About Herman » Interviews » Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Part 5 of 6
Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Herman Cohen, Terror and the Zoo
By Tom Weaver
This is part 5 of an interview that was published at HermanCohen.com in 6 parts. This interview originally appeared as a chapter in film historian Tom Weaver's excellent book Attack of the Monster Movie Makers (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. 1994) and has been reprinted with the kind permission of the author (thank you, Tom!). For a list of the author's books currently in print, visit the McFarland & Co. web site.
Part five: Herman visits Hollywood for a trip to the zoo, the returns to London where he meets the famous Sherlock Holmes and the infamous Jack the Ripper.
After KONGA, you came back to Hollywood and made BLACK ZOO.
That was an original idea of mine, and then I hired Aben Kandel to work with me and we did the script together. I built the zoo right here at Raleigh Studio [formerly Producers Studio] on North Bronson—the entire zoo that you saw in that picture was an interior set. (We have one of the largest sound-stages in town here on our lot.) We built the entire zoo exterior here on the soundstages so we could contain the animals. As a for-instance, when at the beginning you see the girl walking down the street, that actually was a public street. But when she gets attacked by the tiger, those were bushes we put up on the soundstage, because we had to control the tiger.
You must have an animal anecdote or two.
Well, one of our lions escaped during the shooting of the picture, and we had front page headlines in all the papers! Everybody said I must have done it as a publicity stunt, but it actually happened. A full-grown American mountain lion named Chico, three hundred pounds, broke loose and dashed out through a door. We immediately removed the cast and crew from the set, and someone was broadcasting warnings over loudspeakers for all the various studio personnel to take cover—this all happened just before lunch, and everybody was told to stay in their offices. The police were called and they surrounded the studio, and there was also a helicopter announcing over a speaker, telling the children at the nearby schools to get off the playgrounds and back inside the buildings! More than fifty police officers with their cars blocked off streets and were searching for him. And the lion's owner, Ralph Helfer, was asking 'em not to shoot the thing. This went on for an hour or two before they recaptured him—he had squeezed himself into a sub-basement under the soundstage, down through an electrician's crawl-hole in the stage floor. And he was scared stiff, the poor thing. Well [laughs], at least we got a lot of free publicity out of it!
Did all these animals come from Ralph Helfer?
Yes. In searching for someone to provide the animals, I heard about him through other animal handlers. He was using a new technique for training wild cats for films, where they never used a whip, never did any beating. It was all through kindness and love and what have you. I went out to his animal training ranch, way out in the Valley in Saugus. I was there for hours with a couple of my staff, and I was so impressed with what he showed me that I signed him. We worked together on the script and we worked together with the animals. We had several African lions and lionesses, a tiger, a black panther, several cheetahs, a Himalayan black bear, oh, a whole menagerie.
How did your actors like working with the animals?
Some were afraid of them. But Michael Gough, who I brought here from London to do the film, loved animals, and the animals took to him beautifully. And I must say they took to me also. But we had to be very careful on BLACK ZOO (and on KONGA, too, because that had chimps in it): When I interviewed any female in the picture, I had to ask when they had their periods. And right away, they shouted, "What?!" But if an animal smells blood, chimps especially, there can be trouble.
I've read that Michael Gough was bitten by the tiger.
No, I don't remember that; that sounds like a phony publicity release. However, a trainer was attacked by Zamba, one of our lions. One of the new young trainers was bringing Zamba from his cage to the soundstage to work in a scene, and when you bring an animal from place to place, you must have some meat in your hand. And you should walk next to him, never in front of him. This trainer was late in bringing Zamba out to the soundstage, and he was pissed off that Zamba didn't want to go. I was standing talking on the phone near the door, and I could see that Zamba did not want to go any further. That was when the trainer did a really stupid thing: He got in front of Zamba and said, 'God damn it, come here!" and he started pulling on the rope. And Zamba leaped. Knocked him on his ass. The trainer put his arm up, and Zamba took a big bite. I was just a few feet away from Zamba, and I screamed for Ralph Helfer. Zamba stopped after he bit him—he realized what he'd done—and the trainer didn't move. Of course, Ralph and the other trainers came running like crazy and they lassoed Zamba. (Even Ralph didn't want to go near him, 'cause Zamba had blood dripping from his mouth.) The guy had to have seventy stitches. We calmed Zamba down, talked to him, brought him some food, and then he was fine. And I've got to hand it to Michael Gough: Two hours later, Michael was working with him in a scene.
You also did a lot of publicity with the cats.
First we were on the Johnny Carson show, when Carson was doing his show in New York. I brought Zamba and a tiger named Patrina to New York on American Airlines, and, of course, the animal trainers, four of them, two to an animal. I checked the animals into a suite at the Edison Hotel; I was staying at the Hampshire House myself, but for publicity purposes, we made like I was staying with the animals. (I have pictures of the lion standing at the registration desk, putting his paw print in the book like he was checking in.) This was all great publicity. Then I had two premieres, one in New York and another at my Fox Theater in Detroit. (In Detroit, they stayed at the Statler Hilton Hotel.) We built cages in the lobby of the Fox Theater and we had 'em there for three or four days.
Did the cats enjoy all this?
Patrina the tiger was spooked coming on TV for interviews, spooked by the lights and the audience. We had to be very careful with Patrina. And Zamba—let's face it, if he turned his head the wrong way and you were there, he'd break your jaw. And they wanted me to pose for pictures with my head next to his and what have you! There was a big full-page ad we took in Variety that showed me with Zamba, and a caption, "Herman Cohen with Zamba. (Please note: Herman Cohen is on the right.)" [Laughs.]
Were you happy with the way BLACK ZOO came out?
Oh, very happy. It was a beautiful picture to make, because of the wild cats, and it was a very unusual film. I didn't like the title, but Allied Artists did. I didn't like it because I felt that people wouldn't know what BLACK ZOO was—the title doesn't really convey much. So because HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM had been so successful, in some territories I had Allied Artists put our some alternate ads in which BLACK ZOO was called HORRORS OF THE BLACK ZOO. That's when our grosses jumped considerably. And it ended up being very successful.
Why did you stop making pictures for AIP after KONGA?
Sam Arkoff told me, "We're not gonna make partnership deals anymore. We'll give you a small piece of the profits, and a salary." That's when AIP was really in the black and doing great, because of the pictures that Roger Corman and I did for 'em. (And they told Roger the same thing at that time—"No more fifty-fifty!") And that's when I told Sam, "Goodbye!" [Laughs.]
What's the story on A STUDY IN TERROR?
I made a deal with two English distributors, Michael Klinger and Tony Tenser, who were talking about doing a Sherlock Holmes picture at the same time I wanted to do one. So we decided we'd do one together, and that I would make the film. Klinger and Tenser would have the United Kingdom and certain other territories to distribute it in, and I'd have the rest of the world. Then I in turn made a deal with Columbia Pictures, to be my partner in it. That's how A STUDY IN TERROR was put together.
Producer credit goes to someone named Henry Lester.
The Conan Doyle estate appointed Lester, who had to get a credit on the film. He was the representative to see that we didn't do anything in the script that would injure the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle name.
STUDY IN TERROR did have an excellent script.
Yes, it was very, very good. Donald and Derek Ford get screen credit for the writing but they didn't write it, although the idea of combining Holmes and Jack the Ripper was theirs. Michael Klinger and Tony Tenser had signed them for "their" Sherlock Holmes movie, but they didn't execute their script properly and I didn't like it. I hired Harry Craig, a writer that Adrian Conan Doyle [Arthur's son] and Henry Lester liked very much. He worked closely with me and James Hill, the director, on the final screenplay, which was based on the original story and screenplay by Donald and Derek Ford. Harry Craig didn't want a credit on A STUDY IN TERROR because he was doing a big picture for Columbia at that time.
Did Henry Lester or Adrian Conan Doyle pitch in creatively at all?
Not Adrian; Adrian just visited with his wife and friends for tea and lunch occasionally. But Henry Lester and I discussed many, many facets, and there were many things we wanted to do that he would say, "Oh, no, no, Sherlock Holmes wouldn't do that!"
You mentioned before that you had to take over the direction one day.
Yes, I did, because Jim Hill had a habit of disappearing. He was a nice guy, but weird—strange. Nobody could get close to him. And he was always fidgety and very nervous. In fact, I talked to Carl Foreman about this and he said, "Yes, Hill disappeared on BORN FREE , too!" And nobody knew where he went or what he did! So the assistant director had a tough time keeping tabs on him. Now, here we had this big fire scene upstairs in the pub, and we were all set for it. The special effects were ready, the fire department was standing by and everything else, and we had to be out of that stage that night—this was Shepperton Studios in London. That's when the a.d. came up to me and said, "Herm, I can't find Jim Hill!"
"Can't find the director?! Chrissakes, it's four-thirty in the afternoon!" And the a.d. said, "Well, he's disappeared!" I said, "Okay, I'll direct the scene." So we put the red light on, locked the doors, and I did the scene in one take—the whole bloody thing. As the firemen were putting out the fire, Jim Hill came back in and said, "I'm ready to—. Hey, what happened?!" I said, "We've already done the scene! Where in hell have you been? Where do you disappear, goddamn it?!" Well, believe me, he never left after that! He was so embarrassed, because the crew and everybody was laughing at him.
Did STUDY have a bigger budget than some of your other British horror films?
Oh, yes, it did, because of Columbia coming in with me. John Neville was marvelous as Sherlock Holmes, a fine actor; at that time he was running a theater in Nottingham. I had Donald Houston, Robert Morley, Anthony Quayle, Georgia Brown, Adrienne Corn—some top actors. I cast it myself, and I was very lucky to get the people that I did.
You sound pleased with A STUDY IN TERROR.
I was very pleased with the film. In fact, it turned out so well that Stanley Schneider, the president of Columbia Pictures, used A STUDY IN TERROR to show the studio what kind of a film could be made on a low budget. He ran it a half a dozen times for new young executives. (Which, by the way, Mike Frankovich was not too happy about. Mike was head of production in Hollywood, and he didn't like the fact that Schneider was showing A STUDY IN TERROR, which was not made in Frankovich's jurisdiction.) And I have a book on all the Sherlock Holmes movies that says A STUDY IN TERROR was the best Holmes movie which was ever made. But again, as with BLACK ZOO, I was not pleased with the title. Columbia insisted on A STUDY IN TERROR; I hated it. They wanted it because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had written a book called A Study in Scarlet, but I didn't like the word "study" in there; I felt that the teenagers would think it would be like extra homework! Columbia fought me, and I had to go along with them in the end. My title was FOG, a nice, simple, one-word title.
Then Columbia went and ... [laughs] fucked me up again! The big hit on TV at that time was Batman, so the head of advertising, Robert Ferguson, wanted to sell A STUDY IN TERROR almost like a comedy. On one of the one-sheets, he had POW, BIFF, CRUNCH, BANG, and HERE COMES THE ORIGINAL CAPED CRUSADER—which I didn't like at all! I wanted to sell it as horror, and so we had a big fight about the advertising. We did our own campaign for the United Kingdom, France, Italy—Columbia had nothing to do with the picture there—and it was a much bigger hit over there than it was here.
I thought A STUDY IN TERROR was crying out for a sequel. Were you ever tempted to do another Holmes picture?
In those days, I never thought of doing sequels. I always wanted to do something different, something new. Several people did make Holmes pictures in the years following A STUDY IN TERROR; in fact, one which I have not seen called MURDER BY DECREE  prompted several people to call me or write me, telling me that the script was practically stolen from STUDY IN TERROR. And they even stole some of my cast—they had Anthony Quayle, and another actor, Frank Finlay, playing the same inspector he played in my picture!
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