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SCHNEE, THELMA
(Thelma Moss 1918–1997). American writer and actress.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Wrote: "The Negative Man" (story by Ivan TORS) (1955), "The Throwback" (1956), episodes of Science Fiction Theatre; The Colossus of New York (story by Willis Goldbeck) (Eugene LOURIE 1958).

Acted in: "The Devil in Glencairn" (1951), episode of Lights Out.

Co-produced with Paul Finder Moss: Ant City (documentary short) (1950).

 
The story of Thelma Schnee deserves to be better known, inasmuch as she was an individual who not only contributed to science fiction films but was evidently affected by them, as indicated by a remarkable career change that truncated her filmography but earned her an entirely different sort of renown.

This intelligent woman graduated from Carnegie Tech and made her way to New York, where she garnered some Broadway credits as an actress and writer during the 1940s. At some point, she met and married a Hollywood producer, Paul Finder Moss, who brought her to Hollywood and undoubtedly helped her find occasional work in the film industry. As an actress, she can be observed playing a maid in the Lights Out episode "The Devil in Glencairn," employing a reasonably good faux Scottish accent and appropriately displaying fear in the face of Jonathan HARRIS's theatrically threatening Satan; but she was neither beautiful nor remarkably talented and wisely chose to focus on writing. Working directly with her husband, she co-produced a short documentary, Ant City, offering close-up views of the insects while the narrator likens their behavior to human activities, and she wrote the screenplay to a Moss-produced adaptation of the Father Brown stories, The Detective (1954).

Schnee's life abruptly changed in 1954, when her husband suddenly died—due either to cancer or botched ulcer surgery (reports vary) leaving her a single mother with two small children to raise. The deeply depressed woman twice attempted suicide but still accepted a few writing assignments, including a 1959 episode of Adventures in Paradise and two characteristically slow-moving episodes of Science Fiction Theatre: "The Negative Man," based on an Ivan TORS story, about a man who develops heightened sensory powers after a jolt of negative electricity, and "The Throwback," about a man who seems destined to die in the same sort of accident that killed his distant ancestor, though a scientist's research enables him to escape that fate. She is most noted, though, for writing the screenplay for Eugene LOURIE's extraordinary The Colossus of New York. If that film seems unusually personal and emotional, it is surely in part because it was written by a woman who was in precisely the same situation as its female protagonist, a widow who had lost her husband at a young age and was left alone to raise a son. True, unlike Mala POWERS' character, Schnee did not have to deal with a misguided effort to resurrect her husband by placing his brain inside a robotic body, but Powers' responses to her previously warm but now cold companion may reflect Schnee's sense that a business she had once felt comfortable in now felt far less inviting.

Endeavoring to escape her depression, Schnee ingested LSD as a participant in experimental therapy and wrote a book about her experiences, My Self and I (1962), using the pseudonym Constance A. Newland. Then, she may have recalled the conclusion of "The Negative Man": having lost his improved senses, the hero resolved to go back to college so he could further research the mysteries of the human mind. And Schnee, now calling herself Thelma Moss, did exactly the same thing, eventually earning a Ph.D. from the Psychology Department of the University of California, Los Angeles, where she also was given a position as a full-time professor. Further, while heading a facility dedicated to parapsychology, she chose to specialize in studying the very stuff of science fiction—psychic powers, ghosts, and astral projections recorded by Kirlian photography. Perhaps these investigations into occult matters represented her effort to reconnect with her late husband, though unlike the heroes of science fiction, she never achieved definitive proof of these phenomena, and while she was a well-respected researcher in the 1970s, her area of expertise is now relegated to the status of pseudoscience. Yet she still commands attention because she effectively gave up writing science fiction in order to prove that science fiction was true.

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