Art Bell, John Carpenter, Kirk Douglas & The Philadelphia Experiment

suburban wolf

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#1
I've been getting into podcasts lately and a recent discovery has been an archive of classic Art Bell 'Coast to Coast' broadcasts.
Having only heard of these in passing it's been interesting going back to the 1990s when X-files and conspiracy rode high in the popular culture.

Which leads me to what I'd call the One with Al Bielek. As far as I can establish this was one of the first tellings of the Bielek/Philadelphia experiment story and I was honestly amazed listening to it - mostly because it was so obviously riffing on the at the time little known John Carpenter produced Philadelphia Experiment film from 1984.

I appreciate that the Philadelphia Experiment was not regarded as classic John Carpenter because of his little involvement in the finished film; originally he planned to direct was well as write the film back in 1980, as his follow up to Halloween. Instead he and the film company did Escape from New York.

The basic ship vanishes into hyperspace/the vortex, sailors jump overboard and find themselves in the future plot has been embellished by Bielek with John Von Neumann (oddly not Thomas Townsend Brown or Nikolai Tesla - the "usual suspects") being added into the story of time travelling sailors from the USS Eldridge. Even at this stage it had some of the more eccentric references to mind swapping into new bodies and familial relationships between the time travellers, but the core including the description of the ship, the equipment, the arrival in the future from 1943 almost exactly echo the 1984 film. so does the conclusion with Bielek returning to the ship to shutdown the time corridor/wormhole much as the hero of the film does.

It does make me wonder why no one called Al Bielek out about that at the time - I mean he does get completely flummoxed when a caller asks him if he'd heard of Maxwell's Equations - the founding laws of electromagnetism - which is embarrassing to say the least when you've spent a good while explain you are a physics whizz specialising in electromagnetic theory but for the most part he more or less describes a film's plot, not a popular classic but one that surely had been seen widely enough on TV in the years between it's making and Al's call to Art Bell. A film seen wider still when the Philadelphia/Montauk Mythos took off.

It's a bit like one of the modern day Ghost Hunter Reality Tv teams basically describing an encounter from Scooby-Doo or Ghostbusters; yet no-one seems to have brought this up.

Interestingly as well, Time travel involving the US Navy seemed to be in the air in Hollywood back in the late 1970s/ early 1980s.

At the same time as Carpenter was mulling over his film, another was being shot. Peter Douglas and his father Kirk were involved in the making of the Final Countdown - a film where a mysterious unexplained 'storm' takes the USS Nimitz supercarrier from a cruise off Hawaii in 1980 back in time to December 5th 1941.

Unlike the later attempt to film the Philadelphia Experiment, the Final Countdown had the full backing of the US Navy and was indeed shot on the actual USS Nimitz. No attempt is made in screenplay to explain the 'storm' as an experiment one should note.

There was also a late 1970s thriller called 'Thin Air' by Neal Burger and George Simpson. A precursor to the modern techno-thriller this involves the investigation by the Navy Investigation Service into a continuation of the Philadelphia Experiment, only the macguffin involves teleportation rather than time travel.
 
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GNC

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#2
Er, I believe the Philadelphia Experiment was a story around before the film - the film was based on the myth, which is why it's similar.
 

Timble2

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#3
The Philadelphia Experiment story, goes back to 1955 in letters from a character calIed Carlos Miguel Allende to astronomer Morris K Jessop who'd just published book called The Case for the UFO. It appeared up in several books after that with the best known version being The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility (1979) by Charles Berlitz who had had a best seller with his book about the The Bermuda Triangle. The story got increasingly elaborate with each telling. The movie elaborates on the legend even more.
 

suburban wolf

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Er, I believe the Philadelphia Experiment was a story around before the film - the film was based on the myth, which is why it's similar.
Yup, the existing urban legend was the kernel of the screenplay, which John Carpenter drafted a treatment on in the very late 1970s, finally coming to fruition in 1984.
 

suburban wolf

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#5
The Philadelphia Experiment story, goes back to 1955 in letters from a character calIed Carlos Miguel Allende to astronomer Morris K Jessop who'd just published book called The Case for the UFO. It appeared up in several books after that with the best known version being The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility (1979) by Charles Berlitz who had had a best seller with his book about the The Bermuda Triangle. The story got increasingly elaborate with each telling. The movie elaborates on the legend even more.
Interestingly; the Burger and Simpson novel Thin Air was first published in 1978, the year before Charles Berlitz and William Moore published The Philadelpha Experiment. The latter book incidentally is where Thomas Townsend Brown is inducted into the legend.

Before those two books, Vincent Gaddis seems to have been the first mass market originator of the story in his 1963 book Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea. He probably got he details from the Varo Edition of the Jessop book. It is possible that the Gaddis version inspired Thin Air by Neal Burger and George Simpson, which in turn may have inspired the early Carpenter Philadelphia Experiment screenplay drafts as much as the Berlitz & Moore book did. At this point, though, time travel was not a major component of the story as such.

Also as I understand it Jessops book The Case for the UFO makes no explicit mention of the Philadelphia Experiment or the USS Eldridge, only an annotated copy being posted to the Office of Naval Intelligence adds a Navy link to this. His corespondence with Charles A Allen/Carl Meredith Allen /Carlos Allente happening on the back of that and the the Varo Edition published by the Varo Corporation collates and collects this in one volume.

I think the time travel element could conceivably by inspired by the Kirk Douglas film The Final Countdown - adding that into the general legend of the Philadelphia Experiment when the draft screenplays for the Philadelphia Experiment film were rewritten in the early 1980s by new writers.

This brings us neatly back to the 1990s and Al Bielek and his version of the story, drawing heavily on the cinematic versions before it with a few new embellishments which got progressively wilder and wilder.

If you are interested, Thin Air is on kindle and has been reissued in paperback; there is also a more recent novel Ship of the Damned by James F David which manages to mix the USS Eldridge and the USS Nimitz together in a neat sci-fi, action story.
 
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Austin Popper

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#6
Thanks for all that info. I never bothered to pay much attention to "Al Bielek" but he was entertaining in the way a crude joke can be. He did have a polished presentation, which is enough for an awful lot of people to just swallow silly stories whole. That has always amazed me. Anyway, I never have seen the Carpenter movie so never made the (apparently obvious) connection. The Bielek story did get wilder and wilder, and some people still believe it. I thought Final Countdown was well done, but I never did sort out the story in terms of what all was supposed to be going on. It was fun.

It seems like images of the Varo book have been posted on the web. Maybe I even downloaded it some years back, I don't quite recall. It was interesting, but Carl Allen was nuts.

Coast to Coast was a fertile place for such stuff. One that I wouldn't mind hearing again is the one with the guy who claimed to be flying to Mars regularly. That might have been from back when Art was retiring pretty often. The "scientist" or whoever he claimed to be was smooth, but obviously completely full of shit.
 

GerdaWordyer

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#9
Topics in the Art Bell era of "Coast to Coast" were always strange and spooky and X-filesy. As a host he had hobby horses that he firmly believed in, topics that he treated with an open mind, and some guests he was was truly skeptical of I think George Noory was chosen as a replacement because his voice sounds a lot like Bells'.
Noory never really questions a guest, he just sucks up to them. Some of his shows are chock full of "medical" quackery ads that smell of kickbacks. And since 2016 he seems to occasionally be auditioning for a gig in right-wing media.
 
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