This evening is the official opening of REVOLUTIONS 2 – Music as Artat the Forest Lawn Museum (corner of Glendale Avenue & San Fernando Road in Glendale).
I’ve got over 50 pieces in this group show. My work dates from my art school days right up until a month or two ago. I did a big Jimi Hendrix painting just for the show (Hendrix as a merman, illustrating my favorite song of his: 1983…A Merman I Should Turn to Be).
The museum shop is well-stocked with my book Legends of the Blues. I’ll be signing all night long (well…from 6:00 – 8:00 PM anyway).
I never had the pleasure of meeting French film star Louis Jourdan, but I loved his work. Our connection was tenuous at best (read on). Gigi is a favorite musical of mine; he was great in it as Gaston. Because of his good looks and the huge success of Gigi, he got typecast as the prototypical suave French lover, a type of role he quickly tired of.
I liked him in his genre films. A lot of folks don’t know this (it wasn’t mentioned in the Los Angeles Times obit) but the 1976 Jourdan BBC-TV movie version of Count Dracula adhered closer to Bram Stoker’s book than any other version.
A fan of the book, I loved it (Louis played the vampiric Count). The DVD is available from Amazon:
His other horror/sci-fi/fantasy films include Swamp Thing, Octopussy (there’s our connection — I designed that film’s logo), The Return of the Swamp Thing and that little sci-fi gem Year of the Comet.
I first became aware of Gary Owens when he was a disc jockey on KFWB. You couldn’t miss his distinctive voice. He followed that gig by hosting a daily 3:00 -5:00PM daily show for KMPC in Los Angeles. He had a lot of freedom at KMPC. They allowed him to do some of the wildest radio comedy I had ever heard — laugh-out-loud funny stuff. IHis show was so unique and out there, it felt like I was listening to something that probably should have been forbidden to my teenage ears.
Gary was similar to Jonathan Winters in a few ways. Both had a knack for creating wildly funny characters with W. C. Fields-ish wacky names. Gary’s included the gruff old Earl C. Festoon and his wife Phoebe, the stuffy old businessman Endocrine J. Sternwallow, the goofy corn-poner Merle Clyde Gumpf and the cranky old curmudgeon Mergenthaler Waisleywillow.
Owens and Winters also both began as cartoonists. Gary was a member and active participant in CAPS, the Comic Art Professional Society, a group based in Los Angeles.
Gary was a master of double-talk, inventing words like krenellemuffin, creeble and insegrievious. He would describe a dress as being a beautiful shade of veister with krelb accents.
You might know Gary as the voice of Space Ghost and Roger Ramjet. More likely, you remember him as the hand-on-the-ear announcer in the booth on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In or as the TV newscaster on The Green Hornet TV show.
My pal Richard Jones produced a series of dinosaur specials (and one on prehistoric mammals) for ABC-TV. My art was peppered all through those shows (they are all back in print and currently available on DVD). Gary and Eric Boardman were the shows’ humorous hosts. Gary actually acted with my wife, who played his nurse on the prehistoric mammals show (a show my young sons at the time referred to as “Mommy and the Mammals”).
Gary is also famous for coining the phrase “beautiful downtown Burbank”, which was used on both Laugh-In and The Tonight Show.
Gary was one of the kindest and most generous entertainers I have ever met. He never failed to cheerfully pitch in when we approached him regarding the possibility of helping out with hosting or presenting at a CAPS event. In my entire life I have never heard anyone say anything even slightly derogatory in regards to Gary Owens. Believe me, in show business, that’s something that is as rare as it gets.
Gary’s death is a big loss to the entertainment business, to the world of comic art and to this great man’s vast legion of friends and admirers (I am proud to be able to count myself as both).
I first met Stephen Czerkas back in the late 1970s.
We hit it off right away, as we had a lot in common. We were both young filmmakers, we both loved stop motion animation and we both loved dinosaurs. I was a painter; Stephen was a sculptor. Stephen was then in the middle of making and animating the creatures for Planet of the Dinosaurs (Stephen also worked on Dreamscape and Flesh Gordon). The footage I saw amazed me.
Well, the footage I saw by Stephen amazed me (Stephen did great work, but overall the entire film itself is a dog).
Shortly after that, we both got very serious in regards to accurate paleontological reconstruction — Stephen even more seriously than myself. I once saw him completely destroy an entire model, beautifully sculpted down to the last detail, because he learned the had made the animal’s tail an inch too long.
We both fought a battle for respect within the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, an esteemed organization we both joined around the same time. It was an upward battle, as our film backgrounds and work in fictional and fantasy arenas made us suspect within that community. It probably didn’t help Stephen’s reputation with them when I hired him to sculpt the fully articulated foam rubber animation maquette of my design for a new Godzilla back in 1982.
But Stephen was my pal. He cheerfully pitched in to help on the film without hesitation, reservation or complaint.
I know that acceptance by the scientific community was very important to Stephen. He worked twice as hard as any paleontologist I’ve ever met to achieve legitimacy in their eyes. Sadly, some of them would never come around, as they kept a tight grasp upon their prejudices, despite Stephen’s groundbreaking work.
Stephen and I shared an artistic hero: Charles R. Knight. Knight visually defined dinosaurs for the world. It was his dinosaurs that were in King Kong and Fantasia (Knight painted the dinosaur murals for the natural history museums in New York and Chicago, as well as the La Brea tar pits mural for Los Angeles). Stephen was a visionary similar to Knight. Just as Knight changed and formed the public’s perceptions of dinosaurs, so did Stephen. He was a visual pioneer when it came to depicting dinosaurs with feathers.
I believe he and his talented wife Sylvia should receive a special acknowledgement from the paleontological community, if only for their pioneering work and observations in regards to dinosaur skin.
In 1984 Stephen and Sylvia got a call from Argentina. A very unusual dinosaur was being unearthed. Steve and Sylvia hooped on the first flight down there. They immediately noticed that in addition to the bones of this new dinosaur, there were lots and lots of preserved skin impressions. They made the paleontologists aware of this and changed the excavation procedure to include all of the skin as well as the fossilized bones.
It became a dramatic turning point in paleontological field collection. Up until that moment paleontologists did not expect to find skin when digging up dinosaurs. Because of Stephen and Sylvia, they became much more cautious. From that point on scientists began to look for the possibility of skin — and they began to find it. Lots of it. That Argentinian dinosaur they were called to see was Carnotaurus. About 90% of that animal’s skin was recovered thanks to Stephen and Sylvia. Here is Stephen with his sculpture of Carnotaurus, perhaps the first life restoration of a theropod showing accurate skin:
I believe we now have skin samples from every major dinosaur family thanks to their perceptive observations. Most of what we now know about dinosaur skin is a direct result of their educated and intuitive observation and vision, a vision that became the genesis for the subsequent explosion of information and knowledge in that rarefied but important field. Stephen himself discovered that sauropods (like Brontosaurus/Apatosaurus and Diplodocus) had a row of upright non-bony spines projecting from the top of their neck, back and most of their tail.
Stephen was serious — but also kind, sweet, and a loyal friend. He never lost his enthusiasm for the things he loved. He felt like the luckiest kid in the world when he met and became friends with one of his greatest heroes, fellow stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen.
Stephen found his soul mate in the talented and extremely perceptive Sylvia, whose love and wisdom gently helped him to successfully navigate the often-layered social worlds hitherto unfamiliar to him. Sylvia provided a safe refuge for Stephen so that he could pursue the knowledge and learning for which he never lost his hunger.
He has been taken from all of us far too soon. He has left us with a huge hole in our lives, a chasm that no one else can fill.
I don’t believe in Heaven. But if by some chance there is a heaven, I know that Stephen is there. And I pray to God that heaven abounds in dinosaurs, just so that Stephen can look around and say, “See? I was right!”
PS: On another subject entirely, Happy President’s Day!