Monday, November 20, 2017


Three men whose work meant a lot to me when I was a kid and, later, when I was a young man in my 20s, passed in August and September. I’ve been meaning to write something about them, but one thing or another got in the way of that. Fortunately, I finally have a few minutes to express my thanks for what they did in their lives and how that enriched my life.

Haruo Nakajima (January 1, 1929 – August 7, 2017) played Godzilla in the original Gojira (1954) and went on to play him in a dozen consecutive movies, up to and including Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). He also played other giant monsters in other kaiju films. He was a noted stunt actor who had small roles in many other movies as well.

When I first saw Godzilla on the small screen TV in my Peony Avenue home in Cleveland, I already knew the differences between the stop-motion animation of King Kong and the “man in suit” performance of Godzilla. What I didn’t grasp until I was older was how much acting was involved in portraying those giant monsters. These days, when I watch those old favorites, I am frequently impressed by how much actors like Nakajima were able to bring to their roles despite having no dialogue and with their own features completely obscured within their costumes.

Nakajima’s other monster roles included Rodan, Moguera (the robot from The Mysterians), Varan, Mothra’s larval form, Maguma (Gorath), Baragon, Gaira (in War of the Gargantuas), King Kong (in King Kong Escapes) and various monsters in various Ultraman episodes. That’s dozens upon dozens of hours of entertainment.

From the moment I saw Godzilla for the first time, I was hooked on the big guy. A good share of that is due to Nakajima. I honor his memory and thank him for the joy he brought to me.

Watching TV legend Ernie Anderson hosting late-night monster movies as his character Ghoulardi lifted those monster movies to my next passion after comic books. From January 13, 1963 through December 16, 1966, Anderson’s Shock Theater was what almost every Cleveland kid would be talking about on Monday. It was not a huge step from watching Ghoulardi to buying Famous Monsters of Filmland as often as I could scrape together some extra money after buying the comic books I loved.

Basil Gogos (March 12, 1929 – September 13, 2017) painted the best Famous Monsters covers in the 1960s and 1970s. His Gorgo portrait is one of my all-time favorite giant monster images, but he never painted a cover that was less than excellent. Even now, if I close my eyes, I can see those covers. If I then open my eyes at a cool enough convention, I might see big displays of prints and t-shirts with those same images. Gogos lives on through his art.

I met him once - briefly - at a Pensacon. He was a gracious man and appreciative of how much his fans loved his work. I wish I had been able to spend more time with him. He was scheduled to appear at an Akron Comicon - where I would have interviewed him for the fans - but had to cancel because his traveling companion came down sick. And then Gogos was gone. He lived a full life for sure and did so much great work, but, with a talent as amazing as his, you always want just a little more.

There are many great monster illustrators and I love their work as well. But Basil Gogos will always be special to me.


Playboy publisher and editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) is someone whose work became very important to me in many ways. While recognizing that some people consider him to have exploited women and profited from their sexy images, I have a more nuanced and complicated view of him.

I was not one of those horny kids who would take every opportunity, when an issue of Playboy came into their hands, to lust after the centerfolds and other models. The women were gorgeous, but I found it uncomfortable listening to the crude remarks of my classmates. They weren’t my friends, but I had to learn to survive being short and smart and a favorite of most of my teachers. I moved among them and they accepted me, especially when they desperately needed some tutoring.

The first time I ever read anything in Playboy was when I asked my father to buy me an issue that had a Jules Feiffer article about Golden Age super-heroes. Dad bought the issue, cut out the article (which was all I wanted) and that was my introduction to the fine writing that could be found in the magazine.

When I was old enough to buy Playboy myself - most stores would let me buy it at 18 - I bought it from time to time. I’m not going to claim I didn’t enjoy the photos, but I actually did buy Playboy for the articles and cartoons.

Hefner’s role as a social activist was commendable. His support of cartoonist and other worthy causes pleased me. That he was also a playboy with multiple sexual partners didn’t mean anything to me. It wasn’t the sort of lifestyle that appealed to me. Before I was married, I rarely dated more than one woman at a time. I liked the one on one relationship. However, since I may run for office before long, I’m not going to tell you how many consensual relationships I have had in my life. Vote for me.

The writing in Playboy knocked me out. At times, I aspired to write something for the magazine. I was always so busy with the writing I was already doing that I never had the time to devote to trying to sell to Playboy. I regret that.

I subscribed to Playboy for many years because the renewal fee was always incredibly cheap. But the unread issues became a pile and, with my kids and the neighborhood kids hanging around the house, I felt uncomfortable having the magazine around. Sometime long before that, the models went from being my age or older to all being much younger than me. So I stopped getting the magazine.

In his older years, Hefner creeped me out a little with his dalliances with multiple women decades younger than him. But I never lost my respect for what he had accomplished, the stands he took, the good causes he championed and the quality of the writing and the art in his magazine.

I never got to meet Hugh Hefner. I wish I had. For me, Playboy was a positive influence. The handful of Playboy models I have met over the years share that opinion. I don’t question the truth that, for some women and men, it was not a positive influence. Sometimes you just have to go with what you think.

Haruo Nakajima. Basil Gogos. Hugh Hefner. Today’s bloggy thing is dedicated to them with admiration and respect. I’m glad they were part of my life.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

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