by D.F. Jones
Special Reprint Kicks Off New Sci-Fi Book Series
"A science fiction novel that is top-level suspense"
"Watch out for this giant. Its impact is stunning." Kirkus Review
"Excellent. This is a man versus machine opus that really chills. Highly recommended." Denver Post
"The most palm-sweating, flesh-creeping novel in many a day. The reader is swept along page after page, hypnotized by the novels emotional impact." Pittsburgh Press
It is the 22nd century and Dr. Charles Forbin has created the ultimate computer. Its name is Colossus. Its domain: planet earth. Its goal: to govern humanity.
RetroVision presents D.F. Jones Colossus, the classic science fiction novel that will lead into an all new series of books chronicling mans battle against the computer. In Colossus, which served as the basis of the 1970 cult classic Colossus: The Forbin Project, Dr. Forbin designs a computer so powerful it makes the notion of nuclear war obsolete. But what neither Forbin nor anyone else suspects is that Colossus will gain consciousness and chart its own destiny as well as mankinds.
Colossus: Millennium Edition, printed in a 6"x9" format, includes illustrations throughout plus a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the feature film.
"Colossus" by D.F. Jones
Science Fiction, Trade Paperback
Ordering information: Please send a check or money order for $10 ($8.95 plus $1.05 postage and handling) to RetroVision, 1036A Park Blvd., Suite 103, Massapequa Park, NY 11762
DR. FORBIN, I PRESUME?
Eric Braeden on Hollywood, Soaps and
the Computer That Took Over the World
by Edward Gross
Note: The following interview with Eric Braeden concerning his starring role as Dr. Charles Forbin in 1970's Colossus: The Forbin Project is excerpted from the extensive coverage of that film provided in RetroVision #1. Those interested in ordering a copy may do so via credit card (see RetroVision's home page) or by sending a check or money order for $10.00 (including postage) to RetroVision, 1036A Park Blvd., Suite 103, Massapequa Park, New York 11762.
It was an incongruous moment. The Titanic was in its death throes when the maestro behind the mayhem turned to Eric Braeden and uttered a single word: "Never."
Braeden felt the questioning look cross his own face as he turned to the voice. The confusion evident, the speaker, director James Cameron, explained: "The last line in Colossus."
He smiled, reminded again for the umpteenth time in nearly 30 years how a little sci-fi thriller about a computer that takes over the world managed to touch a generation. Yet at the same time, he was forced to reflect on his own bittersweet feelings regarding that film -- Colossus: The Forbin Project -- his first starring role in a Hollywood production.
"I was in Spain at the time with my wife, and we were with Esther Williams and Fernando Lamas while we were doing A Hundred Rifles," says Braeden. "I flew from Spain back to LA to do the screentest for Colossus. Two or three days later the agent called and said, 'They loved it. Lew Wasserman loved it.' Of course I was ecstatic -- that's about as happy as you can get in this business, to star in a picture. For me to star in an American picture was an absolutely extraordinary feeling."
Several seconds later he was deafened by the sound of the other shoe dropping. "In the next breath," Braeden explains, "he said, 'But they want you to change your name.' I tell you, I've never experienced such an emotional swing as in that ten seconds, from complete elation to total dejection."
Born Hans Gudegast in Kiel, Germany, a port city near the Baltic Sea, Braeden was the third of four sons, and demonstrated early a talent for athletics. His prowess in the track and field events of the discus, the javelin and the shotput helped his high school team win the National German Youth championship. Upon graduation in 1959, he left for America. "I saw the United States as a land of opportunity," he reflects, "but also as the land of adventure, the land of cowboys and Indians." He arrived in New York via ocean liner, spent a few days in the Big Apple and proceeded to Galverston, Texas, where his cousin, a teacher at a medical school, helped him land a job as a translator. Two months later he moved on to a Montana ranch owned by a German expatriate who had emigrated to America at the turn of the century. There he was hired on as a cowboy and he lived life on the range, until the rose-colored glasses fell off and he realized that the long-hours and back-breaking work didn't live up to the romance of the cowboy life.
Next up was a stint at Montana State University, where he was awarded a partial track scholarship. He spent his nights working at a local lumber mill and his pre-dawn hours partaking in ROTC drill team practice. Physically the toll was heavy, and he jumped at the opportunity to join a fellow student on a boat trip up the Salmon River -- known as the "river of no return" -- in Idaho. He and his friend documented their often tumultuous journey on film and called it The Riverbusters.
Traveling to Los Angeles to find a distributor for the film, Braeden decided to remain there. He enrolled in political science and economics courses in college and joined a local semi-professional soccer team. When word reached him that German actors were being sought for various television and film projects, he managed to get an agent and embarked on a new career. His first appearance was in the film Operation Eichmann, which he followed with an appearance on television's Kraft Suspense Theatre. From there he starred as the Prince of Wales in Sartre's Kean, and in 1965 Braeden, still known as Hans Gudegast, appeared on Broadway with Curt Jurgens and Geraldine Page in The Great Indoors. "While I was doing that play," he reflects, "Curt Jurgens said to me, 'Listen, you will play nothing but Nazis in Hollywood. That is the fate of all German actors.' I said, 'Well, I'll be the first one to do something different."
Indeed, Colossus would be that something different, but en route to that film the actor co-starred in television's The Rat Patrol as....a Nazi. He portrayed Captain Dietrich, who went up against the Allied commando team given the task of harassing Rommel's Afrika Korps during the second World War. Braeden tried, as much as possible, to humanize the character. "The making of Rat Patrol was largely fun," he explains of the series he spent two seasons on, "although it was a cartoon of course. I knew that from the beginning. There have been very few projects where I've felt good about every aspect of it. Rat Patrol was wonderful to work on, but the material was a joke. The very opposite of what they showed was true. Rommel had a small army in North Africa and beat the shit out of the British Army for a long time. That's the truth, but on the show they reversed it completely."
From the series he segued to such films as The Ultimate Chase, Morituri, Honeymoon With a Stranger and A Hundred Rifles, which is when he received the infamous call from his agent concerning Colossus and the changing of his name, resulting in mixed feelings when he reflects on the film.
"I was so emotionally distraught by everything that happened prior to actually doing the picture, and there were a number of issues involved which pissed me off," Braeden says. "First of all, getting rid of a name is like getting rid of one's identity. Number two, in it of course was an enormous amount of prejudice towards Germans that is typical of an Anglophile country which forgets that the second largest ethnic group in America is German. At the same time, I also knew the reality." Despite his resentment, he conceded to Univeral's wishes, choosing Eric from a family name and Braeden from the German village he is from.
The making of the film itself, he is quick to emphasize, was an "unmitigated joy" thanks to director Joseph Sargent, producer Stanley Chase, James Bridges' screenplay and the efforts of the cast and crew. This despite the fact that he is not really a science fiction fan.
"I remember at the time it was the height of the Bergman and Felini films and those were the kind of things one wanted to do," he admits. "However, I always was intellectually enormously interested in this subject matter. Not emotionally because it's hard to grasp, obviously because of the 'unlikelihood' that two machines would talk to each other. That does seem to have moved closer and closer to reality I guess, but at that time that was very hard to grasp. That piece of unreality was difficult to handle. However, I have enormous respect for the people who worked on it. Not a single bad memory."
It's pointed out that his co-star, Susan Clark, admits that she was frightened by the project because her intuition was that all of this "computer stuff" would mean something someday. Braeden concurs with this, adding that the aspect of the film that struck a chord with him was the specter of a third World War. That interested him both intellectually and in some sense viscerally. "I say that," he details, "because I remember the bombs of the second World War, I grew up with them. Colossus captured the fear of a very possible mistake in the computerized arsenal that both sides had and have. That frightened me, because in reality it could happen at any time. I think the reason that people live with the possibility of nuclear holocaust is because there is such a finality to it, and that gave it a certain abstraction."
Intensely interested in the arms race, he had become aware of many nuclear close calls. "The Cuban Missile Crisis was awfully close," he says. "Historians are giving more and more credit to Kennedy and his actions. There were people in the administration who wanted to go; who wanted to take on the Russians -- and not in a conventional sense. I was intensely aware of all that, and that possibility scared me. That brought it home. The rest of the film was almost cute. Quite realistically speaking, what has kept the world from total destruction so far is precisely the prospect that really dawned on everyone that we would both be destroyed; that one side would not win in the conventional sense, although there were some morons who thought that we would. They weren't morons, they were high up in the Pentagon, so they're morons in a certain sense. Intelligence is such an interesting thing, isn't it? It's so varied. People can be brilliant in certain areas and just moronic in others."
In tackling the role of Charles Forbin -- creator of the Colossus computer -- Braeden analyzed the fact that in the film most of the scientists had an overriding joy or passion for the work that they were doing. It's his feeling that in reality scientists have, at best, a belated awareness of the kind of havoc their inventions can wreak. "I think Forbin was aware," he offers. "I think he was painfully aware of it and, metaphorically, he became a prisoner of that. There was conflict in Forbin, and that, of course, is always what is interesting in a human being and interesting for an actor to play. However, that's film. The reality is often very different. In reality, scientists are often strangely and dispassionately involved in the pursuit of the mechanical scientific advances without giving a damn about the consequences. It isn't their concern, really, but in Forbin there was conflict and therefore it was interesting."
Throughout the film, Forbin is fairly emotionally restrained, until the final moments when he realizes the extent of Colossus' control and he finally breaks down and loses it. The restraint, he points out, was a very conscious decision on his part. "I don't know if you've ever been around engineers or scientists," he muses, "but one would think it was a cold breed, but it's not. They're dealing with realities outside of themselves. Writers and actors and people in the arts constantly, and boringly, deal with their own emotional hangups. Scientists get away from that. They deal with certain objective realities. There is enormous freedom in that, therefore they are often emotionally and psychologically almost retarded. One attributes child-like behavior to them. If you follow the life of Einstein, he had an abysmal personal life and was emotionally sometimes distant. It's not a fault of their character necessarily, it's the kind of work that they do. Therefore I, of course, played it with that kind of restraint.
"In the worst of those scenarios," he continues, "they couldn't care less about the emotional consequences. In the case of Forbin, it's like a father who raises a child and suddenly that child rises up against him and says, 'This is the way it is,' and the father tries to argue with it but is unable to stop it. It's having nurtured this thing along and suddenly it takes over; it assumes the position of authority. It assumes the position of power. What do you do when you face power like that? If you are used to the way things were before, if you have suddenly been preempted, you get pretty angry and furious. Of course the entire implication being that this thing has run amuck. Then at the end, Forbin's 'Never!' is the struggle against that machine he invented."
While the shooting of Colossus: The Forbin Project was a technical nightmare -- see the accompanying article on the film itself -- Braeden didn't mind at all due to the nature of the set, and the fact that director Joseph Sargent, who comes from an acting background, ensured a nurturing set. He also believes it's unfortunate that many directors do not come from the world of theater or acting classes, resulting in an emotional connection with the cast a tenuous one at best.
"If you're lucky, they're benign human beings who are technically good, or if you're not lucky they have enormous psychological problems and those problems are exasperated when you are in possession of that power," Braeden opines. "I always feel that it is vitally important that directors go to acting classes, understand that process, do it themselves to understand that fear. When you act you are stripped naked at that moment and you are in the most vulnerable position you can be in. They say action and if you fuck it up, it's on you. It's not on the technicians, it's not on the director, not on anyone else."
Unfortunately, Universal essentially dumped Colossus on the marketplace, apparently unsure what to do with the film or how to market it properly. Although it's developed an extremely strong cult following over the years, its lack of box office life taught Braeden an important life lesson that he still holds on to dearly. It's his feeling that it's an experience that more actors go through than are willing to talk openly about it.
"I had an eerie feeling when I did Colossus," explains Braeden. "Here I was starring in a Universal picture. I don't know if you know what that means, but suddenly you're picked up by a limo. You must juxtapose that with the struggling existence that most actors go through, doing menial jobs and constantly being turned down for work. Suddenly you're starring in a film and the transformation is so extraordinary you haven't a clue what's going on. It manifests itself in so many small ways. First of all, it's in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, so everyone in the loop knows about it. They look at you differently, they approach you differently, because this means potential power. If that film makes it, you have power. What does that mean? I'd better kiss his ass now. People who didn't even know you existed before are blowing smoke up your ass. In restaurants you get tables suddenly -- I mean suddenly. You sit in the commissary in one of the big studios and people who never even acknowledged your existence are saying, 'Hi, Eric, how are you? How's everything going?' It's just amazing."
The result, he states, is that it makes a person extremely insecure because they're not prepared for it. Additionally, and this he feels is the most painful part of it all, your closest friends start changing toward you. "People that you felt comfortable with," Braeden says, still seemingly amazed by it all, "that you felt secure with, that are a secure anchor, all of a sudden change toward you because you're a 'star' now. It is such an interesting and strange psychological interchange that happens between those who knew you before and they all say, 'I knew him when.' You want to say, 'Don't say that shit, we're friends. Why are you saying that?' It gives you an eerie feeling. I remember vividly while I was doing Colossus having that happen and almost feeling depressed about it. You feel the ground underneath you start giving away. You have all of a sudden been catapulted into the stratosphere. I have always said that the Screen Actor's Guild or the studios should take all actors who are beginning to star in films and give them the number of a good therapist. I never went to one, but I wish I had then, to be quite frank with you. It is a truly frightening experience and if you're insecure and don't know what to do with it, you can become a monster."
All it took was the box office failure of Colossus to fill the actor in on the other side of that particular equation. "In a short period of time," he smiles wryly, "it goes from 'Eric, my God how are you?' to 'Oh, yeah, how you doing?' You have no idea how blatant some people are. It's stunning. Remember, that aspect in the life of someone who becomes a star in any field is one that is so unexamined, yet explains so many things when you try to wonder why an actor or someone in the limelight suddenly behaves in a bizarre manner. They will never, ever talk about it and it pisses me off. Either the star isn't honest about it, they don't talk about it or people don't ask about it because it's too personal."
One positive that came out of being cast as the lead in Colossus was the offer of two additional starring roles in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, the recession had taken its toll on everyone, including Hollywood, and the number of productions had been whittled down to practically nothing, resulting in Braeden's projects coming to a standstill and, ultimately, in his learning yet another Hollywood life lesson.
"I was with a top agency in town, they approached me after Colossus and they were the Rolls Royce of the agency business," he says cryptically. "They handled all the big stars and they said to me, 'You're going to be a big star one day, but you've got to be patient because they won't be making films for a while.' Well, I had a child by that time and needed to make money."
He had signed an exclusive film contract at Universal that did not include television, which he felt was a coup at the time but turned out to be a creative stranglehold when it became apparent that there wouldn't be as many films produced as in years past. And in his own mind, Braeden had written himself out of the small screen.
"The progression," he details, "was to guest star in TV, to perhaps star in a television series and then go on to film. But once you star in a film, you do not go back to television. So my hands were tied. All of a sudden money runs out, I'm sitting there with a child and say, 'Shit, they're not making the films that were offered to me.' So what do you do? You start guest starring again, but that was a no-no in the business."
He guest starred in reportedly over 120 series, among them Gunsmoke, Wonder Woman, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Genre fans will also remember him from the feature film Escape From the Planet of the Apes, in which he played Dr. Otto Hasslein, scientific adviser to the President of the United States who ends up slaughtering the intelligent apes from the future.
"To be honest," he offers, "by that time I was so tired of playing bad guys. They're just so one-dimensional. But I enjoyed working on the Apes film. Producer Arthur Jacobs was a gentleman and so was director Don Taylor. The cast was wonderful, so in that sense it was wonderful. Plus, I didn't have to put on one of those damn masks. The problem is that those three years after Colossus were rather bitterly disappointing. I saved myself by playing sports."
Indeed, Braeden has actually played professional soccer, being a part of the Maccabees, with whom he won the 1972-73 National Soccer Championship. "I was playing competitive soccer during all that time secretly," he smiles. "So I quickly forgot about all this Hollywood crap because I was so involved in soccer." To this day he boxes, coaches his son's semi-professional soccer team and plays (quite successfully) in celebrity tennis tournaments.
As surprising as the actor's side career may be to some people, nothing compares to his decision in 1980 to star in the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless, on which he has played Victor Newman for the past seventeen years. He has the distinction of being the only actor ever awarded a People's Choice Award for favorite male performer in a daytime series. "I remember the first time I told people I was doing a soap," he laughs, "and they reacted as those I'd contracted a disease."
Braeden considers himself a survivor in Hollywood; a term that any fellow actor will understand. "In other words," he explains, "when you run into certain actors that you've seen for many years, you sort of hug each other and there's a certain kind of unspoken warm recognition of the fact that you both have survived. Meaning it has been tough at times. I'm not talking about megastars. They're a different story. They've made so much money very often that who gives a fuck if they ever work again? Those of us who weren't megastars, and aren't megastars, who are working actors, we know how tough it is to survive in this business."
He was actually pushed toward doing the soap opera by the recommendation of friend Dabney Coleman, who had also spent some time in the suds. Braeden despised his first year on the show due to the time constraints and the fact that the working parameters were so limiting. But then -- and he credits his wife for this -- he began looking at the possibility of turning it into a positive experience. He began viewing the pitfalls -- a high of 62 pages of dialogue in a single day, no time to rehearse -- as obstacles to be overcome. From the moment he changed his mental approach, he hasn't looked back.
"I still get turned on by trying to make something real," enthuses Braeden. "You stare so much dialogue in the face sometimes that you need to make it your own. I have never tired of that. It is something that has basically enthused me almost all of my acting life, so it makes almost no difference what vehicle it is. And I earn very good money, let's not ignore that. If I made what I'm making here doing Shakespeare, I'd be doing Shakespeare, but it ain't the case. I make very good money and I like it, but if you ask me why I'm psychologically interested, those challenges are what interests me."
Also separating daytime television from primetime, in his opinion, is the connection that you make with the audience. He reflects on the fact that he has gone to supermarket openings and been greeted by upwards of 15,000 people who merely want to shake his hand. "To be honest with you," he says, "it recharged my batteries, because I realized that I did make a difference. A lot of people in Hollywood don't realize that what they do does make a difference in people's lives. They're entertained by it, and I cannot begin to tell you the testimonials after seventeen years. People call you from hospitals; people are dying and the last thing they want is a word from you. As a result, you are reminded of the basic religious ethics you grew up with. I was never serious about it, but one thing that did appeal to be about the whole Christian mythology was the idea of giving of yourself; of loving, if you want, a fellow human being and, primarily, someone who is in need. If you can overcome the cynicism, if you're intelligent and really think about this profession, you realize you're a part of something extremely important.
"For a long time," he elaborates, "the only films that interested me were Costas Gravas films; something that had a social and political reality to it as a base. It meant something. But you have to get over that. You reach a point where you say, 'We are here to entertain and there is a value to just entertaining people.' An enormous value. Once I reconciled to that, and once I realized that I could make people cry and laugh and be upset and happy, it was a great feeling. One should be humbled by it. Most actors, like any artists, are basically insecure because you're dealing with something very fluid. We're constantly grasping to mold it into something, so there's a certain insecurity and questioning in most of us. A lot of us are angry about certain circumstances we grew up in, which is why we became artists in the first place. So there's a tendency to then become cynical, but you've got to realize that you are almost a vehicle in a sense. You're a conduit and that's a good image to have, because you don't take yourself so fucking seriously."
While quite comfortable on The Young and the Restless, Braeden still turns up elsewhere, most recently portraying John Jacob Actor for James Cameron in the highest-grossing film of all time Titanic, which he deems a "fascinating" experience.
"It's a small part," he admits, "but I had a feeling that this was a historic film. I thought this is one of those films where it doesn't make a difference what you play. It's one of the most impressive things I've ever experienced in this business. No, the most impressive time I've ever spent. James Cameron is a genius. That word is bandied about loosely in Hollywood, but I think it applies to him. I have never in my career been in the presence of someone so extraordinarily bright, with an energy that is boundless. It's all larger than life, but he studied physics so that should give you an idea of how bright he is."
Which raises the question of whether or not Mr. Braeden can meet the mental prowess of Dr. Forbin. "I'm computer illiterate," he laughs. "You can imagine for years after that film I was approached by computer science students who were like, 'Oh my God, Mr. Braeden, you played Forbin!' Of course I knew nothing. Oh, once or twice I pretended that I was truly in the stratosphere as far as computer were concerned...if they only knew the truth!
"When I think back to Colossus," he concludes, "I do see it as a signpost to the future that we are currently living in. Computers do, in many ways, run our lives. What Colossus talked about was the enormous fear of the invasion of privacy, and that has become an absolute reality. Computers can't look into our living rooms, but that can't be far off. You certainly can get all kinds of very private information if you know what you're doing. That has become a horrendous reality.
"I'm in a nostalgic mood about the film and if people remember it, then one realizes that one is part of a certain history."