first attempt at a history and critique of the Kolchak mythos was Night
Stalking: A 20th Anniversary Kolchak Companion (Image Publishing,
1991), sparsely distributed and now a collectible. Aided by Kolchak
creator Jeff Rice, he then wrote Grave
Secrets (Image, 1994), the first Kolchak novel since Rice's
novelization of Matheson's Night
Strangler teleplay. Rice was pleased with Grave
Secrets, but not with Image's dismal distribution. He
withdrew literary rights to the character.
are in Dawidziak's Night
Stalker Companion, a heavily revised and updated version of Night
Stalking, and a well-structured chronicle of the rise and fall and
afterlife of Carl Kolchak, a hard-boiled reporter who investigates supernatural
and extraterrestrial crimes. Dawidziak interviewed all key players,
and while he accentuates the positive, he does not eliminate unpleasantries. Kolchak would expect no less from his biographer.
first appeared in The Kolchak Papers, an unpublished
1970 horror novel written by newspaper reporter (and actor) Jeff Rice. Rice submitted it to Richard Matheson's agent, who sold TV movie rights
to ABC without first signing Rice. Rice had hoped to adapt it himself,
but the agent had already secured the teleplay assignment for Matheson. Dawidziak adds, "It's important to note that Rice does not in any way blame
Matheson for what he views as shady Hollywood dealings."
Dan Curtis comes off as a bit of a bully, or at least possessed with a
Hollywood ego. When ABC bought the rights to Rice's book, Curtis
was executive producing the last season of that network's Dark
Shadows. " 'I wanted to say good-bye to it so bad I couldn't
see straight,' Curtis reflects. 'We got around to the last year and
I was completely tapped out ideawise. And we ended up with some dreadful
stories during that last year. It was like being in jail.' " Dark
Shadows did afford Curtis the opportunity to direct a feature. Dawidziak cites House
of Dark Shadows (1970) as Curtis's directorial debut, followed
of Dark Shadows (1971).
Diller asked Curtis to produce The Kolchak Tapes as the TV movie, The
Night Stalker, Curtis requested the director's chair. It had already been given to John Llewellyn Moxey (Horror
Hotel 1960, aka The
City of the Dead). Curtis didn't interfere with Moxey's
authority on set (and it was a happy set), but he'd grumble to McGavin,
"Will you look at the setup Moxey has here. What's he doing?" [Curtis contradicts this version of events in his interview on Night Stalker/Night
Strangler DVD, claiming that he was offered the director's chair but turned
it down, and that he himself sought out Moxey.]
Moxey's setups, The
Night Stalker was a ratings success when it premiered in January
1972. So too The
Night Strangler, its 1973 sequel. Curtis got to direct. Rice was less fortunate. ABC press kits and trade ads hadn't credited
Rice for the first film. Rice lobbied to script the sequel, but was
given the runaround by network and studio execs. Instead, he wrote
the novelization for Matheson's teleplay. Dawidziak says of Rice's
original deal, "No sequels or series could be made without Rice's permission." Apparently, Rice didn't press his advantage.
Night Strangler ended with bad blood between Curtis and lead
actor Darren McGavin. Near the end of the shoot Curtis "was berating
the crew something awful." McGavin defended them, then quit. Curtis insisted he stay for closeups, but McGavin replied, "You've got
enough film. Make your movie. Goodbye."
comes off a bully, Rice sounds paranoid. Rice tried vainly for years
to launch a series of Kolchak novels and comic books. He sees two
factors blocking him. Publishers "keep trying to acquire the rights
for pennies and balk at paying Rice nearly anything at all, doing their
best to keep Rice from doing any writing if possible." And Rice fears
"that deals are fashioned with the intention of keeping Kolchak locked
up and off the market."
reason to be paranoid. He first learned of ABC and Universal's plans
to produce a Kolchak series from the April 24, 1974 issue of Daily Variety. No one informed Rice about a series in the works, even though his contract
forbade a series without his permission. Rice tried to coax Universal
into buying the rights it was exercising, while simultaneously working
on script ideas for the show and a contract for future novelizations.
When in August Rice's attorney requested that Universal "settle the rights
question," Rice was barred from the lot. His calls were no longer
returned. His novelization deal collapsed. Rice finally filed
suit in March 1975, shortly before Kolchak was canceled. The suit
was settled nine months later. Rice never "made it" in Hollywood,
either as scriptwriter or actor (his promised role in the first film had
also fallen through). Perhaps he was branded a troublemaker. Today he's a certified paralegal.
McGavin loved The
Night Stalker film, he had no desire to do a series (he had
a thriving career in TV movies). McGavin only relented because Universal
agreed to let him produce. Once he was on board, Universal turned
producing chores over to Paul Playdon (Dan Curtis was uninterested). Determined to keep Universal to its word, McGavin acted as de facto producer.
The tug of war between "producers" created turmoil and tension. Playdon
quit after two episodes. Replacement producer Cy Chermak failed to
ease tensions. Long hours and all night shoots only increased pressures. By February McGavin was begging network and studio to cancel the show. Dismal ratings granted his wish.
survived. An inspiration for Dawidziak while he was still an undergrad
journalism major, the author is amazed by the many reporters he's met over
the years who've expressed similar sentiments. Kolchak also inspired The
X-Files, which McGavin dismisses as a humorless ripoff.
confronts other rumors that have plagued fans for decades (such as Curtis's
plans for a feature film), making this a juicy and enlightening book. Yes, there's an episode guide. And some errors. Dawidziak says
Night Stalker's initial 33.2 household rating: "about one out
of every three people in the United States was watching Carl Kolchak track
Janos Skorzeny." No, because a household rating does not indicate
how many individuals per household are viewing. Nor even "about"
is inadequate. While many of the names and titles in the text are
only mentioned in passing, often as past credits, I'd want them included. The index even excludes some key textual references to Rice.
Press is a fine publisher for The
Night Stalker Companion. Founded in 1986 by Dark Shadows actress
Kathryn Leigh Scott to self-publish My
Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows, its success induced her
to release additional Dark
Shadows books (all beautiful, lavishly illustrated, and informative). Pomegranate's Dark Shadows contacts likely aided Dawidziak. Dan Curtis,
composer Bob Cobert, and actress Lara Parker all worked on both Dark
Shadows and the Kolchak
has a curious custom of listing deceased actors in its Dark Shadows books,
with date of death. The
Night Stalker Companion follows tradition with its own R.I.P. page.
Review copyright by Thomas
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