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“The Philadelphia Experiment” – The Book, the Movie

“It’s a good Grade B movie,” a friend of mine told me several years ago when I admitted I’d never seen the 1984 film “The Philadelphia Experiment.”  Accordingly, I rented a video and sat down in front of the TV.  I had two questions on my mind as I watched: first, would the film make any mention of UFOs?  And, second, would there be any acknowledgment in the credits of the book The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility by William L. Moore and Charles Berlitz (Fawcett Crest, 1979), by which the movie was obviously inspired.

The answers: no and no.  The second “no” surprised me more than the first.

I must confess to not having viewed the film again in preparation for writing this post.  Yes, it was pretty good, as Grade B movies go.  But the prospect of revisiting it does not thrill me, and I’m content to let my memories of it be jogged by the pertinent Wikipedia article.

It’s set in 1943, the year of the actual—whatever that word may mean, in this context—Philadelphia experiment.  The hero, played by Michael Paré, is a sailor in the wartime Navy, a sexy, two-fisted sort named David.  (How appropriate, I thought.)  Assigned to the USS Eldridge during the invisibility experiment, David is sucked forward through a time vortex into 1984 and there falls in with the lovely Allison (Nancy Allen).  Romance, needless to say, develops.  Also intrigue; with the end result that the vanished ship pops up in 1943 Philadelphia, and David by Allison’s side 41 years later.  Carl Allen?  Morris K. Jessup?  Nowhere to be found.

Gray Barker—who died the year of the film’s release, who may or may not have seen it before his death—knew about it while it was in the works.  He speaks of it in a letter, dated 9 December 1981, to “Carlos Miguel Cristophero Allende, General Delivery, Pecos, NM.”  This letter, and the one from Allen to which it obviously replies, are worth quotation here.  Not least for what they convey about Allen’s relations with the people who got rich, or would have liked to have gotten rich, off his manic creativity.

Dear Carlos,” Barker writes.  “Thank you not only for your latest letter concerning Mr. Moore, but for all your other missives, especially the annotated edition of THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT by Moore/Berlitz, which set some of the record straight.

I cannot see why Mr. Moore would harass you, especially when your person was one of the most popular and amazing parts of the book.  I have followed your Maritime career previously and have been aware of your rapid promotion which indicates a superior mind.  Even that Mr. Goerman, who wrote the unfavorable article for FATE, admitted that you appeared to be a genuis [sic] or near genius while in school in Pennsylvania.”

(Robert Goerman’s 1980 article in Fate magazine, revealing “Allende’s” identity as Goerman’s New Kensington neighbor Carl Allen, is now available on the Web, and amply worth reading.)

Barker writes that he’s enclosing a copy of Anna Genzlinger’s book The Jessup Dimension, for Allen’s comment.  “You will note that Ms Genzlinger has ‘translated’ your Allende Letters to Jessup.  By ‘translated’ I mean how she has taken the formal and technical language of the original and put it in more popular idiom that the lay person can fully understand.  I do hope this permits more readers [to] understand the many important points you were making in those letters.  Although I do not question your scienfific [sic] knowledge, I think that you sometimes have a communications problem.  Because your mind moves so swiftly, you assume that the minds of your readers can keep up with yours.  In your refusing to ‘talk down’ to your public, there is much valuable information they miss which you otherwise could impart if you would [use] less technical language and a more informal approach. …

I read in a recent VARIETY (the show business weekly) that Avco Embassy pictures will begin making a picture entitled THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT very shortly, though I do not know if it is based on the Moore/Berlitz book.  About one year ago two researchers employed by 20th Century Fox Studios called me from Washington, D.C. where they were researching the Philadelphia Experiment, evidently with the thought of making a picture about it.  They wished to get in touch with you, but at that time I had no idea how to contact you, so I sent them to Mr. Goerman, feeling he might be able to get word to you through your parents.  I was hoping that you might be able to turn some greenbacks by acting as a paid consultant for them.

Again, thank you for your many kindnesses in sending me various informative letters and materials.  While I have not been able to fully undertand [sic] the scientific and technical aspects (my education is in the Humanities), I have filed all of these carefully away, and will eventually donate these to some University, along with other correspondence files.

Of course Barker’s poking fun at Allen; he’s been doing that from the beginning of the letter.  Yet there’s real kindness here, from a man adept at “turning some greenbacks” to another man whose threadbare, peripatetic life suggests he could have used some help in that direction.

It’s interesting, too, given the distance the “Philadelphia Experiment” movie was to travel from the legends of which it was begotten, that the master greenback-turners of Hollywood thought it worthwhile to seek out the fountainhead of the legends.  Would they really have put him on their payroll, I wonder?

And what of William L. Moore, the former English teacher whose book about the Experiment turned enough greenbacks to retire him from the classroom?  Allen’s letter (undated), to which Barker is replying, has plenty to say about Moore’s “ridiculous book” and Moore himself (“a blatant yet deceptive LIAR”).  Moore has belittled Allen’s scientific background and military capacities; he’s conspired to wreck his credit rating, dispatched assassins with guns and poison to eliminate him, dumped sugar in his gas tank.  He’s even

“followed me for two and a half BLOCKS crying imploringly and most IDIOTICALLY, “HEY, DEAL…DEAL…DEAL…DEAL…DEAL…DEAL…DEAL…DEAL.”  YES, PRECISELY like an INSANE person. I tried INSULTING him, THEN LAUGHED at him.  HE even, after some strenuous effort, sought me out in Morris to attempt a FREE interview while KNOWING I am much the RECLUSE & so charge $500. … After trying EVERY way to SHAKE him off my back he got angry…..at my efforts to either COOL him off OR to SHAKE him OFF and INSANELY TOLD THE POLICE THAT IT WAS ME, MYSELF WHO WAS MAKING A “PUBLIC NUSCANCE” & HARRASSING HIM.  THE MAD SEE OTHERS AS THEY THEMSELVES ARE AFFLICTED …”

Yes.  The mad see others as they themselves are afflicted.  Who can doubt that, whatever precisely transpired between Allen and Moore, it was Allen who was the madder of the two?  “Sheesh!” was Moore’s response, after Barker showed him Allen’s letter.  “Perhaps you and I should seriously consider commissioning old Carlos to write our biographies.  With lurid stuff like this, how could we possibly escape a best-seller?

Moore, thanks to Allen, already had his best-seller.  Between him, and the penniless wanderer whose mythmaking had made both book and movie possible—to whom shall we give our sympathies?

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