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“The Flaming Teenage”: A mid-50s exploitation scare film from the director of “The Blob”
Filmmaker (and radio and TV producer) Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. will probably always be remembered for directing 1958’s The Blob, a sci-fi thriller starring Steve McQueen and a gelatinous red menace, but Night Flight would like to invite you to take a look at his first feature, 1956’s The Flaming Teenage — now streaming on Night Flight Plus as part of our Something Weird collection — which Yeaworth completed after adding new footage to an earlier film, Twice Convicted, creating a exploitation scare flick comprised of two distinct cautionary tales about the evils of alcohol and drugs.
The son of a Methodist minister, Irvin S. Yeaworth (the “S” was for Shortess, which is why he had the nickname “Shorty”) was born in Berlin, Germany, and he would only direct six feature films between 1956 and 1967, but he also directed more than four hundred short films which mostly delivered Christian and social messages.
Yeaworth actually got his start in show business at age ten, singing on a gospel radio program on KDKA (the world’s first scheduled broadcast was made from Westinghouse’s KDKA, the pioneer broadcasting station of the world, in Pittsburgh, PA, on November 2, 1920). For a time, he struggled with making a choice between becoming a pastor in a church, or a filmmaker, but after he made his choice, he went to the library and read every single book on cinema (there were no official courses he could take at the time).
By the time he was seventeen, Yeaworth was producing his own radio show, “Good News,” and by 1949, he was shifting his focus to television, producing ABC’s “Youth on the March,” which was broadcast in the local Philadelphia area.
Yeaworth graduated from Franklin and Marshall College and also studied at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Temple University School of Theology.
He began working in film by taking over the direction of a documentary, Born to Live, which had been abandoned by the filmmakers behind the project. From there, he began working on commercials and religious films, shooting in 16mm.
Yeaworth eventually had created a small filmmaking community in the Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, are, mainly producing religious-themed short subjects which were shown at churches in the area.
His first feature, a 69-minute exploitation flick called The Flaming Teenage, was completed with additional footage (shot by Charles Edwards) which had originally been released in the early 50s as Twice Convicted, lensed in the Chester Springs, PA area.
Some sources say that the original film had been released in 1945, while others say 1952, so we’re not entirely sure at this point.
The film’s opening credits tell us that The Flaming Teenage (a title which seems to be missing at least one other word; “Teenage” was also hyphenated in the film’s first release but was later revised) is “Based on the true-life story of Fred Garland.” Garland was later the founder of International Fellowship of Fundamental Baptists in the 1960s.
The screenplay was credited to Yeaworth’s wife, Jean, and another writer, Ethel Barrett.
First off, we’re introduced to teenager Tim Kruger, who gets drunk at a party at his friend Bill’s place, where he meets a high school dropout/knockout blonde, Gloria, who gives him a very strong drink which apparently sends him reeling down the path toward alcoholism with just one sip.
Tim tries to walk home after the party, but passes out by the side of the road, where he’s found by the police, arrested and hauled off to jail.
After he’s released into his father’s custody, the old man decides to show his son what could happen if he continues down this path by taking him to a few of the sleazy honky tonks and beer joints in town, where he can see for himself how excessive drinking will lead to his own ruin (his father knows about this first hand, having wrecked his marriage years earlier).
Then, a second cautionary tale: we’re introduced to high schooler Fred Garland (Noel Reyburn), who owns a candy store but dreams of producing plays.
Like Tim, Fred ends up getting drunk at a party, and the liquor sends him down his own personal path into Hell. He sells his candy store and moves to New York City, and things are looking up after he lands a part in a vaudeville show, but the drinking, gambling and women begin to cause problems in his life.
He takes a job in a drugstore, and partners up with his boss, Mr. Barnes, to produce a musical (Barnes acts as a financial partner), but after the play opens successfully, Fred begins to drink up their profits.
When Mr. Barnes asks him to explain his behavior, Fred ends up quitting, and forms a booking agency with an actor, but then his girlfriend breaks up with him and Fred decides to commit suicide by drinking iodine. He survives, of course, but then he ends up falling in with a bad friend, Harry, who gets him involved in grand larceny.
Fred is arrested and after he’s released on bail, he then falls in with another bad friend, a drug dealer named Felix, who gets him hooked on heroin. Ultimately, he ends up homeless, addicted to junk, and begging for food, and he’s arrested again, this time for trying to steal ties from a clothing store.
A kindly district attorney pleads for leniency on his behalf and he is sentenced to only six months in prison, where a minister tells him about God, and Fred accepts Jesus into his life, and sets aside his bad habits and embarks on a new career, this time preaching the merits of Christian salvation to churchgoers.
This deceivingly-advertised double-feature played the Rancho Drive-In in December of 1956. Thanks to Lost Movie Theatres of Richmond, California.
The tagline-cluttered movie poster promised that these two stories were ripped from the headlines, “told with the intensity of white heat!” At least one of them was supposed to be the “true unvarnished confession of a juvenile delinquent” (apparently the story about the teenage alcoholic was added in order to sell the movie as a juvenile delinquency film, which were still being produced in the mid-50s).
The Flaming Teenage wasn’t exactly a hit with the critics. When it screened in the L.A. area in October of 1956, the Los Angeles Mirror movie critic wrote, “If nominations are being accepted for the worst movie of the year, let me submit The Flaming Teen-age, a yawn-packed, drab and almost witless botching of screencraft.”
Irvin S. (Shorty) Yeaworth directs The Blob as producer Jack H. Harris and the crew look on
Yeaworth continued to do God’s work at Valley Forge Film Studios, where their basic mission seems to have been to spread the good word about Jesus through film ministries.
Yeaworth finally moved up from 16mm to 35mm after partnering with Lou Kellman to develop a reincarnation story, similar to the Bridey Murphy saga.
For those who may not know, a Colorado woman named Virginia Mae Morrow had created a national sensation in the 1950s, after she began to reveal — suddenly speaking in a thick Irish brogue while under hypnosis — that she’d lived a past life as Bridey Murphy, and had died after falling down a flight of stairs in Ireland in 1864; her story was first told in magazine articles and then in a book, The Search for Bridey Murphy, published by Doubleday in 1956 and then made into a movie the same year.
A regional film distributor, Jack H. Harris, however, let the filmmakers know that he didn’t think an audience wanted a similar story about reincarnation and that Yeaworth should instead focus on making a sci-fi movie, since they were all the rage at the time. Yeaworth didn’t really know much about science fiction, and hadn’t read any sci-books or magazines, or cared about seeing any sci-fi movies.
The Philadelphia-born Harris — who had worked his way up from theater usher to working in publicity and then film distribution, opening his own offices — wasn’t happy about the black and white films being presented to him, so he decided to join forces with Yeaworth and his Valley Forge Film Studios and create films that he knew would sell tickets.
By this point he’d distributed more than five hundred films and so he gave them a story idea called “The Molten Meteor,” written by his friend, Irvine H. Millgate.
After agreeing to turn it into a feature, Yeaworth, Harris and Mike Friedman (of Comprehensive Film Service in New York) pooled their limited resources to fund the resulting film, The Blob. They called their partnership Tonylyn Productions, after Jack’s children, Tony
Yeaworth clearly intended The Blob to have an underlying message, and serve as a warning to all Americans about the dangers of invasions by alien forces who show no mercy, whether they from arrive from space or (more likely) from Soviet Russia. The movie probably deserves another look if you haven’t seen it in a while.
The invasion of the amorphous jello-like creature (made from silicone) in a typical small town somewhere in America emphasized Yeaworth’s idea that everyone had to be vigilant and both hot roddin’ teens and slow-witted cops were forced to fight for what they believe in.
There’s probably no better illustration of that than the scene in the movie which takes place at a midnight matinee at a local movie theater, where the crowd is watching the 1952 Bela Lugosi horror flick The Vampire and the Robot (aka Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire).
The Blob — working from a screenplay written by Theodore Simonson, head writer for Valley Forge Film Studios, and b-movie actress/screenwriter Kay Linaker (nee Phillips), who came up with the movie’s new title — was not a Hollywood film by any stretch of the imagination: in fact, it was shot independently on sound stages at the Valley Forge Film Studios, which had grown into a massive complex comprised of eighteen buildings, with three soundstages, located on 150 acres.
Valley Forge was a pre-Revolutionary War village, and the studio’s permanent staff lived on the property and fifty men, women and children shared a common dining room, meeting there for meals three times a day (you can see why sometimes Yeaworth’s complex was called a “religious colony” or commune).
Additional scenes were filmed on location in nearby Chester Springs, Downingtown, Phoenixville and Royersford, PA, during a thirty day film shoot (we’ve read that the total budget was somewhere in the neighborhood of $240,000, but some sources list the budget closer to $110,000 instead).
The film was later sold to Paramount, who distributed it — on a double-feature bill with I Married a Monster from Outer Space — at a substantial profit for $500,000, and its box-office success paved the way for more b-movies to be directed by Yeaworth, including 4D Man (1959) and Dinosaurus! (1960).
Yeaworth also filmed a couple of Christian scare movies, both released in 1967, The Gospel Blimp and Way Out.
In the 1970s, Yeaworth — an elder in the Presbyterian Church — shifted his focus almost entirely to Christian ministry work, and for the next twenty-five years, led American Christians on tours of the Middle East, aspiring to help bridge the gap between Arabs and Israelis.
In Jordan, where he often brought his tours, he also began working on the design and completion of an entertainment complex and theme park (similar to Disneyland, he said), called “Jordanian Experience at the Aquaba Gateway.”
Yeaworth died in an auto accident in Amman, Jordan, on July 19, 2014. He was 78.