Knievel companion volume was a lovely idea.
I didn’t, and as it turned out somebody quoted my arguments to him. Irwin was more than mildly annoyed. He called to try to talk me out of it, not that the decision to make or not make such a comic book was anywhere near my capabilities at the time. His technique was rather unique: instead of sweet-talking me or convincing me of the error of my ways, he used invective and attack. He wanted to know where some 26 year-old pissant got off sabotaging (honest) a big Hollywood macher like him. He started screaming an unending list of curse words that would have impressed George Carlin. He threatened my unborn children, promised to destroy my career (coming short of “you’ll never have lunch in this town again,” as I was in New York City) and I think there was something in there about my mother and an orangutan.
I held the phone and held my ground. What the hell did I care? Quite frankly, I really didn’t care if DC make the comic book or not – whereas I wasn’t crazy about offering Evel up as a role model, it was the movie’s screenplay that sucked, not the idea of a big ol’ comic book. But I was powerless to green light the project even if I was the sort to cave in to verbal pressure applied from 3000 miles away by a sniveling turd.
Now, get this. The movie came out and it bombed, despite a stellar cast which included Gene Kelly, Lauren Hutton, Red Buttons, Leslie Nielsen, Cameron Mitchell and Albert Salmi. Allen’s crew was listed in the credits… but Allen, himself, was nowhere to be seen. Either he bowed out, got fired, or came to his senses after seeing the rough cut. Viva Knievel! did not viva.
What I would have liked to do to Irwin Allen, Harlan Ellison already did. And herein lies the crux of my respect for Mr. Ellison.
Harlan was writing for Allen’s teevee show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Mr. Allen wanted some changes to the script. A lot of changes. Harlan held his ground, and Mr. Allen said the wrong thing. He told Harlan Ellison “Writers are toadies. You will do as you’re told.”
You know, I might tell Ellison he was ugly or a lousy writer or a short old Jew from Ohio, but not even I, at my lowest blood sugar level ever, would say such a thing to Harlan Ellison. Certainly not to his face.
Mr. Ellison leapt on the conference room table – they were at opposite sides, literally if not emotionally – and ran down its polished surface intent upon attacking the bureaucrat. Slipping on its overly polished surface, Harlan rammed Allen in the face, tossing the producer from his chair and breaking his pelvis.
Contrary to my fantasy, Harlan did not shout “Vengeance is mine, sayth the lord!” The subsequent lawsuit was settled out of court.
Mike Gold is the editor emeritus of Modern Asshole magazine.