The Harry Alan Towers Centennial

There is something very right about visionary producer and screenwriter Harry Alan Towers (1920-2009) being born near Halloween though horror was not the only genre he succeeded in, sometimes under the pen name Peter Welbeck. He was born 100 years ago today.

London born Towers was a child actor and son of show business professionals who got his start in radio writing and producing for the RAF during WW2. After the war he sold syndicated radio programs including several with Orson Welles including The Lives of Harry Lyme, The Black Museum, and a Sherlock Holmes series in which Welles was Moriarity to John Gielgud’s Holmes and Ralph Richardson’s Watson.

In the ’50s Towers wrote and produced for television, which got him to movies by the early ’60s. There followed an amazing span of films spanning four decades, many of them international co-productions. His earlier successes include the (now dated) Fu Manchu series starring Christopher Lee (1965-69), and the Sumuru series with Shirley Eaton (1967-69), both based on books by Sax Rohmer.

Towers was particularly into adapting books for the cinema, and was loyal to many classic author. These include three separate versions of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians a.k.a. And Then There Were None (1965, 1974, 1989), Circus of Fear a.k.a. Psycho Circus (1966, based on a book by Edgar Wallace), Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon (1967), Count Dracula (1970), Dorian Gray (1970), Black Beauty (1972), Treasure Island (1972, with Welles as Long John Silver), The Call of the Wild (1972 with Charlton Heston), White Fang (1973), H.G. Wells The Shape of Things to Come (1979), King Solomon’s Treasure (1979), Black Arrow (1985), Buried Alive (1990, based on Poe’s “The Premature Burial”), two Sherlock Holmes adaptations for TV with Christopher Lee (1991-92), Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1992), and another Treasure Island (1999, with Jack Palace). of all things, he was also one of the producers on Cry, the Beloved Country (1995).

Sounds fairly wholesome, right? For the most part? But fascinatingly, Towers also had a raunchy side. It emerged publicly in 1961 when he was busted in New York as being part of some sort of sex ring. It took a few years for his kinky predilections to make it to the screen, and many of these films too were based on (famous naughty) books. The House of 1,000 Dolls (1967) with Vincent Price (often called AIP’s sleaziest movie) came first, followed by Justine (1969), Venus in Furs (1969), Eugenie…Her Journey Into Perversion (1970), an erotic take on Balzac’s Black Venus (1983), Fanny Hill (1983) and Lady Libertine (1984).

Towers was also responsible for bringing the the low budget sci-fi/fantasy films Gor (1987) and Outlaw of Gor (1988) as well as several horror films starring Robert Englund of Nightmare on Elm Street, including The Phantom of the Opera (1989), Dance Macabre (1992), Night Terrors (1993), and Stephen King’s The Mangler (1995).

At the time of his death at age 88 the old reprobate was working on a new adaptation of Moll Flanders with Ken Russell.