Obituary: William Alland

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The Independent Online
William Alland, actor and film producer: born Delmar, Delaware 4 March 1916; married (two sons, one daughter); died Long Beach, California 11 November 1997.

The former radio and screen actor William Alland produced several science- fiction films in the Fifties which are now regarded as classics, including The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and This Island Earth (1955).

Earlier, as a member of Orson Welles's Mercury company, he appeared in many radio shows, and in Welles's enduring masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941) he played the shadowy reporter Jerry Thompson, whose quest to find the meaning of Kane's last word, "Rosebud", links the flashback sequences. Alland was also the dialogue director on the film, as well as imitating the voice of the famous March of Time commentator Westbrook Van Voorhees in the newsreel, intoning "This week, as it must to all men, death came to Charles Foster Kane."

Born in Delmar, Delaware, in 1916 and educated in Baltimore, Alland acted in semi- professional groups before joining Welles's Mercury Theatre in 1936 as, according to Simon Callow's biography of Welles, "actor, stage manager, gofer and pimp". John Houseman recounts that Alland, "a chinless shrimp of a boy with a big voice", hung around the company day and night sweeping, prompting and doing menial jobs until he finally begged Welles to make him a member of the group, "offering to act, light, valet, pimp, clean the toilets, steal - anything at all, so long as he was allowed to fulfil his destiny", while another of Welles's acolytes, Richard Barr, later wrote: "Alland was treated almost as a personal slave, but Bill seemed to enjoy the abuse."

Alland was assistant director on Mercury's radio series Mercury Theatre of the Air and Campbell Playhouse, and acted with Welles on many of the broadcasts, including Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo, Heart of Darkness and Around the World in 80 Days (all 1938), Mutiny on the Bounty and Les Miserables (both 1939).

He became the group's stage manager, and appeared as Marullus in Caesar (adapted by Welles from Julius Caesar, 1937), the Serving Man in The Shoemaker's Holiday (1938), and Peto in Five Kings (1939). The role of the reporter in Citizen Kane was conceived by Welles as a shadowy, half-seen character, representing the audience, and the features of the bespectacled Alland are constantly obscured by shade or contrastingly brilliant lighting. For the March of Time parody, Welles tried to hire Van Vorbees, but when asked for a prohibitive fee instead used Alland, who did a fine impersonation.

When the US entered the Second World War, Alland enlisted in the Air Force and flew more than 40 bombing missions in the Pacific. Though he acted in two more Welles films, Macbeth (1948, in which he was also dialogue director), and F For Fake (1973), Alland turned to radio writing after the war, winning the Peabody Award for the drama Doorway to Life.

In 1952 he joined Universal as a producer, and the following year had a hit with It Came From Outer Space, an adaptation of Ray Bradbury's story The Meteor, shot in 3-D and the first film in the science-fiction genre to be directed by Jack Arnold, with whom Alland would have a rewarding collaboration. Making fine use of its desert locale, the film promoted tolerance, featuring friendly aliens and photographing most of the alien- human confrontations from the point of view of the visitors.

It was followed by The Creature from the Black Lagoon, also shot in 3- D and now considered a landmark and a cult classic. With scientists the real villains of the piece (they destroy the world of the creature, who only wants to be left alone), it also featured a classic "beauty and the beast" theme as the creature (played in a rubberised suit by Ricou Browning for the underwater sequences and by the stuntman Ben Chapman on land) is attracted to the heroine Julie Adams.

She recently stated, "I think one of the reasons films like King Kong and The Creature from the Black Lagoon survive is there's a kind of poetry in the monster - a poignancy in his longing for love, for something beyond his scope in life", though she also confessed, "None of us took that picture very seriously when we were making it. We all thought it was kind of funny . . . the creature's suit, though, was wonderful. Bud Westmore and Jack Kevan created something that would go down in cult history."

Two sequels followed, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), Steven Spielberg has confessed to seeing these films several times during his youth and stated that they were a prime influence on his career. (In the first two films, the shots of the heroine swimming in the water as the creature watches from below patently prefigure Jaws.)

This Island Earth (1955), produced by Alland and directed by Joseph Newman, was a lavish colour production with its major set, the Planet Metaluna, constructed on the studio's old Phantom of the Opera set, one of the biggest in Hollywood. Its tale of scientists taken by force to aid a mysterious planet which is falling into decay, is both imaginative and suspenseful. Its heroine, Faith Domergue, recalled recently that she initially balked at starring in a film in which the most important element would be special effects, but "my agent told me it had an interesting director who was very bright and a good script. It was beautifully done, amazing for the time it was made, and has attained more popularity than any of my other films. Whenever there's a science-fiction festival in Europe, my film is almost at the top of the roster."

In 1961 Alland tried directing, with a mildly lurid story of juvenile delinquency, Look In Any Window. Unable to make its tired story fresh or extract a convincing performance from the pop star Paul Anka as the troubled youngster driven to a life of crime by conditions at home, Alland returned permanently to film production, later successes including Andrew McLaglen's western with James Stewart, The Rare Breed (1966).

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