Friday, 7 September 2012

A Diamond Geezer...

Stunt Legend, Peter Diamond was a HUGE part of what made the Original Trilogy look and feel that way it did, real stunts and real fights performed by real people. From the earliest filming in 1975 to the last shot in 1981the Diamond family travelled the Star Wars road with Peter.

Frazer Diamond, son of Peter, was around the films that have gone down in history (also featuring in a small role as a Jawa on the Sandcrawler set and was gracious enough to sit down and share some of his memories with me.

These days Frazer is a well respected cartoonist and animation historian residing in deepest darkest Scotland and it was from 'Castle Diamond' that he shared this wonderful interview.

So dim the lights, take yourself a wee dram and journey with us back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

1. What, if anything, can you recall about the Elstree shoot for ROTJ? (As a teenager at the time I can imagine that the sight of Carrie in 'that' bikini would be emblazoned on the memory) Did you get to see your dad putting Bob Anderson, Mark Hamill and Colin Skeaping through their paces on the cavernous Death Star Throne Room set? Are there any particular stories that you could share?

Sadly, I spent very little time at Elstree on ROTJ. Just a couple of days. I visited just after they'd shot Jabba's Throne Room scenes. I didn't see any of that filming, or that bikini(!) but I saw the sets, and all the behind-the-scenes construction, the creatures in the workshops and the rest, which was fascinating, of course. 

My father talked about the stifling heat on that Palace stage, in those crazy costumes and about his role as Lightbulb Man, all lit up like Blackpool Tower. He told me how dangerous that set-up was, with all those bulbs and wires. Even back then, he was pessimistic about the character actually appearing in the finished film. The character didn't come off very well, on stage or on camera. 

Elsewhere, I saw the sets for the Ewok Village, and Yoda's house, too - They they were filming there when I visited one day. I recall hearing Frank Oz before I saw him. That Yoda voice just stands out, doesn't it? And there was that magnificent, massive Shuttle Bay with its super-shiny floor. 

I looked on during the docking scene, stormtroopers everywhere, and the Royal Guards. When I was there my father met with Colin and Bob again to discuss the climactic duel. There was great secrecy about that. The script pages were Top Secret. I'm quite sure they had to prepare for a couple of different outcomes. Vader dying; Vader not dying, etc. Agh! - It's at times like this it would be great to turn to my father for clarification... But there you go... All those stories and memories were taken with him, alas...

2. For the first time on ROTJ the Main Unit shot in the US. Were you able to travel with your Father to Yuma and Crescent City? Again, is there anything particular from those trips that you can recall? For example, you mentioned that they had really clamped down on Security.

Best. Holiday. Ever. 

What else can you say? - We spent seven weeks on location with the cast and crew, from April. The Yuma sets were pretty tight, from a security point of view. They were in the middle of the desert, in sweltering heat, and that sail barge was a big, dangerous construction. It wasn't like being on a sound stage, or a traditional location, where you could tuck yourself away in a quiet corner and watch events unfurl, as I did back home. 

My father was reluctant to take us with him during shooting, and although I was hugely disappointed at the time, with hindsight I can completely understand where he was coming from. Of course, despite using the "Blue Harvest" cover name word had leaked out that this was the latest "Star Wars" film, so the location was besieged by enthusiasts with their dune buggies and motorbikes, eager to get a look. That didn't exactly help to advance my argument either!

Despite that setback, we spent a whole lot of time relaxing with the cast and crew at the Stardust Motel, after the day's shoot. I could namedrop that, in Yuma, we would hang out in the swimming pool area with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Antony Daniels - oops! - 'guess I already did (see below). They were very accomodating, and always super-friendly to us, even though they'd be working so hard all day in that blistering heat. 

I recall Mark Hamill's wife was pregant and the time, and he joked that he liked my name so much that they'd name their son after me. So - yeah - my head was in Cloud City most of the time!

There was also one magic day in San Rafael, after the shoot had wrapped in Crescent City. My father had brought us down the coast with him to start all the green screen filming, with the Speeder Bikes. Anyway, we'd all gone shopping and we were in one of those giant stores when a huge commotion broke out. Some of the shoppers had spotted Harrison Ford in the store, and everyone had immediately engulfed him. Seeking any port in a storm, he somehow made his way to us and used us as a kind of friendly shield to help him get out of the store in one piece - which wasridiculously cool for a kid my age, I can tell you...

3. Were you aware of any friction between the UK stunt guys and the US guys over the US crew's rather cavelier attitude to health and safety?

Certainly, it was there. I recall there were a number of hushed-up conversations being had around the Yuma motel, especially after the stuntmen were injured. But my father never spoke of any of this in front us.

4. It's known that you appeared in the first SW movie as a Jawa in the scenes shot at Elstree, were you featured at all in the Hoth scene in Empire or anywhere in Jedi? If so, where can we find you?

Alas, I didn't have any appearances in Empire or Jedi. I spent a fair amount of time on the sound stages during the filming of Empire, certainly. I was there when they filmed the Wampa sequence in the cave, with Luke hanging upside down. I sat in all day, on that one, perched on a poylsterene boulder, observing. 

There was some stuff on the extraordinary Dagobah set, and then the climactic duel on the weathervane in Cloud City, and the training and rehearsal that went on around it. So there are lots of vivid memories for me there, and on Jedi, as I've been telling you. And - hey! - at the end of the day, I've got that appearance in "A New Hope", topping-off my Star Wars memories, so I can't have any complaints, can I?

5. Your father's work is a major part of the Star Wars legacy and Lucasfilm seem to be doing all they can to sweep the hardwork of the 'background' boys under the carpet. Is this something that you would agree with?

I don't think it's quite like that. They may have based themselves over here, with a predominant UK crew, but at the end of the day, these are Big Hollywood Films, and Hollywood wants to take care of its own legacy. It's the home of film, that's how it presents itself to the world, so there's always going to be that bias there. 

It's not like they've failed to aknowledge anyone completely. My father went to Celebration, he's on the documentaries, in the books, etc. I do think it's funny that, nowadays, everyone gets a big fat on-screen credit, even the trainer's dog. 

My father worked on so many feature films and television productions over the years for which he didn't receive any credit at all. I'm trying to piece together his life and works posthumously, for his web site, and I can tell you it's a nightmare to identify just what he did and where. Iif you think about the Original Trilogy, today he'd have to have all those extra credits for the additional characters he represented. Oh, and I guess I'd have to get one too!

6. Did you, although you were young, notice any change in the general mood of the set after Gary Kurtz left the film after the first couple of weeks? People have said that the whole ethos of the production changed once George arrived in the UK to 'oversee' production. Did you then, or now in hindsight, notice anything.

To be frank, no. My father never really brought that kind of detail home with him, and I think I was too young to pick up on that, anyway, in truth. I was a kid, and from a kid's perspective, all I can I can tell you is that Gary Kurtz's Christmas Party in 1981 was the business. 

He had this magnificent tree in the hall, covered in dazzling white lights and candy canes. I'll never forget that. Real Americana, that. Oh, and I got an original Jawa figure, but I lost his damned cape. It's the one that's worth a fortune, nowadays...

7. Robert Watts. Everyone seems to have a story about Robert Watts, can you recall anything about him from your time spent on the sets during the production of the Original Trilogy.

Lovely man. Always very friendly. But again, you're asking me for memories I have of him back when I was a kid.

I worked with him properly a few years later, after I left school, on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". I was employed briefly during the live-action filming, as a trainee puppeteeer in the Ink & Paint Club scenes, although I use the word "trainee" very loosely because I had no training or real ability for the role. I then went on to work for Disney, in Camden Town, assisting the Roger Rabbit animators for a year. He was there often, and again, he was a nice guy and I don't recall anything specifically out of the ordinary to share with you...

8. Were you ever tempted to take up the call to join 'the Biz' yourself as a stunt performer or co-ordinator?

The stunting side of things wasn't really for me, sadly. 

It's a tough career choice nowadays, with so many people fighting for a few scraps of work. When my father started it was so much different. There wasn't a profesional body in charge, no stunt register, and indeed there often wasn't even a stunt arranger employed on productions. 

My father was there at the very beginning. He learned his craft from Errol Flynn and Yakima Canutt, (he got his big break on "Knights of the Round Table" at MGM Elstree in 1953). He was part of the small team who set it all up.... I steered myself towards the creative side... But I must say, I do sometimes stop and consider the way things have panned out. 

My father came from that classic swordfighting tradition. He presented his swordplay with a glint in the eye. He revelled in the old swash and buckle. It's an artform that's all-but died, sadly, now that he and his great workmate Bob Anderson have passed on, and perhaps I should have seen this earlier and done something about it. Maybe I should have taken up the sword...

9. Moving off Star Wars and your father for a moment, you worked for a time for one of my all time favourite film companies 'Troma' in their UK office. What was working for 'Uncle Loyd' like? Did you have much interaction with the US office or were you pretty much left to your own devices as long as you didn't spent any money? Do you have a favourite Troma movie from the 80's staple and do you keep up to date with the offerings from the Troma stable?

Ah! - Troma! - How dare you mention that word in my prescence! - That was the oddest of jobs I've had, and I have a very odd CV indeed. As I recall, I went to Cannes at the turn of the 90's, with a rash promise of mine ringing in my ears. I was working in the photographic department at Elstree Studios (Elstree Stills), and I'd been invited to spend a fortnight at the festival as a minion, working for the British Pavillion set up. I'd told my friends that I was going to go down there and blag a bigger job, somehow - more for a laugh, than anything - but I did just that. I walked into the Troma suite in one of the Hotels, got talking with Lloyd and goodness knows how, but I wound up working for them as their UK representative, a couple of months later.

They were tighter than tight with me, financially. But that's how they succeeded, and it was a great educational time for me. They kept me on my toes, making sure I kept plugging away. There was no slacking, let me tell you, even though we didn't speak every day. And when Lloyd came over to promote the Troma Tour I'd put together and conduct a slew of media interviews, well, that was a full-on period. It was mad, actually. I could go on to tell you about how I rampaged up and down Dean Street and through the Groucho Club, dressed as a mutant squirrel - but I'll spare you the details!

I see they're in the news again now, with the launch of their own YouTube channel. So they're still in the mix, thinking ahead. I know I jest, but they're smart, those guys. They held rights to Miyazaki's films way before Disney and Pixar stepped in board. I remember them promoting "My Neighbour Totoro". I mean, that was well ahead of the curve. And they had that stop-motion series "Crapston Villas" too, if I'm remembering things correctly. A UK toon, that one. I've still got to index that one, over at Toonhound...

10. Finally, your father was well known throughout the fan world and through his work as being a big, generous man, frequently treating people as though he'd known them for years and remebering peoples names and occupations years after meeting them for the first time. There is still a big hole in the convention circuit. Do you think this is how your father would like to be remembered ? Or was he at heart more of a private person?

The whole Convention thing came along at just the right time for him, I think. He had a long career, and had been working non-stop throughout. I don't think he'd ever paused to consider the body of work he'd been involved him. The conventions helped his assess this in a new light, and gave him a chance to talk about it with people who enthused about his achievements. 

It harks back to what I was saying earlier, in that he'd started out in a world where technicians like himself rarely even got a credit. The rise of the Sci-Fi convention, Comic-Con and its ilk, and the meteoric arrival of the Internet has turned all that on its head. I'd say it's the same for all creative media nowadays, and the folks involved. The days when you simply toiled away quietly, writing your next bestseller or whatever, are long gone. You have to get out there and sell yourself, even if it goes against your grain. Writers, in particular, have my great empathy given that the whole process of writing is so very insular and introspective, by nature... But I'm digressing... From my father's perspective, you have to remember he trained at RADA, he was an actor at heart. So the conventions gave him a chance to perform to a responsive audience. 

He never really brought that side of things home. He kept himself to himself when he wasn't working. But that was so rare, of course. He was always off filming something, somewhere. Actors have that notion that they have to keep working, in case the calls dry up. It's why they often make such rotten movies. And it was exascerbated for my father, because he was often employed for such a short time. One day, two days, and on to the next job. Never turn anything down. That's what he did for five decades.

The saddest thing for me now, looking back, is that those convention appearances still only brushed the surface of his incredible body of work. I've recently been delving through a box of his old television contracts, accumulating information for his web site that I'm overhauling. I've unearthed contracts for 260 different productions. That's mind-boggling, and remember, this is just his TV work. You've got to add all his film credits to that list - MGM classics, Hammer Films, Carry-ons, Lucas & Spielberg - his theatre work for the Royal Opera House etc., and adverts and appearances... Those TV contracts alone include a slew of one-off plays, mini-series and pilots for the BBC that have since been wiped or lost. Historians would give their right arm for the memories he had. 

He's taken so much information away with him. I just wished he'd slowed down enough to sit down and identify everything!

I would personally like to thank Frazer for taking the time to speak to me and should you want to check out some of Frazer's work you can visit his website

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