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So Much More

With So Much Less

A Tribute to Paul and Jackie Blaisdell

     "Whatta stupid way to die..."

-- Blaisdell's lament while drowning in one of his suits    






The Beast w/a Million Eyes 

a/k/a Hercules 

The Mutant 

a/k/a Marty 

The Venusian Conqueror

a/k/a Beaulah 

The She Creature

a/k/a Cuddles 

The Voodoo Woman 

a/k/a Cuddles 2.0 

The Saucer Men 

a/k/a Cabbage Heads 



In Memoriam

Paul Blaisdell


Jackie Blaisdell



The Tabanga 

(Design Only) 

He Who Gives Death 

The Terror  

No Budget
The Fantastic
Monsters of
Paul Blaisdell.

The Beast with a Million Eyes

Day the World Ended

The She Creature

The Amazing Colossal Man

Invasion of the Saucer Men

Teenage Caveman

How to Make a Monster

The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow


I'll begin this retrospective with a quick editor's note: Most of the stories and incidents in this tribute were gleaned from several sources, including Randy Palmer's biography on Blaisdell, Mark McGee's history of American International Pictures, the biographies of Sam Arkoff and Roger Corman, and several magazine articles and websites visited and revisited over the years. 

Now, a lot of these raconteurs and recollections contradict each other, so the events and incidents mentioned in this tribute probably didn't happen exactly the way they've been told; or have been embellished over time; or the victim of faulty memories. Regardless, the stories are documented, and whether they're all exactly true remains to be seen. But one fact will always remains the same -- they're all pretty damned funny. So in the end, to use an old Hollywood axiom, when the bullshit is more impressive or entertaining than the truth, print the bullshit...

When people think of great special-effects artists, you usually think of the gang from Industrial Light and Magic, the folks at WETA, or on an individual basis, the likes of Rick Baker or Stan Winston -- or if you're a little older, like me, Jack Pierce and Ray Harryhausen; but there is another man who should also be mentioned among these SF/X wizards:

You may not know or recognize the name, but even if you're just an amateur one-lung genre fan then you're probably already acutely aware of some of this man's handiwork: a man who became an industry legend for doing so much more with so much less; a man whose infamous creations turned out so absurd -- and yet so practical due to terminal budgetary and time limitations -- that their images are burned forever into the brains of the mind-boggled B-Movie brethren! This man I'm talking about is Paul Blaisdell -- the king of contact cement and foam rubber chunks: the chief monster-maker and F/X man for good old American International Pictures.

Born in Newport, Rhode Island, the young Blaisdell nurtured his burgeoning creative streak while growing up in Quincy, Massachusetts, spending his days sketching alien monsters and constructing model airplane kits. Upon graduating high school, after a brief career repairing typewriters and serving a military hitch with Uncle Sam, using the G.I. Bill, Blaisdell honed his skills as an artist at the New England School of Art and Design; and it was there that he met his future wife, Jacqueline "Jackie" Boyle, who would go on to be a co-conspirator in a lot of his designs and monster-building. After graduating, the couple got married and moved to California, settling in the secluded hills of Topanga Canyon. While working for Douglas Aircraft as a technical illustrator, Blaisdell continued his side-hobbies of model kit-bashing and fantasy illustrations. At Jackie's encouraging, he started submitting his work to several different publishers, and soon enough, his work starting showing up in several Sci-Fi pulp magazines and books like Spaceways and Otherworlds. And when Blaisdell was hired to illustrate a story for Forrest J. Ackerman (of Famous Monsters of Filmland fame) he liked the young artist's work so much, and saw enough untapped potential, that he offered to become his agent. Liking the idea that someone else could do the legwork to get him published, Blaisdell eagerly accepted and this relationship set him directly on a crash course with Sci-Fi infamy.

It began when the fledgling American Releasing Corporation (-- later to become American International Pictures) found itself in some deep trouble. Roger Corman had just finished shooting The Beast with a Million Eyes, but when they screened the film for their exhibitors, imagine their surprise and shock to find out that their new monster movie had no monster because the film’s budget ran out. (Rumor has it that Corman had leeched part of the budget to finish a couple of his westerns.) All the film had was a lot of tedium and an exciting climax involving a teapot-shaped spaceship and some scratched emulsion "death-rays." When the lights came up, as the legend goes, producer Joseph E. Levine offered to buy the advertising materials for the film with every intention of burning the negatives and starting over from scratch. Undaunted, Jim Nicholson, the co-head of ARC with Sam Arkoff, gave Corman $200, Ackerman's phone number, and an executive order to get them a monster ASAP! 

When Ackerman first suggested his friend Ray Harryhausen, Corman knew Dynamation would prove too expensive and asked for someone else. And after several other suggestions still proved beyond the allotted budget, Ackerman reached the bottom of the list: a certain illustrator he knew who wanted to take a crack at special-effects work. Corman agreed to give him a shot, and as his agent, Ackerman got Blaisdell the $200 plus the cost of expenses, and a B-Movie legend was born.

With the simple dictum from Corman that all the monster had to do was open an airlock, point a gun at the hero, and fall over dead, Blaisdell immediately set to work creating both a new flying saucer and a ferocious looking puppet to serve as the monster. Dubbing his winged creation "Little Hercules", the 18-inch tall prop was very articulate and, as instructed, could pick up a toy ray gun to shoot at the film’s protagonists, Paul Birch. Unfortunately, the puppet was such a big hit that when it came time to film the new climax, everyone was on set to watch and got in the way. Unable to operate it properly, the footage didn't turn out very well, so in the end, the creature's brief appearance is mostly obscured with a superimposed eyeball and swirling effect. Also, Blaisdell's had to chuck his original and rebuild the miniature UFO because it didn't come close to matching the larger mock-up -- thrown together with whatever the prop-men could scrounge in the desert location it was shot. Blaisdell also built a miniature desert landscape for the ship's final launching sequence. Upon completion, these newer sequences were then spliced in, and even though the promised Beast with a million eyes only wound up with two*, the footage salvaged the film; and when several other stars came into alignment, most notably a newspaper strike -- but that's a story for another day, ARC was saved to pull the old bait and switch on the viewing public again and again and again.

* In a later interview, Blaisdell would explain that "Hercules" was just another enthralled slave under the control of the invisible, multi-ocular beast.

Liking his end results, and his overall price-tag, Blaisdell was hired on for Corman's next project, The Day the World Ended, where he designed and built the three-eyed mutant suit -- that also appears to have crab legs growing out of its shoulders! Shabby at first glance, but upon closer inspection you really start to see that the devil is in the details...

You have to remember that most of Blaisdell’s creations had a patchwork origin. With his limited budgets, he couldn’t make casts or molds for a rubber suit. Instead, he pieced his suits together with chunks of carpet padding, foam rubber and cured liquid latex. Starting with a pair of long-johns, each piece was cut to spec and then glued on. When the suit was completed, it would then be meticulously painted to bring out as much detail as possible. It was a long and painstaking process, and Sam Arkoff often talked of how he had to keep rattling Blaisdell's cage to get the suit built in time for the scheduled shoot. When it was completed, the FX man propped it up in his car and drove it over to the set behind the Sportsman's Lodge and presented it to his director. To Corman's horror, Blaisdell built the suit to fit himself; and for the record, Blaisdell stood barely over five-seven; not a very menacing size for a monster. Stuck, Corman sent the stuntman he'd hired packing and told Blaisdell to suit up. Luckily, the way it was built, so the wearer could look out the mouth, added almost half a foot to the monster's height.

Once in costume, things got off to a rough start. While carrying actress Lori Nelson down an incline, they both got to giggling, then Blaisdell lost one of his flippers and his balance, and they both took a tumble down the hill. And when it came time for the monster to meet its doom by disintegrating in a freshwater rain storm, I'll pause to remind everyone of the suit's patchwork and foam origins -- yeah, basically a giant sponge and not exactly water tight. When the rain came on cue and the monster collapsed to the ground, at first Blaisdell was happy and felt cool under the water after a hot day of filming. To add to the effect, a tube was attached to the costume to pump in some smoke that slowly seeped out the seams -- but not fast enough. So not only was the suit getting saturated with water, it was also filling up with noxious fumes. When Corman yelled cut and moved on to film the next scene, someone realized their monster hadn't gotten up yet. The carpet-foam suit had soaked up too much water and Blaisdell, who realized he was slowly asphyxiating, really started to panic, but he couldn’t get up! Luckily, he was rescued in time, and when hey stood him up, all the water comically gushed back out the way it had come in thru his lower extremities.

Having barely survived his second encounter with Corman, next came Blaisdell's most infamous creation for the no-budget wunderkind: the killer turnip for It Conquered the World. From the beginning, Corman told Blaisdell what he wanted: a squat creature based on "scientific fact" that would hardly be seen except inside a dark cave, from where it would send its mind-controlling minions out to do its dastardly deeds. (Blaisdell also built and operated those flying crullers.) Showing his initial concepts and model mock-ups of a "hyper-intelligent mushroom" to both Nicholson and Corman, with their blessing, Blaisdell returned to his basement lair and set to work. After building a wooden framework, like a tepee, he began applying foam rubber pieces for the alien's skin. When the monster was completed, he painted it blood red and detailed it with black highlights. Unsatisfied with the glossy finish, Blaisdell and his wife took up some ball peen hammers and proceeded to beat the crap out of his creation to give it a more organic feel. With his monster beaten into submission, Blaisdell then realized, to his horror, that he built it too big to fit out of his basement door and quickly started to disassemble it. 

Upon "Beaulah's" arrival and reconstruction on the set, according to Corman, Beverly Garland, the film's heroine, allegedly took one look at the small, goofy looking creature, laughed, and then kicked it right in the head knocking it over. Knowing the monster had to be at least as tall as his leading lady, Blaisdell tweaked the design, giving it a conical head. Also, the creature's arms were designed to be very articulate, but during the course of filming in the crowded cave, the appendages were trampled into disrepair. Blaisdell did the best he could with his broken equipment. Working from inside the beast, manipulating it with the flashlight handles attached to the creatures eyes, he also almost got a bayonet in the head from actor Jonathan Haze but was saved by an army helmet he borrowed from one of the extras -- that his wife insisted he wear for his own protection, that deflected the blade. As a director, Corman was notoriously cheap, but he was also very savvy and had every intention of keeping the monster confined to brief glimpses or obscured in the darkened cave. And the film's climax was supposed to take place inside the cave as well, but the lights either broke or the generator to run them broke, got lost or was repossessed, and they couldn't afford to replace them. Which led to, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest moments in cinematic history:

Lee Van Cleef, the doomed hero, had a rough time keeping a straight face for the climax. While filming, when he stuck the blowtorch into the critter’s eye, what happened next either happened two different ways: Blaisdell was in the suit with a grease gun filled with chocolate syrup to add a little grue. In the heat the syrup congealed in the nozzle, and no matter how hard he pumped nothing came out. Corman yelled at him to do something so he pumped harder until the gun exploded out the creature’s eye and back on Paul. When he crawled out of the monster suit, he discovered Corman got a face full of syrup too. According to Randy Palmer, however, the bleeding eye was pick-up scene and shot later, and it was Jackie inside the creature with the malfunctioning pump, while Paul was applying the blowtorch, and the happy couple were the ones to get coated in the syrup when it exploded. Also, at the end of the shoot, Corman and Blaisdell got into a heated argument on whether the creature should fall over when it dies. Being the director, Corman won, and it took three people to topple the prop over before Peter Graves could wax philosophically about man's place in the universe (which brings into question the validity of Corman's Garland story.)

After building a few props and the "umbrella monster" for Not of this Earth, Corman's next project was Attack of the Crab Monsters for his own production company and he wanted Paul to build the monsters for that to, but his budget allotment for the FX scared Blaisdell off. Besides, he had been pegged to the build the monster for AIP's next opus, The She Creature, which turned out to be Blaisdell's crowning achievement in low-budget monster-making. Another piece-by-glued-piece patchwork creation, it took nearly six-weeks to complete the suit but it was time well spent. Dubbing this one "Cuddles" the She Creature is probably Blaisdell's most technically sound creation and is quiet beautiful. The monster caused quite a stir for its ample *ahem* breasts when the film debuted; and according to Blaisdell, he had to redo them when director Eddie Cahn told him the beast's original breasts were too small. Also built into the suit where a row of teeth along the abdomen. When Cahn curiously asked what they were for, Blaisdell showed him. Working his stomach muscles, the movement caused the teeth to contract, allowing them to seize an disembowel an intended victim. Blaisdell encouraged the director to use the gag, and the beasts mobile tail, but Cahn dubbed them too gruesome and left both effects out. Sadly, a re-occurring theme with Blaisdell, who added details and tricks to his monsters that were seldom used due to time and budget constraints.

During filming Blaisdell almost drowned again, as several scenes called for the monster to surface out of the ocean -- and were shot while the tide was going out. One of the best-documented stories during the shoot was a scene that required the monster to break through a door. A special break-away balsa wood door was built for the scene, but being fragile, and since it was the only one they had, it was reinforced with several pieces of pine to prevent it from breaking accidentally. Of course, on the first take, nobody bothered to remove the supporting wood and Blaisdell, with a full head of steam, bounced harmlessly off the door. On the second take, he managed to smash through but tripped, ruining the shot. Luckily, through some editing tricks, the scene was salvaged since they had no money to build another door. 

The She-Creature costume had legs, too, reappearing several times in other films; most notably in Voodoo Woman, and later in The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow. Voodoo Woman was one of two instances where Blaisdell bailed Nicholson and Arkoff out again. With no budget for a new monster, he agreed to let them reuse the body from the She Creature but told them to look elsewhere for a new head. They did, and it turned out awful. At Nicholson's request, Blaisdell took it upon himself to salvage it, but wasn't real impressed with the end result or the film. (And in another accident, was badly burned in the leg when another FX shot went bad.) The other film he "saved" was a British import called The Cat Girl, which like his first film, had no monster. Again, Blaisdell built a mask and a pair of claws for a couple of quick inserts. (He got the call on a Friday, and had it done by Monday.) Donning the mask himself and a pair of pajamas to stand in for the heroine, two quick takes later and it was all over; and the shoot happened so quickly that the resulting footage wasn't even in focus! Again, another seemingly wasted effort.

With his can do attitude and an uncanny ability to pull almost anything needed out of a hat at the drop of the same, Blaisdell soon found himself in demand -- and not just for monster suits. Bert I. Gordon tagged him to build all the miniature and oversized props needed for his films The Amazing Colossal Man, The Spider, and Attack of the Puppet People. And with Jackie's help, he turned out everything needed from a giant hypodermic needle to a set of doll-sized toiletries. He also landed some work outside of AIP doing some conceptual sketches for the Milner brothers, designing the Tabanga, the evil tree spirit in the hilarious, albeit grammatically challenged, From Hell it Came. And the Milners did base their killer tree-stump on his designs but Blaisdell received no payment or credit; not the first or the last injustice he’d have to face in his career. 

A few years later, Blaisdell also offered some tips and built some props for Tom Graeff's Teenagers from Outer Space.

Back at AIP, Blaisdell was set to work for Eddie Cahn again, designing and building some classic Martians and their intergalactic hot-rod for Invasion of the Saucer Men. Produced by Jim Nicholson himself, he told Blaisdell that he felt the classic little green-man -- the google-eyed, short in stature, with a big-exposed brain -- hadn't been done on film yet. Taking that as his cue, Blaisdell designed and built four giant Martian heads -- that were summarily rejected by the film's co-producer. After all that time and effort, a frustrated Blaisdell just cut a pie-chunk out of the back and re-glued them together. These got the green light, but they were still too top-heavy and the midget actors hired to wear them had to be careful or lose their balance and fall over. At this time, Blaisdell had also found himself an apprentice of sorts: none other than Bob Burns (-- Tracey the Gorilla himself.) The two had met by circumstance while attending a seminar given by Ray Bradbury. The two couples, Paul and Jackie, and Bob and his wife, Kathy, just happened to sit by each other and they hit it off. So it was Bob and Paul in the Martian masks for the close-ups and most of the publicity shots. Burns also had to be a stunt double in several scenes; that was his neck the aliens injected the alcohol in to. And during the big bull fight scene, Burns ran the mounted bull’s head that rammed the horn right into the Martian’s eye while Blaisdell pumped his trusty grease gun for the gooey effect (that mostly wound up on the cutting room floor.) 

Like a couple of kids turned loose in a toy store, by most accounts it was a happy shoot -- the film itself was intended to be serious, but turned into a goof about halfway through filming -- at least until the post-production stage. Having built two versions of the Martian space-ship -- a large mock-up, and a matching miniature and a model landscape for it to land on -- Blaisdell assumed, like he'd always done before, that he would run the wire rig to give it flight and later detonate the larger mock-up for the film's climax. Alas, tightening union rules meant he had to turn them over to someone else with the right credentials -- who, of course, didn't know how to run it properly and wasn't interested in any instructions. As for the ship's detonation, too much powder was used, resulting in a bigger explosion than what was planned.

I honestly think this incident spelled the beginning of the end for Blaisdell's all too brief movie career. The Day the World Ended was shot just two years prior, but by this time, Blaisdell was getting disenchanted with the movie business. (I wouldn't want to fathom how many unions he'd have to belong to do what he used to do.) Weary of Nicholson and Arkoff's good cop/bad cop routine, or their forgotten promises, coupled with the long hours, little pay, and less recognition for the work he was required to do with a $1.50 budget, was really starting to grind on him. And as things got more and more regimented on the sets, he really started to miss the family feel, the checked egos, and the "let's all pitch in" attitude from when he first started out. And things really started to unravel when some of his prized creations were loaned out and eventually destroyed in a fire during the filming of How to Make a Monster: the tale of an elderly studio monster-maker and make-up man who exacts a deadly revenge on the studio execs who fired him. And as AIP tried to squeeze out a few more cheap double-bills before taking the Technicolor plunge with Corman's Poe cycle and Will Asher's Beach Party movies, Blaisdell was approached to do the monsters for Attack of the Giant Leeches and the Beast from the Haunted Cave. But once he heard what the pay was going to be, he told them to find another pigeon -- and the end results without him show badly. Nicholson did manage to coax him back for The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow with the promise that he would get to play himself on screen as the fake ghost trying to scare the intruding hot-rodders out of his house. When caught, his final speech rang a little too true:

"Of course you've seen me before. I scared you to death in The Day the World Ended. You shivered when you saw me in The She Creature. Oh, the shame of it, the indignity, they didn't use me in The Horrors of the Black Museum after my years of faithful service. They just discarded me..."

After that, Blaisdell only had a hand in one last film, designing and building the monster suit for IT! The Terror from Beyond Space for his old friend Eddie Cahn. With financial backing from MGM, Paul finally got a decent budget and the monster in the film is Blaisdell’s only creation done using a rubber mold. (Burns still has the mold in his infamous basement.) More money meant more hands in the pot, though, and Blaisdell couldn't get a straight answer from anyone on the creature's final design. (One producer wanted large eyes, the other didn't, so the mask had to be redone several times.) Using his old techniques to build the suit, this time with a bigger pair of long-johns to fit Ray "Crash" Corrigan, alas, the surly stuntman refused to show up for measurements and the head piece wound up being way too small for his cranium; so they had to improvise on the spot, painting Corrigan's bulbous chin red to pass off as the creature's tongue. Thinking his job was done, Blaisdell was soon back on the set to constantly repair the suit when the (usually drunken) Corrigan kept crashing into things.

As the 1960's began, Blaisdell stayed in the business on the fringes, doing some conceptual art on films that were never realized. But his focus soon shifted from film to print when he and Burns decided to create their own monster fanzine: the fondly remembered but ultimately ill-fated Fantastic Monsters of the Films. Kind of a more serious version of Famous Monsters, Blaisdell had a section called "The Devil’s Workshop" -- a How to Guide, where he gave tips and pointers on how to make your very own monsters.* The bi-monthly magazine started strong and with circulation on the rise they sent all the materials for the eighth issue, a tribute to Boris Karloff, to the printer in Iowa and began collecting more for a ninth, but then heard nothing back for several weeks and every attempt to call the printer found the number disconnected. Realizing something foul was afoot, they soon learned that the building where the magazine was printed "mysteriously" burned to the ground and the printer had disappeared with the insurance money. And to add insult to injury, all the materials sent in for the layouts -- pictures, posters and lobby cards, disappeared as well.

* One of the magazine's editors was listed as Ron Haydock, and one has to wonder if that's the same Haydock who crooned and fought his way through Ray Dennis Steckler's oddball epic Rat Pfink a Boo Boo.

Between the two men, they had sunk over $20000, their entire life savings, into the doomed magazine. That was the last straw for Blaisdell. Disheartened, the ex-monster maker secluded himself in his Topanga Canyon home with Jackie and retired to a quiet life of carpentry, living off what little residuals there were and profits from an apartment complex he'd inherited. Sadly, a misunderstanding with publisher James Warren -- who wasn't real happy with him for starting a rival monster fanzine -- kept his name out of Famous Monsters; one of the few fanzines to survive out of the 1960s. So, for the most part, Blaisdell -- who was never openly bitter about the shitty hand Hollywood had dealt him -- and his monsters, disappeared into obscurity. (Marty the Mutant was destroyed on a publicity tour, Beaulah was lost in a flood, and Cuddles became the home of three generations of raccoons.) And after a lengthy battle with stomach cancer, Blaisdell, with his beloved wife by his side, died quietly in his sleep in June, 1983. He was only 55. Sadly, no one except those closest to him took notice of his passing, and Jackie, a pioneer in her own right, who never got the credit she deserved either, would remain in that same home, where all that magic had happened, until her own death in 2006.

Sadly, Paul Blaisdell’s story is another forlorn chapter in the life of an unheralded B-Movie legend. A legend whose life ended before the renaissance of B-Movie mania -- fueled by cable, home video and the people who grew up on these goofy monsters finally giving them the respect and admiration these films and filmmakers, despite their misperceived technical ineptitude, truly deserve. In the end, I think famed exploitation filmmaker Fred Olen Ray probably summed it up best:

"Regardless of how quickly or cheaply they were constructed, Blaisdell's creations were always 'way cool' looking. One need search no further than Invasion of the Star Creatures or Killers from Space to see what a low-budget movie without Paul Blaisdell was like...His designs were different and lasting and had a flair all their own that exceeded his budget and schedule. He did so much more than 'just getting the job done...'"


Originally Posted: 06/08/01 :: Rehashed: 06/08/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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