A few months ago when I came up with the idea to present to our readers an entire week of posts about Dan O’Bannon, it was obvious there was one person I needed to confer with first, this person was his wife Diane O’Bannon. I started to get to know Diane about a month or so after Dan’s passing. I got her email address from my boss because our company, Fright Rags, had worked with them a year or so prior. I had to reach out and tell her how sorry I was for her loss. I thought to myself, if I loved this man’s work this much, I can’t imagine what it must be like to have been that close to him and to have lost him. We struck up a friendship after that email that has continued on, and I am so glad I know her. I can without a doubt say she is one of the strongest women I have met in the entirety of my life. The pain she has endured over the last few years of her life boggles my mind. And she continues on, with an amazing sense of humor and an intense wit that I find hard to find in most people.
She welcomed this theme week of ours with open arms and a thankful heart and for that I cannot personally thank her enough. This week has not only been for our readers, but as a thank you for Diane and Adam who have shared Dan with us all of these years. I asked Diane if she would mind writing something about Dan, and she ever so graciously accepted. A bit of insight into the man, the myth, the maverick; Dan O’Bannon.
My friend Kristy has asked me to tell you about Dan personally, things that you
might enjoy knowing. I am delighted to write about him.
I met Dan when he was at USC. He was pretty hard to miss, a very intense and
unusual person. (If you enjoy Pinback’s diary in Dark Star, you will see a version of
the “Dan experience”). Alejandro Jodorowsky has called him “a person completely
out of conventional reality” and that describes him very well. He had an origial
way of thinking that could be disorienting, but was always fun to be around. He
was pretty cynical with a touch of paranoia, but if you knew his upbringing, that
made sense. He was born in rural Missouri where his father owned a tourist shop
called “Odd Acres” with magic tricks and curios for sale. Odd Acres also included
things like a stream of water that flowed uphill and an off-kilter room where you
could have a picture of yourself taken standing at a gravity-defying angle. He also
helped his father fake UFO landing sites on their acreage and watched as his father
took UFO believers and the press around and told them about the landing he had
witnessed! Dan was mad for comic books and science fiction by the time he was six,
and already a gifted young artist.
Dan and I had an off and on love affair that could be very intense and went on for
years. I met him at USC in 1971, but we didn’t marry until 1986. Dan was too wild
for me in the early days, and he was completely focused on his career. By the time he
had directed Return of the Living Dead he’d calmed down a bit so when he asked me
to marry him I said yes.
He was always frank and honest in his opinions and professed them loudly – not
something that gets you a long way in Hollywood, but that’s how he was and he
couldn’t change. I’d remind him every so often to “remember, that film is wonderful
and you love everything about it.” But he couldn’t help thinking something could be
done better, even in his own work. He was always revising his work and he didn’t
stop until he was forced to by a producer, then tried to sneak new pages into a
revision anyway. It drove people nuts, but there you have it.
I am happy to say Dan was a very nice man, deeply loving and giving personally, and
open in his admiration for many of the people he worked with. What most people
don’t know about is his hidden generosity, both professionally and personally. He
would promote people whose work he thought good and share credit and profits
generously with everyone. His Crohn’s Disease always dogged his efforts but he
carried on with courage and achieved a few things despite that. His humor never left
him and that made daily living with him a unique pleasure.
It is very sad to realize that his creativity, humor, skill and knowledge are gone from
the world. His point of view can never be duplicated. He had great respect for the
intelligence of the audience for whom he worked.
After 25 years of marriage, his paranoia had vanished and his view of the world
more relaxed than when he was young. Jason Zinoman (NY Times, Vanity Fair)
who interviewed Dan for Jason’s upcoming book “The Monster Problem,” told me
after he died that Dan had said to him “my wife understands me.” I think that is the
greatest compliment a wife can hear. I love and admire Dan O’Bannon and my job
now is to bring the rest of his work to his audience, a job that will take me years.
I want all his work out there to be enjoyed and have an influence on the future.