Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Keep your eye on the prize

When I was 12 years old our family moved into a new house in a suburb of Los Angeles and across the street from a geeky kid named Dennis. We were the same age and we soon became friends. My younger brother, Cary, and I helped Dennis out with his special effects experiments that he was conducting in his backyard and garage. Flying saucers attacking the neighborhood, stop-action latex monsters destroying a building, Battleships exploding at sea (well, actually in our pool). Cary and I were the actors in his special effects tests.

Dennis also had a great collection of photo stills from all the sci-fi and horror films from the 1950's. We asked him where he got them and he wouldn't tell us. That's when we came up with THE PLAN. Espionage.

One day we were all working on a giant flood experiment in Dennis's backyard. While Cary kept Dennis busy building the fake dam that was going to burst, flooding everything in it's path (toy cars, trucks, trees), I snuck into Dennis's room and bingo! I found the address to The National Screen Service in New York.

A passion was born.

Cary and I would save up our paper route money and then send away for the photos from some of our favorite films. We would request any photo that included the monster. A couple of weeks later the package would arrive!.

We’d rush out to the mailbox, tear open the envelope and stare in awe at the amazing photos. The total joy in seeing shots of Frankenstein, “Oh yeah!”

Rodan, “The big bad bird!”

Gorgo, “El Destructo!”

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad with a shot of The Dragon. “Cool!”

We continued collecting photos and lobby cards and posters and soon had quite a collection. The three of us combined our collections and put together a monster museum in my garage.

Here I am with my little brother and Dennis Muren in our Monster Museum back in 1961.
That's Dennis on the left.

Forest J Ackerman the editor of Famous Monsters magazine came to do an article on us.

A couple of years later we moved again. To Hollywood. We lost touch with Dennis, but he continued his dream. He made his first full length feature film "Equinox" when he was at Pasadena City College. He borrowed the money from his parents to finance it.

It’s out now in a special edition DVD through The Criterion Collection. In the extra features on the DVD, Dennis talks about his days making special effects experiments with us in his backyard.. He even shows some clips. There I am, a 60 foot giant stomping on my little brother. Crushing him to bits with my Tennis Shoe.

When Star Wars premiered at the Chinese Theater in 1977 and I saw Dennis Muren's name in the credits under special effects, a warm feeling came over me.

I was still an actor in his special effects experiments. Different backyard. Same dream.

Dennis went on to win more Academy Awards than any other special effects artist. He recieved a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Visual Effects Society. Presented to him by George Lucas.

Dennis kept his eye on the prize.

Like this guy...


Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Great story! Fun to see people whose passions as children become talents and specialties as adults. You had the privilege of seeing your friend win all these awards. Did he remember to thank you in any of his acceptance speeches?

Matty said...

You never know what might happen when a child dreams big. I remember all these movies. The pictures bring back memories.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Follow your bliss! Even if the bliss is monsters! Great story.

A Palmer said...

Great story, David. They say that if you look back at what you enjoyed doing in your childhood, if you enjoy doing what you do today, those activities will be very similar. It is certainly true for me. Maybe Brian will follow in those old footsteps!

challee said...

Nice post Dad! I remember all your stories about building special effects with Dennis. Kids sure had more creative ways to entertain themselves back then!

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