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The most unusual Lum and Abner film of all time, Plan “Fine!” from Outer Space,
was released to small-town theaters and drive-ins during the summer of 1950. So obscure is the film that only one printed discussion has surfaced. On a break from their appearance at the 1971 NostalgiCon in St. Louis, Chet Lauck, Norris Goff, Roswell Rogers and Clarence Hartzell were coaxed into reminiscing about the motion picture that never seems to appear on any L&A filmographies.
The following is reprinted from the article “The Lost Lum and Abner Film and the Men Who Hope it Stays That Way” from NostalgiCon News, September 1971.
Many thanks to NLAS members Mark Baisden and Martin Martinez for locating a copy of this obscure magazine recently at the massive monthly flea market in Canton, Texas.
“We contracted with a man named Woodrow Edwards,” Chet Lauck recalled, “and I remember joking that any ‘Eddards boy’ would be a good man to do business with. We finished up on CBS in 1950, and we were on hiatus from radio, so it seemed a good time to try another film. We formed our own production company and away we went.”
When asked about the reunion of the characters Lum and Abner with that of Ben Withers, who had been absent from the radio series for a short time, Clarence Hartzell quietly explained, “I needed the money, and Roz was kind enough to
suggest writing my character of Ben Withers into the film script.”
“If you’ve never heard the character,” Rogers broke in, “Ben Withers often answered any question with the word ‘fine,’ and he said it in such a way that it was hilarious.”
Tuffy Goff urged, “Say it, Clarence!”
“Fine,” chirped Hartzell, to the delight of the other men seated in the semi-dark “green room” of the NostalgiCon’s rented facility, the Braswell Hilton’s E. Nelson Slaanitt Convention Center.
When asked why the film played for so short a time, Goff quickly answered, “It was a piece of junk!” After the laughter subsided, he explained, “Seriously, that was one of the worst pictures we ever did. I mean, the concept was all right.
We’d done a rocket-ship thing before, on radio, or maybe in a film, I don’t remember for sure. And we had Roz writing it, so it should have been great.”
“The director was an odd duck,” Lauck grumbled. “I don’t think Woodrow or ‘Woody’ Edwards was his real name. Seems as if I heard he went by a different name later and kept making really bad pictures.”
Goff asked of Lauck, “Didn’t he use John Carradine or one of those other old Dracula actors in some other pictures?”
“I’m not sure,” Lauck replied, continuing, “but I know he told me he’d wanted to make a picture with me ever since he saw me wearing a dress in Goin’ to Town.”
Everyone enjoyed a hearty laugh, after which Roz Rogers said, “I have to admit it was not my best script either, so we can’t blame it all on Woody, or whatever his name was. I came up with a nutty idea that Ben Withers was receiving messages from outer space. I think it was the planet Pluto.”
“Yeah, dogs!” interjected Goff, “That was it! Ben Withers was a veterinarian, remember? Weren’t dogs talking to him?”
“No, Tuffy,” Roz replied with an almost condescending tone, “Disney would have sued our pants off. No, they were just normal aliens, and supposedly they contacted Ben on his short wave radio and they had this plan for him to fly to their
planet for some silly reason. Maybe they thought he was the smartest man on earth! But that’s why we had the title, Plan ‘Fine!’ From Outer Space.”
“That title sure seems familiar to me,” Lauck mumbled.
Hartzell added, “Well, you know, there were a lot of really strange science fiction films in the 1950s, but in a way, I think we were a little ahead of our time.”
Goff remembered, “You know, the budget was so low that we had an old Pine Ridge friend, Dick Huddleston, round up some local guys to do the music. Remember that?”
“You’re right, Tuff,” Chet replied, “He had those fellows like Ruel Bain and Ezra Buzzington – guys he used to tour with. They were kind of scattered by then, but two or three states came together in the process and they recorded some
authentic mountain music for the score. We rented the KENA radio station in Mena and some young deejay named Dwight Douglas recorded the music.”
Rogers laughed and said, “That backfired, because the soundtrack was more like a hoedown, and at the theaters and drive-ins in the small rural towns, the audience started dancing and ignored the movie!”
“That’s what we wanted them to do!” Goff shouted to the delight of everyone.
The gentlemen could remember very little about the film itself outside of watching Woody Edwards and his crew filming special effects footage. Roz Rogers explained, “They took an old Hoover vacuum cleaner, stuck some fireworks
sparklers in the end, dangled it on a wire using a fishing pole, and shot it with the skyline of Los Angeles in the background.”
“That wasn’t L.A.,” Lauck corrected, “We shot all of it in Arkansas, remember?”
“It was either Hot Springs or Mena,” Goff added.
Rogers agreed, “That’s right. I thought we did those shots before we left California, but maybe not. Anyway, another time they actually tried propelling the Hoover with some kind of explosive and that thing blew into a million pieces! They tried to send Clarence to a junkyard to find another worthless old Hoover, but… Do you remember what you said, Clarence?”
“No. But I’m sure it wasn’t ‘fine’ that time!”
Rogers wouldn’t repeat the soft-spoken Hartzell’s long-ago comments, and little else came to mind about the production of the film. But what happened? Why did it vanish?
Chet Lauck finally broke the silence. “The Hoover people threatened to sue us, that’s why. Some of their salesmen saw one of their products pretending to be a rocketship, blowing out sparks and all, and they came after us.”
“That crazy director bailed out on us,” Goff recalled, “and since Chet and I were essentially the production company and held the copyright, we were held responsible, so we agreed to pull it from release and hand them all the profits.
Ordinarily, we would have – but – there was only one little problem – there never were any profits!”
NostalgiCon staffers searched for months prior to the 1971 event in an attempt to find a copy of this film, but it is believed the few remaining prints were stored in the projection booth of the Night Owl Drive-in Theatre in Llewelyn, Iowa. Archibald Snavely, a former Llewelyn resident and current NostalgiCon staffer, recalled for us, “I was a kid in the mid-to-late 1950s and I remember the Night Owl used to give away strips of old movie film for kids to use as kite tails or hair ribbons or belts or to clip onto your bikes to make noise when it flapped against your spokes. My Uncle Ivan used to cut it up for mandolin picks. It was also good to fold over a few times to look through to see an eclipse. Families would use it as ribbon to wrap Christmas packages. I used to have yards of it, and once I remember looking at it through a magnifying glass and I saw these three old guys on some frames, and I thought they were selling Hoover vacuums. Then one day in the 1960s my cousins parked their old clunker pickup too close to the projection building. They’d gone there to see some cheap movie called Hocus Pocus or Weird World or one of those bottom-of-the-barrel science fiction things that all seemed to star John Agar. One of them tossed a cigarette butt into the bed of the pickup, where he had cans of gasoline, and… Needless to say, the grand old Night Owl went up in a blaze that night. Later in the rubble we found some burnt, warped old film reels back where their storage area had been. I just wonder if that
may have been what was left of the lost film. I wish I still had those strips.”
Lauck, Goff, Rogers and Hartzell seem perfectly content that the movie may be lost forever. However, one thing is certain! With a title like Plan “Fine!” From Outer Space, the film certainly could not be the worst motion picture ever made!
PSST! IF YOU’RE STILL READING… APRIL FOOL!
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