Obscure Facts About George Pal
Did you know that Woody Woodpecker appears in almost every Pal film in some way or another. It started of course when Walter Lantz, Pal's longtime friend, helped him get his citizenship papers when he first came to America. That started a lifetime friendship.
Starting with DESTINATION MOON Pal wanted to explain to audiences the principles of rocketry to 1950 movie viewers, which unlike audiences of today, were unfamiliar with the science of space flight. Says Pal: "We knew about a three-stage rocket, but we didn't put it in because it was tough enough to explain what a one-stage rocket was. We wanted to demonstrate what rocketry was in an amusing way. The idea of a cartoon came up, but we couldn't afford Disney. Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker, is a dear friend of mine. He was one of the first cartoonists I met when I came to Hollywood. So he made a first-class cartoon at a cut-rate price for his pal, George."
Interestingly, Pal's friendship with Walter Lantz was so strong that after "Destination Moon", Woody Woodpecker appeared in some form or other in every Pal film as a private joke. In WAR OF THE WORLDS a figure of Woody can be glimpsed in the branches of the tree when the initial Martian cylinder/meteor flies over. In THE TIME MACHINE, during the 1966 air raid, a little girl running down the street is carrying a Woody Woodpecker doll. In TOM THUMB when Russ Tamblyn is dancing with his toys, there is a shot of him moving toward the camera, looking around, waving. On the soundtrack is the combined voices of all the toys greeting him. Among all the "Good morning Tom" & "Hi Tom" can be heard the trademark Woody Woodpecker laugh. Woody can be seen in the crowd of characters at the top of a toy popular in 1958. In THE POWER George Hamilton stops to look in a store window and a mechanical Woody toy squirts water at him. In Pal's last film, DOC SAVAGE, at the very end, Lantz's wife Grace Stafford (who does Woody's voice) is helped across the street by a boy scout. She is carrying a stuffed toy of Andy Panda, another Lantz cartoon creation (since Woody Woodpecker did not exist in 1936 when the film takes place).
For a time Pal considered filming a sequel to "When Worlds Collide" based on the Wylie/Balmer novel "After Worlds Collide". Although he talked Paramount into securing the rights to the novel, the studio eventually shelved the idea in favor of other Pal projects.
Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks company has recently announced they are currently doing a picture called "Deep Impact" which is essentially a remake of Pal's "When Worlds Collide".
History has shown again and again that Pal - the original thinker - was there first. Hats off to you, George!
Did you know that George Pal had planned to produce "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"?
Another story Pal was extremely interested in at the time of "When Worlds Collide" was Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea". After doing some checking Pal discovered that Kurt Neumann (the director who later made "The Fly") owned the rights to the novel.
Pal sez "After Verne's death the story had been recopyrighted by the great British producer Alexander Korda (famed Korda Studios). Kurt Neumann had bought the rights from him. So I called Kurt, and he said, 'Gee, I'm trying to get rid of it.' He had a very good script, but he couldn't sell it. It was available for $15,000. I wanted to make it for Paramount. We even made a budget proposal for $1.2 million, but for some reason Paramount didn't want to make it. At that time the head of production, Don Hartman, whom I had trouble with, felt I should make a modern submarine story. In fact, I worked for two weeks on an atomic submarine story with Alan Pakula, but it just didn't work out. Kurt Neumann eventually sold it to Al Rogell, a producer at Twentieth Century Fox, and he tried to peddle it around but couldn't sell it either. Then later Walt Disney called me and asked me about it. Walt was a very good friend. He was very helpful when I set up the Puppetoons in Hollywood. We had lunch every month or two. So one day he called me, because he knew how much I wanted to make "20,000 Leagues, and he said, 'I won't buy it unless you tell me so.' So I told him to go ahead. It was a great picture. I only wish I could I could have made it."
Interview with Pal by Gail Morgan Hickman
from his book "The Films of George Pal".
Pal was really the only one consistently making these kind of pictures, so naturally anyone with a fantasy or sci fi project came to him first. The greatest sci fi projects landed on Pal's desk and many we have come to know oh so well have been made.
What's interesting is that in Pal's day, the sci fi picture was considered a low rate B movie. Hollywood really shunned these projects. Sci Fi was always considered a step child to a business caught up in Westerns and Musicals. That's why the budgets offered Pal on these films were so small. They didn't look at them as big and the studios took only the minimum of risk. Of course, Pal proved them wrong when his pictures became so successful. Pal knew well not to underestimate the huge audience love of the genre. He therefore dedicated his entire life and career to these types of projects which have since become the most successful in the history of the movies. Pal didn't for instance do a western one year or a musical the next or a dramatic story the year after that. He spent his full effort on the sci fi and fantasy picture. It is to his credit and to our benefit that he did. In future little known facts, we will try to cover more of the "Fantasy World" of this creative genius.
Director - Arnold Leibovit