John Keel


For a thirteen month period from November 1966 until December 1967, the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, USA was reportedly tipped into a state of chaos - overrun by a number of strange phenomena that appeared to revolve around regular sightings of a winged humanoid known as the Mothman. There were hundreds of alleged witnesses to these phenomena. One such individual was John Keel, who had arrived from New York to investigate the reports. His book the Mothman Prophesies, has been turned into a film staring Richard Gere. We caught up with the author as the movie was about to go on general release in the UK...

Sci-Fi Online: What do you think to the finished film?

John Keel: I was pleased with the Hollywood interpretation. They got a lot of the stuff in the book into the movie, but with slight variations. But it revived a lot of memories of that period, which was a very traumatic period for me. I have no real complaints about it. It's Hollywood, and it's done well - that's my feeling about it.

I worried first how they were gonna do the scene with the bridge, 'cause that might have looked like a piece of crap, but they did the collapse of the bridge beautifully. I thought Richard Gere was real good in it. He did not try to imitate me - that would be too big a job. I thought Alan Bates, playing his part, was very good in it - slinking around alleys, hiding from whatever he was hiding from.

SFO: Ever felt like you were being stalked?

JK: Sure. Sure. There's a chapter in the book about it. They worked a lot of the stuff into the movie. And did it very well, I thought. Because a lot of the stuff sounds totally insane; the telephone stuff, ringing when they were unhooked, when they weren't connected - mysterious voices on the phone; I went through all of that.

SFO: How close did you come to really experiencing the Mothman?

JK: I never saw the Mothman. But I saw people minutes after they had had an experience with it. And they were in a state of total terror. Just happened to be in the vicinity at the time.

SFO: It's taken a long time since you wrote the book for Hollywood to come calling...

JK: It took 30 years. I had many, many offers and would-be deals. Agents would call me up, and say "How soon can you get out here?" I'd say, "As soon as I get your cheque." That would bring the conversation to a close. They all wanted something for nothing. They all had great deals - for them, but not for me. See, I have one of the best agents in the country, maybe in the world, and I'd say, "Well, you'll have to talk to my agent." And that would bring the conversation to a dead halt - they didn't want to talk to agents.

I know authors who've been tricked like that. Everyone's heard of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's a title from a college professor's book - and he got a total of $1700 out of that. Which is absurd. But they conned him into it, they promised him the moon - a world of publicity, cardboard figures of him standing in front of the theater, and all this stuff. And of course none of it came true.

SFO: So what made you go for this deal, then?

JK: I'd had countless calls from young writers who wanted to write it, some of them well-known, and this young man called me - and he understood the book. He'd probably read it 10 times. And he gave me the kind of pitch he would throw - in Hollywood, the pitch is all-important; they don't want to see it on paper, they want to hear you tell it - so I put him in contact with my agent, and they worked out the whole deal.

Then they got involved with Mark Pellington (director), who was instrumental in putting the whole package together. I wish I could complain about something, but I can't. They pulled off a very difficult project.

SFO: Have you any idea why these things happened in this town, and not, say, somewhere else?

JK: Well, it does happen in other places - you just don't hear about it. I just happened to be there, and kept careful notes. If I hadn't been there, you'd never heard about it. But I was there to record the whole thing, step by step. As I was recording it, I didn't know what the hell I was doing, didn't know what was going on. So I withdrew from the whole thing. I had so much trouble with the telephone that I took the whole thing out and didn't have a telephone for 10 years.

I've been afraid many times. But I've also spent a lot of my time in cemeteries at midnight, I've been inside the great pyramids alone. I've done a lot of interesting and dangerous things. I trekked through the Himalayas alone. I'm six foot two and the Tibetans are five foot two, so it was not a good idea to go very far, but I stepped over the border just so I could say I'd set foot in Tibet. But I'm not courageous or anything. I'm stupid. I take chances. A lot of people don't - they'll sit in the corner of their insurance office all their lives.

SFO: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Lesley O'Toole and Laura Norton at Way To Blue

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