When I was working at Dave’s Video, back in 1991, I got to know people from a wide array of crafts in the film industry, and I loved meeting the wizards behind some of the most magical moments in movie history.
Jim Danforth and his wife Karen were two of our regular customers, and you seriously couldn’t ask for nicer people. Jim began his work in the industry working for Art Clokey, who created “Gumby,” and when Ray Harryhausen worked on “Clash of the Titans,” Danforth worked with him.
One particular afternoon, Jim and Karen came into the store, and they had an older English gentleman with them. They walked around the store browsing for a while, and at one point, I helped their friend find a couple of discs. After a while, they came up to the counter, and he set down the stack of movies he’d picked out. He handed over his credit card, and I glanced at the name.
I looked up, shocked, and I saw Jim Danforth see the look on my face and start to laugh. I hadn’t recognized Harryhausen, but as soon as I realized it was him, I stammered out something about how much his work meant to me, and he laughed warmly, putting me at ease as he thanked me. We ended up talking for about ten minutes until finally everything was rung up and they were all finished and good to go. He was happy to talk about his films and his work, and I could have spent hours chatting with him if he’d had the time.
His work is impossible to quantify in terms of the impact it had on both film fans and filmmakers. His influence is felt in movies every year, and his work continues to resonate with new young fans as they’re introduced to it. I’ve written about Harryhausen as part of the Film Nerd 2.0 series, and today when my sons got home from school, I let them break with convention. Normally, there’s no TV until after dinner, but while they were having their snack, I told them they could put on any of the Harryhausen films they wanted to put on. They started debating, and I listened to their back and forth.
“We could watch ‘Sinbad.’ That one’s got a cyclops in it.”
“What’s a cyclops?”
“That’s the big weird guy with the one eye.”
“I want to see the skeletons who fight with the guys!”
“That’s ‘Jason and the Argonauts.’ You want to see that one?”
“Yeah! ‘Jason and the Arnobots’!”
“I want ‘Clash of the Titans.’ That’s got Medusa and the Pegasus!”
“What’s the Pesasus?”
“That’s the horse that can fly. With the wings.”
“OH! That’s the one with the robot birdie!”
“Right. Bubo. He’s the owl.”
“RIGHT! BUBO! PUT ON BUBO!”
And it struck me, listening as the debate continues with “20 MillIon Miles To Earth” and “Valley of Gwangi” and “It Came From Beneath The Sea” also in the mix, and it struck me that the legacy of what Harryhausen did is alive and well in young film fans, and listening to how many of his moments and characters have made impressions on my own kids, it’s obvious that his work will live on. He’s as great an artist as we’ve seen work in the medium, and as long as we are watching the fantastic brought to life on film, there will be some of Harryhausen in there, alive, making the incredible possible.
Ray Harryhausen was 92 years old.