Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY INTERVIEW SERIES: FREDERICK ORDWAY III - PART ONE


Frederick Ordway III 2001: A Space Odyssey interview
PART ONE:  NASA consultant and 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) technical advisor Frederick Ordway III on the inspiration behind Stanley Kubrick's landmark science fiction masterpiece.

2001: A Space Odyssey interviews
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you come to work with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)?

ORDWAY:  I knew Arthur Clarke for a long time.  I first met him in either 1950 or 1951.  It was at the first International Astronautical Congress in Paris.  I was the only American attendee.    I met him and a lot of other people that I'd maintain friendships with until this very day.   Arthur persuaded me to join the British Interplanetary Society, which I believe, he was Executive Secretary of at that time.   In the middle '60s I was working at the Huntsville, Alabama Army Ballistic Missile Agency which eventually became the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center of NASA.  I was in New York City.

It was a routine trip for me.  I was there doing a presentation of some materials that I had put together for a book that I was writing at that time. I was in the habit or writing books then.  I've written 35 books in my lifetime.  I ran into an old friend and he said, "I heard your friend Arthur Clarke is in town..."    I didn't know that.  Arthur had no reason to let me know that he was going to be in New York providing he knew that I was living in Huntsville, Alabama.   I knew that he always stayed at the Chelsea Hotel when he was in New York City.  So I rang him up and we agreed to meet at the Harvard Club.   I was with a colleague named Harry Lange.   He came over and we caught up.  I said, "Arthur, what brought you to New York?"  He said that he come to New York to promote his new book, but also because he was meeting with a guy, Stanley Kubrick, who was interested in writing a screen-novel with him.

It was to be called  "Journey Beyond The Stars."  Arthur said,"What are you doing in town?"   I told him about the presentation that I gave which was based around my latest book Intelligence In The Universe.   He said, "That sounds like what I'm working on..."     We continued to talk for another couple hours and then parted ways because I had a dinner engagement that evening over on Park Avenue.

Frederick Ordway Stanley Kubrick 2001 A Space Odyssey
Ordway (Far Left) walks with Kubrick and Clarke at MGM England
This was in January of 1965.   It was snowing out, I remember.    I was outside my hotel standing there with Harry Lange.  I was trying to hail a cab, and a lady came out of the hotel and said, "Mr. Ordway there's a call for you..."   I went in and the voice on the other end said, "My name is Stanley Kubrick..."    What had happened was that Arthur Clarke, when he had left us at the Harvard Club, had called Stanley Kubrick from a the first call box he saw on 6th Avenue.  We agreed to meet Kubrick at his apartment in the following days.  Myself, Harry Lange, Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick met and we got to talking about the project.   He asked if we'd like to do some consulting and design work on the film.   We got back to Huntsville and we began exchanging letters with Kubrick.   That's how it all started.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What were your first impressions of Stanley Kubrick when you met him?

Kubrick (L) with actress and Ordway (R) on set of 2001
ORDWAY:  Well, I knew of him.  I was a admirer of his film SPARTACUS (1960) and I had certainly heard about LOLITA (1962).  I wasn't an expert in film.   He seemed to me to be very cautious.  He wasn't very out-going.   For our second meeting, we went to dinner at a German restaurant on the East Side of New York.   I remember when we walked in he said to the waiter, "I want a table over there where my back will be in the corner. I don't want anyone to recognize me."    I got along with him very well.    He was interested in Harry Lange because he was German.   He was fascinated with his background.  Because Lange, when he was younger, had been a member of the Hitler Youth in Germany.    He didn't want to fly to England when it came time to shoot the film.  He didn't want us to fly either.

When we went over to England: my wife and my kids and I were one of the last to join the production.   I brought over all the research documentation via the Queen Mary ship out of New York.   I brought over 26-cartons of documentation on the trip.     I was concerned about going because I was worried that I'd lose my job in Huntsville.  I knew that I might be over there for a while,  but they told me not to worry because of the high profile nature of the project.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Going back.....Your book
Intelligence In The Universe was of interest to Kubrick.  Going back to that initial meeting with Kubrick and Clarke at his apartment...What were some of the topics of discussion that day?

Frederick Ordway Harry Lange 2001 A Space Odyssey
Ordway (L) with 2001 technical advisor Harry Lange (R)
ORDWAY:   Well, it was different then.  It was all speculation in those days.   Today, we know that there  are 750 planets out there now.    It's not logical to think that we're the center of the universe or that we're the only intelligent species in the galaxy.   We talked about that. The Frank Drake equation.    We talked about the percentages of planets out in the galaxy that are the same size as Earth.   We talked about sustainability on other planets.  We talked about water on other planets.  We talked about planets that may be inhabitable and what the percentage would be that life could occur on those planets over the next billions of years and how those organisms could evolve to our level of technological intelligence.     And how and when those planets and the organisms on them could evolve and how they could establish a signal that went out to others. This was back in the '60s and our planet, back then, was very stressed because of our careless environmental policies.  The question mark was about how long we'd last before we destroyed ourselves.  There was very little optimism back in the '60s about any of these ideas. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Kubrick was particularly fascinated by the Drake equation wasn't he?

stanley kubrick 2001, arthur clarke 2001 a space odyssey
Kubrick (L) with Arthur C. Clarke (R) at his apartment in NYC
ORDWAY:  He was.   We talked about all of this and I think it's what got us on the same wavelength.    I'm not an expert in space kitchens or hibernation, but because I had a wide network of contacts available to me--when it came time to research the kitchens in space or the hibernation I knew who to contact to explore those questions.  That was really my job on the film.   The goal was to have everything look realistic. From a screen you looked at or a button you pushed.     It all had to be realistic because you didn't know what would be on the movie screen.  Harry Lange and I were tasked with the scientific feasibility of it all.   The last part of the film is purely science fiction though and I was not involved in any aspects of that. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   In culling together the research for the film...Did you encounter any opposition against what you were trying to do?  Did you come across a company that wasn't willing to participate in your questioning?

frederick ordway 2001
Ordway, Clarke, and Kubrick on 2001 set
ORDWAY:  No.   I went to companies like 3M and General Electric.  I worked very closely with IBM.   They were very enthusiastic about the project.  Everyone was very cooperative.   Anyone in the science field bent over backward to have anything to do with Arthur Clarke.   We worked with the Soviet Embassy to get the research photos.   George Mueller, who was an assistant to Wernher von Braun at NASA came to tour the sets at MGM Borehamwood and was so impressed with our research that he said that he was going to start calling us "The NASA of the East..."    The companies took us all very seriously because space was on everyone's mind in the middle '60s because of Kennedy's declaration in '61 that the United States would be going to the moon.    The companies we enlisted spent a lot of time making things feasible and logical.   You have to remember we were projecting forward.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   Kubrick gave you a massive list of questions that he hoped that you could answer or find answers to when it came to the research for realism or speculation....

ORDWAY:  Certainly.   We would met regularly in his office to talk.   One of the ideas that he had for the film, and it's something we just had to say no to was his idea to change the mission objective in the film from Jupiter to Saturn.   The rings were just too difficult to achieve with the special effects and I just didn't think it was logical for the mission to go to Saturn instead so we convinced him that it wasn't a good idea.   He was even concerned with the pajamas that the astronauts would wear on the mission.   The same with the stewardesses on the space station.     I got into those questions to a certain extent, but eventually, we got people from the fashion industry involved.    It was the era of the mini-skirt and so the goal was to keep it fashionable but also scientific.   The others, on the Aries and Orion ships in the film, were in pants suits.   He wanted them to wear those white hard hats because of the possibility of them being thrown around.  They had to have protective head wear as a precaution but those designs were out of my field of expertise.

This interview with Frederick Ordway was conducted in January 2012.
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung

COMING SOON:  In PART TWO of this interview with Frederick Ordway he discusses specifics of production on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.