THE ABSURDLY TRUE STORY OF A HOLLYWOOD DREAMER WHO
OVERCAME A BUSTED SPINE TO LIVE WITH BREAKNECK JOY
Strange As It Seems - The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler written by Chip Jacobs
REVIEW: Mr Jacobs brings together the (impossible) life of Mr Gordon Zahler. A life full of hope which teaches us that we should always look forward and that the best is yet to come. Never a book has taken you from laughing to crying within the same page. The book unites two talents the one of Mr Jacobs and the one of Mr Zahler. And it's not a coincidence that both are family related. Sometimes family is not a coincidence. The style of Mr Jacobs is, as always, very eloquent, passionate and yet entertaining. His words and writing are sweating of intelligence. For this amazing life, you'll have an amazing book. Read it, you won't be disapointed.
“What do you know? Haven't you heard of suspension of disbelief?” – Ed Wood Jr.
Mr Chip Jacobs
The life of Gordon Zahler is simply so miraculous that it might as well be science fiction. Born into an entertainment family in suburban Los Angeles in the mid-1920s, Zahler was a lovable prankster and class clown, exasperating his parents with his endless teenage feats of derring-do. He ran with a similar crowd of teenage boys calling themselves “The Tarzans,” and got into trouble everywhere, whether that was leaping off a catwalk into a domed swimming pool or anonymously ordering a case of bourbon to the doorstep of Sierra Madre’s tee-totaling minister.
But Gordon Zahler’s promising career as a public miscreant went pear-shaped one day in 1940 when he and his buddies where fooling around in their high school gym with a spring board. An unsteady jump on the board vaulted Gordon on a deadly trajectory landing him squarely on his neck, severing his spine. He was 14-years old. That’s when the miracles began.
Strange As It Seems: The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler, the journey of former nobody who defied odds and biases racked up against him to frolic in Hollywood, is vividly retold by his nephew, writer-journalist Chip Jacobs. More than just a biography, Jacobs’ portrait evokes an early, Day of the Locust, Hollywood where art and fortunes were made by a colorful set of foreigners, weirdos, obsessives, and freaks. During the 1950s and 1960s, Gordon Zahler became a kingpin in this milieu, as his music/sound effects post-production house scored films for low budget sci-fi films, genre movies like Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor, Popeye and Bozo the Clown cartoons, and hundreds of other projects. Gordon, best known for his clever soundtrack on Ed Wood Jr.’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space, was always a better story than the scripts he accentuated.
After Gordon’s freak accident, the Zahler family plunged deeply into debt caring for their beloved wild-child numb below the shoulders and suddenly in need of round-the-clock care. His sister (Chip Jacobs’ mother, Muriel) was a young single woman in her 20s who found her dreams of college dashed. Gordon’s father, Lee, was a moderately successful and extremely prolific Hollywood composer but his paycheck never stretched as far as the medical bills. Gordon’s mother, Rose, recognized that the young quadriplegic would need to live a life beyond all expectations in order for the family to survive and thrive.
And Gordon did not let them down.
Using his father’s music catalog from the hundreds of films he scored, Gordon assembled a music library that he offered to early-TV and film producers desperate to score their work on the cheap. Propped up in a wheelchair, unable to dial a phone, eat on his own, or do much physically, he metamorphosed into a salesman using his outsized charm, wit, and self-confidence to impress his clients.
After cutting his teeth developing scores for a string of low budget sci-fi films featuring space vampires, miniaturized beings, man-eating hedges, and nuked Venutians – many overseen by the likes of Wood, Arthur C. Pierce and Roger Corman -- Gordon was determined to broaden his firm, the General Music Company, into a robust entertainment conglomerate. His relentless networking paid off. Soon, he was furnishing music scores and special effects for big budget films, primetime network TV shows and more. Eventually wealthy, with a house off the Sunset Strip, a devoted blond trophy wife and raucous, star-filled parties, Gordon – 95-pound dynamo – built an existence from scratch that mere able-bodied mortals could only dream about. How many of them could say Lucille Ball loved them, or they were partners with Walter Lantz, Woody Woodpecker’s cartoonist and producer, or Ivan Tors, the brains behind Flipper, Gentle Ben and the nature-drama field still red-hot today?
Only the Hollywood recession and oil shocks of the early-70’s could slow Gordon’s magic. As Tinseltown dried up, Gordon looked abroad for his blockbuster, seeing limitless opportunities in bringing television to South Africa, the last industrial nation not to have it. Bored confining himself to one area, he tried developing futuristic concepts, from audible books to talking gas-station pumps. Unfortunately, the gears moved slowly and as his ticking time bomb of a body ran out of miracles. In the end, someone not expected to live two weeks with his injury lived an event-filled thirty-five years. But he lived them on his own terms. Eager never to be defined by his disability, or be a poster boy for it, Gordon refused to allow a little condition like quadriplegic prevent him from continuing high jinx. So, he kept a powerboat for boozy excursions, traveled from Beirut to Thailand, was thrown out of moving cars, nearly died after being blessed by the pope and had a Forest Gumpian-knack for being in dangerous places, including revolutionary Cuba and leopard-prowled wildlands, at the wrong time. Mostly, he refused to be cheated from sucking the marrow from his limited time on earth.
As a boy, Jacobs was not overly fond of a voluble relation with a spidery physique and witchy arms. As an adult hungry to understand his family’s past, Jacobs’ trepidation gave way to awe and curiosity. Strange As It Seems is the culmination of one man’s quest to live a life that was almost denied him, and another’s to bring that untold legend out of history’s shadows.
Chip Jacobs is the author of five other books: The People’s Republic of Chemicals; Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles (both with William J. Kelly); The Vicodin Thieves: Biopysing L.A.’s Grifters, Gloryhounds and Goliaths; The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman; and the privately issued Black Wednesday Boys. Jacobs’ reporting has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg View, the Daily News of Los Angeles, LA Weekly, among other outlets. Jacobs, the recipient of numerous writing commendations, lives in Southern California. Visit chipjacobs.com to learn more.
Strange As It Seems: The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler