Sally Todd Interview: Page 4


Last Update: March 31, 2011
Go to Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Page 4 of 8

The UnerthlyJohn: On to Tor Johnson, whom I’m sure was christened “Lobo” in another life. In her autobiography, A Fuller Life: Hollywood, Ed Wood and Me (co-authored by Stone Wallace and Philip Chamberlin), former actress Dolores Fuller writes: “I have fond memories of big Tor Johnson, who despite his enormous size and intimidating presence, was a kind, soft-spoken man—though with a Swedish accent so thick it was often difficult to understand him.” What can you say about this beloved cult figure that hasn’t already been said (or written)?

Sally: That’s a tough one. He’s been an icon for years and I’m sure by now his fans know most everything there is to know about him. Well, he was asthmatic, how about that? Tor had really bad asthma that clearly impacted his breathing, and you can actually hear him wheezing in the two or three scenes that we had together. In all honesty, there were times that Tor’s condition made me fear for my safety. In the scenes where I am supposedly unconscious, Tor had to carry me around this rickety old house from one room to another, and he would always start wheezing after a while, like he was really struggling to breathe. I weighed about 115 pounds at the time, so obviously it wasn’t that I was too heavy for him. Tor had a ravenous appetite, and I would say he easily weighed 350 pounds. As a result, I don’t imagine he was all that healthy.

In one scene that we filmed, Tor picked me up and started down this long staircase and I really had the feeling that he was going to drop me down the stairs or maybe even fall on top of me. Every time the poor thing picked me up I would start shaking. At the time, it was very frightening.

John: I would really be remiss if I didn’t ask you what you thought of Tor Johnson’s now legendary line in the film, “Time for go to bed?”

Sally: Well, it’s absolutely unbelievable and hysterical—just like the rest of the film. (laughs) My God, is that too much, or what? What were we all thinking? I wasn’t in that particular scene so I’m not sure who noticed it at the time (if anyone), but since then that one line of dialogue has definitely taken on a life of its own. Working with Tor Johnson—strange Swedish man that he was—is something I will never forget. Even though I was intimidated by his gargantuan size, he really was a fun guy and a very kind person (just like Dolores Fuller said in her book) and I know that he would have never, ever, intentionally hurt me.

John: The theatrical trailer for The Unearthly hinted at what was in store for your character: “What this gland does to this blonde when it’s electrolated into her body is an experience in horror that is almost unbelievable!” Tell us, what was it like being electrolated?

Sally: (laughs) As you can imagine, pretty rough. You saw the movie, so you know the outcome.

John: Yes, unfortunately, I do. After John Carradine injects your character with that infamous “17th gland” he has discovered—which looks more like a prehistoric fish, or a stir-fried snow pea—you undergo a very heartbreaking metamorphosis. I say “heartbreaking” because your character in the film is basically very sympathetic. Kind of a tough-talking airhead, maybe…but still sympathetic (especially toward Lobo). I can imagine movie audiences in 1957 screaming and jumping out of their seats when your character, Natalie, turns toward the camera and reveals that…face.

Sally: It was pretty horrific, wasn’t it? When I first heard that I was going to have to be made up to look so ugly and frightening, I panicked, but thank God for (makeup supervisor) Harry Thomas. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was just a top-notch makeup man—the best in his profession—and he absolutely saved me.

200 years old.Harry had to make me up to look about 200 years old and he used a sticky gel, tissue paper, and a hair dryer to create the effect. Then, to finish the process, he put a layer of another substance (some sort of makeup, I think) on top of all of it, and then he let everything air dry. Well, he did such a magnificent job I wound up looking like I had the worst skin disease of all time. I sort of looked like a leper and leprechaun combined, you know? (laughs) Oh, it was horrible. But Harry Thomas was such an expert at applying and removing monster makeup, I never experienced any discomfort. Harry made sure to put a thin layer of base on my skin underneath all the tissue paper and glue, and that protected me beautifully. When he removed everything, I didn’t have any redness or irritation anywhere. The man was a genius, and I was very happy to see him again the following year, when we worked together on Frankenstein’s Daughter.

John: In The Unearthly, how long did it take Thomas to apply your monster makeup?

Sally: About two hours. Layer after layer (after layer) of it, clear down to my neck and also on one of my hands. When I looked in the mirror and saw what he had done to me, I was nearly scared to death. Fortunately, I only had to wear that monster makeup for a day and a half. I don’t think I could have stood it any longer than that.

Sally ToddJohn: The last scene in the film (where we see all the freaks and mutants in the dungeon) is so creepy and unexpected, it’s almost surreal. With all those hairy, misshapen faces, the growling, and the lumbering around, it was like the world’s most horrifying sideshow, or like something out of Island of Lost Souls or The Sentinel. To me, that scene is still very disturbing, even though I have watched the film several times.

Sally: I know. The scariest part for me was when they threw me in that room with all those guys. For a minute, I forgot they were actors and I was afraid I wasn’t going to get out of there alive. Ha…that’s why you heard me screaming in the background.

At this point, Sally’s manager, Peter Clark, interjects: “Hey, Sally, didn’t the producers of the film recruit all those freaky guys from your apartment building in the Valley?”

Sally: (laughs) That is a big, fat lie! The man is a liar, John. Don’t believe a word he says. He’s just jacking us around. (laughs)

John: Hey, you two have a really great rapport. But who exactly were the guys that played the mutants? Professional actors? (I know that Tor Johnson’s son Karl played one of them).

Sally ToddSally: That’s right…I had forgotten about that. But aside from Tor’s son, I think the rest of the zombies in that scene were just some old, washed-up Hollywood stuntmen and alcoholic extras the producers had somehow gotten hold of. They were a rough lot, I’ll say that for them. All their masks were so lifelike and horrible I just wanted to stay away from them (and I did).

John: I have heard that the freaks were supposed to be a bigger part of the film and that Harry Thomas was extremely disappointed when they were relegated to that one brief scene at the end. Here he had spent many hours designing those monster masks and they’re seen only fleetingly, for like 30 seconds or so.

Sally: Well, if that’s true, then I can understand why he would be upset by it. The original title of the script was The House of Monsters so I think the freaks were supposed to be in the picture a lot more than they actually were. I don’t know why that changed. Imagine if they were allowed to run wild in the house throughout the entire film? Wow, that would have been really scary!

The Viking WomenJohn: Your next film, The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (AIP, 1957), is on many bad film aficionados lists as one of their favorite Grade-Z films. It was Roger Corman’s nineteenth film credit in three years as a director and producer, and I’m curious what you thought of his directing style.

Sally: What an amazingly screwed-up picture that was. Whoever wrote the script of that thing obviously owed Roger Corman some money, because the film was just a rotten mess. [author’s note: the screenplay was written by Louis Goldman, from a story by Irving Block.]

Oddly enough, Roger had a pretty good name at the time. He was putting out a lot of product that was popular with the country’s teenagers, but sometimes he would be on the set and other times he wouldn’t. And, you know, when he was there, it was all about, ‘Ready, set, go. Horses…go. Actors…run. Look good, don’t stop…keep going!’ That’s what was important to Roger Corman. Work fast, and look good. Not the quality of a film, by any means.

John: Were all the beach scenes in the picture filmed at Malibu?

Sally: Most of them were shot at Zuma Beach out in Malibu, yes. We also shot some scenes in Santa Monica. The rest of the movie was filmed at Bronson Canyon and at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, which was an absolutely horrible place to shoot a film. It was like 120 degrees in the shade and we were surrounded by horses and wild boars and other smelly things. It was dusty and hot and actually pretty gross.

Just like the “freaks” in The Unearthly, the bad guys in the film were all these over-the-hill, punch drunk wranglers who were loaded and carrying on the whole time they were on the set. So there we are out in the mountains in this god awful heat, being chased by these drunken guys on horseback. As you can imagine, I was panic-stricken the whole time.

Sally ToddJohn: Given the rough conditions on the set, did anyone get hurt?

Sally: We all did. However, out of a group of about ten or fifteen kids in the film, I’m pretty sure I got the prize for suffering the most injuries. It seems I was always being bumped around by the horses, or falling down cliffs and into mine shafts. I’m not normally a klutz but the staging on that film was unreal. Everyone was expected to do their own stunts and everyone got hurt. We were running down shale rocks and being pushed and grabbed and thrown down to the ground…it was a very tough show to work on. Not to mention that Corman was always very low-key when it came to showing an interest in his actors safety. He just seemed unconcerned, like he didn’t give it much thought. He would say something like, ‘See this cliff here? Well, you’re gonna run straight down this 20-foot cliff and then when you get to the bottom, we’ll do a great close-up of you and it’ll be fantastic.’ And I would look at him and go, ‘What? What do you want me to do?’ The guy was a real slick talker, let me tell you. And we were all kids, so what did we know? Most of us were in our early 20s.

I remember I started out at the beginning of the film in this cute little leather outfit—you know, this short, sexy, Viking kind of costume—and by the end of the picture, it was just a bunch of rags and ratty strips of fur. I had them tied around my knees, my elbows, my fingers…you name it. (laughs)

John: Do you remember a specific incident of getting injured on the film?

Sally: Oh, sure…several. There was a scene near the end of the film where the entire cast was on horseback. The bad guys were chasing us girls on their big, fat horses through this very narrow canyon out at the Iverson Ranch and they were going to corner us against the side of a mountain. Well, I remember thinking that there was something about the staging of the scene that just didn’t seem safe to me. I had the feeling, and I don’t know why, that the horses were going to rear up and throw us. I mean, I had a real strong vision of being trampled.

By this time, I had totally had it with the stunts. I thought, ‘If I come out of this film alive, it will be a miracle.’ So, I’m looking at the set-up of this scene where the horses are going to race us right into this narrow, dead-end area of the canyon and I thought, ‘Uh huh. No way.’ The horses are going to be rearing up. They’re going to be confined and it’s going to make them crazy and they’re going to respond by piling up on us. It didn’t make any sense to me at all and I was scared to death. So, I said to Corman, ‘Roger, I am not doing this scene.’ He got really mad and yelled at me, but I didn’t care. There were some girl extras on the set who weren’t featured players like Susan Cabot and Abby Dalton and me, and he wound up using one of those girls to replace me on the horse. And she just happened to be Abby’s kid sister. Roger slapped this long blonde wig on her head so that she would look more like me, and then he put her up on the horse, and guess what happened? The horse reared up and flung her to the ground and she had to be carted off to the hospital with a brain concussion.

I mean, that was my horse that threw her! Do you see why I’m glad I was always such a rebel? It might not have been good for my career, but at least I’m still alive.

Go to Page 5 of 8

Go to Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Please leave a comment below. or visit my retired guestbook, to see previous comments.

Leave Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.