James Cameron. Steven Spielberg. John Lasseter. Rick Baker. Peter Jackson. No, the category isn’t Oscar winners. It’s a list of people whose careers were influenced by one of films true legends: Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen, whose career spanned six decades, died today in London. He was 92.
Beginning with 1942’s “Tulips Shall Grow” and ending with his best known film, 1981’s “Clash of the Titans,” Harryhausen inspired moviegoers throughout the world.
Born in Los Angeles on June 29, 1920, Harryhausen’s life changed when, in 1933, he saw the original “King Kong.” Interested in filmmaking, and experimenting in animation, a friend introduced him to Willis O’Brien, who had created Kong. He showed O’Brien some of his work and was soon taking classes in sculpture and graphic arts. In 1939 he and an author friend joined a local Science Fiction League which was presided over by Forrest J. Ackerman. The author was Ray Bradbury and the three remained friends up until their deaths. One of my most cherished autographs!
After securing a job working on George Pal’s “Puppetoons” he was drafted into the United States Army, where he was placed in the Special Services Division under the command of Colonel Frank Capra. He was a jack-of-all-trades for Capra, filling in wherever a hand was needed on his film crew. After his discharge Harryhausen went to work on his first big film, 1947’s “Mighty Joe Young,” which allowed him the chance to work with his idol, O’Brien, who went on to win that years Academy Award for Best Special Effects. He went on to produce the visual effects for such films as “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” “Earth vs the Flying Saucers,” “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and it’s sequels, “One Million Years B.C.” and “The Valley Gwangi.”
I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Harryhausen on a couple of occasions and a nicer man with a genuine affection for his fans you will never find.
In 1992 he received the Gordon E. Sawyer award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But perhaps a greater honor came in PIXAR’s hit film “Monsters, Inc., where Mike Wozowski takes his dinner date to the best place in town. It’s name: Harryhausens.