It’s one of the oddest stories in UFO history. It’s also one of the least known and long forgotten. It’s the weird saga of an actor who never quite made the big time, but who produced a less than great movie on UFOs that got him into major problems with none other than the U.S. Air Force. Welcome to the bizarre tale of Mikel Conrad and The Flying Saucer. Born in Ohio, in 1919, Mikel Conrad was an actor who appeared in approximately two dozen movies between 1947 and the late 1950s, most of which were/are forgettable and downright crummy. That includes 1952’s Untamed Women – which, by its title alone, should have made for great, exciting viewing. Unfortunately, it does not, I can assure you. But, it’s The Flying Saucer, which hit the cinemas in 1950, that we need to focus on. Not only was Conrad the star of this priceless piece of UFO hokum, but he also produced it, directed it, and co-wrote it. It tells the story of a man named Mike Trent (played by Conrad) who takes a flight to Alaska to help a U.S. Secret Service agent investigate reports of local UFO activity. Of particular concern, the encounters are apparently of deep interest to pesky Russian agents who are prowling around.
Conrad, as the man behind the movie, personally ensured that the aforementioned agent was played by a hot babe. She was: actress Pat Garrison, who took on the role of the Secret Service’s Vee Langley. As Trent and Langley – clearly the Mulder and Scully of their day – investigate what’s afoot in the skies of Alaska, they learn something that was definitely not anticipated. The Russians are not on the scene to uncover the truth about alien visitations to the Earth, after all. Rather, the flying saucers that are being seen, and astounding the populace in the process, are actually the creations of an American scientist who is determined to sell his inventions to the dastardly Reds – for a high price. Of course, Trent and Langley save the day. They prevent the evil commies from getting away with the saucer-shaped technology, and the free world sighs with relief.
There wasn’t (and still isn’t) anything particularly special about The Flying Saucer. It remains just one of many alien-themed movies that were made in the 1950s. But it does stand out for one, notable reason. In September 1949, in the build-up to the release of the movie – and in an effort to create interest, and hopefully generate sizeable audiences – Conrad began loudly telling the U.S. media that he had got his hands on no less than 900 feet of genuine UFOs over Alaska. And adding to the intrigue, he informed the Dayton, Ohio Journal Herald that: “The saucer footage is locked in a bank vault. I’m not showing it to anyone yet.” It was actually pure nonsense. There was no footage – at all. However, it wasn’t just the media and the public that took note of Conrad’s claims to have in his possession film that he described as showing “scenes of the saucer landing, taking off, flying and doing tricks.” Behind the scenes, wheels were turning – and turning fast. The Air Force got wind of the story, and of Conrad’s claims too, and decided they would very much like to see Conrad’s priceless footage.
Also in September 1949, a Lt. Col. James O’Connell, District Commander with the USAF’s Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), requested that the OSI office in Maywood, California should begin an investigation of Conrad and his claims of possessing priceless saucer footage. He was now a marked man. In no time at all, other offices of OSI were involved, as were staff from the Air Force’s UFO program, Project Grudge, and Air Materiel Command. And, just for good measure, the FBI undertook a background check on Conrad. OSI documents state that “…after some investigation in an effort to locate Mikel Conrad, it was determined that he was presently an actor-producer-writer in Los Angeles, California.” Conrad was quickly contacted by an OSI agent with the last name of Shiley, who made it clear to Conrad that he wanted to see both The Flying Saucer movie, as well as that 900-feet of film Conrad was loudly claiming to possess. The words “deep” and “shit” spring to mind.
On October 26, 1949, Agent Shiley attended a preview of Conrad’s movie. No word in the files as to whether he enjoyed it or not. But, far more important to Shiley was the film-footage, supposedly “locked in a bank vault.” Confronted by Agent Shiley, a very worried Conrad came clean and admitted that – to quote from the declassified Air Force files – the entire thing was a “figment of his [Conrad’s] imagination” and “not a reality.” Seeing that he might, by now, be might be in dire trouble, a groveling Conrad “apologized to Agent Shiley” and added that he was “sorry that he had misled the USAF.” Amusingly, even though he was concerned the Air Force might come down on him hard, Conrad asked Shiley, somewhat tactfully, if this could all be kept between the two of them and the Air Force, since he didn’t want any adverse publicity affecting the success of his movie. The Air Force agreed, noting in its files, in slightly disapproving fashion, that it had “no interest in his picture.”
It’s notable that at the beginning of the movie a statement appears on-screen. It reads: “We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of those in authority who made the release of The Flying Saucer film possible at this time.” Another apology to officialdom, perhaps? Almost certainly. And, of course, it added a bit of intrigue for the viewers. The strange saga of aliens over Alaska, The Flying Saucer, and a run-in with the Air Force for promoting a bogus UFO tale, was certainly the highlight of Mikel Conrad’s uneventful career. He died in Los Angeles in 1982, after years of living in obscurity, down on his pennies, and with a serious booze addiction. He was sixty-three. He would probably be very pleased to know that decades after his movie was made, and more than three decades after his death, The Flying Saucer is still being discussed. Moving on...
Have you heard the one about the President, the comedian and the aliens? A bad joke? Well, actually, yes, it probably is. It’s dominated by a couple of famous characters and is filled with conspiracy and nothing less than a bunch of dead extraterrestrials. But, is it true? That’s the big question. As for the case at issue, it’s the one which suggests that in 1973 legendary comic Jackie Gleason got to see a bunch of pickled ETs, courtesy of none other than his buddy President Richard Nixon! Really? Well, that very much depends on who you ask. Gleason is probably most remembered for his starring role in The Honeymooners, a hit show from the 1950s, and for his portrayal of Sheriff Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit movies. As for President Nixon, it’s without doubt the Watergate affair that he is most associated with. There are two other points that need to be noted: (a) Gleason and the President were friends and often played golf together; and (b) Gleason had a deep interest in UFOs and had a massive collection of saucer-themed books, magazines, journals, etc. Indeed, in the 1960s he often popped up on The Long John Nebel Show to discuss his thoughts on the subject, as well as on certain cases and characters in Ufology.
What we know of the “I saw the aliens” saga came from Gleason’s second wife, Beverly McKittrick. So the story went, Gleason got to see the proof that aliens really do exist on a particular evening in 1973: February 19. As for where the bodies were supposedly stored, the location was Homestead Air Force Base, Florida. Today, it is called Homestead Air Reserve Base. As for the way things developed, well, let’s say that credulity is stretched to the absolute max. So the tale goes, only hours after the pair enjoyed a game of golf, the President turned up at the Gleason home. It was late at night and Nixon was on his own, no less. He had apparently given the Secret Service the slip and was ready to show Jackie something amazing. No problem! The President would take Gleason to Homestead, flash a bit of ID to the security personnel (or, say something along the lines of, “Hi, it’s me, the President!”), and breeze on into the most protected part of the installation. With the man who would be Buford.
The tale continues that the astonished guards at the gate waved the pair through. Nixon led his friend – who was still in the dark about what was going on – to a certain area on the base. It was a facility that contained the rotting remains of a bunch of dead ETs – whose flying skills were evidently not great and who were found in the wreckage of a crashed UFO. Roswell? Kingman? Kecksburg? No location or year for the incident was ever given. The bodies were stored in containers described as looking similar to “glass-topped coke freezers.” They were not in a good state of preservation: they were damaged, withered, small and gray, with large heads. Although Gleason finally got the evidence he needed, the whole thing plunged him into states of shock, anxiety and even fear. The trip back to Gleason’s home was made in silence. We don’t know what was going through Nixon’s mind, but Gleason was distinctly uneasy about the whole thing. He told Beverly of what he had seen, but for the most part remained tight-lipped. And that’s about it. So, what can we say about this strange saga? Let’s see.
First, there is the extremely unlikely matter of the President being gone – with no one in the know as to where he was – and for none of this to have reached the media. The President vanishes one evening, he can’t be found, and the Secret Service is in a state of chaos and concern. Surely, that would have trickled down to the press? There is also the matter of Nixon and Gleason rolling up to Homestead and making a hassle-free way into what, one presumes, would have been one of the most highly protected sanctums on the planet. Unlikely! Did McKittrick lie? No, not at all. In fact, the exact opposite. I would not be surprised if Gleason told Beverly the story, exactly as she remembered it. But, perhaps he told it as a joke. One which was then taken seriously by his wife. Could there be anything else to all this? Probably not: the most likely scenario is that it was a prank on the part of Gleason. The least likely scenario is that against all the odds, the President of the United States completely vanished for a few hours, picked up a legendary comedian, floored the car to Homestead Air Force Base, showed Gleason the decaying proof, and then whisked him back home again. To quote a massively overused few words from The X-Files: “I want to believe.” I really do. But, you know what? I don’t believe.
And for number three: It was in the heady, X-Files-dominated days of 1995 that Ray Santilli let loose upon an unsuspecting world the infamous “Alien Autopsy” film. It was on TV everywhere. Eleven years later, and after a seemingly never-ending period of controversy and debate, Santilli finally ‘fessed up to the fact that the controversial footage was nothing more than a, ahem, “restoration.” So Santilli’s highly convoluted story went, he really did have in his possession 1947-vintage U.S. military film that showed the secret autopsy of a bald-headed, pot-bellied alien who had had the unfortunate bad driving skills to crash to earth deep in the harsh deserts of New Mexico. Ironically, however, Santilli elaborated, the real footage had supposedly degraded to the point where it was both unwatchable and unusable from a broadcasting perspective; and so he enlisted the expert help of special-effects chums to work on that aforementioned restoration.
It would have been far too much to have expected this to lay matters to rest. And, indeed, it did not. The believers – or some of them, at least - continued to believe; while the disbelievers publicly scoffed at Santilli’s claims of “restoration” and maintained that the whole thing was nothing more than a straightforward hoax – albeit an ingeniously instigated and executed one. And even though the affair has now been relegated to the sidelines of ufology by all but those few that still have faith in Santilli’s original story, it is a seldom discussed fact that Santilli was not the first to claim knowledge of, or possession of, decades-old U.S. military film-footage and photographs said to show the bodies of dead and decaying ET’s.
A well-known collector of crashed UFO tales, the late Leonard Stringfield, was the recipient of a number of such claims – although, sadly and perhaps inevitably, no films. One such tale told to Stringfield came from the unsurprisingly anonymous ‘Mr. T.E.’, who, said Stringfield in 1980, “holds a technical position in today’s life.” T.E. told Stringfield that in 1953, at the age of just twenty, and while stationed at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, he was summoned to watch a startling piece of film-footage at the base theatre. Reported Stringfield: “Without any briefing, the 16mm movie projector was flicked on and the film began to roll on the screen…the film showed a desert scene dominated by a silver disc-shaped object embedded in the sand…”
Stringfield continued that: “Then…there was a change of scenes. Now in view were two tables, probably taken inside a tent, on which, to his surprise, were dead bodies. T.E. said the bodies appeared little by human standards. Interestingly, T.E. and his colleagues were told immediately after the screening to ‘think about the movie’; but were later advised that: 'It was a hoax.' And, eerily paralleling the Santilli film, T.E. told Stringfield that: “The 5-minute long movie certainly was not a Walt Disney production. It was probably shot by an inexperienced cameraman because it was full of scratches, and had poor colouring and texture.” It's things like this last story that still makes some ufologists believe the notorious Alien Auopsy film was the real deal. Whatever the truth, it's entertainment.