RAY HARRYHAUSEN 1920 – 2013

Happy day/Crappy day. We often live in a bittersweet, yin and yang existence. On what should be one of the happiest days of my life (the official release date of my new book, Legends of the Blues), I just got hit with the devastating news of the passing of my friend and cinematic hero, the great Ray Harryhausen.

For me (and a lot of other impressionable youths in 1958), my enchantment with the work of master stop-motion animator and special effects man Ray Harryhausen all began with experiencing The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

I was nine years old. Upon its release I saw that film a magical seven times in two weeks. I couldn’t get enough of it — the visual splendor, the color, the magnificent Bernard Herrmann score, the wonderful cast…but I was especially awestruck by the film’s unique monsters.

I come from a movie nut family. Together we consumed an average of six features per week (three double bills) at the drive-in. Then, on Saturday (and sometimes Sunday, too), my brothers and I would be dropped off by our parents at the Reseda Theater (or another local “walk-in”) to see a another double bill or two.

We were dropped off one Saturday to catch a matinee showing of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. During intermission I called my mom to let her know that after the second feature we were going to watch Seventh Voyage again. Then, I begged my parents to let me see it two more times on Sunday. When given a choice of films the following weekend, my brothers and I rejected the new features we hadn’t seen in favor of viewing Sinbad a few more times.

Seventh Voyage was the first film I ever saw as a child in which I became conscious of the importance of a film’s musical score. Bernard Herrmann’s Arabian Nights symphony for Sinbad still holds up as one of his finest scores. I personally rate it with not only the finest film scores in history but feel that it holds its own amongst classical music of that genre, including Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

Even at nine I knew enough about credits to figure out who was responsible for the Sinbad film’s magical beasts: Ray Harryhausen. From the moment I saw those awesome pixilations I began to seek out Harryhausen’s past work and anticipate each new stop-motion adventure with an enthusiasm I could barely control. I read all I could about the man and his work in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine featuring articles written by Ray’s high school pal Forrest J. Ackerman (Ray’s other friend from his teen years was Ray Bradbury. In 1953 Harryhausen brought Bradbury’s dinosaur from the short story “The Fog Horn” to life in the movie The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms).

I had to see each of Ray’s new films on opening day. Little did I suspect that one day Ray and I would become friends, eventually embarking together upon a dream project ignited by the supernatural spark of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad was not the first Harryhausen movie I ever saw. I recall being scared witless in the back seat of our Ford as I watched Earth vs. Flying Saucers at the Reseda drive-in in 1956. It was explained to me by my father that this was science fiction. He emphasized the “science” part of “science fiction”, however, impressing upon my young mind that the science part of it meant that this invasion of earth by flying saucers could indeed happen — a fact that would probably come to pass in the near future. Assuming it was just a matter of weeks, I began to plot and prepare for the inevitable while watching the movie.

Ray’s first feature, Mighty Joe Young, may have been my first exposure to the sure and steady artistry of Mr. Harryhausen. After the dramatic success of the 1933 King Kong on the 50s TV package program the Million Dollar Movie (one film would be selected to be shown twice a day weekdays and then three times each on Saturday and Sunday), I can’t imagine that the Million Dollar Movie wouldn’t have shown Mighty Joe Young shortly thereafter.

My Terra Nova Press book of drawings entitled Tribute to Ray Harryhausen contained my graphic interpretations of every creature Ray Harryhausen ever animated for feature films.

Here is a list of Ray’s legacy of feature films:
Mighty Joe Young (1949)
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)
The Animal World (1955/56)
Earth vs. Flying Saucers (1956)
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
The Three Worlds of Gullivar (1960)
Mysterious Island (1961)
Jason and The Argonauts (1963)
First Men In The Moon (1964)
One Million B. C. (1966)
The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)
Sinbad and The Eye of The Tiger (1977)
Clash of The Titans (1981)

Ray and I eventually met through mutual friends. We found we had a lot in common, including a passion for King Kong (we both attended the 50th Anniversary recreation of the premiere of King Kong at Graumann’s Chinese Theater, as well as the VIP party afterwards with Fay Wray) and a keen admiration for the work of the pioneer visualizer of prehistoric life, Charles R. Knight, and for the French animalier sculptor Antoine Louis Barye.

One of my favorite Harryhausen moments happened when Ray was a guest at one of our informal meetings of the Dinosaur Society of Los Angeles. Don Glut had brought a collection George Meliès silent fantasy films to show us. Ray was sitting behind me with his friend and fellow stop-motion wizard Jim Danforth. As we viewed Meliès’ turn of the century short films I couldn’t help but be both amused (and astounded) to hear the then reigning kings of cinematic special effects wizardry both comment on what we were seeing with, “How did he do that?!”

Ray never lost his humility nor his childlike enthusiasm for life. We were both guests at Louisville’s WonderFest convention one year. When I arrived in the convention hotel’s lobby, I was greeted by Ray.

“Bill!” he exclaimed, like a little kid who had just been given the keys to the candy shop. “You’ve got to see my room — it’s HUGE!”

Ray Harryhausen has probably inspired more young people to get into film than any other single person in The Business. Most of the guys I know (and I know a lot of ‘em!) who work in special effects or special make-up effects, or in the science fiction/fantasy/horror film genres idolize Ray. Robert RodriguezSpy Kids 2 is virtually a feature length tribute to Ray and his work.

It was my dear friend Richard Jones (Richard produced a wonderful documentary on the life and work of Ray Harryhausen) who suggested that Ray and I should collaborate on a sequel to The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

We intended the film to be a capper to Ray’s career. Ray had retired, so we weren’t expecting him to go back and animate again. Instead, our plan was to hand the animation of each creature off to an acolyte of Ray and his work, using the best people in the business. Ray would be the overall Special Effects Supervisor. This would allow each team to create a stirring homage to Harryhausen. We were also sure that each artist would try to outdo the others in their attempts to honor Ray, making for a competitive creative process in the most positive fashion and spirit possible.

I got together with Ray and asked for a list of all the creatures he ever wanted to animate but that for some reason or another (usually budget) he never got a chance to bring to life. I then wrote a screenplay incorporating all of these creatures (and a few more) into The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad – Return to Colossa. We’ve been looking for that elusive studio green light ever since. When that happens, perhaps a new generation of nine-year-olds will be inspired to wander down their own Harryhausen-influenced path of fantastic creativity.

Until then, I’ll have to content myself with Ray’s rich cinematic legacy. By the way, if it’s not too late, grab the limited edition of  Twilight Time‘s blu-ray version of Mysterious Island. It’s an absolute revelation! The color and transfer of this film is so breathtaking, it’s almost like seeing it for the first time. I pray that someday the rest of Harryhausen’s oeuvre receives the same lovingly detailed restoration.

My work schedule today is now out the window. Instead, I am going to settle in front of my home screen and watch Ray’s films for the rest of the day, reliving the thrills, joy, laughs, beauty and tears — especially the tears today — of the worlds created by the late, great fantasy film legend, that Talos-sized giant of a man: Mr. Ray Harryhausen.

15 Responses to “RAY HARRYHAUSEN 1920 – 2013”

  1. Jim Latimer says:

    What a tremendous shock! We tend to think of our childhood idols as immortal, imagining, through the timeless magic of their craft, that they will be there forever. Surely Frazetta, Bradbury, and now Ray Harryhausen cannot be gone from our midst. Truly, a magical era has passed.

    Like many fans, I never had the great pleasure of meeting Ray, but, through his timeless work, I thought of him as an intimate acquaintance. My appreciation began with viewings of his films on old black and white television sets. With Ray as my guide, I sailed the seas with Sinbad, quested with Jason, explored dinosaur laden lost worlds, thrilled to otherworldy creatures, marveled at the wonders of Olympus, and sat entranced at the edge of my seat. The magic continued when I was able to experience his work on the big screen. I remained, and remain, amazed by what unfolded before my eyes.

    The sheer technical genuis of Ray Harryhausen’s work, and imagination, remain unmatched. All fantasists working today, whether film or art, owe a debt to Ray. His visons fueled a generation of creative talents. What would the fantasy landscape of today look like, bereft of his body of work?

    It is hard to put into words what the loss of Ray means to me. It seems that I have lost a dear friend. Hopefully, the above, rambling, narrative will match the feelings of many who read it. Although we can all appreciate the technical merit of his creations, I remain firmly convinced that there was magic in those nimble hands.

    Farewell to a legend.

  2. Rick Catizone says:

    Thanks for the tribute, Bill. Sorry for your loss.

    Yes, hard to encapsulate all that Ray meant to each of us. The closest I may have come is my video tribute for his 90th birthday. Your film idea sounds great. I guess for now, the closest we will come will be Ron Cole and Mark Sullivan’s work in the upcoming Sinbad’s Fifth Voyage.

    It was an especially sad day for me when Ray announced his retirement. It meant an end to the films that inspired me every three years since I was 8 or 9. It was the crashing end to my expectation of new delights from Ray’s imagination and agile hands. Now, the second crash is even harder, knowing I will never speak to him again.

    All the Best,
    Rick

  3. Bill says:

    Hi Jim,
    Don’t worry about rambling. Times of great sorrow tend to induce that condition in our sadly numbed brains.

    Hi Rick,
    I became very concerned when I was told Ray was too feeble to make plane trips anymore. Fortunately for Ray, he could drive (or be driven) between his homes in London and Spain. Like my times with Ray Bradbury, I cherish every moment I got to spend with Mr. Harryhausen. Happily, there were many with both gentlemen.

  4. Aaron says:

    This hit like a ton of bricks. I knew Ray was getting up there but he was one you just kept thinking or hoping would go on forever. Even though he was retired I loved seeing his smiling face posted whenever a new book or tribute or exhibition came out.

    I first encountered his work watching Saturday Night at the Movies when Jason and the Argonauts came on. My family spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out how the creatures had been brought to life. Around the same time I saw First Men in the Moon in the theater and it is still one of my favorites. I can’t say that Mr. Harryhausen’s magic set my life on any career arc but it did set my imagination loose. I used to spend all kinds of time dreaming up films (including a 7th Voyage sequel called Sinbad and the Island of the Cyclops) done in Harryhausen’s style. Much of this involved stalking around with my arms held cocked back at the elbows in imitation of the cyclops and Ymir.

    I did have the privilege of meeting Ray twice, once at the Detroit premier of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and later when The University of Omaha film society honored him with an award, and showed Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts on the big screen. I was able to talk to him a few times on both occasions and what a kind a gracious guy he was. At the Omaha theater screening I was transported back to the days of my youth when Talos slowly turned his head to stare down at Hercules. These moments were awesome in the true sense of the word – filling the eyes, the mind, and the heart with a sense of amazement and wonder.

    God give you good rest Mr. Harryhausen and thank you so very, very much for everything.

  5. Jim says:

    Pull up the film industry’s special FX community by the roots and you’ll find Ray Harryhausen. And I still want to know,”How did he do that”?

  6. Rick Catizone says:

    Jim, Ernie Farino recently published a compilation of FXRH ( a labor of love from the 70’s), dedicated to Ray and his work. It should give you an idea of his methods. Then there is Ray’s own book, An Animated Life which is revealing if you are unfamiliar with the tricks of the trade. And there is a three volume set of Ray Harryhausen, Master of the Majicks. Sadly volumes two and three are sold out. Volume One is still available for order and should be shipping in a month or so I believe.

    http://archive-editions.com/rayharryhausenme.html

    http://archive-editions.com/thefxrhcollection.html

  7. Bill says:

    The Master of Magicks books are incredible. They were very limited. As soon as the editions sold out, their prices on the secondary market skyrocketed. Within 30 days these $60 books were going for $1200. I luckily was able to trade a drawing for Volume Two (the first released volume), then bought Volume Three as soon as it came out. I was a contributor to Volume One, which should be reaching these shores any day now.

  8. Thank you, Bill.

    As this soaks into the public awareness I can foresee a time when Ray Harryhausen will be as revered as Walt Disney and John Ford. His example set the very concept of what fantasy films should be and the rich quality of artistry that goes into them. His real influence may be impossible to estimate. But, there are those of us who already know. Gotta go now. Can’t type.
    I’ll sculpt more dinosaurs tomorrow.

  9. Rick Tucker says:

    Bill,

    Ray will always be a part of my movie library. I ate his stuff up as a kid. Even my mom is a big Mighty Joe Young freak (she’s the person who told me the father of Law & Order’s SVU, Mariska Hargatay, was the daughter of the actor/wrestler featured in the stand men fight scene in that film). Anyway, seeing Harryhausen’s magic on the TV, the big screen and even at our St. Stephen’s movie day in elementary Catholic school was always a treat. I remember counting the monster scenes. Between the FX and Bernard Herrmann’s scores you knew you were in for an exciting experience. Even if I didn’t like the character leads I still had to watch the film. My personal favorites are alway shifting but that’s how it goes when you’re such a sap for the magic. The film that always hits the highest marks for me is Mysterious Island. I even like the cast.
    It’s too bad that he stopped making films in the early eighties and it took too long for the digital film making to catch up.
    I did get to meet Ray one time, though I’d seen him at San Diego once or maybe twice I only met him once in Omaha for a special film showing of the original King Kong in ’98.
    We have some great film makers and before Ray we had the giant Willis O’Brien, but Ray’s impact will probably never be eclipsed.
    There will always be his films to look back on but that can’t replace the spark of his being here. We were all damn lucky to grow up dreaming along with him. At least we have that.

    Rick

  10. Bill says:

    Well put, Rick.

    While vacationing in Vegas back in the Rat Pack days, my dad and Jayne Mansfield shared the hotel pool, with Mickey Hargitay in attendance.

    Mysterious Island is one of my RH favorites, too, along with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts (great Hermann scores all). And I’m crazy about the Ymir and the always loveable Mr. Joseph Young!

  11. Lenny Daigle says:

    Bill, this was taken at the Wonderfest that you mentioned above. Sorry, your eyes were closed.

    http://i1253.photobucket.com/albums/hh590/Talos17/ray.jpg

  12. Bill says:

    Hi Lenny,
    Yup; sleepy (or blinky) Bill. Thanks for posting — Ray looks pretty darn happy!

  13. Aaron says:

    Lenny,

    Who did the preproduction drawing of Ann Darrow in the tree by the T-Rex? It must be recent because the pose of the tyranosaur is in keeping with more modern reconstruction. Great pictures.

  14. Lenny Daigle says:

    Aaron,

    Thanks! I did that drawing. The original, along with all of my other art to that date, was lost to hurricane Katrina. The water reached my roof. I was lucky to present a copy to Ray Harryhausen at Wonderfest. Here is the full image.

    http://i1253.photobucket.com/albums/hh590/Talos17/gforum_cgi.jpg

  15. Richard Middleton says:

    A devastating loss to the movie world. I was introduced to Ray the same way Bill. A Saturday matinee showing of Seventh Voyage in 1971, I was 10. I was already nuts about dinosaurs, King Kong, and Monster Movies, so I guess I was already genetically predisposed to Ray’s wiles. From the opening of Hermann’s overture, to the dragon on the beach, I was riveted. I was never quite the same after that, I consumed his movies voraciously. When Famous Monsters announced Ray was working on another Sinbad film I don’t think I’ve been as excited about a movie release before or since. I’ve collected all his works, even the old Film Fantasy scrapbook from the seventies. He lived well, and the fact so many of us mourn his passing is a testament to the footprint he leaves behind.

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