Tom Neyman, best known for his role as The Master in the 1966 cult classic Manos: The Hands Of Fate, died on Saturday. His daughter, Jackey Neyman, who also appeared in the film as young Debbie, shared the news on Facebook, stating that Neyman “has now transcended to become Manos. #HeIsAlwaysWithUs.” He was 80.
Born in 1935, Neyman—a professional artist—was active in community theater throughout the ‘60s. His only film credit is Harold P. Warren’s Manos: The Hands Of Fate, made famous by Mystery Science Theater 3000 and deemed “The Worst Movie Ever Made” by Entertainment Weekly. Made as a result of a bet with In The Heat Of The Night screenwriter Stirling Silliphant for a budget of $19,000, Manos featured local theater actors and models and was shot on 16mm, with all dialogue and sound effects dubbed in during post-production. Manos premiered on November 15, 1966, and was called a “brave experiment” by the El Paso Herald-Post.
“[Harold P. Warren] wanted something that, regardless of the quality of the movie, would get some attention and get some attendance,” Neyman explained in the 2013 interview with Synapse Films above. “His notion, at least as he expressed it, was, ‘once this one brings in some money then we’ll have more cash to work with to make other films.’ I’m just not real sure that it did that.” In addition to starring in the film, Neyman helped in designing Torgo’s extremely large kneecaps, as well as painting the self-portrait of “The Master” that hung in the living room of the lodge.
Manos disappeared into obscurity until 1993, when it was shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Selected by Frank Conniff, the episode is considered one of the best of the series. “I’m the person who reached into a box and pulled out a Manos: The Hands Of Fate tape and put it into the VCR,” Conniff told the Asbury Park Press last year. “I was kind of the one to find it, and it’s very funny to me that it’s now a part of American popular culture. Maybe some people would say we shouldn’t be proud of that, but I am.”
“I never thought it was going to be found at all,” Jackey Neyman told The Blood Shed earlier this year. “I spent many years searching for it with Tom (Neyman) because once we saw the premiere that was it, we never saw it again. It was pretty much a shock when my dad actually saw it on Mystery Science Theater one Saturday night in 1993.”
Shortly before his death, Neyman had just completed shooting on Manos Returns, a sequel to the 1996 original produced by his daughter Jackey. “The basis for making this was my dad had to be involved,” Jackey recently explained to The Blood Shed. “He was The Master in the original, and he’s 80 years old now, and Manos has enjoyed all this amazing fame for 23 years, and we’re reaching the 50th anniversary this November. He and I are actually two of the last surviving cast members.”
Synapse Films released a Blu-ray of Manos: The Hands Of Fate—restored from the original 16mm Ektachrome work print—in October 2015.