Obituary: Gene Fowler Jnr

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THOUGH Gene Fowler Jnr won Oscars and Emmys for his fine editing skills, he will be best remembered as director of I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), a low-budget, quickly shot film starring the unknown 21-year-old Michael Landon as delinquent college boy turned monster, which was a surprise hit and has become a cult classic.

The eldest son of the famous newspaper man and author Gene Fowler, who wrote acclaimed biographies of John Barrymore and Jimmy Durante and several screenplays, Fowler Jnr, born in 1917, was still studying at the University of Southern California when his father, who was writing a book on the silent film director Mack Sennett, introduced him to Sennett's former chief editor Allen McNeil.

McNeil asked the youth if he would like to work in the cutting department at Fox. Fowler thus learned editing at night while attending college by day. "I had never seen so much film in my life" he said later, "and I simply couldn't figure out how the hell anybody could keep track of any of it - but McNeil taught me.

The first film Fowler cut, Thanks a Million (1935), had been written by Nunally Johnson, whose daughter Marjorie was to become both Fowler's assistant editor and his wife. Fowler edited the taut Wellman classic The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) and became a favourite editor of the director Fritz Lang, cutting Lang's Hangmen Also Die (1943), Woman in the Window (1944), While the City Sleeps (1955) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

He won an Oscar for the US Army documentary Seeds of Destiny (1945), made while he was serving as a Lieutenant in the Second World War. Other films he edited included the classic Sam Fuller westerns Run of the Arrow (1955) and Forty Guns (1957), and Stanley Kramer's comedy epic It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) for which he received an Oscar nomination.

He broke into directing with a television series, China-Smith (1952), shooting two episodes of the 30-minute show each week, but remained an editor only for the big screen until the producer Herman Cohen asked him if he would like to direct a feature with the worst title in the world but a very good script.

After reading the script of I Was a Teenage Werewolf (by Abe Kandel, who used a pseudonym rather than be associated with the film) Fowler was about to turn it down but his wife said, "Why don't you do it anyway? You'd like to do a feature, and nobody will ever see it."

With a minuscule budget of $82,000 and a shooting schedule of five and a half days, Fowler added touches to give the characters more dimension and, aided by the ace cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, incorporated long continuous takes and unusual point-of-view shots. "I wasn't trying to make simply an exploitation film," he said, "I was trying to do something with a little substance to it."

The result grossed over $6m, and the following year Fowler both produced and directed another cult favourite, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, which like the previous film surpasses its exploitative title. ("Imaginative sci-fi given class production" said Variety). Set in a town where husbands are being replaced by counterparts who need to procreate because all females on their planet have died, it was a compelling blend of horror and science- fiction, edited by George Tomosini, who was the editor on many Hitchcock films.

Though an editor himself, Fowler believed that directors "shouldn't be allowed to edit their own movies - they should allow the editor to put the picture together without any supervision". He next directed a series of films for the producer Robert Lippert and 20th Century-Fox.

Lippert had a deal to make low- budget pictures for the studio. It was wonderful in a way because whatever sets were standing, we used them. I would walk through the sets which had been built for more expensive

films that had already been shot and we would pretty much write our scripts around them!

Showdown at Boot Hill (1958) was a neat western with some striking overhead tracking shots, but Gang War (1958), with Charles Bronson in an early role as a peaceful man forced to employ violence, Here Comes the Jets (1959) and The Oregon Trail (1959) starring Fred MacMurray, were routine.

Returning to editing, Fowler worked on scores of television shows, winning Emmy awards for the superior TV movie The Glass House (1972), adapted from Truman Capote's story of prison life, plus the police thriller The Blue Knight (1975) and series episodes of Rawhide and The Waltons. His last big-screen editing assignment was the elusive Smorgasbord (1983), directed by and starring Jerry Lewis, which, after unsuccessful test engagements, was shelved.

In a 1990 interview. Fowler confessed that he would like to have directed more:

There was a certain sense of achievement in it - you expressed yourself more fully than you do in any other field, with the possible exception of writing. I don't think anyone ever achieves all that they set out to do, but I must say I've had a lot of fun trying.

Gene Fowler, film editor and director: born Denver, Colorado 1917; married Marjorie Johnson (one son, one daughter); died Los Angeles 11 May 1998.