Note: This article was originally posted on the B Movie Man website in 2011 and published in The Basement Sublet of Horror magazine (issue #2) in 2014.
In 1965, if you were a horror movie fan, you almost certainly read Famous Monsters magazine, if you could get a copy at your local drugstore or news stand. You might have rummaged through some old EC comics like The Vault of Horror or The Haunt of Fear. You may have even watched movies on a fuzzy UHF channel or paid $1.00 at a local theater to see Boris Karloff in Die, Monster, Die! (1965) or Peter Cushing in The Skull (1965). However, one movie you never got the chance to see was The Beast from the Beginning of Time (1965). Made in Wichita, Kansas, this obscure film was never released theatrically until 2004, when it finally debuted at the Wichita Orpheum. Outside of some limited television viewings, the number of people who have seen or even heard of it has only recently started to grow. Now, it’s time for The Beast to rise once again and have his story finally revealed.
If there is one man who can be called the driving force behind this forgotten gem, his name was Tom Leahy. Born in a little Oklahoma town called Pawhuska, Tom took the first step on a journey in 1941 that would lead him into a collision course with The Beast. He entered broadcasting at KFH radio with a show through Wichita State University called This Week in History. He would soon become a published author with two short science fiction stories, titled “One Martian Afternoon” and “The Tape Jockey.” He then began work at local ABC affiliate KAKE TV and it was there that he created his first on-screen persona, The Host. KAKE TV had acquired the Shock Theater movie package and needed a horror host, a still relatively new idea for television. With a sidekick named Rodney, one of the earliest horror hosts hit the small screen. When he moved to the local CBS and NBC affiliates, he brought his character with him. By 1965, low-budget horror flicks had become staples of double features and drive-ins. After all, how much money was spent on films, now considered classics, like Little Shop of Horrors (1960) or The Terror (1963)? Tom decided it would be fun to make his own movie and took a chance by approaching KARD TV with the idea. In today’s world, no local station would think of making a movie. Even back then the idea was unheard of. He had already written a script, and through his television work, he was as prepared as many others in Hollywood. For whatever reason, KARD TV agreed to fund the film. Now, the hard part was to follow: could he bring together the talent needed to pull this off?
Tom was well-respected in Wichita. By 1965, he had become well established through his own screen roles of The Host and, even more prominently, Major Astro, an afternoon kiddie show host. Introducing cartoons by day, Tom gathered his cast not from Hollywood, but from the talent base Wichita had to offer. The plot of the film was formulaic: a group of archaeologists discover the body of a caveman encased in rock near a river bed. The caveman comes back to life, thanks to the ever-present thunderstorm and lightning. Even if you’ve only seen a handful of films from the 50s and 60s, you know this is a recipe for disaster. Dick Welsbacher, a local Wichita State University professor, played archeologist Morey. Morey is a man obsessed and the typical type who has lost sight with reality and replaced it with dreams of fame and fortune. Ralph Seeley played John, another archeologist who flies to the site at the beginning of the movie. John Froome, often referred to as a tremendous local talent, played Paul, John’s archeologist colleague. Ralph and John were the heroes of the film, the type of role that might have been played by the likes of a John Agar had the movie been filmed in Hollywood with a bigger budget. Webb Smith, a local sportscaster, plays the hired muscle and, unsurprisingly, the eventual first victim of The Beast. Although, being impaled by a shovel was pretty rare in 1965.
The archeologists work for a local museum and must deal with a sarcastic official named Ford, played by local legend Henry Harvey. Harvey is still remembered today for hosting two kiddie shows, one of which is still entertaining yet another generation of Wichita youngsters. Harvey played the character of Freddy Fudd, Elmer Fudd’s brother, as he introduced Warner Brothers cartoons from his tree house. However, every Thanksgiving, he would put on the red suit and become Santa Claus. If you grew up in Wichita at any time from the 50s to the present, you’ve watched Santa’s Toyshop. You know about his sidekick KAKEman and of zooming around the world on Christmas Eve. Harvey has since passed away but his son continues the tradition. At a time when local stations have long since abandoned local programming for whatever nationally syndicated court show they can get, KAKE TV takes a new generation to the North Pole every December. Needless to say, with a buildup like that, you now know Harvey’s character of Ford is a highlight of the film. He was the comedic relief that most films of this type need to lighten the mood when things get too dark.
While the remaining cast is filled up with other local “talent,” Tom would take on the roles of producer and director as well. However, a little known fact is that he also played The Beast. Tom did his own makeup for his character of The Host, so he naturally did his own makeup for The Beast. Think of a typical caveman buried in rock for thousands of years, revived by lightning, and you’ve got The Beast. Tom would not take credit for The Beast on-screen. That honor goes to Nelson Strong, the name Tom used for the film. Filming would begin quickly and took place over evenings and weekends around everyone’s real day jobs. In a televised interview with the surviving cast members in 1980, they all revealed they enjoyed making the movie and most would do it again. However, the magic ingredient, and most likely primary source of payment, was revealed: beer! Location shooting for the archeological site was done in the summer of 1965 in 102 degree heat at Lake Afton, just west of Wichita. Another primary site was the old Wichita Airport, now a museum located in south Wichita. KARD TV became a Hollywood studio, serving as the primary site for office and museum scenes. The exact production cost has never been revealed but would be comparable to many direct-to-video movies of today, minus the money spent on bad CGI and forgotten 80s pop music icons or TV stars.
While the time spent together was clearly a fun experience for all involved, the next step in the process never happened. The movie was finished in a relatively short time, but The Beast from the Beginning of Time seemed destined to be lost in time. The completed product sat on shelf at KARD for years, collecting dust and becoming a memory. Tom felt the movie was embarrassing and never thought anyone would have an interest in it. Anyone who has ever purchased a Mill Creek collection knows that to be wrong. Some of the cast continued to be a part of Wichita’s television community while others returned to their day jobs. Tom even appeared in another movie filmed in Wichita called King Kung Fu (1976). That “classic” took 13 years to complete. Meanwhile, the dust continued to collect on The Beast’s film canister. Then, in 1980, for reasons unknown, the decision was made to air the movie as part of a Halloween trick or treat. Many of the cast reminisced about the film in an on-screen promo. Leahy would resurrect his character of The Host to introduce the film. A gag rating of NG (Not Good) was played before the movie started. Older viewers enjoyed seeing their local favorites as they appeared 15 years earlier. Young horror movie fans enjoyed watching a movie they’d never seen or even heard about. And as quickly as the hype started, it was over. The movie was returned to the canister and the dust would collect once again.
In the years that followed, many of the cast would pass away, including Henry Harvey. Tom would reprise his Major Astro and The Host characters in the late 80s and early 90s for a new generation of viewers before retiring. He was inducted into the Kansas Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2004, The Wichita Orpheum, a local movie theater in the process of a long restoration to its past glory days, presented the film for the first time on the big screen. Attendance was good but many missed the rare opportunity to see part of Wichita’s past. One year later, on August 20, 2005, in honor of its 40th anniversary, The Beast from the Beginning of Time returned to the big screen for one more showing. Tom was there along with Dick Welsbacher to discuss the film and sign autographs. Naturally, one fan in attendance asked why the movie was never released to VHS or DVD. Tom responded that the movie was too dreadful to be released. How wrong Tom was. Sadly, Tom never really understood that there really was an audience just waiting for his movie. Tom passed away on June 18, 2010.
There may still be hope for this lost film. In 2007, Joel Sanderson contacted Tom and arranged for the movie to air on his Lawrence, KS horror program called The Basement Sublet of Horror. This show is now being aired in a few other markets across the US in addition to a new internet horror site called The Monster Channel. The movie was reviewed in 2010 on the B Movie Cast, one of the most listened to internet podcasts, hosted by Vince Rotolo. Some 46 years after it was completed, fans are finally seeing and talking about The Beast from the Beginning of Time. It’s not a classic film but it is a product of a simpler time, when movies could be a fun 75-minute escape from reality. We didn’t need big budgets or an Academy Award winning cast to bring us joy on a Saturday afternoon. All we needed was a caveman who awakes in a new era and begins a rampage of death and destruction. We could laugh at how silly it was, enjoying the cheesy effects and hammy acting without a critical eye. Take the time to unearth The Beast from the Beginning of Time. It won’t be easy to find but once you do, you’ll enjoy the fun of discovering a new movie and, hopefully, spend a Saturday afternoon watching it with your kids.
MMK Note: Since this article was originally written, it has been discovered that it did air at least once on television after it’s 1980 premiere. It was broadcast on KSN TV as a special Halloween treat in 1985. That broadcast is currently available on YouTube. A special edit was also created in 2015 by Joel Sanderson from The Basement Sublet of Horror. Unaired footage of Tom Leahy as The Host was used to create a “lost” episode of Nightmare. This version, which uses a better print and the best available, is currently available on archive.org.