Thursday, September 3, 2015

DAVE MASSARO (1935-2015)

Dave Massaro left for his next adventure on Tuesday, August 18, in the house where I believe he resided most of his life. He was 80 years old. I know he went to school at West Technical High School. He was walking distance from West Tech and a teacher there for 30 years. However small his physical world might have seemed, his mind and soul traveled all time and space, His brief obituary included this description:

He was a science fiction aficionado and delighted many by sharing his passion of science fiction, film and stop motion animation. He enjoyed good conversation, Philosophy, Theology and was a witty man who was a punster extraordinaire.

Dave was never “technically” my teacher, but I sure learned a lot from him. The same could be said by many of those who attended his calling hours and services at a Detroit Avenue funeral home on the west side of Cleveland. Of the nine gentleman shown in the photo at the top of today’s bloggy thing, I think only three or four went to West Tech and had Dave as their teacher.

The aging relics in the photo are (from left to right): Jim Barron, Marty Swiatkowski, Will Kinghorn, Vlad Swirynsky, Terry Fairbanks, me, Mike Hudak, Ted Rypel and Joe Rutt. All of us were friends of Dave’s for decades, shared many of his passions and were inspired by him. Vlad is an accomplished poet. Ted has written novels, non-fiction and movies. Joe is one of the best artists I know; we went to the same grade school and high school and I once convinced him to add a silhouette of King Kong climbing a building to a backdrop of our school’s production of The Odd Couple. The director was not amused, but everyone else thought it was hilarious. You didn’t have to have an impish sense of humor to be friends with Dave Massaro, but it surely made the bond closer.

The other photo is a rare face-to-face meeting of Dave with his friend Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion animation master of such films as The Beast From 20000 Fathoms, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and The Valley of Gwangi. Dave showed many of Harryhausen’s movies over the years and the presentations were always filled with great information and insights. 

I met “Mr. Massaro” through my boyhood friends Terry Fairbanks and Mike Hudak. I had graduated from St. Edward High School by then and was working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a copy assistant. I was invited to join the film club Massaro had founded at the nearby Cudell Recreation Center.

Once a month, Dave showed classic movies. Back then, if you were a film collector, you owned actual film in actual film cans. Soon thereafter, he helped me arrange to hold the meetings of my Graphic Arts Society - which we affectionately called GAS - at the center. Don and Maggie Thompson were members of the film club and my little group. So were artists and illustrators Gary Dumm, Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman.

Dave was a showman. He would narrate the silent films he showed and even the “talkies,” inserting his wisdom and wry comments without diminishing the movies themselves. Some of the visual tricks I use in my comic-book writing were things I learned watching Massaro’s movies. They have served me well.

Dave was generous with more than his knowledge. He loaned me such comics treasures as his complete runs of the EC horror and sci-fi comics and his nigh-complete run of Planet Comics. When I returned them, we would discuss them. He was, so to speak, a teacher without borders.

On rare occasion, Dave and some of his friends and “students” would go see movies. The only one I can remember - curse a memory not as sharp as Dave’s - was a double-bill that included Hammer Films’ Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. After the movie, Dave posed the question of whether or not it would be worth changing one’s gender in exchange for a longer life. At 19, I expected to get a great deal more use  out of my naughty bits. At 64, considering my 200-item-plus bucket list of things I want to write before I kick the bucket, the answer doesn’t come as quickly as it did 44 years ago. Then and now, Dave had a gift for making you think a little harder.

Influences mix with other influences in the stew that serves for a writer’s consciousness and subconsciousness. I have no doubt that many of the conversations I had with Dave, many of the lessons he imparted, have played a role in my stories. His legacy is probably more widespread than I or anyone else can imagine.

It was a privilege to know Dave Massaro. It was also a very special treat. He was equal parts educator and imp, fan and font of great knowledge. That he will be dearly missed will be proven by all the Dave Massaro stories his friends will be sharing with one another for as long as we take breath.

I’ll be back on Monday with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella


  1. I remember bringing Dave to Bowling Green State University around 1974 for the University Union film program.

    Dale Hoose

  2. Thanks for this fine tribute to Mr. Massaro. It's proof that one effective way to cheat death is by being a good example: to be remembered, loved and imitated.