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Interview with Ray Harryhausen Agent and Producer Arnold Kunert

As I have shared on this blog before, one of my major influences on my love for the fantastic and the imagination as a child (and continuing as an adult) was Ray Harryhausen, the noted stop-motion animator, special effects wizard, and science fiction and fantasy storyteller. Through my relationship with Marc Lougee as a result of his interview on the first of the “Ray Harryhausen Presents” projects I was put in touch with Arnold Kunert, Harryhausen’s friend, producer, and agent. Mr. Kunert agreed to share some of his thoughts on his long-time association with this special effects legend.

TheoFantastique: Arnold, thanks again for agreeing to participate in this interview. Marc Lougee of “Ray Harrhausen Presents” The Pit and the Pendulum was kind enough to connect us and it’s my privilege to have this time to share your work and association with Ray Harryhausen with fans. To begin, can you share some summary thoughts of some of the work you’ve done as a producer, film historian, and as an agent?

Arnold Kunert: Most of my work as a producer and film historian has been in the area of documentaries. I have written, produced and directed documentaries about a variety of subjects and individuals, but my most honored and best-known works have dealt with film director Budd Boetticher and voice artist Daws Butler, who was responsible for creating most of the famous Hanna-Barbera characters, among which were Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, and many others. Ray Harryhausen asked me to be his agent several years ago because he trusted my judgment and knew how much I cared for him. I represent no one else. Frankly, representing Ray Harryhausen is just fine with me.

TheoFantastique: One of the features of this blog is an interaction with the fantastic in popular culture which we explore on both popular and academic levels. I noted in my research for this interview that you wrote an article for The Journal of Popular Culture in 1973 titled “Ray Bradbury: On Hitchcock and Other Magic of the Screen.” Have you had the chance to do any other writing on topics like this?

Arnold Kunert: In the mid-1970s, I wrote for a magazine in La Jolla, California, and was given free rein on my subjects. Among my first, and most enjoyable pieces, was a profile of Steven Spielberg which appeared in print less than two weeks before the opening of Jaws nationwide. I delivered a copy of the article to Steven at Universal Studios and wished him well on his career. No one outside the industry really knew his name at that time, so I am proud that I was among the first to recognize his talent. His TV-movie, Duel, based on a Richard Matheson short story, convinced me that he was someone worth watching. Obviously, I was right. I planned to publish other articles about film heroes of mine like Samuel Fuller and Jack Arnold, but the magazine folded before I had the opportunity. Nevertheless, the dozen or so articles I was able to see published made the venture worthwhile. I was teaching high school and college English classes at the same time, but the writing and interviewing gave me an opportunity to “stretch” my writing skills a bit and get a little extra cash in the bank at the same time.

TheoFantastique: Like so many people, I grew up as an avid fantasy film fan, and Ray Harryhausen was a strong influence on my own desires to be a stop-motion animator which was unfortunately never realized. I recall his long association with producer Charles Schneer, but some fans may be less familiar with his association with you in recent years. How did you and Ray come to know each other and develop this professional association?

Arnold Kunert: I was introduced to Ray Harryhausen by Ray Bradbury, whom I have known since 1970. Bradbury, a friend of Harryhausen’s since the late 1930s, knew of my admiration for Harryhausen, so he arranged for us to meet during one of Harryhausen’s occasional visits to the U.S. in the late 1970s, around the time of the release of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. We became friends and maintained a long-range relationship via letters and phone calls from then on. In 1992, I successfully campaigned to get Ray Harryhausen a Lifetime Achievement Oscar and in 2003 I arranged for him to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, across the street from Graumann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, where a 13-year-old Harryhausen had first seen King Kong in 1933. Ray has told me on more than one occasion that he considers me someone who “gets things done.” That may be true, but I have put a special amount of energy into seeing that my hero from the 1950s, whose little black-and-white films were so thrilling to see in Chicago theaters, is properly honored.

TheoFantastique: What types of things have struck you about Ray’s vision and imagination over the years?

Arnold Kunert: Ray has always impressed me as the type of artist who never worried whether someone didn’t particularly like the direction he was taking in his career. I suppose that’s a hallmark of all great artists, but Harryhausen is absolutely unique in that regard because his influence on the film industry has been so widespread for so many years that he stands alone and above all other technicians who have ever labored in the industry. He has certainly been frustrated by small budgets and time restrictions on his films, but the overall list of credits from the late 1940s to the early 1980s is astonishing by any standard. He is virtually the only artist in Hollywood who has had an influence on more than two generations of filmmakers. No one else can make that claim. Just look at the Oscar nominees and winners for visual effects since the late 1970s. The vast majority of them acknowledge Ray as their inspiration.

TheoFantastique: Can you touch a little more on Ray’s continuing and far-reaching influence?

Arnold Kunert: Ray’s films are just as relevant and enjoyable today as when they were first released. Audiences still respond to heroes and legends. Were that not the case, Spielberg wouldn’t be shooting a fourth Indiana Jones adventure, the Pirates of the Caribbean films would not have been so successful and Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy would never have been funded. Spielberg, Johnny Depp, and Peter Jackson all point to Ray as an inspiration, so why wouldn’t Ray’s films be just as successful today? Whenever Ray is in town, three different generations of admirers, from small children to the children’s grandparents, anxiously tell Ray how much his films mean to them.

TheoFantastique: What types of projects has Ray been working on since retiring from hands-on special effects work?

Arnold Kunert: Most recently Ray has been supervising the colorization of his black-and-white films from the 1950s, all of which would have been shot in color had the budgets allowed for it. Color photography during that time period was twice as expensive as black-and-white, so he was forced to use black-and-white film stock until Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Ray is involved with other film-related projects, but I am not at liberty to discuss them at this time. Watch for the latest news on his web site, www.rayharryhausen.com.

TheoFantastique: One of these projects is the “Ray Harryhausen presents” umbrella endorsement of certain noteworthy items. How did you come to share this idea with Ray?

Arnold Kunert: I felt that Ray’s name on a project might help that project gain some credibility which it might not ordinarily have gotten. I remembered that Steven Spielberg attached his name to a variety of films in the 1980s, as Steven Spielberg Presents, such as those directed by Robert Zemeckis, Joe Dante and Chris Columbus, and thought having Ray’s name used in the same way might give some very talented artists a chance to get the spotlight which might otherwise have eluded them.

TheoFantastique: The first of the projects under this umbrella was Marc Lougee’s fine stop-motion film The Pit and the Pendulum. Marc has given an interview on this topic recently, but how did you feel this project went as the first of those endorsed by Ray?

Arnold Kunert: Ray and I are very impressed with Marc Lougee’s Pit and the Pendulum. Ray and I have known Marc for many years, so we were not surprised that the short film turned out so well.

TheoFantastique: Arnold, thank you again for this interview, and for your partnership with Ray Harryhausen that has enabled him to continue producing many fine pieces of entertainment and art for new generations of fans.

Arnold Kunert: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.

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