Chesley Bonestell: Futuristic Artiste

Titan Viewpoint

DATELINE: Sci-Fi Art 

An artist you likely never heard of by name may be one of the most intriguing personalities of the 20thcentury. His name is Chesley Bonestell, and you have seen his work all over the world.

A staggering biographical documentary called A Brush with the Future tells his amazing story.

Living to be nearly 100 years of age, he passed away in the 1980s But, his life transcended the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake to days of Old Hollywood and New York City at its pinnacle.

He managed to succeed in whatever he put his energy. Though he preferred to be an artist, his first years in a profession was work as an architect. After the great earthquake in his hometown, he helped to re-build the city with Willis Polk. It was Chesley who drew the illustrations for investors and made the schematics come to life.

When he went to Los Angeles in the late 1930s, he took a job for several studios as the matte painter. You’d think that to be a rather anonymous job, but he transformed it into a peak of success by making all the set designs for Orson Welles in Citizen Kane and also Magnificent Ambersons.  It was his vision of Xanadu, interior and out.

Between jobs, he did the design brochures for Golden Gate Bridge and made it a popular idea across the world with its startling originality and beauty.

Later, he designed the architecture for the movie version of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.  Then, in New York, he worked on the Chrysler building. It was a full life: but not his true fame.

Yes, in 1944 for Life magazine he did some color illos of the planet Saturn that looked like a rover had landed. It was a true vision of the future, and made him a staple of science fiction.

His terrain paintings of Mars, the Moon, and other planets, decades ago showed a man who saw the future and painted it as it is. It was his teaming with scientist Willy Ley (from TV’s Tom Corbett Space Cadet)  who  co-authored a book called Conquest of Space.  Ley was a friend of Frank Thomas and Jan Merlin,  stars of the show (who later teamed with this writer). How many degrees is that?

Jan Merlin and Dr. William Russo collaborated on six books.

Armstrong: Your Perfect All-American Boy

DATELINE: Perfect Choice

  First Man!

Why watch a docudrama about the life of Neil Armstrong? You can see his home movies and watch him in newsreel footage. The extraordinary documentary called Armstrong presents a most intriguing man you never knew.

In fact, no one seemed to know him. He was quiet as a church-mouse, reclusive amid a social world of military and popular science.  His friends (so labeled) said he was silent and to himself, meaning they did not know him. They knew only that he was a top-notch aviator, smart and talented.

His siblings could tease him about reading an aeronautics, and he’d smile in response. If anything will strike you about how handsome he was, it is that he was also so young-looking, even at 40 when he went to the Moon.

You will also know that Neil Armstrong would never participate in any fraud or coverup. He was mid-Western American honest, like Abe Lincoln. He went to the Moon—and you better believe it.

Harrison Ford, no less, speaks the words of Neil. It is a perfect choice, as we hear from Armstrong’s fellow astronauts. Of all, Frank Borman clearly is the one who likes him and admires him most. Even Neil’s youngest son notes his father was “not verbose.”

No, Buzz Aldrin declined to participate in this documentary.

He was a Korean War hero who saw death up close and remained shaken and stoic to the world. This was a remarkable man. He dismissed comparisons to Columbus with humor: he did not want to end up someplace other than his destrination, as happened to Columbjus.

In one home movie he gives a book by willy Ley to his young son for Christmas. How amusing, as Ley was a friend of Jan Merlin (my frequent coauthor) and cience advisor to  the 1950s science fiction show, Tom Corbett. Ah, connections, third degree.