Wednesday, October 31, 2012

1966 World Premire of Manos, The Hands of Fate

Yesterday was  my personal schedule for getting a new post written for all you wonderful Manos Fans and supporters, however, I had a day of preoccupation.  My sweet old doggie, Willis had a stroke Monday night and I had to bury him yesterday.  Oct 30th also happened to be the 2nd anniversary of my mother's death.
I thought I would dedicate today's post to them both and to honor my mother by telling a story that she was physically part of.  The 1966 world premire of Manos, The Hands of Fate.

The premire showed on November 15th 1966 to a full house in the historic Capri Theater in downtown El Paso, Texas, a mere month after the tragic suicide of John Reynolds aka Torgo.  Hal Warren has certainly done his work to prepare for this special evening.  All the El Paso dignitaries and movers and shakers were in attendance.  Spotlights scanned the skies in front of the theater, cast and crew walked the red carpet past a smiling crowd into the theater after stepping from a black limo.  "Fans" pushed forward wanting autographs. It was all a beautiful illusion until the lights went down and the film began.

I have many memories of that day and evening as the preparation and celebration were one of the most significant events to date in my short life.  Hal had worked hard to promote Manos and to ensure he had support from anyone who was anyone in El Paso.  All were convinced that this film would be the catalyst to bringing film making to West Texas.  The spotlights, Hal had borrowed from a local car dealership and he only could afford one limo so the cast and crew were instructed to arrive a block over and wait in the lobby of a close by hotel.  The limo would pick up a few and deposit them in front of the theater, drive around the block and pick up a few more.  Even as a 7 year old (I was 6 during the filming but turned 7 in July), I thought "Doesn't anyone besides me notice that this is the same car and driver?".  When my mom, dad and I arrived and exited the limo, flashbulbs went off, people came forward to congratulate my dad and several young boys approached waving paper and pencils for autographs.  Turns out, Hal had hired several of the street kids to act as fans.  Considering it was 1966 and we were less than 2 miles from the border of Mexico, it's most certain these kids had no idea who we were and that they didn't speak much English.

My mother and I had spent what seemed to me at the time, the entire day in the beauty parlor getting our hair done and my mother had made both of our beautiful dresses.  I was generally a tom boy so felt like a princess that night with perfect hair and a dress covered in lace.  It was truly wonderous and spectacular to one so young.  I acted the part of a perfect little lady as we made our way inside and found our seats.  The lights dimmed, the music and driving scene began and our collective little world began to crumble.  With in a few minutes, we could here people mumbling, then laughing, then out right rude comments started flying around.  I mostly recall sitting with rapt attention waiting to see myself on the big screen.  Up to that point we  had gone to Hals house to see bits and pieces on his home projector, but I was generally more interested in playing with Pepe the poodle and checking out the new baby nursery which was set up and awaiting the arrival of soon to be born, Joe Warren.  Suddenly, there I was on the screen and the next thing I remember is bursting into tears when I heard the voice that came from my mouth.  No one had bothered to tell a little kid the voices had been dubbed.  I was humiliated and devastated and unaware of the extreme discomfort the rest of my family was experiencing, and for a variety of other reasons, as all you Manos fans are familiar with.  I don't remember the rest of the night except for walking to our car a couple blocks away.  I am told that some of the cast and crew slunk out and went to a bar but we were stuck and my dad made the stratigic decision to just sit it out rather than draw any more attention to us than necessary.  So that's it.  The fateful night of the world premire of Manos.  Hope you enjoy these stories and thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Master's "hand" in making Manos

Tom Neyman, the actor who played the part of the Master, in Manos The Hands of Fate, had a hand in more than one aspect of the film.  Tom, Hal Warren, the writer/director/producer and John Reynolds, Torgo knew each other from their involvement in The Festival Theater, a community theater in El Paso now known as The El Paso Playhouse.
Tom acted in, directed and often designed and built sets for the Festival Theater productions.  He was also a professional artist.

I certainly couldn't say for sure, but I would imagine that Hal had my dad in mind when he began thinking how he would get his movie made.  As it turned out, Tom supplied the sets, the artwork, the costumes, the doomed family's convertible,  the Master's dog, and even the child.  That was me, of course.  I got the part simply enough.  He came home one day, got on my level, looked me in the eye, and said, "Honey, I'm going to do a movie and they need a little girl.  Would you like to be the little girl?"   Well, up to that point in my short life, acting had never entered my mind and I was a pretty shy kid to begin with, so I quite naturally replied, "I don't know."  He said "That's OK, Honey, if you don't want to.  We can get another little girl."  I recall clearly, my little kid mind thinking the 6 year old equivalent of "Hell no!  No other little girl's gonna spend the summer with MY daddy."

The Masters dog was our family dog, Shanka.  He was a very sweet gentle doberman.  I love watching him now in Manos.  I remember him as "not so smart", "not so trained", and somewhat insecure.  Perfect for a demon dog and he did have the look.  Pepe the poodle was the Warren's dog.

 The dress I wore came from my closet and it was one my mom had made for me.  My mom was a really good seamstress and made most of my clothes when I was young and then my sister's clothes.  I learned how to sew in self defense when I was 12 so I could make something a bit more fashionable than matching mother/daughter outfits.  The clothes that John Reynolds wore as Torgo came from my dad's closet.  The overalls were big enough to compensate for the Torgo leg braces because my dad is 6'2" and John was around 5'7".  Both my parents worked together to design and make the Master's robe and wives dresses, but more on that next time.

When I saw the Manos The Hands of Fate restoration in August, I was struck by how clear everything is and how many new memories surfaced from seeing it that way.  I noticed things from our home that we brought for the set.  The bed spread in the bedroom.  A side table, etc.  Bizarre, seeing all these things that are long gone but were a part of my life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Master's Wives

Whatever happened to the Master's wives?  They seemed to disappear in a wisp of smoke.  Well, not exactly but there they were, in the movie, at the world premire, and then, poof.  Gone.  Never heard from again.  I just think it a bit odd that at this point not one of them has made themselves known.  I would hope that it's not embarrassment that keeps them away.  I consider them to be as innocent as I was.  After all.  They were just young aspiring models looking for a gig. How could they know what they had gotten themselves into until too late?

The women who played the Master's wives in Manos; The Hands of Fate were "hired" from a local El Paso modeling and finishing school.  Mannaquin Manor.  By some twist of ironic fate, my stepfather enrolled me there as a 13th birthday gift.  He thought finishing school would teach my little hippie ass how to be a lady.  I was horrified.
Anyhow, I digress.  The owner of the school was a very proper and matronly type women who was quite protective of "her girls".  I don't think she had any idea of what she was getting her girls into when she agreed to send them out to the shoot.  They were modeling students and had apparently been perfecting the runway walk when called up for the Manos assignment.  I recall Hal directing the scene where the women attack Torgo on the Masters slab of stone bed.  They were almost afraid to touch him and they were most certainly not willing to really hit him, therefore it appears he is receiving a facial massage.  Actually, I'm sure facial massage was one of the finishing school skills they had already obtained, and therefore, was familiar.

The wives dresses initially were designed without the red stripe underneath that somewhat obscures the granny panties.  That piece of cloth was hastily added after the models and their matron complained the costumes were too revealing.  I've read much speculation as to the symbolism of that red stripe.  Although there may be a deeper meaning, the decision to add it was really a case of modesty.

All in all, they were very sweet ladies and if anyone out there knows any of them, I would love to say hi and hear some stories.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Manos Tidbits of Info

Funny little tidbits about the making of Manos…

The cast and crew brown bagged it and brought their own lunches (and dinners)to the set during filming of Manos, The Hands of Fate.  There was no money in the budget for food.

The movie was filmed in about 8 days.

All the voices were dubbed in a sound studio in Dallas, Tx..  Most of the men dubbed their own voices but all the women’s voices (including little Debbie’s) were one woman.

The credits were intended to be at the beginning of the film but were left out in the editing and then tacked on at the end.  Helps explain the long, agricultural driving tour as the opening.

The drinking, kissing teens in car scenes were primarily invented because the actress in the car broke her leg shortly before filming began.  She was slated to be one of the wives. The horny teenager parts were created to keep her working and also to give Bernie Rosenblum, her partner, a bit more to do.  He was the stuntman.  He doubled Hal/Mike tumbling down the hill.

The Sheriff, William Jennings, of the famous line, “Whatever it is you’re not doing, go don’t do it somewhere else”, was also Co-Producer and attorney for Manos.

The credits are inflated to seem as if more people are involved.  My dad is listed both as Tom Neyman and as Thomas Ivy.  I believe my mom is listed as Jaqueline Reace but her name was just Jackey, like mine.

The Master’s dog, the Doberman was our family dog.  His name was Shanka and he was very sweet and gentle.  When I watch Manos, I remember him as eager to please and somewhat confused.

People ask me how I can remember so much about the making of Manos, The Hands of Fate when I was so young and it was so long ago.  I recall bits and pieces of my childhood the way most people do.  Memories and huge gaps.  When you have a significant event that then becomes part of your family story, then it is preserved.  Manos was a significant event.  I adored my dad and I loved the Broadway music that thundered throughout our home.  I loved to watch him create his art in the studio and run his lines for a play.  Then he asked if I wanted to be the little girl in a movie, he was doing.  I was thrilled.  A summer to remember.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Torgo's Death Anniversary

As many of you know by now, I played Debbie the little girl in Manos The Hands of Fate and my dad played the Master.  Today's story will continue with John Reynolds aka Torgo.

Today is the anniversary of John Reynolds death.  He committed suicide on October 16, 1966.  He was only 25 years old.

I still remember the day my mother and I heard the news.  We were on our way to school.  She was a teacher on Ben Milam Elementary School on Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, and although my family wasn't military, I was a second grader at the same school.  It was Monday morning, October 17th.   Mom was driving while listening to the news on the car radio and I was daydreaming out the window when I heard my mother gasp and then burst into tears.  She instantly pulled over to the curb, and while still crying, said, "John's dead".  I knew who she meant.    She took some time to compose herself as I just sat in the passenger seat waiting for things to be normal again.  Later, I would get the details from overhearing the adults talking about it. That's when I learned he had put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.   Although he was not military, he was buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetary.

He died almost exactly one month before the world premire of Manos, The Hands of Fate which was at the Capri Theater in El Paso, Texas on November 15th 1966.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

John Reynolds/Torgo Story I

I remember John Reynolds as a very shy, sweet and gentle man.  My dad, Tom Neyman, and I were on the set location for most of the filming of  "Manos, The Hands of Fate" including the times when one or the other weren't  needed for the day.  That was because I wanted to be there any time  Tom was, and he needed to be there any time I was and since we were never in the same scene, we were both there most of the time.  I think John was happy to have me around during his down times because of his shyness and lack of social comfort.  I was a young child, easily entertained and therefore a very appreciative and safe audience.  I would sit outside the house on a low rock wall while he performed silly skits and pratfalls for me and  I would belly laugh at his antics.  I didn't realize at the time that some of that may have been influenced by his use of recreational drugs.  It was the 60's and other than pot, acid was a popular past time for many people.   I have read Manos mythology that says he became addicted to pain killers due to the agony of wearing the leg braces  incorrectly.  Not true.  For one thing,  he was wearing them the way they were intended and they were quite padded.  Although not all that comfortable, they were not particularly wear. Another myth is that he made the braces himself.  Tom made the leg braces along with designing the sets and costumes, making the costumes and providing all the artwork.
     John and Tom were good friends and had worked together in the El Paso community theater that is now known as the El Paso Playhouse.  Back then it was the Festival Theater.  This is also where Hal met them both.  John and Tom were both method actors, that is to say they required history and background for their characters and often maintained the character even while off camera.  John often disappeared when not needed and no one seemed to know where he went.  We believe it was both due to his social awkwardness and also so he could more easily hold on to his Torgo character.  Method acting in that situation must have been extremely difficult.   Hal, without the experience of script writing, directing or any part of movie production left the actors to their own devices in figuring out how to play the part.  Tom had enough experiencing directing theater to know not to direct the director.  Therefore during much of the film, Hal is waiting for someone to do something and everyone else is waiting for Hal to tell them what he wanted them to do.

Stay tuned.  Next blog will continue with more about John Reynolds.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Part II The inside story of Manos, The Hands of Fate:

Here’s the story of how we re-discovered Manos more that a quarter century from it’s original release...

     As friends of my youth will attest to, I had talked about a film I had done with my dad when I was small and wanted very much to see it again.  It was a point of nostalgia for me considering how involved my whole family, including our dog, was in the making of Manos.  You must remember.   These were the days before personal computers and before the internet. 

     I called around, asking and searching for years.  Libraries, university film departments,  film archives, any place I could think who might be able to give me a lead.  I had pretty much given up when my phone rang 1993.  My dad was calling and said, “You’ll never believe what I just saw.  I was dozing off while watching the Comedy Central channel and heard some strange but familiar music.  When I opened my eyes, there I was on the television.  They just showed Manos, The Hands of Fate!”. He had been so shocked that he didn’t call me until it was over.  I immediately turned on Comedy Central and saw they had an 800 number on the screen to call for information.  So I called the number.  I had reached the HBO offices in Manhattan and a young man named Mathew.  I told him I had an unusual request.  “My dad just saw an episode of Mystery Science Theater featuring the film, Manos, The Hands of Fate.  I’ve been looking for that film for years.  My dad and I were in it and if at all possible I would do just about anything for a copy.”  Next came a looong pause and then “Oh My God!  Are you Debbie?”  I was simply stunned as I pulled the phone from my ear to look at it while my mouth hung open.   He then said “That is our favorite bad movie here in the office.  I just had a copy on my desk the other day.  I would love to send it to you and am so happy to talk with you”.
     And now, as we all know…the rest is history.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Part I The inside story of Manos, The Hands of Fate.

Hello all,
If you know Manos, The Hands of Fate, you know me.  I was Debbie, the little girl who became a wife of The Master in the end.  For any of you that I just gave the ending away to...Sorry, but really, it's not that great a film to begin with.  As fans know, it's the total experience of sitting through it that counts.  Certainly not the plot.
     Manos was truly a family film.  For me personally...not the poor hapless audience.  My father Tom Neyman played the role of The Master (He still quite hale and hearty, by the way).  The Master's demon dog was played by our family dog, Shanka.  My mom made the costumes for the Master and the wives.  She also made the dress I was wearing but that came from my own closet.  My mom made all my clothes back then.  The convertible car that carried the Micheal, Maggie, Debbie family was the Neyman family car.  Torgo's coverall, jacket and hat all came from my father's closet.   That's just a piece of our involvement.  My dad, Tom is an amazingly talented artist and had been in his "hand" phase for several years when Hal Warren asked him to help make the film.  Initially, the film was to be titled, "Finger's of Fate" but in a production meeting, my dad suggested the new title of "Manos, The Hands of Fate"  He reasoned that since he had been asked to not only star in the film but to provided sets, costumes, and artwork (all on a promise of future payment), that he could better put his time to work if he could use some of the art he already had.  Hands, lot's of them.  I haven't actually counted the pieces in the film but all the art, the sculptures and the Master's painting were created by his hand.  Sadly, some of those item's were never returned to my dad.  But hey, I got paid something.  I received a shiny red bicycle with training wheels and my dog, Shanka got a 50 lb. bag of dog food.
     That's it for now.  Thanks for reading and come back soon.  I've got lots to say about Manos, The Hands of Fate