World Watch One: The Early Years
By Dan Berger
Today their names are the stuff of legend. Hollywood. Catnip. Clyde Von Drake. Silver Fox. These and a very short list of others were the original BBI Directors of World Watch One, the official Buckaroo Banzai Fan Club newsletter distributed to Grade B clearances beginning in 1985. The pages you hold in your hands today owe a small debt to the efforts these people began those many years ago.
To give you some idea of what things were like back then, we caught up with Dianne "Hollywood" Wickes, Denise "Catnip" Okuda, and Steve "Clyde Von Drake" Lee to talk a little bit about the newsletter's glory days; when a second Buckaroo Banzai film seemed like a real possibility and publications of this kind were still only one step beyond the mimeograph machine.
As Dianne recalled, "The World Watch One" glory days' were issues literally cut and pasted, with glue sticks, onto copy paper and run off on the behemoth copier in my old office at 20th Century Fox. We received permission from The-Powers-That-Be, not because they were kind-hearted, but because they figured, 'Why the hell not?'"
"Actually, we spent most of our time stuffing envelopes," said Steve. "Dianne would go through a lot of the mail, set aside all the things that could be used in a newsletter, and whenever we had enough stuff, she'd put one together. She did most of the typing, cutting and pasting. She was a great cartoonist too, and did many fun drawings, but everyone threw stuff in. We also had a ton of artwork Rick Richter and Dan Lupovitz had given her. We would really just throw it together "whenever." We did all this on our own time, so we didn't really feel we were on any kind of a schedule--just a self-imposed one."
According to Dianne, it was the fan mail piling up at Twentieth Century Fox in the wake of the film's release that created World Watch One's initial impetus. "I'd been a fannish type for a while already, and I couldn't bear to throw all of those great letters in the trash...especially when I knew there was neat stuff down in the storeroom, waiting to be trashed. It seemed only logical to connect the leftover promotional material with those people who would appreciate it. The fun of writing the newsletter was my bit of "lagniappe" to myself."
"Even though the studio regarded Banzai as a failure, there was a lot of fan mail," said Denise. "I think there were some studio types who were surprised at the amount of mail for the film. The original World Watch One was our way of staying in touch with all the fans who cared enough to write in. And it allowed us to share some of the goodies that we'd gotten from Rick (Richter) and Dan (Lupovitz)."
"The office got a lot of mail," agreed Steve. "There were little clubs popping up all over, and we sent them things from the film's campaign, like the headbands and such. Since the film didn't really get much promotion from the studio, there was a lot of stuff left over, and we distributed it to the people who cared. Mostly we just wanted to promote the movie we loved, and all the people involved in it. We had the resources of the publicity office at Fox, so we used them as best we could to get the word out."
Answering fan mail soon expanded to include a newsletter filled with material written by the staff, along with contributions received from the fans. "I did ask Dan Lupovitz, who was Rick Richter's assistant producer, for material for the newsletter, which both Richter and Rauch (who I never met) generously provided me," Dianne added. "But the content of World Watch One was mainly the creation of myself and, later, a few others."
"The fan support just kept building, and as we'd hoped, it led to serious talk of a Banzai sequel," Denise remembers. "All of the cast said they'd do it, and Rick (Richter) and Earl Mac Rauch very definitely wanted to do it, too. And we came that close to making it happen. The studio was interested, and there was financing in place. But studio politics intervened. Banzai was caught up in some nastiness that had nothing to do with the film. But it was enough to stop the project."
In its heyday, a day on the job at the Banzai Institute's West Coast Offices was something to look forward to. As Steve describes it, "We would meet practically every Sunday morning at the studio, "work" until a little after lunch time, then go to El Coyote in West Hollywood for Margaritas. We did a lot of work, but we kept it really loose and fun; kind of the way we thought the Banzai Institute itself would have actually been like."
"Dianne invited us up to the studio on Saturdays, and we all pitched in with fan mail," said Denise. "I remember that Sharkey (Jim Van Over) came down whenever he could. He stuffed envelopes and went on runs to keep us fueled with pizza and chicken. He also represented Banzai at Northern California conventions."
The original World Watch One continued in this fashion for three years. Then, in the summer of 1987, matters changed.
"Dianne was assigned to other promotional projects at Fox," recalled Stephen Walker of Starland, a company based in Denver, Colorado dealing in the sale of sci-fi related merchandise and the promotion of an annual convention in Denver. "It wasn't long before she found running a club with about 3000 members rather difficult. She had lots of help from the other staffers, but things were getting harder for her and she didn"t have a budget for photocopying the newsletter."
"As a licensee for the film, we had a vested interest in the fan club continuing past the release of the movie," he continued. "I remember Dianne being OK about turning over the publishing of the newsletter, as long as we assured her that it would be distributed at no charge to members. With merchandise sales to offset the cost, that was not a problem for us. What was a problem was time."
Dianne Wickes left Fox soon afterward, and material for the newsletter suddenly became scarce. Most of the remaining contributions came from a small but prolific group of fans in Portland, Oregon--Nancy "Abacus" Smith and Alan "Dragon" Smith among them. "That's when we decided to talk to Dragon and Abacus about taking a more active role in the magazine," Stephen concluded.
By this time, fan club members had received the Spring '87 issue of the World Watch One BBI Directory, an invaluable resource connecting fans with one another in the days before e-mail. "We wrote around one hundred letters to random names of nearly one thousand contacts in the directory," said Nancy. "Through our efforts, we established a local troop of BBIs and a fair sized pen-pal group that we corresponded with regularly. As a result, we gathered a lot of material that could be used in a newsletter. Long story short, the folks at Starland in Denver told us that the Founding Directors were not going to do another issue. They had the mailing list, but didn't have the time running a business to create a newsletter. We put two and two together and went to work. Over the next two years, from 1988 to 1990, we managed to get out two more issues of World Watch One. By 1990 however, the end came at last. "We stopped because the deep pockets of the generous folks at Starland had run dry with the waning sales of their BB merchandise," Nancy recalled. "It was very understandable. They'd covered all the printing and bulk mailing costs while we kept contact with the BBIs and created the masters for the publication."
Many Buckaroo fans still recall the quirky offerings of World Watch One with great pleasure. Yet in spite of the box office disappointments, the absence of a sequel, and the relentless march of time, Banzai fandom remains as vital as ever. "The funny thing is that Banzai fans wouldn't take "no" for an answer," added Denise "They've stayed loyal to the film for all these years. Look at the sales figures for the re-release of the Banzai novelization. Or the Banzai DVD! Even today, the Banzai Institute website (http://www.banzai-institute.com) gets thousands of visits every month. Sooner or later, Banzai will return, just as the film promised. And when it does, I'd like to think that World Watch One had a little to do with making it happen."
So, to quote Dr. Banzai, as you, "move with grace and leisure among these sundry offerings," take a moment to remember where it all began. Hollywood, Clyde, Catnip and the rest have left us with some mighty big boots to fill. It is our hope that we've done right by 'em.
This page was last updated on June 10th, 2016.
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