Tuesday, June 12, 2018

UFO and Alien Movies: It Came from Hangar 18

Epilogue: The Hollywood Legacy, Hangar 18 to Close Encounters and Back Again

Robert Spencer Carr’s resurrection of the Aztec legend paved the way for Leonard Stringfield’s UFO crash/retrieval studies, and the revival of Roswell by Stanton Friedman, William Moore and Charles Berlitz. Carr’s crash story was part of the UFO revival that led to a boom in space-based science fiction movies such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and also was exploited in the movie Hangar 18 which was based on the Aztec legend itself.

UFO Crashes and The Movies
The first saucer crash movie was based on John W. Campbell, Jr’s story “Who Goes There” from Astounding Science Fiction, August 1938. It was adapted into the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World where the spaceship in the story became a flying saucer for the film. The Thing, in the first half, has a few similarities to the premise of Frank Scully’s book, Behind the Flying Saucers; the military’s attempt to recover a crashed flying saucer from a remote location, the retrieval of an alien body from it for scientific examination, and the premise that there’s a UFO cover-up. Like Scully’s book, the film also gets in a few jabs at the Government’s denials of flying saucers.

The Aztec story doesn’t provide the kind of exciting storytelling opportunities that Hollywood likes, though. It starts off dramatically, but essentially, it’s the story of entering a tomb, so the movies focused on the UFO stories with live aliens. One notable exception was The Bamboo Saucer was a 1968 film but based on a script from the 50s. It’s a Cold War parable about two teams from the US and Russia fighting for possession of a flying saucer that landed in China. The crew died off-camera and were cremated by locals before the action begins, so we never see the aliens, just the technological wonder of their saucer. There’s no Hangar 18 in sight, but the story has some Aztec in its DNA.

The 1968 novel, The Fortec Conspiracy by Richard M. Garvin and Edmond G. Addeo featured a plot that had many similarities to the Aztec legend. Bodies from a flying saucer crash were hidden in a laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Unlike Carr’s version, in the book, the alien bodies weren’t frozen, but pickled in glass tubes. Carr claimed not to have read the book, but said it was based on a true story. He was a Hollywood veteran, and may have kept up with the industry news to know of the development of the novel as a motion picture.

Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, CA) December 27, 1973
Richard M. Garvin of Mill Valley, an advertising agency executive, will have his novel “The Fortec Conspiracy,” made into a major motion picture. Both he and his collaborator, Ed Addeo of Mill Valley, will be given bit parts in the film. Garvin’s novel, a science fiction work dealing with UFO’s, was published in 1968 and has sold a quarter million copies in paperback. It will be filmed by Cine Arts Studios in Hollywood and released through 20th Century Fox. Garvin is a vice president at Richardson Seigle Rolfs & McCoy Inc. advertising firm in San Francisco.

The news was also reported Publishers Weekly and in science fiction magazines such as the Monster Times and Luna Monthly #349, Autumn 1973, which also said, “Top actors selected for the lead parts include one of the of the major names from Star Trek.” Fascinating, but like many optioned film projects, The Fortec Conspiracy died in development without ever being made, but it was just one of many saucer movie projects gestating.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

The renewed interest in UFOs started by the 1973 Pascagoula abduction case led to the Flying Saucer Symposium, which gave Carr the platform to thrill the public with a sensational UFO cover-up story. The energy spilled over to reinvigorate the entertainment industry’s interest in flying saucers, and provide Steven Spielberg the chance to fulfill a dream.

As a teenager in 1964, Steven Spielberg had made a full-length amateur science fiction film about UFOs, Firelight. As a professional director he returned to the topic in the early 1970s when he had enough clout to begin choosing his own projects.

“Before he started filming Jaws, Spielberg had signed a development deal for something called Watch the Skies (the closing words from The Thing from Another World, 1951), based on a short story he wrote in 1970 called “Experiences.” In the summer of 1973, producer Michael Phillips (The Sting) started talking about science fiction films with Spielberg, and it was Phillips and his wife Julia who set up the deal with David Begelman at Columbia Pictures. Paul Schrader was hired to write the script in December 1973.”
America's Film Legacy by Daniel Eagan (2009)

However, production complications led Spielberg to choose to direct Jaws before Close Encounters of the Third Kind, chiefly because his “UFOs and Watergate” concept had yet to be developed into a finished story. In an interview in the July 1982, Esquire magazine, Paul Schrader discussed working on the screenplay for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “I was the first of a series of writers. Steve was the last. When I was first approached, Steve had in mind to do a Watergate-like expose of a government cover-up of the fact that flying saucers existed.”

1973 was the year Maj. Donald Keyhoe’s book, Aliens from Space was published, the book that climaxed with Robert Spencer Carr’s plan for initiating a close encounter. Steven Spielberg and his team were aware of the current UFO literature, and influenced by recent events which would have included the headline news that Robert Carr was making in 1974. Carr talked about the UFO situation as being “Saucergate,” and the finale of Close Encounters appears to be the Hollywood version of Carr’s Operation Lure concept.

In Paul Schrader’s first version of the CE3K script, the protagonist, Paul VanOwen, discusses an idea to contact UFO occupants:

“Well look, we haven’t had any success trying to communicate. We beam radio signals, math problems, tonal scales; no response… Well, we’ll have to entice them to come to us. Stop chasing them. Lure them close enough so we can observe and decipher.”

With this idea, “Project Entice” was initiated, a decoy saucer and lighted panels are built at a remote location to lure UFOs into contact. Schrader’s story was scrapped in favor of a new script, but the concept of Project Entice was reworked, incorporated into the climactic scene in the final film.

In a July 23, 1976 interview with The Clearwater Sun, Carr once again described his vision for Operation Lure:
“I believe we should build a safe landing zone on the highest mesa... and assure the aliens it is not an ambush. I feel confident they would land. I’d like nothing more than to see... intelligent conversation, with the immensely wise little beings that pilot flying saucers.”

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in December 1977. There’s no public record of what Bob Carr thought of the Spielberg movie, but he must have loved it. Carr’s Operation Lure dream come true, at least in theatres, peaceful contact with "our friends from space.”

Contracts with Ufologists

In 1977, two film companies, Sunn Classic Pictures  and Scotia American Productions, were researching projects for documentaries based on the UFO crash story. An article in the newsletter of Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) by editor by Todd Zechel showed how Hollywood seemed to be having an influence on UFO research:
Just Cause, April 1978 Vol. 1, No. 1 “Nuts and Bolts Making a Comeback”Despite the steady drift toward (and off) “The Edge of Reality,” physical evidence cases have been making a strong bid for the spotlight of late. Just as everyone was concluding crashed saucers were as much an anachronism as Venusian scoutcraft, suddenly Scully-like stories have reared their nasty heads. Apparently, motion picture companies such as Sunn Classics and a lot of loose dollars have encouraged a revival of “Wright Field" rumors.

The Scotia American Productions film was to have been Skywatch. A piece of art promoting it appeared in the May 1978, UK magazine Starburst.

T. Scott Crain wrote a letter to the Jan. 1981, MUFON Journal about his research contribution to the motion picture industry’s saucer efforts:

Back in March 1977, the production managers of Sunn Classic Pictures contacted a number of selected UFO researchers around the country to do research on various UFO related topics, mainly where, if it exists, is the military holding UFO hardware, and who has the inside facts about what has been going on. UFO researcher Leonard Stringfield, I, and several others were asked to sign a contract to do exclusive research on those questions for Sunn so they could produce a nonfiction film based on the facts showing how the military has captured a UFO and kept this information from the public.

Richard Hall (editor of the MUFON Journal) replied with further details:

Sunn Classics also contacted me, Walt Andrus, Larry Bryant, and others at various stages of researching a UFO movie. Originally it was to be a general documentary. At that stage, I signed a contract and provided material on a number of CE-II cases. Gradually, Sunn Classics saw "sensation" value in the "crashed saucer" stories and focused on them. Meanwhile, Scotia American Productions, New York, was working on a rival documentary (with Todd Zechel as research director). I did considerable research in the National Archives for Scotia. Later, Scotia also began seeking "sensation," and Sunn Classics negotiated with them to take over the film altogether. I do not know the exact deal that was struck, but do know that Scotia acquired the Sunn Classics research files. The Scotia film, also tending toward fiction last I knew, never was completed.

Hangar 18: The Motion Picture

The product that emerged from the documentary research was instead a fictional film, Hangar 18. However, it was advertised as an exposé of a true story, and the film opened with the statement:

“In spite of official denials, rumors have continued to surface about what the government has been concealing from the American public at a secret Air Force hangar. But now, with the help of a few brave eyewitnesses who have stepped forward to share their knowledge of these events, the story can finally be told.”

The Cover-up Classic Ingredients:
Crashed UFO, Space Hieroglyphics,
ET Bodies, and an Alien Autopsy 
Hangar 18 updates the Aztec story to the present day of 1980, with a US Space Shuttle launch of a satellite colliding with a UFO, causing it to crash. The news is too hot to release, but in the movie, it is because the turbulence might derail the re-election of the US president, so it’s covered up. The flying saucer is recovered in secret, and taken to Hangar 18 (in the southwest, not at Wright-Patterson) where they open it to find the alien bodies - there’s even an alien autopsy. The aliens are full sized, but like Carr’s little men, these aliens share our DNA. They are ancient aliens, our ancestors.

In the end credits:
“The producers wish to express their appreciation to the following persons and organizations: Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, The Center for UFO Research, Ground Saucer Watch, NASA, Rockwell International, City of Big Spring, Texas.”

Like with Close Encounters, Robert Spencer Carr’s story lives in Hangar 18, but only the darker portions of it. The movie was awful, but was financially successful… and had a huge advertising campaign, so almost all consumers were aware of the premise of the film:

“The government is concealing a UFO and the bodies of alien astronauts. Why won't they tell us?”
Where Credit Is Due

The most powerful legacy of Robert Spencer Carr is in the Roswell UFO crash story, which millions saw depicted on NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries presentation of September 20, 1989, “Legend: Roswell Crash.” The story was later dramatized for the first time as a Showtime TV movie Roswell on July 31, 1994. Another notable TV production was the 1995 Roswell “Alien Autopsy” film, a hoax with roots that reach back to the stir caused by Carr’s 1974 radio interview.

As Seen on TV.
Much of Carr’s early success came in his motion picture writing, but since most of it was behind the scenes as a researcher, he felt he did not receive enough recognition or credit for his work. His UFO concepts of Project Lure, Hangar 18, and the UFO crash cover-up were the foundation for countless television and movie projects. Sadly, none of them give Robert Spencer Carr a word of credit.

Just as the Aztec and Hangar 18 legends were endlessly are told and copied in ufology, once they were assimilated into Hollywood, the same thing happened with the celluloid versions. Storytellers may die, but the tales live on.

1 comment:

  1. There is also another film that has fun with the 'Hangar 18' story. "My Science Project" from 1985 has a bunch of 1980s 'types' finding the engine from a flying saucer in an old air force base and when they apply power to it, havoc results.

    The opening has a US president, either Truman or Eisenhower viewing the crashed spacecraft in a hanger before ordering the scientists to 'get rid of it'. They scientists chop it up with a laser cutter but leave the engine lying around.

    The film only stands out for a barnstorming performance from Dennis Hopper as the ex-hippie science teacher who ends up on a 'whirlwind tour of the sixties' after messing with the engine.


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