On July 19, 1997, after a long day spent at San Diego’s Comic-Con International, author George Clayton Johnson (Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Logan’s Run, Ocean’s 11, Kung Fu), who is a long-time and much-beloved Comic-Con guest, and his wife, Lola Johnson, sat for a videotaped interview at the San Diego, CA home of Roy L. Dobbs, Jr. The interview features the off-camera voices of Comic-Con’s Founder, Shel Dorf, and the Chairman of Comic-Con #1, Ken Krueger. The video is presented here courtesy of George Clayton Johnson and Greg Koudoulian.
(If you click on it and hover your mouse pointer over the video player, you’ll see arrows you can click to move to the next or previous part along with “thumbnail” images at the bottom that you can click on to jump ahead or behind to a particular part. Also, if you are reading this via email or a newsreader, you’ll probably need to visit the site to view the video at http://www.comicconmemories.com/2010/03/23/video-conversations-with-george-clayton-johnson-and-lola-johnson)
Part 1 of 11: George first encountered fandom as a guest of Charles Beaumont at a science fiction convention in 1958 at the Alexandria Hotel where Richard Matheson was guest of honor. [That was the World Science Fiction Convention hosted by South Gate, California.] Science fiction is the literature of the age; the world has become science fiction. Fandom is The Church of Science Fiction. It was because of Ray Bradbury that George believed it was possible for him to be a writer. Lola Johnson’s essential support while George was getting established as a professional writer.
Part 2 of 11: You can sell almost any idea and can use almost any dialogue if put it in the mouth of the right person. Using expressive words. Shel asks if George became a writer as a result of being a reader or if had any formal training in writing. George says he was an eighth-grade dropout and failed the sixth grade and had to take it twice. He was a real day dreamer. It was from reading he learned. His mother was an alcoholic and he ended up in an orphanage. Authors and books he read while in the state orphanage. The Book of Ezekiel as a science-fiction story. Discusses the Book of Genesis and Adam and Eve. Levels of awareness and consciousness. His relations with other kids in the orphanage and shortly after he left it.
Part 3 of 11: Always good at faking other people out: gives example from when fourteen or fifteen and had dealings with a couple of deadly young street fighters. What he did from age fourteen or fifteen to twenty three. On having been a shoeshine boy. Hung out in libraries but never accumulated any books. On sleeping on a bench. Saw in Charles Beaumont a brother; Shel asks why and George explains.
Part 4 of 11: Hates being told no: a rejection is a killer thing. Ken talks about publishing and selling George’s Twilight Zone book twenty-five years earlier. Shel on George’s magnetic personality and his having escaped his physical surroundings which his writings help others to do. George on having lived a rich life. On having become a shaman type of person, living the hero’s journey. On being a Zen-Baptist, a Christian to the core with the caveat of having his own view of Christ. On Jesus as a hippie. George could be picked up and dropped down on a street in Calcutta and he wouldn’t suffer, he could always become interesting. Literature is the science of human behavior. Shel asks if he would be the same person he is if he’d had a really good childhood, an Ozzie and Harriet upbringing: George says no way in the world. He had every reason to become a delinquent but he rose above it, he coped with it. As a law-abiding citizen who lives his life in a circumspect way. Shel asks George to tell about his children, which he does, starting with the fact that they have consciences. On having everything he needs and being fixed in the sense of not needing to kiss up to anyone and, as Shel observes, having never sold out.
Part 5 of 11: Shel asks George to talk about his Twilight Zone story “Kick the Can,” which he does. He thought about children’s games on his way home one night from a writer’s group meeting, couldn’t remember the rules, thought about what it would be like being in an old-folks home. He talked with Buck Houghton about the power of children’s games and the secret world of children. He’d learned from Bradbury about the relationship between children and old people. The sort of people he grew up with in his family and the orphanage. The manners he learned in the orphanage stood him well when later he wanted to impersonate a college-bred boy. When he was a child, it was a horrible thing to stand out, to not fit in, but now it’s nothing. He tried to fit in but he never could; he was an outsider all his life to this very day.
Part 6 of 11: George, Shel, and Ken talk about marriage and the importance of Lola in George’s life. Ken talks about his own marriages. Ken says since he is a publisher and George a writer they should be enemies but he would die for George. One of the ways George forces himself to accomplish things is to brag and then when someone calls him on it he will follow through to avoid being an empty braggart. The only reason for any of us to be here: to be creative. This is a world you cannot get out of: there is no death, there is no dying, there is no being born, there is only now. The English language is the most flexible, the most powerful tool in the world. No other language can do the subtle things this language can do.
Part 7 of 11: Shel asks George if he could always think the way he does now. George says he did but he didn’t have the courage of his convictions. George’s conception of God. Shel observes that George is very American in the sense of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. George says that he is very patriotic, he’s red, white, and blue, he’s Yankee Doodle Dandy that he was born on July 10th and that they start celebrating his birthday on the 4th of July. Shel says that he was born on the 5th of July.
Part 8 of 11: Shel asks for more about Kick the Can and a brief synopsis of the story. George gives the requested synopsis. He’s most interested in the end game of his life. The Kick the Can story is about all of our wishes that we were magic. What fairy tales are. The human personality has it’s own dangers. Shel says he’s getting from George the message that there are two kinds of people: people that want security, to be taken care of, versus the adventurers who shirk off that security so they can experience adventures and excitement. George says that’s absolutely right.
Part 9 of 11: Shel says he was at an Edgar Rice Burroughs panel [at Comic-Con] and asks George why Tarzan has had such lasting appeal, what it says to us even today. George explains. Shel and George discuss it further.
Part 10 of 11: At Shel’s request, Lola switches with George and is interviewed by Shel. In two-and-a-half months Lola and George would be married for forty-five years. Shel asks how Lola and George met and she tells the story. Before they married George told her what he wanted most was honesty and sincerity and she said then you’ve got the right girl.
Part 11 of 11: Lola and Shel continue to talk about her marriage with George and their home and family life. People see George, see this long-haired hippie, and can’t believe he’s a good father. People who misjudge George because of his appearance and yet still want to benefit from his talent.