Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Interview With Alan Young, Part II

We continue today with our interview of comedian, radio, television and film star, Alan Young (born 1919), originally conducted in 1995.

Any recollections of make-up man Bill Tuttle?

I do. (Laughs.) I do on Time Machine. I think I had him on something else before Time Machine, but I've forgotten! But I do have a remembrance of when he made me up to be my own father at the age of 80, or something like that. He put the makeup all over, and did the bald head wig, and all of that sort of thing. And as I was about to leave, he gave me a small bottle of glue. I asked him what it was for, and he said: "George can't afford to have a makeup man on the set, so when the rubber begins to peel off, stick it back on with this glue!"  I said, "Gosh! I'm stealing your work!" He said, "You're welcome to it!"

I think that later on, in the afternoon, we didn't start shooting my scenes until 4:00, and my face was peeling off and I had to stick it all on again. I do remember Mr. Tuttle.

Great story! The Time Machine stands out from the science fiction films of that era because there is an almost melancholy, bittersweet quality to the story. I guess that's best embodied by the relationship between George and Filby. Was that in the script, or did it come about in the playing?

To me it was evident in the script, and to Rod also, and then the chemistry took over. I felt such warmth towards him and compassion, and he felt the same for me. We didn't know each other too well during the picture, and we didn't talk too much because he was so busy, and I was busy looking around for other work. It really wasn't until 30 years later when we made a little documentary on the film that we got know each other, about five-six years ago, and the chemistry between the two of us was still there.

We'll get to the documentary in a moment, which is an interesting work. When you played David Filby and his son Jamie as both a young and an old man, were you drawing on your own father? How did you go about developing the characters?

I'm sure I drew on my own father without really knowing it. He was such a gentle man, very loving and very supportive. And that's what I thought Filby would be, very supportive of his friend. The son, of course, would be, of course, English, raised in England, and would be a very different type of person. The son would be a very, "hail fellow, well met" sort of thing, and he would have a certain empathy for his neighbor. I wanted there to be quite a difference between the two, so I made the son more English.

That essential kindness, though, is I think the core of the character. You're such a dear, dear man in that film.

Well, that's my father. He supported people. He was never much of a leader, but you could count on him for anything. That's what I thought George should be for Filby -- he's a torment for Filby, because that's what he puts him through, but Filby supports him even though he doesn't understand anything he's doing.

Any memories of working with Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore, or Whit Bissell?

I had met Whit Bissell years before when I did my radio show. He did the commercial time.

I had no idea he was an announcer!

Oh, yeah. He wasn't an announcer, he was an actor and did the commercials for Bristol Meyers. We worked together quite a few times and I got to know him. Tom Helmore I had never met before, and I had never met Sebastian before, but we got rather friendly. He was a great cricket buff.

How long did you work on The Time Machine?

Not too long! George couldn't afford it, and we shot my scenes in two and a half weeks. He had to work fast and they put him under terrible time and budgetary restraints.

Tell me about the documentary on The Time Machine.

I was doing a musical comedy down in San Diego, and they sent me the script. So I learned it up in the car going back up to Los Angeles. We shot it in about two, two and a half hours. That's why I said that when Rod and I saw each other again, the chemistry was so good, we just picked up again after 30 years.

You both look as if you're having a very good time.

Oh, we enjoyed it! In fact, after that, we began to meet with the producer of the documentary on the possibility of doing a Time Machine sequel.

Wow! For years George Pal was talking of doing a sequel to The Time Machine!

Well, we met here in my house many, many times. We'd draft out ideas and put them on tape and send them out for writers to write, but we never got what the producer wanted. I think there is finally a script that is pretty acceptable. I don't know what he's doing with it. I think Rod lost a little interest in it because nothing has happened with it. But we wanted to keep it just the way we thought George Pal would want to do it.

The tenor of that type of film has changed incredibly in the decades since The Time Machine.

Oh yes!

I think this sort of fantastic film, like Tom Thumb or The Time Machine, are too good natured in this current atmosphere of depressing, downbeat, hard-edged action pictures or nasty-minded fantasy films.

Well, that's what we thought! We tried to counteract it with ingenuity. We know it had to stay close to George Pal's concept, and H.G. Wells' concept. The Victorian base was a good one because it had a quietness and a gentleness, yet it is a seething generation because it was just ready to burst forth into the Twentieth Century. We kept at that, and then we found adventures that we thought would make up for all the violence and the nastiness, and yet would have a little moral to it. Just a hint of a moral, nothing shoved down anyone's throat. I think we had a pretty good story worked out, and everybody else seemed to think so. I don't know what happened with it. In this business, you learn to just sit and wait.

I wish you luck. I'd love to see a Time Machine sequel, and a return to that kind of thoughtful, responsible, and fun fantasy film.

I would, too!

More Alan Young tomorrow!

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