Rhodes Reason reenacts his improvised "Marlon Brando-ism" from King Kong Escapes with yours truly.
Rhodes Reason has passed away at the age of 84. I'm having a difficult time trying to find the proper words to convey my thoughts. There's a lot to say, so I hope the following blog post will do at least some justice to Rhodes Reason and the impact he had on my life.
I first contacted Rhodes through his wife Jeri in early 2006. At the time, I had just started conducting interviews with people connected with Toho kaiju films, and given that Rhodes was the star of one of my favorites, King Kong Escapes (1967), I was eager to speak with him.
Rhodes has always shunned publicity and never liked interviews. Fortunately, however, Jeri passed my request on to Rhodes. Shortly thereafter, I found out that Rhodes wanted to talk with me. Suffice it to say, I was nervous. I'd never spoken with an actor (let alone star) from Toho's Showa era, so it would be a first for me. I remember sitting in my recliner waiting for his call, feeling about as excited as I was anxious.
With Rhodes Reason in Palm Springs, October 2009.
When Rhodes got on the phone, we spoke for a long time and had a great chat. At this point, the details were hazy, but I remember being struck by Rhodes' deadpan sense of humor. He loved to tell jokes and make people laugh, completely at odds with his serious and authoritative screen persona.
During this time, we had a series of telephone conversations, and it became clear that Rhodes and (especially) Jeri were interested in attending G-FEST. J.D. Lees was delighted to have Rhodes headline the convention, so we agreed to wait until 2007 to bring Rhodes as the convention's guest of honor.
Not only did Rhodes grant very few interviews, he rarely attended conventions. Aside from G-FEST, he only ever guested at a show geared toward Westerns, which was held in North Carolina in 2000. Rhodes never charged for his autograph, and happily answered through-the-mail autograph requests for his fans, but he almost never attended public events. G-FEST would be a major exception for him.
Rhodes and Jeri Reason pose for a photo with fellow G-FEST 2007 guest Shelley Sweeney. Photo by Brett Homenick.
I met Rhodes and Jeri in person for the first time at G-FEST. Although J.D. intended to pick the couple up from the airport (while I assisted Shelley Sweeney, who would be arriving at about the time), J.D. came back to the Crowne Plaza without the Reasons. He couldn't find them at the terminal. Sometime thereafter, the Reasons arrived at the Crowne Plaza on their own. I instantly recognized them when they entered, and I went up and introduced myself. I'd get to know them very well throughout the weekend.
I finally got to interview Rhodes about King Kong Escapes during our panel discussion. Damon Foster edited together a tongue-in-cheek introductory video that Rhodes seemed to enjoy quite a bit. During the interview, Rhodes used his acerbic wit to entertain the audience about his memories of KKE. I was happy to play along when I could. When it was over, Jeri told me that Rhodes and I made a great team.
Rhodes Reason with his former co-star, showing his comedic side that he rarely got to display in his more dramatic movie and TV roles. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Earlier, on Friday night, King Kong Escapes screened at the Pickwick. When Rhodes made his way down the aisle to take his seat, the audience spontaneously broke into applause. I was later told that this unscripted sign of admiration really touched him.
A major highlight for me happened during the awards luncheon. When J.D. introduced Rhodes to the audience, he stood up and acknowledged his fans. Everyone in the hall stood as well. I was standing next to Rhodes, applauding like everyone else, when Rhodes suddenly brought me closer to him and planted one on my cheek. I don't think I've ever been told "thank you" in a better way.
On Sunday evening, I spent several hours in the Reasons' suite, listening to Rhodes' stories about his time in Hollywood. I truly enjoyed ever moment of it, and I'll treasure those memories forever.
With Rhodes Reason in Palm Springs, March 2011, just before I left for Japan.
After G-FEST, I kept in touch with Rhodes and Jeri by phone and e-mail. In 2008, the Reasons left Portland and moved to Palm Springs. As coincidence would have it, I ended up in the same area about a year later, and I was able to see the Reasons a few times. I loved asking Rhodes' opinions of whatever new movies were out at the time. If a movie had a political edge to it, chances are he liked it.
I tried to see the Reasons when I visited California in July 2012, but Rhodes' health wouldn't allow it. I was disappointed to have missed the chance, but I had no idea it would be my final opportunity. I last spoke to Rhodes on the phone a few months ago. He seemed to be doing fairly well, even though his health was not so great. He was interested in hearing about my meeting with Mie Hama and asked me to e-mail the photo I took with her, which I did. That would be my last direct communication with Rhodes Reason.
Lunch in Palm Springs with Rhodes and Jeri, October 2009.
I miss you already, Rhodes. You were always great to me, and I hope I was able to show how much you meant to me. I'll always remember you. With all my love.