Lifetime Achievement: Frederick I. Ordway III
The Arthur C. Clarke Award for Lifetime Achievement was presented to Frederick I. Ordway III on 22 October 2013 in Washington, D.C. Following are his prepared remarks that evening.
I am overwhelmed by this wonderful and certain to be memorable lifetime award. Others must determine if I merit it but I can vouch for the “lifetime” part.
When my parents passed away in the mid-1970s, I found that they had kept a dear-mommy-and-daddy letter from me dated 29 March 1938 in which I begged (for my upcoming 11th birthday), quote “…one of those Roy Rockwood books like the one called ‘Lost on the Moon.’” I added that for my 1937 Christmas I had received other Rockwood books that I dearly loved. Clearly, at least by then, I was hooked on space travel. I devoured books as well as pulp magazines bearing such titles as Amazing Stories, Science Wonder Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, Dynamic Science Stories, Astonishing Stories, Comet Stories, Marvel Science Stories, Planet Stories, Startling Stories, on and on and on.
I quickly learned that the only way to visit other worlds was by rocket, so in January 1941 I became a 13-year-old student member of the American Rocket Society. Believe it or not, I am still aboard the successor American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Yes, a member at fellow grade more than 72 years later!
With this background, you can imagine how excited I was to meet Arthur C. Clarke, an early hero of mine through fiction and science alike. We ran into each other in Paris on the 29th September 1950, 63 years plus a few weeks ago! The occasion was the First International Astronautical Congress where I registered on behalf of the American Rocket Society, I the only American attending.
Arthur and I seemed to connect immediately, he introduced me to his British colleagues, soon guided me into membership and then fellowship in the British Interplanetary Society of which he was the secretary, and presented me with his book “Interplanetary Flight: An Introduction to Astronautics” (1950), which would be followed the next year by “The Exploration of Space.”
With my new wife Maria Victoria, who preferred the nickname Maruja, we soon socialized with Arthur, met his wife Marilyn (regretfully a short-lived marriage), brother Fred and other family members, attended international congresses together, and the bond grew.
When Arthur moved to Ceylon, later Sri Lanka, we saw each other less frequently but kept in touch and he extended such favors to me as writing the forward to one of my books and an epilogue to another.
Then, in January 1965, we had an encounter in New York City that would lead to an extraordinary collaboration. I was in town for a weeklong professional meeting as well as sessions with three of my publishers. One day, someone said to me, “I hear your old friend Arthur C. Clarke is in town.” I didn’t know, but recalled that when in New York he always stayed at the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street—we had met there many times in the past. When I called, he answered the phone and I proposed that we get together. He agreed, and we selected the Harvard Club of New York where we had met before and where I lodge when in town.
Over drinks in the lounge, he related that he had been contacted by movie director Stanley Kubrick and had agreed to prepare a draft novel with a film version firmly in mind. He went on to describe the subject, and I became fascinated, telling him about my own book “Life in Other Solar Systems” published by Dutton (1965) and the then still-in-the-galley-stage-at Prentice-Hall, “Intelligence in the Universe,” both dealing with the beyond-the-Solar System/interstellar flight theme that so fascinated Stanley Kubrick.
It turned out that Arthur, Stanley and I were working on parallel paths!
As we continued to talk, I reviewed with him my activities down in Huntsville, Alabama with Dr. Wernher von Braun at the NASA George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. Back in those days we were moving ahead on the Apollo program. Several years would pass before the Apollo 8 and 10 circumlunar flights and that were followed in July 1969 by the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.
We glanced at our watches, time had passed rapidly, and we both had evening engagements, I a dinner uptown on Park Avenue. Arthur departed the club and I went upstairs to fetch my overcoat as the evening was cold and snowy.
Back downstairs, the front-door man was hailing a cab when a club employee told me that I had an incoming call. When I got to the nearby phone, a voice said, “My name in Stanley Kubrick.” I soon learned that Arthur had rung him from a phone booth near the club and it turned out that Stanley urgently wanted to set up a meeting with me while I was still in New York.
That meeting took place on the 23rd of January 1965 in Kubrick’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The outcome: I was asked to become the scientific and technical advisor to the film whose working title was then “Journey Beyond the Stars.” The idea was for Arthur to write a draft novel inspired by his short story Sentinel of Eternity that had appeared in “Ten-Story Fantasy” magazine’s first issue in the spring of 1951 on which the “2001” film would be based. Simultaneously, he would be co-author with Stanley on the screenplay based on the novel. For its part, the novel was to be published under Arthur’s name alone after the film’s premiere! An unusual sequence, perhaps, but all turned out well.
The rest is history. I spent almost two years with Stanley, Arthur and the production team, initially as part of a small group working in Kubrick’s Polaris Productions offices on Central Park West in New York City, and later at his Hawk Films Ltd offices located in the MGM British Studios complex in Borehamwood, England north of London.
On the 2nd of April 1968 the film, whose title had meanwhile become ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ premiered here in Washington at the Uptown Theater followed by a large reception at the Shoreham Hotel. The next day, ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ headlined “One of MGM’s All-Time Hits—Majestic Visual Experience, Tantalizing Enigmas Provide Challenge to Unknown Barriers.”
Fast forward 44 years later to 1 August 2012 with ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ telling the world that the British Film Institute had just revealed the results of a once-in-a-decade international film poll. With 842 movie critics and scholars voting, ‘2001’ came in sixth place among the top ten films in history. In a separate poll of 358 film directors worldwide, ‘2001’ came in second place.
Number two in the world! Sadly, by then both Stanley and Arthur had left us, respectively in 1999 and 2008. How proud they would have been as we are tonight of their magnificent achievement and the international acclaim it deserved.
The premiere event by no means ended my association with ‘2001. Over the years, I took part in anniversaries and other occasions in the U.S. and occasionally abroad, with an enormous audience at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the 25th anniversary. Sometimes I would appear alone, others with actor Keir Dullea, and Arthur would often participate by audio-visual link or audio link set up between the U.S. and Sri Lanka.
In the real year 2001, Keir and I helped celebrate the film at the University of Illinois, Urbana where, according to Clarke’s novel, the HAL 9000 artificial intelligence computer of heuristic-algorithm design was born. Simultaneously, the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation marked the occasion locally. Some people suggested that by upping each HAL letter by one you’d get IBM, our computer-sequences consultant, a coincidence that never occurred to us!
And Oh, just last month here in Washington at the Cosmos Club’s Powell Room, I entertained the Explorers Club Washington Group with a talk entitled “Typical Days at the MGM British Studios, Borehamwood, UK During Filming of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’” Clearly, I’ll be tied to Arthur C. Clarke and ‘2001’ to the end of my days! Do you hear me complaining?
Many, many thanks for the honor you have bestowed on me today. I am almost overcome with emotion.
Frederick I. Ordway III
22 October 2013