Tor Johnson as a Soviet space scientist. That right there ought to be about as much balminess as any single movie could be expected to accommodate, and yet it's only the takeoff point for even greater absurdities in the never-to-be-forgotten The Beast of Yucca Flats. A masterpiece in the sub-category of bizarre no-budget cinema, shot in 1959 and released in '61, Beast gives "Guest Star" Johnson the role of Joe Jaworsky, a defecting Russkie scientist followed to the U.S. by Kremlin agents and pursued out onto the Yucca Flats A-Bomb testing ground. There, the radiation from an untimely atom blast unaccountably transforms Tor into a scarred, bellowing maniac -- "a prehistoric beast in a nuclear age" who begins prowling the desert landscape and littering it with the bodies of bit players.

There's a rare kind of perfection in The Beast of Yucca Flats -- the perverse perfection of a piece wherein everything is as false and farcically far-out as can be imagined. The 53-minute film was produced by Anthony Cardoza, a 29-year-old Hartford, Conn., welder who had recently relocated to the West Coast. Cardoza's career has taken him from collaborations with Ed Wood and Yucca Flats auteur Coleman Francis, to writer-producer-director of many of his own, more recent projects; he is currently writing his autobiography Hartford to Hollywood. In this interview, he looks back at the earliest -- and perhaps the strangest -- of his maverick movie credits.

TOM WEAVER: Not long after you moved from Connecticut to California, you became part of the notorious "Ed Wood circle."

ANTHONY CARDOZA: I met Ed through a kid I knew in Connecticut, a guy who had moved out here and was putting himself through college. He had a job as a Fuller Brush man, and that's how he met Ed. When I moved out here, I had him as a visitor, and he said, "I know this guy who's a producer. Jeez, you can double your money back in like a month." I said, "That's a good deal!", and I got sucked in [laughs]. They needed money [for the movie that became Night of the Ghouls with Tor Johnson], so I came up with some money from a house that I'd sold in Connecticut. I gave Ed all of my money, invested it in this movie -- and I never got my money back. But I said, "This isn't gonna throw me" and I "put myself through school," learning the business from scratch [while continuing to work as a welder]. I learned everything -- music and writing, how to edit music, how to edit film, everything. And after a couple of years, I met Coleman Francis, and voila -- The Beast of Yucca Flats.

Q: How did you meet Coleman Francis?

ANTHONY: He called me from nowhere, from out of the blue. I was living at the time in Van Nuys, where I'd bought a little house, and he approached me. I didn't know how he got my number -- I never did find out. But he called me, and he said, "I understand that you know Tor Johnson. Can you get him for a movie?" I knew Tor well, through Ed Wood, and I said, "Sure." I called Tor and said, "Tor, you wanna be in a movie?" and Tor said [imitating Johnson], "Yes, To-ny. How much do I get?" And I said, "Not much, Tor!" [Laughs] We raised a couple of hundred -- no, I raised it! Coleman never raised a nickel. I raised all the money for it: I got some welding friends, they all chipped in, and just ... different people. It was a low budget. I was still welding, of course -- I went from the day shift to nights so I could learn the movie business during the day. And I learned a lot about directing and acting through Coleman Francis. Coley was a good actor -- he was in Jack Webb's TV series Dragnet and in other things. I picked up a lot of knowledge from Ed Wood and from Coleman. The Beast of Yucca Flats was Coleman's screenplay. At first it was called The Violent Sun.

Q: That's not a very good title, is it?

ANTHONY: No, it isn't! So he renamed it The Beast of Yucca Flats.

Q: Where was the movie shot?

ANTHONY: It was shot off Sierra Highway in Saugus. I was there every day. The hardest part was taking a Mitchell camera up those mountains. It took four of us to carry it up to the cave -- that camera was heavy, because it was all iron. Those guys broke their backs getting it up there. Then we had to get Tor Johnson up there -- we had to push him up the hill. Literally had to push him up the hill. We also put a rope around him and we had some guys pulling him up. There were about four of us, two up above pulling and two down below pushing. It was [actor] George Principe and [actor-co-producer] Jim Oliphant and myself and ... I forget who the fourth guy was. We pulled and pulled and pushed and pushed, and we finally got him up there. Really, the cliff was up there pretty high. If he ever fell, we were all dead! He was heavier than that camera, I'm tellin' you [laughs]!

Q: This place where you shot -- was it commuting distance from Hollywood? You just went back and forth?

ANTHONY: Yeah. It was between 35 to 45 miles from Hollywood.

Q: Was there a real cave up there?

ANTHONY: It was an old mine that we used.

Q: 16mm? 35mm?


Q: Did you ever work at night?

ANTHONY: No, it was day-for-night shooting.

Q: Where did you get your cast?

ANTHONY: They were just different people that I knew and Coley knew. Douglas Mellor, a friend of Coley's, plays the father of the two lost boys. Barbara Francis was Coleman's ex-wife then, and she plays the mother. The two boys [Ronald and Alan Francis] were Coley's sons. Bing Stafford was a friend of Larry Aten; Bing and Larry played the two desert patrolmen. Graham Stafford, who you see as a newsboy, was Bing's younger brother. Linda Bielema was married to Larry Aten, and I think she currently works at Warner Brothers as a secretary. She was the gal that was strangled in her car and carried up the mountain by Tor Johnson and raped. (Supposedly. She wasn't, really [ laughs]!) Jim Oliphant played her husband, the guy who went behind his car and was strangled by the Beast. George Principe was the passerby who discovers Oliphant's body.

And you? Who did you play?

ANTHONY: I play one of the Kremlin agents -- very badly. John Morrison was the other Kremlin agent.

Q: Who is the FBI agent who stops to reload his gun in the middle of the gunfight, while the bad guys hold their fire and wait for him?

ANTHONY: That was Bob Labansat. He became a wardrobe person, and I think he is to this day. Jim Miles was the black soldier who gets killed -- also very badly! Everybody was bad! But, you know what?, this picture, everybody likes it! It's amazing!

Q: Well, before we go on, let's you and me agree that it's a very bad picture that, for some reason, a lot of people enjoy. Is that fair enough?

ANTHONY: That's good!

Q: Okay -- that'll save hurt feelings later! Is Coleman Francis in the picture?

ANTHONY: Yeah, he's the guy who buys a newspaper from the newsboy. He played a dual role -- he also played in the scene at the service station [as the attendant]. The dog in that scene belonged to the station. Coley also narrated the movie. We shot it all M.O.S. ["Mit Out Sound," silent].

Q: There aren't many dialogue scenes, but what few there are are obviously dubbed. When an actor talks in the movie, is that the same actor dubbing his or her own voice?


Q: Who provided the grunts and roars of Tor Johnson?

ANTHONY: Oh, that was Coleman, too -- "Rrrrraaarrr!" [Laughs] Later, when I made the movie Bigfoot [1970], I did all the sounds of Bigfoot and his babies and all!

Q: What kind of shape was Tor Johnson in at this time?

ANTHONY: He was 390 pounds, and about six-two or -three, I forget.

Q: He looks so out of condition in the movie. He can't run for more than a few seconds without pooping out. I get the impression he couldn't fight his way out of a Girl Scout meeting at that point.

ANTHONY: That's true, that's true. At that weight, he couldn't do much.

Q: Looks like he can hardly walk. How was he making a living in 1959?

ANTHONY: His son Carl was a chief of police in San Fernando, and Carl used to help Tor along. Carl used to wrestle his father in the ring, but people didn't know [that they were father and son] because Carl would go under another name. His father had the shaved head and Carl would have hair on his head, and they'd fight each other. Tor was also doing little bit parts in offbeat pictures.

Q: But he made so few movies in the last 10, 12 years of his life, I have to wonder -- was the son supporting him toward the end?

ANTHONY: Yep. Although I think Tor had a pension, too. Tor and his wife Greta lived in a house in Sylmar, and I think his rent was paid by the son. It was a small house, a two-bedroom or something.

Q: Did they seem to be happy, and to have enough money?

ANTHONY: Oh, yeah. I used to go over there, and his wife Greta would fix me pickled herring and crackers and cheese and all that. We'd have a good time. And then he'd come to my house and have dinner there. It was great. We were buddies, and we ate a lot [laughs] -- I almost got as heavy as him! I'm kidding...but I did go up to about 225 pounds from about 165. That's how much I was with Tor. Eat and eat and eat and eat. Being around Tor, you had to eat! His wife Greta always had the food on the table. "You gotta eat! You must eat!"

Q: Tor couldn't possibly have still been wrestling when you knew him ... ?

ANTHONY: Actually, no.

Q: Besides eat, what else would the two of you do?

ANTHONY: Well, we went out -- we used to have drinks, wine and stuff like that. We didn't pal around every day, but he'd need a ride here and a ride there, so I'd pick him up. One evening we got thrown out of Jack LaRue's nightclub on Ventura Boulevard. The waitress came over and he asked her for some T.P. She asked, "What's T.P.?" and he said, "Ta-ble p---y...!" The waitress told Jack LaRue about that, and so Jack came up to me and asked, "Can I talk to you for a minute?" I said sure. And Jack says, "Can you get him out of here?" So I told Tor, "We gotta leave, Tor. I've got to get home." So I got him out of Jack LaRue's place -- but we were actually thrown out [laughs]!

Q: Did he do that sort of thing often?

ANTHONY: Uhhh ... yeah [laughs]! Everywhere we went! But they'd get a kick out of it, the waitresses. But this one didn't, it rubbed her the wrong way.


Tom Weaver is the author of I Was a Monster Movie Maker: Conversations with 22 SF and Horror Filmmakers, Science Fiction Confidential: Interviews with 23 Monster Stars and Filmmakers and many others available from McFarland & Co

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