FLY - ING IN MEMPHIS
by Diane Kachmar
The Memphis Film Festival,
Thursday, June 12 - Saturday, June 14, 2003
The Memphis Film Festival decided to put on a Fly reunion for their 2003 Festival, with The Fly (David Hedison) and The Return of the Fly (Brett Halsey.) I had seen both films, but had never met the 'other' Fly. Having nothing better to do for my birthday, I decided to attend this event. It had been six years since I had seen David Hedison and I had always had fun talking to him at previous events.
So after a bumpy flight and a plane change in Charlotte, I arrived at the Memphis Airport Holiday Inn. Thursday morning I walked down the three floors to the dealer's room when it opened. David had apparently been let in early, he had his pictures laid out and was lining up his markers. I said hi. He said hi, and looked at me. It had been some years (1997) since he'd seen me, but he did finally place me, remarking that it had been a while. I nodded. Memphis was the easiest date, geographically, of the three shows he was doing in June for me to get to from Florida. David told me he was glad I came. He is so nice.
Noticing the con had not provided him with any signs, I dipped into my bag and offered David a couple of computer printed price signs I had run off for him, in case the show hadn't provided any, as I wanted his table to look as professional as possible. David was the Special Guest i.e., the biggest star of the group the Festival had assembled for the event. I then put a graphically themed Fly Nameplate down in front of him. David really liked that nameplate and used it the entire show.
By now a line of people for autographs had formed to the right of his table, so I got out of the way and let David get to work signing. I went through and got two pictures signed and I looked around see what else was for sale in the room. I did find some pictures of David that I didn't already own. The dealers brought a lot of late 1950's pictures, to go with The Fly, so I bought them.
Shortly after that Brett Halsey arrived and between trying to sign and helping Brett settle in, David was very busy for a while. Since the con didn't make a sign for Brett, either, David graciously handed Brett his handwritten sign that he wasn't using any more. Brett signed the entire show using David's sign. That is class. David also gave Suzanna Leigh, an actress who was also at the show, one of his silver metal signing pens when she admired how good it looked when he was signing a photo for her daughter. She called David an angel.
I watched David and Brett sign for a while from across the room. David had quite a line. I enjoyed David trading quips with Brett and basically being charming and funny and really, really popular. The FLYS took a break from signing and went off together to have lunch in the restaurant. At the time, I didn't know where they were going, but later I heard other people comment that they had seen them there.
I wasn't hungry. I'd had dinner in the hotel restaurant the night before and it was over- priced and horrible, so I skipped lunch and went across the hall to watch "Eleven Days to Zero," the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea TV series pilot in color. Shot in color, the episode aired in black and white, so the color version is rarer. It was good to see it again. Hadn't seen it in years.
David opened back up at 2:00 P.M. and once again had a line. I found an empty chair at a dealer's table past David's line, out of the way and out of direct line of sight. The guy didn't mind if I sat quietly and watched, he wasn't using the side chair. That lasted about 15 minutes, when Ray Nielsen of the con staff came up to me and wanted to know if I was "the author."
I said, yes, I had written a book called Roy Scheider: A Film Biography. They were putting together a panel of McFarland authors (my publisher) and would I mind being on the author panel Saturday morning at 10:00 A.M. I was not happy about being found - I was on vacation - and hadn't planned to do any book promotion while I was there, but I really couldn't say no. Luckily, I had brought a copy of my book with me. I've learned to travel with one because people ask to see my book, and the festival was giving me enough notice to pull together a presentation about my book for the panel.
Later, I passed Tom Weaver (a fellow McFarland author) by the elevator and asked him if he was going to be on the author panel. I knew Tom wrote for McFarland because I bought a copy of his book, Science Fiction Confidential, to bring to the show for David to autograph. It's a wonderful interview with David, provides a wealth of good information about his early career, The Fly, The Lost World, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Tom said yes and admitted he was the one who told the con to put me on the panel. There were nine other McFarland authors there (all male) and he thought they should have some female representation, since I was there. I graciously thanked Tom for finding room for me and said I'd be delighted. Tom then informed me McFarland had a dealer's table at the con. Where? Have you seen all those unopened boxes in the middle of the room? Anah McRae's flight had been delayed, but they would have the books out for sale on Friday. I felt really dumb that I didn't even know my publisher was going to be there, but it turned out well.
David signed steadily most of the day. I had looked over his way a couple of times and he was always busy. The festival staff had been by to check on him. Whatever they asked him, he smiled, shook his head and went back to signing. Brett Halsey was there most of the day. He and Brett were having a good time, even though they hadn't seen each other in 30 years.
I helped David cover his table when the room closed. He had seen me talking with Ray Nielsen and had wondered what the con wanted with me. He wished me good luck on my panel. David said he was off to call his wife and order room service. I told him I hoped it was better than the restaurant and that I'd come through the line again on Friday to say hi and select a picture for him to sign for my husband. David smiled and bid me good night.
Later that night I went to a screening of The Enemy Below. Nice print. They were showing another Voyage episode "The Deadly Dolls" (with Vincent Price) after that, but I was tired from not sleeping from the jet noise the night before and didn't stay up.
I spent most of Friday morning trying to get McFarland to Fed Ex more of my books than they had brought for display, so I could do a book signing, now I was committed to their panel. David was there bright and early when the room opened and signed most the day. I went through about midmorning, when there was a slight lull. I hate standing in line.
David had four color Licence to Kill shots that I did not have, so the hardest thing was to pick one for John. I considered asking him to sign all four, since I liked them so much, but I thought, don't be greedy. I still wanted him to sign Tom Weaver's book, so David personalized the Bond picture in silver metal pen for John. Then I moved along, as there was once again a line behind me.
The next time I noticed David, he was closing for lunch. I walked over to tell him to have a good lunch. He told me he wasn't eating lunch, he had an interview and would be back mid-afternoon, if anyone asked. I told him have a good interview. I had lunch.
David was back signing when I returned. He looked up, spotted me and asked if I would bring him a cup of hot tea from the restaurant. Sure, David. Be right back. It was no trouble to buy him a cup of tea. He offered to pay for it, but I wouldn't let him.
I checked the dealers' tables again and the guy I had bought from Thursday had apparently found more pictures I didn't have. I bought two more pictures. By then David was getting ready to close. There was a screening of The Fly that evening and at 7:30 P. M. the festival wanted David to do a Question & Answer session, after his film ended and before they started Return of the Fly. David asked me to come and I promised to be there.
I took a seat in the third row from the back about 7:25 P. M. I hadn't wanted to watch the movie again because I don't like to watch David die on film. I came in as they were playing croquet at the end. The movie ended a few moments later, the lights came up and they introduced The Fly. "Here I am." David was sitting in the back row. I had no idea how long he had been there. He then walked up to the front of the room and answered questions.
What was it like to work with Vincent Price? He didn't, actually. They didn't have any scenes together in the film. David worked with Price when he guest-starred on a third season Voyage episode, "The Deadly Dolls." They had a good time working on the episode and became friends after that.
A fan asked how they did the scene with David in the spider web. They made him up, put him up on a platform and then made it a process shot with the spider added in. David said he had nothing to look at when he was screaming his lungs out, and it was very hard to keep his teeth covered while he was screaming. He also mentioned they should have painted his tongue white.
Another audience member asked about the mask. David explained, it wasn't so bad, he only had to wear it for five days of the 18-day shoot and in between shots, he would sit and meditate. It was always him, because the custom mask had been made off a mold from his face and wouldn't fit anyone else. In The Fly publicity shot David was selling at his table (in the mask), he lifts his hand when they ask if it's him and you can see it's the same hand in the picture.
David then told the story about how upset he was to come on the set one morning to find director Kurt Neumann's fat hand doubling for his in an insert, because the audience would know it wasn't his (slender) hand. No one was taking pictures, so I left my camera in my bag. This was David's only film room Q & A. He did very well, told several wonderful stories and the audience loved him.
After the Q & A session, when most of the people had left and I was still standing there, David looked at his watch and said he had about 15 minutes before Brett was done with his performance in a radio show recreation. They had plans for dinner. Would I come to the lobby and wait with him? He wanted to spend a few minutes catching up on what I had been doing the past six years since he'd seen me. I was so pleased to be with him, I spent the entire time telling him about things I had done while writing my book. Then we went back downstairs, Brett joined us and I wished them both a good dinner and good night.
Saturday was hectic. They were showing a Five Fingers episode (David's first TV series) with David and Brett Halsey called "Thin Ice" that I had never seen before. I saw David was set up and signing as I walked by the front doors of the dealer's room. David was right up front, facing the door, so one could see without entering the room, if he was signing or not. TheFive Fingers was great. It's too bad that the show is not more readily available.
I had five minutes to dash down the hall to my book talk. I shouldn't have. There was no one there but the moderator, but everyone else wandered in shortly after that. I was asked two questions about my book. The audience liked my answers. One question they asked of all of us was: Did we ask a celebrity's permission when we interviewed them? We all agreed it was bad form to do anything else. One should always ask, either to tape record, to take a picture, or to videotape.
After my panel, I went back to the dealer's room, only to find I was being followed. So I took my line back to the McFarland booth, answered all their questions, gave them order forms for my book (McFarland could not FED EX any more books in time and the display ones had sold), if they wanted one and sold a few more books. By the time I was done, David was covering up to go to his movie star panel. He invited me to walk across the hall with him.
I dropped him off at the podium and took a seat in the audience. He did very well. They introduced David and Brett as a team and they joking remarked that they also had Brett's ex-wife, Luciana Paluzzi, in common as she had been married to Brett when she was David's co-star on Five Fingers. Brett had graciously let her play David's love interest on the show. They agreed she was a beautiful woman in those days. They would pose one question to the entire panel and then let each of the actors answer in turn. So David only spoke when it was his turn.
One of the questions was: What would you have done with your life if you hadn't become an actor? David said he couldn't conceive of ever doing anything else. Who was the most interesting person they had ever worked for? David said Irwin Allen. The man was crazy, but in a way that made him very successful in the movie business. Allen could sell anything and he always cast good people in his projects. But he didn't hire many good writers, so his scripts were mostly cliched and horrible, because the material was so bad. Which led David to tell about his experience on The Lost World. He hated the doing the film. The script was abysmal. Today, all people remember about this film is Jill St. John's pink tights, her poodle and alligators with fins glued to their back.
Then everyone on the panel related a story about working with or meeting John Wayne. David told of an incident that happened on The Greatest Story Ever Told. David played Phillip, the Apostle. John Wayne had a cameo as a Roman centurion at the crucifixion. Wayne was slightly hung over the day he filmed his scene and he couldn't quite find the reverence he needed for his one line. Cut! Director George Stevens called, and patiently explained to Wayne that he needed to put more feeling, more awe into his line. So take two Action! And Wayne said, "Awww, truly, this is the Son of God."
David's final story was about his name change from Al Hedison, his billing in The Fly, to David Hedison. He had got a fan letter from an elderly woman asking if he was related to Al Hedison, because they resembled each other. The woman wrote that, "while she thought he (David) was better looking, Al Hedison was a better actor." Everyone laughed.
The film festival presented David and Brett with a birthday cake, since they were in the middle of both dates, May 20 for David and June 20 for Brett. Everyone sang them Happy Birthday, they blew out all the candles, tons of pictures were taken and the panel ended.
Back in the dealer's room, David graciously signed pictures for people who had followed him back from the panel for a short while. He signed my copy of Science Fiction Confidential. Then he began packing up. I walked over to say goodbye. David informed me he had a radio show rehearsal that afternoon and we'd see each other again at the Awards banquet/radio show at 6:00 P.M. I had a ticket and was looking forward to his performance.
When I came down, they were taking a group picture. It was almost like a press conference with 35 people with cameras all going off at once. David stood on the far right in the back row. Then they collected our banquet tickets and let us eat, after all the festival stars had gone through. It was a very good buffet: salads, rice, green beans, chicken, fish and three or four desserts. I went for the cheesecake. As an author, I didn't have an assigned table like David, but David graciously invited me to sit next to him and Brett at his table. Trust me, he didn't have to ask twice. I got a couple of book questions during dinner, which I answered. It was the three of us and four con attendees. One of the fans teased David about it being "The Captain's Table" and David smiled.
The Birthday cake from their panel earlier in the day showed up at our table. David remembered that it was my birthday as well, (June 16) and he told me I had to help pass out cake, since it was for me, too. I had a very small piece and between Brett, David and I we got all the other pieces handed out to the other tables until it was gone.
David gave a terrific performance as Sam Spade in the radio show recreation, "Recipe for Murder," which was the entertainment for the evening. There wasn't much to see. They were reading from a radio script. It was a line of actors in various dressy cocktail clothes, standing in back of microphones on a bare stage. They put the drama into their voices. I enjoyed it.
David did a little Bogart salute at the very beginning, then continued in his normal speaking voice. He had a lot of pages to read. Shirley Jean Rickert (The Witch) was good, she had this great cackle, but the best bit was this poor guy who had to snore into a mic while David and Dallas McKennon read eight pages of dialogue. He was grunting and snorting under their dialogue, which is not that easy to do. David solved the case and they got a standing ovation. David never missed a line. He was great. And he looked fabulous in his light brown blazer, ivory shirt, green paisley tie and hunter green slacks. A real movie star.
David received a participation plaque at the Awards ceremony as Special Guest David Hedison. Each plaque had a lobby card from a film the participant had done. David's plaque card was from Licence to Kill, featuring him as Felix Leiter. It was done in etched metal and was very nice. David stayed until all the Banquet people who wanted to had their pictures taken with him. The banquet cost $25.00, and I think the attendees got their money's worth. I know I did.
I watched David having his picture taken until most everyone was gone. When he came back over to me afterward, I asked someone to take my camera and snap a picture of us together. David thanked me for coming and said he was going up to a cast party in the con hospitality suite. Would I like to come with him? Of course, I said yes. Everyone there was so nice. I had a marvelous time.
When I said good night to David, I thanked him for being so gracious to me during the Festival
and that I would try to come to another event soon. Not the next three shows, but perhaps I
could save enough money between now and Labor Day to come to Atlanta for Dragoncon. He
A couple of other things that happened:
I was sitting in the hotel lobby with David, waiting for Brett Halsey. Off to our right was an open bar counter. As I was talking to David about my book, he noticed the African American Bartender and her African-American girl friend were going: "Is not." " Is, too." Curious, David said excuse me, got up, and walked over that way, like he was going to buy a drink.
The girlfriend leans forward as he approaches and says, "Ain't you that guy?"
David replies, "What guy?"
"That guy from the submarine show." Only she can't quite get it right that's a submarine show or what the title is and David continues to tease her about who does she think he is. She still can't get it.
I decide to bail her out or David is going to be late meeting Brett. "Captain Crane?"
She almost falls off the bar stool. "I knew it!" she crows to the bar tender. "Even with the beard!"
David is still teasing her. "Licence to Kill. Live and Let Die."
"Get out!!! Is it really you?"
This person is obviously not from the film festival.
David asks, "Does she gets her drinks for free?"
The Bartender blanches and says no.
David offers to buy the women who recognized him a drink. A martini.
As the Bartender is pouring the martini and David is paying for it, the recipient of his generous gesture hops off the barstool and does this little shimmy dance of joy. David sees this as he's putting his money away and does a matching shimmy, proclaiming how dead the lobby bar is and that they need some music. He tells the woman to tell everyone, "David Hedison bought her a drink."
The woman can't believe it. What a gorgeous movie star he is.
David asks her to, "Guess how old I am?"
She squirms and doesn't want to tell him, saying, "I'll get it wrong." Finally she guesses, "52?"
David grins. "I'm 76."
"Get out!!!" she whoops again.
We say goodbye, it is time to go get Brett, so we head for the elevators. You ought to write that up, David said. I told him I would. So there we are.
Overheard in the Memphis Airport Holiday Inn Select Restaurant, Thursday, June 12, 2003:
Diner One: "Look over there."
He pointed to David Hedison and Brett Halsey at a table having lunch together.
Diner Two: "There are FLYS in here!"
David Hedison told me this story.
Larry, a movie fan confined to a wheelchair, rolled up to my autograph table at the Memphis
Film Festival and asked me if I wanted to hear a joke. I said yes.
Larry: What did the buffalo say to his boy when he went off to college?
David: I don't know.
Larry: Bye - son!
Return to Memphis Film Festival 2003