In my first-ever Fan Film Factor blog from 2016, I credited PARAGON’S PARAGON as the generally-accepted first “major” Star Trek fan film. It was made back in 1974. But even in that blog, I mentioned “…that the earliest Star Trek fan films dated back to when the original series was still playing on first-run broadcast TV on NBC.”
At the time I first wrote the blog, I didn’t have any specific examples of such early fan films, but today I do! From way back in March of 1967, while the original Star Trek was still in its debut season, a trio of youngsters created a short Trek fan film titled THE THING IN THE CAVE. And here’s the most amazing thing: they used actual tunics from the show loaned out to them directly from the Star Trek set on the Paramount lot!
Imagine a fan film today using actual spare uniforms from Discovery or Picard. The mind boggles! But things were apparently much different in 1967 (the year I was born).
So who were these kids, how did they get a hold of actual Star Trek tunics, and why are we only first finding out about this “lost” fan film 53 years later?
For the answers, I have an interview with ALAN WHITE, one of the fan filmmakers behind The Thing in the Cave. A current resident of Las Vegas—where he lives with his wife of 30 years, DeDee—Alan was 20 years old back in 1967. About a month ago, Alan posted some photos to Facebook that he took of individual frames from a surviving roll of film from The Thing in the Cave. I was fascinated by both the age of the project and by how well-made and authentic the tunics looked. Naturally, I reached out to Alan in order to learn more…
JONATHAN – Welcome to Fan Film Factor, Alan. Thanks for taking the time to chat.
ALAN – I’m retired; mi tiempo es tu tiempo.
JONATHAN – Let’s start by talking a little about who you were back in 1967 and what the sci-fi fan scene was in Los Angeles at the time.
ALAN – I was a classic “MonsterKid” growing up with the Giant Monster movies of the fifties—they were everywhere…and Atomic destruction films too. Combined with the Cold War, Duck and Cover and weekly Air Raid alerts; The Blob, The Thing, Godzilla were chickenfeed. These were the years you lived for the “Saturday Matinee Triple Bill” for 25¢ at your neighborhood theater playing the weekly serials: Batman, Captain Marvel, Commando Cody…and television blared a steady diet of Flash Gordon, Rocky Jones, Captain Z-Ro, Captain Video and Captain Midnight! We were even introduced to actors who would become household names like: Leonard Nimoy in Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952); Deforest Kelly: “Science Fiction Theater” (1955); and both William Shatner and James Doohan in Space Command (1953). There were no recording devices then. If you missed a show, you missed the boat and would be forced to wait for the whim of the studio to play it again, usually during summer.
I was introduced to fandom in 1960. There were Science Fiction clubs too. The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society began in 1934. This was the only game in town for fans, but the big picture was that if you were a fan, this is where you could conceivably meet every existing fan in the Los Angeles area. They also made their own fannish movies: 16mm films, color and sound.
In 1963 and 64, I was living in Long Beach, CA and put on what may arguably be called one of the first media fan conventions: The First (and Second) Long Beach Science Fantasy Convention—where we displayed our collections of movie posters, science fiction stuff, showed movies and had guest speakers. I became the Vice President of a group of screwballs called The Count Dracula Society—ostensibly devoted to Horror Films and Gothic Literature. It was the only club like it. Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Lon Chaney, Jr., Christopher Lee and many others were regular attendees.
JONATHAN – Wow!
ALAN- Then 1965 brought it all together with the 18th West Coast Science Fantasy Conference (Westercon). It was an epiphany at my first convention sitting in a room with Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Fritz Leiber, Anthony Boucher, and Robert Silverberg…just chatting. They would come because they were fans, meeting other authors and chumming their fanbase. I met Bjo Trimble who would become a major Star Trek tub-thumper and creator the FilmCon and Equicon.
JONATHAN – Were you a Trekkie?
ALAN – I’ve never been a Star Trek fan. There, I said it. The first season, I was working with Kustom Kar King Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and doing T-Shirt designs at night and never saw a single episode. I don’t remember the first time I did, but I remember not caring for it. I didn’t like the cast continually having to pull down their shirts, the overly moralist themes, and when the cast was walking the hallways I thought, “If that hallway is the actual radius of the ship, the entire Enterprise couldn’t have been larger than my living room.”
At the time, Star Trek was a cheesy, moralizing TV show that, by the time I got to see it, had already been cancelled. But I liked the music. It’s hard to believe now, but at the time, except for a few nerdy sorts, the general consensus was “meh.” It took years, and Bjo Tribble’s mailing campaign, to put Star Trek on the map. If there had been an Internet back then, it might have been a different story. Having said that, over the years, because fandom was so small, I kept running into Star Trek people, things, and events.
JONATHAN – So let’s jump into the question everyone wants to know: how the heck did you and your friends get your hands on actual uniforms from the Star Trek set???
ALAN – There were just the three of us: RICKY SCHWARTZ, JIM SWARTZ, and myself. Ricky was the Star Trek fan, no doubt about it. In fact, he’s the one TV Guide featured in their article “Star Trek Wins the Ricky Schwartz Award.” Here’s a snippet from the article to give you a little idea of how Ricky got access to the stuff from the studio…
“…a 12-year-old boy named Ricky Schwartz was so annoyed that the program did not receive a TV Academy Award he saved his money and bought an impressive 2-foot-high trophy which he had inscribed, ‘To Gene Roddenberry and the Star Trek cast.’ According to Roddenberry, ‘That Ricky Schwartz Award means more to me than the Emmy would have.’ He says it as if he means it, too.”
The article actually got a number of details wrong. Although I don’t really know how old Ricky was, as you can see from the film, he was not 12 years old! I think they put that in the article to seem more charming. He was certainly old enough to drive a car, have his own apartment, and was even married.
Ricky had a more athletic older brother who won a sports trophy that read “STAR TRACK AWARD.” Ricky took it to a trophy guy and had “Track” replaced with “Trek.” He then took the trophy to the Paramount stage and presented it to Roddenberry with a few minutes of baloney (what balls!).
But this ingratiated Ricky to all those Star Trek people, and from then on, he was like a mascot. So Ricky borrowed a bunch of stuff from Robert Justman: several shirts, communicator, Spock ears, and a piece of the Horta (the episode “Devil in the Dark” had recently played). It was one of those “Idle Hands and Found Objects are the Devil’s Playthings.”
JONATHAN – I find this story so surreal! I could only dream of walking onto the Picard set and borrowing some props and uniforms. I can’t even imagine being allowed through the gate!
ALAN – Well, Ricky’s father was loaded and gave Ricky pretty much anything he wanted. So that probably helped him get into the studio in the first place. But those were the days when you could visit the trash bins behind Paramount and pull out all manner of molded plastic things, bags of buttons, control panels, those elevator handle controls things, switches—all kinds of stuff. One guy scored the entire Gorn suit.
JONATHAN – You’re kidding me.
ALAN – Nope, it happened.
JONATHAN – So how did the three of you know each other?
ALAN – Jim and I went to high school together in Long Beach. I met him in my gym class in 1964. He, too, was an intense film fan, fond of Peter Lorre and the Adam West “Batman” (go figure). We both faked that we couldn’t swim and spent the year in the shallow end talking about monsters and Forrest J. Ackerman.
As for Ricky, he grew up and went to school in Goleta, CA. But he spent a lot of time in L.A., as that’s where his brother lived—oddly, not far from the first great Ackermansion. We met Ricky because Jim and I hung out with friends in Hollywood (since that’s were the fun was), and at some point we all thought we’d play some part in the movies.
JONATHAN – Did you?
ALAN – I wanted to make films, but I never had the patience. At one time, I had a Bolex 16mm camera and began filming something using a friend’s 6-year-old boy, who went into the Bronson Cave and came out in another world where we were planning on animating some dinosaurs or something. Unfortunately, during the summer, the kid was hit by a car, and that was the end of that. Living in Hollywood, everyone has a script and wants to make films but nobody has any money. Oh, the irony!
Ricky went on to work for John Chambers making rubber protheses for the “Planet of the Apes” movies and later TV shows in the 70s and 80s. He had a lot of potential but blew it all on drugs. He moved from Hollywood and was working around the house in Goleta when he fell off the roof. He spent years on pain killers until he overdosed in 2010 and that was that.
JONATHAN- Geez. What about Jim?
ALAN – No, Jim did nothing—ever. He was incredibly smart. He had a photographic memory and could read through a stack of magazines and remember how to bake a cake from some recipe he found in there.
On the other hand, he was completely unmotivated to do anything.
He never had a job for more than a week or so. I lost track of him in 1986 during an Equicon and never saw him again.
JONATHAN – Yikes!
ALAN – Yeah, he had potential for great things but let personal stuff get in the way.
JONATHAN – Well, I was kinda hoping for something a little more upbeat for this blog interview, but I suppose the truth can’t always be popcorn and cotton candy. Okay, so back to the fan film. Where did you film it?
ALAN – The whole thing was shot in Bronson Canyon where the cave is. Lots of things have been filmed there, including Star Trek…and it was also the cave that the Batmobile drove out of in the TV Batman series. Here’s a video about the location:
JONATHAN – Did you have decent film equipment back in 1967?
ALAN. Hardy! Whatever it was, it was the cheapest, crappiest 8mm camera my parents could find. I wanted one with an animation button on it, but no such luck.
JONATHAN – Did your fan film have sound?
ALAN – Nope. This was done on the smallest hint of a whim. There was no sound intended. If we had Super 8, there may have been a way to add some. At one time, I considered splicing in some title cards, but once I do something, it’s kinda forgotten about and on to something new.
JONATHAN – How long was the run-time of the final film?
ALAN – It lasted 6 minutes.
JONATHAN – To get those 6 minutes, how long were you filming?
ALAN – We were there probably two hours. There were no second takes on anything! It was a gorgeous day at the caves, and we thought about throwing in some more gags, but suddenly the cave area was crawling with tourists who wouldn’t get out of the damn way! So we packed it in. In the end, short is best. I used to go there all the time just to walk through the thing. Sometimes I would take photos from motion pictures where some particular action happened and compare the camera angles.
JONATHAN – What was the plot of the fan film?
ALAN – A simple thing: we get wind of odd goings on at some out of the way planet. We beam down and explore the area until we find a cave. There are signs of life, and the captain tells me to check out that cave. So I go in where (only in your mind) there is screaming and chaos.
I come running out followed by Batman! It’s the Batcave!
Not funny, but cute. A quick chortle kinda thing.
JONATHAN – Was that also an authentic Batman costume from the TV series?
ALAN – Jim said the Batman costume was made for the stuntmen on the show. I later worked with Batman’s stunt double Hubie Kearns who said, ‘Nope.’ It was just a clever costume he picked up somewhere and loved wearing the thing and going through the Bat-Motions. We got him to wear it down Hollywood Blvd. one night on a whim, and people actually asked for his autograph. After the movie, Jim said, “I never realized I was so fat,” and never wore the costume again.
JONATHAN – Whom did you show the film to when it was completed?
ALAN – Not many. A few fans in the neighborhood—that’s it. If you wanted to show it somewhere, you had to cart along the projector, and for a 6 minute one-joke film, I was never motivated to do it.
JONATHAN – How did you finally find this footage after so many years?
ALAN – Now that I’m getting into (ahem) advanced years, about a month ago, I thought I’d go through some boxes of old fannish stuff and uncover memories and put them into a publication about 60’s fandom. There was about 800 feet of film: a bunch of clay animation stuff, trips to the Ren Fair, that kind of thing. I was shocked to find the film had pretty much turned to dust…so many pieces, they could never be reassembled. Things got so much better when we switched to video and then digital.
JONATHAN – So there’s no way to get this fan film onto YouTube, huh?
ALAN – There wasn’t enough to put through a film gate, so I bought a Kodak Scanza and took screenshots of everything I could. There are no pieces left. It was like picking up the Mummy. The film pretty much fell to pieces like books in The Time Machine. I scanned every pic that made any sense at all, and the rest now sleeps with the fishes.
JONATHAN – And finally, how familiar are you with the Star Trek fan films that have come out in recent decades? Have you seen any, and if so, what do you think of your “successors”?
ALAN – To be completely honest, I haven’t seen any at all. The conventions had scads of them years ago—lots of animated versions, too, with Barbie Dolls and GI Joes and costumes and plastic model kits—earnest fans hoping to create something cool. They just didn’t have the technology to make it look “Big Studio.”
However, I wish they would take all that immense talent, energy (and money) and put it into something using their own ideas and stories instead of a rehash of going places where man has gone too many times before. Go to YouTube and type in “Star Trek Fan Film.” A hundred icons will pop up that look like they’re from the same movie—black backgrounds and blank stares.
But I say “Good Luck” to anyone who can finish a movie.
Here are the only other surviving frames of the original film (with a little photoshopping restoration from me, Jonathan, but there wasn’t much I could do)…