Like his honorary Oscar in 1992, Ray Harryhausen’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was long overdue, but it finally happened yesterday afternoon near the historic El Capitan Theater at the corner of Hollywood and Highland.
Among the many adoring fans gathered were some of the top names working in special effects today, including Stan Winston, Rick Baker and Greg Nicotero. Also in attendance were Golden Voyage of Sinbad director Gordon Hessler and Laugh-In regular Gary Owens, who narrated Harryhausen’s recently completed short The Tortoise and the Hare.
Also sharing in the celebration were a few of Harryhausen’s long-time pals, including the iconic Famous Monsters of Filmland publisher Forest J. Ackerman and legendary science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury.
“How many friendships have you known in your lifetime that have lasted so long?” Bradbury asked the crowd. “I have a star on Hollywood Boulevard two blocks away. Some time, I’m going to just pick it up, bring it down and set it right next to Ray’s star. Today is a happy day for me, and a happy day for Ray Harryhausen.”
Ackerman, who seems to have recovered quite well from several recent bouts with life-threatening illness, told his friend, “I almost died twice last year, so it’s a miracle that I’m here to celebrate this magic moment with you. I still recall 1939 when a little teenager came to visit me and I gave him my first set of stills from King Kong. So Kong-gratulations Ray!”
The keynote address was given by Oscar-nominated director Frank Derabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), who is currently working on an update of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. He expressed his deep appreciation of Harryhausen’s body of work, saying, “Ray is the man. He is known for making magic one frame at a time. See, that’s where we cheat. We keep the camera rolling at 24 frames per second and just let actors walk around and talk. That’s the easy way. Ray did it the hard way, a single frame of motion picture film capturing a tableau of his own devising, peopled with characters created by his own hands. Ray is nothing short of a magician who spent a lifetime pulling remarkable rabbits out of awe-inspiring hats. And in pulling those rabbits, Ray established his place in the firmament of film pioneers such as Edison, Méliès and Willis O’Brien and there isn’t a Matrix movie being made today that doesn’t owe a debt to you. There’s not a person I know in the creative end of the motion picture business who hasn’t been touched by the inspiration that Ray Harryhausen provided. I once asked Tom Hanks on the set of The Green Mile what first made him want to be an actor, what provided that spark of desire. Tom looked at me and said that when he was a kid he saw Jason fighting skeletons and knew instantly that’s what he wanted to do with his life – battle skeletons.” Darabont wrapped up his speech by stating, “The recognition of the star on the walk of fame has never been more richly deserved.”
After Honorary Hollywood Mayor Johnny Grant officially declared June 10 Ray Harryhausen Day, Ray took the podium and pointed to a famous landmark across the street. “It all started there at Grauman’s Chinese in 1933 when I innocently walked into that cinema and I haven’t been the same since,” he said, referring to RKO Pictures’ groundbreaking effects film King Kong. “So it shows how influential a film can be. I’m just glad that I didn’t latch onto Little Caesar or I could have been a godfather today.”
While many do consider Harryhausen the godfather of modern visual effects, the humble artist is quick to give that credit to the man who brought Kong to life. “I owe everything to Willis O’Brien, who was my mentor. That was a highlight of my life – when I got to work with my hero on Mighty Joe Young. All I can say is that I am extremely grateful to everyone, particularly Arnold Kunert, who stimulated this whole thing. It’s sure difficult to imagine that 70 years have gone by and I happen to have a star right near where it all started in the first place.”
Kunert, whose tireless efforts made Harryhausen’s star a reality, is also the man behind the campaign that resulted in the animator’s much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Oscar.
The American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood will be screening a number of Harryhausen’s films beginning Friday, June 13 with a special showing of Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans and The Tortoise and the Hare. Other films to screen throughout the week will include Mighty Joe Young, Valley of Gwangi, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, One Million Years B.C. and First Men in the Moon. For more information, visit www.egyptiantheatre.com.