Written by ALLISON MONTROY Photo by RICHARD GILLARD
Not many people would call Godzilla much of a friend. But to Peter H. Brothers, Ishiro Honda’s monster from the deep is practically family.
The superfan remembers when his grandmother turned on “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” for the first time in 1960. “I was completely transfixed by this picture.” He was 7, growing up in the golden age of monster movies, in a time when TV guides were entertainment bibles and every home sported a black-and-white screen.
“I was just completely amazed,” Peter recalls. “I wish I had footage of myself as a kid watching it.”
The now-retired data entry specialist published his latest book, “Atomic Dreams and the Nuclear Nightmare: The Making of Godzilla (1954)” as the monster celebrates its 60th anniversary in the U.S. Peter wrote the book following his 2009 Ishiro Honda biography.
“I waited for 30 years for someone to write a book about Honda, and finally just did it myself,” he says.
His obsession with and great respect for the film stemmed from the hunch, even as a young child, that there was a darker reality bubbling beneath the surface of Godzilla’s rampage through Tokyo. And he was right. The young fan soon learned that Japan’s gargantuan radioactive lizard was a metaphor for the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ensuing U.S. nuclear weapons tests.
The opening scenes of “Godzilla” recall the tragedy of The Lucky Dragon, a Japanese fishing vessel that was caught in the crossfire of a thermonuclear bomb test conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in 1954. Because of a grave miscalculation, the blasts yielded 15 megatons (1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs nine years prior). All 23 crew members aboard the vessel suffered terrible radiation poisoning and, in the chaos, some of the radioactive tuna were brought to land and sold in Japanese markets.
The horrific events incited a nationwide anti-nuclear movement and inspired Honda to make a monster more destructive and catastrophic than any before. The 1954 Gojira (a mashup of the Japanese words for gorilla and whale) was the first movie monster to destroy an entire city. Scenes of patients covered in radiation burns and panicked residents fleeing city streets are eerily reminiscent of the 1945 atomic attacks.
By the time Godzilla invaded Peter’s TV set in 1960, Hollywood had Americanized the film, changing the title to “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” The Hollywood version added Raymond Burr as an American reporter and cut out close to 40 minutes of the original film. To the American masses, the 1956 “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” was just another monster movie.
It was 20 years later, in the early ’70s, that Peter stumbled onto his first piece of “Godzilla” memorabilia: a green and red poster from the original film. He had been “babbling Godzilla” to a friend at Pierce College who recommended he visit a North Hollywood movie memorabilia shop: Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee. Peter struck gold.
He bought a three-sheet poster for $10 and an 11-by-14-inch lobby card for $3.50. “I thought at the time I was being overcharged.” Today, a three-sheet is worth several thousand dollars.
Peter’s current collection includes an autographed photo of Raymond Burr, Godzilla models and the original movie posters.
The monster movie guru, who is also a poet, actor, playwright and author of five books, often gives lectures about the iconic films. He has spoken at Monsterpalooza, Comic-Con and on a number of local panels.
One could say he’s a lifelong fan—the 62-year-old sports a ‘Gojira’ license plate—but his wife doesn’t quite share in his affinity for the monster.
“We were still dating (when) the picture came out on VHS in the ’80s . . . I told her, ‘come over on Friday, we’re going to watch this great film.’ About the time Tokyo was on fire (in the movie), I look over and she’s asleep. It’s pretty much been that way ever since.” Still, she often helps him at lectures and good-naturedly welcomed his expansive Godzilla collection into the Agoura Hills home they share with their daughter.
Prior to the VHS release, Peter saw the film every time it was broadcast—about three times a year for 30 years. To date, he has seen “Godzilla” (combined 1954 and 1956 versions) at least 500 times.
“We see these films as kids and we hang on to them. They keep us young, and remind us of times when we had no worries. I find as I get older I’m more and more moved by songs and films of my past.”
That explains why Peter focuses his collection on the original Godzilla movie. He enjoys Honda’s other films and the Godzilla sequels (“King Kong vs. Godzilla,” “Mothra” and dozens of others, only two of which were made in Hollywood) but to Peter, the original king of monsters isn’t just a movie icon; he’s an old friend.
Peter H. Brothers will be speaking about his latest Godzilla book at the Agoura Hills Library at 6 p.m. on Mon., April 18.