Writer Vincent Fotre is a living legend and he doesn't even seem to know it. When he greets us at his Newport Beach, CA home he is gracious and kind, but one gets the distinct impression he is wary that a cruel practical joke might be underway. He can't seem to grasp the fact that his Cold War creation—RED NIGHTMARE—is a genuine classic that will outlive us all. The extremely fit Fotre would rather talk about his tennis game (he won the World's Singles Championship for his age group in Capetown, South Africa in 2000) than the pages that he spun out of his Underwood at Warner Brothers back in '62. But CONELRAD persuaded the reluctant scribe to sit down and discuss his masterwork for a few minutes back on December 1, 2002.
CONELRAD: Do you recall the circumstances that led to your writing RED NIGHTMARE back in 1962?
VINCENT FOTRE: Well, I was a writer at Warner Brothers. I was a contract writer there and Jack Warner and the Defense Department had agreed to make a film. Jack Warner was a very strong anti-Communist and they wanted something that would depict that. I don't remember whether it was Warner's idea or my idea—I know it wasn't Jack Webb's. But whoever's idea it was, we came up with the idea of RED NIGHTMARE and we made it right at Warner Brothers. At the time I thought it would be a training film that would show for a few months and that would be the end of it and here we are forty years later still talking about it (laughs).
CONELRAD: Do you recall how many drafts of the script you did?
VINCENT FOTRE: It was quick. They had a date and they needed it by such and such a date, so there was no re-writing or anything like that.
CONELRAD: How much were you paid to write RED NIGHTMARE?
VINCENT FOTRE: I was under contract at the studio, so it was just an assignment I was given. I was just used to write it because I was free at the time. I wasn't paid anything extra for it.
CONELRAD: Were you an anti-Communist?
VINCENT FOTRE: Yea, yea, I had pretty strong anti-Communist feelings. I was not displeased when I got the assignment to write the thing.
CONELRAD: Were you a Republican?
VINCENT FOTRE: Yea.
CONELRAD: Are you still a Republican?
VINCENT FOTRE: Yes.
CONELRAD: Did you take a certain amount of pride that RED NIGHTMARE was going to be used to combat Communism.
VINCENT FOTRE: Yes. And I also liked Jack Warner very much as much as I knew him and I shared his views and maybe that's why they picked me because they knew how I felt.
CONELRAD: Did you ever visit the set when it was filming? Did you meet Jack Webb?
VINCENT FOTRE: Yea, I visited the set. I don't think I ever met Jack Webb. I met Peter Brown and Jack Kelly.
CONELRAD: Were you surprised that the producers got such name talent to be in the film.
VINCENT FOTRE: Well, I think they had most of those actors under contract with Warner Bros. I believe. And so they were available so they didn't have to pay them any extra, same as me.
CONELRAD: Are you surprised that RED NIGHTMARE is your most famous credit?
VINCENT FOTRE: (laughs) Very surprised.
CONELRAD: Do people still ask you about it?
VINCENT FOTRE: No, except for this journalist back in '87 and you.
CONELRAD: Was it ever distressing to you that video re-issue companies are still making money off RED NIGHTMARE? (Editor's note: Mr. Fotre is aware that in 2002 CONELRAD co-produced with Synapse Films a DVD re-issue of INVASION USA that includes RED NIGHTMARE as an extra feature).
VINCENT FOTRE: No, not at all. It was something I did at the time I was at Warners and I think it served its purpose as far as a training film went and that's all I ever cared about.
CONELRAD: Why did (RED NIGHTMARE director) George waGGner spell his LAST name with the two capital "G's"?
VINCENT FOTRE: (laughs) I have no idea.
CONELRAD: Did it strike you odd at the time?
VINCENT FOTRE: Yes it did (laughs).
CONELRAD: What is your favorite Cold War film?
VINCENT FOTRE: I don't know, maybe SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. Not RED NIGHTMARE (laughs).
CONELRAD: We always thought they should have left James Bond back in the Cold War.
VINCENT FOTRE: I think so, too! Yea, more exciting, more at stake.
CONELRAD: What things did you write before RED NIGHTMARE?
VINCENT FOTRE: I wrote some TV shows. There was a company called ZIV that produced a lot of shows. I did a number of shows for them. One was called Harbor Command, one was called Dr. Christian. There was one called Silent Service, but I think someone else did that. Lassie, Death Valley Days, Alfred Hitchcock Presents— I did one of them (Editor's note: Fotre also co-wrote with H.E. Barrie the feature film MISSILE TO THE MOON in 1959).
VINCENT FOTRE: And I did a few movies. All of them produced overseas—three in Europe and one in Japan.
CONELRAD: These films were after RED NIGHTMARE?
VINCENT FOTRE: Yea, these were around '65.
CONELRAD: What was (Italian horror auteur) Mario Bava like?
VINCENT FOTRE: I didn't know him well. I met him, of course (Fotre wrote the Bava film BARON BLOOD, 1972). And he didn't speak any English that I recall, but he seemed like a very energetic, pleasant person. Everyone liked him. He worked very fast, I remember that. I guess he had a pretty good reputation doing this type of film, the horror type film.
CONELRAD: What was your background prior to becoming a screenwriter?
VINCENT FOTRE: Well, after I got out of the service (Fotre was an ensign in US Navy during World War II), I played some tennis for a couple of years, the circuit, you know. And I started screenwriting pretty early.
CONELRAD: Are you from L.A. originally?
VINCENT FOTRE: I moved here when I was 15 with my father and before that I lived in Chicago. So I was in L.A. ever since then.
CONELRAD: Did you always want to be a writer?
VINCENT FOTRE: Yea. When I got out of the Navy I thought I would at least take a crack at it and see what would happen. Even then it was not easy getting started and I almost quit a couple of times and I stayed with it and finally achieved a certain amount of success.
CONELRAD: How did you land at Warners?
VINCENT FOTRE: It seems to me that this producer, Brian Foy—he was a long time producer at Warner Bros.—and he had read something I had written and called me in and he told me an idea for a story and asked if I'd like to write a script and I said sure and I did and he liked it and I worked with him there for quite a while.
CONELRAD: Do you keep in touch with the screenwriters you knew from your career?
VINCENT FOTRE: No. I knew Billy Wilder well. I admired him a lot. I knew him from the tennis club. I used to play tennis there and he played tennis there and we played Bridge together. I believe, really, he was a true genius. The guy kind of sparkled, he was so bright. He was the only one that I can say I really knew well.
CONELRAD: Do you write scripts anymore?
VINCENT FOTRE: Not much, no I haven't. I haven't written any scripts. I'm fooling around with another novel. But I haven't written any scripts in a long time. I've got a book I wrote about the Cold War and just as I finished it, the Berlin Wall came down, so the timing was bad, but now that was far enough in the past that this is almost a nostalgia thing. So if you know anyone who wants a Cold War novel (laughs).
CONELRAD: Do you think in popular culture there will ever be a villain as rich as Soviet Union?
VINCENT FOTRE: (laughs) Not again, no I don't think so.
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