Actress Francine York (The Family Jewels, Tickle Me, Batman) on the shooting of Larry Buchanan's B-movie cult classic, CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE (1966).
TV STORE ONLINE: How did CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE (1966) come to you? Did Larry [Buchanan] offer you the part or did you have to audition for it?
YORK: I had just done a picture called SPACE PROBE TAURUS (1965) with [producer] Burt Topper. Larry had done some work for Samuel Z. Arkoff and when he decided to make CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE--Sam suggested me to Larry. I flew to Dallas for the movie. We shot all the interiors there. One of the funny things that I'm reminded of every time I see the picture today is the shooting of that scene where my character first sees the monster and screams. When I first saw the picture I noticed that she doesn't scream. There is no sound coming out of her mouth. I said to Larry, "Are you going to dub in my scream?" It never got fixed. It's quite funny.
YORK: Well, after we finished shooting the interiors we were taken in a Mercedes to east. We shot the rest in Uncertain, Texas. That was quite a spot. The further we got in--it became very swampy. It became strange. Houses were on stilts. It was very spooky. Larry became a very different person out there. In Dallas, he was this sort of elegant man who took us out to country club dinners, and when we got to Uncertain he became a very different person, and I don't know quite how to explain it now. He became really like this director's director, but I don't recall him ever giving me a whole lot of direction outside of where to stand and what to do.
Jeff Alexander [Dr. Simond Trent], the poor man's Vincent Price, really thought a great deal of himself. What I understood at that time was that he had a school down there. He would try to tell me what to do, and I wasn't having any of it. By that time I had already worked with Marlon Brando, David Niven and Jerry Lewis--so I certainly didn't need anything from him.
To his credit and to his bad acting though--he was perfect for that part. It was his idea to wear those big green glasses. He brought those in.
We all stayed at a place called the Fly 'N' Fish Lodge. At a certain point you could only fly there but they eventually built a road to it. It was such a strange country, but we were shooting a strange picture.
Larry would have voices coming at you from off-camera. Larry sort of let go of a lot of things on this picture. John Agar was just the sweetest guy. We stayed friends for many years after the shooting of the picture. The first day we met on CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE was in Dallas, and we were all staying at a Howard Johnson's and someone had stolen his wallet! He was an alcoholic and he smoked a lot of cigarettes. I would see him over the years and he'd be on oxygen. When it came to Larry, John would put his eyes up to the sky--but Larry was a very take-charge kind of guy without actually taking charge so he'd say, "Well, alright, Larry."
TV STORE ONLINE: Do you have a favorite scene in the picture?
YORK: One of the funniest scenes is where my character is thrown on the bed and her and Jeff Alexander's character have that long discussion and that fan is going around above them. Also, when they built that room off the set and stuck my character in there and all you could see were her eyes. I remember Larry saying, "Okay, now look over here, now quickly look over there..." After we finished the shoot and left, we found out later than the owner of the place had been killed in the road! There was something about that place that wasn't right. The vibes were off there.
My favorite scene though I think--every time I see it I always crack-up. It's where mine and John's character run out at the end and they see the monster for the first time and I say, "Look at yourself, you were a beautiful woman." Then the monster stops and looks at himself. That alligator pond, as you may have guessed, wasn't actually there. Larry shot that elsewhere.
TV STORE ONLINE: Did you see any of the scenes being shot with the locals or the sequence of the "snake dance?"
YORK: I didn't. I stayed back at the hotel on those days. I did have an interesting experience with the local sheriff one day though. He was a southern bigot.
TV STORE ONLINE: Larry Buchanan, in his memoir "It Came From Hunger" talks about how the owners of the hotel wouldn't allow the African American actors to stay there with the others..
YORK: Right, I was so upset by that. I was having lunch one afternoon and the local sheriff came over to me and asked if he could have lunch with me. A little African American boy walked in and the sheriff said, "Look at him. He isn't even human." I flew off the handle and said, "You know what? You smell like body odor. Very badly... Would you mind leaving my table?" He couldn't believe it.
TV STORE ONLINE: Well, at least Larry put you in some sexy clothes in the movie!
YORK: Those were my clothes. I brought them with me. That green outfit was one of my all-time favorites. That pink dress was lovely.
TV STORE ONLINE: What do you think about your performance all of these years later in the film?
YORK: In retrospect, when I look at the performance now I say, "Gee, I had that whole feeling of what it was like to not be around people for a long time down!" In that first entrance, where she meets John Agar's character....
TV STORE ONLINE: I love at the end of that scene where she says to John Agar's character, "You have to help me. My husband is insane..."
TV STORE ONLINE: It begs to wonder how on earth she first came to met the mad Doctor and decided to get married to him!
YORK: I actually had that all worked out before. John and I sat around one evening laughing our heads off about it. He was a scientist and he had come to the city. He met her and he was going to be known throughout the world and he was going to do all of these beneficial experiments to help society. He was charming and adorable to her. But once she's married to him, she can't get away. Little by little, she realizes she's in a horrible mess. It really isn't an usual story in that sense. It's probably happened many times to women who were bamboozled by a charming guy.
TV STORE ONLINE: Did the actors taking the project seriously? What did you think of the monster and its ping-pong eyes when you saw him for the first time during the shooting?
YORK: John and I were hysterical. I have to be one hell of an actress to have pulled that whole thing off...(laughing). To pull that line off about the monster being the woman......(laughing)
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
Please visit Francine York's official website at FrancineYork.net
Watch CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE on YouTube