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The Disastrous Production of Howard Hughes’ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Disney’s 1954 production of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues by Richard Fleischer has long been the definitive cinematic version of the story. But it was not the first to enter production. In 1946, famous billionaire Howard Hughes attempted to make the film, following “The Outlaw” which would become his final completed film as director. The production would become one of Hollywood’s greatest disasters, taking the lives of over 90 actors and crew, costing nearly half a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation), destroying an entire island, and almost causing a third world war.

As the second world war drew to a close, Hughes was setting his sights on what he intended to be his magnum opus. Verne’s book had long been an inspiration to Hughes, in part inspiring his ventures into nautical enterprises, including the construction of the “Mahogany Mackerel,” one of the largest ships ever to sail. A party was held to mark the start of production at one of Hughes’ seaside homes outside of San Francisco (the mansion is now the home of director David Fincher), and was sadly marred when a drunken Hughes began shooting into the air with his crossbow and killed an albatross, which fell into the punch bowl.

The party featured the intended stars of the film, actors Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck, and Orson Welles who would portray Captain Nemo. It was an early blow to the film when all three actors departed the production on its first day due to infighting over an unsuccessful orgy the prior week. This caused a massive production delay during which Hughes bought up over 50 warehouses (including the world’s largest building at the time) to hold the sets and specially built water tanks until casting was replenished.

Two of these warehouses burned down (including the world’s largest building fire at the time), destroying the sets which then had to be rebuilt. By the time Hughes decided to cast unknown actors in the lead roles, ten more major set pieces had rotted away delaying the production further. Finally in October of 1948 the new sets and all actors were in place on the luxurious island of Bikini Atoll. The crew was to arrive at the shooting location on October 26th but was delayed by weather. This turned out to be a good thing as the United States conducted an unannounced nuclear test on October 27th, annihilating the island and the sets completely. The island is still not inhabitable to this day, and Howard Hughes, who owned the island, was compensated only $212 (adjusted for inflation) for his losses by the government.

Undeterred, Hughes began again with fresh sets, and new actors as the previous group had long since departed by 1950. This time, production finally began and footage was shot. It was never developed however because despite the expenditure of $800,000 (adjusted for inflation) on pyrotechnics for the first scenes shot, nobody had thought to temperature-protect the film canisters, which were opened at the lab and found to have melted completely into what amounted to large plastic hockey pucks. Hughes filmed the scene again, at the same cost, and then a third time when he was not satisfied with a background extra’s hair. This new footage too was lost when it was captured by rebellious 1950s teenagers who held it for ransom. They asked only $50 (adjusted for inflation) but Hughes refused to pay on principle.

The actors and crew were even more upset than Hughes that their work had been for nothing and so began the “Leagues Riots” of 1951. What sets remained were once more burned down, this time in protest. The lead actors were rehearsing in the sets at the time and all died of smoke inhalation. Hughes was also injured in an unrelated accident on the same day when he flew an experimental plane on its first test flight. He managed to steer the wayward jet back to his own property but missed the runway and instead crashed into another set, which had already been rigged for pyrotechnics the previous night, resulting in the loss of the set, pyro, plane, Hughes left pinky toe, and over 30 million dollars in production costs (adjusted for inflation).

Then the real problems began.

Hughes replaced the lead actor with Sam Normanjensen, once thought to be an great star on the rise. Unfortunately he was also a serial killer known then as the Sherman Oaks Ripper. He had killed 17 actors before he was cast, and filmed for only two weeks before he slaughtered and ate the spleen of one of his co-stars. Hughes was exonerated of any negligence but only after 50 million dollars (adjusted for inflation) in court fees and settlements with the actors family, one member of which visited the set on a later filming day to fire his pistol randomly at the remaining cast in anger, killing two more, wounding Hughes who lost his right testicle, and destroying a filming balloon that was the largest air vehicle ever built at the time (adjusted for inflation).

It was then that the Verne family withdrew their rights from the plagued production. Another legal battle cost in the millions, and by the time it was over in 1952, the sets had once again rotted away and had to be rebuilt. By that time, the Disney production was under way and Hughes spent millions more to spy on and sabotage the rival production. Several Disney employees fell victims to car bombs, others to arsenic poisoning, and one to auto-erotic asphyxiation, but Hughes was not considered responsible for that particular event. Walt Disney, of course, declared war.

The “War Between The Sets” began in 1953 as Hughes forces were driven off by Disney’s hired guns, the Mouseketeers which in those days were a fully armed paramilitary force. This skirmish took seven lives, but it was only the beginning. Hughes used his government contracts to secure two bombers and arms weighing in excess of 500 tons, all of which were dropped on Disney owned installations. Disney’s retaliation was severe. Hughes hotels burned days after, there were so many fires that Vegas and LA were both lit as bright as daylight even at midnight from the blazes. Hughes responded with bombings and drone strikes, with “drone strikes” in 1953 referring to dropping bees on ones enemy. One such strike which killed Disney’s allergic son, Walt Disney III (There was no Walt Disney II as Walt felt that talent skipped a generation). The conflict at one point threatened to spill over into Russia’s Southern American interests, leading the president to demand Hughes back down before turning the cold war into a nuclear conflict.

By the time a truce was called, Disney’s film was in theaters and Hughes was ready to call it a loss. He became reclusive and wasn’t seen much in public from that time on. Disney continued to be one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, and remains the producer of the most definitive adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

The book has not been adapted since, but David Fincher’s new version begins filming next week on a budget over 200 million dollars. Sadly, the production has already seen its first fatality, when fireworks during the production party at Fincher’s San Francisco home went astray and killed an albatross. 

We at FIJMU wish Fincher the best of luck on his upcoming production. He’s going to need it.

I once wrote & illustrated a childrens book based on a packing slip I received for someone else's Amazon order

The title of the book on the slip was too intriguing to ignore, plus, what if the recipient had never received her book? I took it upon myself to create the best facsimile I could manage having only seen the book’s cover.

Thank you for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this tale of adventure and redemption. Here is a bonus gif spidoman from the Something Awful forums kindly made. 

great comet on broadway

i saw great comet on december 28 and my life has never been the same, this is a summary of my experience 

buckle up this is gonna be a long post


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Our theme for #MisonFingersFriday on August 14, 2015 is BOOKS. I’ve done this theme before, but it was Tom with books in all of his various roles. This time, though, it’s all pics of bookish Crane in Season 2 of Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod loves his books–and since I work in publishing, I love him for it. More books, please!

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May 3rd 1469: Niccolò Machiavelli born

On this day in 1469, the Italian thinker Niccolò Machiavelli was born in Florence. He went on to become a central figure of the Renaissance that coloured Florentine life during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Machiavelli was involved in city politics, especially during the fourteen years when the powerful Medici family were exiled from power when he was a diplomat. Upon their return, Machiavelli was dismissed for his opposition to their rule and thus occupied his time writing what has become considered his magnum opus: The Prince. This book is often considered a kind of handbook for ruthless politicians, as it detailed how one must be prepared to use any means to preserve political power. However, some scholars have suggested that the work was more of a satire than prescriptive guide. Machiavelli died on June 21st 1527, aged fifty-eight, and was buried in the Church of Santa Croce in Florence.

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

'Troll Bridge' Review by Counter Monkey John Arminio

It’s that Neil Gaiman story that’s a mature fairy tale for adults with the pale, wan protagonist dressed in black.

Um, I need more.

You know, the one where childhood sins have a lifelong effect on the soul of the main character? With art by Coleen Doran?

Um, can you be more specific?

Heavy implementation of magical realism with a sympathetic antagonist and lettering by Todd Klein?

I need more….

Hardy har har. In all seriousness, I am a sucker for Neil Gaiman and one would be hard pressed to find something of his I don’t love. But why should anyone else love him, and Troll Bridge, the way that I do?

Troll Bridge is a graphic novel adaptation of a Neil Gaiman short story originally published in 1998, two years after the conclusion of his magnum opus in the comic book world, the Universe-spanning Sandman series. Troll Bridge itself is sort of a distillation of every Neil Gaiman trope and why they work and how they are conducive to compelling storytelling. Since the 1980s, Neil Gaiman has picked or has attracted talented and perfectly suited collaborators; creative individuals who complement and enhance his work. Colleen Doran is one such collaborator, one who has been illustrating Gaiman’s writing since the Sandman days. Her ability to manifest the fantastical tales that Gaiman creates in lucid dreaming detail is unparalleled. Her characters are immediate and realistically rendered, even when they are mystical beings like trolls, but the worlds they inhabit, the environs they cross, are straight out of our shared dreams.

Troll Bridge’s protagonist is as archetypal a character as can be envisioned; a young boy exploring a newly discovered path. Such journeying youths are familiar to anyone who has read Gaiman’s comics or novels, or fantasy literature in general. What makes this venture so engrossing is the landscape Gaiman’s character chooses to traverse across is initially a meadow so pristine and glowing, it brings to mind suggestions of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World. Like Wyeth’s painting though, there is an air of foreboding mystery, a sense of something lurking, waiting to entrap us. And oh, is there ever.

The titular troll’s entrance is both shocking and expected. Sure, we go from golden meadow to a Mirkwood-like maze of gnarled trees and shade of unnatural darkness, but our protagonist’s curiosity and urgency in pressing forward provide a certain veil of security. Seeing the troll’s tusks, giant stature, and wiry-haired nakedness break this bucolic boyhood fantasy of woodsy exploration is thrilling; a sudden material danger in a world previously devoid of it (or at least concrete forms of it). When the troll declares that he wishes to “eat your life,” it is almost as if he means the reader just as much as the young boy who has wandered too far into this land of tangible dreams.

Since this encounter occurs so early in the book, it’s obvious that the boy’s life is not eaten, but his method of escape lends an air of dark foreboding to the man he might become. Like the boy, the future of his idyllic childhood town, tucked away in a countryside of memory, is only destined for darker things. Such is the synchronicity of so much of Gaiman’s work. The same horrors are occurring to the boy as are committed by the boy as are enacted upon the land the story takes place in. Even the reader is not immune to this effect, as the caress of the troll’s gnarled, clawed hands reach out from Doran’s luminous pages and Gaiman’s glowing prose to caress our face just as they threatens the boy’s.

As Troll Bridge progresses, this multi-mirrored storytelling continues. The town of our protagonist’s birth drifts further and further from the form he once knew just as he becomes more cynical and distant, drifting further and further from the boy he once was. His own language matures but, at the same time, is more inhuman in its lack of hope. He walks across plains more purgatorial than fantastical; endless plateaus of steam and smoke with soulless prefabricated homes dotting the dreamscape. There certainly has been some “life-eating,” but who has done the feasting and to whom is open to interpretation. 

Ultimately, Troll Bridge is a dark fairy tale and the narrative follows the path laid out by the form of such stories. However, like much of Gaiman’s work (and the best of fairy tales in general), Troll Bridge uses these paths to find something new within us, something nascent and unexplored. It is touching and tragic but leaves us better for having experienced it.

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My work from Mexico that I’ve been exploring and organizing since 2013 is finally coming together into folios to ultimately make up a new book! I’ve finally gotten the layouts and curating finished - ready to hit print and bind them. Needless to say, I’m extremely happy with how its coming together.