…and now there are none.
They were truly legendary, the first fan boys to become more than fans, ur-geeks who went on to help shape modern culture to varying degrees throughout their long, productive lives.
I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Ray Harryhausen several times over the years, though never as long as I would have liked. He was a charming and soft-spoken man, very gentlemanly and polite. The kind of person you’d cast as a kindly old grandfather on a Disney Channel movie, not the kinda guy who gave us this…
My very first exposure to Ray Harryhausen occurred roughly around the same time I first encountered the work of Ray Bradbury. Rain pre-empted a scheduled kindergarten trip, so to keep us quiet they screened a 16mm print of Harryhausen’s King Midas.
Yikes! Not exactly kid fare, is it? Not when you compare it with the Popeye and Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons that ran endlessly on local kiddee cartoon shows.
Yeah, cartoons had their scary moments, but they were cartoon-scary, more funny than frightening, certainly not real in the sense our families were real, and certainly comforting insofar as we’d seen dozens of Popeye and Bugs and Daffy cartoons so we knew nothing really bad was going to happen to them.
But Harryhausen’s animated version of the classic Greek myth (updated to fairy tale medieval Europe) was unsettling. First off, we didn’t know these characters, so we had no idea if they were going to come through intact or not. Secondly, they occupied some weird realm more real than cartoons but not yet fully in our own world.
That probably is the best explanation for Harryhausen’s unique hold on the imagination of millions of young boys and girls, even after he left his series of self-produced fairy tales to go on to provide special effects for major studio productions.
He brought the unreal to life in a way that was difficult to emulate with costumes and props. He could create monsters that truly looked monstrous, not like a guy in a rubber suit, and bring them to life in a manner that easily achieved suspension of disbelief.
There was, for lack of a better word, charm to his creations, and he beguiled generations of audiences and fans.
As posted above, his trek began early in the days of science fiction fandom, when a handful of excitable young boys poured over the meager offerings on the newsstands and cinemas. Ray H. was friends with Ray Bradbury and Forrest J Ackerman, and the trio grew up together in pre-WWII Los Angeles, fueling each others’ interests and desires in the realm of imaginative stories.
Just as Metropolis and Amazing Stories grabbed hold of young Forry Ackerman’s mind, so did King Kong with Ray Harryhausen. There’s not enough time or space here to do full justice to the story (besides, that’s what the Internet is for); suffice it to say Ray & Ray & 4SJ ended up fulfilling at least some of the lofty dreams of their youth, and in doing so inspired and challenged many, many others (yrs trly included) to follow their dreams as well.
One closing story to demonstrate the friendship among the trio: Following his work assisting Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young, Harryhausen was offered the gig of providing the special effects for a new monster movie. Ray H. read the script and quickly realized the core scene in the film — a scene where the monster, attracted by a foghorn, attacks a lighthouse in the mistaken belief it’s one of its kind — was lifted from Ray B.’s famous short story, “The Foghorn”.
Most people in Hollywood would have said nothing, a few would have notified their friend and let them handle it on their own.
Ray H. did something far, far smarter: He suggested to the producers that they contact Ray Bradbury as a consultant on the sci-fi angle of the film.
They did, and so they walked into a perfect trap where if they denied they had lifted the story they would had demonstrated prior knowledge of Ray Bradbury and so would have lost any possible lawsuit…
So they bought the story from Ray B. and credited him in the movie…
R.I.P., Mr. Harryhausen, and thanx for all the wonderful memories and inspiration…
”What’s my motivation in this scene?”