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CARL KOLCHAK: BEHIND THE SCENES
OF A NIGHT STALKER
by Vanessa Cortez, staff writer.
[September 12, 2003]
[WeeklyUniverse.com] Carl Kolchak is legendary as the first modern paranormal investigator --
but shockingly! -- although his exploits inspired The X-Files's Fox Mulder
(and influenced Fox TV's Werewolf!), Kolchak creator Jeff Rice was cruelly
mistreated by Hollywood, and actor Darren McGavin was so disgusted by on-set
tension that he begged for Kolchak's TV show to be canceled!
Those are some of the startling
facts reported in Mark Dawidziak's Night
Stalker Companion, a chronicle of the rise and fall and afterlife of
Carl Kolchak, hard-boiled paranormal reporter!
True-life newspaperman (and
actor!) Jeff Rice created Carl Kolchak in The Kolchak
Papers, a 1970 horror novel which Rice submitted to Richard Matheson's
agent. Then, in a shocking example of Hollywood sleaze, the agent
sold the unpublished novel's TV movie rights to ABC -- without first
signing Rice! -- trapping Rice in a done deal he'd never agreed to!
Heart-breakingly, Rice had
hoped to write the TV script himself, but the agent had already secured
the teleplay assignment for Matheson. Dawidziak adds: "It's important
to note that Rice does not in any way blame Matheson for what he views
as shady Hollywood dealings."
Kolchak Papers TV movie -- now called The
Night Stalker -- was a go, ABC executive Barry Diller tapped Dark
Shadows creator Dan Curtis to produce -- but Curtis really wanted to direct!
He was already executive producing the final season of ABC's Dark
Shadows -- and he hated it! Dawidziak quotes crusty Curtis carping:
"I wanted to say good-bye to it so bad I couldn't see straight. We
got around to the last year and I was completely tapped out ideawise.
And we ended up with some dreadful stories during that last year. It was
like being in jail."
Despite Curtis's tragic heart-break
of being tied to a mega-successful TV show, Dark
Shadows did enable him to direct his first feature film -- House
of Dark Shadows! (Followed by Night
Dark Shadows.) Which was lucky for the curmudgeonly Curtis, because
Diller had already hired another director for The
Night Stalker! -- John Llewellyn Moxey (Horror
Hotel, aka City
of the Dead)!
Carping Curtis didn't interfere
with Moxey's on-set authority -- and it was a happy set! -- be he'd gripe
to star Darren McGavin, "Will you look at the setup Moxey has here.
What's he doing?"
Despite Moxey's setups, The
Night Stalker was a ratings boon when it premiered in January 1972
-- nabbing a household rating of 33.2! But shockingly, Dawidziak
doesn't know what it means! He says: "about one out of every three
people in the United States was watching Carl Kolchak track Janos Skorzeny."NOT!
The household rating is the percentage of households -- NOT the percentage of people.
That is, 33.2% of homes had a TV tuned to The
Night Stalker -- it doesn't mean every person in that household was
it. It doesn't even show "about" how many people in the US was watching
Even so, The
Night Stalker was an astonishing success, and a sequel followed --
Night Strangler. And in a heart-warming turn of events, Curtis
got his wish and directed it!
But there was
a dark side! The
Night Strangler ended with bad blood between Curtis and star Darren
McGavin. Dawidziak says that near the end of the shoot, crude Curtis
"was berating the crew something awful." McGavin defended them, then
quit. Curtis insisted he stay for closeups, but McGavin retorted,
"You've got enough film. Make your movie. Goodbye."
* JEFF RICE'S TRAGIC FATE
Rice's fate was even
more tragic -- ABC press kits and trade ads didn't credit him for the first
film! Later, when Rice lobbied to script the sequel, he was given
the runaround by network and studio executives. Instead, Rice was
relegated to writing the novelization for Matheson's The
Night Strangler teleplay. Dawidziak says of Rice's original deal:
"No sequels or series could be made without Rice's permission." Apparently,
Rice didn't press his advantage -- for the time being!
Then came the Kolchak TV
series. Amazingly, no one informed Rice about a series in the works
-- even though his contract forbade a series without his permission!
Rice learned of ABC and Universal's plans for a series from Daily Variety (April 24, 1974).
Still Mr. Nice Guy, Rice tried to coax Universal
into actually paying for the rights it was already using, while simultaneously
working on script ideas for the show and a
contract for future novelizations.
In August -- four months later! -- Rice's lawyer finally requested that
Universal "settle the rights question." Universal rewarded Rice's patience
by barring him from the lot! His calls were no longer returned.
His novelization deal collapsed.
Rice sued six months later,
in March 1975, shortly before the series was canceled. The suit was
settled nine months after that. Rice never made it in Hollywood,
either as scribe or actor (his promised role in the first film had also
fallen through). Maybe he was branded a trouble maker. At the
time of Dawidziak's 1997 book, Rice was working as a certified paralegal.
* DARREN MCGAVIN'S TRAGIC FATE
Shockingly, Rice wasn't the
only victim of studio shenanigans! While McGavin loved Carl Kolchak
Night Stalker TV movie, he did not want to do a TV series -- he had
a thriving career in TV movies. McGavin relented only because Universal
agreed to let him produce. But once McGavin was locked in, Universal
gave producing chores to Paul Playdon! (Curtis was uninterested.)
But McGavin was determined
to produce -- and keep Universal to its word! -- so once on the set, he
acted as de facto producer! The resulting clash of "producers" created
on-set turmoil and tension, and Playdon quit after two episodes.
Replacement producer Cy Chermak failed to ease tensions. Long hours
and all-night shoots increased pressures. By February, McGavin was
begging studio and network to cancel the show. Dismal ratings granted
* THE FOUR 'MISSING EPISODES'
Night Stalker. In the 1980s, the series was syndicated on CBS Late
Night, and in the 1990s on the Sci-Fi Channel -- with four episodes missing!
These "lost episodes" ("Fire Fall" aka "The Doppleganger"; "The Energy
Eater" aka "Matchemonedo"; "Demon in Lace"; "Legacy of Terror") had been
re-edited into two TV movies, The Demon and the Mummy and Crackle of Death, and were thus legally
unavailable to Kolchak fans in their proper format!
Heart-warmingly, the episodes
became available again when Columbia Home Video released the entire series
on VHS in 1996! (Ten tapes to the set, two episodes per tape).
Night Strangler TV movie suffered its own bizarre saga of "lost scenes"!
ABC initially released a 74 minute version for American TV -- but a 90
minute version for overseas theatrical release! Even more amazingly,
this longer version has occasionally been broadcast in major US markets
(such as Cleveland and Detroit)! But most amazingly of all, rumors
hint that there may be still more footage lurking in ABC vaults!
* KOLCHAK'S INFLUENCE
Despite its woefully tragic
history, Kolchak continued to influence and inspire! Dawidziak says that
many journalists have cited Kolchak as an influence in their deciding become
The werewolf villain in Fox
TV's 1987-88 series, Werewolf,
was named Janos Skorzeny -- same as the vampire villain in the The
Kolchak has also been cited
influencing for Chris Carter's The X-Files! "I just wanted to do
something as scary as I remember The Night Stalker was when I was in my teens," said Carter in Frank
X-Files Declassified. The rumored meeting between Fox Mulder
and Cal Kolchak was never to be -- but Darren McGavin did make a guest
appearance on the show! And Jeff Rice wrote the Foreword to Ted Edwards' X-Files
Confidential: The Unauthorized X-Philes Compendium.
Kolchak has also maintained
continuing close contact with TV's Dark
Shadows! Dan Curtis, composer Bob Cobert, and actress Lara Parker all
on both Dark
Shadows and Kolchak projects! Parker, best known as Dark
Shadows witch Angelique, played a witch in the Kolchak episode: "The
Trevi Murders." And Dawidziak's Night
Companion was published by Pomegranate Press, founded in 1986 by Dark
Shadows actress Kathryn Leigh Scott to self-publish My
Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows! Her book's astonishing success
induced her to release additional Dark
* CARL KOLCHAK LIVES!
But heart-warmingly, despite
his Kolchak tragedies, Rice would not let Kolchak die! Dawidziak
reports that, for years, Rice tried to launch a series of Kolchak novels
comic books, but saw two factors blocking him. Publishers "keep trying
to acquire the rights for pennies and balk at paying Rice nearly anything
at all, doing their best to keep Rice from doing any writing if possible."
And Rice fears "that deals are fashioned with the intention of keeping
Kolchak locked up and off the market."
Finally, in 1994 -- over
twenty years after Rice's The Night Strangler novelization! -- Kolchak finally returned in a third novel, Grave
Secrets. Amazingly, Grave
Secrets was penned by Mark Dawidziak and released by Image Publishing
(the folks behind Dawidziak's 1991 Night Stalking:
A 20th Anniversary Kolchak Companion, an earlier version of his
Rice was pleased with Grave
Secrets -- but not with Image's dismal distribution! The
novel sank without a trace, and Rice withdrew literary rights to the character.
(Despite its ignominious demise, the Weekly Universe recently spotted a
used copy of Grave
Secrets selling for $185!)
But still, Rice would not
let Kolchak die! Five years after Dawidziak's Night
Stalker Companion, Kolchak returned in a series of graphic novels (comic
books) released by Moonstone Books! In an exclusive statement to the Weekly Universe, Moonstone publisher Joe Gentile says,
"Jeff Rice has been involved [in the comics] from the beginning.
He has approved everything that we have put out so far."
Moonstone scribe Stefan
Petrucha says, "Jeff's notes and compliments on my Devil
in the Details script was one of the highlights of my career.
It was very gratifying to know that the creator so enjoyed my work with
his character. And the books are going over like gangbusters with
critics, old fans, and newcomers alike!"
Because of Carl Kolchak's
complicated contractual history, the Weekly Universe asked about Moonstone's
use of Darren McGavin's image. Did Moonstone license McGavin's image
from McGavin or from Universal? Gentile replies, "Universal has no
involvement, since their rights do not involve new stories of the Kolchak
character. They do own the rights to the TV episodes (only the ones
aired), but only the images from them. Jeff owns the character."
Tantalizingly, Gentile adds,
"Kolchak has been optioned for film yet again. Nothing is set in
stone, of course."
Copyright 2003 by WeeklyUniverse.com.
|Vanessa Cortez is a Los Angeles based tabloid reporter who has investigated the occult underbelly of the entertainment industry. Read more about her journalism in Hollywood Witches.
A CARL KOLCHAK
BIBLIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY
Stalker (VHS - widescreen)
The 1972 TV movie that
investigative reporter Carl Kolchak to the world. Kolchak tracks
vampire Janos Skorzeny (also the name of the werewolf villain in Fox TV's
1987 series, Werewolf).
Strangler (VHS widescreen)
The second Kolchak TV
movie (1973). Kolchak tracks an immortal Jack-the-Ripper/mad scientist
(John Anderson, best known as Oscar Goldman in The Six Million Dollar Man
and The Bionic Woman). Set in Seattle's
underground city (which is a lot less impressive in real life than
in this film).
The Night Stalker
The entire TV series was
released as a VHS set (ten tapes, two episodes per tape) by Columbia House
Video Library, beginning in October 1996. Includes the four
"missing episodes" never seen on CBS Late Night or the Sci-Fi Channel.
Out of print, but copies still turn up on Amazon's Z shop and Ebay.
The series is now available on DVD.
Kolchak Scripts, by Richard Matheson
To be published by Gauntlet
in October 2003. Some people claim that Matheson's scripts "saved"
Rice's novel. Decide for yourself!
Based on Rice's unpublished
novel, The Kolchak Papers.
Published by Pocket Books in December 1973, initial print run nearly 500,000
Sold well, but was famously panned by Stephen King in Dance
Macabre. Reprinted in hardback & trade paperback in 1993
by Image Publishing's Cinemaker imprint with a foreword by Stuart M. Kaminsky
and art by Kevin Barnes & Sterling Clark Jr.
Strangler, by Jeff Rice
Rice's novelization of
Matheson's script. Pocket Books, January 1974.
Secrets, by Mark Dawidziak
The failure of this poorly
distributed 1994 novel (from Image Publishing's Cenemaker imprint) tanked
plans for future Kolchak novels. However, in 2003, the Weekly Universe
spotted an out of print copy selling for $185.
A 20th Anniversary Kolchak Companion, by Mark
Released by Image Publishing
in 1991. Out of print.
Night Stalker Companion, by Mark Dawidziak
An update of the above
book, this Kolchak history includes an in-depth TV episode guide.
Released by Pomegranate Press, best known for their Dark Shadows books.
Television, by Gary Gerani, Paul H. Schulman
A hardback with chapters
and episode guides to horror/sci-fi TV shows from the late 1950s to early
1970s. Entries include Kolchak: The Night Stalker, plus The Twilight
Zone, The Outer Limits, Land Of The Giants, Voyage To The Bottom Of The
Sea, One Step Beyond, Night Gallery, and some others (but NOT Ghost Story
or Circle Of Fear). Released in the 1970s. Out of print.
Apparently reprinted by Crown in 1999, but the Weekly Universe has details
on whether the new version was updated.
Candy, by Thomas M. Sipos
Horror collection, includes
a reprint of "Stalking the Truth," a brief comparative analysis of Carl
Kolchak and Fox Mulder (of The X-Files) originally published in Sci-Fi
Universe (Dec. 1997). Also contains fiction, film analyses, and an
interview with Dark Shadows actor Jonathan Frid (originally published in
Filmfax # 83, Feb/March 2001).
Confidential: The Unauthorized X-Philes Compendium, by Ted Edwards,
Foreword by Jeff Rice
Episode guide with analysis.
Originally released in 1996, the revised 1997 edition covers the first
four seasons. Being "unauthorized" there aren't any photos from the
show, although a few promo photos of the actors.
the Night Stalker, by Jeff Rice. Art by Gordon Purcell, Terry
Ken Wolak, Ken Meyer Jr.
The first in Moonstone
Press's series of Kolchak graphic novels. Rice's adaptation of the
first TV movie.
of Belial, by Joe Gentile. Art by Art Nichols, Jeremy Roberts,
Gentile's script partially
adapts an unfilmed episode from the TV show. Released in March 2003.
Pitch, by Stuart M Kaminsky. Art by Christopher Jones, Barbara
Schulz, Andre Maitland, Doug Klauba
First original Kolchak
story as a graphic novel. Released in February 2003.
Released in April 2003.