There can be no doubt at all that had it not been for a 1950s UFO investigator named Albert Bender, there would not have been the phenomenon of the Men in Black. Or, at least, the phenomenon would not have achieved the iconic status it has today. Bender was a curious character who lived in the attic of a large, old house in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was fascinated by the worlds of the paranormal, the supernatural, and the occult – both in reality and in the domain of fiction, too. In terms of the latter, we’re talking about horror films, sci-fi movies, and stories by the likes of Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft.
While some UFO researchers who have studied Bender’s claimed encounters with the MIB have suggested he told the story exactly as it happened, others are not so sure. Gray Barker’s 1956 book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, told much of the Bender-MIB story. Barker, initially, believed that Bender was speaking the truth. He even went on to publish Bender’s own book on the subject, Flying Saucers and the Three Men, which was published in 1962. Ultimately, however, Barker came to suspect that many of Bender’s experiences were born out of his very own subconscious and his fascination for horror, Gothic mysteries, and sci-fi, rather than out of reality.
This leads me onto the subject of this particular article: how those passions for horror-flicks and sci-fi films may have impacted on Bender and his MIB-themed experiences – or “trances,” as Barker once knowingly suggested.
One movie, in particular, that may have influenced Albert Bender’s subconscious, when it came to the development of the MIB motif, is the very appropriately titled 1949 movie, The Man in Black. A British production, it was the creation of Hammer Films, who went on to produce some of the most loved horror movies of the 1950s and 1960s, and which starred the likes of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Barbara Shelley.
The plot-line is not unlike that of the classic 1944 movie, Gaslight, which starred Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. That’s to say, The Man in Black focuses on attempts to drive the leading-lady insane, for financial gain. In the case of The Man in Black, the woman who is unfortunately targeted is Joan Clavering, played by actress Hazel Penwarden.
After her father, Henry Clavering, dies (or, as we later learn, actually doesn’t die), Joan is destined to inherit all of Henry’s wealth. That’s when Henry’s second wife, Bertha Clavering, along with her daughter Janice, quickly steps in to try and get Joan institutionalized, as a means to grab the family fortune.
The Man in Black was based upon a BBC radio series, Appointment with Fear, which ran from 1943 to 1955. In both the movie and the radio show, the Man in Black is the narrator of the tale and is played by actor Valentine Dyall. There are a couple of things that lead me to believe that Albert Bender may very well have seen The Man in Black.
Of course, this would require The Man in Black to have been shown in cinemas in Connecticut, where Bender lived at the time. Admittedly, I have not been able to prove that. But, there are some interesting parallels between Bender’s MIB-themed stories and the movie. The first thing, unsurprisingly, is the title: The Man in Black. The second issue revolves around the poster that was created to promote the movie. It shows a silhouette of a sinister-looking character wearing a wide-brimmed, black hat and a long, black cloak.
It should be noted that this imagery is identical to a piece of artwork that Bender himself created and which hung on the wall of his attic-based abode in the early 1950s. The setting of Bender’s painting is an old cemetery, filled with gravestones, a solitary crypt, trees, and a large moon. As for the MIB that appears in the painting, his hat is exactly the same as that in the poster, as is the cloak. And, it’s important to note that we don’t often hear of the MIB wearing cloaks. Yet, Bender’s artistic rendition of a MIB was cloaked – just like the one in The Man in Black.
It’s also important to note that the painting of a Man in Black that appears in the old, B&W photo of Bender which accompanies this article is intended purely for illustration. It’s obviously a different one to the cemetery-based painting referred to directly above.
Recall too that The Man in Black was made in 1949. And, it was released in the UK in January 1950. This time-frame was just before Bender’s MIB began to surface.
There’s another thing, too. At one point in the movie, Joan Clavering goes to the cinema and has a spooky experience while walking home, late at night. She hears strange footsteps, seemingly following her through shadowy woods. As we have seen, Bender was a big fan of the world of cinema, and he regularly visited his local theater to watch all the latest sci-fi and horror-movies. Not unlike Joan in the movie, Bender wrote in his Flying Saucers and the Three Men book of being followed by sinister characters after leaving the theater, and as he walked home, late on Saturday nights.
Personally, I don’t think that Albert Bender created his MIB tales as a ruse. Nor do I think he was lying. I think he truly believed the encounters occurred as he recalled them. However, I don’t think we can rule out the possibility that those tales were, in part at least, influenced by what Bender saw on the big-screen. Perhaps if, as I believe, Bender’s MIB were truly supernatural entities (rather than being from “the government” or of ET-based origins), those same entities lifted that MIB imagery from Bender’s very own subconscious and then manifested before him in the guise of his absolute worst nightmare. Namely, the image of the cinematic Man in Black.