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  Frederic Gadette
  Beverly Garland
  Fred Gebhardt
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  Jeff Goldblum
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(Friedrich Oliver Gebhardt 1925–1972). Austrian writer and producer.

Wrote and produced: 12 to the Moon (story; screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen) (David Bradley 1960); The Phantom Planet (story; screenplay with William Telaak, Fred De Gorter, and William Marshall [uncredited]) (William Marshall 1961).

'Presented' American version of film: Space Men (Antonio MARGHERITI 1960).

Certain facts about Fred Gebhardt's life have always been available in scores of sources: that he was born in Vienna, Austria in 1925; that he earned the listed film credits in the early 1960s; that he later served as executive producer for Al ADAMSON's incoherent crime film Hell's Bloody Devils, mostly filmed in 1967 but released in 1970; and that he died in Los Angeles in 1972 at the young age of 47. But everyone else about this briefly prominent figure in the history of science fiction films has long remained a mystery.

However, thanks to a message from one of his relatives, now working to investigate his career, I can answer at least one question about his life: the reason why he left Austria and came to America. It turns out that one of his grandmothers was from Haiti, and that Gebhardt had thus inherited an unusually dark complexion. One day, while he was swimming, some other youths forcibly removed his swimsuit, purportedly to see if his skin was the same color all over his body. This was a clear sign that, in a nation now ruled by Nazis dedicated to celebrating German racial purity, a man like Gebhardt would no longer be welcome, and hence he immediately resolved to leave his native country.

We still know nothing about what he was doing between 1940 and 1960, and how he was able to launch a career as a Hollywood producer, but this new information about Gebhardt, who might now be described as an African-American filmmaker, does explain some things about his first, and best, science fiction film, 12 to the Moon: the multinational crew of his envisioned mission to the Moon, including representatives of several nations;  the conspicuous presence of an African crewmate; and the peculiar subplot involving the tense but ultimately friendly relationship between an astronaut from Israel and a German who is the son of a German war criminal. Clearly, he was a man who had special reasons to despise the Nazis and cherish tolerance, which he extended to positively portrayed crew members from the Middle East, Japan, and elsewhere. One also garners a new appreciation for the defining characteristic of the aliens in 12 to the Moon and Gebhardt's other film, The Phantom Planet: their passion for secrecy. The residents of the Moon at one point seem intent upon destroying life on Earth to prevent any more humans from visiting the Moon, and the inhabitants of the planetoid Rheton are determined to conceal their existence in order to avoid their enemies. Gebhardt also had a motive for being secretive, since racism remained rampant in the America of the late 1950s. Perhaps he moved to southern California because his darker skin could there be attributed to a perpetual suntan.

None of this represents grounds for reclassifying Gebhardt's films as masterpieces, as my original description of them remains valid: evidently the work of someone who was not familiar with the genre, they both seem discordant mixtures of half-remembered borrowings from earlier films, highly original if scientifically idiotic ideas, gestures toward realistic depictions of space travel, and a solemn intent to embed serious messages within childish plots. They are also cheaply made and badly acted, and hence natural targets for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew, but they also have one conspicuous virtue: if you are watching these films for the first time, you will be unable to predict what will happen next, and amidst scores of films which are content to employ standard-issue plots, this in itself merits some praise. Still, one would expect a young man from Austria who somehow reinvented himself as a film producer to have an independent spirit, a determination to follow his own path instead of emulating others.

In addition to his unchronicled adventures between Austria and his Hollywood sets, the final years of Gebhardt's life are also an enigma: since his work in films obviously did not make him a rich man, how did he manage to support himself? Did this elusive, apparently never-married man have other secrets to hide involving illicit activities or his sexual preferences? Why did Gebhardt, who had proven himself a superb athlete while in Austria, die at the relatively young age of 47? One hopes that his relative, or another researcher, will unearth more data about his experiences which might further enrich our understanding of his bizarre and unforgettable films.

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