Before I knew his name, I knew who he was.
First time would have been when I was 6 or 7. Anyway one favorite, and repeated excursion was to a nearby theater that would show “family friendly” movie matinees every weekend. Remember this was before home video, so these would have been your only chance to see such classics outside of the afternoon movie on one of your 13 local and national channels. They showed movies, and we went frequently. And more often than not, it was a movie where the Big Name was the guy who made the monsters. Actually, let’s fix that, because Ray Harryhausen never thought of them as monsters. Creatures, yes, but not monsters. He was very specific about that when I met him years later.
The Ray Harryhausen movies were the draw for us kids. Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (based on a story by his childhood friend, and another Ray — Bradbury). They were colorful even when they were in black and white, with easily defined lines between good and evil, with a menagerie of giant vultures, Cyclops’, sea creatures, dragons, and skeletons waiting in the wings to strike.
All my dad had to say was “Ray Harryhausen movie” to get me into the car. See, even he knew who Ray was. And I grew up with Ray as a giant figure in my life, as big as Godzilla who while a man in a suit, still held true to the vision Ray Harryhausen established; creatures, not monsters. In summer of 1980 I even made my own Super-8 stop-motion animated film. Well, not really a film; just a bunch of my Star Wars toys animated by my unseen hand and 24 frames per second. I still have it here.
For years to follow, every so often when one of ray’s movies would appear on TV on a rainy afternoon, it had my attention even when I had seen it numerous times before. This continued through my teens and into my 20s, and when I bought my first DVD player, the very first DVD I bought and watched on it was The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
In 2004 I got to meet and interview Ray (following that rare screening of Jason and the Argonauts, no less) on the occasion of the release of Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life. My hour with him began as he, his publicist, and his assistant were finishing their room service lunch (and Ray, ever the grandfather, reminded his assistant she hadn’t finished the capers on her Eggs Benedict) He was a very friendly, soft spoken man, and for the next hour we talked. About movies. About his work. About his favorite movie (one he shared with me, King Kong) About the generations of filmmakers he inspired.
That last point is the one you’ll hear a lot of this week. The people he influenced, and the films they made that serve as 24 fps tributes to Ray. Steven Spielberg and Jurassic Park; George Lucas and Star Wars; James Cameron and Terminator 2; Guillermo del Toro and Pacific Rim (surely the ultimate homage to Ray’s genius). But for me the ones he had the greatest impact on are the low budget DIY filmmakers who work out of the sheer love of the craft. The ones you haven’t heard about yet. That’s Ray’s legacy; he set the bar all creative types have to try and live up to.
So thanks, Ray, for everything.