Sunday, April 17, 2011

DOC SAVAGE: The 1960s Movie That ALMOST Was

Comic cover cropped from the paperback art by James Bama
In 1966, with both Bond and Bat-manias at their peak, producers Mark Goodson & Bill Toddman intended to begin a film franchise based on the hot-selling Doc Savage pulp novels being reprinted by Bantam, starting with The Thousand-Headed Man.
1966 Newsweek article about Doc Savage and the movie. Click to enlarge.

They contracted Chuck Connors, who had recently finished a successful run on the RifleMan tv series to play Doc, and began pre-production.
Then, things stopped dead in their tracks.
It seemed that Conde Nast, who now owned the Street and Smith library, including Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Avenger, didn't own the ancillary media rights to the Man of Bronze!
Those rights had been retained by co-creator Lester Dent, who had written most of the novels (including Thousand-Headed Man) under the "Kenneth Robeson" house name.
(Dent, had previously licensed a short-lived radio version of the character, but had been unable to develop a movie or tv version.
When he passed away, his widow retained the rights.)
Mrs. Dent was more than willing to negotiate, but time was not on the producers' side.
They had already scheduled the production, and had to start shooting something or lose their investment and the cast, most of whom had commitments scheduled after the Thousand-Headed Man shoot!
To recoup, the producers switched to an already-existing Western script called Night of the Tiger, and shot it as Ride Beyond Vengeance.  (Westerns at that point were still an "easy sell" to theatres and tv.)
Looking at the Ride Beyond Vengeance cast, it's fairly easy to guess who would've played whom...
Claude Akins as Monk
William Bryant as Renny
Jamie Farr as Johnny
Bill Bixby as Long Tom
Gary Merrill or Paul Fix as Calvin Copeland
Kathryn Hays as Lucille Copeland
Not sure who would've played Sen Gat
The cast also included Frank Gorshin and James MacArthur.
In the early 1970s, the character's rights were sold to legendary movie producer George Pal, who produced Doc Savage: the Man of Bronze, starring Ron Ely, in 1974.
The Thousand-Headed Man was eventually a radio mini-series for NPR, who had scored great ratings with radio versions of the original Star Wars Trilogy.
Bronze Bonuses
Here's the original pulp cover...
 ...the rarely-seen British paperback, published at the same time as the 1975 Ron Ely feature film, and, oddly enough, based on the James Bama art for #14, The Fantastic Island...

1 comment:

  1. That could have been interesting to say the least. I love your dream cast.