Today a very busy young filmmaker with a couple of features under his belt, Dustin Lance Black first met Reed during his days at the UCLA film school. Sitting in front of Reed at archive screenings, Black’s ears were assailed by the older man’s unsolicited, fact-filled commentary during the screenings. Rather than being justifiably annoyed, Black was intrigued.
“My first impression of him was that he was this eccentric little man who seemed to have this wealth of knowledge,” Black told me. “I just have always…been attracted to characters of some sort and he definitely was a character…Eventually, a friend…introduced him to me.”
Black quickly found himself a member of Reed’s inner circle. “He wasn’t driving at that point for health reasons and other reasons. He would just call constantly and want me to take him here and there. And sometimes I would resist and not want to but…I would always be so happy to have spent that time with him. He was a very sincere individual, which was rare. Very caring and very, very straightforward about wanting to help people.”
Black also learned that there was more to this guy than geek-fiction and a funny voice. Reed had started out as a young lawyer specializing in helping Vietnam War-era draft resisters. A move into electoral politics was cut short due to a depressing third-place showing for a seat in the Democratic Party and Reed’s sadness following the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
Shifting gears, the energetic Reed became a law librarian by day and, by night, turned to the realm of fantasy. “He always said he didn’t know if he wanted to start a Gilbert & Sullivan society or a Count Dracula Society,” says Black. “He eventually ended on Count Dracula and thus is history.”
Black credits Reed’s success to his sincere love and vast knowledge of genre film and fiction. “He was such a voracious watcher and viewer and listener. His mind was (so) filled with information and facts. And for him to be able to see and talk and interact with the people who had actually done the work that he had studied…I would say that it was probably almost like a release to him.”
Black notes that, quite often, the relationship between Reed and the famous people he pursued was a kind of mutual fandom. “He was able to recite back to them all these things that he loved of theirs that most people would never have heard of…Don loved and cherished these people before they were famous, but he had an eye for maybe who was gonna get there.”
Still, for a man obsessed with vampires and immortality, it all boils down to the fate that awaits us all. Reed, a lifelong Catholic, often speculated and wondered about the afterlife. “He would talk about the fact that Oscar Wilde had converted to Catholicism on the deathbed and he’d (say), ‘Why not? If it’s there you’re in good shape, if it’s not, there’s no loss!’ I wonder if that was his philosophy a little. He never told me that it was, but it was interesting that he would talk about the afterlife in terms of Oscar Wilde’s view….”
And then there was the matter of posterity. With the hardworking Reed’s devotion to getting the Saturn Awards back onto television, viewers of My Life with Count Dracula can see that the Academy was Reed’s legacy. Black confirms that the childless Reed was clearly concerned about leaving his mark on the planet, though the 20-something director is less concerned with posterity. “I’m not so worried about that stuff…I guess I’m more of a pessimist. The planet’s going to fall into the sun one day,” he says laughing.
Nevertheless, regardless of the ultimate fate of the Saturn Awards, My Life with Count Dracula is likely to give Reed his most lasting legacy when it finds the healthy cult-sized audience it deserves. And Reed will surely live on for a few decades in the memory of his many affectionate friends and family members. As if to illustrate that point in typically off-kilter fashion, the post-screening discussion at the Los Angeles Film Festival premiere of My Life was interrupted when a well dressed older gentleman approached the podium and began a long, unsolicited speech, forcing festival organizers to defuse the potentially embarrassing situation by letting the man speak in a nearby atrium.
The gentleman, who duly gave his speech to a small audience composed mostly of Reed’s closest surviving friends, turned out to be actor and author Edward Ansara, who had made a pact with Reed that whoever survived the other would present a eulogy. Not hearing about Reed’s passing until long after the funeral, Ansara was clearly determined to honor Reed’s memory as promised.
And Dr. Donald A. Reed will certainly live on in the memory of the many industry professionals he helped and to whom he gave awards, merited or otherwise. For their part, Dean Devlin and Bryan Singer are actively supporting My Life with Count Dracula. And, though he’s six years dead now, Burgess Meredith certainly didn’t forget.
I was present when the great character actor gazed upon an award he had somehow garnered for his work in the highly unacclaimed 1977 horror flick, “The Sentinel.” Understandably a bit tipsy, Meredith started by saying that perhaps it would have been more appropriate to receive the award for one of his several outstanding “Twilight Zone” appearances. Nevertheless, he graciously thanked Reed and the Count Dracula Society. Gazing at the statue, a tuxedo-clad Bela Lugosi-style bloodsucker complete with cape, fangs and a small trickle of red paint coming from it’s bottom lip, Meredith closed by saying something like the following: “While I can’t say I’ll treasure this award more than any other I’ve received, I sure will stare at it a lot.”
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Posted on August 27, 2003 in Features by Bob Westal
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- MY LIFE WITH DON REED
- MY LIFE WITH COUNT DRACULA
- LOU REED’S BERLIN
- CESSPOOL CINEMA: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOEL M. REED
- MY BODY’S REVOLTING
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