Revisiting our childhood: Interview with Ike Eisenmann from Escape to Witch Mountain!
Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
I have to start by saying that this is quite possibly the most excited I’ve ever been for one of my interviews. Usually, when I conduct one, I ask people what their favorite childhood movie was, and I think the answer I’ve received most frequently is Escape to Witch Mountain, which was among my childhood faves as well.
So, the last time it came up in an interview, one of my friends, Jan Eldredge, the author of Evangeline of the Bayou, which is a great book by the way, so go pick it up, but anyway, she reached out to me and said that she happened to be friends with Ike Eisenmann, who played Tony in that movie.
Well, after an intense moment of jealousy, I asked Jan if Ike might be up for an interview for Mixed-Up Files. Within twenty minutes, Jan came back and told me that Ike would be happy to. So, we can all thank Jan and Ike for this great escape and chance to revisit one of our favorite childhood films!
Without further ado, come join me and welcoming Ike Eisenmann to Mixed-Up Files!
JR: Hi, Ike, and thanks for joining us today! I hope you’re staying safe during this time!
IE: It’s my pleasure, and yes, we are staying safe. My wife and I have only left the house once in the last two weeks and that was for groceries, which we won’t be doing again at this point. It’s tough, but we’re committed to doing our part to get us all through this devastating situation.
JR: I have to start by telling you that for our site, I conduct many interviews with children’s book authors, and always ask what their favorite childhood movie was, and one of the most frequent answers is Escape to Witch Mountain.
It was among my favorites as well, and probably a great influence for some of the things I like writing about. Before this interview, I went back and rewatched it, and it transported me right back to my childhood. I’m also pleased to say that my kids enjoyed it as well. What do you think it is about the film that so many people look back on it so fondly?
IE: Wow, I am so honored to hear that. Thank you. I really think it is a powerful coming of age story wrapped in the ultimate fantasy. I mean, what child doesn’t want to have special powers, especially over controlling adults? But what I hear the most is how it spoke to so many people who have struggled with their childhood issues. Childhood angst is difficult to deal with. I went through it myself. But finding out that this little movie made so many young people feel better, less like stranded aliens on a strange planet, that was an enlightening discovery for me. I often say that I never got to see the film for the first time. Being such an intimate part of its making, I was way too close to experience it objectively. It’s the fans that have taught me about its impact, and I couldn’t be prouder of that.
JR: As well you should. So, at what point did you realize that the film would prove to have an enduring appeal?
IE: I’d have to say it was when I started hearing those stories. At least ten years after it was released. What really cemented it for me was when Disney chose it as one of their first ten titles to be released on VHS back in the eighties. Considering the size of their library, that’s quite a vote of confidence. And it kept getting rereleased on DVD every few years. Then I started to realize it was here to stay.
JR: I’m pretty sure I was among the purchasers of that initial wave of VHS tapes. Had you read the book by Alexander Key prior to filming?
IE: Yes. As soon as I got the part, I read it. It is so dark and different from the Disney version. I really liked what the studio did with the story, but the book was a very interesting starting point.
JR: You had been in other things prior to Witch Mountain, but then you come into this Disney production, working alongside Eddie Albert, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence, Denver Pyle, and Reta Shaw. What was that like for a young kid to be acting with some huge names from the industry?
IE: By that time, I had worked with some pretty big names. Ken Curtis, Susan Oliver, Mike Conners, and David Carradine. All stars I had been watching on television for years. But working with them, I just fell into a professional role. They were workmates to me and treated me with the same respect I had for them. So, even though the Witch Mountain cast had a bigger set of stars, it didn’t faze me. It was fun. It has always impressed me how much they want to get the work done right and rarely act like stars.
JR: Okay, I loved the movie, but seriously, as a kid, I was so angry at Mrs. Grindley for handing over Tony and Tia to Donald Pleasence’s character, Lucas Deranian, a little too easily. What was up with that?
IE: That’s very funny. I couldn’t agree more. Next to our telekinetic abilities, that was the biggest suspension of disbelief for me, even at that age. I think Kim played it very well with her reactions to the whole thing. But it barely sells the point.
JR: What are some anecdotes about the making of the film?
IE: There are a lot of anecdotes. I have written a memoir about my career in Hollywood in the seventies, and I cover Witch Mountain extensively. But I have two that I’ll share here. We had an incident during the battle between the bully, Truck, played by Dermott Downs, and me at the beginning of the film. When my character levitates the bat in the air to block Truck’s punch, Dermott actually struck the bat with his fist. It was hanging in the air by two strands of fishing line, so when he hit it, it swung into my face smacking me across the cheek. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way, but in all the excitement, Dermott made pretty hard contact with the bat instead of stopping short. If you watch the shot in slow motion you can see me recoil from the shock. I had a black eye for a week, but thankfully makeup was able to hide it.
JR: That’s pretty funny, but ouch. What’s the other one?
IE: The mansion sequences in Carmel, California, were very interesting. The huge home was owned by George Stoll, a composer that did some of the music in the Wizard of Oz. He and his wife were quite eccentric, and their choice of pets accentuated that point. We were shooting a scene in the dining room when we started hearing a thudding sound coming through the stone walls. We had to break for lunch because the sound recordist could hear it over our dialog. It turned out to be their pet gorilla that occupied the floor below. He was throwing a tire around his room because he was hungry. They fed him and the noise finally stopped, but it was bizarre to say the least.
JR: If I had a nickel for every time someone mentioned an unruly pet gorilla during an interview . . .
IE: Okay, one more. There’s another Wizard of Oz connection with the production. My stand in, Jerry Maren, was one of the members of the Lollypop Guild at the beginning of the film. My friends amusingly say that I’m one degree of separation from almost everyone in Hollywood.
JR: That’s fantastic, and also, I now have the Lollipop Guild song running through my mind. You and Kim Richards who played your sister, Tia, came back for Return from Witch Mountain, where you also got to work with some heavy hitters in Bette Davis and Christopher Lee. What good stories can you share from that production?
I’m sorry to tease, but I’m saving my best Bette Davis story for my book. However, working with those mega stars was incredible. I count Anthony James as part of that group. The four of us worked so closely together that we became a little clique. Well, they did. I mostly stood by and eavesdropped on their conversations. All three of them were wickedly smart and joked constantly. Much of it was over my head but it was such an honor to be around them. Everyone was scared to death of Bette, and she took full advantage of that at times, snapping her fingers and making demands. They were not outrageous demands, she just liked to see people jump once in a while. And they did. But she and I got along very well. She imparted some sage wisdom on me that stuck and helped me define how I wanted to shape my own career. I had a great time with her.
JR: I can’t wait to read your memoir! Love hearing behind the scenes stories. You and Kim both had cameos in the 2009 remake, Race to Witch Mountain, starring Dwayne Johnson. How surreal was it to go back and see the filming of something that you’re so identified with, from a different vantage point?
IE: It was very surreal in several ways. First, I hadn’t been on camera in twenty-five years and I was incredibly nervous. But everyone made it so fun that I got over it quickly. Second, the entire cast and crew were all fans of the original film. When Kim and I arrived on set our first day we were inundated with people wanting to meet us and tell us how fondly they remembered the movie. Andy Fickman, the director, who was the biggest Witch Mountain geek of them all, told me they had to turn people down from working on the new film. A lot of people just wanted a chance to meet us. That doesn’t really happen in Hollywood. I was incredibly moved by the whole experience.
JR: That really is incredible, and I don’t blame any of them. There’s something about things from our childhoods which resonate so much more to us than anything else. If you come across the films now, do you still stop and watch?
IE: For years I did. It is always such a great trip down memory lane for me. But I had the videos on my screen while writing my book, and I watched each scene so many times that I probably hold the record for viewings. I think I will give it some time before I watch them again.
JR: I consider you Disney Royalty, do you still do promotional events for them?
IE: That’s quite a compliment. But no. I haven’t participated in any for the studio unless it was for a release of something. After the premiere of Race to Witch Mountain, Kim and I did a press junket promoting that film and a new DVD release of the original films; but that’s been the extent of it.
JR: I’m going to have to get on Disney to fix that! How often do you do events with Kim Richards?
IE: I’ve only done one event with her. The Chiller autograph convention in New Jersey in 2015. It was a huge show and we had a blast with the fans. Some very rare, dual-autographed Witch Mountain items came out of that show.
JR: I wish I could’ve been at that one! Somewhere, I had a picture with Kim Richards from a comic con, which I can’t find now. I aim to get one again, so Kim, if you’re reading this, I need a replacement pic! Hopefully, I’ll get to see you at an event sometime. How often do you do them, and how are the fans with you?
IE: I did a number of shows from 2015 to 2016 and the fans were a joy to meet. They are always so busy telling me how much they appreciate the films I have been in that I hardly get a chance to tell them what they mean to me. Because of my small but infamous part in Star Trek II – The Wrath of Kahn, I was invited to Star Trek’s big 50th anniversary show in Las Vegas in 2016. That was really fun. I have the best time with Star Trek fans. It’s incredible to have a connection to so many people, and if an autographed picture makes their day, I’m only too happy to comply.
JR: Since we’re a site dedicated to Children’s books, what is your favorite book from your childhood?
IE: I dove into Ray Bradbury at a young age. The Martian Chronicles gripped my imagination. The first story remains my favorite short story ever. At less than a page, Rocket Summer filled my head with images that he didn’t even describe. Even the title of the story tells a story.
JR: And with all of us who look back so fondly at your movies, is there any movie from your childhood that you look at in that same way?
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, hands down. My favorite last line in a movie. I still weep when I hear it.
JR: Great movie. Another of my faves. What are you working on now?
IE: I’m in the middle of the query process with my memoir, but completing that manuscript resulted in a new writing addiction. So, I’m working on a fairy tale to keep my head busy while playing the waiting game. But after reading through this site, I realized that my approach to my memoir is very much like a middle grade story. Most of it takes place between the ages of nine and thirteen. I didn’t want to write a typical reflective memoir that had my grownup maturity comment on my childhood experiences. I wanted to create the character of Ike as a child and show my unique world through his eyes, putting the reader right there with me through the pressures and joys of my busy young career. I hope I have achieved that. It was quite challenging, and I have great respect for any writer working in this category.
JR: That really does sound amazing. And when it comes out, we’d love to have you back to discuss that or anything you want to discuss! How can people follow you on social media?
JR: Ike, I can honestly say that this is one of the most fun times I’ve had doing an interview. I thank you again for joining us!
IE: Thank you for inviting me. This was great fun, and I appreciate your thoughtful questions
Well, Mixed-Up Filers, I hope you enjoyed that trip to our childhoods with Ike Eisenmann as much as I did.
Until next time . . .
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