Too often I tend to criticize Nick Redfern for all the things he gets wrong, but today I’d like to praise him for an article in Mysterious Universe that offers a thoughtful, though incomplete and probably incorrect, analysis of how popular culture influences claims about extraterrestrials. You will recall that one of my articles looked at the ways that particular episodes of the Outer Limits and the Twilight Zone exactly paralleled the claims Barney Hill made about his alien abductors under hypnosis a few days after those episodes aired. Redfern suggests that something similar happened with the Men in Black phenomenon. I give him credit for trying, though I think he went beyond the evidence in citing a specific source from what was probably a more generalized influence.
The image of the Men in Black, or MIB in UFO parlance, has changed over the course of the years. The stereotypical MIB looking like a Secret Service agent is a later development. The earliest Man in Black wore a long black cloak and a hat like the Shadow. This version of the MIB was proposed by Albert Bender, credited as the inventor of the MIB. His story of encounters with the villainous entities appeared first in Gray Barker’s They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers (1956), a book that Barker would later admit he had written for cash without much concern for its factual accuracy. Bender, who investigated UFOs through his self-founded International Flying Saucers Bureau and its Space Review publication, claimed that before he could reveal the truth about the flying saucer cover up, three MIBs intimidated him into dissolving his organization. Bender would go on to give his own account in a 1962 book.
According to Redfern, Bender was a fan of horror and science fiction, and Barker strongly suspected that the MIB story was the product of Bender’s Gothic imagination. In retrospect, that should have been obvious from the first. In They Knew Too Much, Barker introduces Bender in the same breath as the so-called Shaver Mystery, about a spacefaring underground civilization, from Amazing Stories, the pulp magazine, but presented as real. Even while giving play to the imagined conspiracy to suppress the Shaver mystery, Barker hinted that he thought the whole thing was in their heads, fed by sci-fi: “If I were a psychologist, I would probably write a book also about organized science fiction fandom…” Barker came into contact with Bender thanks to the letters column of a science fiction pulp.
Redfern proposes that the imagery of the MIB was drawn from the 1949 Hammer Studios production The Man in Black, in which a cloaked fellow in a black hat serves as a Crypt Keeper-style narrator for a story of an attempt to gaslight an heiress in order to deprive her of her inheritance from her father, who died in a yoga accident. (Yes, a yoga accident.) Redfern finds a parallel between the men in black cloaks and hats to the movie poster of The Man in Black, released in the UK in January of 1950. He compares the image to an undated portrait that Bender made of a MIB.
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 hat is exactly the same, 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.
The trouble is that the earliest account makes no mention of cloaks, and hats were a standard part of men’s attire in the 1950s. Barker describes the MIB as wearing “black suits” and they showed “credentials.” Bender’s portrait doesn’t seem to clearly show a cloak, either. Redfern wasn’t able to prove that the film played in Connecticut sometime between 1950 and 1956, but he places great emphasis on the title, Man in Black. It isn’t clear, though, that Bender thought of the three men as “men in black” as much as men who were wearing black.
Nor is there anything special about the movie title. Stanley J. Weyman wrote a novel called The Man in Black in 1894, which was reprinted in 1949. “The Man in Black” was a popular name for the Devil, and so appeared in several studies of witchcraft, and presumably pulp stories based thereon. (Lovecraft, for example, referred to Nyarlathotep as the Black Man of New England witches.) Anyway, the name could be found in dozens of sources. As I alluded to above, the cloaked black figure was not unique to the movie but could be found with The Shadow, not to mention various images from Universal’s catalog of horror movies and other crime films. Heck, even the Looney Tunes featured more than one creeper with the same outfit, such as the villainous Bluebeard, who appeared in the 1949 Porky Pig Merrie Melodies short “Bye-Bye, Bluebeard.” More to the point, Hollywood often depicted gangsters and villains in black suits. William Faulkner once explained that he gave a character a black suit to be “symbolical of evil.” It would seem likely that a similar is subconscious symbolism manifested in the case of the MIB.
I can’t entirely discount Redfern’s hypothesis—and I give him credit for trying to find a source of influence—but I must mark this one as “case not proved.” The 1956 account provides nothing that would support Redfern’s view, and the picture he claims shows a cloak clearly has lapels visible, indicating that Bender was attempting, however crudely, to draw a standard suit coat and a regular old 1950s fedora. So, while Redfern is likely correct that Bender had exaggerated or concocted a terrifying encounter with black-suited fellows he took for government agents, I do not believe that an obscure movie is the source unless we can somehow prove he watched it.
7/23/2015 06:29:12 am
7/23/2015 06:38:14 am
In 1932, H. P. Lovecraft also used the figure of "the black man" in his tale "The Dreams In The Witch-House" as a synonym for a malevolent deity (P. P. Pillai, Extraterrestrial Life: A Possibility: A Comprehensive Guide on UFOs, and Aliens, page 50).
7/23/2015 07:22:21 am
I guess death by yoga isn't as silly as it sounds: "The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards" by William Broad.
7/23/2015 07:32:23 am
It's important to note that the artwork I refer to in the article is one that Bender drew and posted on the wall of his attic room. The entire room was filled with images of black cats, the faces of werewolves, ghouls, black horses etc.
7/23/2015 07:58:45 am
Thank you for clarifying, Nick. While I have not seen the painting you describe, it sounds quite a bit like the Shadow, or one of the late Universal Horror Dracula pictures, both of which would be more famous and more likely to have influenced Bender.
7/23/2015 08:07:31 am
Unfortunately I don't think that his painting is online anywhere, but maybe extensive searches on Google images for Albert Bender, Men in Black, and attic might reveal it. Yep, very Shadow-like.
7/23/2015 09:01:02 am
Bender's drawing of Man In Black
7/23/2015 09:06:40 am
Yep, no doubt there are a lot of pictures by Bender around. His attic was filled with dozens, all drawn/painted by him between approx around 1950/53. Some UFO/MIB-themed, but the vast majority occult-based.
7/23/2015 07:40:41 am
The film doesn't appear in old-school British film guides (not even Halliwell). In the late 1940s the pre-Dracula Hammer Films did smart deals with the BBC to make low-budget films based on popular radio series (later extended to TV with the Quatermass films). It's clear from the Wikipedia entry that it eventually found its way into the American TV market, but again, it's not in my pre-Web copies of Maltin or Nick-&-Marsha. Was it ever released in the USA before cable turned into an all-devouring juggernaut?
7/23/2015 08:41:58 am
I remember "Quartermass and the Pit" which tied aliens (martians) to demons..the movie came out in I think 67 (which I saw in the early 70s late one night as a kid). Not saying this started the alien/demon fringers..but aliens as the devil are one story line for ancient aliens theorists/writers
7/23/2015 10:17:13 am
The original BBC TV serial was nearly a decade earlier (Christmas 1958)- and its theme of racial memory of aliens as demons may have been nicked from Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End".
7/27/2015 04:40:54 pm
I remember Quatermass and the pit. I watched it with my mother because my dad was at work. When they discovered a whole lot of dead aliens, one of the models actually slipped. My mother and I just about crapped our pants together. Mind you I was only a kid so I had some excuse.
7/29/2015 01:22:25 pm
RE: Quatermass and The Pit and Arthur C Clarke,
7/29/2015 01:32:00 pm
1955's Quatermass II involved aliens infiltrating Earth.Although it's often compared to Jack Finney's 1954 "The Body Snatchers" (filmed in 1956 as "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"), Quatermass II was quite probably influenced by Robert Heinlein's 1951 "The Puppet Masters." Cf how "The Puppet Masters" and Quatermass II both involve alien parasites attaching themselves to humans and taking them over, whereas "Snatchers" involves duplicates of humans.Plus, the alien parasites in "Masters" come from Saturn's moon Titan, which is also the home planet of the invaders in Quatermass II
7/23/2015 07:43:45 am
My newly-amended text to the article:
7/23/2015 08:03:55 am
There's also another movie that may have inspired Bender's MIB, "Liliom," of 1934.
7/23/2015 08:15:37 am
I forgot to add the link to Rich Reynold's blog post on Albert Bender, Liliom, and the MIB.
7/23/2015 10:01:38 am
Know what else was moderately contemporary with Bender and seamlessly blends his fascination with macabre imagery, the Men In Black, and UFOs?
7/23/2015 10:28:28 am
If the MIB started as men in black attire flashing credentials, then became Secret Service-like agents, when and how did they evolve to the almost robotic entities that drove cars from the 40s and 50s, behaving and speaking in unnerving ways?
7/23/2015 10:29:34 am
I seem to recall that Daniel Cohen, in his Encyclopedia of Monsters, said that Bender's original reference was simply to "men in dark suits", and that he didn't start referring to them as wearing black until after other people had started calling them "men in black". I'm going from memory, and not from primary sources, of course.
7/23/2015 11:03:18 am
The 1956 book by Barker, the first reference, said Bender called them men in black suits with credentials. The supernatural version didn't come until 1962 when Bender said they were actual extraterrestrials. Following that, the myth sort of averaged itself out as quasi-supernatural reflections of Secret Service-style agents.
7/24/2015 05:41:00 am
The movie 'The Man in Black' was inspired by the radio host of the same name on the show 'Suspense' and several later shows including at least one BBC version titled 'The Man in Black'. A similar image was used for the host of 'The Mysterious Traveler'. These were all inspired by The Shadow who began as a radio host/narrator on the 'Street & Smith Detective Story Show' in 1930.
7/26/2015 04:50:06 am
I see Betteridge's law applies.
7/26/2015 11:02:28 pm
Valentine Dyall who died a few years ago was noted for his sinister voice and I just about remember the BBC radio series where Dyall (as The Man in Black) introduced and narrated the show. Whether that was the title of the series I don't know but that was how I remember it. Dyall wrote a couple of books on unsolved mysteries one of which included the Liverpool "man in the pipe" story which cries out for a full investigation. He also presented a TV series on naval mysteries of which I remember the Marie Celeste and the Waratah.
8/1/2015 02:48:18 pm
I remember valentine dyall as the man in black scaring me s...less in I think the late 40s or early 50s in a series called appointment with fear. all I can remember of this is his tale of the mary celeste. on the wireless, of course, as we didn't have a tele till the coronation. can anyone enlighten me on his story of the mary celeste as modern interpretations are not at all scary. boring!
12/23/2016 11:55:34 pm
Men in black are aliens/demons who have permission from our military/gov to control knowledge of what is really going on. There is a spiritual war, good against evil. They wear black because God cast the angels into darkness. Darkness or dark clothing, space ships, forests, places of darkness they hide including black cars. You put yourself at risk wearing black, driving black cars because you provide the environment they need. They are vampires, scavengers of the dead, reapers, gremlins, goblins, little green men, leprochauns, brownies. Different shapes but related. Divine angels don't need ships or a cloak to hide under. They don't want you to believe in God, Jesus, Wearing white is a positive energy that is not fashionable under Obamanation. Notice everything is colored clothing now? God's words are energy that repels bad people and spirits.
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