Arnold Gillespie - Writer





Special Effects Technician and Art Director. Nationality: American. Born: A. Arnold Gillespie in El Paso, Texas, 14 October 1899. Education: Attended Columbia University, New York; Art Students League, New York. Career: 1922–24—assistant art director at Paramount; 1924–36—art director, MGM; 1936–65—head of MGM's special effects department, working on some 600 films. Awards: Academy Award for Thirty Seconds over Tokyo , 1944; Green Dolphin Street , 1947; Plymouth Adventure , 1952; Ben-Hur 1959; Technical Award, 1963. Died: 3 May 1978.

Films as Art Director (selected list):

1922

Manslaughter (De Mille) (asst)

1923

Adam's Rib (De Mille) (asst)

1926

Ben-Hur (Niblo); The Black Bird (Browning); Brown of Harvard (Conway); Lovey Mary (Baggot); The Road to Mandalay (Browning); Upstage (Bell); There You Are! (Sedgwick); Valencia (Buchowetzki); Tell It to the Marines (Hill); La Bohème (K. Vidor)

1927

Altars of Desire (Cabanne); Women Love Diamonds (Goulding); The Demi-Bride (Leonard); Heaven on Earth (Rosen); Body and Soul (Barker); The Fair Co-Ed (Wood); London after Midnight (Browning); Buttons (Hill)

1928

The Latest from Paris (Wood); The Divine Woman (Sjöström); The Crowd (Hill); Tarzan the Ape Man (Van Dyke)

1933

Turn Back the Clock (Selwyn); Tarzan and His Mate (Gibbons); Operator 13 (Boleslawsky); Laughing Boy (Van Dyke); The Girl from Missouri (Conway); Eskimo (Van Dyke)

1934

Fugitive Lovers (Boleslawsky)

1935

Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd); The Last of the Pagans (Thorpe); Exclusive Story (Seitz); Small Town Girl (Wellman); Speed (Marin)



Films as Special Effects Technician (selected list):

1936

San Francisco (Van Dyke)

1937

The Good Earth (Franklin); Captains Courageous (Fleming)

1938

Test Pilot (Fleming)

1939

The Wizard of Oz (Fleming)

1940

Waterloo Bridge (LeRoy); Boom Town (Conway); Comrade X (K. Vidor)

1941

Flight Command (Borzage)

1942

Mrs. Miniver (Wyler)

1943

Bataan (Garnett); The Heavenly Body (Hall)

1944

Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (LeRoy); The White Cliffs of Dover (Brown)

1945

The Clock (Minnelli); Yolanda and the Thief (Minnelli); Valley of Decision (Garnett)

1946

The Green Years (Saville)

1947

Green Dolphin Street (Saville); The Beginning of the End (Taurog)

1948

Command Decision (Wood)

1949

The Secret Garden (Wilcox)

1951

Quo Vadis? (LeRoy)

1952

Plymouth Adventure (Brown)

1954

Green Fire (Marton); Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Donen)

1956

Forbidden Planet (Wilcox)

1958

Torpedo Run (Pevney)

1959

Ben-Hur (Wyler); North by Northwest (Hitchcock)

1960

Cimarron (A. Mann)

1961

Atlantis, the Lost Continent (Pal)

1962

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Minnelli); The Horizontal Lieutenant (Thorpe); Jumbo ( Billy Rose's Jumbo ) (Walters); Mutiny on the Bounty (Reed and Milestone)

1963

How the West Was Won (Ford, Hathaway, and Marshall); The Prize (Robson); A Ticklish Affair (Sidney)

1964

The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Walters)

1965

The Greatest Story Ever Told (Stevens)



Publications


By GILLESPIE: articles—

In Hollywood Speaks! An Oral History , by Mike Steen, New York, 1974.

The Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Spring 1978.

Film Comment (New York), May-June 1978.


* * *


The complete filmography of Arnold Gillespie is one of the largest in Hollywood, reaching nearly 600 films and almost evenly divided between art direction and special visual effects. He worked on both versions of Ben-Hur and Mutiny on the Bounty , created the visceral quality of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in San Francisco , the alien beauty of Forbidden Planet , and the maleficent nightmare of The Wizard of Oz . Gillespie's work in The Wizard of Oz demonstrated the imagination, ingenuity, and patience that became his trademark. To produce the witch's skywriting of "surrender Dorothy," he used a mixture of sheep dip and nigrosine dye released through a stylus into milk in a glass tank. The attack of the flying monkeys required the hanging of 2,200 piano wires from the sound stage's ceiling.

When Gillespie began special effects work for MGM, the studio was an efficient organization, all facets of production departmentalized. He was head of the Special Effects Department under the titular guidance of Cedric Gibbons' Art Department and in charge of the crews who worked with miniatures, rear-screen projection, and full-scale mechanical effects. The other aspects of visual effects fell under two other main departments; the Optical Department (matte paintings and optical printing) and the Animation Department. Gillespie seemed particularly intrigued with miniatures (Circus Maximus in the original Ben-Hur , the sea battle in the 1959 remake, the tank chase in Comrade X , the ships in Torpedo Run , and the raft sequence in How the West Was Won ) and full-scale mechanicals (Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet and the four Bountys used for the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty ). But his forte lay in designing solutions for odd effects never before photographed. As in the skywriting effect described above, he usually employed liquids in a glass tank. To create the plague of locusts in The Good Earth , Gillespie dumped coffee grounds into a water tank, filmed their dispersal upside-down, and then superimposed the image with shots of the crops. For the atomic explosion in The Beginning of the End , he visualized a mushroom cloud before photographs and information were declassified by the government. By releasing blood bags under water and superimposing the image with a background shot, Gillespie manufactured an effect so believable and accurate that government officials thought he had access to secret materials. The footage was later used by the United States Air Corps in their instructional films.

Gillespie had the talent and a studio system to make the remarkable, the unexperienced, the fantastic, and the cataclysmic very believable and authentic. As he described his profession in a Film Comment interview, "The whole physical end of movies, in my opinion, was so interesting because whether the picture was modern, whether it was in the future, whether it was a dream world like The Wizard of Oz or in Outer Space like Forbidden Planet , it was illusion made real."

—Greg S. Faller

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