The Panel
Text and Photos by John and Diane Kachmar

David had been selling quite well by the time his panel rolled around at 2 PM on Saturday. So he was really up for his Q & A. He came over (on time) and the stage was empty. I tried to encourage David to move out the crowded doorway and up onto the small platform at the end of the room, but he wanted to wait for the moderator.

The room was almost full, when finally the con chair took David up and tried to seat him. David wanted to stand. The Moderator showed up and tried to get David to wear a mic. David didn’t want one. He asked David if he wanted to be introduced. David said everyone knew who he was. David wanted to get on with it, so without further ado, the Q & A started.

The first question was about The Fly, and how good David was under the cloth in communicating (through body language) what poor Andre was going through. David was happy with the question and talked about his mask and how it was him under the mask - he was a young actor just starting out and didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to go through all that (for the part) and how no one else (Rick Jason “Combat” was offered the role first) wanted to have their face covered for 1/3 of the movie. David said he had the mask on under the cloth. He wore it for 5 days of the 18 day shoot.

David explained (again) that he had no scenes with Vincent Price in the film, so he never worked with him then. Years later they did a third season Voyage episode, “The Deadly Dolls.” They had great fun with the puppets and Vincent remarked how much David had changed from that young, really earnest actor he was in The Fly.

David was asked about his fly mask and how did that come about.  He admitted it was very disappointing (as an actor) to be stuck in the mask.  David's idea was to have progressive make-up. That every time he was *revealed,* he would be more Fly than the time before, like if his eyeball popped out and then rolled down his face (David demonstrated what he wanted), now that would have been cool.

Buddy Adler (the executive at Fox in charge of the film) and Ben Nye (the make-up man) wanted David to wear the mask, and that's what they made, and that's what he wore, but David's vision was to be like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and do progressive make-up.  He got overruled.  David also didn't like that they speeded up his voice for the Help me! cry in the spider web.  The track he recorded at normal speed was good (he was screaming for all he was worth) and would have scared everyone.   But that's how movies get made.   He was young and no one wanted to listen to him.The film was David's first hit as a movie star and remains a horror favorite, almost 50 years later.

David also said that was him swinging the axe in the destruction of the lab scene. Yes, they could only do it once (one take) and no, he couldn’t see all that well, and that he was told, after the scene was over, that he nearly hit his leg with the axe. Another reason not to do one’s own stunts.

They asked him about The Lost World. David said he never liked the movie. He did like working with Michael Rennie and especially Claude Rains, but the movie script was so bad, he felt terrible the whole time he was filming it. So when Irwin asked him to do the Voyage film, a year later, he ran. David was afraid he would be put on suspension for refusing to do the film, so he quickly found another project to do (in Japan) and thus avoided suspension.

Then after he did The Greatest Story Ever Told, Irwin was after him again to do Voyage the TV series. David felt his nine months of work in Arizona was wasted, as most of his part, ended up on the cutting room floor. He said it they had kept everything that was filmed in the movie, it would have been 6 hours long.

They asked David about his name change. He explained about NBC not liking the name Al for one of their series stars (Five Fingers 1959) so he got it changed to his middle name, David.

They asked David about Licence to Kill and if that was really him in the shark tank. David admitted to doing some of the close-ups- hanging in an empty tank. But he said there no way he’d go near the tank, when the live shark was in there. He then grasped the top of his leg and told everyone it was prosthetic - that the shark had really bitten it off, you know. Everyone laughed.

David was in a really good mood, answering anything he was asked, with lots of hand gestures and funny stories. After the shark bit off my leg gag, the moderator, Derek Teague turned to David and said, “You don’t really need me, do you?” David grinned at him and told him he could stay.

David then talked about his early days in New York, how he saved money to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse with Joanne Woodward and Steve McQueen. He and Steve got in at the same time, and David remembers that night, and Steve telling him they were going to “be big stars.” Fast forward five years, they both have made it to Hollywood and David drives by a movie marquee. Steve McQueen The Blob - Al Hedison The Fly. Yep, you bet, BIG stars. The audience howled.

David was only warming up. He began talking about early publicity for The Fly. Fox hired airplanes to fly over the beaches with banners - The Fly is Open! Back and forth! Then the first newspaper ad came out. The Fly is Open! 400 theaters never saw anything this BIG!!! People were falling off their chairs, they were laughing so hard. Needless to say, that ad campaign was pulled by Fox the very next day.

David talked about doing early live TV in New York (as an extra). He did one show with Joanne Woodward and said he had one line. He called it “under five” - which translated into a speaking (as opposed to a non-speaking part) part - but the part was less than five lines. David said he would rather have a long monologue that he could work up to speed than having to wait and wait and wait for his one line and time it so he jumped in at the precise moment he was supposed to say it. Hated that kind of work.

He also mentioned the times, how one could live cheaply in NYC then. David sold his blood for $5.00 (rent money) and how he worked getting the celebrity room of the Waldorf Astoria ready each night as sort of the butler in residence - made sure all the candles were trimmed and cleaned of wax before being lit, for one thing.

All this talk of Steve McQueen brought David full circle to discuss his latest project. He has recorded the audio book version of Barbara Leigh’s autobiography, The King, McQueen and the Love Machine. David plays CBS executive Jim Aubrey. Elvis Presley is “the Love Machine.” David is new to doing audio-book taping, but so far he is enjoying the work and will be doing more on his first audio book project in Mid-October, a book called McKnight’s Memory. The Moderator called time at this point and David got a spontaneous standing ovation. The audience loved him. It was one the best panels I have ever seen him do.

Diane Kachmar
September 27, 2006

Photos courtesy of Jean Goyette