From UFOs, to large hairy monsters, John Keel chased them all half way around the world.
An Interview by Timothy Green Beckley
Originally published in the UFO Review circa 1980s. Resurrected by Brent Raynes via Alternative Realities.
From the upper Mile, to the lower Ganges and the Roof of the World in Tibet, to remote country villages in West Virginia and Kentucky, John A. Keel traveled extensively in his unending search for the strange, the mysterious, the unexplainable. He has been in over 40 countries and has lived in Paris, Baghdad, Cairo, Calcutta, Barcelona, Hollywood, New Orleans and a thousand exotic places in between. For many years, he wrote a syndicated newspaper column which appeared in major dailies throughout the world and his countless magazine articles appeared in nearly every leading periodical. His monthly column “Modern Mysteries” appeared in SAGA magazine for ten years. He was editor and publisher of ANOMALY, a newsletter devoted to scientific mysteries, and served on the Board of Directors of the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained (S.I.T.U.), founded by Ivan T. Sanderson. He was also the editor of the Society’s journal, Pursuit.
In the 1950s, Mr. Keel worked for the Department of the Army as Chief of Continuity and Production for the American Forces Network (AFN) in Frankfurt, Germany, the world’s largest radio network. In 1952, he wrote and produced a radio program, Things in the Sky, about unidentified flying objects which was heard by millions throughout Europe and very favorably received. He also wrote and produced broadcasts from the original castle of Frankenstein in Germany, and from the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
An accomplished lexicographer, he had been science editor of Funk & Wagnalls’ encyclopedias and geography editor of the Funk & Wagnalls College Dictionary. It was Mr. Keel who inserted the first definition of the “abominable snowman” and “flying saucers” into the dictionary and thus into formal acceptance by the scholarly community.
Mr. Keel had also been active in television, serving as head writer on programs starring Merv Griffin, Robert G. Lewis, Gene Rayburn, and others. He was employed by Goodson & Todman Productions for a number of years and also was head writer for station WPIX in New York. Author of several screenplays, he wrote 200 slapstick comedies for Trans-Lux and had worked on numerous television situation comedies. His humorous novel, The Fickle Finger of Fate, published in 1966, sold 800,000 copies.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Keel became a special consultant to the Federal Government, carrying out assignments for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the Bureau of Radiology and the Air Force office of Technical Research.
A regular on many radio and television talk shows, Mr. Keel appeared with Johnny Carson, Jack Paar, Hugh Downs, David Letterman, Long John Nebel, Barry Farber and many others. He also lectured widely and received two honorary Ph.D.’s for his work in herpetology and archaeology. He is well-known in many different fields. For example, he once wrote a column for U.S. Camera magazine and was regarded as a leading expert in 8mm sound filming. Among magicians he was known as the inventor of many ingenious magic tricks and an outstanding commentator on the psychology of magic. In religious circles, he had been labeled “the world’s greatest theologian” and his books are widely quoted by religious writers and evangelists. In Europe, he has been the subject of much controversy and many books have been written about him, such as the ever popular book The Dark Gods by the British authors Anthony Roberts and Geoff Filbertson. The Interview:
Timothy Green Beckley: Tell us John. What happened to your beard?
John A. Keel: Ha! I see this is going to be one of those in-depth, highly personal interviews. I shaved off the beard many years ago…but a lot of pictures were taken of me in the 1960’s when I still had it. And those pictures are still appearing in print. So everyone assumes I’m bearded. I’m not. I’m old, fat and balding. People are always disappointed when they meet me. They expect Cary Grant…with a beard. And they get Ernest Borgnine.
TGB: Back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, you were one of the most prominent and most visible ufologists in the world. Then suddenly there was silence. You disappeared. There were rumors that the government had silenced you, or that the notorious Men in Black had gotten to you. What happened?
JAK: I’m afraid the explanation is very mundane. I felt my work with UFOs was finished. I moved on to other things. And, unfortunately, I had some major health problems which curtailed my activities somewhat. I’ve suffered from hypoglycemia…low blood sugar…all my life, and I had tuberculosis, even appendicitis. Want to hear about my operation?
TGB: Uhhh…maybe some other time, John. Tell us about how you first became interested in Fortean matters…the weird and the unusual.
JAK: I grew up on a farm outside Buffalo, N.Y. so I was surrounded by all kinds of animals from the beginning. Our neighbor on the next farm used to go out and catch rattlesnakes and sell them. I went with him and that was how I first became interested in reptiles…herpetology. I devoured books by Raymond Ditmars, the great snake authority, and so on.
When I was around ten years old, that would be 1940, people on a back road near our farm began seeing a very tall, hair covered creature. They thought it was a gorilla of some kind. It scared several people badly and the farmers all went out with shotguns to track it down. Of course, they never found it. But that was my introduction to Bigfoot. Nobody knew about Bigfoot then. Ivan Sanderson, the zoologist, wouldn’t publish his studies until ten or fifteen years later.
TGB: So you became a believer in the abominable snowman-type creature at an early age?
JAK: Please. Belief never entered into it. I knew some of the witnesses. I accepted their stories. I accepted the fact that a giant “gorilla” was on the loose. You know, I also saw my first UFO when I was very young. I was about seven. We were driving outside a little town called Canseraga, N.Y. one night when we saw a huge, brilliantly illuminated sphere on top of a nearby hill. My stepfather stopped the car and we watched it. At first, we thought it was a barn burning or something. Then it slowly took off, rose straight up a short distance, and shot out of sight. This thing was burned into my memory. I never forgot it. But many years later I asked my parents about it and they had absolutely no memory of the episode whatsoever.
TGB: That would be in 1937.
JAK: That’s right. 1937 was a strange year. There were floods and earthquakes in New York state. And some very weird meteorological phenomena. Years later, when I was sifting old newspapers for UFO reports I came across several. And even back then, back in 1937, the New York Times was explaining away the sightings. Something chased a railroad train across the Midwest and the Times said it was the planet Venus.
TGB: You’re saying it wasn’t?
JAK: I’ll tell you a secret. Venus doesn’t really exist. There never was a planet Venus. The astronomers made it up…just like they make up things like Black Holes. Did you ever really think about the Black Hole theory? Since a Black Hole can’t give off or reflect light, we will never know if they exist or not. So the theorists are perfectly safe. Their theory can never be proven or disproven. I’m afraid Charles Fort was right. Astronomy is 90% bullshit. Each new generation of astronomers throws out all the beloved theories of the previous generation. Fort suggested that all the stars are actually hanging from strings on a velvet backdrop. He was probably just as accurate as the guys who dreamed up the Black Holes. Or the ones who invented Venus so they would have a convenient explanation for UFOs that chase trains.
TGB: Do we trace a little note of cynicism here?
JAK: We Forteans are a cynical lot. The anti-UFO factions never quite understood us. We are ten times more skeptical than the so-called professional skeptics, but we are willing to examine the evidence. They aren’t.
For example, in my book STRANGE MUTANTS I tell the story of a man who was riding horseback in Ohio when a giant snake suddenly attacked him, bit him in the foot and crippled him. When I did an article on this case, the snake experts told me there was no such snake in Ohio…or anywhere else. But the man’s wife happened to see my article and she wrote to me in detail about what he had suffered since. He’s crippled to this day. And the symptoms she described and all, are unknown to herpetology! We don’t know what kind of snake it was. We’ll never know. But we have the evidence…the poor house and the man’s foot. If any snake expert wants to interview these people, he could learn a lot. But the experts in any subject are usually most reluctant to investigate anything firsthand.
TGB: Like the college professor who said the people in West Virginia were seeing a Sandhill Crane?
JAK: Exactly. Back in the 1960’s hundreds of people saw a huge winged, human-shaped creature. It chased cars. That college professor never went near West Virginia. I did. And I carried a picture of a Sandhill Crane with me. When I showed it to the witnesses they laughed. No way could they have mistaken an ordinary bird for a six-foot tall monster.
TGB: That was the famous Mothman?
JAK: Yes. Some newspapermen came up with that name for it. The Batman TV series was very popular at that time. But the Mothman episodes were a major breakthrough in my research. I outline it in STRANGE MUTANTS.
TGB: What kind of breakthrough?
JAK: I really can’t summarize it in an interview. You have to read the book.
TGB: Suppose I don’t want to shell out $9.95 for the book?
JAK: That’s tough, then. You’ll just have to spend the rest of your life wallowing in ignorance.
TGB: Actually, we have read the book. You cover a lot of subjects…ten-foot-long earthworms…
JAK: They’re found in Australia.
TGB: Vampire bats.
JAK: One of my favorite subjects. Did you know that bats can’t land? If one touches the ground it has a helluva time getting airborne again. That’s why they land upside down on tree limbs or in caves on rock formations. They hang upside down and when they want to depart they just let themselves drop. This gives them sufficient airspeed to start flying. The Air Force released some bats in a room strung with wires once…and they were able to fly in and out and around the wires with great ease in the dark. They use a kind of radar. That little experiment cost the American taxpayer some big bucks. I once met the Air Force officer who was in charge of it. He could talk about bats for hours. And he did! But my favorite military experiment was something the Navy did a few years back. They spent over $200,000 to find out why a frisbee flies. I think they had some cockamaney notion of attaching a grenade to a frisbee.
TGB: You seem well informed on government experiments of all kinds.
JAK: I was consulting at H.E.W. when they hired a company to find out why children fall off the tricycles. They spent $25,000 to rediscover the law of gravity!
TGB: Do you think the government spends any money on UFOs or Mothmen?
JAK: First of all, the government does not spend money. It throws money away! In the 1950’s, General Twining of the Air Force said publicly that the Air Force was then spending one million dollars a year on the UFO “problem.” But as near as I could find out, and remember I was investigating from inside the government, no one in the Air Force…or any other branch…knows anything about UFOs, cares anything about UFOs, and certainly spends no time investigating the subject. In the 1960’s, a civilian secretary was in charge of the UFO desk at the Pentagon. She was paid around $7,000 a year to cut out newspaper clippings. When IDA [Institutes of Defense Analysis] decided to hire some university to investigate UFOs, they were turned down by Columbia, M.I.T. and other big, prestigious universities because they weren’t offering enough money. Only $300,000. Finally, Colorado U. accepted the assignment and I predicted they would get the Air Force to double the grant before they were through. And they did. Everyone knows what happened to that Colorado UFO project. It was a total debacle. Once again the Defense Dept. engaged the U.S. taxpayer in sexual intercourse.
TGB: You mentioned IDA. What’s that?
JAK: Another boondoggle. They have their own building near the Pentagon. They’re funded by the National Security Agency. In the 1960’s, the UFO mess was turned over to them. They made most of the decisions, not the Air Force. The drones in IDA spend most of their time playing war games with computers.
TGB: Based on your experiences, does anybody in government do anything?
JAK: In Washington, the rush hour starts at 3 p.m. People arrive at their offices around 9 a.m., drink coffee until 11, then plan where they’re going for lunch. They return from lunch around 2:30 and then get ready for the 3 p.m. rush hour. The only people who really work are the peons…the lowest salaried employees. They come to work at about 8 a.m. and leave at 5. They’re not even allowed to make private phone calls. They work in jobs like payroll, or running other benefits and services for the other employees. If an outsider…a taxpayer…shows up asking for some service, they are thrown into total confusion. When I was at H.E.W. they had 105,000 people on the payroll, most of them doing nothing. They were trying to cut back then. Today they have 150,000 on the payroll, doing even less. Ronnie Reagan promised to cut back…so I suppose in a year or two there will be 200,000 doing nothing.
TGB: Washington, D.C., is certainly a long way from Tibet. Weren’t you the last American to enter Tibet before the Chinese invaded?
JAK: Yes. That was back in the 1950’s. Things are more relaxed in the 1980’s and some Americans have been allowed in, in recent years.
TGB: What was the Tibet like?
JAK: Bleak and cold. Sort of like my New York apartment. I was looking for the famous Abominable Snowman. I did see a tall, furry animal on the other side of a lake and the lamas with me said it was an ABSM. But it could have been a bear.
TGB: So you never caught up with the Abominable Snowman?
JAK: Or he never caught up with me. I’ve also chased Bigfoot here in USA. You know, they’ve been seen only a few miles outside of New York City, in New Jersey. In STRANGE MUTANTS I catalog quite a few sightings and list the characteristics they have in common…like the noises they make, the terrible odors they give off, their general behavior. They’re really an unpleasant lot.
TGB: I see you also have a chapter on something called “Bedroom Invaders.” What’s that?
JAK: That’s a puzzling form of psychic phenomena. People wake up in the middle of the night and find they are paralyzed…unable to move. They feel…even see…another presence in the room. Sometimes they are sexually assaulted by these entities. I’ve come across many instances of this in my investigations. In New England, it is known as “the old hag.” For some reason, many UFO witnesses, contactees in particular, suffer visitations of this sort after a UFO episode. It is one of the many factors that suggest there is a very close-tie in between UFO manifestations and psychic phenomena.
TGB: You were a pioneer in observing that tie-in. Now, today, people like Dr. Berthold Schwarz, the famous psychiatrist, Dr. Jacques Vallee and even Dr. J. Allen Hynek, seem to have jumped onto your bandwagon.
JAK: That’s right. When I first expressed my views in books like Operation Trojan Horse and Our Haunted Planet, I was met with quite a bit of opposition. Then investigators around the world began to use my methods and check out my material. Now all of the leaders in the field agree that psychic phenomena are closely linked with UFOs and that even some of our mysterious monsters are products of that psychic world. But for years, people like Hynek and Vallee fought my concepts.
TGB: So you’ve triumphed in the end. How does it feel?
JAK: It’s a hollow victory. We have just opened pandora’s box. Instead of solving the mystery, we’ve created many new ones.
TGB: How do the notorious Men in Black fit into all this? Do you think they really exist?
JAK: In the beginning, I thought the M.I.B. were just folklore…a ufological legend. Then I began encountering witnesses who had direct experiences with mystery men of all kinds. Men who couldn’t possibly have been connected with the government or Air Force…although they sometimes claimed to be. Others, such as Dr. Schwarz, uncovered M.I.B. cases independently. Obviously, there is more to this than anyone previously suspected. In STRANGE MUTANTS I give details on a number of baffling M.I.B. cases. It has always been my hope that one day we could actually corner one of these guys and get him to talk. Might torture him a little, like forcing him to listen to a Jim Moseley lecture or something.
TGB: That should make anyone talk!
JAK: Seriously, though…I’ve always considered the M.I.B. phenomenon to be one of the most important, least investigated and least understood aspects of this whole business. They are very real. They have a habit of turning up in the damnedest places at the damnedest times. They are definitely tied into the UFO mystery itself. But believers in extraterrestrial visitants have a hard time reconciling their beliefs with the presence of seemingly ordinary human beings in black suits who ride around in ordinary motor vehicles. Strangely enough, the professional skeptics have an even tougher time with the idea. Apparently, they can’t accept the notion of ordinary people in black Cadillacs either. So the M.I.B. are able to carry out their mysterious missions largely unnoticed and certainly unhindered. They’ve got the perfect cover. Disbelief!
TGB: It certainly looks that way. Tell us, where did you get the title STRANGE MUTANTS?
JAK: Well, I was thinking. Although UFOs and monsters have been seen throughout history, things really picked up after 1945…after the introduction of the atomic bomb. Few people realize that over 2,000 atom bombs have been set off in the earth’s atmosphere. The radioactive fallout has been horrendous, approaching the very dangerous level several times in recent years. Then there’s those miserable atomic power plants. They are a terrible danger, too. At hearings in Washington a few years ago, scientists and doctors attributed the deaths of 2,000 infants in the state of Michigan directly to the presence of the atomic power plants. They had overwhelming evidence. Yet the madness goes on.
John Fuller, an author well-known in ufology, wrote a book about a nuclear accident that took place in Michigan. It was called We Almost Lost Detroit. What he skimmed over was the fact that tall, hairy monsters were seen in the immediate vicinity of the Enrico Firmi Plant in Michigan just before it went blooey! Monsters have an uncanny habit of showing up around all these plants. It is quite possible, even quite probable, that many of the critters I have investigated and written about are, indeed, mutants…weird mutations of more ordinary animals produced by the radioactivity we are spreading over the world in our totally illogical, irresponsible fascination with genocide. In short, we have met the enemy and he is us.
Editors Note: I want to thank Tim Beckley, known widely as Mr. UFO, for granting me permission to use this great interview that he did with John Keel that appeared in his UFO Review, issue number 18, back in 1984. Mr. Beckley hardly needs an introduction. But, for convenience sake, I’ll use a fairly comprehensive biography from Amazon, where he is well-known for his many books:
Tim Beckley has had so many careers that even his own girlfriend doesn’t know what he does for a living…
Timothy Green Beckley has been described as the Hunter Thompson of UFOlogy by the editor of UFO magazine Nancy Birnes.
Since an early age his life has more or less revolved around the paranormal. At the age of three his life was saved by an invisible force. The house he was raised in was thought to be haunted. His grandfather saw a headless horseman.
Beckley also underwent out of body experiences starting at age six. And saw his first of three UFOs when he was but ten, and has had two more sightings since – including an attempt to communicate with one of these objects.
Tim grew up listening to the only all night talk show in the country that revolved around the strange and unexplained. Long John Nebel’s guests included the early UFO contactees who claimed to have visited other planets and built time machines in the desert. Tim was fascinated by everything that went bump in the night – or even in the daylight for that matter. Years later, Tim was to appear on Long John’s show numerous times and over the years has been a frequent guest on hundreds of programs which have come and gone just like ghosts in the night. He is a popular guest on Coast to Coast AM. Has appeared on William Shatners Weird Or What? And an episode of UFO Hunters regarding the dreaded Men In Black. He has his own podcast, Exploring the Bizarre and MR UFOs Secret Files, on YouTube.
Tim started his career as a writer early on – at age 14 he purchased a mimeograph machine and began to publish the Interplanetary News Service Report. Over the years he has written over 25 books on everything from rock music to the secret MJ12 papers. He has been a stringer for the national tabloids such as the Enquirer and editor of over 30 different magazines (most of which never lasted more than a couple of issues). His longest running effort was the newsstand publication UFO UNIVERSE which went for 11 years. Today he is the president of Inner Light/Global Communications and editor of the Conspiracy Journal and Bizarre Bazaar.
He is one of the few Americans ever to be invited to speak before closed door meetings on UFOs presided over by the late Earl of Clancarty at the House of Lords in England. He visited Loch Ness in Scotland while in the UK and went home with a belief that Nessie was somehow connected with dragons of mythology as well as strange discs engraved on cathedrals and ghostly phenomenon.
The Inner Light Publications and Global Communications’ catalog of books and video titles now number over 200, including the works of Tim R. Swartz, T. Lobsang Rampa, Commander X, Brad Steiger, John Keel, Tracy Twyman, Wendelle Stevens and a host of many other authors.
He probably knows more about the history of the UFO movement since the early 1950s than anyone today. Because of his fair and balanced approach he made friends with everyone regardless of whether or not he believed their stories. Tim has written over 30 books himself, and contributed to dozens more, including:
OUR ALIEN PLANET-THIS EERIE EARTH
SECRET PROPHECY OF FATIMA REVEALED
SUBTERRANEAN WORLDS INSIDE EARTH
DAVID BOWIE, UFOS, WITCHCRAFT, COCAINE AND PARANOIA
UFOS AMONG THE STARS (Celebrity encounters)
ROUND TRIP TO HELL IN A FLYING SAUCER
Tim is known among horror movie fans as Mr. Creepo. When asked his major cinema influences he mentions Nancy Reagan as having gotten him involved as a horror host. During the hay day of double features and Time Square grind houses he worked as a movie review critic as well as a publicist for several small film companies. His recent efforts include Skin Eating Jungle Vampires and Blood Sucking Vampire Freaks.
See all of Tim Beckley’s book via his author page on Amazon.