Ray HAS a wonderful website, which he set up with the help of his friend Arnold Kunert, where you can keep track of all his current projects and learn more about his great works:
The first time I heard the name Ray Harryhausen, I barely reached the top of my father’s thigh. It wasn’t so much that my father was tall although he was well over six feet, but at the time it was the way he spoke to me about Jason and the Argonauts. There was a certain awe in his voice, and given his own creative abilities building slot cars and models back in those days, you couldn’t help but feel the excited rub off. Then he told me that I shouldn’t see this movie until I could see it on the big screen. Maybe this was my first lesson in the lost art of being patient. In the end my dear old dad proved right. Watching Jason and the Argonauts on the big screen at the grand old Roxy Theatre in Parramatta was indeed worth the lengthy wait. The memories still linger long after the Roxy became just another soulless multiplex.
Ray’s working life really began as a teenager holding his very first 16mm camera. Influenced by the classic Hollywood blockbuster, King Kong, which he first saw as a teenager at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Ray was soon dabbling with all sorts of creations ranging from dinosaurs to highly original monsters. This amazing marriage of film, models and stop-motion animation, begat a career, which has now flourished more than seventy years.
If King Kong was the catalyst then it was life in early Hollywood, which cast the mould. Dividing his time between USC, the Los Angeles Science-Fiction Society and his garage, Ray was moving with a very talented group of people, many of whom became the best in their particular fields. It may not be overstating my case to consider Ray Bradbury, Forest J Ackerman and Ray as something of a triumvirate in the field of science fiction creativity. Each man brought something unique to the genre and together they shaped the course of science fiction (including the overlapping areas of fantasy and horror) within the realms of popular literature and film, which redefined its entire iconography.
Of course, there were other influences, which worked towards shaping Ray’s work. Working under legendary filmmaker, Frank Capra in the Army Motion Picture Unit must have given Ray an enormous boost in both experience and technical skills from the point of view of working in a highly organized and tight unit, which worked very long hours and to very tight deadlines. Some of the finest work is achieved when working under difficult circumstances with a tight budget where improvisation and imagination replace money and support. Discipline in filmmaking can extend a career and allow for later successes. While Steven Spielberg’s early work supports this, Orson Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons illustrates the problems of early excesses. And we the poor audience are the poorer for it!!! I think Ray’s period in the army during WWII led to later economies of style, where less was more. And I think this is borne out when you see movies like Golden Voyages of Sinbad and the Argonauts, particularly when compared to the excesses of today’s movie makers.
Mr Harryhausen was kind enough to allow me a few questions relating to his work and here is what the great man had to say…
David: Do you recall when you signed your first autograph?
Ray: I’m sorry. I have no idea when I signed my first autograph. It may have been sometime in the 1960s at one of the fan conventions, but I don’t recall.
David: Can you tell us your favourite autograph conventions, please?
Ray: I don’t attend autograph conventions. I am usually invited to speak or be honored at various conventions of different sizes, but they aren’t called “autograph conventions.” I sign books and other items I’ve been involved with, but that happens almost anywhere else as well.
Ray: I have some treasured items from “King Kong:” (1933), my favorite film, but that’s about all.
David: If any person in history could sign their photo for you who would you choose?
Ray: I suppose I would be very happy to have met artist Gustave Dore and had something signed by him. He was one of my early heroes.
David: Could you share with us your favourite movie, book, song and actor?
Ray: My favorite movie is, of course, 1933’s “King Kong.” I don’t have favorites in the other categories you mentioned.
David: What project or work do you consider to be your finest achievement?
Ray: I suppose “Jason and the Argonauts” would be considered my most complete film. I was able to achieve most of what I was hoping to achieve on that film.
David: What brings joy to your life?
Ray: Being with my family brings me the most happiness. And, of course, being with friends…
David: Last but not least, is there an incident or moment from your life that best sums up Ray Harryhausen the person?
Ray: I suppose the first time I saw “King Kong” in a theater in 1933 was the defining moment in my life. I knew from that point on that I wanted to be involved with something in the arts. It took me a few years to determine exactly what path to take, but that film started it all for me.
Article © D Priol 2007
All photos copyrighted to their various owners.
Research included historical information obtained from J. Rodkey at http://members.fortunecity.com/ymir1/