A Lost Photo of Director Larry Buchanan, Celebrated “Schlockmeister” — 1955

by Paula Bosse

buchanan-katy-camera_1955_bwLarry Buchanan (in bowtie) in his ad-man days, 1955

by Paula Bosse

I got all excited when I saw the above photo posted in the Lone Star Library Annex Facebook group. It accompanied an article and another photo from the Katy Employes’ Magazine (August, 1955) (seen below) — the poster was interested in the railroad-angle of the article and photos, but the name “Larry Buchanan” was what grabbed my attention.

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The photo was posted because it was a wonderful piece of M-K-T Railroad-related ephemera. Before reading the accompanying text, I thought that the idea of a 1955 Chrysler tricked-out to ride along Katy railroad tracks (so that M-K-T officials could, presumably, ride the rails in comfortable air-conditioned splendor as they moved from one inspection site to the next) was the cool thing about the article. Then I got to the name “Larry Buchanan.” And it became much, MUCH more interesting.

So who is Larry Buchanan? Briefly, Larry Buchanan is one of the greatest exponents of grade-Z, low-low-low-LOW-budget filmmaking, a director with a cult following amongst those who enjoy movies in the “so-bad-they’re-good” genre. He shot most of his movies in the 1960s in Dallas, taking advantage of lots of locations around the city, even if the movies he was shooting weren’t actually set in Dallas (one movie had Highland Park Village standing in for Italy, and “Mars Needs Women” was set in Houston, even though the movie is crammed full of easily recognizable Dallas locations such as the downtown skyline and the Cotton Bowl). The movies that have earned him his place in the pantheon of cult figures are primarily his sci-fi movies, like “Mars Needs Women,” “Attack of the Eye People,” “Curse of the Swamp Creature,” and “Zontar: The Thing from Venus.” Many were re-makes of earlier low-budget sci-fi movies commissioned by American International Pictures, and Buchanan was usually the producer, director, writer, and editor — “auteur” seems like the wrong word to use here, but that’s what he was, a filmmaker intensely involved with every phase of the production.

Buchanan was born in 1923 and grew up in Buckner Orphans Home. After a fleeting thought of becoming a minister, Buchanan — long-fascinated by movies — left for Hollywood and New York where he worked as an actor in small roles or on the crew (during this time there were professional brushes with, of all people, George Cukor and Stanley Kubrick). By the early 1950s, Buchanan was back in Dallas, employed by the Jamieson Film Company (3825 Bryan St.), working on industrial films, training films, television programs, and commercials. It was at Jamieson that he learned all aspects of film production, including how to get things done quickly and how to bring projects in under budget. It’s also where he met co-workers Brownie Brownrigg, Robert B. Alcott, Bob Jessup, and Bill Stokes, all of whom went on to have film careers of their own and most of whom Buchanan used as crew members when shooting in and around the city.

It was during this period that the photo above was taken. There are countless websites out there devoted to Larry Buchanan’s film oeuvre, but there are very, very few photos of him online. I found exactly three:

larry-buchanan_bob-jessup_texas-monthly_lgLarry (left) with cinematographer Bob Jessup

larry-buchanan_tx-monthly_may-1986-photo_detIn 1986 (Tim Boole/Texas Monthly)

larry-buchananDate unknown

The photo at the top of this post is from 1955, before Buchanan had really begun cranking out his own movies. I can’t say for sure that this IS a photograph of Larry Buchanan, but it seems likely that it is. In that striped shirt, he looks like the kind of hip, energetic, ever-enthusiastic director I imagine him being. I can only hope that it IS him, straddling railroad ties, behind a camera pointed at a retrofitted Chrysler, in Dallas’ Katy railyard. One wonders if that Chrysler spot had a higher budget than some of the movies he was making ten years later. UPDATE: In the comments, below, Larry’s son Barry identifies his father in the top photo, but not as the man behind the camera, but as the man behind the car, wearing the bowtie. Thanks for the correction, Barry1)

From all reports, Larry was a tireless, driven, upbeat guy who loved making movies, and I think it would have been a lot of fun hanging out with him. If I ever have enough disposable income, I’ll fork it over and buy a copy of his entertaining-but-pricey autobiography, the well-received It Came From Hunger: Tales of a Cinema Schlockmeister (McFarland & Co., 1996).

It’s been fun researching Larry Buchanan. There’s a lot more to tackle later. I mean, I haven’t even touched on the legendary “Naughty Dallas” yet!

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Tons of links here….

First two photos and text from the Katy Employes’ Magazine (Aug. 1955).

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Katy magazine scans made with permission of the Facebook page Lone Star Library Annex.

Other examples of automobiles equipped with “railroad wheels” can be found here.

Black and white photo of Buchanan with Bob Jessup (photographer and date unknown) and the great color photo (a detail of which is shown above) by Tim Boole, both from the article, “How Bad Were They?” by Douglass St. Clair Smith (Texas Monthly, May 1986), which you can read here.

That last photo of Buchanan is all over the internet — the only one you ever really see. I don’t know who took it, when it was taken, or where it originally appeared. But it’s a great photo!

Larry Buchanan died in December, 2004, at the age of 81. His obituary from The New York Times is here.

A fond look back at Buchanan’s career by Eric Celeste appeared in the April 2005 issue of D Magazine and can be read here.

The best piece on Buchanan is “A Tribute to Larry Buchanan” by his good friend Greg Goodsell, here.

My recent post on “Mars Needs Women” — with screen caps of movie scenes shot at recognizable Dallas locations — is here.

I never did find that Chrysler spot that had been slated to appear on network TV. I have a feeling it may be in a lengthy collection of Chrysler commercials and films from 1955 which you can watch here. I couldn’t slog all the way through it, but there are a couple of “Shower of Stars” episodes, which are mentioned in the Katy article (they’re odd “entertainment” shows which seem to be nothing more than infomercials for Chrysler starring famous people in bad sketches). If anyone actually finds footage that was filmed that day in Dallas, please let me know!

And, lastly, Larry Buchanan’s movies are fun, but some are more fun than others, “if you know what I mean, and I think you do” (as Joe Bob Briggs — surely one of Larry’s biggest admirers — might say). Many of them are available to watch in their entirety online. Check YouTube and Google.

Click photos for larger images!

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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