Ray Harryhausen died yesterday, on May 7th, at home in London, at the age of 92. This truly marks the end of an era. When Ray was 13 he saw Willis O’Brien’s magical stop-motion work on King Kong, and his path for life was set. I won’t mention all of his films, but I was an impressionable lad when I saw The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Mighty Joe Young, and Jason and the Argonauts and The Valley of Gwangi.
Dinosaurs and monsters; impossible beings magically brought to life; sailing into the unknown on the adventures of a lifetime. These are what a Ray Harryhausen film promised and so often and so splendidly delivered.
And he was one of the nicest, sweetest guys I’ve ever met. He is also the only person I’ve ever asked to autograph their work. I was on a panel at a New York comic convention while I was editor in chief of Starlog magazine, and I was scheduled to be part of a panel on special effects in movies—a panel that would be shared by Ray Harryhausen and two other talented filmmakers (who they were, I have long since forgotten). Knowing I would be on the panel with Ray, I went trolling through the dealers’ rooms, looking for comics of his films. I scored a good condition Valley of Gwangi and a good copy of 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Then I made sure to sit next to Ray on the panel.
Ray was gracious, asking me if I wanted them personalized or just signed. I was too shy and in awe to ask for a personalized message, so he simply signed them with “Best wishes.” Those autographed copies are a proud part of my collection (of 7,000 comics).
Ray was a childhood friend of Ray Bradbury. Both were part of a early group of sci-fi and fantasy fans (Isaac Asimov was another), way back when. These guys grew up to be the new generation of fantasy-makers and inspired all who came after, especially such filmmakers as Spielberg and Lucas and Cameron. Harryhausen was the man who, one stop-motion frame at a time, set their minds on fire, while at the same time convincing Hollywood that genre movies could be big box office.
Ray was truly one of my idols, and the world is a bit darker and emptier place today for his passing.