Ray Harryhausen, Genius
Ray Harryhausen died today. He was 92 years old. When I think of Harryhausen, I think of my father. The house I grew up in, on a tree-lined street in Washington, DC had a big TV in the basement. On a Sunday afternoon, between football games, you could find me, my brother and my dad stuffed together on the old sofa watching Sinbad movies or “Jason and the Argonauts”. “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger,” the one where the witch who turns into a seagull and ends up stuck with one bird foot has haunted me all my years. Sowing the dragon’s teeth into a skeleton army—I was enough of a Greek mythology buff even in grade school to be delighted and frightened by the sight. I loved Mighty Joe Young and wanted to take him home with me. For all of our differences, those hours on the couch in the basement brought me and my dad together. These are the things we had in common: fishing, Harryhausen, Star Trek and Frank Herbert’s novel, DUNE. Oh, and half our DNA. Sometimes it wasn’t enough.
Years passed. There was a divorce, new houses, college. They stopped playing the old movies on TV quite as often. My dad and I seemed to have less and less to say to each other, too.
When I found myself working in stop motion animation, I remembered Harryhausen, but I didn’t give a second thought to those lazy Sunday afternoons. When I began writing my first speculative fiction novel, I thought about DUNE and my dad. He was ill by this point, dying of cancer. For the first time in 20 some odd years, we were living in the same city again, a few blocks away. I would bring him science fiction movies to watch from his hospice bed. I would talk to him about my book. Suddenly, those lazy Sunday afternoons were back, if only briefly.
My dad passed away in 2009. He was 75. Since then, I finished my novel. I’ve even worked on a Star Trek film. And I’ve thought about my father every day. But today, when I heard of Ray Harryhausen’s passing, I stood in my kitchen and wept.
Thank you, Mr. Harryhausen, for those Sunday afternoons, for the flights of fantasy that kept a girl and her father connected. Your work lives on but you, sir, will be missed.