Reality Trap

Megiddo: The Omega Code 2
ach 2
Fugitive Mind
Undeclared War
Licence to Kill
Smart Alec
The Naked Face
Kenny Rogers as The Gambler: The Adventure Continues
The Power Within
Murder in Peyton Place 1977
The Art of Crime
The Lives of Jenny Dolan
Adventures of the Queen
The Cat Creature
Live and Let Die
The Crime Club
The Greatest Story Ever Told
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (TV series)
Marines, Let's Go
The Lost World
Five Fingers (TV series)
The Son of Robin Hood
The Fly
The Enemy Below




Even the staunchest foe of euthanasia would be moved by the plight of Andre Delambre, a scientist whose work in the field of matter transmission ends in tragedy when his atoms are inadvertently mixed with those of a fly. Based on the George Langelaan story, 1958's The Fly was a unique mix of science fiction and human drama that reaped millions for 20th Century-Fox and put first-time film star David Hedison in the public eye. (TV Guide recently named the film's climactic "Help me!" scene one of the "Top 5 A-List moments from B-List Movies.") Hailing from Rhode Island, the actor (real name: Albert David Hedison, Jr.) studied at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse and worked in stock until he got his break in the off-Broadway production A Month in the Country, starring his acting teacher Uta Hagen and directed by Michael Redgrave. He won a Theater World Award (Most Promising Newcomer) and, just as importantly, caught Hollywood's attention. Still using his real name Al, he film-debuted in the submarine story The Enemy Below with Robert Mitchum; placed under contract by Fox, he followed with The Fly and then the TV series Five Fingers (the studio changed his name to David Hedison at this time). Other early sci-fi credits include producer-director Irwin Allen's The Lost World (1960) and Allen's 1964-68 teleseries Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

TOM WEAVER: Were you the first actor offered the title role in The Fly?

DAVID HEDISON: At first, Fox wasn't thinking of me for The Fly at all; they offered it to one of the other contract players. I don't remember who it was, but he turned it down because he didn't want to have a cloth on his head for a third of the film, and then be out of the film for a third of the film.

Q: Do you know how they came to think of you for it?

DAVID: Billy Gordon, who was in casting, came to my house to bring me a script -- I was supposed to screen test with Robert Evans for The Fiend Who Walked the West [1958]. When he came to the house, his wife was in the car, and I said, "Come on in for a drink." They came in and we all sat and talked -- his wife also happened to be from Providence, Rhode Island. The next thing I knew, I guess Billy must have mentioned me to them for the Fly part. They sent me the script and -- I gotta tell you something -- I just fell in love with it. James Clavell wrote the screenplay, and I thought it was fabulous. After I read the script, I said, "This is going to be a winner. This film is gonna make money." And I thought it would be a wonderful acting challenge. So I jumped at it.

Q: You've talked in previous interviews about having some ideas of your own for The Fly -- ideas nobody seemed to want to hear!

DAVID: I went running to Buddy Adler, who was then head of production, and I said, "Buddy, this picture is going to make a lot of money. But we cannot use a fly mask. What we must have is progressive makeup. When the wife first pulls the black cloth off his head, you see part of his face and part of the Fly. As he gets worse and worse, as the Fly continues to take over, you can still see his eyes and his expressions and his pain." Buddy Adler felt that [the idea] was interesting, but I think Ben Nye, the makeup man, fought it. Ben Nye said they were gonna put me in a plaster cast and make sort of a mask and do it that way. "Besides, Al," he said, "you don't wanna come in at four o'clock in the morning [every day for makeup], do you?" I said, "Yyyyyyyyyyyes! I'll come in at three! It'll be fan-tas-tic, we must do it that way [with progressive makeup]." Well, I was fought down, they did the mask. They put me in a plaster cast and they got the size of my face and the whole thing. And there we are.

Q: But Buddy Adler thought that yours was an interesting idea.

DAVID: He did, but it was turned down. Maybe Ben thought it would be too complicated, or whatever, for their budget. Oh, when I think of [the possibilities]! One of my favorite films was Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [1931] -- do you remember that makeup?

Q: It got scarier every transformation.

DAVID: It was terrifying! Later, I was so disappointed in Spencer Tracy's Jekyll and Hyde, because it didn't have the same effect as the Fredric March version.

Q: Did you read the Playboy short story The Fly?

DAVID: I did. I got the script, read the script, and then I went right to the short story. I thought, "My God, this is good stuff."

Q: So, unlike the actor who didn't want the role because of the cloth, you didn't hesitate.

DAVID: Not for a moment! That was my second film. The first one was The Enemy Below, and The Fly was to be my first starring role. I thought, "This isn't science fiction shit, this is wonderful stuff." 'Cause it was believable! I believed it, I really believed it.

Q: Did you get to meet James Clavell during the making of The Fly?

DAVID: I did, and we became good friends. He was, naturally, a very intelligent man, and very much of an introvert, and he didn't like lots of actors! But for some reason, he and I hit it off very well. (That's because I'm such a humble person [laughs].) And we did have fun. We saw a lot of each other in England while I lived there for two years during the early '70s.

Q: Did you ever mention to Clavell how much better The Fly could have been if ...

DAVID: I told him that, yes, and he thought that my way could have been interesting ... but he didn't care one way or the other. All he knew was that the picture made a lot of money [laughs], that's all he cared about! One thing he liked was what they did optically, that shot from the Fly's point of view looking at the wife. There were, like, eight different faces [in a honeycomb pattern]. He liked that.

Q: How well could you see once you had the mask on?

DAVID: Not too well, everything was rather blurry. In one scene toward the end, I had to tear the lab apart with an axe -- I swung the axe all over the f-----g place. And afterwards, one of the guys said, "Oh, David! You swung once, and I thought you were gonna go right through your leg." I had just missed my leg, because I really couldn't see anything. I was swinging that axe and knocking things over and -- oh, God!

You were in your late 20s -- how did you approach the role of a great man of science at that age?

DAVID: I think they were a little afraid of me, because I was rather cute in those days [laughs]. They got me into makeup and they grayed the hair, they put gray on the sides, and they did everything they could to play my youthfulness down. I think it looked pretty good, I got away with it.

Q: Did you have confidence that you would get away with it?

DAVID: Oh, yes, I really felt good about it. I thought my best work was all the times I was under the cloth. In those scenes, I was reeeally feeling something. I felt the pain of the man, what he was going through. Some girls saw it once, and they said they were crying. Because it was basically a love story. When the Fly has the chalk in his hand and writes I LOVE YOU on the blackboard -- all of that is very effective. The girls I mentioned were Michaela and Holly Clavell, the daughters of James Clavell. They were much too young to see it when it first came out, but then when they were about 10 and 12, their father showed it to them in London and they were just in tears, watching it. The next time they saw me, they said [blubbering], "Oh, my God ...!", all that stuff!

Q: Patricia Owens told me the scene of you being killed by the hydraulic press was the first scene the two of you shot.

DAVID: No, no, she's absolutely wrong. The very first thing that I did in the film with her was a garden scene. That scene, when we did it originally, was very effective. And then Fox decided that, since there were birds in the background, the scene had to be dubbed. I didn't understand dubbing very well, or how to go about doing it. And I had to catch a plane that day -- they looped it the day I was taking a plane to go to London to do The Son of Robin Hood. So the scene has taken on a very sterile quality, because it's dubbed. Originally, with the original soundtrack, it was so much more alive. And it's a shame. When I saw it, I didn't even think it was my voice -- I don't know what I did! That one scene is very disappointing to me.

Q: Was Owens there that day, too, dubbing her half of the scene with you?

DAVID: No, she did hers at another time. I was only with Kurt Neumann. We were working on it together and we only had about an hour.

Q: If it had been left up to Buddy Adler, The Fly would have been an even more gruesome picture. He didn't think the horror of a man-fly was enough, he wanted you to be mixed up with fly and cat atoms and to have some of the physical characteristics of the cat as well as those of the fly.

DAVID: Oh, how stupid. I'm sure you know that when they made Return of the Fly, they had a huge, stupid fly head on the guy. I thought that was disgusting, I really did. Somebody sent me a picture of the Fly in Return of the Fly to autograph, and I sent it right back with a little note: "Sorry, I was not in Return of the Fly." Why sign that stupid picture?

Q: Is it you as the Fly in every shot of the movie?

DAVID: Every shot, yeah. Everything the Fly did was me. Including the very end of the film, when he's in the spider web. What I did in that last scene was, I covered my teeth with my lips. They told me they didn't want to see my teeth -- they said, "Don't let us see those beautiful Hollywood teeth!" So I covered the teeth and started screaming and going, "Help me! Help me!" Now, that's another thing I thought could have been much more effective: In that final scene, they cranked up the speed of the sound so my screaming "Help me!" became [in a squeaky voice] "Help me!", way up there high. Which doesn't sound right! As the camera moved closer, you should have heard a man's voice screaming, "Help me!" Boy, I was screamin' my f-----n' lungs out on the set -- I was screaming "Help me!" like a f----n' spider was comin' at me and I was scared shitless. It was really good. And then when I saw the movie and I heard [in a squeaky voice] "Help me!", I thought, "What are they doing?" That's not horror -- it's funny. Imagine if, as the camera moved in closer, you actually heard Andre Delambre screeeeaming for his life. That is horror. That is horror.

Q: I assume you were lying in some sort of big net for that scene ...?

DAVID: Yes, I was, on an interior set. It was my final stuff in the film -- I think. I won't swear to that, but I'm almost positive. They painted white all over my face, because people talk about the white-headed fly throughout the movie. They should have painted my tongue white too, but they left it red. There was no [prop] spider there. Lying in the web, I had to look in a certain direction and imagine something crawling towards me. It's called acting [laughs]!

Q: Patricia Owens' memory of Kurt Neumann was that he was elderly and sickly.

DAVID: He was in his 50s, and to us in those days, that was elderly [laughs ]! And he was a little heavy. I know he died shortly after the film was released. What a shame. The Fly would have done a lot for his career.

Q: Where did you see The Fly for the first time?

DAVID: I came back from London after doing Son of Robin Hood and found that The Fly was a big hit. I went to see it in a theater in Westwood. I went by myself. Sat in the last row. Saw it. And left. I was disappointed in a lot of it ... disappointed that my ideas for makeup didn't work out, disappointed by that "help me, help me" [voice] -- all that stuff bothered me. I was disappointed in a lot of it and thought a lot of it was quite good. Fox opened the movie at 400 theaters simultaneously, but they had no idea the business it was going to do. After that amazing opening, there was a big double-page ad in The Motion Picture Herald that said in bold print, "THE FLY has opened -- 400 theaters never saw anything so big!" [Laughs] Back then that was shocking -- Fox had to pull it, they couldn't use it again. That ad came out once, it was in one issue only. Today, they'd leave it in!

Q: What sets The Fly apart from all the other monster movies of that era?

DAVID: It was in color, they were very smart to make it in color. It had a good "look" and it had a good score -- the "love theme" was lovely. It was well-mounted.

Q: And, at its heart, it was a tragic love story about a man and his wife, which no other monster movies got into back then.

DAVID: Exactly. It was one of the first times that Fox had done something like that, it was one of their first science-fictions and so they were very nervous about it. They gave it an 18-day schedule and it was made for ... nothing! I got my $750 a week, or whatever it was, and that was it. And, boy, it took off.

For more David Hedison personal appearance and biographical info, check out:

Tom Weaver is the author of John Carradine: The Films, Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers and many others available from McFarland & Co.

"The fly with the head of a man ... and the man with the head of a fly!"
The Fly

"Scream at the ghastly fly-monster as he keeps a love tryst!"
The Fly

"The monster created by atoms gone wild!"
The Fly

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