Friday, March 23, 2018

A Chat With the Creator of Dr. Phibes: William I. Goldstein

I was a shy fifteen-year-old Vincent Price fan in 1971 when I spotted the novelization of DR. PHIBES on a bookshelf at a local store. Knowing that the film was due out soon, I


My copy of the film's novelization

bought it right away. I took it with me when we visited my grandparents in Cortland, NY soon after, and read it twice, cover to cover. It had a couple 'racy' scenes (at least to a teenager), and the deaths of the doctors appealed to my horror-loving imagination. It wasn't until almost a year later that the film itself would finally arrive in town (mistitled 'DR. THIBES' in the ad). I dragged my little brother Tim along and finally got to see what the book promised.


The ad for Phibes (misspelled) at my favorite neighborhood theater

The 'racy scenes' were absent, as were some other more descriptive plot points covered in the paperback (including some vivid description of the accident Phibes survived), but I loved every moment. Then, a year later, I found the paperback adaptation of DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN at a Bellas Hess department store while on vacation in Clearwater, Florida. I read

My copy of the sequel's novelization

this book in the car on our homeward trek. When the film itself finally hit Rochester later that year, my dad took Tim and me to see it at one of Rochester's last remaining movie palaces, the Paramount.

Both of these books were written by William Goldstein, who, with James Whiton, wrote the screenplay for THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES as well as that of the original unused script for its sequel. And all the hoping in the world for additional sequels didn't result in any, alas. Both men, as it turns out, were from Troy, NY (as was Vincent Price's grandfather, the inventor of baking powder). Whiton passed away in 2016, but Goldstein has established a strong following on Facebook, where he continues to promote all things Phibes with the assistance of his son, Damon.

William I. Goldstein has written two additional Phibes books (Dr. Phibes: In the Beginning, a prequel published in 2011, and Vulnavia's Secret, published in 2013). He and Damon have also written a screenplay for a new installment of the Phibes saga that they are currently working to get off the ground.


The current Phibes library by William Goldstein

Although there have been several recent interviews with Goldstein, I wrote to him and asked if he'd mind my asking a few questions of my own for the Vincent Price Exhibit. Mr. Goldstein is a delightful correspondent. Kind, intelligent, and considerate, I wished that I could actually sit down with him to have a conversation. For the time being, this long-distance 'chat' will have to do! Enjoy!




Vincent Price Exhibit: You hail from Troy, NY, as does your Phibes co-writer James Whiton. Did you both stay in touch after leaving the area, or did you reconnect somehow to do the Phibes screenplay?

William I Goldstein: We were high school classmates, and had both headed west. Jim moved to Los Angeles and I chose San Francisco. We stayed in touch on various projects and collaborative work, including a satirical novel named the Book of the Year by Mensa, titled The Third Eye of America, and a then modern-day western movie manuscript called THE GREAT BIG FAT TRAIN ROBBERY.


     
William Goldstein on the cover of the 1963 book he authored with James Whiton. And a blurb about the unproduced film the pair scripted around the same time.


VPE: What were some of your favorite films as you grew up? What particular horror films influenced your writing?

WIG: My father took me to see FANTASIA, which was fantastic and a little scary too for a young lad, THE MUMMY, and then of course there was CASABLANCA, I would say those three are at the top for me.


The Troy Record, September 22, 1954

VPE: How did the Phibes idea come about? Was it always to be a screenplay, rather than a book?

WIG: Dr. Phibes came to me in a dream while I was living in San Francisco, and my immediate impression was that he had this air of certainty about him… that he was someone who could fix things. The manuscript was written as a screenplay only.

VPE: One of the doctors in the first film is named Kitaj, after a friend of yours – Ronald Kitaj. Are there any other ‘inside jokes’ to be found in the script?


Goldstein, Whiton and Kitaj (misspelled, here) The Troy Record, December 31, 1970

WIG: Well they’re really more family inside stories than jokes, adding to that particular fun tidbit is that Dr. Vesalius’ son’s character, Lem, is named after Ron Kitaj’s real-life son, Lem “Dobbs” [Kitaj], who was always playing chess with his father just as he does in the movie.

VPE: I also found a photo of you and your 1949 tennis team back in Troy that included a fellow named Dunwoody. Was he the namesake for the first victim in the Phibes film, the bat victim?


The Troy Times Record, May 14, 1949

WIG: In THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, all of Phibes' victims were Harley St. Regulars and we named them accordingly. 'Dr. Dunwoody' fit right in with that roster.

VPE: How did the idea reach American-International? Were any other studios approached or interested?

WIG: Paul Leserman, our agent at the time, had only given the script to AIP, and as it happened, the rest, as they say, is history.

VPE: Wasn’t the character originally named ‘Pibe’? How was the name arrived at and why did it change?


The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 3, 1970

WIG: Yes, THE CURSES OF DR. PIBE was the original title, but because of a slight lisp, AIP Chief, Sam Arkoff had pronounced it Phibes instead. And so ‘Phibes’ it was.

VPE: Writers often lose control of their scripts once a film company takes ownership. Was this your experience? How closely does the final film reflect your original vision of the character and plot?

WIG: The experience of seeing our work up on the big screen was shear elation as they had closely followed the script and we were especially pleased with the way the First Death Geometry (based upon The G’tach) was done – fantastic, just fantastic.

VPE: What was your experience with AIP like?

WIG: Jim Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff, and AIP's chief counsel Jerry Schwartz were all very high on Dr. Phibes – the feeling was mutual.

VPE: Did you have the chance to work at all with Vincent Price? If so, how did you find him?


The Indianapolis Star, October 11, 1970

WIG: THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES was written before Vincent Price was on board but I must say that he was most engaging and enthusiastic during our contacts with him after the shoot.

VPE: How about Robert Fuest? He seems to have ‘gotten’ what Phibes was all about, never trying to conventionalize the character. You were happy with his handling of your character?

WIG: Robert Fuest had a big pallet to work with and he made the most of it. He did a great job and his directing of Vincent and company was spot on – Jim Whiton and I always felt he did our work proud, and was able to capture the essence of Phibes and make the audience [want to] identify with him.

VPE: The script for DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN is credited to Robert Fuest and Robert Blees. Early reports said that the script was originally written by James Whiton. What happened? Was the project drastically changed?

WIG: Jim Whiton and I wrote PHIBES RESURRECTUS, as the intended sequel to THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, and Robert Blees was AIP’s story editor, and one thing lead to another…

VPE: You wrote the novelization of Rises Again. Was this more closely based on the original screenplay/story? Or did you have to stick to the Fuest/Blees screenplay story?

WIG: I wrote both movie-tie in books separately – the novelizations were based on the first two manuscripts for THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and PHIBES RESURRECTUS.

VPE: Vulnavia star Valli Kemp has stated that there were plans for an entire series of Phibes films at AIP. Were you to have been involved with those?

WIG: Yes, absolutely both Jim and I were, in fact PHIBES IN THE HOLY LAND and PHIBES IN CONCERT are two of the original manuscripts of the FIVE planned Dr. Phibes movies. [see this blog entry for much more about the unfilmed sequels]

VPE: After AIP dropped plans to extend the series, you attempted to sell further installments to Roger Corman’s production company. What happened with that?

WIG: AIP was adrift after the passing of Jim Nicholson and the planned five Phibes films would total only the two. AIP closed their doors soon thereafter. Roger Corman and Co. were very interested and they talked the talk and we listened, disappointingly they ultimately were unable to walk the walk.

VPE: George Romero was set to direct a new Phibes film in the early 1980’s. Were you involved with that project?


The Shreveport, Louisiana Times, July 14, 1984

WIG: Yes, 1983, the late Mr. Romero was and remained a huge Phibes fan. R.I.P George.

VPE: A few years ago, Tim Burton announced a new Phibes film. Was this to have been based on your prequel book Dr. Phibes – In the Beginning? What happened?

WIG: Dr. Phibes In The Beginning has had its share of followers, Mr. Burton remains among them – Tim, if you’re reading this, let’s talk, contact me directly @ foreverphibes@earthlink.net

VPE: I know of at least one other individual, an Oscar-winning makeup artist, who has expressed a desire to do a new Phibes film. Have you received any interest from people seriously wishing to do new Phibes films?

WIG: Yes of course – we are always open to meeting with potential interested parties – especially the serious ones.

VPE: You have teased a new Phibes film co-written with your son Damon to star Malcolm McDowall. A friend of mine asked McDowall about it at a fan event, and the actor was very excited about the project. What is the status of this production?


Courtesy of William and Damon Goldstein

WIG: The new Dr. Phibes film is titled FOREVER PHIBES, and Damon was instrumental in securing the talented Mr. McDowell as attached to the project, in fact we are in the middle of negotiations for the new movie now – all discussions are currently confidential.

VPE: Would the proposed film be a sequel or a reboot?

WIG: It is a brand-new story.

VPE: Is there a completed script?

WIG: Yes, Damon and I worked from our own offices with scheduled meetings to manage scenes and such. Good times.

VPE: I have wondered if the film would be live action or animated. Can you tell us what your vision of the film is?

WIG: FOREVER PHIBES is written as a live-action film, although with the technology today, the idea of an animated Dr. Phibes film sounds fantastic, in fact it would go very nicely with the Dr. Phibes graphic novel we are developing right now.

VPE: A graphic novel sounds like an exciting project. Comics great Jack Kirby did some concept art many years ago for a Phibes comic. Were you at all connected with this? Also, I’m assuming that you hold the Phibes copyright, even though merchandise, comic books and other iterations seem endless. Do you receive any royalties for these?



WIG: I have always been intrigued with the graphic novel medium, Damon actually collected Marvel Comics back then, so I’m sure he can chime in on Jack Kirby, who would have been fantastic, in more detail. Ever since his 1971 Premiere at the Hollywood Pantages, Dr. Phibes et al continues to attract fans from all over and as they say “show good numbers” – with four books now where once there were only two, and another one on the way, plus our new social media content and YouTube videos, we are focused on returning Dr. Anton Phibes to the big screen.

VPE: Also, have you considered doing your never-filmed sequels to Phibes as graphic novels? Fans would love to see, in some form, your vision of those.

WIG: Now how did you know Rick, great minds…

VPE: I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your time in answering these questions, Mr. Goldstein. I sincerely hope FOREVER PHIBES goes forward and finds a new generation of fans for your creation. I would be pleased to assist in publicizing your project as best as I can through my Vincent Price Exhibit website and Facebook page.

WIG: Thank you Rick – it’s always great to hear from fans of Phibes. Your words are those of a true Phibes Fan and are appreciated – I am glad you reached out and inquired. Your questions were interesting and engaging.


Damon and William I. Goldstein (photo courtesy of the Goldsteins)

7 comments:

  1. Brilliant interview, Rick! And Gaines is an ideal interviewee, isn't he? I add my thumbs to a double thumbs-up for every possible Phibes project Mr Gaines discussed--graphic novels, prequels, sequels, re-imaginings--you name it! Phibes was such a compelling and irresistibly likeable (!) character--we need more of him!

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    1. Mr. Goldstein's creation gave me such pleasure as a film fan that I can scarcely believe I had this opportunity! I'm astonished that Phibes was never allowed to rise again after those two terrific films! Thanks, Robert, for the characteristically kind words. This experience has provided me a much-needed boost!

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  2. Thank you, Mr.Squires, for advancing the Phibesian Legend!

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  3. It was an honor! Thank you for your kindness!

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  4. Ph-antastic interview Rick....

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    1. Thanks, Peter! Like Corman, Mr. Goldstein has been interviewed so frequently that it's difficult to come up with 'new' questions! It was just a joy to correspond with him like this!

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  5. I had no idea there were Phibes books out there. I will have to look for them. I enjoyed the films very much, thank you for this interview.

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