By TOM WEAVER
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
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.
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
. 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.
talked in previous interviews about having some ideas of
your own for The Fly -- ideas nobody seemed to want
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.
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  -- do you remember that makeup?
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.
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."
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.
you get to meet James Clavell during the making of The
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.
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
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!
Q: 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.
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!
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.
Owens there that day, too, dubbing her half of the scene
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.
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
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?
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.
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
Owens' memory of Kurt Neumann was that he was elderly and
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.
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!
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.
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