Academy Award Winner John Carpenter, the King of “Halloween,” Returns to South Pasadena in 2013
by Steve Fjeldsted, Library Director
Mayor Richard D. Schneider M.D. and John Carpenter at the South Pasadena City Council Meeting on October 16, 2013
While still a USC film student, John Carpenter won an Academy Award in 1970 for Best Live Action Short for “The Resurrection of Broncho Billy.” Carpenter served as film editor, co-writer, and composer of the music. The film was expected to only show for a week at a theater in Westwood so it could attain eligibility for Oscar consideration, but it was held over for two years and launched Carpenter’s legendary film career as a director, producer, screenwriter, editor, and composer. Carpenter continued to hone his skills and techniques for “Dark Star” (1974) and “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976) for which he did the writing, directing and producing. He also composed the score for the latter. By this time, he was already becoming well known for getting the most out of small film budgets, due in large part to his multi-tasking skills.
Carpenter next created his signature work, the original “Halloween” (1978). He directed, co-wrote, and composed the score, and it was almost entirely shot in South Pasadena (known as Haddonfield in the film) for a mere $320,000. By now, it has grossed over $70 million at the box office worldwide, an amount that would be in the hundreds of millions in today’s dollars. The 1978 “Halloween” has also been followed by no less than ten different sequels and remakes. The latest, “Halloween” (2018), featuring established star Jamie Lee Curtis, has already grossed over $172 million worldwide. The legendary 1978 chiller starred Curtis, P.J. Soles, and Nancy Loomis as teenage girls menaced by Michael Myers, an escaped psychopathic killer who has returned home on Halloween for another reign of terror. Their only hope for survival, Dr. Sam Loomis, is played by Pleasance, who’s hot on Michael’s trail.
The original 1978 “Halloween” starred renowned actor Donald Pleasance and introduced Jamie Lee Curtis in her first starring role as Laurie Strode who resided at 1115 Oxley Street, across the street from the South Pasadena Public Library. Moustapha Akkad, the producer of the original “Halloween” is memorialized with a donated park bench on the southeast corner of Library Park. Akkad and his daughter Rima were killed by a suicide bomber in Jordan in 2005. The original “Halloween” is easily one of the most successful independent films ever made. It’s also the starting point for a storied film franchise with one of the most dedicated fan bases in American motion picture history. Ironically, unlike its many imitators, the 1978 “Halloween” contains little violence and gore. The film made use of “Nichol’s Hardware Store at 966 Mission Street, The Myers House or Century House,”, now at 1000 Mission Street, and many other locales around town. The cult favorite also used many “real life” South Pasadena trick-or-treaters in various scenes to help keep costs down.
John Carpenter and the soon-to-be-famous Jamie Lee Curtis on the steps of the "Strode House" across from the Library in March 1978 - photo courtesy of Kim Gottlieb Walker from her book 'On Set with John Carpenter: The Photographs of Kim Gottlieb-Walker' available for checkout from the Library.
Malek Akkad, owner of the Halloween Franchise has said, "Kim's work possesses the rare quality that far exceeds the expectations of a typical film unit still photographer. She captures a moment in time that lets the viewer become a part of the collaboration, camaraderie, and fun that is inherent on the film sets on which she has worked. Her pictures are a fascinating glimpse at the other side of the action, and tell a deeper story for fans of these great films to appreciate."
John Carpenter also made use of numerous other filming locations around South Pasadena for his subsequent films. The major film locations in South Pasadena have since become tourist attractions, drawing obsessed fans on pilgrimages from around the world to South Pasadena where they purchase meals, snacks, and other goods from local businesses. Many of them have boasted that they have seen the original “Halloween” 30, 40, or even 100 times. “Halloween” (1978) has also preserved a series of 70s “snapshots” of South Pasadena and made them visible to millions of filmgoers around the world. This repeated exposure has greatly advanced South Pasadena’s place as an in-demand destination for the shooting of motion pictures, television shows, and commercials.
Actor Donald Pleasance and Debra Hill, co-writer and producer of "Halloween" in 1978 at 966 Mission Street on the site that is now Radhika Modern Indian. Photo courtesy of Kim Gottlieb Walker from her book 'On Set with John Carpenter: The Photographs of Kim Gottlieb-Walker"
Carpenter went on to make many other successful major motion pictures after his relatively humble start, including “Elvis” (1979), “The Fog” (1980), “Starman” (1984), “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986) and “They Live” (1988) and he’s been widely recognized as a cinematic trailblazer. In 2007, “Halloween” was reimagined and Director Rob Zombie chose many scenes to be filmed in South Pas, including inside the Library Community Room on a set constructed especially for the project. The production company made a generous donation to the Friends of the Library and Zombie expressed interest in MCing a screening of the original “Halloween” as a fundraiser at the Rialto Theatre to help the Library. Many permissions were in place until the secretary of Malek Akkad, Moustapha’s son, called back to say that they had reviewed the contract again and the original “Halloween” couldn’t be shown in any theatre the same year of Zombie’s version. In 2010, the British Broadcasting Company interviewed John Carpenter in the Library for its documentary series, “The History of Horror Films.” Carpenter’s Comments appeared in all three installments and the BBC made a substantial donation to the Friends of the Library.
Paul Swearingen, then a longtime resident of South Pasadena, helped to start a 25th Anniversary “Halloween” Convention in 2003 in Pasadena that was attended by thousands of fans from as far away as Japan and Germany. Along with Anthony Masi, his co-chairman and Sandman Conventions, they put on the three-day event. Paul also served as a tour guide on a walk to see the film locations around “Haddonfield.”
The Halloween House, AKA The Century House on Glendon Way in 1978. Photo courtesy of Paul Swearingen
On, October 13, 2013, the South Pasadena City Council declared October 31, 2013 as “John Carpenter Night” in South Pasadena and Mayor Richard D. Schneider. MD congratulated Carpenter for the 35th Anniversary of his blockbuster, commended him for his impressive career, and thanked him for his significant and lasting contributions to the South Pas economy and culture. 18 days later, on Halloween evening, the Library and the Friends presented a fundraising screening of the original “Halloween” in the Library Community room that was attended by Councilmember Philip Putnam, City Clerk Sally Kilby, a Michael Myers look-alike, and more than 100 others. It was a dual fundraiser for the Friends and the John Carpenter Foundation for Homeless Teens.
Panel Discussion at the 2003 Halloween Convention with (l tor) Paul Swearingen, and actors Jeffrey Landman, Sasha Jensen, Kathleen Kinmont, and Danielle Harris - photo by Robert Kerr
From October 12-14, 2018, the ‘H40: 40 Years of Terror’ convention was presented in Pasadena as it has been every five years since 2003. Thousands of fans from around the globe again congregated to celebrate the untameable success of the Halloween franchise. On October 20. 2018, a brand new sequel, “Halloween,” with Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode confronting Michael Myers for one last time, was released to theatres breaking box office records and pulling in $77 million in its very first week. Currently, SaraRose Orlandini, the proprietor of the Sugarmynt Gallery on Meridian Avenue next to “The Century House” that served as Michael Myers home in the original film, greets a steady stream of fans each day to see her a “Halloween” exhibit.
If anything, the legendary status of Carpenter’s “Halloween” continues to grow.