INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH EMANUEL
When you watch the final credits of Irwin Allen's shows and movies, you see the names of only some of the fantastic team behind the scenes who put together these productions. Amongst the uncredited production crew there is one charming English lady, one of the people who worked most closely with Irwin Allen, his researcher Elizabeth Emanuel.
We first met Elizabeth in the early 1990's and quickly became friends and enjoyed many interesting conversations about her early life in England and her subsequent move to America. Here are some excerpts from the Giants Log interview with Elizabeth and her longtime friend Maggie.
Giants Log: Firstly, I would like to ask how you got involved with Irwin Allen Productions?
Elizabeth: That was very surprising. Many things have happened in my life that have come unexpectedly. I was working with an editor of children's books in New York, and then I decided I didn't like living in New York. The weather was so bad with ice on the streets, the winter, then the hot humid summers. I worked for a book publishing company in New York and at one of the annual meetings they said that they wished somebody, one of the editors, would come out to the West Coast with the woman who was doing the selling, because she said they claimed they never saw anybody from the office in New York. She was doing the selling of the children's books I was editing, and to my surprise nobody seemed willing to do it. I thought anybody would like an opportunity to go out west. Her territory was Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico. So, I said I would be very happy to go and it was arranged.
It was about a 2 month trip and we went to all the different book shops. I loved the country. When we were going through Arizona, she took me on side trips so I could see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest and then we went to some of the old cities in New Mexico - very romantic - I thought it was a beautiful way of life, the Indians, all the dome shaped buildings - I loved it. I decided I wanted to come and live somewhere in the west. I've always taken chances all my life. I've been very lucky. I was very friendly with one of the senior editors and I said I wanted to leave the publishing company and take my chances going out west. He said, "What are you going to do?" I said, "I don't know!" I was hoping I would be lucky. So, he gave me a letter to a friend of his who was story editor at MGM studios. He was a very nice man. He said, "All my life I've wanted to be an actor, I'm getting on for 40. If I don't make a change now, I never will. So, I am giving up my job and becoming an actor." However, he gave me another introduction to somebody else at Warner Brothers, the head of the reading department there, and there my luck held because she said she couldn't take on any more staff, she had to just keep the people she had. By chance, however, when they closed their office in New York, and they had an overflow of books, if I wanted to work there temporarily, I could. That was fine with me, so I got the job, reading manuscripts and books, writing them up with suggestions for making films. Then she came to me and said, "I'm so sorry, I can't keep you on any longer. I'd like to, but I haven't got the money for an extra person. Have you got anything else in mind?", and I said, "No!" So, she said, "Well, there's a man called Irwin Allen who is looking for a researcher. I think he is going to have difficulty because he's got a reputation of being very hard to work for. However, he has a great liking for English people. He likes to get English people to work for him if possible. You might get a chance being English of getting in with him. Try it, you never know."
So, I got an interview with Mr. Allen and I sat down and he looked at me and he didn't know what to ask. So he said, "Talk to me!", so I tried to talk about what I had been doing and what I thought I could do for him, and he listened and he didn't seem to know quite what to say. Then he said, "Do you drive?" and I said, "No, I don't", and he said, "I'm afraid it's impossible because there is no other way to get around here except by car and I'm very particular about people being prompt, and being here on time. I don't think without a car you can possibly do it." So I said, "Mr. Allen, if you will have me, I will get there on time, I can promise you that. I can manage with buses. I will find out how to do it and you needn't be afraid that I won't be on time because I will. Whatever it takes, I'll be there." So, well he didn't know. Then, at that moment, the man who was doing the drawings for the cameraman came in, Maurice Zuberano, well known to everyone in the film world and everyone called him Zubi (Zubi sadly passed away just before Paul came over to England for Voyage 94). He was making pictures for the next film being shown which was 'The Lost World' and he came in and said "Mr. Allen, I don't know what to do. I've got Professor Challenger - has just arrived at the airport and I don't know what sort of hat he would be wearing." Mr. Allen looked completely nonplussed. He didn't know either, so I said, "May I make a suggestion. I know the book very well and I know exactly what Professor Challenger is like. He is an eccentric, self opinionated Englishman and also I know that he has got thick, dark hair. He wouldn't be wearing a hat at all. He wouldn't dream of wearing a hat". So they were both very relieved, and I pleased Mr. Allen so much, he decided he would chance it and give me a job. So that is how I started with Mr. Allen!
I loved the job right away. I hadn't done all that much research. I had as a book editor, but nothing to do with research for film making. I'd make my rounds to the other film studios and talk to the people there.
Giants Log: Did you talk to other researchers to find out what exactly was involved?
Elizabeth: Yes, that was a very quiet moment in time, so I had the chance of getting out and talking to people and so I began to learn. There was a very good public library. They lost an awful lot in a big fire some years ago, some of the things can never be replaced.
Anyway, at that time they were very good and I really wanted to make a success of the job, so I worked long hours. I used to go down to the library after they had closed up for the day at the studios, and find stuff there that I thought might be useful to me, and it paid off. By that time I knew Maggie, and Maggie had an old landlady with a car and she wanted to sell it. So, Maggie said, "Why don't you buy it?".
Maggie: 15 dollars!
Elizabeth: Maggie bravely volunteered to teach me to drive, so I got the car. Maggie and I were so nervous so I saw that it wasn't a good idea to have a friend teach me, so I decided the best thing to do would be to go to a school and learn to drive. Mr. Allen was delighted I'd got a car and so that made him very happy and made life much easier for me because buses at that time were just awful. You'd have to wait hours to make connections. It helped me a lot.
Giants Log: So you worked for Irwin Allen rather than the studio?
Elizabeth: I worked for Irwin Allen, working at 20th Century Fox. He was very nice to me all the time because he had me in on everything that was going on. He wanted me to learn and so I was there right from the very beginning when the story outline was being discussed. Another thing, he didn't get on too well with some of the actors. Actors can be very touchy, difficult people very often. So, one of my jobs consisted of, once they were shooting, going down to sit with the actors and actresses and talk to them, make them feel happy. It was a lovely job for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially as he had a lot of English actors. So, I used to talk to them and then I used to watch what was going on with the shooting. It was very interesting. Mr. Allen said to me once, "We've opened up a whole new world for you, haven't we?" It was so true, I've never forgotten him saying that to me. I remember I took the job very seriously indeed. When we started shooting 'The Lost World', there was this big scene at the airport, and they were shooting from above and he was up on one of those big high stands looking down with a cameraman and he sent a message down to say, "I want more going on. Bring me another bus. Get some people unloading." So they rushed around, and they couldn't find an English bus on the lot while they were shooting. So they found a little grey/dark blue sort of bus, and I thought it's not an English bus so I climbed up the stairs and said, "Mr. Allen, Mr. Allen", and he says, "Yes Elizabeth, what's the matter", and I said, "You can't use that, please don't use that bus. It's not an English bus, and everybody will know that." So, he said, "Thank you Elizabeth, that's what I want you to do. I want you to tell me if anything needs to be changed. I'll look after things." Actually, when it was being shot, I was very dubious because I saw the bus was still there. When it was being shot, you couldn't tell what exactly it was. You didn't see much of the bus. You just saw people alighting.
Another time, I had to tell him something he was doing was quite wrong when he was shooting 'Five Weeks in a Balloon'. They find this little mysterious group of Arabs, in Arabia. It was an Arabian city with a very wealthy Emir and I'd done a lot of research on this and when he started doing the shooting he wanted to have a very exotic scene of the Sultan with all his wives sitting around him in very youthful, elegant and revealing clothes - very exciting, exotic and sexy. So, I had to go up to him and say, "Mr. Allen, you can't shoot this scene because the Sultan would never have his wives shown when visitors are there. They have to be behind curtains", and he said, "Elizabeth, you're destroying the best scene in the whole show." "Well, you wanted me to say that's wrong." So he said, "Alright, I'm glad you told me. If you tell me I'm always prepared to listen", but he said, "I'm going to do it anyway."
I used to go on the set and check things. It's so easy to let things through if you're not watching the whole time. I remember being told about a movie in biblical times. They had a big cast, and a big group of people for one scene - extras. They were all dressed up for the part. They had to raise their hands, and the robes slipped down their arms. They were told not to wear watches and they didn't wear watches, but there was a white circle around their arms. That was one of the things that impressed me very much. I was trying to remember anything like that.
Giants Log: I understand in 'Land of the Giants' that because it was supposed to be an alien planet that they couldn't have any product names, but you could see the different Earth car names.
Elizabeth: They had to be so careful about that in any film. A rival company would not like it at all - advertising Coca Cola instead of Pepsi. So many things you have to be aware of. The script girl has to check from one scene to another. That really is difficult because she has got to remember what they were wearing. Supposing they break for the evening and the same scene has to finish the next day. She has to be sure exactly what clothes they were wearing. If anybody took off a coat because they were hot, etc.
Giants Log: Especially since scenes weren't even filmed in order.
Elizabeth: I know and that must be difficult for the actors too. If they work themselves up for an emotional pitch and then they have to go back and lose that.
Maggie: There was an article in yesterday's paper about moving Fox from the west side.
Elizabeth: They used to have such a large back lot. They sold a lot. I daresay they made a lot of money out of it.
Giants Log: It would be sad. To lose all the history.
Elizabeth: It must be 20 years since I was last there.
Giants Log: Were you the only researcher for Irwin Allen or did he have others?
Elizabeth: I was the only one. I had an assistant, but he was very busy. I also built up a library for Mr. Allen. He didn't have a library. It was very important. I built him a very nice library dealing with underseas material and space.
Maggie: I used to go and visit Liz on the set and that is how I met him. He came over to our house. If anybody came into town that we knew, I'd always take them over there. Liz would get them in.
Giants Log: What are your memories of 'Lost in Space' and research for the TV series?
Elizabeth: I remember Jonathan Harris very well. Then there was David Hedison and I think at that time they were just beginning to bring in good tapes to play in the car and he was so excited. He said "Come listen to this tape. Isn't it beautiful. Listen to the sound of it." It was the first time I'd heard a really good tape. That's just one of the things I remember about David Hedison.
Giants Log: What kind of research did you have to do for the TV shows?
Elizabeth: I had to do the whole thing. You see, working for one person like that I had to start right from the beginning and go through right to the end and make sure that the sets were being made correctly, that the costumes were of the right period. You had to remember that you must never have zips on them instead of buttons - on men's pants and things like that. We start off with the sets being built then you watch the furniture, then the costumes and they start selecting the actors and actresses, and from then on you get questions. Then, you have to be prepared for anybody and anything. They ask, "What about this...?" and "What about that...?" And heaven help you if you haven't thought of something, because there is very little time if you've got to get something quickly.
As a matter of fact, Cousteau was so impressed. He came around to the studio and he thought it was amazing how fast we could find the stuff. He was complaining that his Paris office weren't half as quick getting things and actually I was offered a job of going to Paris and heading up the research for him which would have been a very exciting job. I would have loved it, but I didn't because first of all my French is very school-girl French and I could have taken a quick rapid course, but that sort of information is so classified, there was so much I wouldn't know.
Giants Log: You managed to do things working for Irwin Allen that you might never have had a chance to do.
Elizabeth: I was so lucky. If I had just been a researcher in a group researching for one of the studios I wouldn't have had a chance to do any of those things. I would have been stuck in that research department, never moving from my desk. Whereas here I was absolutely free. I could go anywhere I wanted and he was very nice about letting me have complete confidence in what I was doing. I think the nicest compliment he ever paid me, and it wasn't in a way a compliment - He'd been wanting to get a helicopter for some show and he was having problems. He told me to get onto doing that and I went into his office and said, "Mr. Allen, I've got a helicopter for you and it'll do exactly what you want it to", and he didn't say anything to me at all. He looked at me and picked up his receiver and dialled a number and I don't know who he was talking to, and he said," Our girl Elizabeth has done it again!" I beamed all over my face, I was so pleased.
Maggie: Remember when he used to inform everybody that you were...
Elizabeth: I sat in all the meetings, serious business meetings most of them, heads of different departments who were working with him and they were on subjects of more general concern. They were talking about hippies and saying how awful it was and so on. So I piped up and said, "Well, I like hippies", and he said, "What?!", and I said, "Well the hippies have been very nice that I've known" and again he didn't say anything to me. He walked straight out of the room, was gone for a few minutes and when he came back he said, "I've got to tell you, I went outside and said to my secretary, 'Did you know that Elizabeth likes hippies?' and she looked at me and said, 'Oh, didn't you know that Elizabeth was one of the greatest swingers on the lot?' I said, 'No, I never thought. Oh dear, sweet, gentle Elizabeth. I never thought I'd hear something like that about her.'" So after that, when he brought people in to see me, he used to introduce me as his 'resident hippy'. So you see, I used to have fun with him. To me he was always very nice and sweet.
Giants Log: Who was in the team that surrounded Irwin Allen?
Elizabeth: The team belonged to the studio actually. I think it was his own cameraman. An awfully nice man and I think he may have been his special cameraman because he was on all his shows. One of them who he depended on most was the man who did the special effects, Bill Abbott. He was great. I think he (Irwin) depended on him tremendously. He was an awfully nice man.
Giants Log: He was probably very proud of the people he had working with him. Did you know some of the writers such as Richard McDonagh and Tony Wilson.
Elizabeth: Oh, Tony Wilson I remember. I liked him. As a matter of fact, I wanted to write a script for I think 'Lost in Space' and I showed Tony my treatment and Tony liked it. He said, "You know, Irwin will never take something from you like that. If you like, write it up. You'll have to let me put my name on it, and I'll say the idea comes from you. If he likes this one, he might let you do the next one." Wouldn't you know that by the time I decided to do this, the show was over, so I didn't get a chance. He (Tony) used to have an enormous pair of made-up soft, sort of rubber, feet - bare feet of some sort of monster and he put that out underneath his desk. People sitting could see these huge awful feet. He was so funny doing things like that. I liked him very much. Mr. Allen had another writer who I know died, William Welch. He was a very nice man, very quiet.
The grips were all very nice and you know, the people on the lot were always doing things. They had one trick they used to play on all newcomers including myself. Someone would come on this side and tap you on the shoulder, and of course you'd turn round like that. By that time, the person's moved away and you can't think who's tapped you on the shoulder. They did and did it to me, and finally I said to one of them - one of them was very nice to me - "What is it they are doing? I don't know how it is I can't see anybody tapping me on the shoulder", and he said, "I'll tell you what happens then. The next time it happens, turn to your left instead of your right, and you'll see who's doing it." It was such a nice lot.
Maggie: Les Warner was a good friend of ours. I spoke to him about six months ago.
Elizabeth: Yes, Maggie called him after the earthquake. He was getting on in age.
Maggie: He was the production coordinator. He retired near Palm Springs. There was a big earthquake there just recently.
Elizabeth: He lived just down the street here. He had a house that Marion Davis and William Hurst had. Tom Cranham, did you meet him? He was a nice man. He did the storyboards. He was very nice. He was at Irwin Allen's funeral. I hadn't seen him for a long time, and he recognized me. I was so pleased he recognized me. He had, at that time I was working with him, he had two little boys and he used to bring them to the studio, and he still seemed just as nice, easy going and friendly.
The thing I was going to tell you about Charlie Bennett was that he loved to act out the stories. When he was going to do an undersea's one, he'd come in and he'd say (whilst acting as a swimmer), "He was swimming along in the water and there he sees a big rock which he's going to hide behind. He's looking for his dagger, and he can't find it and there - guess what's coming - it's an octopus", and then he changes to being the octopus. It was such fun to watch him acting. I think he used to enjoy it so much because he was giving us a whole show.
This interview also shows another side to Irwin Allen. He is often reported as being tough to work with. From talking with Elizabeth, we could clearly see that she had a tremendous amount of respect for him and felt that she gained a lot working for him. This is why a wide range of interviews are essential to gain a full picture of life working on the Irwin Allen Productions.