Tom Graeff


Tom Graeff

Infobox actor
bgcolour = silver
name = Tom Graeff


imagesize = 200px
caption = Tom Graeff in the film "Teenagers from Outer Space" (1959)
birthdate = birth date|1929|11|12|mf=y
location = Ray, Arizona, USA
deathdate = death date and age|1970|12|19|1929|11|12
deathplace = La Mesa, California, USA
spouse =
othername = Tom Lockyear
birthname = Thomas Lockyear Graeff

Tom Graeff (September 12, 1929 - December 19, 1970) was an American screenwriter, director and actor. He is best known for the 1959 b-movie "Teenagers from Outer Space".

The early years

Thomas Lockyear Graeff was born to George and Grace Graeff in the now-vanished mining town of Ray, Arizona. Before Graeff was two years old, he and his parents moved to Los Angeles, where he grew up, and where his brother James was born. Finding a love for film at an early age, Graeff enrolled in the UCLA Theater Arts program, which allowed him to study filmmaking. His college career was marked by poor grades and after being put on academic probation several times, he redeemed himself by making a short film about his Delta Chi fraternity life entitled "Toast to Our Brother", which starred Graeff, a Paramount ingénue named Judith Ames (who later went on to soap opera stardom as Rachel Ames), and guest-starred the Hollywood actor and comedian Joe E. Brown, a UCLA alumni. The film premiered at the Fox Village Theater in Westwood Village on December 18, 1951 as a benefit for the St. Sophia Building Fund. The film garnered some industry attention and because of the work Graeff put into it — as writer/director/producer/star — he was allowed to graduate in 1952.

Career and "Teenagers from Outer Space"

After graduation, Graeff made several attempts to break into the film industry. Inspired by Roger Corman, Graeff decided to work independently. Described by friends and acquaintances as outgoing, energetic, creative, and a born salesman, Graeff landed a job producing and directing a recruiting film for Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. The resulting 20-minute film, entitled "The Orange Coast College Story", was first shown on campus in May of 1954. The film was narrated by actor Vincent Price, who was a friend of the faculty advisor, and starred a young actor named Chuck Roberts, who became romantically involved with Graeff and helped him by working on Graeff's two feature films.

In the summer of 1954, Graeff began production on his first feature, a comedy entitled "The Noble Experiment" to be shot in color in Orange County, California, where Graeff was now living with his parents and younger brother. The film took a year to complete and premiered at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach, California, on August 2, 1955. Graeff again played the lead. The film was not well received by the local audiences and was rarely shown again.

Graeff's hard work paid off, however, when he was hired as Roger Corman's assistant on the film "Not of This Earth" in the summer of 1956. This experience led directly to Graeff's writing a heart-felt science-fiction script entitled "Killers from Outer Space" and, modeling himself after Corman, Graeff set about getting investors, hiring actors, and planning the production. Securing some of the $14,000 budget from actor Gene Sterling, Graeff placed a small ad in the "Hollywood Reporter" looking for more investors. The ad was answered by British actor Bryan Pearson (billed as Bryan Grant), who put up $5000 in exchange for playing the role of Thor, the evil alien, and casting his wife Ursula Pearson (billed as Ursula Hansen) in the small role of Hilda.

Filmed in the fall of 1956, the film changed titles several times before it was eventually released as "Teenagers from Outer Space" by Warner Brothers in June of 1959. The film, now considered a cult classic, tells the tale of Derek (played by David Love, a.k.a Chuck Roberts) a space alien with a conscience who must save Earth from an invasion of giant flesh-eating monsters. It was shot entirely on location in Hollywood, California. When it was finally released, it appeared as the lower part of a double bill alongside the second Godzilla film, "Gigantis the Fire Monster", and was shown almost exclusively at drive-in theaters. Critics were not kind to the film, though Graeff was mentioned in the "Los Angeles Times" and "Variety" as a director with talent and a creative approach to a minimal budget. Audiences and theater exhibitors, however, were vocal in their contempt for the film. Bryan Pearson, one of the film's producers, sued Graeff to get his original investment back when the film was sold to Warner Brothers.

In the early 1960s, however, the film was sold to television, where it played frequently for the next thirty years and gained a cult following as a supreme example of a film whose intentions far outstripped its budget and for its infamous ray gun that turned living things into instant skeletons, an effect lovingly borrowed by Tim Burton in his film "Mars Attacks!".

Later life

In November 1959, Graeff bought a large advertisement in the "Los Angeles Times", announcing that God had spoken to him and wanted him to spread peace and love throughout the world. He filed to have his name legally changed to Jesus Christ II and appeared on the steps of a local church on January 25, 1960, and invited the press to attend. The next day, Graeff appeared in the Los Angeles County Superior Court to petition for his name change. With vocal opposition by the Christian Defense League, the petition was denied.

After this incident, Graeff vanished from Hollywood, resurfacing briefly for a stint as an editor on David L. Hewitt's ultra low-budget science fiction film "Wizard of Mars" in 1964. In 1968, Graeff reappeared and took out a small ad in "Variety", announcing that his screenplay, entitled "Orf", was for sale for the unprecedented sum of $500,000. Unable to get "Orf" produced, Graeff moved to La Mesa, California, near San Diego, where he committed suicide on December 19, 1970. He was only 41 years old.

Mysteries and mythology

While many early publications erroneously specify the name "David Love" as a pseudonym for Graeff, David Love was actually the stage name of Chuck Roberts, Graeff's romantic partner of several years, and it is assumed that "Teenagers from Outer Space" was created as a vehicle to launch both Graeff's and Robert's careers.

Since the 1990s, Graeff's reputation as a doomed, "bad" filmmaker has grown, spurred on by a 1993 article in "Scarlet Street" magazine by Richard Valley and Jessie Lilley, which purported to tell the true story behind the making of Teenagers from Outer Space. Valley and Lilley interviewed Bryan and Ursula Pearson, who revealed that Tom Graeff and David Love had been romatically involved. Shortly after the article appeared, cult film fans dubbed Graeff the gay Ed Wood and all sorts of erroneous "facts" began to appear on the Internet about Graeff, David Love, and other actors who appeared in "Teenagers from Outer Space". Because Graeff's life between 1960 and 1968 was a complete mystery and because very few people who knew Graeff were still alive or willing to come forward, the stories were accepted as fact.

References

* [http://www.tomgraeff.org Tom Graeff: Life and Works]
* [http://www.tomgraeff.com Tom Graeff Biography Project]
* [http://www.1000misspenthours.com/reviews/reviewsn-z/teenagersfromouterspace.htm 1,000 Misspent Hours: Teenagers from Outer Space]
* [http://www.briansdriveintheater.com/dead3.html The Bone Orchard: Dead B-Movie Stars]
* [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,894651,00.html]

External links

*imdb name|id=0333650|name=Tom Graeff


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