Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ray Harryhausen

I owe quite a bit of my childhood, which is still going on according to my wife Patty, to a great man named Ray Harryhausen. If you don't recognize the name, surely you must recognize his work as the stop motion genius behind such fantasy classics as "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", "Mighty Joe Young", "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad",  and one of my all time favorites "Jason and the Argonauts". In fact Patty and I went to see a Harryhausen double feature showing  those two films at the the old Newart one evening along with Tim Burton when we were students at CalArts in the mid 1970s. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Tim was a big fan of his work as evident in many of his later stop motion films such as the "Nightmare Before Christmas."
That evening we were in for a very  special treat for sitting directly in front of us was Ray Harryhausen himself! He was so kind and since there were only about 10 of us in the entire audience (yeah, pretty weird) we were able to converse with him about the films we were screening while they were being shown. He even signed our programs when the films were over! I quickly realized that pretty much the entire young film community at that time was a big fan of his amazing work. The admiration of the film industry is even more evident when you see in jokes like the Monstropolis restaurant named "Harryhausen" in PIXAR's 2002 animated feature, Monster's Inc.".

Ray was in the audience when "King Kong" first roared to life in stop motion at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood in 1933 and at 13 years old he was hooked. "I haven't been the same since." he used to say concerning that screening. Ray was somehow overlooked by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce but thanks to a letter writing campaign that included Hollywood heavyweights such as Steven Spielberg he was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As Steven himself stated, "Without Harryhausen's effects work over the last five decades, there would never have been a "Star Wars" or a "Jurassic Park".

Today sadly Raymond "Ray" Harryhausen passed away in London at the age of 92. I'm grateful I had the chance to meet him and spend an evening with him discussing his work in such an intimate setting . I'm just as grateful that I have been allowed to enjoy his drawings, paintings, sculpture, animation and in the end- his films which will serve to attest to Ray's talent and creative energies  for future generations.