My newest interview subject, Donald F. Glut, was introduced to me by Joe Williamson, who set up my 2015 interview with Mel Novak and my 2016 interview with Laurene Landon. Donald is a man after many of our own hearts on here. His earliest efforts included monster movies and comic book fan films. He detoured into cartoon writing in the 70s and 80s, and had some rather interesting experiences on that front. More recently, he wrote and directed the horror anthology Tales Of Frankenstein. We discussed these projects and many more on Tuesday, October 23rd, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know him.
Say hello to Donald F. Glut!
Johnny; You started making movies at an age when most kids are primarily concentrating on going to school as your first short, Diplodocus at Large, was made when you were 9 years old. As a monster kid, did you find making your first movie to be easy or hard?
Donald: Well, the hard part at the time was raising the $3.50 it cost for the roll of film, because we shot it on 16MM and it took me a lot of time to save up $3.50 when I was 9 years old. You know, in 1953 that was a lot of money for a little kid to have. Shooting it was fun. It wasn’t really hard. I did the best I could. I went out in the backyard and got a couple of friends to be actors. My mother worked the camera. I took some buildings off my electric train layout in the basement and put them in the backyard to make a little town. For the dinosaur, the only thing I had available was a homemade Ollie the Dragon hand puppet from Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and I put that on, had it attack the town, and that’s the movie. Not knowing what stop motion was, I shook my hand, thinking that would make my “dinosaur” move like the one in the movie Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which I’d recently seen.It was a learning experience, and I learned a lot as I went along.
Johnny: Alright. That leads to my next question: Several major B-movies in the 50s and 60s had “Teenage…” or “I Was A Teenage…” as prefixes. You made several projects along those lines, with titles like The Teenage Frankenstein Meets The Teenage Werewolf, I Was A Teenage Vampire and Monster Rumble. Unlike the actors in the major projects, you were an actual teenager when you essayed these roles, so what do you think older filmmakers got right and wrong about teenage characters, and how did the major B-movies impact your own Teenage et cetera endeavors?
Donald: Well, first of all, before I made those Teenage movies, I was making the Frankenstein/Dracula/Wolfman type movies, but I wasn’t a teenager yet. We were a bunch of pre-teen kids wearing masks and trying to look and play like we were adults. But then when those teenage movies came out, the ones that American-International and other companies made, a little bell went off in the back of my head. I thought, “Hey, for once I can make a movie and be the actual age of the character”. All my friends were teenagers then, and it was just a natural thing. I thought most of the Hollywood teenage movies were really not an accurate reflection of what teenage life was really all about, not just the monster movies.
High School Confidential was fairly accurate in some ways, and strangely enough, one of the stars of that is the father of one of the stars of my new Frankenstein movie, John Blyth Barrymore, the son of John Drew Barrymore. I always felt the music was wrong in most of those films, the language was wrong…It was like the early Teen Titans comic books that were written by old or middle-aged men who didn’t have a clue as to what teenagers were all about. That comic book didn’t ring true. My movies were amateur films, and they were shot with no money, but at least they starred people I hung around with, who were doing the kinds of things — although we didn’t turn into werewolves or anything — but we wore the same clothes in the films that we wore on the street. I was always a little disappointed in the teenage movies. There were very few that I actually loved of the real professional ones.
Johnny: Alright. You mentioned comic books, and that leads me to ask: Some of your most noted 60s endeavors were comic book fan films which saw you essaying characters from both Marvel, like The Human Torch and Captain America, and DC, like Batman and Captain Marvel. These fan movies had a sense of fun to them, but I’ve noticed in recent times that Marvel seems like the fun company and DC seems like the serious company when it comes to their film and television output. Do you think that’s true, and if so, what do you think is the better approach for entertainment based on comic books, the soft touch of Marvel or the bludgeon of DC?
Donald: My own personal preference is the Marvel movies. When I was a kid, if you wanted to see a superhero movie, it was one of two things long before the Batman show. You either got the George Reeves Superman TV show, or if you had a 16MM movie projector like I did, you rented an old Republic serial like The Adventures Of Captain Marvel or Spy Smasher. Now superhero movies have become mainstream. Just like rock music after 50 or 60 years, it’s become mainstream. It just doesn’t seem special anymore. I never thought I would say this, but I’m actually getting tired of superhero movies, especially when they’re almost nothing but CGI effects where you’re just assaulted by computer effects. They look like high-tech cartoons. They don’t even look like real movies anymore. I do prefer Marvel to DC, though. I haven’t seen any of the ones on Netflix, but things like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D seem mostly to be just people talking, and not advancing the plot in any way with what they’re talking about. The DC shows are really all the same if you break them down to basics. There’s a bunch of people behind a computer complex. Everyone seems to know the main hero’s secret identity. There’s an ethnic character who’s a genius who invent on the spot whatever is needed for the episode. At least one hot girl who looks great in a short skirt. The colors of the costumes costumes are usual darkened, sometimes to the point of being almost black. And there’s someone seated at a computer in radio contact with the hero, telling the hero what to do to get his or her job done. And there’s a gay character who has lots of scenes with his or her lover that have little or nothing to do with the plot.You know, they’re all the same if
you reduce them to those beats, but as far as the movies go, I prefer the Marvel movies by a long shot.
Johnny: Alright. When it comes to your own fan films from the 60s, did you ever consider doing a Marvel/DC crossover film in the style of the popular comic book crossovers?
Donald: I did once. I never really thought to do an actual straight-on Batman Meets Captain America or something like that, but I made a 5-chapter serial with Bob Burns called The Adventures Of The Spirit. That had the Spirit, Superman, Captain America, the Green Hornet, Rocket Man, The Shadow, a lot of different characters, plus a lot of monsters like Frankenstein’s Monster, played by Glenn Strange, The Wolf Man, Phantom Of the Opera, etc. They talk about monster rallies. This was like a combination of a monster and hero rally.
Johnny: That sounds like it was a blast. To stay with the acting, your IMDB page says you had an uncredited role as a P.O.W in the Frank Sinatra war drama Von Ryan’s Express. If that’s true, what was it like to be filming with The Chairman Of The Board?
Donald: It’s funny. I played a P.O.W, and standing right next to me was my roommate at USC, Randal Kleiser, who went on to direct movies like Grease. We were all out there. They paid well, they gave us a nice lunch, and then Sinatra would arrive in a helicopter. He would land right in the middle of the set, and it was an outdoors set on the 20th
Century Fox lot. He landed ON the set, filmed his scenes, got back in the helicopter and flew away. That was kind of interesting. I was not, at the time, a big Sinatra fan, so the star quality wasn’t affecting me in any way, but he arrived with Mia Farrow, whom he was dating at the time. He got off the helicopter, did his scenes, and that was the end of it.
Johnny: Yeah, that sounds about right for Frank. Starting in the 70s, you wrote cartoons for multiple studios, and one of the studios was Hanna-Barbera where, like my previous interview subject Tom Ruegger, you were involved in the Scooby-Doo franchise…To be specific, The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour. As each Scooby-Doo series has had a different approach to the characters, what was your favorite part of writing for that show?
Donald: The only favorite part I had of writing for that show – I just wrote plots and outlines, not full scripts — was getting paid for it. I have no love for almost any of the Saturday morning cartoons I did. I think there’s only a half-dozen I have even a little bit of pride in. They were all formula. We wrote for the lowest common denominator. We wrote for the network censors, not for the kids, and we wrote for the toy companies. Some of them, like Transformers and G.I Joe, were really nothing more than half-hour commercials. They were telling us to “push product” and told us what “product” to “push.” The Hanna-Barbera stuff, I thought, was always pretty bad and the animation was often terrible. I never wrote a Scooby-Doo script. They bought a plot of mine from me, and with Dyno-Mutt, again I just did plots. I didn’t write scripts because the story editor was Norman Maurer, whom I had so much of a fanboy approach to because he and Joe Kubert created my favorite comic book, Tor. Norman was also the son-in-law of Moe Howard of The Three Stooges, so that was kind of cool, but he would buy a premise and outline from me – i.e., the hard part of the process — and then he would give me a call and say, “Oh, the network hated your story, so I’m going to give this to my son to write”. The hard part was writing the premise and the treatment, and the real money came from writing the script, which was the easy part as the story had already been worked out. Norman pulled that on me a number of times in those days, so I had no fond memories of that show, except for knowing Norman and his wife, Moe Howard’s daughter, which was kind of nice. My memories of Saturday morning across the board are not really good. It was just something I did to make money, you know? To make my house payments, to stay alive.
Johnny: Alright. If I can ask: You wrote the DuckTales episode “Duck In the Iron Mask”. What was it like to work for Disney as opposed to Hanna-Barbera or Filmation?
Donald: That’s one of the half-dozen or so scripts that I’m proud of. I really liked working on DuckTales. It wasn’t such an assembly line kind of thing. It had atmosphere, and the animation was good. The animation at Filmation was lousy. The animation at Hanna-Barbera was lousy. I really liked working on DuckTales. When it comes to Filmation, besides the strict censorship they had on everything, I wrote a Tarzan, Lord Of the Jungle script, and they handed me two gigantic binders. I asked, “What are these?”, and they said, “These are the stock shots that we already filmed. We want you to write your script around these stock shots because (laughing) then we don’t have to get storyboards or new animation done, but make sure in the script that we do not see these marked as stock shots because when the network sees those indications, they’re going to all get mad. We don’t want them to know they’re stock shots, but don’t worry. The storyboard people, if you describe the scenes and the shots in great enough detail, will know exactly what you’re talking about”. I wrote the Tarzan script based around two big, fat volumes of scenes that had already been shot. I worked at Filmation with two guys named Len Janson and Chuck Menville. I loved working with them, and they gave me my first television writing assignment ever, as they were on the story editor side, for Shazam!, which was my first TV script.
I got a call from David Gerrold, a science fiction writer who was story-editing this Captain Marvel show, and he asked me if I wanted to write a script for them. I said okay, so by the time I got to the office, Dave had already left for some reason. I don’t know if he quit or got fired or whatever, but I met with Lou Scheimer, who was the owner of Filmation. He said, “Well, you’ve never written anything professionally for television before, but Carmine Infantino of DC Comics said, when your name came up, that you wrote some really terrible Captain Marvel comic books”. I said, “I never wrote any Captain Marvel stories, good or bad. I just never did”. He said, “Well, I like you, but I don’t like Carmine, so just to spite Carmine, I’m going to give you this assignment”. That was how I got my first TV sale, writing for Shazam!’s first season.
Johnny: Alright. One of the other superhero cartoons you wrote for was Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Is that one you’re okay with?
Donald: Again, we were writing for the network censors. I had one where a character mentioned the word “atomic”. “Oh, you can’t say that! That’s violence!”. I said, “Saying the word ‘atomic’ is violence?”. To me, it was an okay show, but the story editor created this character called Ms.Lion, which was this obnoxious little dog who would nose around. It was basically a show for little boys. I believe the dog was supposed to attract little girl viewers. The editor was constantly pushing that character, so we had to add him. No matter what the story was about, no matter what the action was, we had to keep inserting this cutesy little dog. I hated that, but I wrote a bunch of scripts for them. It was okay.What I enjoyed more, as far as Spider-Man was concerned, was the series that preceded it, the old Ralph Bakshi syndicated series. You know, the one with the song, (Singing), “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can”. When they were reissuing that series for syndication, they needed more episodes, so I wrote, I guess, four episodes of that, a few of which I’m really proud of. One was called “The Capture Of Captain America”. We had The Red Skull, World War II references…We weren’t restricted by the censors. My story editor said, “Hey, we’re going to go to network with Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends”, and so I just segued from one show to the next. There were a couple of episodes of Spider-Man that I liked, but they could’ve been better if we didn’t have to insert that obnoxious dog.
Johnny: All right. Since your experiences in animation were not the best, let’s go to something more positive. You recently wrote and directed the horror movie Tales of Frankenstein, with multiple short films based on stories you wrote. Which concept came first, the movies or the stories?
Donald: I had a series of books called The New Adventures of Frankenstein, which were mostly novels. I wanted to do one of the volumes, which wasn’t a novel, but a collection of short stories. I started writing various short stories, some of which got published in books and magazines. One of them, actually before it ever became a short story, was a radio drama. It was called Madhouse of Death, and I originally wrote that for a radio series produced by Jim Harmon called Mini-Drama. We recorded it. The radio version, by the way, is a bonus feature on the Tales of Frankenstein DVD. Anyway, when I decided to do this Tales of Frankenstein book of short stories, I took this radio show and adapted it in short story format. Somewhere along the line, one of the stories got published in another paperback anthology called The Rivals of Frankenstein, which was a UK paperback by Michel Parry. That book went through various reprints and new editions in the UK, and that story, that book and that title got to Milton Subotsky, who was the producer of those Amicus horror anthology films like Tales from the Crypt, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and Asylum, which were made in the 60s and 70s. He wanted to make a Rivals of Frankenstein movie, including “Dr. Karnstein’s Creation,” my story. Everything was fine, and I pictured it in my mind. “Wow, Peter Cushing can play Dr. Karnstein and his Monster can be played by Christopher Lee!”, as they had done a lot of Subotsky’s movies. Soon afterwards, Subotsky died and the movie never got made, but we still had all these stories.
A few years ago, an independent producer of anthology films, based on the East Coast, contacted me and said, “Hey, I’d like you to write a movie script”. There was no money involved or anything, and I said, “Well, I would like to get another movie on my resume, so I have this book called Tales of Frankenstein, which has about 25 short stories in it. I think maybe 4 or 5 of them I could adapt into screenplay format, but I’d like to direct at least one of them.” He said, “Okay, that’s fine”. We had some creative differences, so Tales of Frankenstein got put on the back burner. And then, about three years ago, when I was planning to make a vampire movie, someone pointed out to me, “Hey, in three years, in 2018, it’s the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s novel”. I said, “Oh, boy, everyone’s going to be doing Frankenstein stuff”. Just last night, in fact, I saw a documentary on Turner Classic Movies with a Frankenstein film festival. Everybody’s jumping on the bandwagon. I might as well, too, not only to make some money, but also to celebrate the anniversary. I decided to make Tales of Frankenstein myself by taking my original stories and figuring out which ones would be, you know, the most cinematic. I wanted to make them more cinematic, so there was a lot of rewriting. I mean, ‘Madhouse of Death,’ which started out as a radio show, was different from the subsequent short story, which was then very different from what we actually filmed. There were characters in one version that were not in the other, so that’s how it all came about. What was crucial was that Tales of Frankenstein came out in 2018. After 2018, it wouldn’t have been the 200th anniversary anymore. Fortunately, we met that deadline, and tomorrow night (October 24) is the premiere at a theater in North Hollywood, California. Are you local? Where are you from?
Johnny: I live in New York.
Donald: Aw, too bad. I would’ve put you on the guest list. There’s going to be a premiere with press and photographers and celebrities. It’s going to be quite an affair.
Johnny: Fantastic. I have to ask this when it comes to the concept of Frankenstein: Many tend to get annoyed by those who think Frankenstein is the name of the monster and forget it’s the name of the doctor. Is that something that matters to you, or do you think that the people who get annoyed by those who confuse Frankenstein and The Monster are taking it too seriously?
Donald: When I was a kid, I thought the Monster was called Frankenstein because that’s what everybody said. That mistake goes back to the early 1800s, when they did the first staged productions in London and they would call it the Monster Frankenstein. You know, someone pointed out to me, or I read somewhere, that if you go to an art museum and you see a painting there by Rembrandt or Leonardo DaVinci, you look at the picture and go, “That’s a DaVinci”, because the creation many times assumes the name of the creator, and is sort of a shorthand way of referring to a piece of art. It’s like with cars. “That’s a Ford”. You don’t say, “This is Henry Ford’s car”. You say, “That’s a Ford”. It doesn’t really bother me so much, not like it did for a while when I was a real purist in my younger days. It’s okay. It’s easy. I mean, it’s less clunky, but I personally usually say the Monster. I’m still kind of a purist in that way.
Johnny: Alright. Jumping back into the 60s, you were in a band called Penny Arkade, which was produced by Mike Nesmith. What did you do in the band, and do you still perform music today?
Donald: First of all, when I was in Penny Arkade, I played bass guitar, and on occasion, keyboards, but mostly bass guitar. I also did some backup singing, the “oohs” and “aahs” and “whackadoos” and that sort of thing. Working for Mike was great. It was as close as I ever came to being a rock star. That’s what I really wanted to be when I was a teenager, a rock star. Most of the writing and everything came later after being a rock star kind of fizzled out, but those were some of the best years of my life when I was in that band.
I still play. David Price, with whom I also played with in a band called the Armadillo, and I recorded a number of songs for an album called I Was a Teenage Moviemaker, which sort of coincided with the DVD and book of the same name. I took one of those songs, called “Transylvania Twang,” and it’s one of the two songs to play over the end credits of the movie. A friend of mine, Scott Fresina, who played the original Monster in Tales of Frankenstein, had a birthday party recently, and he wanted it to be a rock-and-roll birthday party, so he had a lot of musicians there and a stage set up and everything. He had an electronic keyboard there, so I said, “I have a surprise for you”. He said, “What?” I said, “Start playing F-major quarter notes”. He started playing. “Bomp bomp bomp.” I said, “Keep that up and I’ll tell you when to change to G.” I got on the keyboard and started playing the F chord with him. It was this big sound. “BOMP BOMP BOMP BOMP!”. This was with my left hand. I got on the right hand and started playing, “Da da da, da da da, da da da da da da da”, and it was the theme to Godzilla. The place went crazy. It was a great moment. Playing music, if you’re really into it, is like anything else, like model trains or riding motorcycles. You never really grow out of it, which is probably why we like monster movies.
Johnny: Yeah, I can see that. It sounds like a lot of fun. Something else that I noticed, when I started reading up on IMDB, is that you’ve always had a fascination with dinosaurs. That extended to a talk show called Dinosaur Tracks. Have you ever considered an IndieGogo to revisit and remaster the episodes of that series?
Donald: I’ve done a lot of interviews, and I think you’re the first person to ever ask me about that. It was a show that lasted only three episodes. It was cable access, so there was no time to rehearse. All the mistakes went out. It was a pretty crude show. And I have no idea if anybody watched it1 We started to sweeten it up and add film clips and stuff to put it on VHS, but we never finished it, and now it’s so way out of date and everything.
I’ll tell you: I’ve launched campaigns on Kickstarter and IndieGogo, and they’ve all bombed, all of them. I have 5000 Facebook friends, and I thought, “Gee, if everybody put in a dollar, it would pay for this or pay for that,” and mostly all I got were likes, smiley faces and people wishing me well, but nobody paying money. It was just a waste of time to do something like that, but I want to make movies. That’s what I want to do now, and that’s taking up a good part of my time.
Johnny: Alright. On a different note, with all the hobbies you’ve maintained an interest in over the years, what’s the most wonderful piece of memorabilia that you have in your collection?
Donald: The comic books are all gone. I had first editions of Superman and Batman and all those things from the Golden Age. The money went to finance my movies, but now one of the things I have is a painting done by an artist named Archibald M. Willard, who was famous for doing the Spirit Of ’76 paining. I know you’ve seen it many times. There’s a guy with a flag and a guy with a drum and one with a fife, a Revolutionary War trio and they’re marching. That image has been used over and over again. Well, I have a painting he did in about 1850 or 1860. It’s on my wall and I’m looking at it right now. It was the first painting ever done in North America of any kind of dinosaur or Mesozoic reptiles, and it’s on a “missing paintings” list. I have it on my wall, and that would be my most prized possession other than family photos and things like that.
Johnny: Fantastic. When it comes to things along those lines, do you go out on the convention scene, and if so, what do you like about that?
Donald: I’ve paid my dues. I’ve done a lot of professional stuff over the years, and I don’t go to conventions anymore just to have fun or hustle jobs. I go to hang out with fellow professionals. And I go to conventions if I’m invited. It’s amazing…I’m almost never invited to the horror conventions. Monsterpalooza is within walking distance of my house and they won’t even comp me at the door. I like getting away from the house. If they’re not too far away, I get to take the train. I love riding on trains and seeing the scenery from windows, eating in the dining car and all that. If they invite me and the terms are right, I love to go. I always have a table there and meet a lot of people, a lot of fans, and professionals I haven’t seen in years. I’m doing a convention this coming Friday, just two days after the premiere of my movie. I’m doing what used to be called Stan Lee’s Comikaze, and is now called Los Angeles Comic-Con. I’m going to be doing that, and then the next one is in November, a local one called the San Fernando Valley Comic Book Convention. I’m always a guest there, so I do like the conventions. I wish I’d get invited to more.
Johnny: Alright. To wrap up the interview: You obviously do not have a lot of fond memories of working on animation in the 70s and 80s, and that feeling is shared by many animation fans who feel that animation only started improving towards the end of the 80s and going into the early 90s. Basically, they feel that animation is in a better place now than it was when you were doing your writing, so of the cartoons that are on the air right now, if you were to express an interest in writing for them, which would they be?
Donald: I don’t know because I haven’t seen any. I think I saw maybe one episode of The Simpsons, but I don’t know. I know the names of the shows, but I’ve never watched any of them. Most of them are written by staff people and a story editor, so it’s almost impossible to get onto those shows, especially if you’re over 30 years old, you know, because regardless of what anybody wants to say, there is age bias in this industry. Most of the people I worked for, my story editors, have retired, and not necessarily voluntarily. They were out of the business decades ago. I’m lucky because I’m one of the survivors. I moved on to other things. I’m making movies now, and writing comic books, and writing for The Creeps Magazine, and writing horror stories. That’s how I started out in comics, writing creepy stories. That’s what I want to do, make movies and write these comic book horror stories.
Johnny: Alright. Well, that about does it for my questions. I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me. From Friday through Sunday, I’ll be attending a convention myself: The Chiller Theatre convention in Parsippany, NJ.
Donald: The Chiller convention…I think that’s where Ann Robinson is going to be.
Johnny: Yes, she is.
Donald: She’s one of the stars of Tales of Frankenstein, and she’s really great in it. She does scenes with Beverly Washburn from Spider-Baby and Superman and The Mole Men. They’ve got an awful lot of credits, and they’re in the same episode with Jerry Lacy from Dark Shadows and Len Wein, who passed away before the film was made. Len co-create Swamp Thing and Wolverine and all these other characters. Also well-known actors like Mel Novak, Douglas Tait and T.J. Storm. Ann is wonderful, and if you need any information about the movie from her, just ask.
Johnny: Alright. I’ll see Ann Robinson at Chiller this weekend, and I’ll tell her you said hi.
Donald: Give her a big hug. She’s wonderful. She’s just so sweet.
Johnny: Will do.
Donald: Thank you. It was a good interview, and thanks for asking me a lot of stuff that others haven’t. I usually get asked the same things and my answers come out by rote, like Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln and those kinds of things, so you asked me some good questions.
Johnny: I’m flattered. Thank you very much.
Donald: Have a good day.
I would like to again thank Donald F. Glut for agreeing to the interview and Joe Williamson for setting it up. For more on Donald F. Glut’s work, you can visit his websites Pecos Born (his production company) and Donald F. Glut as well as his Facebook page.
Who will I Flashback with next? Stay tuned.