Jackey Neyman Jones may rival Troll 2’s Michael Stephenson as the child actor in the worst film ever made. As Debbie in Manos: The Hands of Fate, one of the most popular spoofed movies on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Neyman Jones found herself encountering long desert drives, lost pets, billowing cult members and overwhelming gray couches in one of the most notoriously awful (yet quite enjoyable) cult films ever made. Appointing herself Manos’ official historian, she has recently published a book, Growing Up with Manos: The Hands of Fate, about her adventures on the film and how it has impacted her life. Nicely, in a move that proves the enduring legacy of the film, Neyman Jones is also readying the world for the decades-in-the-making sequel, Manos Returns.
How did you get involved in Manos, Jackie?
My dad was doing community theater in El Paso. (Manos director) Hal Warren was a supporting actor in a number of plays. My dad often played the lead. At that moment, he was playing the lead in Henry IV. Hal was in it and John Reynolds (“Torgo”) was the stage manager. I believe William Bryan Jennings (“Cop”) was in it. That’s where Hal got his cast and some of his crew. They were all from that particular play. My dad came home, after he agreed to be in Hal’s movie, and they needed a little girl. He asked if I wanted to be that little girl. That’s how I got involved because I always wanted to be with my dad. I wanted to be where he was.
Cool. I did my first professional show in summer stock with my dad, too.
Oh, is that right? How old were you?
It was between the summer of 2nd and 3rd grade. I had always wanted to act. So we both got to perform with our fathers. That’s cool.
That is cool. A little later, when I was 9, my dad was the male lead in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The theater director had raised funds and brought Julie Adams (Creature from the Black Lagoon) in to play Jean Brodie.
I love her!
Me, too! I got to meet her, in person, at Crypticon. I told her that she was in my book. I bought her book and that experience was in her book, as well.
I thought I had read about that in her book. So, you were in the show with her?
Yeah, I was one of the schoolgirls. That was the second time that I got to be a part of something that my dad was a part of. All my life, I wanted to act with my dad. Now, with Manos Returns, it’s pretty exciting. I got to pull him into that project.
Was the infamous Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode the first time that you realized that Manos had a cult following?
Manos was something that I held onto and nurtured. I told stories to my sons. But it was gone. We didn’t have a copy of it. We never saw it again after the premiere. Nobody wanted to talk about it – (Laughs) except maybe me. So, 27 years go by, and my dad calls me. He lived in Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast at that time. I was in Northern California, married with a young child. He called me and said, “You’ll never believe what I just saw on television!” It was January 1993 and it was on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He was a big fan of the show. He watched it every Saturday. There he was, dozing off, and he heard something familiar. He opened his eyes and was just astounded.
Even then, I had no idea that there was a cult following. Since I missed seeing it that day, I did some investigating. I knew it was on Comedy Central. I knew there was a 1-800 number on the screen. I called that number. The guy that answered said that he was at the HBO offices in Manhattan. I told him that they had just shown a film that my family was involved in and that I had been looking for it. Now, after all these years there it was and I wondered if there was any way that I could get copy. He asked me what the name of the film was. I said Manos: The Hands of Fate. There was this long pause and he says…”Oh, my god! Are you Debbie?” (Laughs) That was literally the first time that I realized that anyone knew anything about this film, but me. From there… the internet was just beginning, we were still on dial-up…but I got online and kept running across little things about it. So, I began looking for things and started to set up my position as the person to kind of clean up all the Manos mythology. (Laughs) There was a lot of it. No one knew anything. They thought all the cast and crew were dead. Nobody knew anybody was alive. They didn’t bother to look for us. I started putting it out there. We were very much alive –
Right…and thriving! I started cleaning that stuff up. Then I wrote a blog for awhile, just to see if anybody was interested in what I had to say. I also had to see if I could write, sustainably, and not just in little bursts. I ended up getting a pretty big fan following. I was surprised. I was getting about 3000 readers a month. Then I decided to write my book. That took me 16 months. So, I just focused on that. I couldn’t write the blog, too.
Now, there’s a sequel in post-production, as well. I love that the project is being created, pretty much entirely, by women. There’s you, Rachel Jackson and amazing indie film director Tonjia Atomic.
She’s amazing. It really is the will of Manos with the way that the right people have come together. They have passion and respect for each other and talent. It’s remarkable. I love Tonjia. We’re so thrilled about how this came about. Along with Rachel Jackson, we wrote the script. Well, mostly, they did. (Laughs) They keep giving me first billing which isn’t fair. I love Manos Returns. I love the story. I love the angle. Tonjia and Joe Sherlock, the director of photography, have both been making independent films for awhile, but with zero budgets. We were so excited to give them a budget, as small as it is. It’s just incredible. I know there is a lot of people out there who think that we are intentionally making a bad film. But I, honestly, think we are going to get a lot of notice because our budget is so tiny and yet it looks and sounds so good. That’s all because of the passion and how much talent that people willingly brought to the table.
It’s all part of an incredible and unlikely legacy!
I was born to be Debbie in Manos. The fan base for the film has the coolest people. They are really awesome, intelligent, innovative and creative people. I just couldn’t think of a better place to be. I want to do more of it.
If you are located in the Midwest, be sure to join Jackey this weekend in Chicago for two incredible events. On Friday, 11/11/16, she will be at the Music Box Theatre for a screening of Manos and on Sunday, 11/13/16, she will be appearing at a book signing at Bucket of Blood. More info follows, below:
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!