Of all the teen movies I made in the 1950s and
‘60s, very few have experienced the continual
popularity of “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” (1957).
It’s a movie that nearly everyone is familiar with,
and any mention of its title invariably results in a
wide grin of recognition. Countless people have
come up to me over the years and told me that
Teenage Werewolf is one of their favorite guilty
pleasures, an admission that always makes me
At the time, I Was A Teenage Werewolf was just
another small picture to add to my burgeoning
resume. The late ‘50s was one of the most
productive periods in my acting career, and that
film was little more than a two-week gig that I
hoped would lead to bigger and better things. In
retrospect, I have to admit that I never thought it
would amount to much, and I certainly never
thought it would achieve the astounding cult status
it has today.
I Was A Teenage Werewolf was, for various reasons, a movie that I disliked greatly at first, but later grew to love
(with a couple of reservations).
I became involved with the project through the efforts of my agent, a wonderful, ambitious woman named Polly
Jacobson, who was with the William Schuller Agency. When Polly got wind that producer Herman Cohen was going to
make I Was A Teenage Werewolf, she immediately recommended me. I have to admit, however, that in the beginning I
wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the film because everyone in the industry was making fun of the title. Teenage werewolf?
What the hell was that all about?
When Polly and I dropped by Herman’s office to discuss the film, he informed us that they were fine-tuning the
script and he wanted to wait until it was finalized before deciding which part I would play. He then asked me to do a cold
read for him, which I did. It was awkward and difficult (as unrehearsed auditions usually are) but Herman apparently
liked what he saw. Polly kept after him on my behalf, and Herman eventually offered me the role of Vic, one of the male
leads. Vic was an integral part of the group that Michael Landon’s lead character, Tony, hung around with, and it meant
I would be involved in some fun – and key – scenes.
For those of you who have never seen I Was A Teenage Werewolf, it’s a modern take on the traditional werewolf
myth. Only instead of a full moon, it’s hypnosis that transforms Tony into a rampaging monster in a letterman jacket.
Tony is a hot-headed kid who keeps getting into trouble because he can’t control his violent temper. His girlfriend
Arlene (Yvonne Lime) is worried about him, her parents don’t like him, his friends are afraid of him and the cops say
he’s one fight away from reform school. At a Halloween party with friends, Tony explodes after a practical joke and
beats the hell out of Vic, much to the horror of all of his friends.
Realizing that he needs help, Tony finally visits Dr. Alfred Brandon (Whit Bissell), a psychiatrist who supposedly is
experimenting with hypnosis as a way of controlling violent behavior. However, Dr. Brandon is more than a little mad –
he’s actually using hypnosis and a special serum to regress the human race back to its primitive past, to “unleash the
savage instincts that lie within.” Oddly, the good doctor believes that such regression will somehow save the human
race from what he perceives as its imminent extinction.
Dr. Brandon finds the perfect guinea pig in the anger-filled Tony, and he begins regressing the boy on a regular
basis, taking him further and further back. Shortly after the sessions begin, Tony has a run-in with a friend, who later is
viciously mauled to death while walking home through some woods.
The police are baffled by the boy’s death, but not the police station janitor, who conveniently is from the
Carpathian Mountains (home, apparently, to many a monster). After seeing photos of the dead teen, the janitor
immediately deduces that it was the work of a werewolf!
Meanwhile, Dr. Brandon is continuing his demented experiment on Tony, who senses something is wrong but can’t
quite put his finger on what. Tony’s teachers, however, have noticed a marked improvement in his demeanor, and Tony
is told by the principal that he’ll get a coveted college recommendation after all.
As Tony is leaving school, he stops by the gymnasium to watch a pretty girl named Theresa (Dawn Richard)
practice on the parallel bars. A class bell rings right next to Tony’s head, causing him to transform into a werewolf. He
chases Theresa through the gymnasium and kills her as the principal and others watch in horror. Cornered, Tony the
werewolf turns tail and runs away, leaving his friends to wonder what the hell is going on.
Tony, still a werewolf, hides in some nearby woods while the police put together a posse. They search the woods,
but Tony eludes them and later transforms back into a hot-headed teen. He makes his way into town and finally ends
up at Dr. Brandon’s office. Brandon decides it’s times to photograph his bizarre experiment and sets up a movie camera
while transforming Tony into a werewolf yet again. But he fails to restrain the boy and Tony attacks the doctor and his
assistant, killing them both. Just then, the police arrive and fill Tony full of lead. In death, he transforms back into
human form. Concludes the philosophical cop who did the shooting: “It’s not for man to interfere in the ways of God.”
I Was A Teenage Werewolf was a fun but grueling shoot and I was there for almost every moment of it. We were
scheduled for 11 shooting days, but came in at 10, primarily because of the stellar cast and crew. We were all very
enthusiastic despite the film’s low budget (which was rumored to be only $125,000) and we worked long, hard hours to
bring the film in on schedule.
A great deal of the film’s success must be attributed to director Gene Fowler, Jr., who was a genuine pleasure to
work with. He was what we call an “actor’s director,” but he also had a wonderful eye for the technical side of movies.
Gene’s background was in film editing, and that’s how he approached filmmaking. He saw a movie as a connected
series of scenes, and edited it in his head as he went along. As a result, nearly all of the scenes in Teenage Werewolf
were staged quickly and efficiently. There was a minimum of retakes and shooting progressed at a pretty good pace.
Gene was perfect for a project like this because he knew how to make optimum use of limited time and money. To
quote the old cliche, he “shot the budget.”
We all became close on the set of Teenage Werewolf because, with a few exceptions, we were always there,
waiting to be called. We never knew when a retake might be required, or if weather would cause a change in the
shooting schedule, so we just hung around until needed. Despite its apparent glamour, movie-making is often a pretty
boring process, but the time you spend waiting on a set can bloom into some long-lasting friendships. And that’s the
way it was with our cast.
It’s common knowledge that Teenage Werewolf was Michael Landon’s first movie. I think he had done a little live
television before that, but he was relatively new to Hollywood and quite eager to make a good impression, even if his
first film was a low-budget teenage horror flick. I once heard a rumor that Michael won the role of Tony by biting Herman
Cohen on the leg. I doubt if that’s true (though it does make a good story), but it illustrates the kind of unbridled
enthusiasm Michael brought to the project.
And the critics noticed. While many dismissed Teenage Werewolf as little more than youth-oriented fluff, the
majority made special mention of the explosive angst and intensity Michael brought to the role of Tony. Two years later,
Michael was cast as Little Joe on Bonanza, and worked steadily in television until his untimely death from cancer in
1991 at age 54.
Michael and I didn’t see a lot of each other after Teenage Werewolf, which is something I’ve always regretted.
Michael wasn’t into the Hollywood party scene, preferring to spend his time at home with his family, so we seldom
socialized. For example, I recall that Michael’s then wife, Dodi, came with gossip columnist Rona Barrett to the opening
of my night club act at Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills. Nearly all of Hollywood’s young stars were there, except for
Michael; he was a no-show. Dodie told me he sent his best, but he had an early call. He wasn’t being rude or snobby;
he just wasn’t part of that scene. Nonetheless, working with him was a genuine pleasure and something I’ll always
remember with fond memories.
Filming Teenage Werewolf was difficult on all of us, but it was especially demanding for Michael because of the
werewolf makeup he had to wear. Most people assume it was a rubber mask that could be put on or taken off as
needed, but in truth it was a series of uncomfortable facial prosthetics that took make-up designer Philip Scheer as long
as two hours to apply and about 30 minutes to remove – a situation that usually required Michael to be on the set long
before anyone else.
Michael was one of the most outgoing people I’ve ever worked with and a real trouper when it came to being the
film’s requisite teenage werewolf. However, I did see his temper flare on a couple of occasions when, after already
being in and out of makeup for a day’s shooting, he was told to don the fur once again for some pick-up scenes. Of
course, this meant that the rest of the cast and crew had to wait around while Michael was made up. During those down
periods we played cards and talked about the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Then we would watch a now
unrecognizable Michael Landon drool and growl as he worked himself into a full werewolf frenzy.
My biggest scene was the party sequence, in which Tony, Vic and the gang get together at a local hangout for
some Halloween fun. Most people remember it as the scene in which Michael knocks the crap out of me after I blow a
horn in his ear. It’s an intense moment that clearly illustrates Tony’s deep-seated rage, but despite the pathos, I had a
hard time keeping a straight face as we went through it.
The problem was Michael’s ears, which at the time were almost as big as Clark Gable’s (he later had them fixed).
Because they stuck out like car doors, Philip Scheer spent a lot of time and effort trying to pin Michael’s ears against
his head with spirit gum and other gunk. All of this was hidden from the camera but plain as day to anyone who was
standing behind him. After Michael punched me and sent me flying into the couch, he turned his back to me – and all I
could see were the wads of stuff behind his ears. The image struck me as very funny, and it was all I could do to keep a
straight face until Gene Fowler finally yelled “Cut!”
Another thing I vividly remember about the party scene was being clobbered on the chin by Michael during the
very first take of our fight. Tony Marshall, who played Jimmy in the movie, was also a stunt man and he choreographed
the fight scene between Michael and me. Michael was so much into character that he got carried away and really
clobbered me.. The blow sent me reeling, and I had to sit down for a bit while ice was applied to my throbbing jaw.
Michael was beside himself, apologizing over and over. He felt terrible, even though the whole incident was an accident.
I reassured him that I was okay, and after a brief moment of recovery I started laughing hysterically because one of his
ears had come loose from the goop holding them, and boy did he look silly -- one ear pinned back and one ear sticking
out. It took a few minutes before I could compose myself and continue with the scene. Michael was much more careful
with his punches after that, and we managed to get through the whole thing without further injury to either of us.
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