Trivia question: What was Nicholas Meyer's first movie?
"The first one he wrote?" you might ask. "'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,' based on his bestselling Sherlock Holmes novel."
"The first one he directed? It must be 'Time After Time.''"
"It can't be 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,' that was waaay later."
Nope. It's not even "Invasion of the Bee Girls."
The correct answer is "Around the World in 80 Days," which Meyer wrote and directed with his father, Bernard Meyer, when he was a teenager in the late 1950s — a movie that not only taught the younger Meyer many of the tricks of the trade, but brought father and son together during a very difficult time in the Meyer household.
In 1956, for his 11th birthday, Nicholas Meyer was taken to see Mike Todd's lavish production of "Around the World in 80 Days."
It was, he says, "a religious experience. I was like Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus, struck blind by a vision." And in the program for the movie — for this was a roadshow presentation of the blockbuster — was an article that said, "'You too can make a motion picture; no previous experience necessary. All you need is 13,000 people and six different countries, and a budget of what was then between four- and six-million dollars, and you can make a movie.' But I was 11 and I've never had a taste for irony, so I said to my father, I want to make a movie of my own. And of course, not being the most original mind around, the movie I wanted to make was the movie I had just seen."
And so, over the course of the next several years, Nick and Bernard wrote, shot, edited, directed, produced and distributed their 50-minute version of Mike Todd's classic, with Meyer as Phileas Fogg and his best friend Ronald Roose (who became Meyer's editor) as Passepartout, and Bernard doing the Jules Verne voiceover.
Here, for the first time, are excerpts from the Bernard and Nicholas Meyer production of "Around the World in 80 Days:"
The two made the movie whenever they could carve out time, shooting footage even on family vacations in London and at a Wild West park in New Jersey. They showed it to friends and family, and even rented it out through an ad in a magazine. Meyer says kids loved it for one reason, and adults loved it for an entirely different reason.
But there's much more to the story. Not only was young Nick doing badly in school — to his father's confusion and concern (Nick says it was ADD) - but Elly, Bernard's wife and Nick's mother, contracted and then succumbed to ovarian cancer.
So things went from bad to worse ... except when they were making the movie, when they observed a tacit truce. It turned out to be a lifesaving oasis of sanity and collaboration, and it's a great story for Father's Day.
Later, did they ever talk about the truce? "We sort of got past the point of feuding and arguing," Meyer says. "My coming of age and making something of myself went a long way to resolving things, and when people are dying, there's only one thing that we want to know about each other, which is, 'Do you love me. Yes. I love you.' And then all the other stuff drops by the wayside."
For much more of my interview with Nicholas Meyer, listen to the audio.
A big tip of the hat to the podcast I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, hosted by Scott Monty and Burt Wolder, to whom Meyer revealed the existence of his "Around the World in 80 Days" in a long interview about Meyer's Sherlockian interests. And thanks to Nick for retrieving the DVD from his garage, letting me dub it, and sharing it with his fans at KPCC.