Master Fabricator: Wherein George Barris Takes Credit for Everything
When the original Batmobile rolled across the auction block at last year’s Barrett-Jackson auction, there was a familiar, gold bespectacled face on the stage to help sell the iconic ride. It was George Barris, who took over construction of the original car from Dean Jeffries in 1965. With all that cash, and with all the legitimate credits to his name – the Voxmobile, the Batmobile, the Beverly Hillbillies’ jalopy and hundreds of other cars – what would possess a guy to tarnish his own reputation by reinventing history, taking credit for things he never built? There’s some pathological need to be involved with every automotive creation in the last 50 years that defies explanation. The Black Beauty
Dean Jeffries designed and built the Black Beauty for the TV show The Green Hornet. According to Karl Kirchner, who owns one of the two Black Beauty cars built for the show and runs the outstanding website BlackBeauty.com, “Mr. Jeffires had a crew working on both of these cars pretty much 24 hours a day in order to meet the deadline. Jeffries work is well known for its reliability and functionality.”
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In Tom Cotter’s excellent book on Jeffries, there’s a period photograph of a banner from when the car was originally displayed, identifying Jeffries as the car’s builder. Karl Kirchner has a document from William Dozier, the producer of Batman and The Green Hornet on ABC, from 1968, identifying Jeffries as the builder.
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Barris pitched a concept for the Black Beauty (below) , a design that Karl Kirchner has on his website, but the design was rejected in favor of Jeffries’ cleaner, classier original sketch.
Yet, on Barris’s current web page, the Black Beauty is the first car listed in the TV and Movie Cars section. Barris owns the other Black Beauty, but in a pattern that’s become familiar over the years, it credits Jeffries for starting the car, but takes credit for a lot of its construction:
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“The Beauty was sent to George for some final touches. A verticle [sic] grill was formed with a repeative [sic] gun inset concealed into the center. Flap headlights were used to confuse the oncoming villains. A multiple gas nozel [sic] was built into the lower rolled pan and has an electric trap door. The rear section has a center deck trap door through which protrudes rockets to shoot at following villains. The top has been extended 10" housing a bullet proof simulated glass with slots for armed warfare and a bullet proof steel plating surrounding the Green Hornet and Kato. Rear wheel shields cover the special Formula tires and Crager [sic] styled wheels.”
When CNN interviewed Barris in 2011, it noted in the introduction, “For more than six decades, George Barris has been making custom cars for TV shows, movies and movie stars. He's responsible for all the famous cars just mentioned, plus "The Beverly Hillbillies' " jalopy, "The Green Hornet's" Black Beauty and many others,” with no apparent argument from Barris.
In an amazing, three-hour interview with the Emmys Foundation’s Archive of American Television (an excerpt of which is above), Barris only identifies Jeffries as a “fabricator,” on the Black Beauty. He also notes “we worked with our colleagues on that car.”
Perhaps the most obvious attempt by Barris to pull the rug out from under Jeffries was with the Monkeemobile, a car that Jeffries built. Jeffries is named in the closing credits of the show as the stylist for the Monkeemobile.
Yet, when Davy Jones died in 2012, TMZ interviewed Barris and identified him thusly: “Famed car customizer George Barris -- who built the car for the show -- tells TMZ, he's been getting calls non-stop ever since Davy passed away.” Again, Barris was the owner of the car, but had nothing to do with its creation. Yet, in interview after interview, he diminishes Jeffries' role to something of an assistant, rather than the guy who actually designed and built the car.
In an interview with K-Earth101’s Gary Brian after Jones passed away, Barris noted: “I worked with Dean Jeffries on it. He was another one of our team guys.”
The interview on K-Earth101 is profoundly misleading, with Barris suggesting that Jeffries simply started the car, and that Barris was involved from the get-go:
Gary Brian: George, can I take you back to like the beginning, when they called you up and said “Look, we got this new TV show and we put this group together, and we need a vehicle for ‘em,” did they say “Come over and meet the boys so you can kind of know what their personalities are like?”
George Barris: Actually, the first car was started by Dean Jeffries, and he put some things together, then the studio called me and wanted to know about “Can we get Pontiac to come up with a vehicle that we can work with” and we wanted to make it more extraordinary”…It was a great challenge for all of us, between Dean and myself, and the studio…We had to put all the instruments in the back, and that’s why we extended it, so they had the room to sit and still carry all the instruments.
George Barris: It is, I think, the second most popular of the cars that we did…
The trouble, of course, is that he never “did” anything to the Monkeemobile at all, aside from taking ownership of it, long after the show wrapped its final season. In a fantastic 2006 issue of Motor Trend Classic, Jeffries told Arthur St. Antoine about it:
MTC: Was it you or George Barris who designed and built the TV car for the Monkees, the Monkeemobile?
Jeffries: That’s one of many bad spots in regards to that man. He sure does take credit, but he had nothing to do with it. I made the car. Every bit of it…He puts his name on a lot of things he had nothing at all to do with.
Even Barris’s account of how the Pontiacs showed up is easily refutable. Don Keefe, writing for Pontiac Enthusiast magazine in 1997, recounts that story:
The catalyst to the project was George Toteff, the CEO of Model Products Corporation, better known as MPC, Keefe wrote.
Toteff had on contract a well-known customizer by the name of Dean Jeffries, who designed custom variations on some MPC model kits and performed other consulting duties as well. At the same time, Jeffries was also contracting to Universal Studios, which would be producing the show. He was chosen to build a customized car for use on the Monkees TV show, which at that point hadn't begun production, and a car had not yet been chosen.
Jeffries had mentioned these developments to Toteff, who in turn told his friend Jim Wangers about the opportunity. As you probably already know, Wangers was working for Pontiac's advertising agency, McManus, John & Adams, managing promotion and advertising for the Pontiac account. Wangers instantly saw the show as a huge promotional opportunity for Pontiac and cemented the deal with the show's producers. As well as providing cars for the personal use of the stars and producers, Wangers also ordered two base-engined, automatic-transmissioned 1966 GTO convertibles that would be converted into Monkeemobiles. For his help getting the deal together, Toteff was granted exclusive rights to market a model kit of the car. More than 7 million MPC Monkeemobiles were sold,
Barris’s only connection to the Monkeemobile? He purchased it years after the show wrapped. Jeffries had the option to buy both cars, but had moved on to other projects. In the Motor Trend Classic article, Jeffries noted:
My contract stated that when filming was done, I had first right of refusal to buy the cars back. So after the shows were over, the producers offered me the Monkeemobile and the Green Hornet for $1000 each. I said, "Heck, I could build new ones cheaper" -- this was back in the 1960s, remember. So I turned them down. And George ended up with both cars.
Jeffries never disputed the ownership of the cars. What concerned him was how the cars began to be identified when the model kits were re-issued many years later.
“The company that made a Monkeemobile model ended up saying that legally George now has the rights to the car,” noted Jeffries. “ I said, ‘Yes, the rights to own the car. But not the right to say he built it.’ But they went ahead and put his name on it anyway.”
The original MPC model kits from 1966 don’t bear the Barris name.
But when the kits were reissued by ERTL’s MPC model division, “Barris Kustom” appears, plain as day, right on the box, and instead of calling it the Monkeemobile, it changed the name to the Monkees Mobile.
If you’re noticing a theme here, it should be that Barris uses the word “WE” to describe a lot of things. “We” built this, and “we” talked to directors. That’s the story with the ECTO-1 from the movie Ghostbusters, too. Watch the video here:
The punchline? That car was never used in the movie. The car Barris is talking about was a replica he purchased, a car that was extensively documented in a 1989 issue of Car Craft.
Barris didn’t build the ECTO-1. He didn’t even build a promotional car. He purchased this one from a guy named Peter Mosen. The original idea and concept for the ECTO-1 is credited to Dan Ackroyd and John Daveikis, and the original car was executed by Steven Dane, who was a production designer on the film.
The examples seem endless. According to the L.A. Times on May 4, 2007, Universal Studios sent Barris a cease and desist order, "demanding that Barris never again make misrepresentations regarding any involvement with the 'Back to the Future' films. They called upon Barris to remove images of the flying DeLorean from his company's website.”
In an email this week, Karl Kirshner wrote, “Its sad that Mr. Barris feels to take credit for others work despite having a very expansive resume himself. He should just stick with his own creations.”
In the Motor Trend Classic article a few years before his death in 2013, Dean Jeffries said almost the same thing: “I admire the hell out of what he's done all these years. I knew his brother, Sam, a very talented man, a very good metal man. I used to hang around their shop. George is not a metal man -- I've seldom seen him do anything with it. I'm not bad-mouthing him. He's a good promoter. I just don't care for somebody who puts their name on something they had no part of.” It makes sense, since a real wrench-turner would know better than to take credit for someone else's work.
Image Source: MonkeesConcerts.com, TheBlackBeauty.com, YouTube.com, PolarisEffect.com
“We got a ’59 Cadillac ambulance,” says Barris. “We had to get four or five cars to do the filming, and we had to scour the whole United States.” He goes on to identify the car later: “This is what we call the ‘hero car,’ the one that was used by the stars from the show whenever we did some filming in New York.” RELATED: ECTO-1's Restoration