Albert E. Marten Saves Plan 9 From Outer Space!
HOW ALBERT E. MARTEN SAVED PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE
This was first published on August 15, 2008. Albert E. Marten would have been 87. I update, and publish each year on his Birthday.
Today would have been my father’s 95th birthday. It was a Marten family tradition to celebrate a Birthday with Pop delivering one of the many gems from his colorful past. So you can celebrate and commemorate along with the family we are sharing one of his favorite adventures. If you are a Plan 9 from Outer Space fan or someone who enjoys a good story read on! This is how Pop (Albert E. Marten) brought Plan 9 From Outer Space or Grave Robbers from Outer Space for you aficianados out of the Celluloid Closet and into our hearts!
Albert E. Marten was born in the Harlem section of New York in 1921 and grew up along (and under) the boardwalk in Coney Island. Pee Wee (or Pee Vee in the Yiddish cadence of the immigrant Jews) grew up and hut gemakht shtiferai (raised hell) during the 1920s and 30s in the home of Dreamland and Luna Park. Decades and a world war later, he took me and my brothers to the old neighborhood in Coney Island to show us where he and his pals battled other first generation American gangs and where he hung out with Murray Handwerker, son of the owner of Nathan’s Famous (five cents bought a kosher all-beef dog and a soda).
By way of biographical information, my Pop was a prominent entertainment and theatrical attorney. At one time an up and comer in the Democratic Party, he headed the Speakers Bureau for Congressman Franklin Roosevelt Jr. and escorted Eleanor Roosevelt to political functions. Pop took an independent path in politics and in life. To say that he had a dynamic presence would be an understatement. The dinner table was always lively and full of outrageous laughter. Mom had her hands full with her five boys. Pop was an original who defied convention.
Pop was active in the post-World War II film industry, representing talent, producers, and distributors, negotiating co-production deals, and arranging financing for more than 150 feature films. Panic Button, starring Maurice Chevalier, Jayne Mansfield, Akim Tamaroff, and Mike Connors, and television series such as Wild Bill Hickock starring Guy Madison and Andy Devine, and such Broadway productions as Peter Ustinov’s Love of Four Colonels and Picnic were among his credits. In his obituary in Variety, Albert Marten was credited with introducing the completion bond to the motion picture industry in the United States.
His clients ranged from famous Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn to best-selling author Harold Robbins, from Allied Artists Distribution Co. to producer Edward Pressman. He dealt with such luminaries as Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne; however, we knew our old man was an important guy when Moe Howard of The Three Stooges invited him to bring his kids to the set during filming.
He once tore up a $50,000 option check for Mickey Rooney when the actor failed to show for a meeting for which Dad had flown in especially from the East Coast (Mickey was at the track!). However, of all his many achievements in show business, the one that gave him the biggest kick and brought the most laughter around the dinner table, was his having rescued from oblivion the picture consistently voted the worst movie ever made. Without my Dad, Edward D. Wood, Jr.s’ originally titled Grave Robbers From Outer Space would not have become the cult classic: Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Here for the first time is the never-before-published story of how Plan 9 came out of the celluloid closet and into our hearts!
One day an Atlanta theatre owner walked into Albert Marten’s Manhattan law office carrying canisters of film under his arm. With the preamble that often introduced an off-the-wall proposal or a nutsy scheme Mr. Marten, I understand you’re a big theatrical attorney he proceeded to explain that he had put $40,000 (big money in the 1950s) into a picture and he needed to get it out. If my father could sell the picture for him, anything above the $40,000 was his to keep. The picture starred Bela Lugosi, the venerable star of Dracula and other horror classics.
It so happened that my father had a relationship with DCA Distributors Corporation of America a successful, albeit low-rent, indie distributor. And they owed him a favor for having earlier let them out of a contract with Maurice Valency, a well-known screenwriter of the day and another client of my Dads. So Pop called up his buddy, Irv Wermser, at DCA, and told him: “Irv, Im calling my marker. I want you to screen a picture tonight.”
After office hours, the three principals of DCA and Pop were sitting in their screening room. The lights went down and the projector began to roll the film. Remember, he had never seen the movie. He just assumed it was, if not grade A material, at least screenable with Bela Lugosi. What he saw on the screen paralyzed him like a stun gun used to immobilize cattle just before slaughter. My father’s blood turned to ice water in his veins. Words alone could not describe his horror (unfortunately something not represented on the screen) at what he was watching. The strings holding up the flying saucers carrying the grave robbers from outer space were clearly visible.
To say the acting was execrable was an understatement. In the middle of the picture, the role played by tall, Hungarian-accented Bela Lugosi was suddenly inhabited by a short, roly-poly actor with a deep southern accent. (After production was well underway, poor Lugosi had been re-institutionalized for morphine addiction and replaced by the very same theatre owner who brought the picture to my father!). The caped, crooked arm that hid the Lugosi impersonator’s face dropped several times during the movie revealing the “actor” half made up. The attempt to save budget gave the effect on screen of a facial flood line.
Utterly and completely mortified, sinking lower and lower in his seat, silently saying Kaddish for any future relationship with the DCA principals who surrounded him, my father wondered how he could possibly escape without getting pilloried.
After an excruciating running time, the flap-flap-flap of the film projector stopped and the lights came on. Pop straightened himself in his seat, and waited for the lambasting that was due and coming. One principal broke the silence:
“I like it. Irv, what do you think?”
“I do too,” Irv said nodding his approval. “Al, how much do you want for it?”
Quickly recovering, my father sat up and threw out a number double the cost of the production. They hondled a little and finally agreed on a dollar figure. DCA bought Grave Robbers From Outer Space and distributed it under its new title Plan 9 From Outer Space. The movie went down in the annals of film history as the worst movie ever made, and DCA made nothing but money in the years to come.
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