Thursday 1 May 2014

Frank Bellamy, Stanley Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey

Be prepared for a lot of dates, links and assumptions and also a long read! Get a cup of tea and settle down for the story of Frank Bellamy and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

TV21 #86
In the interview (reprinted in full most recently in the Book Palace's excellent Frank Bellamy's Heros the Spartan) that was conducted by Dez Skinn and Dave Gibbons on 12 May 1973 the interviewers asked:

STILL [talking about] DESIGN, THERE WERE SOME VERY BELLAMY-LOOKING SPACE HELMETS IN STANLEY KUBRICK'S "2001" QUITE A FEW YEARS LATER [than Dan Dare which Bellamy drew from August 1959 to July 1960] 
   FB: Oh, yes. I was amazed to see the advertising promotions for "2001" on the underground, with the angular sort of visors I'd used back in '59.
   FB: Could be. (Laughter)
   FB: Yes. I understand they went into it so deeply that they wouldn't turn their noses up at any small article, strip, picture or anything to do with science fiction. They really went to town on it.

Reading this it's reasonable to assume that Kubrick's production team used Dan Dare's helmets as inspiration for 2001: A Space Odyssey. However I always had a few problems with this.

Firstly the Dan Dare helmets (designed by Frank Hampson, Dare's creator, and team) were more a vertical rectangle with a 'u'-shaped front (see below) and Bellamy's revamp - asked for by management when Hamspon vacated the strip he created - had a spherical shape with a prominent oxygen tube at the front (and his Spacefleet logo).

Hampson's helmet Eagle Vol3:13
Bellamy's design Eagle Vol11:21
Secondly the timing of the creation of 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn't help the argument.It was February 1965 that MGM agreed to "fund the production of Journey beyond the stars" as the film was originally called.(Krämer, Peter (2010) 2001: A Space Odyssey (BFI Film Classics) London: BFI Publishing, p.31). The site that lists interviews by Kubrick list the famous one reprinted many times by Bernstein in New Yorker dated April 1965.

I did send an enquiry (back in 2011) to the Stanley Kubrick Archive held at  the University of the Arts London. An archivist kindly responded :

There isn't any mention about Frank Bellamy and Dan Dare in the Kubrick Archive catalogue. There is a file for product development in 2001: A Space Odyssey entitled 'Helmets' containing correspondence and photographs of designs of the helmets for use with the space suits in the film. The photographs of helmets are from Hamilton Standard, a division of United Aircraft Corporation, with their sketches, and some photocopies of images from NASA of astronauts in space suits. There is also a plan from Hamilton Standard of 'Proposed MGM Suit'.

This is the only entry for Helmets in the catalogue therefore I believe they were the final designs for the film. However you never know! They might have thought of Bellamy's designs but were not put into the paperwork generated in the film.

Too true! You can see the full catalogue entry here:

Ref No SK/12/8/2/136
Title Helmets
Description Correspondence and telegrams between Roger Caras and Stanley Kubrick and others discussing the obtaining and designing of the helmets for use with the space suits in the film. It includes several photographs of helmets from Hamilton Standard, division of United Aircraft Corporation, also a quotation from Hamilton Standard for the provision of simulated pressure garments, with an attached sketch of the same, photocopies of images from NASA of astronauts in space suits, also a plan from Hamilton Standard of 'Proposed MGM Suit', space suit for use in the film.
Date 11 Sep 1965- 26 Nov 1965

Caras, mentioned in this record was vice president of Stanley Kubrick's production company, Hawk Films, but in another piece on the web Allan Grimmell Seibert is mentioned as designing Nasa's astronaut helmets - and he worked for Hamilton Standard. So lots of people involved and inspiring one another but where does that leave us?

I received an email from a friend who is a fan of Gerry Anderson and she mentioned that Andrew Probert saw some TV21s that David Power had and the former commented that the helmets Bellamy drew in a particular story looked very much like 2001 helmets. David also emailed me about this and set off this train of thought.

Still with me?

In TV21 #84 (published date August 27 2066) we see the Thunderbirds strip with Alan and Brains in their International Rescue helmets on the Moon. The helmets are spherical with an attachment at the front- similar to the Dan Dare helmets designed by Bellamy

TV21 #84

TV21 #84
In the later issue #86 we see clearly that Bellamy shows helmets in the same manner - spherical - see the image at the top of this article. In TV21 #88 we see the rounded helmets too

TV21 #88

However, it was David that gave me the bigger clue. Later in the same Thunderbirds story - a fan favourite - where there is excessive activity from the Sun affecting the Earth, Brains and Alan save the day but are blown from the Sun by the resultant explosion and 'fall' to Venus in Thunderbird 3. They sink into a sulphur lake and decide the only way out is to don their "anti-chemical suits" and leave through an airlock.

TV21 #92 dated Oct 22 2066
TV21 #92 dated Oct 22 2066

Admittedly these are 'anti-chemical suits' and not spacesuits, but the look of the helmets is so unusual and close to 2001 and so different from other helmets Bellamy did, it makes me wonder. The publication date of this episode was 22 October 2066 - and we know that Bellamy (and other artists) would have had approximately a 6 week lead time, it's not unreasonable therefore to think this was created around mid-September 1966. So who inspired who or is this just serendipity?

I was very fortunate to discover a documentary online - a really interesting 23 minutes - and it tells us a lot about the helmet design - in passing. The documentary - below- (at 5'56") shows both Harry Lange and Fred Ordway discussing the scientific basis for the coming film.
Harry Lange and Fred Ordway discussing the 2001 helmet

The whole of this 1966 documentary, produced by the Thomas Craven Film Corporation for Look magazine in the USA can be found on Youtube (embedded below) 


Thanks to Pierre André Lowenstein for uploading it

Gary Lockwood being dressed during filming in (some time) in 1965/6 - note helmet exists already

There are many interesting characters in the 2001 creation story.

Harry Lange's obituary  ("Harry Lange." Times [London, England] 2 July 2008: 52. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.) states:

"In a plot worthy of a James Bond novel Harry Lange escaped across the border from communist East Germany into the West under cover of night and wound up working at NASA on ambitious futuristic space projects with a former Nazi rocket scientist"

He then moved from a job at NASA to work on production design for Kubrick and went on to design some of Star Wars, and Dark Crystal. Kubrick called  2001 a "non-verbal experience"and it seems clear he wanted specialist designers to show - rather than just make audible - the likely scenario of future space travel and Lange is sure to have had a hand in the choice of design.

Fred Ordway:
Which brings me to another important aspect of my work on 2001: A Space Odyssey: coordinating the physical construction of approved designs. This meant a considerable amount of travel inside and outside of metropolitan London. Thus, we had our space helmets built, from our designs, at the MV Aviation Co., Ltd [sic]of Maidenhead; our spacesuits at the Air Sea Rescue Division, Victoria Rubber Works of the Frankenstein Group, Ltd. of Manchester; and our space pod interiors -- instrumentation, controls, displays, etc. -- at Hawker Siddley Dynamics at Stevanage not far from our Borehamwood location.
- Taken from: 2001: A Space Odyssey in Retrospect by Frederick I. Ordway III on the Stanley Kubrick Site [underlining mine. NOTE MV Aviation was actually ML Aviation]

Ordway records that he started work in England on 11 August 1965 and we know that Lange and Ordway had been working on designs in New York before heading to England.

He also says:
My final principal activity involved attending to, escorting, and briefing an unending array of visitors. These included reporters, scientists, engineers, dignitaries, friends, just about anyone interested in our progress. We were particularly pleased when, on the 25th of September 1965, the director of NASA's Office of Manned Space Flight, George Mueller, and astronaut Deke Slayton arrived at the studios.
- Taken from: 2001: A Space Odyssey in Retrospect by Frederick I. Ordway III on the Stanley Kubrick Site [underlining mine].

Reading an article reproduced from the Maidenhead Advertiser we have several potential names involved in the eventual design and build at MLA, as it was known, so once again no certain names!

So where does this leave us? Did Bellamy 're-purpose' the 2001 design or were the 2001 team inspired by the artist of many space adventures? It seems obvious from a cursory reading that the publicity machine for the film geared up a notch in 1966 but was happening in late 1965 and therefore it's not unlikely that the helmet design might have appeared in a magazine in late 1965- early 1966, but which magazine? I don't know. Bellamy subscribed to many himself presumably for reference material but none of them included contemporary features - to my knowledge. So there you have it. Over to you to add to this fascinating trip down 'Nostalgia Lane'.

Lee Sullivan recently on Facebook, showed us his studio shelves which included these shots, among others:


Would you believe in my hunt for information I found a webpage on the restoration of the original helmet used in 2001. Unfortunately the site - despite its specialist theme - had no mention of Dan Dare, Bellamy, Thunderbirds or TV21.

Keir Dullea is reunited with his red helmet after 30 years

No comments: