Thursday, March 28, 2019

Seven Things to Know About Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen and friend.
1. Ray Harryhausen's interest in "dimensional animation" was spurred by his viewing of King Kong at age 13. Many years later, he showed some of his own animation to Kong's creator, stop-motion pioneer Willis O'Brien. The latter was impressed enough to hire Harryhausen as his assistant on Mighty Joe Young (1949). In his delightful Film Fantasy Scrapbook, Harryhausen noted that O'Brien was "so involved in production problems that I ended up animating about 85 percent of the picture." Mighty Joe Young won an Oscar for Special Effects.

2. After World War II, Ray made several short films, including a series of five fairy tales with animated puppets: Mother Goose Stories, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and GretelThe Story of Rapunzel, and The Story of King Midas. His mother did the costumes and his father helped make props.  As of this date, you can view Mother Goose Stories and The Story of King Midas on Amazon Prime as part of a film anthology with the uninspired title Puppet Movies.

Bad news for Golden Gate Bridge!
3. Due to budget and time constraints, the giant octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea only had six tentacles. Harryhausen dubbed it a "sexopus." Still, the creature was strong enough to crush the Golden Gate Bridge!

4. Ray Harryhausen's first feature-length movie as lead special effects creator was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which was based on Ray Bradbury's short story "The Fog Horn." Harryhausen and Bradbury has been friends since they were teenagers. According to Bradbury, they met in 1937 when "Ray walked into the Little Brown Room at Clifton's Cafeteria in Los Angeles for a science fiction fan-writer meeting."

Jason fighting skeletons.
5. Ray once wrote that "of the 15 fantasy features I have been connected with, I think Jason and the Argonauts pleases me the most." (Incidentally, it's the Cafe staff's favorite Harryhausen movie!) It took four and a half months to film the famous skeleton fighting sequence.The special effects wizard wrote that his one regret was that the scene didn't take place at night, noting: "Its effect would have been doubled."

6. The Valley of Gwangi (1969) was based on an idea hatched by Willis O'Brien back in the 1940s. O'Brien was keen to pit cowboys against an allosaurus. That film was never made, although it served as the basis for a low-budget 1956 picture called The Beast of Hollow Mountain. Harryhausen brought the idea to life in grand fashion with The Valley of Gwangi. Of course, several of Ray's ideas for movies never reached the silver screen. Notable ones are:  Sinbad and the Valley of the Dinosaurs; Sinbad Goes to Mars; Evolution (set during the Earth's early days); Jupiter; an adaptation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds; and Force of the Trojans, a follow-up to Clash of the Titans which is currently being developed by Morningside Productions and the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation.
Cowboys lasso a dinosaur!

7. Ray Harryhausen married Diana Livingstone Bruce in 1963. Her great-grandfather was Dr. David Livingstone, the famous Scottish physician and missionary ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"). Ray and Diana had one child, Vanessa, who is a board member for the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, which is dedicated to archiving, preserving, and restoring his father's work. We recently interviewed John Walsh, another member of the foundation's board.


  1. I didn't know that! Practically everything! Basically, I went through every paragraph saying "I knew that", "but I didn't know THAT." What fun!

  2. What a fun post! Count me as a fan of “Jason and the Argonauts” as well. I loved the skeleton fight in “7th Voyage of Sinbad” but in “Jason” there was a small army of them! How wonderful was that?

  3. "The Valley of Gwangi"is also notable as the RH film that has the most on screen minutes of his terrific stop~motion animation.