Bonestell Blog #1

by Douglass M. Stewart, Jr.

Producer/ Director/ Writer of  “Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future”

How it all began…

Were you ever curious about who Chesley Bonestell was? That certainly applied to me. I had seen his paintings and illustrations in the early part of my life but I really didn’t know much about the man behind them. I had seen “Destination Moon” as a kid. There was that terrifying moment when one of the crew members broke free of the ship and was drifting out into space. Who can forget the clever way another crew member who used a fire extinguisher for an extra-vehicular activity to rescue him from horrible fate? I would later learn that Chesley designed that rocket ship and in fact, had quite a lot to do with the production of that film.

Many years ago, I acquired a copy of “The Conquest Of Space” just so I could nourish a lingering nostalgia for that era of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. I read a lot of the Tom Swift books whose inventions and experiences with rockets and new technology were quite inspirational to me. There was also something quite unforgettable about Bonestell images of what it was like to be on another planet or to travel thorough space to a distant star system. I even recall getting a kit of a Wernher Von Braun rocket that was a challenge to put together. I wasn’t very neat with a tube of glue and all those white pieces. The rocket ship was badly damaged by my younger sister and I am sure it didn’t stay long around the house. One day I will forgive my sister!

I did not go into rocketry or space exploration when I got older. During my younger years when astronauts were first being launched into space, I recall thinking how cool it would be to be working in a mission control room with all those monitors. My career, however turned out to be in show business. I have a long history with award shows like the Oscars, The Emmys, The Screen Actors Guild Awards, the American Society of Cinematographer Awards and others, doing what are called film packages. These are small edited pieces that would show why a person was nominated for a particular award. If it was an actor, how could I convey to the audience in 15 seconds why his peers thought he deserved an award? That took a lot searching through a film to find 10-15 seconds that revealed the answer. I also made many biographies of well-known stars and celebrities, mostly with very challenging guidelines. It’s quite a task to tell the story of a famous actor’s long and illustrious life in six minutes or less! In doing all this, there was a bit of prophesy fulfilled. For most of my career, I have been in television control rooms and editing suites with monitors of all kinds but none dedicated to launching rockets…

Remembering Chesley Bonestell’s amazing paintings and illustrations, I had always assumed that one day, somebody would make a film about him. Seemed like a natural. Years went by and several years ago, I decided to do some research. Intuitively, it had a hunch that there could be an interesting story behind Chesley and his paintings …why not make a film about him? Perhaps someone already had! The internet has been a god-send to searchers and researchers like me, yet, I couldn’t find any films on the man. He appeared as himself in Arnold Leibovit’s great documentary called “The Fantasy Film World of George Pal”, so I got a copy of that and there he was, a part of the epic story of filmmaker George Pal. Mr. Leibovit knew how important Chesley was to George Pal and his films., like “Destination Moon”, “The War of The Worlds” and others. Mr. Pal made another classic film that I never forgot called “The Time Machine”. One of the cast members of that film was the beautiful Yvette Mimieux, who played the delightful Weena, a girl from the future. My own future would have me work with Yvette on a number of projects years later, but that, indeed, is another story.

Trolling and scrolling through the internet, I came across books by Ron Miller and Melvin Schuetz, in particular, an expensive and out of print book called “The Art of Chesley Bonestell”. Ron had also co-authored an earlier book on Chesley called “Worlds Beyond”. I also found blogs written by him. More research revealed Ron to be the glowing star in a distinguished galaxy of space artists. His work has graced the covers of Sky and Telescope and Astronomy Magazine many times. He was even chosen to design a series of postage stamps depicting all the planets of our solar system. Most impressive, to say the least!

When I finally found a phone number, I wasn’t sure I had the right Ron Miller, but the very pleasant voice at the other end told me that,yes, he was the man who had written the definitive biographies of Chesley Bonestell and quite a few other books. I told him a bit about who I was and had some more questions:

Doug: Has anyone ever done a film on Chesley?

Ron: No.

Ok. That was good to know but here’s the scary part: that doesn’t mean a film isn’t in progress and I knew if anyone was doing one, they’d be consulting with Ron Miller. So I asked the next question…

Doug: Is anyone doing a film on Chesley?

Ron: Nope.

This was good to know but then came this:

Ron: It’s time for you to do one and I will help you.

Ron and I had not known about each other until this very phone call and here was this artistic giant offering to help me do a film on another artistic giant. That moment echoes Humphrey Bogart sentiments at the end of Casablanca when he says “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” And it has been. Interesting factoid: I live on one coast and Ron lives on the other. Curiously, we’ve never met in person yet but working with him has been a dream. One day we’ll meet up in person!

NEXT: Getting The Film off The Ground”