I moved to London in September of 1999 to begin study at the Delamar Academy. Penny Delamar, founder and head of the school, knew I was keen on special FX and prosthetics. A few weeks into the course, she mentioned she'd been in contact with Stuart Freeborn, who was an old friend, and at 86, selling off most of his lot, unlikely to use the vast amount of "rubbish" he'd collected over the years. Penny was primarily interested in his ovens, of which he had seven. This is where I came in, as a strong young American was needed to shove it into the boot of a car apparently. I was asked if I would tag along, eagerly awaiting the day. The day finally came on Dec. 1, 1999, when Paul Carey, my gifted prosthetics instructor, and I set off in one Mercedes, Penny and her husband David in another, bound for the Freeborn's in Esher. We arrived shortly after 11am and Stuart's wife Kay greeted us at the door. Stuart popped out of the kitchen with a joyous "ello there!" Penny introduced Paul, and then myself as one of her students and a fan from America. Shaking hands, he asked me where from. "Chicago," I remember saying, and Kay noted "Ahh, the Windy City!" Kay insisted we sit in the living room and asked if we wanted tea. David said only if they were having some. Kay replied, "We're always having some." She asked if I wanted coffee, as it's more customary for Americans, but I said tea would be wonderful.
Stuart was a charmingly impish man, spry and beaming like a child, and couldn't wait to begin telling stories. I remember thinking he was so young at heart, full of electric energy, and hardly seemed to be retired. I never wanted to lose that enthusiasm. I was on the edge of my seat. He began with the tale of the acquisition of the vast property behind is home of more than thirty years. It seems it had belonged to a family who had moved to Canada. The estate agent had given Stuart all sorts of excuses to prevent him from acquiring the land. While shooting one of the Superman films in Canada, Stuart contacted the family and bought the land directly from them, much to the agent's surprise and dismay. As we got onto the subject of work, he recalled "2001" first, Whilst building apes for the film, he came up with mechanisms to make the mouths move. Kubrick asked if he could see more teeth, and Stuart modified them accordingly. Kubrick wanted a baby ape sucking a mother, and Stuart modified. The more he modified, the more Kubrick wanted. He added "Dr. Strangelove" hadn't been nearly as hard. Many of the ape features were based on an actual ape they had on set that they studied. Kubrick later apologized for giving Stuart such a hard time.
Stuart recalled working on "The Omen" with Gregory Peck, when some kid walked onto the set. He was thinking "who the hell is this?" when the fellow introduced himself as George Lucas. Lucas had heard Freeborn did the apes in 2001 and wanted him to do some creatures for a script he had written. Stuart thought the guy had some nerve, but agreed to show him more work in his attic. One project he showed Lucas was a commercial he was working on between films for Bird's Eye Peas, involving a pea man with a smooth green head, some eyes, a little v nose, and a slit mouth. No ears. Lucas liked the design but Stuart insisted it was property of the food company. He agreed to modify it for Lucas, adding a snout, tweaking the mouth, and giving a velcro seam like a mohawk at the top. He drilled holes into the negative mold to get a very fine edge on the appliance. These holes filled with foam that cured as little sausage-like pieces. Rather than throw these pieces away, Stuart glued them on the mohawk. He said he forgot the great name Lucas had given the creature but that he wanted it's head blown off. I said "Greedo." and Stuart exclaimed "That's the one! Greedo!" Hard to believe a pea man evolved into a bounty hunter killed by Han Solo.
We'll meet again.