Michael York thought he was all wrong for the part and was prepared to turn it down immediately. That is how the story of the celebrated actor and Logan’s Run begins.
Among the most iconic science fiction films of all time, the 1976 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picture directed by the late Michael Anderson, based on the 1967 Dial Press novel of the same title by William F. Nolan and the late George Clayton Johnson (with a haunting score by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith), was audacious on both a cinematic and social level.
Exploring themes such as government mistrust, utopia, dystopia, hedonism, population control, mandatory euthanasia, cosmetic surgery and free love, Logan’s Run was as intellectually deep as it was eye-popping with (Oscar-winning) special effects and action. The MGM movie was a critical and box office success ($25 million domestic, off a $7 million budget), spawning a Marvel Comics series and a short-lived CBS series in 1977 starring Gregory Harrison and Heather Menzies, along with homages in other works.
“Logan’s Run at 45: that is absolutely against the Logan’s Run ethos. You’re meant to die at 30, but we’ve carried on and I am glad we did,” marvels York, whose illustrious film and TV career has spanned more than 50 years.
The then 33-year-old Englishman was cast to play Logan 5 (Yes, he loves the age irony) whose job as a member of the elite police unit called “Sandmen” is to track down and terminate “Runners,” aka those who try to avoid the ritualistic “Carrousel” where they will be euthanized to control the dome-encased population in the year 2274. Logan’s overindulged existence is divine — until through a series of events he is forced to become a Runner.
The Three Musketeers and Cabaret star initially had zero interest in the enormous sci-fi project, recalling that he was in Los Angeles at the time, starring in the play Ring Around the Moon at the Ahmanson Theatre. One day, a script arrived with Anderson attached to direct: Logan’s Run. York assures he had wanted to work with the director again after their collaboration on Conduct Unbecoming (1975). But after one look, York felt he was wrong for the film and was prepared to pass.
“I was so stupid,” York says, with laughter. “But, fortunately, there was a younger actor in the company who had been delegated to drive me from Beverly Hills to the Ahmanson, and we became friends. He asked if he could read the script and I said, ‘of course.’ The next morning, he turned up — actually wagging a finger at me — and said ‘You’ve got to do this! You don’t understand. It’s pressing all my buttons!’ So I owe that actor a good deal. I went to MGM and suddenly, I was doing it.”
Jenny Agutter (Jessica 6) and the late actor Richard Jordan (Francis 7) and the late actress Farrah Fawcett (Holly 13) starred alongside York, who reminisces fondly that it was he who recommended Fawcett for the movie, which was among her first major film roles.
“I was at a friend’s house and saw this extraordinary blonde beauty playing tennis and found out she was an actress. So, I went back and suggested that she might be good for Holly. But I can’t take responsibility for the rest of her extraordinary career,” says a proud York.
Authors Nolan and Johnson were somewhat involved with the film, recalls the 93-year-old iconic sci-fi wordsmith, who notes that the pair had a few initial ideas for their literary work.
“At first, George suggested we do it as a script, but I said we should do a novel and also do it as a script so we could get double money — as a book and as a screenplay,” says Nolan. “He agreed. We managed to finish the book, after it sold, completed two different adaptations in screenplay format, both of which were purchased for the film but unused. Around that time, George and I decided to part ways regarding Logan. He could do his take and I would do mine. We stayed friends, of course. George did do a thing called Jessica’s Run, but it was never printed, and I did several pieces: Logan’s Search, Logan’s World, Logan’s Return, and a few short stories as well as some nonfiction.”
The novel and film’s intriguing — and dark — themes continue to resonate, Nolan argues, pointing out that he and Johnson penned the futuristic literary work during the social unrest over the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement.
“We were of the mind that, contrary to what many of the youth of the time thought, a world without older people would not necessarily be better,” he says. “In the book, society starts breaking down, things are in disrepair, because no one is there to teach the youth. What was supposed to be a utopia becomes a dystopia as a result. Technology alone can’t solve every problem. Only people can do that. But as far as the political climate and so on, I think we have a lot more work ahead of us. The politics in the series is a subcurrent, not a main point, but the trends toward a sort of totalitarian vision became closer with [President Donald] Trump in office. He was terrible. He misused his office and the technologies we have available to spread a dark message, one at odds with our novel’s subtexts and intentions.”
York could not help but wonder about what the actual future would be like while working on the project, but he did not allow himself to get swept up in his own worries or excitement. “There were shades of anticipation of the future to come, such as computers beginning to happen,” he says. “Filming began in Dallas in these huge malls, which indeed anticipated the malling of America. It anticipated a lot of trends, like cosmetic surgery: an instant new you. But there was this future with a trade-off: You enjoyed yourself unbelievably. You indulged, you had everything you could wish for — but you have to check out at 30. So for a lot of young people, I think it totally freaked them out.”
The production of Logan’s Run was a massive undertaking. York notes the picture was packed with grand, groundbreaking special effects (a year before Star Wars) and a lot of physical action — dangerous physical action, such as when Logan and Jenny are swept away by a massive rush of water breaking through a wall. The scene is hard to watch, with the actor and actress violently pulled off their feet and washed down a hall.
“It was pretty scary,” York says of the stunt. “That was a whole tank load worth of water. If we did something really dangerous, stuntmen and women would take over, but we tried to do as much as we could. I have always been macho and stupid.” The Logan actor also said there was another scary moment involving a fall. “One time, one of the Runners had to fall from the top floor in the mall. The crew laid out the boxes and mattress — and the stuntman just missed it,” the actor recalls. “It was terrifying to watch.” The stuntman was OK, York noting, “he carried on.” Of course, the space-age weapons were also a pain. “The guns the Sandmen wielded worked on a gas cartridge and sometimes the cartridge wouldn’t fire and it ruined a whole take,” he says, sounding still a bit irritated.
Nolan contends that if the reboot — stuck in development hell at Warner Bros., with Hunger Games screenwriter Peter Craig picked to pen the script — “ever becomes a reality,” he would like it to be darker, more in line with the tone of the novel, in which “Last Day” was actually at the age of 21. “I am not a fan of the idea that Logan should be female,” Nolan says. “Mainly because Logan’s story is his story. If there is another story, then that could be in a TV episode or something, but it would not be Logan’s story. That would be a different character. Just changing to a woman to be fashionable doesn’t work, and George told me he felt the same.”
Plus, Nolan says there will never be another York or Agutter.
“They make the movie,” the author says. “Without them, it has no real heart. The TV series cast, I felt, had no real chemistry. I did work on the show, but I could see it wasn’t going to come together, and it didn’t. When I first saw the film, I was amazed and pleased. I had visited the set a few times, although George never did. As the years went on, I felt that it was a good popcorn film, but was lacking the subtext we put into the novel. That said, it made our careers, so George and I were pleased it got made. George was always tougher on the movie than I was. Over the years I came over more to his side about it, which is why I’d like to see it remade with the current technology. I also think it would be a really good streaming series, like Westworld.”
As for York, Logan’s Run is near and dear to his heart. Among all his many well-known works — including the immensely popular Austin Powers series — it is the 1976 sci-fi classic that has elicited the most reaction from fans. That notion delights the actor to no end. “Forever afterward, people would come up to me and say, ‘There is one movie of yours that really freaked me out!’ And I would say ‘I know, don’t tell me, Logan’s Run.’ And then I would ask them why. Most said it was the idea of getting everything you want but then having to leave just as you were coming into your prime. It touched a lot of people.”