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11 Deep Facts About The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

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Warner Home Video

In 1953, horror fans watched with glee as a giant, city-stomping reptile arose from the depths of the ocean. And no, its name wasn’t “Godzilla.” This particular brute was called the Rhedosaurus, and it was introduced to the world in one of the most influential science fiction films ever made: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

The film was a monster at the box office, too, ushering in the “creature feature” craze that gripped the 1950s. Furthermore, the film heralded the arrival of special effects visionary Ray Harryhausen, whose mesmerizing handiwork changed an entire industry forever. Grab your scuba gear and let’s pay tribute to the colossal classic.

1. THE MOVIE WAS PARTLY BASED ON A RAY BRADBURY STORY.

It all started with a roar. One night, while he was living near Santa Monica Bay, legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury was awakened from his sleep by a blaring foghorn. Moved by the mournful bellow, he quickly got to work on a short story about a lovelorn sea monster. Called The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (later retitled The Foghorn), it was published in The Saturday Evening Post on June 23, 1951.

At roughly the same time, Mutual Films was developing a script for a new action-packed monster movie. The finished product would ultimately bear more than a slight resemblance to a certain Saturday Evening Post story. For instance, both of them feature a scene in which a prehistoric titan lays waste to a lighthouse. According to some sources, Mutual had already started working on its marine creature flick when studio co-founder Jack Dietz happened upon Bradbury’s yarn in the Post. Supposedly, he contacted the author without delay and bought the rights to this tale.

But Bradbury’s account of what happened behind the scenes is totally different. The other co-founder of Mutual was one Hal Chester. Late in life, Bradbury claimed that when a preliminary script for what became Beast had been drafted, Chester asked him to read it over. “I pointed out the similarities between it and my short story,” Bradbury said. “Chester’s face paled and his jaw dropped when I told him his monster was my monster. He seemed stunned at my recognition of the fact. He had the look of one caught with his hand in the till.”

In any event, Bradbury received a $2000 check and a shout-out in the movie’s opening credits.

2. JACK DIETZ THOUGHT ABOUT CASTING A LIVE REPTILE.

Coincidentally, the man who handled Beast’s creature effects had been close friends with Bradbury since their teen years. A stop-motion animator by trade, Ray Harryhausen spent most of his early career working on shorts and cartoons. His first taste of feature-length filmmaking came in 1949, when he joined forces with Willis O’Brien—the technical mastermind behind the original King Kong—to animate the simian hero of RKO Pictures’s Mighty Joe Young.

In 1952, Harryhausen caught a life-changing break. Upon learning of Mutual’s plans to release a new sea monster flick, he immediately offered his services to Jack Dietz. Previously, Dietz had thought about using either a man in a costume or a live alligator to portray the creature in Beast. An eager Harryhausen sold him on a different strategy. “I… enthused about the advantages of stop-motion model animation, telling him that anything and everything he wanted could be done in the process,” the effects artist wrote in his autobiography, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life. Impressed, Dietz gave him the tremendous job of putting that titular beast from 20,000 fathoms onto the silver screen.

3. THE BEAST ITSELF WENT THROUGH SEVERAL DIFFERENT DESIGNS.

“I had to create a mythical dinosaur,” Harryhausen recalled. In his early concept art, he fitted the reptile with pointy ears, a sharp beak, and webbed, human-like hands. Another design sported what Harryhausen described as “sort of a round head.” Unhappy with this particular noggin, he replaced it with a new skull modeled after that of a Tyrannosaurus rex. The monster was then given a distinctive, four-legged stance to prevent it from looking like a “typical” carnivorous dinosaur.

By the way, there’s a long-standing fan theory about this fictitious animal. In the film, our villain is dubbed the “Rhedosaurus.” You may notice that the first two letters in its name spell out the animator’s initials. Was this a deliberate homage? Harryhausen thought not. “I don’t know where his name came from,” he told Empire in 2012. “People say it’s based on my initials, but I don’t think it is.”

4. STOCK FOOTAGE FROM SHE (1935) WAS USED DURING THE AVALANCHE SCENE.

The movie opens with an H-Bomb test conducted above the Arctic circle. This experiment has the unfortunate side effect of releasing the Rhedosaurus from a glacier in which it’s been entombed for millions of years. After the blast, the newly awakened beast manages to trigger an avalanche while wandering around in the snow. A few clips from this sequence can be viewed in the trailer posted above. These shots were lifted directly from She, a classic, cold-weather fantasy produced by Merian C. Cooper, the creator of King Kong. An avid fan of the film, Harryhausen later included subtle She references in a pair of his own movies: First Men in the Moon (1964) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977).

5. THE CRUMBLING BUILDINGS WERE HARD TO ANIMATE.

Like its literary counterpart, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms features a lighthouse destruction scene, but Dietz’s movie later abandons its source material by having the monster terrorize New York City. Perhaps the highlight of that sequence comes when our Rhedosaurus plows straight through a tower in lower Manhattan. Both of these buildings were miniature models constructed by Harryhausen, and each one was composed of jigsaw-like pieces connected to wires. While animating their destruction, Harryhausen slowly moved every individual chunk of debris down its wire and towards the ground.

6. THE LEADING LADY WAS RELATED TO ONE OF BRADBURY’S ASSOCIATES.

Paula Raymond stars as Lee Hunter, a paleontologist who falls in love with our main hero, nuclear physicist Tom Nesbitt (played by Paul Christian). Interestingly, Raymond was the niece of Farnsworth Wright. A significant figure in the history of modern science fiction and fantasy, he’s best remembered for having spent 15 years editing the popular short story magazine Weird Tales. During his tenure, pieces written by such greats as H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith often graced the publication. Shortly before Wright’s retirement in 1940, Bradbury had approached him with some ideas for new yarns. Although the editor respectfully turned these pitches down, his successor, Dorothy McIlwraith, would help Bradbury become one of Weird Tales’s regular contributors.

7. RAY HARRYHAUSEN DEVISED THE FILM’S CLIMAX.

In the grand finale, the Rhedosaurus starts attacking a roller coaster on Coney Island. Armed with a special gun capable of firing dangerous radioactive isotopes, Professor Nesbitt ascends to the top of this ride. Accompanying him is a brave NYPD officer played by The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’s Lee van Cleef. Using their weapon, the duo slays the beast, which dies as the amusement park goes up in a blazing inferno. While the film was still in pre-production, it was Harryhausen who came up with this spectacular ending. He then helped flesh out the scene along with director Eugene Lourie and the screenwriters. “Eugene… said that I always made my monsters die like a tenor in an opera,” Harryhausen remarks in The Rhedosaurus and the Rollercoaster, a 2003 DVD documentary. “Hollywood is noted for glamourizing the actors and I tried to glamourize the dinosaur as well.”

8. THE ORIGINAL SCORE WAS DELETED.


Warner Home Video

Warner Bros. bought Beast from Mutual for the competitive sum of $400,000. Before releasing it, though, the big studio decided to overhaul the film’s musical accompaniment. The original soundtrack was penned by veteran composer Michael Michelet, who used what Harryhausen described as “light classical music” throughout the movie. Feeling that this wouldn’t do, Warner Bros. scrapped his material entirely. David Buttolph, who’d later write the catchy Lone Ranger theme, was hired to create 39 minutes of replacement music. Using a 50-piece orchestra, Buttolph conjured up a brassier and more bombastic score that garnered widespread critical praise, although Harryhausen himself preferred Michelet’s offering. In the animator’s view, Buttolph’s work, while passable, “slowed the picture down.”

9. NO PART OF ANY OCEAN IS 20,000 FATHOMS DEEP IN REAL LIFE.

The deepest locale on the surface of planet Earth is known as the Challenger Deep. Located inside the Pacific Mariana Trench, this spot sits an incredible 6033 fathoms (or 36,201 feet) beneath the waves. Incidentally, Harryhausen’s breakout movie was originally going to be called The Monster From Beneath the Sea, but when Warner Bros. purchased the film, it was renamed The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms after Bradbury’s original story.

10. THE DIRECTOR’S KID ABSOLUTELY HATED THE ENDING.

Released on June 13, 1953, Beast grossed more than $5 million, enough to make it one of the year’s biggest hits. However, the surprise smash was not without its critics. One day, Lourie took his 6-year-old daughter to a matinee screening. To his shock, she broke down in tears after they left the theater. “You are bad, Daddy!” she sobbed. “You killed the big nice Beast!” Little did the girl know that her feelings would have a big impact on one of Lourie’s future projects. In the wake left by The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, the filmmaker was pigeonholed into directing more monster movies. Beast, he once lamented, became “an albatross around my neck.” Lourie’s next picture, 1959’s The Giant Behemoth, more or less recycled the same plot.

Subsequently, producers Frank and Maurice King asked if he could create another sea monster film. Along with Daniel Hyatt, Lourie wrote a script that became 1961’s Gorgo. Set in the British Isles, it tells the story of a big-eared leviathan who’s captured near Ireland and taken to a London circus. Unlike Beast or Behemoth, however, this movie came with a happy ending in which the creature is rescued by its 200-foot mother and escorted back into the sea. Lourie’s daughter must’ve been delighted

11. IT INSPIRED THE GODZILLA SERIES.

Japan’s saurian superstar made his cinematic debut one year after The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms hit the silver screen. On November 3, 1954, Toho Studios unleashed Gojira, a dark, gritty picture that serves as an allegory about the horrors of nuclear warfare. Later called Godzilla in the U.S., the movie did surprisingly well and ended up giving birth to some 29 sequels (so far). The original Godzilla film was produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was heavily influenced by a certain Ray Harryhausen movie. In fact, for a time, the picture’s working title was Big Monster From 20,000 Miles Beneath The Sea. Moreover, one scene that was conceived but never filmed would’ve called for Godzilla attacking … wait for it … a lighthouse

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John P. Johnson, HBO
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Charles Dickens Wrote His Own Version of Westworld in the 1830s
John P. Johnson, HBO
John P. Johnson, HBO

Charles Dickens never fully devoted himself to science fiction, but if he had, his work might have looked something like the present-day HBO series Westworld. As The Conversation reports, the author explored a very similar premise to the show in The Mudfrog Papers, a collection of sketches that originally appeared in the magazine Bentley's Miscellany between 1837 and 1838.

In the story "Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything," a scientist describes his plan for a park where rich young men can take out their aggression on "automaton figures." In Dickens's story, the opportunity to pursue those cruel urges is the park's main appeal. The theme park in Westworld may have been founded with a slightly less cynical vision, but it has a similar outcome. Guests can live out their heroic fantasies, but if they have darker impulses, they can act on those as well.

Instead of sending guests back in time, Dickens's attraction presents visitors with a place very similar to their own home. According to the scientist's pitch, the idyllic, Victorian scene contains roads, bridges, and small villages in a walled-off space at least 10 miles wide. Each feature is designed for destruction, including cheap gas lamps made of real glass. It's populated with robot cops, cab drivers, and elderly women who, when beaten, produce “groans, mingled with entreaties for mercy, thus rendering the illusion complete, and the enjoyment perfect.”

There are no consequences for harming the hosts in Westworld, but the guests at Dickens's park are at least sent to a mock trial for their crimes. However, rather than paying for their misbehavior, the hooligans always earn the mercy of an automated judge—Dickens's allegory for how the law favors the rich and privileged in the real world.

As for the Victorian-era automatons gaining sentience and overthrowing their tormenters? Dickens never got that far. But who knows where he would have taken it given a two-season HBO deal.

[h/t The Conversation]

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Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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10 Fascinating Facts About Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Today marks what would have been the 101st birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, the pioneering jazz singer who helped revolutionize the genre. But the iconic songstress’s foray into the music industry was almost accidental, as she had planned to show off her dancing skills when she made her stage debut. Celebrate the birthday of the artist known as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, or just plain ol’ Lady Ella with these fascinating facts.

1. SHE WAS A JAZZ FAN FROM A YOUNG AGE.

Though she attempted to launch her career as a dancer (more on that in a moment), Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz enthusiast from a very young age. She was a fan of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and truly idolized Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. “She was tops at the time,” Fitzgerald said in 1988. “I was attracted to her immediately. My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it. I tried so hard to sound just like her.”

2. SHE DABBLED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES AS A TEENAGER.

A photo of Ella Fitzgerald
Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Fitzgerald’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. Her stepfather was reportedly abusive to her, and that abuse continued following the death of Fitzgerald’s mother in 1932. Eventually, to escape the violence, she moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. While she had been a great student when she was younger, it was following that move that her dedication to education faltered. Her grades dropped and she often skipped school. But she found other ways to fill her days, not all of them legal: According to The New York Times, she worked for a mafia numbers runner and served as a police lookout at a local brothel. Her illicit activities eventually landed her in an orphanage, followed by a state reformatory.

3. SHE MADE HER STAGE DEBUT AT THE APOLLO THEATER.

In the early 1930s, Fitzgerald was able to make a little pocket change from the tips she made from passersby while singing on the streets of Harlem. In 1934, she finally got the chance to step onto a real (and very famous) stage when she took part in an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater on November 21, 1934. It was her stage debut.

The then-17-year-old managed to wow the crowd by channeling her inner Connee Boswell and belting out her renditions of “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection.” She won, and took home a $25 prize. Here’s the interesting part: She entered the competition as a dancer. But when she saw that she had some stiff competition in that department, she opted to sing instead. It was the first big step toward a career in music.

4. A NURSERY RHYME HELPED HER GET THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION.

Not long after her successful debut at the Apollo, Fitzgerald met bandleader Chick Webb. Though he was initially reluctant to hire her because of what The New York Times described as her “gawky and unkempt” appearance, her powerful voice won him over. "I thought my singing was pretty much hollering," she later said, "but Webb didn't."

Her first hit was a unique adaptation of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she helped to write based on what she described as "that old drop-the-handkerchief game I played from 6 to 7 years old on up."

5. SHE WAS PAINFULLY SHY.

Though it certainly takes a lot of courage to get up and perform in front of the world, those who knew and worked with Fitzgerald said that she was extremely shy. In Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, trumpeter Mario Bauzá—who played with Fitzgerald in Chick Webb’s orchestra—explained that “she didn't hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music … She was a lonely girl around New York, just kept herself to herself, for the gig."

6. SHE MADE HER FILM DEBUT IN AN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MOVIE.

As her IMDb profile attests, Fitzgerald contributed to a number of films and television series over the years, and not just to the soundtracks. She also worked as an actress on a handful of occasions (often an actress who sings), beginning with 1942’s Ride ‘Em Cowboy, a comedy-western starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

7. SHE GOT SOME HELP FROM MARILYN MONROE.

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Fitzgerald said in a 1972 interview in Ms. Magazine. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him—and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status—that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard … After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Though it has often been reported that the club’s owner did not want to book Fitzgerald because she was black, it was later explained that his reluctance wasn’t due to Fitzgerald’s race; he apparently didn’t believe that she was “glamorous” enough for the patrons to whom he catered.

8. SHE WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO WIN A GRAMMY.

Ella Fitzgerald
William P. Gottlieb - LOC, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Among her many other accomplishments, in 1958 Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. Actually, she won two awards that night: one for Best Jazz Performance, Soloist for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, and another for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.

9. HER FINAL PERFORMANCE WAS AT CARNEGIE HALL.

On June 27, 1991, Fitzgerald—who had, at that point, recorded more than 200 albums—performed at Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she had performed at the venue, and it ended up being her final performance.

10. SHE LOST BOTH OF HER LEGS TO DIABETES.

In her later years, Fitzgerald suffered from a number of health problems. She was hospitalized a handful of times during the 1980s for everything from respiratory problems to exhaustion. She also suffered from diabetes, which took much of her eyesight and led to her having to have both of her legs amputated below the knee in 1993. She never fully recovered from the surgery and never performed again. She passed away at her home in Beverly Hills on June 15, 1996.

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