By Fred Muenz
Those frantic words were screamed at passing cars by Dr. Miles Bennett, a doctor in the fictional California town of Santa Mira, in the film noir, Science Fiction classic, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956). In the film, Dr. Bennett had just returned to his medical practice to find several of his patients complaining that their friends or relatives are impostors, without emotion or the ability to answer detailed personal questions. He eventually comes to realize that something is definitely wrong, and that the town has been invaded by aliens, grown in giant pods, who are replacing residents with exact physical duplicates, lacking only emotions and personality. He finds himself powerless to stop them.
The studio originally gave producer Walter Wanger and director Don Siegel a 24-day shooting schedule and a $455,000 budget, but then slashed both. Unable to afford the big-name actors he wanted, Wanger was forced to hire relatively unknown players for the lead roles.
Kevin McCarthy was born in Seattle, Washington in February, 1914. The great flu pandemic of 1918 claimed both of his parents, and Kevin and his three siblings were sent to live with their father’s relatives in Minnesota. After five years of mistreatment and abuse at the hands of a great-aunt and her husband (described in detail in her memoirs by Kevin’s sister, future author Mary McCarthy), the children were finally sent to live with other relatives, among them a cousin, future U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate, Eugene McCarthy. After his High School graduation in 1932, Kevin entered the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, intending to pursue a career in the diplomatic field, but ran out of money after only four semesters, and transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he appeared in his first play, and discovered a love of acting. After college, he made his way to New York, where he made his Broadway debut in 1938, in Abe Lincoln in Illinois, starring Raymond Massey. When the United States entered World War II, Kevin joined the Army Air Corp. and furthered his acting career by appearing in training films and in both the 1943 stage production, and 1944 film version, of Winged Victory. After the war, he returned to New York and enrolled in the first class of The Actors Studio, together with Montgomery Clift, Karl Malden, Patricia Neal and E. G. Marshall, among others. Steady Broadway, TV and occasional film roles dominated the rest of his long career, which spanned nearly seven decades, including a cameo appearance in the 1978 remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Kevin McCarthy died of pneumonia in September, 2010, at the age of 96.
Born in Berlin, Germany in June, 1931, and raised in England, Dagmar Winter (aka Dana Wynter) was the daughter of a prominent British surgeon father and a Hungarian mother. When she was 16, her father visited friends in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), fell in love with the country, and brought his wife and daughter there to live. In 1949, she enrolled as a pre-med student at Rhodes University, the lone girl in a class of 150 students. While at the University, she appeared in the school production of Through A Glass Darkly and, although she considered her performance “terrible”, she abandoned her medical studies, left the University and returned to Britain to pursue a career in the theater. Her film career began in 1951, at age twenty with small, uncredited roles in British films. In 1953, she was appearing in a play when she was approached by an American agent asking to represent her. Arriving in New York, she found more success on the New York stage than she had in London. In 1955, she was offered contracts by three Hollywood studios, finally signing with 20th Century Fox. After INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, she appeared in a succession of films with some of the biggest stars of the day, while dividing her time between homes in Hollywood and Ireland. By the mid 1980’s, she was devoting most of her time to writing, with occasional TV appearances. Suffering from heart disease for years, she died of congestive heart failure in May, 2011, at age 79.
In 1994, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United Stated National Film Registry, as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The American Film Institute ranked it as one of the top ten American Science Fiction films. Time Magazine ranked INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, as one of the top 100 all-time best films, and one of the top ten films in the genre.
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