Since 2000, residents and visitors to the small Pennsylvania borough of Phoenixville have been witness to a strange summer ritual. Each July, hundreds of theatergoers flee en masse from the local Colonial Theatre to pay homage to a scene from “The Blob,” filmed at the theater in the late ‘50s.
The re-enactment is part of a three-day town festival known as Blobfest (held July 10-12 this year, see www.thecolonialtheatre.com) honoring the 1958 classic sci-fi thriller featuring a gelatinous alien life-form that feeds on humans and grows larger with each unrepentant feast.
“Many people tell me that their first viewing of ‘The Blob’ scared the socks off them,” said Blob producer Jack H. Harris. “It plays into the universal fear of an unstoppable alien force that could take over the world.”
Now 96, Harris began working as a child performer in vaudeville and became a successful film distributor and producer. His career is detailed in the April autobiography “Father of the Blob: The Making of a Monster Smash and Other Hollywood Tales.”
The veteran producer even scored a cameo in the original chaotic scene where the theatergoers spill out into the street as the Blob oozes in.
“I’m the first one out the door, wearing the sports jacket and tie,” he said. “But don’t blink!”
Harris attended Blobfest in recent years, but says health issues prevented him from returning.
“It’s a lot of fun. They sell Blob Burgers, there’s a Blob Pharmacy, and this year autographed copies of my book will be available. The popularity of the film and Blobfest keeps growing – just like the Blob!” (www.fatheroftheblob.com)
The concept of a feature film starring an indestructible monster menace had been whirling in Harris’s head since the early 1950s. But the movie also needed a human hero.
After seeing Steve McQueen in an early anthology TV series and on stage in his only Broadway show, “A Hatful of Rain” in the mid-1950s, Harris signed the 27-year-old actor to his first lead film role.
The Blob and McQueen proved a winning box-office combination, but working with the largely unknown actor was challenging.
“Steve was a firecracker waiting to explode,” recalled Harris. “He was extremely impatient to get his career off the ground. His moods put him in a constant battle with the director.”
On screen, McQueen also battled the indestructible and ever-growing amorphous Blob, which was fashioned from rather basic 1950s technology.
“It was ordinary silicone used in breast implants,” noted Harris. Red dye was added, and the Blob’s movement was accomplished by careful pouring and animation, and its growth achieved with camera close-ups on miniature sets.
Remarkably, some of the original Blob material has survived.
“About a third of a container sat around for over a month before the director found it,” recalled Harris. “He offered it to me and I said ‘What am I going to do with it? Get rid of it!’”
The director eventually sold the material in 1965 to a movie memorabilia collector who still displays it today.
After the success of “The Blob,” Harris produced some twenty other films including “Dinosaurus,” “4D Man,” “Eyes of Laura Mars,” and a gory Blob remake in 1988. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this February for his contribution to cinema.
He is currently producing yet other Blob remake for 2016.
“We’re excited to have just signed Samuel L. Jackson for one of the key roles,” he said.
While “The Blob” is clearly Harris’s legacy to Hollywood, the film also helped propel Steve McQueen to fame, although he would sometimes view the role with a critical retrospective eye after his career flourished.
“I bumped into him at a supermarket one day and the checkout person was raving to Steve about his performance,” said Harris. “Steve looked at me and said ‘It ain’t Othello!’”
Yet McQueen likely retained a soft spot for his ruddy globular co-star.
According to Harris, as 50-year-old McQueen lay dying in Mexico where he traveled in 1980 for a controversial and unsuccessful treatment for mesothelioma, a single movie poster decorated the walls of the ailing actor’s bedroom.
It was “The Blob.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers.