Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People

1964 Version

Vic Mortensen, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 58

See, he (Zappa) told me he was working on a screenplay called Captain Beefheart and His Girlfriend Sue. Sue was Don's mother. Then there was something about "grunt people." But the first thing he told me about was Captain Beefheart and his Girlfriend Sue. Now this is before I had even met Sue.

FZ with Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1989, p. 54

Shortly after moving into 'Studio Z,' I heard about an auction at the F. K. Rockett Studios in Hollywood. They were going out of business and dumping some scenery. For fifty dollars I bought more scenery than I could fit in the studio, including a two-sided cyclorama—purple on one side for night, blue on the other side for day—a kitchen, a library interior, a building exterior—everything I needed to make a cheap movie. Every piece that would fit through the doors was dragged in, set up and repainted.

I ended up sleeping in the set for Billy Sweeney's Laboratory. In the back of the studio, next to the toilet, I built a totally implausible, two-dimensional, cardboard rocket ship.

Space Ship

I painted all the sets myself and wrote a script based on the people and facilities available at the time: Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People.

The Ontario Daily Report ran a feature story on me and my project in its Sunday centerfold—about how a weird guy in Cucamonga was trying to make a science fiction movie called Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People. It was probably that story which caused the San Bernardino County vice squad to take an interest in me.

[...] I put out a casting call for local people to play in the movie. A man came to audition for the role of the asshole: Senator Gurney. I later found out that he was a member of the San Bernardino County vice squad, sent to entrap me.

FZ, interviewed by Bill Forman, BAM Magazine, January 16, 1987

I had a recording studio in Cucamonga, California. I went to an auction at a place called the FK Rocket Studios in Hollywood. This was 1962. And for $50, I bought a whole bunch of movie sets. They just wanted to get rid of this stuff, and so I trucked it out of there and brought it back to Cucamonga and decided—well, what the fuck?—I'll make an independent movie. So I set up and tried to shoot a movie out there and the name of the movie was Captain Beefheart Vs. The Grunt People.

Paul Buff, liner notes for Cucamonga, Del-Fi, 1997

He had turned the whole studio into his vision of the B-movie spaceship. I remember him vividly getting excited about it—asking for any junk electronics I had, and taking meters and painting them day-glo orange and putting knobs all over a board and painting it with different day-glo colors. The last time I was in Studio Z, to go to the bathroom you had to go out of the cockpit of this ship and crawl down tunnels underneath and come out in the bathroom.

Patrice "Candy" Zappa, My Brother Was A Mother, 2003, p. 52

Frank took over long time friend Paul Buff's Pal Studio in Cucamonga and renamed it Studio Z. I had always wanted to see the infamous studio and one day I got my wish. I was home from school one day, nursing a fever and sore throat (gee, I still got colds even though my tonsils are gone) when Frank burst in the front door! I just knew he was there to brighten my day, by golly. "Hi Candy, how are you, what are you doing home from school? Get dressed, I'm taking you to the studio." [...] We hopped into his mustard-colored 1963 Chevy Bel-Aire station wagon and off we went to Archibald Avenue and Studio Z. I was in awe as soon as I walked in. Being a sheltered Catholic school girl, this was awesome indeed. Frank showed me the props that he had built for a movie he had written called "Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People." There was what looked like a spaceship facade and a mad scientist's laboratory. Frank had finished the sets by 1964.

Dee Ridpath, "Cucamongan Can Put Your Name In Lights," The Daily Report, Ontario-Upland, September 20, 1964 (reproduced in Greg Russo, Cosmik Debris: The Collected History And Improvisations Of Frank Zappa (The Son Of Revised), 2003, p. 37)

Cucamongan Can Put Your Name in Lights

Budding Playwright Seeks Local Talent to Help Produce Space Fantasy Film


CUCAMONGA—This West End community boasts the only recording studio between El Monte and Riverside, and the only movie production studio west of Hollywood.

It is a "way out" place.

The studio is at 8040 Archibald Ave., in the village.

Frank Zappa Jr., of Frank Zappa Enterprises is the "movie mogul." He is a 23-year-old student of the lively arts.

A budding playwright and songwriter, young Zappa lives at 314 W. G St., Ontario. He is president of the organization.

His aim is to provide San Bernardino County with a major movie studio.

He has written a movie which he is planning to produce from the Cucamonga studio.

It is titled "Captain Beefheart."

Low Budget

It will be an extremely low budget picture, by the standards of Hollywood—only $50,000, an amount which Zappa says should attract local investors.

The average Hollywood-style low budget picture starts at twice that much, Zappa says. With the location of his studio in an area unrestricted by ordinances and unon requirements that have developed in the major movie centers, he can make it with much more economy, he believes.

Zappa is not jumping into the experiment without experience. He has worked in the movie and music industries for the last five or six years. He is a graduate of Chaffey College and has worked in Hollywood. He has been in films and also has worked in the directing end of the business.

He has written the scores of several movies.

The latest project was writing the score for a movie titled "Run Home Slow" which was finished about a month ago. It is yet to be released, Zappa said.

The money he has gained through working in the industry in Los Angeles County has been invested in the studio at Cucamonga.

"It will be a fabulous investment," he said.

So far he has about $22,000 worth of equipment at the local studio including stereos, stage settings, screen properties and canned music ready for the market now.

Writes Script

The young artist also has written the script for the movie the company is planning to film here. It includes the minute details of the planned film as well as the cast of characters and their dialogues.

"We are seeking local talent," he said, "to help produce the film. We want that type of person who appears funny among his friends, but who has never decided to take the step to filmdom."

Captain Beefheart is to be an adult comedy-fantasy.

The space age will never be the same again if the film is produced.

The story revolves around a group of pixilated people who journey to the moon in a fantastic series of comedic occurences.

A boy is frustrated because he lives on a horse ranch, but has never been allowed to ride a horse.

He eventually winds up in the clutches of a janitor who is frustrated because the spacecraft factory for which he performed his duties has been closed because of a series of unsuccessful attempts at building a ship to send to the moon.

The frustrated janitor, through his own determination, builds himself a moonship that works and is eventually flown to the satellite.

The plot thickens when the moonship makes its landing on the moon.

The moon also will never be the same after this fantastic crew lands there.

The crewmen get involved with the people on the moon and there's a cry of havoc across the land.

But to go further might tend to reveal the ending.

That would ruin what so far appears to be an outlandish fantasy.

"It's a way out," says Zappa.

It sure is!

Movie 'Mogul' Ponders Problems

The Daily Report, September 20, 1964

Sitting in sound studio in Cucamonga, Frank Zappa Jr., a fledging film producer, thinks about the many problems connected with his dream of producing a comedy-fantasy film about a trip to the moon made by a frustrated youngster and a janitor disturbed by firm's inability to build moonship.

Here's the Moonship . . .

Moon Maiden
. . . and a Moon Maiden.

COQ Magazine, February 1974

[The vice squad] came to me because my studio received a lot of publicity in the Cucamonga area and I was attempting to raise money to produce a science-fiction film called Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People. They had a whole big spread on the studio in the Sunday papers.

FZ, liner notes from The Old Masters Box One (1985)

Besides working on the hideous little rock opera [I Was A Teen-age Malt Shop], I was trying to raise money for a micro-budget sci-fi film called "CAPTAIN BEEFHEART vs. THE GRUNT PEOPLE." [...] Captain Beefheart was a character I invented for the film. His name derives from one of Don Vliet's relatives who looked like Harry Truman. He used to piss with the door open when Don's girlfriend walked by and make comments about how his whizzer looked just like a beef heart.

Captain Beefheart, The International Times (IT) #26, February 16, 1968

I was out in the desert five years ago and i was sitting in a car and we were all stoned. Frank Zappa and I and a bunch of other guys were there. Frank doesn't turn on at all . . . but anyway, I was just sitting there and I started laughing and I had thoughts of this name and I laid it on everybody in the car and Frank says: "Ah! Like you know, that's great, we'll make a movie." So he said: "We'll make a movie and we'll call it 'Captain Beefheart Meets The Grunt People'." So we started work and we studied the script for a year and we wrote a thing and something happened and the movie fell through. It doesn't agree with the things I think now—changed so much in that length of time. It's a good movie though . . . tear on the dotted line, paste up rockets . . . it was really going to be far out.

Geoffrey Cannon, "Frank Zappa: He Observes Our Extremes, Absurdities," The Guardian (from Charleston Gazette, August 15, 1970)

Paul had built a five-track tape deck, revolutionary in those days, and had gone broke. Frank had $1,500 from a film, and bought Paul out.

He also had bought some film sets from F. K. Rockette Studios on Sunset Boulevard, which had become bankrupt: $5,000 worth for $50. They were 12 feet high, so big that everyone thought they could not be moved.

Frank dragged them to Cucamonga. "To the people who lived in that town it must have been like a Martian had arrived," says Frank. Sardonic chuckle. Work began on the only film that could be made, logistically, using the crazy sets: "Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People." (Take my word for the logic: the complete explanation takes 30 minutes to tell.) So Frank Zappa became the movie king of Cucamonga.

He had unlimited recording time, with his own studio, but no money. For nine months he ate a diet of peanut butter, instant mashed potato, coffee and honey. "I was definitely in a chemically altered state," says Frank. The potatoes and coffee were stolen from a blood bank van which was passing through. (Blood bank van? "Yeah," says Frank.)

Skip Heller, in the liner notes for Life In The Time Of 8040 N. Archibald

Jim Sullivan, who worked on the [Jeepers Creepers] show, has claimed that FZ wrote some incidental music for the show. This is quite possible. However, no definitive document exists, musically or on paper, to tell us what this music was or if any recordings survive. Sullivan, by the way, has a copy of the Captain Beefheart Meets The Grunt People script and visited the sets that FZ built for the unrealized production. he said in an interview that FZ wanted him to produce the film, which does not seem unreasonable, given FZ's financial condition at the time, and that he had never produced a film. Sullivan said the sets were so tiny that two people could barely fit on them, but allowed that FZ could have been a great film maker.


1969 Version

Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People (1969 Script), p. 92

revised September 13, 1969 (1:35 pm)

Jerry Hopkins, "Mother's Day Has Finally Come", Rolling Stone, October 18, 1969

Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People! This is a feature-length film, presently in script form, written by Zappa in 1964. Zappa said that thanks in part to Easy Rider and the Woodstock Music & Art Fair—"two of several things finally showing the youth market really means business"—three major studios have made offers to back the flick. Zappa also said that if anyone had shown interest in the film five years ago, he would never have played rock and roll. His "ideal cast" includes parts for, among others, Don Van Vliet, who is better known as Captain Beefheart, an old high school chum of Zappa's; Chester Burnett, better known as Howlin' Wolf; several of the Mothers of Invention; and Grace Slick.

Ten Years On The Road With Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention (c. 1975)

Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People rejection note

1. Rejection notice of Captain Beefheart screen play (most recent of a long series).

Captain Beefheart vs The Grunt People script

2. Sample page from original Captain Beefheart vs The Grunt People shooting script.

Captain Beefheart vs he Grunt People costume design

3. Costume design for Captain Beefheart. Hat is made from plastic bleach bottle (crown). Brim is children's toilet seat with duck. Battery operated fan attached at waist keeps horribly foreshortened cape in state of incessant flaptitude (thereby making him look like he's going faster).

More scans of the 1969 script:
Pete Frame, "A Fine Madness", Zig Zag #8, December 1, 1969

Pete Frame: I gather that plans are afoot to begin filming 'Captain Beefheart versus The Grunt People', which Frank wrote some years ago. Can you tell us anything about that? [...] What's the theme? Who are the grunt people?

Captain Beefheart: Who are they, Frank?

FZ: They're these people on the Moon, who wear these clothes which are like burlap bags with fish and garbage sewn on them. They are the villains of the story, but turn out to be the victims of a government agent. It's a little warped—just enough to retain clarity . . . like a mirror that makes your arm look a little larger.

The 1969 Cast

Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People (1969 Script), p. 1

Don Vliet

Sue Vliet

Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf)

Bob Guy

Jeffrey R. Cotton

Motorhead Sherwood

Grace Slick

Don Preston

Mark C. Boston (Rockette Morton)

William Harkleroad (Zoothorn Rollo)

Victory Hayden

Jeff Rochelle



1984 Version


The Music

Society Pages #1 (US), 1989

Den Simms: You guys did this medley called "Orange County Lumber Truck". At the end of that came the section from "Lumpy Gravy". I understand that that part of "Lumpy Gravy" was originally written as part of Captain Beefheart And The Grunt People.

FZ: That was the theme for Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People.

Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People (1969 Script)

[p. 2]
SOUND: music and effects to fit.

[p. 3]
SOUND: Captain Beefheart sings unaccompanied . . .
(insert text of "WELL")

[p. 10]
MUSIC: "Moonlight On Vermont" pt. I
insert text [...]
MUSIC: "Moonlight" pt. II [...]

[p. 16]
MUSIC: "Steal Softly Thru Snow"
(insert text)

[p. 17]
LARRY: (O.S. singing)
I want to ride a pony [...]

[p. 22]
SOUND: filtered western music from transistor radio ("Lonely Lips")

[p. 23]
SOUND: filtered music from transistor radio
MUSIC: comic ballet accompaniment
"Dali's Car"

[p. 24]
SOUND: filtered western music from transistor radio

[p. 25]
MUSIC: "Moonlight On Vermont" pt. III

[p. 29]
LARRy: (O.S. singing)
Ponies are my joy and pride [...]

[p. 32]
MUSIC: "Moonlight On Vermont"
insert text [...]

[p. 45]
SOUND: music and effects to fit

[p. 53]
MUSIC: "Frownland"
insert text

[p. 58]
SOUND suitable electronic Lunar ballet music.

[p. 61]
SOUND electronic rock 'n roll.

[p. 63]
MUSIC: "My Human Gets Me Blues"
(insert text)

[p. 91]
SOUND Hot pants rock 'n roll.


Notes & Comments

[Sequence #4, Scene #17]
Shut up and get me a Pepsi!

[Sequence #5, Scene #36] We see Billy spraying Air Wick into the open hatch of the ship.

"Air Wick," Wikipedia, December 12, 2021

Air Wick is an American brand of air freshener [...]. It was first launched by creator Guy Paschal in 1943 in the United States, and is now sold worldwide.

[Sequence #7, Scene #63] Yes, folks, in 72 hours it'll be all over . . . the scheduled launching of Apollo 11 will be history . . .

"Apollo 11," Wikipedia, March 3, 2022

Apollo 11 (July 16—24, 1969) was the American spaceflight that first landed humans on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969, at 20:17 UTC, and Armstrong became the first person to step onto the Moon's surface six hours and 39 minutes later, on July 21 at 02:56 UTC. Aldrin joined him 19 minutes later, and they spent about two and a quarter hours together exploring the site they had named Tranquility Base upon landing.

[Sequence #9, Scene #88] SOUND: dynamo hum, etc.

[Sequence #10, Scene #108] I simply take some old boxes, staple them together . . .

[Sequence #17, Scene #176(174)]
BILLY: What's this "Batchino"?
CELESTIA: It's a line from an old Zsa Zsa Gabor movie: "QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE"

[Sequence #18, Scene #178] he is looking into the Watch-All Screen, like it was Red Goose Shoes X-ray machine.

"Red Goose Shoes," Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society's HistoryWiki, August 16, 2010

The Red Goose Shoe Company of St. Louis, Missouri, began selling shoes to pioneer families headed west in 1869. [...] Red Goose Shoes was trademarked in 1906. [...] Red Goose was swallowed up by the International Shoe in the first half of the 20th Century. International Shoe dropped Red Goose. And, by 1953, International Shoe Company changed its name to Interco and bought Florsheim Shoes.

"Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope," Wikipedia, Janaury 26, 2022

Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, also sold under the names X-ray Shoe Fitter, Pedoscope and Foot-o-scope, were X-ray fluoroscope machines installed in shoe stores from the 1920s until about the 1970s in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Germany and Switzerland.

[Sequence #19, Scene #189] The stone walls ooze green slime, which glistens in the eerie illumination.

[Scene #213] The cage with the giant spider in it, of course!

[Scenes #249-250] The United States Government does not like dreamers. They are dangerous. They cause confusion, ferment & sometimes even happiness. You dared to dream the Great American Dream . . . the one where you start on the bottom & work your way to the top. You wanted to match wits with THE SYSTEM . . . you challenged ITS SUPREME AUTHORITY . . . defied ITS UNIVERSAL MEDIOCRITY . . . all because you were A DREAMER. The Great American Dream is phased out & permanently canceled. On behalf of The Government of The United States of America, The Business Community, All Organized Religion, Mass Media & The Armed Forces . . . I perform this execution . . . to keep the Free World safe from scum like you & even the moon.

FZ, "Hey Hey Hey, Mister Snazzy Exec!," Circular, September 20, 1971

We make a special art in an environment hostile to dreamers.


Additional informants: Marc De Bruyn, David Wheeler.

Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
This page updated: 2023-01-22