For Don

April 22, 2010

        28 years ago, while I was growing up in England, I replied to an ad in the back pages of Starlog magazine and struck up a friendship with two folks in Tucson, Arizona, Judy Hubbard and Don Archer, founders of the Steven Spielberg Film Society. This was basically a fanzine, which consisted of a
quarterly newsletter devoted to the man who, at the time, had just released a handful of films that had a huge impact on my life: the mighty Jaws, the cosmic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark and the transcendent E.T. -- I even loved 1941!

            Judy and Don and I struck up a correspondence via old-fashioned ink on paper letters, with the occasional audiocassette and even vinyl album flying back and forth across the five thousand miles that separated us. A decade or two before email or blogging, I’d pour out my heart, my hopes, my dreams and frustrations about growing up in England, making movies on Super 8 and 16mm, trying and failing to get into film school and my first adventures in the film industry in London. They introduced me to interesting movies and so much music – orchestral, jazz, fusion, some very obscure movie soundtracks by our mutual favorite John Towner Williams -- my imagination soared.

            When I finally decided to uproot and try to carve out a film career in Los Angeles, Judy and Don were my first port of call, after I visited relatives in Toronto
December 1988. I did not know at the time if I’d stay in Arizona for long, as Judy and Don and I had never met before in person, but they ended up making me their guest for a couple of months as I acclimatized to American culture and finished off a screenplay that I’d been working on for six months.  We hit it off, big time, and spent many nights watching movies, drinking wine, eating Judy’s homemade pizza and talking about life, science, philosophy and music into the wee hours. Don sold me his big old three-quarter-ton 1972 Ford Econoline van and I ended up driving that
into LA, with no power steering.
            We stayed in touch. I’d often go back to visit, recharging my batteries. Visiting Judy and Don was always a reminder of where I came from, my early ambition and crazy rants. Their magazine was the first publication I ever wrote for in public, not including school or my homemade childhood novels. When I made the break
from working in special effects, turning my career into writing full-time, I sent the folks at Cinefex some of the film reviews I’d written for Judy and Don – at least, a couple of less opinionated ones!

            The reason I am writing all this now is, for the last few years, Judy’s husband Don has been suffering from ill health, with respiratory problems. He bounced back for a while, but he was hospitalized last November and had to return to the hospital about 55 days ago. I haven’t had a chance to say my goodbyes, but tomorrow morning I am going to have to be content with my memories of knowing my old friend, because Judy and Don have made a very tough decision. As of 10 a.m., April 23, the hospital is going to remove the ventilator that has been keeping Don alive and nature will take its course.

            I’m writing this the night before, listening to an old jazzy John Williams
score, The Poseidon Adventure, which is a movie I’ve watched a few times with Judy and Don. I’ll always be grateful to Don for all the music he shared with me, turning me onto Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Pat Martino, Béla Bártok, Claude Debussy and more. He was a music teacher by trade, a great jazz bass player who cut his teeth on early rock and roll before his time in the U.S. Navy. Don and I shared a common love of science fiction -- The Day The Earth Stood Still, Ray Bradbury, The Outer Limits.  And the cinema of the ‘fab frog,’ François Truffaut. 
One of Don’s big passions was astronomy, he and Judy were charter members of Carl Sagan’s Planetary Society, which I’ve been a member of for 13 years. We had our differences, but there was so much more that we had in common. I’ll miss him.
            I do still hope to put into action one last plan that Don and I were hatching, back in January, when I asked his help in a new creative project that I’m planning. I won’t go into detail here, as this is getting way longer than I had planned to write,
but I will just say I am going to have new motivation now to make my next short film, which combines a lot of elements Don would have loved – jazz music, the cosmos and a Bradbury twist.

            While I am not a religious person, I do believe in a life spirit and Don was full of that! It’s what Carl Sagan used to refer to as ‘star stuff’ – the raw matter that we are all made of, which makes up the big picture. I am hoping somehow Don will pick up the energy that I’ll be sending out to him. I’ll end this now as Debussy’s La Mer is crashing about my ears in a very appropriate fashion, and I’ll leave you with this link to a couple of Don’s jazz recordings, and our customary toast, taken from Robert Shaw’s character, Quint, in the movie Jaws....

To my friend, Don Archer: “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women!”

Don suggested charitable donations be made in his name to The Astronomical League,

My tribute, now playing on YouTube.                                  Some of my old SSFS reviews.





issue #1.

My old ‘72 Ford, bought from Don,

and its





photo by



Williams played Tucson,



We had front row seats.

Judy and Don’s home in Tucson, where I landed in the USA.

Don and Judy with my 25th birthday cake. Note the “Board Game” chess pieces.

Pima Air Museum, Arizona.

Finishing my first screenplay, which I wrote in Judy and Don’s back yard.