Dear Mr. Helm,
I’m writing a retrospective about the early days of the Star Wars Expanded Universe and I was hoping that you might be willing to speak to your experiences during that time.
You wrote the Star Wars newspaper strip for a time. I was curious as to how you were approached and who offered you the writing assignment. You also mentioned in a post on your site that George Lucas incorporated ideas and characters from your stories into the Star Wars sequel. Can you elaborate as to which characters from the films first appeared in the newspaper strip?
Also, are you aware of the rumor on the internet that “Russ Helm” is a pseudonym for Archie Goodwin, who later wrote the strip under his own name? This rumor persists on several sites even though it has been refuted. Have you heard this rumor and do you have any thoughts as to how or why it may have come about?
I’m sorry to impose on your time. If this is not a subject you feel inclined to discuss, I understand. It’s just that I’ve been going through so many old magazines for scraps of information that it would be nice to hear anything firsthand.
My name was and still is Buddy Helm. I was a drummer since the age of eight. But now I was using my legal name as a writer. I was approached by my neighbor in Sherman Oaks, California. She was a songwriter and was working at Motown in Hollywood in the art department. I was in and out of the building because I was in the music business, pitching songs, and doing sessions as a drummer. I had a long great career as a drummer in the south and then in LA. Lindsey asked me, “I have an offer for a job in a small film company; LucasFilm. Should I take it?” I told her immediately, “Don’t ever pass up an opportunity to gain power.” I had to insist that my writer’s group bring in women writers, and Lindsey joined us. She helped critique my novels and children’s stories and was a great asset to many writers, including Stewart Stern, writer of ‘Rebel without a Cause’ and other great movies. She took the job at Lucasfilm, and asked me to write the Star Wars comic strips which I did for a couple of years, just after the first movie was hitting big and they were finishing up post production on the second movie. First of all we were all ensconced in trailers in a parking lot across the street from the Universal Black Tower which was an ominous presence and hinted at some affront between George and Universal’s deal with him. He was thumbing his nose at them. Eventually we moved into the ‘Egg Company’ which was a beautiful vintage brick building adjacent that had actually been an egg company decades earlier. There was no sign advertising that it was Lucasfilm. The building was two story with skylights and a large central office production area. The place was always humming. Lindsey was overseeing a lot of spin off product, and the building was geared for work. There film editors were working right along the office workers. Everyone was focused on this huge phenomenon that had exploded and needed to be put in order. The dailies came back from England and we could see the next movie taking shape. Lindsey arranged for me to screen the first Star Wars movie so that I could pick up subtle story ideas. I got to sit in the screening room at one of the big film lots and recline with a lot of other folks. Everyone waited for me while I took my time, and then spoke into the intercom. “Okay. Roll it.” That was fun. I was instructed that I could not write about the Force. That was a big disappointment. George had copyrighted The Force. I had fun creating characters like Dr. Spinofski, an absent minded genius who created an orbiting ring modulator that could change the weather on a planet. Since I was living a parallel life at night as a drummer, I incorporated in-jokes that only the hip and cool people in LA underground would get: such as a ‘Ring Modulator’ was actually a new musical invention on the first music Moog synthesizer. The music scene was intense, punk music was making it’s pretense known even though the conservative entertainment industry did not like it or even understand it. A world famous DJ on KROQ was playing the Sex Pistols and getting death threats. He showcased all the new punk music acts on his late night radio show, “Rodney on the Rock”. He became “Rodno’ a chameleon like character who saved his planet from invading stormtroopers who were using ‘Pacifog’ to incapacitate the populace on Rodno’s home planet. This reflected the actual Russian occupation of Afganistan at the same time, and their use of poison gas to kill thousands of Afgan resistors. Rodney and Rodno shared some characteristics. They were diminutive, somewhat shy and had a top knot of pointy hair, only Rodno’s was actually more like antennae, or a rooster’s head crown. His skin swirls changed as he grew more wise. This character ended up on the bridge of a star cruiser where Luke is showing off his new metallic hand in the later movie. When someone saw that I had created a character called Dr. Spinofski, they protested. They didn’t want jokes and puns in the strip that went over their heads. They were very conservative and were protecting an image that they had created themselves. If anyone came into the building wearing punk clothes, they were thrown out. I don’t think George would have minded. He would hang out in the high tech kitchen with Steven Spielberg and make angel food cake or cookies. They were working on another project at the same time. “What do you do for me?” George asked holding a warm toll house, “I write the comic strips.” He grinned. “Good. Good.” He was a pasha and having a great time. I tried to slump so as not to be taller than the king. He thought I was a little wierd but likable. I had funny ideas. Lindsey handed me a script. “Read this. Give us coverage. And don’t tell anyone about it.” I did. It was ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark” I gave them my report and they came back to me. “Liked your breakdown. What would be the sequel if we did this one?”…..to be continued.
excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2015