Kenneth Tobey: A Love Letter from Mykki

by Mykki Newton

Kenneth Tobey appeared in hundreds of feature films and television shows of almost every genre, but to Monster Kids he is best remembered as the romantic figure of a career military man who never backed down from a monster fight.

I guess I should explain what a “Monster Kid” is to those not familiar with the term.  A Monster Kid is someone who grew up watching classic science fiction and horror movies produced prior to 1970. Many Monster Kid’s first exposure to Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and all the Cold War creatures representing our fear of the nuclear bomb and communism came from late night local television. At that time, every television market had a “Creature Feature” movie program with its own unique host.

Now back to Kenneth Tobey and a 1985 interview from my archives. With his leather flight-slash-monster fighting jacket, Kenneth Tobey tangled with a giant carrot creature from outer space at the North Pole, the radioactive Rhedosaurus that stomped through Lower Manhattan, and a nuclear-powered octopus that crushed the Golden Gate Bridge.

In 1949, Tobey had a bit part in I Was a Male War Bride and director Howard Hawks saw something he liked in the 32-year old actor. Hawks cast him as Captain Patrick Hendry, United States Air Force and the lead in The Thing from Another World (1951), but first Tobey had to impress studio boss Howard Hughes.

“I got a call when I came in slightly tipsy one night about 2 in the morning and the caller said, ‘Mr. Hughes wants to meet you,’” Tobey recalls. “I told the caller I’d be in first thing Monday morning, but the caller said, ‘No. No. No. No. Mr. Hughes wants to meet you right now.’ So, I drove over to his bungalow and met him. You can’t turn down Howard Hughes.”

Kenneth Tobey wielding an axe in “The Thing

The Thing from Another World and The Man from Planet X both went into general release on April 27, 1951. Both films mark the first-time people on Earth fought invading space aliens in an American feature film. The Man from Planet X is somewhat adorable in its simplicity and comic book visuals, but The Thing from Another World is terrifying and sophisticated even today.

Going into the 19-week shoot, Tobey said he thought it was just another adventure film. The Thing from Another World turned out to be far more than just an adventure film. It was ground-breaking cinema thanks in large part to the over-lapping dialog which brought a tense pace and sense of reality to the film.

“I’m going to take a little credit for that and give Howard Hawks a great deal of credit for using it,” Tobey said. “I had just come from the stage in New York and on the stage we overlap, so I automatically did that because I hadn’t done many pictures. Hawks liked it and got the whole cast to do it and we had a lot of fun doing that.”

The box office success of The Thing from Another World made Kenneth Tobey a gainfully employed film actor and a reliable frequent fighter of giant movie monsters. However, his next venture into science fiction was not the starring role. That spot was already taken by the title character, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). Before there was Godzilla, there was Rhedosaurus, the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms…although he actually came from deep in the ice of the Arctic Circle during a nuclear bomb test dubbed “Operation Experiment.” Maybe it isn’t the most original title for a government operation or an experiment, but Kenneth Tobey is there to do his duty for his country. This time he is Colonel Jack Evans, United States Army and the monster is classic Ray Harryhausen stop motion animation. It is one of the first films to tap into our Cold War fear of nuclear annihilation.

“Ray Harryhausen is the best. Some of the movements of the giant brontosaurus…uh, whatever the hell it was, looked very real,” Tobey said. In science fiction pictures with monsters and things like that, the most important thing is for the actors to believe that that’s a creature. The audience will take the actor’s word for it. If the actor is truly scared or takes the creature seriously, then the audience will.”

Kenneth Tobey (center) gets a love scene

Tobey would again face a Harryhausen creation in 1955 when It Came from Beneath the Sea. “It” being a gigantic octopus driven from its natural habitat and food supply by hydrogen bomb tests. This time Kenneth Tobey crosses over into his third branch of the military. He is Commander Pete Mathews, captain of a nuclear submarine and traditional 1950s American male who doesn’t understand “these modern women these days.” While the giant radioactive octopus is wrapping its tentacles around the Golden Gate Bridge, Commander Mathews is trying to wrap his big paws around Professor Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) of Harvard University.

“I liked It Came from Beneath the Sea because I had love scenes and I had a longer part than in Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and I starred in it,” Tobey said.

Before the end of the 1950s, Kenneth Tobey would fight one more sci-fi monster…a pill-popping vampire in The Vampire (1957) of course, and once again Tobey was in an innovative, albeit low budget film. Unlike previous movie vampires created by pure evil, the devil, a bat, or a bite from Count Dracula, this vampire was created by science out of control and playing God. It was another common fear in our new Nuclear Age and a new kind of Kenneth Tobey, Monster Fighter. He is now a civilian, somewhat anyway. He is Sheriff Buck Donnelly of “Any Small Town, U.S.A.”, and he’s got a grotesque blood-sucker terrorizing his county.

Tobey’s talents shifted to television late in 1957 when he starred as the co-owner of a helicopter charter service in the series Whirlybirds until 1960. It was a major success worldwide and remained in syndication for decades. There was even a reunion of sorts with the Thing. Tobey was a guest actor on a 1960 episode of Gunsmoke starring James Arness who played the giant carrot creature from outer space in 1951.

Tobey (far left) in “Airplane!”

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Tobey would pop-up in small supporting roles in some of the biggest box office hits. Including Billy Jack (1971), Airplane! (1980), The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), and Big Top Pee-wee (1988). He even tried to kill the real-life, somewhat mythical giant figure of legendary Tennessee lawman Buford Pusser in the original Walking Tall (1973).

Kenneth Tobey passed away in 2002 and didn’t live to see his final film released. It was film done on a bet to see if director Ted Newsom could produce a movie for $2,500. It began shooting as an 8mm film in 1984 and switched to videotape in the 1990s. It was finally released straight to DVD in 2005 as The Naked Monster, a spoof/tribute to the classic sci-fi horror films of the 50s. Kenneth Tobey reprised his role as Captain Patrick Hendry from The Thing from Another World. For the last time, Kenneth Tobey would don his leather flight-slash-monster fighting jacket. It is a film only Monster Kids will understand and appreciate.

“I enjoy acting,” Tobey said. “Whatever the genre is, I love it. Of all the science fiction films I’ve done, The Thing is my favorite because it brought me the most fame and I’ve gotten my last 10 parts because of The Thing, which was 30 years ago.”

Mykki Newton is a grown-up “Monster Kid”, a connoisseur of cinema schlock and a retired videographer/editor at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.

For the Love of Schlock

I had every intention to buy only one odd movie, but before leaving the internet shopping site I had purchased 151. The movies were cheap, less than 32 cents each; that was my enabler. Hello, my name is Mykki, and I am a schlockaholic.

Like any addict my biggest fear is running out of my addiction. I buy old movies in bulk, like a meth addict buys AA batteries and cold medicine. I once discovered a box of more than a hundred old horror movies with local commercials I recorded in the 80s from NYC and Philly television stations. Now I know how people in Mobile felt when bales of pot would wash ashore in the 70s.

Apparently one January night in 1989 I let my VCR record until it ran out of tape. On the tape, I discovered the second episode of Man from U.N.C.L E directed by Richard Donner and two episodes of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, which is creepy today because Eddie’s father has the same Bill Bixby understanding and calmness of Bill Bixby’s alter ego to The Incredible Hulk. I pray Eddie doesn’t make him angry; as their housekeeper/nanny, Mrs. Livingston would say, “You wouldn’t like Mr. Eddie’s father when he’s angry.”

I’m so grateful I was raised on real Looney Tunes when Bugs was a smartass and Daffy got his beak blown off. I saw the modern day Looney Tunes; Bugs and Daffy were singing about being healthy cowboys, eating stir-fried vegetables and measuring portions. I found it too disturbing, so I went back to watching Psycho on TCM.

Anthony Newley

Last night I saw Anthony Newley in the  role of Lt. Commander “Spider” Webb (great name, huh?) in X the Unknown (1956). When I was a kid in the 60s, I did a spot-on Anthony Newley impression, but by the 70s my impression was too obscure.

In 1969, I knew a 9th grader who had his yearbook photo listed as Myra Breckinridge. Kids were so sophisticated back then. 7-years later, I had my 11th grade yearbook photo listed as Gator McKluski, certain proof of society’s drastic decline. I remember when AMC was TCM, A&E was Ovation, Biography was History 2, BBC America was PBS and Fox was a walkie-talkie frequency.

My own past has had brushes with real historical celebrates, which I think is the correct term. My mother said her aunt and uncle by marriage (whatever that means) adopted a kid whose parents were killed in a car accident or something. It was rural Kentucky in the 1930s, so the parents may have been killed by Daniel Boone for all I know. Maybe it was Davy Crockett. I always get those two guys confused, so lets just say it was Fess Parker, the actor who played both men on television and in the movies.

So anyway, back to the story of that kid. His name was Harvey Lee Yeary, but with the emergence of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963, Barbara Stanwyck suggested Cousin Harvey change his name to Lee Majors and the rest is history. However, my grandmother denied any family relationship. I once had a brief conversation with Wayne Newton and he is convinced we are cousins because we have the same last name, and his family and my father’s family are from the same small area in Tennessee. However, for Wayne’s sake I deny any family relationship, and the rest is history. Along those same lines, I once wrote a letter to Bobby Goldsboro in hopes of discovering some answers.

“Dear Bobby Goldsboro,
For much of my life I have been troubled by a few questions only you can answer.
First, how did Honey die? You said she was young at heart, kind of dumb and kind of smart but what the heck. Was she hammering a nail with a loaded revolver that day when you were not at home and she was there and all alone and the angels came?
Second, did you bury her next to the tree? You seem to want everyone to see the tree how big it’s grown, but admit it hasn’t been too long, it wasn’t big. What kind of fertilizer do you use? Is it Honey?
Your Biggest Fan,

My life can be summed up in the title of one movie… Cat Women on the Moon (1953). Holy Moly, this movie is deliciously bad. The cat women want to travel to Earth and have a Coke. That’s what one said…go on a date and have a coke. Once again, Coca-Cola’s marketing department rules the galaxy. This film proves what men have long suspected…all women in the universe can communicate telepathically. Cat-Women of the Moon also confirms a sci/fi B-movie rule of thumb…if there’s a woman on-board a flight to the moon, there’s always a giant spider waiting on her once she gets there.

I am a huge fan of Japanese kaiju films, more commonly know as giant monster movies although the Japanese to English translation in Godzilla Raids Again (1955) stumbles slightly on American slang.”Ah, shucks” = “Ah, banana horses.” At least that’s what it sounds like to me, so I have a new catch phrase. “AH, BANANA HORSES!”

I wonder if the Japanese make fun of Americans by laughing and screaming, “Ah! It’s Spiderman! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Spiderman…what a joke. WE HAVE GODZILLA!”

Spiderman is a good superhero if you are a 15-year old kid being bullied because you have bad acne, but Superman, now he is and always will be the ultimate superhero. He has all the great superpowers, including being totally unrecognizable by wearing only a pair of glasses.

Ironman? I respect him. He spent billions constructing a suit so he could be more like Superman. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Batman, on the other hand, needs constant surveillance and therapy. As a child, he witnessed his parent’s murder, which understandably cracked his mind and turned him into a demented, murderous Don Quixote. Personally, I prefer my superheroes to be more down-to-earth like I Will Help You Find Your Keys Man.

For me, a sci-fi/superhero loses screenwriting credibility when the jet pack flying, fedora wearing, scientist hero activates his cosmic mega powerful radio space alien communicator and says, “Calling Bob. Calling Bob.” I’m talking to you, Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952). 

“He was always so keen on telling me about his experiments.” (Said every girlfriend of a scientist gone mad)

Lines I Hope I Never Have to Use in Real Life

5) “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”
4) “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
3) “Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty apes.”
2) “Decepticons!”
1) “I see dead people.”

If there’s anything I know about motion pictures it’s that a crying woman driving a ’39 Chevy in the rain always ends badly. Movies have taught me never to trust anyone wearing a monocle. They are Nazi spies. That includes the Monopoly guy and Mr. Peanut. Well, maybe not Mr. Peanut but he is a giant peanut the size of a man and that in itself is just wrong. So I guess what I’m saying here is always avoid Nazi spies and horrifying genetically modified gigantic legumes. They are terrible people.


1) Prior to 1961, the decision of who will be the first man in space and/or on the moon is always made 5-minutes before liftoff of the atomic rocket. Mission Control is actually only four people, one of whom is always the astronaut’s wife or girlfriend.The only sounds in space are that weird EEE-OUU-WEE-OUU  theremin part of Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, and the machine that goes “BING!”

2) Sometimes the actors are so terrible and the dialogue so awful, you root for the half man/half lizard creature to devour the entire town and emerge victorious over all mankind.

3) If your home is being attacked by a 60-foot spider, close your front door so it doesn’t come inside.

Earth vs. the Spider (1958)

Bullets are useless, so have your local scientist and/or professor ram the spider in the butt with a ’58 DeSoto to distract it. Giant atomically grown arachnids are attracted to giant car tailfins inspired by the jet age. Finally, have the scientist and/or professor build his failed experiment 50 times its normal size. For some reason the larger size makes the experiment function perfectly and that is always the only thing that can kill the monster.

4) The smartest people in town, i.e. professors and/or psychiatrists, have pipes they never smoke. They just like holding the pipe and occasionally placing it in their mouth. This is also the sign of an understanding father who believes the kids did see something out at the old Johnson place, Roy…maybe a spaceman, maybe a blob monster, but he’s sure his son and/or daughter is a good boy and/or girl who just wants to go to the big dance and/or gender reassignment surgery.

5) Vampires and mad scientists are totally unaware of the dangers of open flames. Inevitably, candles and/or Bunsen burns will tip over during a climatic moment, ignite curtains and/or demented and/or hunchback assistants. The flames spread quickly and the damage is not covered by most castle owner’s insurance. Thus, vampires and mad scientist cannot survive a fire.

6) If your dog or cat growls or hisses at your boyfriend or husband, he or she is a space alien or ghost or vampire or general member of the living dead. If this happens to you, breakup immediately or file for divorce or call NASA or Whoopie Goldberg or drive a stake through their heart or start screaming, “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!” If none of those things work, you may want to consider trading the dog or cat for a goldfish.

7) Every film and small town must contain the following characters:

Doug Martin
Betty Morgan
Gas Station Attendant
Blond Stripper

8) Space women are ROCKIN’ HOT! Oh, you may find the occasional butterface due to too much radiation, but they always have smokin’ hot bods. Space men, on the other hand, are either total creeps, ambiguously gay or both. The gay ones are usually the BFF of the beautiful queen. That appears the case throughout the galaxy even on our own planet, so that my dear friends is why I welcome the coming space alien invasion.

Frankenstein meets the Space Monster (1965)

9) Only the greatest scientific minds have alligator habitats in their basements.

10) Prior to 1960, advanced alien life forms out to conquer Earth had no access to television and radio stations. Thus, they contacted the earthlings via public address systems at sporting events. Many of the world’s great scientists and military leaders were also hockey season ticket holders.

11) All low-budget movies about invisible creatures or humanoid space aliens have a costume/special effects department consisting solely of whenever the actors have in their own personal wardrobes.

12) In every pack of marauding zombies, there’s always a woman in a wedding dress. She’s not really a zombie, she just had too much champagne and Red Bull and got carried away in the conga line at the reception.

13) Selling islands to mad scientists interested in human/wild animal gene splicing experiments was a booming business for realtors in the first half of the 20th Century.

And just so you know, a crucifix does not work on Jewish vampires.

from Tales of a 5 & Dime Socialite
©2017 unedited
by Mykki Newton