The First Annual
Dead Man of the Year Award!

And the Winner is...
About the DMOTYs:  
Honorable Mention!
Shop Obie!
I really put my heads together on this one!

The 2005
Dead Man of the Year Award
goes to:
Willis H. "Obie" O'Brien
(1886 - 1962)
When I decided to launch the first ever World's Greatest Critic's Dead Man of the Year Award, there were a lot of candidates to go through. Quite naturally my first thought was, is and ought to be William Shakespeare. However, that goes for every year, so let's back up. There are a lot of legacies to salute this year (and since remakes and sequels have been the norm in the last few years, there are many more that won't make the list but probably equally deserve to). Looking upon this great year in film and television, there have been so many big movies and so many great movies (so often these things don't go hand in hand), yet there has been only one that is truly the 800 pound Gorilla in the room. That's one King Kong!

The original 1933 King Kong is arguably the film that has had more long lasting impact on the world of special effects than any other until Star Wars. This is the film that inspired Ray Harryhausen to get into stop-motion animation. This is the film that led to the latter-day successes of Godzilla. This is the film that convinced Peter Jackson to become a film maker. This is the film that has inspired more canonical iconography of American film than any other. The fact that this stunning film emerged in 1933 is all the more incredible. So... I was quite sure that the Dead Man of the Year this year quite naturally had to be Merian C. Cooper, or possibly his adventure and creative partner Ernest B. Shoedsack. Both excellent choices.

However, as great as both men were (and continue to be in their legacy) and as great as the story and directing of King Kong both were, one doesn't finish watching this epic and fail to mention the special effects. This brings me back to our 2005 Dead Man of the Year... That's one Willis H. O'Brien, arguably the true "Father of King Kong". This is by no means intended to lessen the great creative powers of Shoedsack or Cooper, as the idea of the giant ape was theirs originally. But would we be talking about (or watching a 2005 remake of) King Kong today without the incredible work of O'Brien? Might I say, no we wouldn't? Might I add... well Duh! Hence the undeniable influence on 2005 falls firmly at the footprints of a man who was such a wizard for his day that he's less Obie O'Brien, Visual Effects Supervisor, than our own version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight.

Willis H. O'Brien was born in Oakland, California on March 2, 1886 and achieved his first successes in 1915 with ultra-short short films like Morpheus Mike and The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy! "Obie", as his friends and students called him, was certainly not the inventor of "Stop Motion Animation", however, he did invent and develop his own techniques as a way to give life to statues. It wasn't long before someone you might have heard of caught wind of his talent and commissioned a series of stop motion animated shorts featuring the vaguely Kong-like "Missing Link". That someone was the inventor of the light bulb and, yes, the motion picture camera: Mr. Thomas Edison!

O'Brien hit the proverbial big time with his adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. The dinosaurs in this film stunned audiences and the amazing rampage sequences are fantastic even by today's standards. O'Brien's follow-up was to be called Creation and was the story of a newly discovered island ruled by dinosaurs and gigantic savage beasts. Sound familiar? It should. It wasn't long after this that Merian C. Cooper (an adventurer and documentary film maker) was brought on board at RKO Radio Pictures to review the bigger budgeted flicks that could have sunk the studio back in the great depression. Cooper's first action was to cancel Creation and replace it with his own planned production, then called The Beast. While Obie fought hard to prove that he and his team should be the ones assigned to Cooper's new project, he neednĺt have bothered. Cooper not only never planned to make his film without Obie, it was, in fact, the four minutes of footage filmed for Creation that finally proved to Cooper that his dream project could be made.

O'Brien's contributions to King Kong can't be minimized and are undeniably much deeper than merely special effects supervision. Much of Obie's script for Creation was used in King Kong, from the epic dinosaur battles, to the sole surviving sailor risking his life to save his maiden fair, to even the famous "log scene" of Kong. Cooper and Shoedstack contributed by putting their giant ape into the script as well as themselves (Cooper's alter ego being Carl Denham and Shoedsack's being Jack Driscoll) and the story took off from there. O'Brien's footprints still run as deep as Kong's in this script though! Kong's NYC Rampage even in many ways resembles that of the Brontosaurus in The Lost World.

Obie's work with Kong and the dinosaurs was incredible and remains as a benchmark in special effects. So convincing were these that even the imperfections (such as the movement of Kong's fur with hand-posed new move) were considered part of the plan (many critics assumed this was intended to be the wind blowing his fur about). The use of front and rear projection (screened frame for frame to match with the pose-by-pose puppets) were as convincing in the '30's as Yoda and Gollum are to us today. RKO famously released a Popular Mechanics article about how O'Brien and crew pulled off the remarkable effects. This article, complete with diagrams, detailed the way that they had built a working full-sized robot Kong. Naturally, this was actually giant bull (the Kong Puppet was less that two feet tall), but the scale and composites O'Brien used worked so well that readers believed this for years upon years.

Though probably best known for King Kong, O'Brien wasn't done for almost thirty more years, braving both great success and terrible tragedy in his life. That's not even to mention his excellent work on Son of Kong, his supervision of Harryhausen on the incredible Mighty Joe Young and even a repeat of his own creations on Irwin Allen's remake of The Lost World... amongst many, many other things! Surprisingly, Japan's King Kong versus Godzilla was based on Obie's script King Kong vs. Prometheus!

On November 8 of 1962, Willis H. O'Brien died of a heart attack in the city of so many of his creations, Los Angeles, California. He was just a few months shy of King Kong's 30th anniversary, as well as the debut of his final project, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World! He was seventy-six years old. Tragically, Obie outlived his sons by three decades, but his legacy is still being felt today.

These days the mysteries are gone and CGI can be done much faster and cheaper than Stop Motion Animation. With internet spoilers and the magic of movies being accessible to anyone with a "menu" key on their DVD players, there's no way in all of Creation (or Skull Island for that matter) that we'd buy a giant robot, Pop Mech or not. However, Willis H. O'Brien's legacy is felt even today and most especially in 2005, with so many of Peter Jackson's homages hitting Obie's bullseye time after time.

Willis O'Brien had been a jockey, a cowboy, a farmer, a boxer (whose moves show up in both Kong and Joe's movements), a bartender, a sculptor and a cartoonist. His sculptures and drawings are the stuff of Hollywood treasure today, as is, quite naturally, his incredible special effects work. In life he rubbed elbows with the likes of Merian C. Cooper, Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Edison! Without Obie there would be no King Kong (at least, not in the form we have him now), no Kong remakes, no Mighty Joe Young. And considering his influence, it's arguable that there would have never been a Jurassic Park or the incredible animation works of Ray Harryhausen (such as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans)!

Film, particularly film in 2005, would look a lot different without old Obie. It's fitting that Willis H. O'Brien receives the first ever Dead Man of the Year Award. And it's fitting that my first new review of 2006 will be O'Brien's own The Lost World. Think of him fondly but don't say goodbye. Before you allow someone to look back upon his works and call them "Cheesy", remind them of the impact Obie has had (and still has) and remind them of what technology he had to work with, what he had to create on his own, and what he was able to do with it. Rest in Peace puppetmaster...

Willis H. O'Brien (1886 - 1962):
The World's Greatest Critic's
2005 Dead Man of the Year!

Obie Kong Kenobi! (O'Brien is the one in the front.)
Bust o' Kong!
Willis O'Brien poses with one of his many creations, the bust of King Kong!
There's no way this guy had dandruff... look at the size of the Head and Shoulders he had on hand!
Thinking REALLY deep thoughts... and that's just the FOOTPRINTS!
Merian C. Cooper dreams a big dream of King Kong.
An early plan was to build a miniature New York and have a real Gorilla fight a real Komodo Dragon in the city on film.
After Obie... there was simply no need!

About the DMOTYs:
The Dead Man of
the Year Awards
AKA: The DMOTYs (de*MOT*tees)
By the World's Greatest Critic!
The DMOTYs are a way to honor those whose legacy still impacts the worlds of Film, Television, Literature or Music visibly if not nominally

The nominee must have a current impact on the arts during the year in which they are nominated. The influence must be noteworthy but not necessarily commercial in import.

The intent of the DMOTY award is to pay tribute to that influence by detailing who they were, what they did and how their legacy is still being felt today. In short, its a way to put a name on the accomplishments of those who might not be in the public eye to have credit given where due.

In spite of the fact that this can only be offered posthumously, there is no morbidity in this award. Only respect and fondness.

This year, we salute Willis H. O'Brien, the special effects wizard behind the original King Kong, the remake of which was the most anticipated movie of 2005.

Certainly this and every year there will be people that the readers might think should have gotten the award and probably some choices that you'll disagree with. Remember, opinions are like elbows, everybody's got a couple. The awardee won't be the one I "like" the best. The awardee is the one whose influence is felt most. I recommend that you direct your energy toward nominating the DMOTY for next year!

-The Most Honorable KNEUMSI!

Honorable Mention:
Other Nominees
and Runners Up:
    1. Name: Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III (December 1, 1940 ľ December 10, 2005)
    2. 2005 Influence: Sadly 2005 was the year that Richard Pryor died. Multiple Sclerosis kept him out of the spotlight for years prior to his passing, however, a 2003 Documentary Richard Pryor: I Ain't Dead Yet, #*%$#@!! did well, he was named as the #1 Stand Up Comic of all time in Comedy Central's 2004 chart: "100 Greatest Standups of All Time" and in 2005 the British "Comedian's Comedian" poll listed him as number 10 (a Perfect 10, no doubt).
    3. Cause of Death: Cardiac Arrest (due to complications with MS).
    4. Other Impact: Richard Pryor was not only a changing force in stand up comedy (for better or worse popularizing the reclamation of the "N" Word) but he was also a frank and honest commentator on drugs. The well-publicized incident in which Pryor set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine became a staple of his live shows and part of the basis for his feature film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. The Pryor family were large supporters of Animal Rights, offered rewards for the arrest of animal abusers and actively supported organizations that protected animals. In later life his celebrity helped raise awareness of MS.
    5. Recommendations: Start with the CD "Richard Pryor Insane" and work your way around his library. I highly recommend Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, which Pryor co-wrote and directed, along with Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, which also carries Pryor's distinctive John Hancock. For a forgotten gem, I recommend the Saturday Morning TV Show called Pryor's Place which detailed Pryor's childhood in Illonois. It features Richard Pryor in multiple roles and comes off as a cross between Everybody Hates Chris and Dusty's Treehouse. Yes, it is safe for kids!
    1. Name: Jonathan Larson (February 4, 1960 - January 25, 1996)
    2. 2005 Influence: Writer of the book and music for the Broadway Rock Opera Rent, made into a movie Musical, Rent, featuring most of the original Broadway Cast. The film version of Rent wasn't a big hit, but did introduce the excellent work of Larson to a whole new audience... most of whom can't get enough of the genius work.
    3. Cause of Death: "Jon" died of an aortal aneurysm (caused by undiagnosed Marfan's syndrome) on the very day that Rent opened on Broadway, January 25th, 1996!
    4. Other Impact: Rent has promoted not just tolerance but celebration of multiculturalism and varied lifestyles! A tale of addiction, AIDS, passion, Bohemia and most of all, Love, Rent helped disprove the myth that HIV is a "Gay Disease" and offered up a heartfelt story (based on both La Boehme and Larson's own experiences) filled with realistic characters and excellent music that was sympathetic to Gay, Straight and Bi alike. The fact that Larson himself was an HIV-Negative Heterosexual is noteworthy considering his accomplishments in this area.
    5. Recommendations: Rent, obviously. But Larson's musical about New York City for children is known as Away We Go! and features the adorable puppet Newt the Newt. It's fun for most ages but is suitable for Babies.
    1. Name: Lucio Fulci (June 17, 1927 - March 13, 1996)
    2. 2005 Influence: I'm as surprised as you are that Fulci made the runner-up list, but 2003 - 5 have been the years of the Zombie Film, in which Fulci's favored Genre has enjoyed a respectable resurgence in popularity. While Fulci owes most of his successes to George A. Romero's "Dead" Series, Fulci has been recognized in recent years (including this one) as a B-Movie genius (even to the point of being given an RIP Credit at the end of Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 2).
    3. Cause of Death: Diabetes (and he has yet to rise again).
    4. Other Impact: Fulci's cheap, yet often convincing special effects were marred by poor scripts, derivative plot lines and an overall poor quality of movie. However, his popularization of these techniques gained him a number of fans (both legitimate and ironic) and both mainstream and independent film makers have borrowed from Fulci to this day.
    5. Recommendations: Fulci's The Beyond and Zombi 2 are both considered to be Gore Classics. Be prepared for nausea, either from the terrible acting or the convincing gore effects. The Beyond features one of the better sets I've ever seen in a low-budget movie (see the finale) and Zombi 2 contains an underwater shark sequence that is worth watching for the choreography, zombie fights and, yes, the nudity!
    1. Name: Merian C. Cooper (October 24, 1893 - April 21, 1973)
    2. 2005 Influence: King Kong's 2005 Remake (see main article) was the most anticipated movie of the year. Cooper's story has been kept mostly pure by Peter Jackson and has made a hell of a plot for the blockbuster to wrap itself around.
    3. Cause of Death: Cancer
    4. Other Impact: Cooper was an Aviator (he and buddy Shoedsack manned the planes in Kong's finale). He not only produced and wrote films, but directed and starred in them, innovating new documentary methods never before seen and getting closer to wild animals than anyone had yet gotten with a camera in their hand. A World War I Veteran, Cooper interrupted his lucrative film career to re-enlist in the US Army Air Corps to fight in World War II. The larger than life roughneck adventurer Carl Denham (from both his own and Jackson's King Kong films) was based on Cooper (realistically by all accounts).
      His mark on film extends far beyond just our Giant Ape friend. He was also the co-producer of many John Ford films including, but not limited to, The Quiet Man. He was also instrumental in the development of Widescreen with his funding of "Cinerama".
    5. Recommendations: Aside from the obvious, check out Mighty Joe Young for a touching update of the Kong story.

    -The Most Considerate KNEUMSI!

Shop Obie!
More work from and inspired by Willis O'Brien is available here!

Only 365 more Shopping Days until next year's DMOTYs!
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The 2005 World's Greatest Critic's Dead Man of the Year Awarded to Willis O'Brien!
This article was written by J.C. Mašek III, who is solely responsible for this site and the choices
but not for the nominees!
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