Strange As It Seems Paperback Cover

Strange As It Seems: The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler

Signed by the author

A Vireo Book
Paperback | 06/12/2016
ISBN: 9781942600244
Also available in ebook formats

$15.95

Jacobs...is an exceptional storyteller, and his lively look at the extraordinary career of Gordon Zahler...is a peculiar page-turner. Zahler, the author's uncle, achieved success on the margins of show business despite a spinal injury...Jacobs...craft(s) an imaginative biography about this unusual figure, who carved out a distinct place in post-WWII Hollywood by repurposing the music of his father, Lee Zahler, a prolific film composer. Along the way, readers meet a colorful cast of characters, including animator Walter Lantz, actor Burt Lancaster, and fringe film directors Ed Wood Jr. and Samuel Fuller. Zahler's life was filled with difficulties, but Jacobs refuses to frame his cantankerous uncle as a tragic figure and cleverly uses his story to expound on the larger history of his family. This fast-paced account of a life lived to its fullest is a triumphant tribute...

The life of Gordon Zahler was simply so miraculous that it might as well have been science fiction. Born into an entertainment family in suburban Los Angeles in the mid-1920s, Zahler was a lovable prankster and class clown, exasperating his parents with his endless teenage feats of derring-do. But Gordon Zahler's promising career as a public miscreant went pear-shaped one day in 1940 when he and his buddies where fooling around in their high school gym with a spring board. An unsteady jump no the board vaulted Gordon on a deadly trajectory landing him squarely on his neck, severing his spine. He was 14-years old. That's when the miracles began.

Strange As It Seems: The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler, the journey of a former nobody who defied the odds and biases racked upagainst him to frolic in Hollywood, is vividly retold by his nephew, writer Chip Jacobs. More than just a biography, Jacobs' portrait evokes an early, Day of the Locust Hollywood where art and fortunes were made by a colorful set of foreigners, weirdos, obsessives, and freaks. During the 1950s and 1960s, Gordon became a kingpin in this milieu, as his music/sound effects post-production house scored films for low budget sci-fi films, genre movies like Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor, Popeye and Bozo the Clown cartoons, as well as hundreds of other projects. Gordon, best known for his clever soundtrack on Ed Wood Jr.'s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space, was always a better story than the scripts he accentuated.

Eventually wealthy, with a house off the Sunset Strip, a devoted blond trophy wife and raucous, star-filled parties, Gordon – 95-pound dynamo – built an existence from scratch that mere able-bodied mortals could only dream about. How many of them could say Lucille Ball adored them, or they were partners with Walter Lantz, Woody Woodpecker's cartoonist and producer, or Ivan Tors, the brains behind Flipper, Gentle Ben and the nature-drama field still red-hot today? Bored confining himself to one area, Gordon tried developing futuristic concepts, from audible books to talking gas-station pumps. He kept a powerboat for boozy excursions, traveled from Beirut toThailand, was thrown out of moving cars, nearly died after being blessed by the pope and had a Forest Gumpian-knack for being in dangerous places at the wrong time.

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About the Author

Chip Jacobs is a Los Angeles-area author and journalist. Any questions so far? Beautiful.

His most recent book is Strange As It Seems: the Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler, the updated biography of a wondrous, little dreamer who existed joyfully, from Hollywood studios to globetrotting destinations, in a ticking time-bomb of a body. Publishers Weekly, in its review, called Jacobs an “exceptional storyteller” and said the “extraordinary life” being told was a “peculiar page-turner” rendered with an “imaginative” bent. It was an Indies Book of the Yer finalsit. His other books include the environmental social histories The People’s Republic of Chemicals and the bestselling Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles (both with William J. Kelly); the Fargo-esque true crime tale The Ascension of Jerry: Murder; the articles collection The Vicodin Thieves and; the privately issued biography Black Wednesday Boys. Jacobs’ profile of California political figure Richard Alatorre appears in two Greenwood Publication collections, and a long-form true crime story — about an idealist lawyer and a depraved cult — is featured in the bestselling anthology Los Angeles in the 1970s: Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine.. Jacobs’ books have been honored by the Independent Publishers’ Book Awards (IPPY), the Indies Book of the Year contest, Foreword and Booklist magazines (for starred reviews and top books in genre), The Green Prize for Sustainable Literature, the Southern California Book Festival, the Hollywood Book Festival, the Shanghai Book Awards, and as a Chinese “Most Influential Book” and “Outstanding Popular Science” work, among other recognition. He is currently writing a historical novel. If you enjoy his prose, please consider reviewing them at his official Amazon Author Page, at Goodreads and recommending them to friends.

On the journalism side, Jacobs’ work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, the Daily News of Los Angeles, L.A. Weekly, The New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg View, the Pasadena Weekly, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, newgeography.com and other publications. His specialities are investigative, environmental and feature writing, and his stories have had their effect. They’ve prompted investigations by the California Attorney General and other agencies, triggered Congressional action on environmental fraud, contributed to the prosecution of a Los Angeles Councilman, exposed graft at the region’s transit and redevelopment authorities, inspired laws relating to water pollution and state-owned housing, and re-opened the unsolved murder case of a former mayor. He’s also explored the Tommy’s Burgers empire, defense contracting abuses, neighborhood dumpsters, drug thefts at real-estate open houses, crusading grandmothers, and a dorky mogul’s revenge. For his efforts, he’s been honored by the Los Angeles Press Club, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and The Los Angeles Times.

Jacobs grew up in northeast Pasadena. In 1985, he graduated from the University of Southern California with BAs in journalism and international relations. In 1988, he earned his MA in international relations, emphasizing national security affairs, from The American University in Washington, D.C.. Jacobs broke into journalism in 1990 at The Los Angeles Business Journal. His passions include Trojan football, life as a Beatles/Led Zeppelin/Squeeze-maniac, electric guitar, forgotten literature, running and super-sugary breakfast cereals. He lives in Southern California with his wife, a USC public relations professor, and their two children.


Connect with Chip Jacobs: 

“Jacobs … is an exceptional storyteller, and his lively look at the extraordinary career of Gordon Zahler…is a peculiar page-turner. Zahler, the author’s uncle, achieved success on the margins of show business despite a spinal injury…Jacobs…craft(s) an imaginative biography about this unusual figure, who carved out a distinct place in post-WWII Hollywood by repurposing the music of his father, Lee Zahler, a prolific film composer. Along the way, readers meet a colorful cast of characters, including animator Walter Lantz, actor Burt Lancaster, and fringe film directors Ed Wood Jr. and Samuel Fuller. Zahler’s life was filled with difficulties, but Jacobs refuses to frame his cantankerous uncle as a tragic figure and cleverly uses his story to expound on the larger history of his family. This fast-paced account of a life lived to its fullest is a triumphant tribute…” —Publishers Weekly

“Everyone loves an underdog–and Gordon Zahler…Hollywood Zelig, and eventual music supervisor of Plan 9 from Outer Space, would seem to be the perfect Boy Alger. Zahler…transmut(ed) the strange horror of physical incapacity into nimble, devilish celluloid miracles… Zahler’s life was a carnival of mettle, the merging of a Muzak sensibility and an indefatigable, preposterous will to live. In B-movie screenings, as in heaven, the man will endure, unapologetic, undead.” —Film Comment

“Never a book has taken you from laughing to crying within the same page. The book unites two talents: the one of Mr. Jacobs and one of Mr Zahler. And it’s not a coincidence that both are related … The style of Mr Jacobs is, as always, very eloquent, passionate and yet entertaining … sweating of intelligence. For this amazing life, you’ll have an amazing book. Read it, you won’t be disappointed.” —The Culture News

“If you are determined to title your book Strange As It Seems, you damn well better deliver. Chip Jacobs does that and more in a loving, funny and well-written biography of his late uncle, Hollywood musical legend Gordon Zahler.” —Bob Andelman @ Mr. Media

“Strange as It Seems…not only details all of facets of Gordon’s improbable career, but his private life as well, including marriage to Judy, who comes across as a chain-smoking saint in the narrative, his relationship with various friends, cronies, and underpaid assistants, and his ability to live a life that some of us with all our workable limbs can’t match. A terrific read and one of the best (hopefully movie-inspiring) books of the year. Highly recommended.” —In the Balcony

“Here is a remarkable tale of Hollywood history that sheds light on the man who provided the music for several TV cartoon series of the 1960s – not to mention the infamous Ed Wood feature Plan 9 From Outer Space…Author Chip Jacobs was Gordon Zahler’s nephew and he throughly traces his uncle’s incredible career—which included providing music to numerous animated series including the King Features TV Popeye’s, Filmation’s Superman and Larry Harman’s Bozo (to name but a few)…It’s a fascinating read.” —Cartoon Research

Silver Medal, Pacific Rim Book Festival

Author: Tyson Cornell


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