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SOHL, JERRY
(Gerald Allan Sohl, Sr. 1913–2002). American writer.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Wrote: "The New Exhibit" (uncredited, with Charles BEAUMONT), "Living Doll" (uncredited, with Beaumont) (1963), "Queen of the Nile" (uncredited, with Beaumont) (1964), episodes of The Twilight Zone; "The Invisible Enemy" (additional material Bryon HASKIN, Seeleg Lester, and Ben Brady) (1964), episode of The Outer Limits; Die, Monster, Die (original story H. P. Lovecraft) (Daniel Haller 1965); Frankenstein Conquers the World (story Reuben Bercovitch; script, uncredited, with Takeshi Kimura) (Inishiro HONDA 1965); "The Corbomite Maneuver" (1966), "This Side of Paradise" (story as by Nathan Butler with D. C. FONTANA, script Fontana) (1967), "Whom Gods Destroy" (story with Lee Erwin, script Erwin) (1969), episodes of Star Trek; "The Watchers" (with Earl HAMNER, Jr.), "Dark Outpost" (1967), episodes of The Invaders (1967); Curse of the Crimson Altar (original story Lovecraft; story adaptation Sohl; script Mervyn Haisman, Gerry Levy, and Henry Lincoln) (Vernon Sewell 1968); Night Slaves (story with Robert Specht; script Everett Chambers) (tv movie) (Ted Post 1970); The Man from Atlantis: The Disappearances (with Luther Murdoch) (tv movie) (Charles Dubin 1977).

Film based on his work: "Counterweight" (1964), episode of The Outer Limits.

 
At first glance, the story of Jerry Sohl closely resembles that of the late, great David DUNCAN: first, he materialized in the 1950s as the author of some bad science fiction novels; then, he moved into writing some bad science fiction scripts; and finally, he fittingly faded into obscurity. Yet there is a little more texture to his work, a pattern of sorts to discern in the inconsequential remains of his once-promising career. Unlike Duncan, I believe, screenwriter Sohl fully recognized that he was no good, a midget struggling to stay afloat in a big man's game; and he could occasionally exploit that sense of his own inadequacy to produce scenarios that exhibited, if not talent, a gleeful childishness that contrasted favorably with Duncan's hapless mediocrity.

Long before Sohl worked in Hollywood, author Damon Knight had glimpsed his juvenility in an hilariously vicious review of his novel Point Ultimate, reprinted in his book In Search of Wonder, where Sohl's plotting is eviscerated in an imagined conversation between a befuddled young reader and his equally befuddled father. But children can impress adults with both their shallowness and their good-heartedness, and the first scripts Sohl wrote were literally acts of charity, credited entirely to Charles BEAUMONT (though he contributed little more than a few ideas) at a time when he was unable to write and desperately needed money to pay medical bills. Of these, "The New Exhibit" and "Queen of the Nile" were unremarkable variations on familiar themes—respectively, wax museum statues coming to life and an ancient immortal who stays alive by sucking life from new victims—but "Living Doll" was more impressive. A talking doll purchased for Telly Savalas's stepdaughter keeps telling him "I'm going to kill you," and eventually, she does, when the increasingly frazzled man trips over the doll and falls to his death. Surely an influence on the later Chucky films, the episode's depiction of a tiny doll triumphing over intimidating adults may have had autobiographical overtones, corresponding to Sohl's dreams for success as a Hollywood screenwriter.

Next recruited to write for The Outer Limits, Sohl adapted one of his stories to produce the series's emptiest episode, 48 minutes of astronauts on Mars trying to dodge a malevolent dragon slithering underneath the swirling sands. The desperate efforts of three uncredited collaborators could not make this endless hide-and-seek game interesting. The fact that such a limited writer could not cope with the dark visions of H. P. Lovecraft should have been obvious, yet when Sohl graduated to the big screen, that's precisely what he was twice hired to do, predictably reducing two Lovecraft stories to routine horror films (Die, Monster, Die and The Curse of the Crimson Altar) that are dealt with too gently by film historians solely out of respect for their star performer, an aging Boris KARLOFF. I have not been able to pin down precisely how he contributed to the Japanese monster movie Frankenstein Conquers the World—probably, uncredited assistance in adapting the translated script for its American theatrical release—but it is resonantly another story about a big kid accomplishing great things, this time a boy who eats the preserved heart of Frankenstein's monster, grows into a giant, and battles a dinosaur.

Sohl's greatest achievement was his stupid but strangely endearing Star Trek episode, "The Corbomite Maneuver": Captain Kirk, feeling like a helpless little kid in the face of an overpowering alien menace about to destroy his ship, tells a big, big lie in order to buy some time and unaccountably gets away with it—because, it turns out, the alien is himself a little kid, played by none other than the brother of child star Ron HOWARD. If the whole story seems silly, it is at least a justifiable sort of silliness, an adult acting like a child in order to deal with a child. As one might expect, Sohl's collaboration with the sentimental D. C. FONTANA ("This Side of Paradise") transformed the logical Mr. Spock into a lovesick teenager, while a third episode ("Whom Gods Destroy") allowed Steve IHNAT to shine as a childishly tyrannical madman in an otherwise uninvolving melodrama.

More detailed analyses of Sohl's other television scripts—two episodes of The Invaders, a television movie about alien invaders, Night Slaves, and an early adventure of The Man from Atlantis—might provide more hints of youthful playfulness in an adult world, but the medium of television was growing up, and there was increasingly no place for a writer like Jerry Sohl. Turning to other business, he published the books Underhanded Chess and Underhanded Bridge, humorous compendiums of various ways to cheat or gain an unfair advantage in those games, perhaps seeing some relevance therein to his own, undeserved career in screenwriting. One hopes that he died a contented man, living at a retirement home and using old tricks to beat his buddies at bridge while pulling the wool over their eyes with tall tales about all his tremendous successes in Hollywood.

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