In the year 2024, the Earth is a desolate wasteland, devastated by cosmic radiation that pierced our damaged ozone layer. Man has been evacuated to Mars. Those few humans who remain, "first-stage mutants," live in an underground city. The Texas-made Beyond the Time Barrier featured this fanciful premise (now less fanciful than it used to be, given recent speculation about the ozone layer and interstellar flight). Independently made in 1959, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and starring Robert Clarke as a twentieth-century Air Force test pilot who passes through a time warp into this bleak futureworld, the movie co-stars Darlene Tompkins as Trirene, the mute, telepathic Princess of the subterranean "Citadel."

Chicago-born Tompkins came from a "show-biz family," with relatives who worked in vaudeville and in plays. (Tompkins' three-years-younger aunt is actress Beverly [Old Yeller] Washburn.) A beauty contest victory opened some Hollywood doors for Tompkins, who began appearing in commercials, co-starring in Time Barrier (at age 18) and appearing in TV series and additional features, including Elvis Presley's Blue Hawaii (1961). Marriage and motherhood derailed Tompkins' screen career, but she managed to return in the 1970s to work as an extra, a stand-in and stuntwoman(!), occasionally stunt-doubling on Charlie's Angels (for Cheryl Ladd) and in other TV series and movies.

TOM WEAVER: Leslie Parrish and Yvette Mimieux were both interviewed for the part of Princess Trirene, before either of 'em WAS anybody.

DARLENE TOMPKINS: I didn't know that, I just know that they had a LOT of people come in. I had an agent at that time and he had heard about the movie, and he sent me on an interview. I was really excited about it. The audition was in an office; a lot of the studios had little teeny offices, and you'd go in and read. The day I auditioned, it was Robert Clarke and Edgar Ulmer -- just the two of them.

Q: How do you audition for a mute part like that?

DARLENE: That's right, in that case, there WERE no lines, so they would tell me things that would happen. I would have to stare out into space like I was looking at somebody, or act as if I saw somebody fall down, or saw somebody crying, or I had to look like I was in love -- or whatever -- while I stared into space. Well, they called me back and I got the part. I was real lucky. That was very nice.

Q: Were you still living at home at the time?

DARLENE: Yes. In fact, my mother went with me to Texas when we made the movie.

Q: Beyond the Time Barrier was shot in about 10 days, in the abandoned buildings where the Texas Centennial was held in the 1930s.

DARLENE: It was very, very desolate -- those buildings looked to me like airplane hangars. We had Sunday off, and that one Sunday we could go into Dallas if we wanted. Well, I had never been there, and so a couple of people and I got in a station wagon and went into Dallas, to just walk around downtown Dallas, maybe stop and get a sandwich or something, walk through a store and then come back. We were all in Levis because we were out in the middle of nowhere. (None of us had anything but Levis.) And I want to tell you, I never realized how "dressy" that town was at that time! To see six people walking down the street together in Levis -- everybody would stop and stare. EVERYBODY! And we're thinking, "What's the problem? Why are all these people turning around?", and then one of the people I was with turned around and said, "Oh my God, we're in DALLAS! We should be DRESSED!" We ate at a hamburger stand, because we were afraid to try to go into any restaurants -- we thought we wouldn't be allowed in! "If they're looking at us like THIS, we don't DARE go in a restaurant!"

Q: Who was with you that day?

DARLENE: Just the crew, and one young man who was "Mr. Texas," a real good-looking, dark-haired guy. In the movie, he played one of the guards. Muscles -- a lllllot of muscles! And they looked good on him, REALLY good -- they got him [for the movie] because of that. He was just a nice, nice guy.

Q: Memories of Edgar Ulmer?

DARLENE: Edgar Ulmer sort of stayed to himself; most of the time, my direction really didn't come from him, it came from Robert Clarke. The love scenes, the kissing scenes and everything. Edgar Ulmer's daughter Arianné [who played a villainous scientist in the movie] was very nice, and Vladimir Sokoloff [playing Tompkins' grandfather "The Supreme," head of the futuristic city] was very charming, very soft-spoken. He acted like he was my grandfather, he really did. He took care of me and would want to pat me on the shoulder and talk real soft to me. A very gentle person. One of the things that I've been asked a lot, and I really wish I knew: On the Supreme's table, are those really bowling balls? [Laughs] I always thought they were, but I can't swear to it.

Q: And Robert Clarke, who you say directed you?

DARLENE: That's right, Edgar Ulmer didn't do that much to direct me, I felt that Robert Clarke did. That was surprising to me. Robert was such a gentleman, he never lost his cool, always nice, never raised his voice, just a wonderful human being. There was only one time I ever saw him upset, and I felt so bad about it. Remember the scene where Princess Trirene is shot? Because it was a black-and-white movie, they used chocolate syrup for the blood. So on my outfit was chocolate syrup. And they said, for the scene where Robert carries my body, "Just hang like dead weight. Throw your arms out, and just be as dead weight as you can be." He was in the flight uniform that he had rented, the real-life flight uniform -- expensive. VERY expensive. He was carrying me in that, and I'm dead as a mackerel. Edgar said CUT, and as soon as he said cut, the first thing I thought of was to sit up and put my arms around Robert so he could lower my legs. I reached up, and I got chocolate on his outfit. And he said, "Ohhh, no, no!" He set me down real gently and again, "Ohhh, no, no," and he just shook his head and walked away. And I thought, "My God, I feel so bad." He never said another word to me again about that, never brought it up or anything, and I kept wanting to ask him, "Did you get the chocolate out?" [Laughs] But I didn't have the nerve -- I thought, "Oh God, don't ask, don't ask!" -- I didn't dare. I was afraid he'd say, "NO, it's there for LIFE!", so I figured I'd better not say anything and hope everybody forgot!

Q: The makeup man on the movie was an old-timer named Jack Pierce.

DARLENE: Oh, I remember Jack Pierce -- he's the one who did Frankenstein [1931]. I remember him very, very serious, and sooo glad that he was working. And everybody treated him with so much respect. He really had "quite the name," him and Vladimir Sokoloff. These two gentlemen were just idolized, they were wonderful, wonderful people.

Q: How do you know Pierce was "glad to be working"? Did he come out and say so?

DARLENE: What I meant was, he was just so intent and happy about it. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so happy to be doing that craft. He really loved it, he gave me the impression that this was the important thing that there was, that this was so phenomenally important to him. As opposed to other makeup people I have worked with, people who treat each new assignment as "just another job," he was really wonderful.

Q: And he was your makeup man?

DARLENE: Yes, he was, and I was thrilled. On that picture, I had one of the best makeup men and one of the worst hairdressers -- on the same show [laughs]! Oh, she was a disaster! I had long hair and a ponytail, and they said to the hairdresser, "Add a little fall [fake hair] to the ponytail, to give it length. We want it up high, not down at the nape of her neck." She was behind me working and she picked up a scissors, and I thought she was just trimming the fake hair. Well, that night I found out what she had done: Because I had so much hair, long hair, she didn't know how to wrap it all together, so she parted my hair and then cut a lot of it right off! It was like a hole in the back of my head, a two-inch circle that was just stubble! Oh, God, it was bad, it was just a mess. After that, when anybody did my hair, I'd say, "Can I watch?" [Laughs] "I wanna see how it's done!"

Q: Do you happen to remember how much you were paid?

DARLENE: $350 a week. And I'll tell you another thing I'll bet you don't know: The mutants taught me how to play cribbage [laughs]! I'd never played cribbage before; I played chess and other games, but never cribbage. So they taught me that, and I really enjoyed them!

Q: You were asked to do a nude swimming pool scene in Time Barrier.

DARLENE: They saved that scene for last, and since they didn't have any access to an indoor pool, they were going to do it at night, right at the motel we were staying at. It had to be done at night because it was supposed to look like the pool was in the underground city. The motel was a two-story, and it was shaped like a U. One end of the U was a restaurant, and in the middle of the U was the courtyard with the pool. Well, they asked me if I would do it nude, and I said, no, I wouldn't, I don't do nudes. But I said I'd wear a flesh-colored or pink bathing suit, because as long as I knew I was covered, I didn't care. They said okay. So they put a pink bathing suit on me.

I was upstairs in my motel room, getting ready for makeup and everything, and all of a sudden someone opened the door and yelled, "Fire!" and we all ran out. What happened was, in the restaurant, the flue over the stove caught fire. And, because the motel was connected to the restaurant, when the restaurant caught fire, smoke went through all the air ducts -- smoke came in everywhere. We were all outside, all watching, and a couple things happened that I thought were funny. One thing was, Texas was a "dry" state; I don't know if it still is, but at THAT time it was, so the people would bring their own set-ups. This man and his wife had gone into the restaurant and he brought his own set-up and they were having dinner...the place caught on fire ... and he grabbed his bottle and ran out. He left his WIFE [laughs]! I don't know if they're still married after that! I thought that was kind of funny!

This was the last night of the shoot on Time Barrier, and The Amazing Transparent Man [1960] was going to start shooting in the next day or two. [Ulmer and his crew shot Beyond the Time Barrier and The Amazing Transparent Man back-to-back in Texas.] One woman who was going to be in Amazing Transparent Man, I don't know her name [presumably Marguerite Chapman, the movie's co-star], was sitting in her room under one of those old hair dryers -- you know those old "space age" hair dryers that's like a big cone on your head? She had the rollers and everything, and she didn't have any clothes on. Someone opened up the door and yelled to her "Fire!", but all SHE saw was this man charging in. Under that hair dryer, she couldn't hear anything! So she jumped up and ran out, naked. So HE grabbed the mink coat that she had laying on the bed, and he CHASED her with her mink coat! Oh, God, that was funny -- I really enjoyed that!

Q: How much of the motel burned that night?

DARLENE: I don't think any of it did, except for the flue. Being that the fire was in the kitchen, the smoke went through every single bit of the motel, through the air ducts. But the actual fire, I believe, was contained in the kitchen. Thank God nobody got hurt.

Q: So, obviously, you didn't shoot your supposedly-nude scene that night.

DARLENE: That's right, they didn't film it. A month or two later, after we had all returned home from Texas, Robert Clarke called me and said, "We're gonna shoot again. We have enough time and we wanna shoot it [the swimming scene]." I said that sounded great. They were going to shoot it in the pool at Robert's home in North Hollywood, in his backyard, again at night because it was supposed to look like the pool was indoors. So I go over to Robert's house and I've got my bathing suit on and my Levis over my bathing suit. I came into the house, and he had a piano in one of the rooms. I walked in and there was this lady sitting there at the piano bench, and she had got a ponytail like mine. I said hello and the lady turned around...and it was ME. I almost fell over! It absolutely took my breath away -- I was staring at MYSELF. I just stood there! And she looked at me and she didn't say anything either! She just stared at me and I stared at her! I was just dumbfounded. Robert Clarke came in and he explained: He said he called around to some photographers telling them that he needed a double for me, a girl who did nudes, a girl who was five-foot-three, 105 pounds, etc. Well, he called Peter Gowland [a Hollywood photographer known for his "nudes"] and mentioned my name, and Peter said, "Oh, I know Darlene. No problem!" He had been a judge at a couple of beauty contests that I was in.

Q: He was able to supply a girl who looked exactly like you, because he knew you.

DARLENE: That's right, Peter matched me perfectly because he knew me; I had worked for him.

Q: When you swam, you had a flesh-colored bathing suit?

DARLENE: That's correct, a strapless pink bathing suit. But it didn't make any difference, 'cause they only did head shots with me. I went out and did the swimming scene -- I did like an Australian crawl, and then came to the end of the pool where you go up the steps. When I started climbing out of the pool, they shot my head and then they cut it. Then it was HER turn to do it nude, and I went in the house. By the way, after I did MY swimming, Robert Clarke's stepson came home. He was a young boy at that time, probably 17, 18, and he came home from wherever he'd been all day, and his mother said [excitedly], "Stop! Stop! You go RIGHT to your bedroom!" [Laughs]

Q: Because the naked girl was swimming outside in their pool?

DARLENE: Right! The mother said, "You go DIRECTLY to bed!", and the kid didn't know what was happening -- he just turned to her and he went, "Huh?? What??" And again he was told, "You go directly to your bedroom!" And he had to go right to his room -- the mother told him, "Stay in there. Stay in there." They were very much family-oriented people, very gracious, very wonderful -- a real class act -- and [the nude swimmer] just "wasn't her thing" [laughs]!

Q: Do you recall seeing Time Barrier the first time?

DARLENE: It was playing at a theater in Van Nuys, and my mother and I went down and she took a picture of my name up on the marquee! And the first time I saw it was there. My reaction to myself? It was really a surprise -- I was so glad that I hadn't had any opportunity to see dailies during the making of the movie. On future movies I didn't WANT to see dailies until after every single thing that I did in that movie was over with. Other people can look at dailies and see "the whole picture," but I'd keep looking at me, it was hard to look at anybody else in the scene. And I'd keep saying, "Oh my gosh, I should do THIS" or "I should do THAT," because seeing myself would make me so self-conscious.

Q: Did you ever see the foreign version with the nude swim?

DARLENE: No, and I've never even TALKED to anyone who saw it. I've gotten fan mail from it, people saying it was great or they loved it or whatever. If they ONLY KNEW... [Laughs]

Q: Did you ever work with Clarke again after that?

DARLENE: The only other time I got to work with him after that was on [the TV series] Dynasty.

Q: How friendly did you get with Elvis on Blue Hawaii [1961]?

DARLENE: I was his good buddy. I remember he had a penthouse at the hotel, the Reef in Oahu, Hawaii, and he had guards so that no one could get up there. I can't remember how many floors there were in this hotel, I think it was like 11, and one day some teenage girls managed to get up to the roof, and then from the roof they jumped down onto his balcony. If they had slipped, it would have been 11 floors down. Unbelievable!

Elvis was really nice. We had dinner and he pushed the potatoes away and I asked, "Don't you LIKE potatoes, Elvis?" He said, "Oh, I love 'em, I really, really love potatoes, they're my favorite thing. But...I don't wanna get fat." For him to be so worried about getting fat, and then to have that [getting fat] happen to him -- oh, dear! But things were different in those days, almost everybody took diet pills, or Valium, or whatever. Nobody knew that you could get addicted to them. A man in Elvis' position could get prescriptions from anybody, and people wouldn't ask, "What else are you taking?" He just didn't know, and I think it was very sad.

Q: Why did you leave the business?

DARLENE: The disappointments were a little bit hard for me, and I began to think, "Well, maybe this isn't meant to be." Like, I was set to do CinderFella [1960], and the day before I would have shot my scene, they called and told me Jerry Lewis had had a heart attack while running up some stairs. So I wasn't in CinderFella. On A Guide for the Married Man [1967], I was in a scene where Walter Matthau sees a girl walking and he flirts with her. The scene was shot, but it was cut out -- they shot it again, this time using one of the female leads instead. Then when I did Grandpa Was a Cop, a TV pilot, what happened was kind of sad: The pilot got rave reviews, and four sponsors were fighting to do it. Everything was great, and I was told to go out and buy my Cadillac. And then all of a sudden, bang!, they couldn't find a time slot for it. That was unfortunate, because that would have been a real fun show, I really was disappointed when THAT didn't air. I was the granddaughter, Joe E. Brown was Grandpa and Dick Foran was his son, my father. Then there would be me and a young boy. It was a cute show, really nice. I think that was my first MAJOR disappointment, because I really thought that that was gonna go. EVERYbody did -- it was a disappointment for everybody who worked on it.

So I had a couple of disappointments, and then I got married, and the gentleman that I married -- well, it was hard for me to go on interviews and stuff, because [actors and actresses] are always having to do love scenes with other actors who you've only just met that morning! It became a little difficult. So I got married and had my two sons, and then unfortunately I got a divorce. At that time, I was 33, and there really isn't much call for a 33-year-old ingenue. And I had to support my family. I'm very, very happy with what I did. I think I should have put more effort into it while I was raising my kids. I thought I could raise my children and I could come back and I could work. But it isn't that way. You can't be gone in that kind of a business for 10 years, you can't leave at 23 and come back at 33, you can't. But that hadn't occurred to me. When I came back at 33, I had to go behind-the-scenes and do things. I made a good living doing it, but it was not the same.

Q: Nowadays you do the occasional "celebrity autograph" show.

DARLENE:I'll tell you one of the things that was a little scary for me about that: Remember Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind [1939]? Well, Vivien Leigh in the early '60s went to a theater down South where they were showing Gone With the Wind. She came, and one of the ushers looked around and said, "Where IS she? Where IS she? Where's Vivien Leigh?" -- with her standing or sitting right there! He had seen the movie, and he thought she was gonna be the same age as she was in the movie. So when I recently started going to some of these signings around the country, I thought, "People are gonna see these pictures of me" -- [a lot of my pictures are in bathing suits -- "and they're gonna think that I'm supposed to be this girl...but that was 30 years ago!" It was kind of hard for me at first to DO the signings. But then when I went on 'em, I found that people are really, really nice, and they know that time goes by. The people are just wonderful and they make me quite comfortable -- but at first, after I read that thing about Vivien Leigh, I was a little worried to go out in public. I thought people were going to expect a teenager!

Q: You got special "and introducing" billing in Time Barrier. Were you harboring hopes that this would be your "big break"?

DARLENE: Actually, I did -- I really did. Beyond the Time Barrier was the first thing that I had done, and I was star-struck. I'd only done a couple commercials before, and I was really hoping that something would work out, because I LOVED the industry. There was nothing like it, everybody was so happy to be there and they were having fun and they were makin' money doing what they really loved. It's both the hardest and the best of jobs.

Tom Weaver is the author of John Carradine: The Films, Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers and many others available from McFarland & Co..

Every horror you've seen on the screen grows pale
beside the horror of ... "
The Black Scorpion

"You'll see it tear a city apart!"
Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

"Remember that the screams you hear will be your own!"
Revenge of Frankenstein

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