Thursday, June 13, 2013

David Massaro salutes Ray Harryhausen

The following is a letter that David Massaro, retired English instructor at West Technical High School in Cleveland, Ohio, wrote to the widow of Ray Harryhausen following the great special-effects wizard's passing at age 92 on May 7 of this year. Massaro, an avid film and science-fiction buff, began a correspondence with Harryhausen in the 1950s after being impressed with his work in It Came from Beneath the Sea. Harryhausen's most celebrated and influential work was still to come - The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts - and the correspondence deepened into a lasting friendship. I am posting the letter online at Mr. Massaro's request. It is followed by a letter that Mrs. Harryhausen wrote to Massaro shortly before Harryhausen's passing. - Brian W. Fairbanks


My dear Diana,

When Allan Davis visited you and Ray some years ago in your home with his camcorder, Ray did an impression of himself at the age of 102. It was most amusing and quite credible as both his parents were long-lived. His passing on May 7th is such a shock.

My student, Dan Anderson, who has gone into special effects work and who just lost his mother and, one year before lost his daughter Kristina, wrote me and said, “I remember when I was 8 and seeing a movie with a giant octopus. It was so cool the way it moved and destroyed that bridge. Not knowing it then but Ray Harryhausen was in my life. And because of you, I was able to meet and spend time with this man and his lovely wife during their Cleveland visit.”

“Last night I wanted to watch a Ray Harryhausen movie. My hand led me to his early Fairy Tales on my DVD shelves. It was perfect viewing for me. They are so beautiful and innocent, and you can see the love and effort he put into them. I was glad I chose them.”

“Ray’s passing leaves a hole in our hearts. We will always have our wonderful memories. I think he is up there with Olaf and Agnes Stapledon and with his friends: Charles Schneer, Ray Bradbury, O’bie with his wife Darlyne, and Forry. They are planning their greatest stop-motion epic ever, one frame at a time. And I am sure he is now seeing his beloved dinosaurs, but perhaps thinking that his drawings and designs were better and more theatrical than the Creator’s. Perhaps he is correct as I’ve never seen a cooler allosaurus than Gwangi.” (This ends Dan’s letter.)

Forry gave me Ray’s address at a SF convention when he was living on West 45th Street in LA. I wrote Ray his first fan letter (he called it “wonderous”) in 1955, praising It Came From Beneath The Sea. Our correspondence lasted up to his death in May of this year, or a period of 47 years.

Your husband had a passion for the works of two Englishmen we shared: Frederick Delius (1862-1937) and Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950). Long before it was available in America, he sent me on VHS tape the BBC film, A Song Of Summer where actors dramatize the death of Delius from syphilis. Stapledon’s SF novel Star Maker (1935) dramatizes God in language more vivid than anything in the Old Testament. God is seen through the framework of modern astronomy and Darwinian Evolution.

I think Stapledon is the greatest “artist-philosopher” who ever lived (the phrase comes from G.B.Shaw). I speculated in my last and final letter to Ray what a Stapledonian heaven would look like to those who would eternally live within its boundaries. I told Ray, all would live with God and live through the histories of His earlier creations, our own cosmos, and the many creations ahead surpassing our own. “We will never be bored,” I told Ray. (Spielberg should film Star Maker.) I’d like to think these comforting thoughts were in Ray’s mind as he passed. Tony Dalton wrote me that he knew nothing about Stapledon until Ray enlightened him. That was the last letter and closed the correspondence.

I promised Ray I’d send him a copy of my book, A God For The Space Age: The Myths Of Olaf Stapledon, which I will send to you, Diana. I hope to publish it in 2013. Incidentally, I have a wonderful letter from President Obama thanking me for sending him Delius’s opera Koanga (this needs to be filmed) and tone-poem "Appalachia." Both works dramatize African-American suffering before the Civil War.

No one has ever written music more beautiful than that which flowed from Delius’s pen.
In heaven, where Delius is undoubtedly living, God says sometimes to his angels, “Stop for awhile your songs. Sing some of my Delius’s new compositions and some of his old.”
Ray, whose voice is as beautiful as Brace Beamer’s (the voice of The Lone Ranger on radio), will be lustily singing along.

My deepest sympathy to you and Vanessa.

PS: Notice that in the diagram, The Corridor of Creation, Stapledon makes “The Christian Cosmos” one of God’s “immature creations.” I think Stapledon’s tongue is in his cheeks.

As a Christian Stapledonian, I juggle that particular Cosmos forward in God’s creative time until it is the one in which you and I are living. When we love God, we do not want to lose Him. And He lets those creatures aware of Him never to be lost.

© 2013 David Massaro


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