Robert Horton is a star of film and television whose credits include such popular TV programs as Wagon Train (as Flint McCullough), The Lone Ranger, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and A Man Called Shenandoah. His feature film credits include the titles Pony Soldier, Code Two, and Apache War Smoke, among many others. Fans of Japanese films will instantly recognize Mr. Horton as Commander Jack Rankin from the 1968 cult classic The Green Slime, a much-beloved Japanese sci-fi film with a loyal fan base that still endures to this day. In 2008, Mr. Horton shared his memories of The Green Slime with Brett Homenick.
Brett Homenick: The first question is, how’d you get cast in The Green Slime?
Robert Horton: (laughs) My agent called me one day and told me they’d offered me the role in the picture.
BH: Okay, and let’s talk about preproduction. When you finally met with the director and the Japanese producers, just talk about …
RH: Well, we didn’t really have any. We met in Tokyo, and we went to a little supper that the director arranged, who spoke no English. And, of course, I do not speak Japanese. And we had a very pleasant evening, and I had different foods from Japan that I had never had before. And then we met on the set and started shooting.
BH: Okay, now while you were staying in Japan, what were your living arrangements, like where did you stay, and how were your arrangements done?
RH: Oh, well, I stayed at the Okura Hotel, which was all part of the work of my agent, who arranged where I stayed and what kind of per diem I had, etc., etc. The Okura is a beautiful hotel; it’s just across the street from the American embassy there. I mean, there’s nothing new about that; that’s the way things are done in the motion picture business.
BH: What sort of things would you do for fun while you were in Japan? Did you do anything interesting while you were staying over there?
RH: Well, we went to where the great big Buddha is. I don’t remember the name of that place; it’s almost 40 years. But I have a photograph somewhere of me standing in front of this Buddha, and I look like I’m three feet tall, and it’s a hundred feet tall.
RH: It’s a very big statue. I just can’t think of the name of it right now. You know, if you work five or six days from eight in the morning until six, you’re kind of happy to have dinner and go to bed.
BH: (laughs) Absolutely. All right, well, let’s talk a little bit more about the production of the film itself. What were your impressions of Kinji Fukasaku, who was the director of the film? What did you think of him as a…
RH: We got along very, very nicely. We never had a moment’s problems; we never had a communications problem of any kind. And once he asked me, through an interpreter, when I was going from one point in the spaceship to another or whatever, would I run, or would I … like the Japanese do, they run everywhere.
RH: They do. They run. They take little short steps, and they run. Would I run, or would I stride? And he put it on the basis of, would an American run. I said, “No, he would not run from here to the desk. He would walk over there with as much desire to get there for whatever the reason if he needed, but he would not run over there.” I’m talking about 10 feet or whatever he said.
BH: Right. So he was very open to whatever changes and suggestions that you had to make.
RH: Well, I don’t know that we … it’s such a terrible script after you got into it. And then the monsters were so unbelievably ridiculous. Somewhere I have a photograph of me feeding one a cookie.
BH: Yes, I’ve seen that picture.
RH: You’ve seen that picture.
BH: Yes, it’s on your Web site.
RH: I mean, you know, most of the extras on the show were people out of an Army base that was there in Tokyo. The main thing about the picture is that, as you were going through it, you realized — in fact, I knew that before I got there. The man who wrote the picture told me that it was (about) the agony of command, and I was having cocktails with him and my agent in New York City. And I looked at this guy, and I said, “If you think that’s what this script is about, then I have nothing to say about it.”
BH: Oh, very interesting! That’s actually an interesting point that you made because legend has it that The Green Slime was actually supposed to be a metaphor for the Vietnam War. Was that explained to you, or did he just…
RH: I think that’s not true.
BH: Okay, that’s the rumor going around.
RH: But I don’t know. The name of The Green Slime, when we were in production, was The Battle Beyond the Stars, and that made it sound pretty good. When they changed it to The Green Slime, they did a publicity thing ’cause the picture’s new. I know that it’s a cult film, but it’s still a terrible picture. The way they dealt with that was that, all over Manhattan, when you walked from one block to the other, and you stopped for the signal and everything, on the pavement below you was just the name The Green Slime. And my wife came in one day or one evening, and she’d been looking at Variety, and she said, “I think they’ve changed the name of your picture to ’The Green Slim-ee.’”
RH: And I said, “Slim-ee?!” And I looked at it, and I said, “That’s ’Slime’!” She said, “For some reason, I’ve never it written out like that. I thought it was ‘Slim-ee.’” (laughs) Anyway, and then we went to see it, we went down on 34th Street, just off 5th Avenue, as I remember, and when I knew the film was coming to a close, I said, “Let’s get out of here! I don’t want to meet anybody!” (laughs)
BH: (laughs) What was it like to work with Richard Jaeckel, what your memories of him are?
RH: I hadn’t really known Richard Jaeckel, but I knew who Richard Jaeckel was. And we were both up for the same role in a film that he did called Come Back, Little Sheba. And he was a bodybuilder, and he was not a very tall man, but he had a wonderful physique, and he was covered with muscles. And he was very, very nice, and we got along fine.
BH: Okay, and what about your memories of working with Luciana Paluzzi on the film?
RH: I just thought she was adorable, and I had met her before socially, before, I think, she married Brett Halsey. By the time I met her, she’d either married him and divorced him, or she was going to marry him; I don’t really know that, either. But she was a very attractive girl.
BH: Do you have any memories of working with the local actors ’cause you mentioned that they were mostly hired from the local military bases, but do you have any stories or memories of working with any particular actors?
RH: Not of any negative or necessarily positive. We made friends with one fellow who was a Marine officer who was in World War II. I think he’s a pilot, but I’m not sure. And he was from a very affluent family in Connecticut, and after the war, he went back to Japan. And we became friends the way one does on the set with somebody that you enjoy talking to or whatever. He invited us over to his home for dinner one night, my wife and I, and we went. And he was an attractive fellow. And we expected him to be married to … about one out of a hundred Japanese girls is absolutely gorgeous. In general, Japanese women are not very attractive. And we assumed that he had met her at the Officers’ Club, and I assumed that she was just a knockout girl, and when we got there and met her, she turned out to be not only not attractive period, but she was so typical Japanese that she would not join us for dinner. She had her dinner by herself in the kitchen or with her children, and this fellow, and Marilynn and I, they had a table where, when you sat down, you put your feet in a hole in the ground. In other words, you didn’t sit on chairs; you sat on the ground, and you put your feet and legs beneath you in a thing that had been created with that in mind. So we had a typical Japanese dinner in a typical Japanese home with a typical Japanese lady (laughs) and this very nice and attractive ex-Marine pilot who had decided to stay in Japan. That’s all I know. Don’t ask me what his name was.
BH: Okay. Do you have any memories of any of the special effects scenes? Where there any, I suppose, any accidents going on?
RH: No, we didn’t have any accidents, but what I used to think was that the floor of the soundstage was covered with gravel, and there was a fellow on the set who was what you’d call a grip.
RH: You know what that is?
RH: He was a very husky fellow, and he was walking around on the gravel, carrying a lamp almost as big as he was, and I just thought to myself, “In World War II, it’s a good thing the Japanese ran out of oil.”
BH: (laughs) Is it true that the aliens in the film were actually played by children wearing the monster suits?
RH: I haven’t the vaguest idea. The Japanese, you don’t have to be a child to be five-feet-two. I doubt that they were children.
BH: Okay. That’s what I’ve heard other people say, so I just wanted to clarify that. What was a typical day of shooting like on the film?
RH: Well, first you get to the studio, and you sing a song.
BH: You sing a song?
RH: Did you know that?
BH: I didn’t know that. What song would they have you sing?
RH: They would sing a song that was, in essence, an (homage) to the motion picture studio, which was the Toei Studio. And you would sing this song; everybody did before they went into the soundstage. In essence, it was like singing “God Bless America,” but it was designed for the Toei Studio, and that was kind of funny from our point of view, you know? (laughs) But it was all right. I don’t remember the melody, and God knows I didn’t know the lyrics, but you go, “La-da,” you know.
BH: (laughs) Wow! That’s very interesting. I have never heard that said by anyone else before, so that’s definitely good information.
RH: That’s not something that’s strange to the motion picture business. That’s something that I think is part of the Japanese culture, that you sing a song or you spend a few minutes and bless whatever company you’re working for, hoping they have a successful year or day or whatever.
BH: Now a lot of American actors, when they go over to Japan, they find that the Japanese have a very aggressive filming schedule, and I’ve talked to one actor who literally filmed 24 hours straight without stopping. How often would they have you film scenes, like how long consecutively?
RH: I made it clear that I’d come to work at eight, and it took about an hour to get to the studio from downtown Tokyo. But I said that’s long enough for me, from seven o’clock in the morning until seven o’clock in the evening to get back to the hotel for dinner. That’s it. So I said, “I’m going to quit at six o’clock.” And there was a little disturbed attitude about that, but that’s not uncommon in American film. Somebody says, “You can’t stay here for 15 hours or 17 hours,” unless you’re a day player or you’re on a weekly salary, but if you’re the lead in the show and everything, nobody’s expecting you to stay on the set 12 or 18 hours. That’s what started the Screen Actors Guild. They used to do that in the silent days and in the early days of talkies.
BH: Do you remember, specifically, the timeframe when your scenes were shot, like the months, because I believe your scenes were shot in 1968, but do you remember, generally, the months in which your scenes were filmed?
RH: Well, I think we were there from September until November, something like that. I don’t really recall. It was the fall of the year, the weather was very nice, but the cherry blossoms hadn’t bloomed yet. So I know it wasn’t spring.
BH: And it was 1968?
RH: Yeah, I think it was ‘68. It was either ‘67 or ‘68. One of the two, I’m not sure which exactly.
BH: Were all your scenes shot on the Toei Studio soundstage, or were any of them filmed anywhere else?
RH: No, I think everything was shot on a soundstage.
BH: Well, let’s talk a little bit about postproduction now. Did you dub your lines in Japan with William Ross’ company? Do you remember?
RH: I haven’t the vaguest idea. But dubbing was something that was very easy for me to do. That was something that was really easy for me because it all had a rhythm, and I just picked up the rhythm of the speech, and I usually dubbed it in one shot.
BH: Do you have any other interesting stories from the set or just any other memories from filming the movie that you’d like to share?
RH: Not a single one.
BH: (laughs) Okay.
RH: I told you everything I know.
BH: What did you think of the film once you first saw it? You’ve kind of talked a little about that, but did you have any other thoughts?
RH: I thought it was dreadful! I still think it’s dreadful. I have a copy of it hanging around my house somewhere, and I haven’t really looked at it in 35 years, but I have seen little pieces of it from time to time at a film festival, and I think, “Oh, my God. What a really terrible picture!”
Note: In November 2009, Robert Horton attended a screening of The Green Slime at an autograph show in Los Angeles and had a change of heart about the film. He specifically praised the first third of the movie as being particularly well done and generally softened his opinion of the film. I would like to thank Mr. Horton for all the kindness and generosity he showed me over the years.