'Tom Graeff was born Thomas Lockyear Graeff on September 12, 1929, to George and Grace Graeff in the now-vanished mining town of Ray, Arizona. Before Tom was two years old, he and his parents moved to Los Angeles, where Tom grew up and where his brother James was born. Discovering a love for film at an early age, Tom enrolled in the UCLA Theater Arts program, which allowed him to study filmmaking.
Home movie by Tom Graeff, date unknown
'Graeff pledged the Delta Chi fraternity and became a brother. His college career was marked by poor grades and after being put on academic probation several times, he redeemed himself by making a short film about fraternity life entitled Toast to Our Brother.
'The film starred Graeff and a Paramount ingenue named Judith Ames, and guest-starred the Hollywood actor and comedian Joe E. Brown, a UCLA alumni. Judith Ames, who appeared in When Worlds Collide, later changed her name to Rachel Ames and found success in the role of "Audrey Hardy," one of the longest-running characters on the popular American soap opera General Hospital. Toast to Our Brother premiered at the Village Theater in Westwood on December 18, 1951 as a benefit for the St. Sophia Building Fund. The film garnered some industry attention and, because of the work Graeff put into it as writer, director, producer, and star, he was allowed to graduate in 1952.
Toast to Our Brother - Clip 1
Toast to Our Brother - Clip 2
'After graduation, Graeff made several attempts to break into the film industry. Inspired by Roger Corman, Graeff decided to work independently. Described by friends and acquaintances as outgoing, energetic, creative, and a born salesman, Graeff landed a job producing and directing a recruiting film for Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. The resulting 20-minute film, entitled The Orange Coast College Story, was first shown on campus in May of 1954. The film was narrated by actor Vincent Price, who was a friend of the faculty advisor, and starred a young actor named Chuck Roberts, who became romantically involved with Graeff and helped him by working on Graeff's two feature films.
Stills from The Orange Coast College Story
'In the summer of 1954, Graeff began production on his first feature, a fantasy/ comedy entitled The Noble Experiment, to be shot in 35mm and color in Orange County, California, where Graeff was now living with his parents and younger brother. The film was photographed by Austin McKinney, who also shot Toast to Our Brother and who invented the apparatus that allowed the pre-recorded dialogue to be played back on set so the actors could lipsync. This saved on having to rent sound recording equipment or having to post-dub the actors later. McKinney had devised a 16mm version of the device while filming Toast to Our Brother, but now created a 35mm version for Tom's first feature.
'The film took a year to complete and premiered at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach, California, on August 2, 1955. Graeff again played the lead in this fantasy that he describes as being "about an amateur biochemist who, successful with a chemical 'get-along pill' for his mother-in-law, pours a barrel full of the concoction into the city water supply." The film was not well received by the local audiences, but remained Graeff's favorite of his films.
'Today, no print of this film has been located. You can read Tom's own description of the plot and themes of the film here. While a fantasy, The Noble Experiment was both autobiographical and eerily prescient about Graeff's later troubles.
The only surviving images from The Noble Experiment
'His hard work paid off, however, when he was hired as an assistant on Roger Corman's film Not of This Earth in the summer of 1956. To cut costs, Roger Corman regularly used crew members to play small parts in his films. We know that Tom worked as an assistant on Corman's Not of This Earth. Now it's been confirmed that the car park attendant in two scenes is Tom.
Roger Corman's Not of This Earth
'The experience working with Roger Corman led directly to Graeff's writing a heart-felt science-fiction script entitled Killers from Outer Space and, modeling himself after Corman, Graeff set about getting investors, hiring actors, and planning the production. Securing some of the $14,000 budget from actor Gene Sterling, Graeff placed a small ad in The Hollywood Reporter looking for more investors. The ad was answered by British actor Bryan Pearson (billed as Bryan Grant), who put up $5000 in exchange for playing the role of Thor, the evil alien, and casting his wife Ursula Pearson (billed as Ursula Hansen) in the small role of Hilda.
'Filmed in the fall of 1956, the film changed titles several times before it was eventually released as Teenagers from Outer Space by Warner Brothers in June of 1959. The film, now considered a cult classic, tells the tale of Derek (played by Chuck Roberts, a.k.a David Love) a space alien with a conscience who must save Earth from an invasion of giant flesh-eating monsters. It was shot entirely on location in Hollywood, California. The final title of the film was apparently not Graeff's choice. The last title he gave to the film before selling it to Warner Brothers was The Boy From Out of This World.
Tom Graeff's Teenagers from Outer Space
'When it was finally released, it appeared as the lower part of a double bill alongside the second Godzilla film, Gigantis the Fire Monster, and was shown almost exclusively at drive-in theaters. Critics were not kind to the film, though Graeff was mentioned in the Los Angeles Times and Variety as a director with talent and a creative approach to a minimal budget. Audiences and theater exhibitors were vocal in their contempt for the film.
'In the early 1960s, however, the film was sold to television, where it played frequently for the next thirty years and gained a cult following as a supreme example of a film whose intentions far outstripped its budget and for its infamous ray gun that turned living things into instant skeletons, an effect lovingly borrowed by Tim Burton in his film Mars Attacks!.
Stills from Teenagers from Outer Space
'In November of 1959, Graeff bought a large advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, announcing that God had spoken to him and wanted him to spread peace and love throughout the world. This was followed by another advertisement announcing that Graeff was now named Jesus Christ II, and would be making an appearance on the steps of a Hollywood church to spread God's word.
'In 1960, Graeff appeared in the Los Angeles County Superior Court to petition for his name change. With vocal opposition by the Christian Defense League, the petition was denied. Later in 1960, Graeff interrupted a church service at the Hollywood Church of Christ, shouting "I'm Jesus Christ II and I've got a message. Everyone must listen." Graeff was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. This was actually his second arrest for disturbing the peace that year. Earlier he had disrupted a college class and had to be forcibly removed.
Tom Graeff leaving the Los Angeles Court House in 1960
'Sentenced to 90 days in jail, Graeff jumped bail and fled first to the Midwest, then farther east until more entanglements with the law and state authorities led to jail time and finally an involuntary stay in a state mental hospital. After a series of electro-shock treatments, he was returned to his parents in California by late 1964.
'Although Tom seemed to have given up filmmaking for involvement in various social and religious causes while a fugitive, he nonetheless was hired as editor on David L. Hewitt's ultra low-budget science fiction film Wizard of Mars in 1965.
David L. Hewitt's Wizard of Mars
'By 1968, he had completed a bizarre screenplay entitled alternately Please, Please Turn Me Off, The Immortalizer, and The Fate Worse Than Death. In early 1968, Graeff took out a small ad in Variety, announcing that his screenplay, now entitled Orf, was for sale for the unprecedented sum of $500,000. Gossip columnist Joyce Haber followed up and printed a sarcastic piece in the Los Angeles Times, which reported that Graeff claimed Robert Wise was attached and Carl Reiner was to star. Wise denied any involvement.
'Graeff, hurt by Haber's misquotes and nasty attitude, published an apology to Robert Wise in The Hollywood Reporter, accusing Haber of purposefully omitting facts and trying to destroy negotiations to get the script produced. Haber responded in her column by telling everyone in Hollywood of the Jesus Christ II incident ten years earlier.
Tom Graeff in the late '60s
'Tom's final years were obsessive and energetic. He lived in a beautiful home on Rodgerton in the Hollywood Hills, apparently serving as an assistant/helper to the house's owner. Tom was vague about how he got his money. He always seemed to have enough to get by, despite never holding down a regular job. He continued to try and interest the Hollywood elite in Orf. He called agents and actors all over the world, asking them to read his script, then following up with them until they said, "No." And they all said no.
'Tom was also running Evolutionary Data Foundation, a mail order business that primarily existed to sell a long-playing record of a lecture he gave at the Metropoloan Community Church. The record's front cover had a groovy picture of Jesus and the back cover proclaimed "UNABASHED LOVEMAKING and how sexual hypocrisy got started." The lecture is a wacky, often humor-filled explanation of why man is inherently bisexual, with stops along the way into the theories of Desmond Morris and Richard Leakey. The record was broadcast twice in its entirety on local radio station KPFK-FM in 1969.
Cover illustration of Tom Graeff's LP
'Ironically, the back cover text on the record claimed that one of its uses was to help end the suicides of men with "an inability to cope with the flood of convincing misinformation concerning their homosexual feelings." Tom talked about committing suicide endlessly to his circle of friends, who laughed him off or became annoyed at what they thought was a way for Tom to get attention and sympathy. Tom swung from manic highs, running around Hollywood trying to promote his projects, to depressed lows when he just sat quietly and said little.
The last known photograph of Tom Graeff
'What led to Tom's suicide? Was it that "inability to cope" with his homosexual feelings? Hearsay evidence points to a very different reason, which may also explain why he moved from Hollywood to a small rented room outside San Diego. Why were many of his papers destroyed after his suicide? And what does Kurt Vonnegut have to do with Tom Graeff? My research continues as I try and track down the facts behind Tom's last years. It's a tale of lust, unrequited love, Hollywood studio treachery, the sexual revolution of the late 1960s, big time dreams, and the crazy emotional roller coaster of Tom Graeff's obsessions.' -- The Tom Graeff Project
The Boy From Out of This World: Official Teaser Trailer
p.s. Hey. ** gucciCODYprada, Maestro! That 'despite' sucks, obviously, but the proximity to great health repair is soothing. Yeah, I tend to write by hand, and it's no sweat and kind of nice, but I think it was easier to get used to that method when your only other choice was a typewriter than it would be now. Anyway, I'm really glad you're getting some writing done, most obviously. Future life stress is totally natural, but you've got that 'god' given talent with words, so figuring that that will shape what happens makes sense, even if how that talent ends up exactly doing the trick isn't easily fathomable in advance. In some way, you kind of always want your life to be a mess 'cos mess means freedom, but it's just about creating a mess that's inspiring and not overly stressful or something. I don't know. Man, so fucking good to get to talk with you, and I'll hope to have some kind of at least initial reading report as I dig into your tome. Big love, me. ** Scunnard, Hi there, old buddy. I'm good, thanks. Ha ha, wow, I did that once. I mean I tried to listen to all my vinyl alphabetically, but I didn't make it past something kind of embarrassing like C. Skipping Ant-Flag is hilarious for some reason. Much funnier than skipping Antioch Arrow. I wonder why. I think the words 'Anti-Flag' and 'skip' must be a comedy duo or something. It's good day for me lately when I write a paragraph, so kudos. Super nice to see you! ** Empty Frame, Hey! It's you! How about dem apples, as people older than me used to say where I come from. Tricks are good. Glad your tricks are good too. I'm very pleased with what we shot of the film, yeah, very. And we'll start editing in about three weeks, and then we'll really see. Krasznahorkai is great, yeah. I've read a couple of his books, lead to him by Tarr. I'm following the Scottish referendum as best one can externally, yeah. Very excited and even kind of nervous about today. Yeah, I mean, I guess if I were Scottish and had to vote, I would try to think as broadly and intricately as I could about it before voting, but, if someone handed me a valid ballot today, I would vote Yes, obviously. Fingers crossed! ** Jeffrey Coleman, Hi, Jeff. Severed Heads are really worth investigating. I would say maybe get into the earlier stuff first. I think their strong start might be their best work. Maybe for the first time (?) ever, I know both of your music recommendations already, and I share your big up about their stuff. But I'll go see what you chose of them to highlight with links. That will be fun. Thanks a bunch, man. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, D. I saw her sing it once, maybe even at the same show you saw. I do think it was at the Whisky. It was super tense. I hope to see Christophe next week, so I'll see if he know anything about a US release. When I told him that 'Man at Bath' was released on DVD in the US, he was shocked. Happily shocked. But he had no idea it was out. ** James, Mm, as you may now know, I think my Halloween playlist would have taken a fair amount more than 20 minutes, at least without tasting and skipping, which is probably the method I would have used. I've wanted to see 'Blow Out' again. I saw it when it was originally released, and it just seemed like a weak if interestingly revised in theory wash-down of the Antonioni masterpiece, but time has a mysterious way of upending first impressions, god knows. Love to you too! ** Steevee, That is very good news about the Godard. Bow before the almighty false Goth god, Azer, Mime of Darkness! ** Sypha, Azer, Mime of Darkness is the Bresson of Goth-inflected youtube performers! Enjoying the Johnson. Have I ever read Octavia Butler? Hm, maybe not. How are you finding it to be? ** Etc etc etc, Hey, bud! Are you making good progress on the finagling? And/or on the prostituting? Sure hope so, obviously. My Halloween plan this year probably won't match up with my usual heavy indulgence in the holiday because I'll probably be in NYC watching a performance of 'Kindertotenlieder' that night. Although I will try to hit every NYC spooky house that exists and that I can manage. How was the 'Finnegan's Wake' oral thing? And, well, what was it exactly? Or what was the interpretation? My experience with 'FW' has been to dip in occasionally over time. Open to a random page, read a bunch, get wowed and excited, and then close the book and try to do something with that inspiration. I haven't heard Ariel's new album. I've known Ariel's work since kind of pre-the beginning. He was a Cal Arts student when I was in LA and heavily in the art world there, and he was great buds with a few young artists I know in LA, so I got to hear his earliest makings on cassette back when he was a visual artist using the cassette and tunefulness as his medium. And I knew him a bit 'cos he was the studio assistant of an artist who's a very close friend of mine before he 'blew up'. So, yeah. I haven't been as excited by the slicker phase of his work, but I always listen to the new thing to see what's up, and I definitely plan to get his new one. I'm well, thanks, and you sound pretty well. Tell me more. ** Dom Lyne, Hi, Dom! Really nice to see you! I'm really glad you're doing well post-hands-on-treatment or post- the more hands-on phase. And I'm obviously very happy that you'll be seeing that psych since you think seeing him again will assist you. And, even more obviously, I'm really glad you're writing! And, cool, I'll go check out the 'Transmissions' re-release! Great! Everyone, the wondrous writer Dom Lyne has rereleased his collection of interconnected short fiction pieces 'Transmissions' via the Smashwords eBook site, and you can go get and read it here, and I strongly encourage you to do so. ** Kier, Kiersterooni! You're training to Oslo. Sounds nice. Norway's so beautiful, and I hope the train track is wisely placed. Oh, your Danish friend finally went home. That's sad. I hope you guys can stay in touch somehow. I guess that's where Facebook can become more than a place for outrage addicted people to blow up about every little pop culture controversy and declare it a sign of the apocalypse. (Sorry, I'm in a 'fed up with my FB newsfeed' phase at the moment.) You left at 5 am? Yikes! So, let's see, it's 10 am here right now, so I guess you're on the train right now hopefully looking out the window at fjords and stuff. Putting wooden poles in the ground sounds simultaneously like, yeah, hard work and so beautiful somehow. I'm such a spoiled urban brat or something. Wednesday: Let's see ... worked a bit, which was good. This very cool band asked me to handwrite the track list and cover copy for their new EP 'cos they want to have my handwriting as the EP's cover art, and that was intriguing and fun, so, of course, I said, 'Sure.' Zac came over for a pre-trip goodbye visit, and I gave him his plane treats, and he had handmade me my favorite substance in the entire world (cold sesame noodle) as a return gift, and that was amazing, and I'm really sad that he's leaving, but at least he'll be back soon. He also gave me a back-up version of all of the footage and sound files for our film on a hard drive 'cos my last pre-editing task re: the film is to find/hire someone to organize the footage and sync the sound files so we can start editing as soon as Zac gets back, and I have to start hunting down someone to do that today. Then I made 1 1/2 blog posts and wrote some emails and ate the cold sesame noodles and swooned appropriately and then bedtime insistently encroached, and I crashed. So, are you hooked up internet-wise while you're in Oslo? If so, what happened today? How was the trip, how was your arrival, how did Oslo welcome you? ** Thomas Moronic, Hi, T. Do you even need to ask me if altering one of your guest-posts into a Halloween thing is okay? I mean, seriously, could anything be more okay than that? Please do! Re: my novel, I'm essentially at the point I was at a few months ago when I had to stop working on it full-time. It is hard to say. This novel is very different from my others in a lot of ways. It has the pre-determined structure and organization and so on like my others, but it requires a lot more spontaneity and intuition because it's generated entirely by my current emotional state and by what's going in my life and how my life and emotions influence my imagination, which makes my degree of progress much harder to gauge. I would say, best guess, I'm somewhere between half to two-thirds the way through the first draft, probably closer to two-thirds, or I hope so. There are four sections roughly written, and I'm the midst of the fifth section, and, ideally, there will be maybe two more sections that I haven't started working on yet. I'll be able to know and say more once I've locked myself back into novel work, which I'm hoping will be as of today or tomorrow at the latest. I really appreciate your asking me! ** _Black_Acrylic, Spooktacular! Thank you! Oh, man, even my quasi-French nails are being heavily bitten today. That poll is discouraging and, sadly, not a huge surprise to me, but, shit, fuck polls ultimately. Thank you very much for those links. I'll be following the results closely and addictively until my tiredness gets the best of me tonight. Best of the best of luck to Yes! Is there some big public gathering planned in Dundee where people can share the results as they happen and hopefully celebrate together? ** Cal Graves, Hi, Cal! I'm really glad you came back! And thank you a bunch for linking me up to your poems. I'll go read them later today once I've got this post and p.s. launched. Yeah, thank you! Everyone, Cal Graves, a newcomer to the insides of this place, is a writer, and you can give him a big DC's welcome as well as give yourselves literary treats by clicking this link to his tumblr and reading some of his work. T'would be very cool of you did that. I just read the poem at the top of the page when I was creating that link, and it's beautiful, man! Coil's great, yeah, I do know Nurse with Wound. In fact, it seems weird to me that I didn't think to put them in the gig. Brain freeze or something. Yeah, I like them, and your characterization of their sound is really good. About our film's distribution, it is kind of early, but I think it has a distributor in the US and, I think, in France and in Germany, and I think, otherwise, the producers are waiting to see if they can score distributors based on a hopefully good reception at film festivals. I haven't seen a new movie in fucking ages. Other than Christophe Honore's 'Metamorphoses', which was really good. I need to catch up. Everyone, anyone seen any good movies lately? Cal asked. What movies have you seen lately? Anything particularly exciting? ** Misanthrope, Oh, too bad, I would like to see that tiny guy. I'll try to find him. Shouldn't be too hard, right? Little though he is. Well, okay, but straight is obviously not a problem for you when a guy is the main vocalist and most widespread crush object in a popular boy band, unless you harbor conspiracy theories about his secret leanings. That 'turning straight guys gay' thing seems so 20th century. My hair is wavy rather than curly. Always has been. That was the bane of my teenaged wannabe hippie phase. ** Hyemin K, Hi. Yeah, I never liked carrots, cooked or raw. I do like carrot cake, though. I've been a vegetarian since I was 16, and, sadly that didn't straighten my hair, so I think you're very lucky. A huge amount of work to do often makes me ill, or at least makes me phantom ill. It's always to tell the difference. Oh, gosh, blush, thank you. ** Kyler, Hi. If I'm in NYC as almost planned, I'll try to get to WSP. I'm not sure what'll be going on since I'll be there technically to do/take care of the 'Kindertotenlieder' shows even though Zac and I are using that as a partial excuse to use NYC as a place to have some Halloween fun. Too bad about the Murakami. I'll skip it. ** Rewritedept, Hi. I do try to elude expectations whenever I can. Except in Rob Zombie's case, but that song drives me crazy, so what can you do? Just so you know, for future reference, if Bradford saw you refer to him as Brad, he'd have a snit fit. Can't tell yet about the chat. I have to see how much work and time getting/hiring the film footage organizer will involve mostly. My day wasn't a Thrasher tape, although, while Zac and I were visiting, a woman's baby fell down a long flight of stairs causing her to scream hysterically at the top of her lungs, which caused the otherwise unhurt baby to cry at the top its lungs, and that was kind of Thrasher. ** Right. I found out recently about this Tom Graeff guy's life story and work, and I thought it was interesting (in some way) enough to share with you. And there you go. See you tomorrow.