He is referred to as Mr. Big (a nickname allegedly coined by Forrest J. Ackerman) for both his initials and because of his penchant for making films about oversized creatures. Producer/Director/Writer Bert Ira Gordon has been making films since the 1950's which played on the black and white television screen of my youth and terrifying my dreams with huge bugs, radiation disfigured people, and nature truly run amok.
Born in 1922 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Gordon always dreamed of making movies. As a child he shot film in and around his home. The practice taught him well. He continued to pursue filmmaking as he grew older.
"When I was in St. Paul, Minnesota I started a film business making television commercials and industrial films. I was doing very well. I did commercials for Chevrolet. For Sports Afield Magazine I made a documentary up in Canada on how to train hunting dogs. I was doing pretty well."
But it was not fulfilling enough. Bert dreamed of something better. But he didn't have the means to move or friends on the West Coast. But when the urge hit him hard, even that was not enough to hold him back.
"One morning I was looking in the mirror as I was shaving and I said, 'Well, I'm making movies.' That's all I wanted to do since I was a little boy, I wanted to make movies. In fact, when I was nine years old I was making them in sixteen millimeter with little stories and friends as actors. So I said, 'Well, you're making movies.' The mirror talked back to me and said, 'You're not making movies. Movies are made in Hollywood.' So in three weeks I was on my way to Hollywood."
In the early 1950's he moved from the upper Midwest to California with basically the clothes upon his back and the tool of his trade. He has never forgotten that time of adventure in his life.
"When I came to Hollywood from Minnesota I said, 'I'm gonna make movies.' Everybody told me I was crazy. Your name isn't Goldwyn. You're not the son of Goldwyn. You're not the son of Darryl Zanuck. How can you go there? But I went. For a year and a half I struggled, knocking on doors."
Even though he was making it in St. Paul, the expense of moving to California without any contacts or friends was daunting. The little bit of funds he had to his name was quickly being drained away.
"Not enough to last," he said. "So I finally did get a job supervising a television commercial. I got that job because one of the agencies that set me up for commercials for Chevrolet had a series they wanted supervised. That was my job."
That led to chance meeting with the man who would help him make his first feature film. The man was a player but needed somebody who knew how to make films to complete his deals.
"So when I moved to California I took my equipment which was a sixteen millimeter professional camera, Eastman Cine Special it was called. An outfit that made titles knew about me. I'd met the man. He called me and said, 'Do you still have your camera?' I said, 'Yep.' He said, 'We're doing some titles for someone who is making a sixteen millimeter documentary. Would you like to do the titles with your camera?' I said, 'Sure.'
"So the next day I was going down a hallway with the camera in my hand when a man came up to me. He said, 'Is that your camera?' I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'How would you like to make a feature movie?' I said, 'Oh, I'd love it, but this is sixteen millimeter and they make movies in Hollywood in thirty-five.' He said, 'No problem, the lab will blow it up.' So we made a film.
"This man is a real promoter. We went to the lab together, Consolidated Film Industries I think it was called, and he conned them into, not only developing all of the film and providing the film and blowing it up to thirty-five, but also to loan us $18,000 for the production that we'd give back when we got the receipts back. So we made the film for $18,000."
That film, Gordon's first Hollywood venture, was King Dinosaur. It was the first of what was to become his signature in filmmaking - giant anything. The plot revolved around a group of astronauts who fly to the planet Nova (which had just appeared in our solar system) which has characteristics very similar to Earth. Except it is also home to giant ants and snakes and a Tyrannosaurus Rex – which is actually an Iguana in disguise. The advertising promised A prehistoric world of fantastic adventure come to life!
"My big thrill was going to Burbank to the opening theater and seeing the name on the marquee. I made a film! So I made another film with the man and he ran away with the money and the film and everything."
So this is a typical Hollywood story?
"You got it. That's it. So I said that what I had to do if I wanted to stay in Hollywood was to be my own company. So I went around to different agencies to get a screenplay. I was going to make a feature. They gave me a bunch of screenplays; the front desk gave me screenplays. But they were screenplays that everybody, not only in Hollywood, but Pasadena had turned down. So I knew the only way I was going to make it in Hollywood was to write my own film."
In Part 2 we will continue with Bert I. Gordon's Hollywood adventure. He can be found on the web at http://www.bertigordon.com/
Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies "The Home of Horror" in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com. If you have any ideas for an upcoming column he would love to hear from you.