Thursday, May 7, 2009

I was one of a million kids who got a Zotz Coin


I was one of many Decatur kids to receive a Zotz coin and I got mine at The Decatur Theatre
and still have it today. pictured above.

Zotz! (1962) was based on a 1947 novel by former naval captain Walter Karig, screenwriter of the Victory at Sea TV series and author of three Nancy Drew novels under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. The fanciful premise takes place in the imagery setting of Saracen Valley College in California where Jonathan Jones (Tom Poston), professor of Ancient Eastern Languages, is being considered by Dean Joshua Updike (Cecil Kellaway) as the new Dean of the Language Department along with his rival, professor Horatio Kellgore (Jim Backus). Although Jones appears to be Updike's choice for the position, his confirmation becomes questionable after he takes possession of an ancient coin uncovered in an archeological dig by a former student and starts behaving strangely. He discovers that when he is in possession of the coin he can cause intense pain in people simply by pointing at them. He can also retard movement in people, planes, cars, animals or insects simply by saying the ancient word Zotz! More importantly, by pointing his finger and saying Zotz! at the same time, he can kill or destroy his object of choice. When he reveals his findings to a Pentagon official, he is not taken seriously but soon finds himself, along with his niece Cynthia (Zeme North) and new love interest professor Virginia Fenster (Julia Meade), stalked and threatened by Soviet agents.

Millions of golden plastic "Zotz coins" were manufactured and sent to theatres all over the world. Huge billboards, put up weeks in advance of our openings, had just the word "Zotz!" printed on them. Car bumper stickers and "Zotz buttons" by the thousands went out, and the magic "Zotz coins" were distributed in cities weeks before opening. I wanted the kids to get used to saying, "Zotz, Zotz, Zotz!" My worries about doing a comedy completely disappeared when the picture opened. Thousands of kids flocked to the theatres to learn how their magic "Zotz coins" worked. The aftermath was a joy to behold. The kids of America were "Zotzing" each other and everybody else. Imagination is a marvelous thing. I've often wondered how Walt Disney would have made the picture."

The Disney aside is intriguing because the Buena Vista company had recently released The Absent-Minded Professor in 1961 and it had a plot premise - featuring a laboratory creation called flubber - that might have inspired Castle's interest in creating a similar type movie due to its huge box office success. Ironically, it was Disney that became interested in Zotz!. "After obtaining the rights to the novel," Castle revealed, "I received a call from Walt Disney inquiring whether I would be interested in selling Zotz! at a big profit. He felt it would make a wonderful Disney film and politely told me it was not my style. I declined his offer as graciously as possible, but wondered if I had made the right decision." Disney certainly would have given it a bigger budget for special effects and a bigger name cast, but it would have lacked the quirkiness and off-beat appeal of Castle's self-indulgent B-movie wonder.

Producer: William Castle
Director: William Castle
Screenplay: Ray Russell l; Walter Karig (novel)
Cinematography: Gordon Avil
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Music: Bernard Green
Film Editing: Edwin Bryant
Cast: Tom Poston (Prof. John Jones), Julia Meade (Prof. Virginia Fenster), Jim Backus (Prof. Horatio Kellgore), Fred Clark (Gen. Bullivar), Cecil Kellaway (Dean Joshua Updike), Zeme North (Cynthia Jones), Margaret Dumont (Persephone Updike)
BW- 87m.

by Jeff Stafford

SOURCES:
Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America by William Castle (Pharos Books)
www.afi.com
IMDB

1 comment:

Mike Durrett said...

I'm jealous you still have your ZOTZ coin. I got mine at the Emory, nearby. I saved it for many years, but it has never shown up again. I think my mother must've thrown it away. What was she thinking? It's a magical coin!