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Kate Phillips: Indomitable

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When people ask me who's my favorite interview of all time, my most frequent answer is "Kate Phillips." Kate was a remarkable person, who led a very active life into her nineties. She was a Hollywood actress in the 30s and 40s (appearing in dozens of films under the name "Kay Linaker"), a screenwriter in the 50s, and a teacher in her later years. Her two biggest claims to fame: she was one of the best screamers in the business (her screams are still used in movie and TV soundtracks), and she wrote the screenplay for the 1958 sci-fi classic The Blob, starring Steve McQueen in his first film role. Here's how she got that unusual gig. 

It started with a two-pound can of goop on Kate Phillips' coffee table. The bearers of the goop were a pair of would-be producers with an idea for a low-budget movie. They needed a script in a hurry, and she was a screenwriter who could deliver: she was accustomed to the meatgrinder pace of television writing. 

 

"They took the top off the can, laid it on its side, and out came this thing," Phillips recalls. "It climbed up over a stack of magazines, it separated and went around a big ashtray, came back together, and then it went on. I was absolutely fascinated!" 

 

Two weeks later, she delivered the script for one of the greatest B movies of all time: The Blob, starring Steve McQueen in his first film role. And starring the goop in the can as the unstoppable title character, an oozing slime from outer space that grew as it consumed human flesh. 

 

Phillips and McQueen were each paid a nominal sum and, by one account, promised a cut of the gross. "Steve and I used to pass one another down at Schwab's Drugstore. And we would look at one another and say, 'Did you [get paid]?' 'No.'  We never got a thing. Never did." 

 

Forty-nine years later, in the spring of 2007, it still rankled: "I've decided I'm going to go to the Writers' Guild, and I'm going to say, 'I'm a charter member of this outfit. I think I should be getting some residuals!'" 


Kate Phillips was 93 years old. She walked slowly, and needed a cane for support. But she was still prepared to raise a fuss in Hollywood if need be. 

The full story of Kate's life in my book, including memories of her childhood neighbor Thomas A. Edison, and her years as the third brunette on the Warner Bros. depth chart.
 
And click here to read extended excerpts from my interview with Kate. 

Contact me at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com.