Dynamite Magazine, December 1975
Have you ever imagined that out of all the people in the world, you alone had the power to turn invisible and slip by unseen? It's a fantasy that almost everyone has had at one time or another. It sounds like fun--but only if you had the power to become visible again just as easily. But what would life be like if you were permanently invisible? That's the predicament in which scientist Dan Weston finds himself on the NBC series The Invisible Man.
Well, seeing is believing, or in this case, not seeing is believing, so Dynamite went to Hollywood to find out the invisible man's secrets. Now we're back with our eyewitness report. Flash! The invisible man looks just like David McCallum. It's a good thing too, because, as you all know, McCallum gets to play this outtasite character every week.
"The idea of the character is total fantasy," McCallum told Dynamite. "He's a little bit of Superman, Mission Impossible, and Claude Rains (the first movie invisible man). But he's a totally unique character. He's trapped in his invisibility and now everything in his lie has changed. Just because he can't be seen doesn't mean it will be easy for him to get away with dangerous missions. Dogs can still pick up his scent. Heat sensors can detect him, and he can be killed by bullets or fire just like anyone else."
But don't worry, the invisible man won't be easy to kill off; after all, he's been around in one form or another for more than 75 years. He was born in 1897 when H.G. Wells wrote a book about a chemist who perfects the means to make himself invisible -- but who cannot become visible again. He flees to a small town to work on the cure, but before long the townspeople become suspicious and afraid of him. Misunderstood by all, he goes violently insane and is killed by the terrified villagers.
Thirty-six years later, the invisible man walked again. This time it was in a Hollywood horror flick starring Claude Rains. Audiences were fascinated by the special effects that let objects fly through the air and the trick photography that made Rains disappear before their eyes.
The Vanishing Act
Making David McCallum disappear on color television is a lot more complicated than any other invisible man efforts in black and white. In Hollywood, we talked to Dick Stumpf, one of the special effects wizards who makes sure that David McCallum is heard and not seen.
"There are many kinds of simple tricks we can do make David seem invisible," Dick told Dynamite. "We use a chair that has an inflated seat which deflates as if someone were sitting in it. We use thin wires to pick up objects like pens and telephone receivers. But the most spectacular effect is to make David disappear--and the show him walking around wearing clothes, but with no head or hands. That's where we use the blue set."
The blue set process involves a lot more than pulling a few invisible strings. When ever you see a headless David McCallum, you are actually seeing two separate pieces of film placed on top of each other. Basically, this is how it works:
First they shoot a background scene. It can be an empty room, or a street with cars going by, or anything else. That's the easiest piece of film to make.
For the next piece of film, McCallum puts on a tight-fitting blue suite and has blue makeup put on any skin that's showing. When McCallum stands in front of a special blue screen, he blends in with it perfectly. They use special cameras to shoot this scene. These cameras pick up any actions or objects that are not blue (like another actor of David's clothes) but they have special sensors that screen out anything that is blue. That's why McCallum disappears but his clothes do not. That becomes the second piece of film. It's placed on top of the first background film and you can see a headless suit walking down a street, or whatever.
Sound confusing? No doubt about it, it is! It takes a hot-shot crew of more than 12 technicians to make sure everything is just right. The lighting people have to be especially careful to see that there are no shadows. Everyone knows an invisible man doesn't have a shadow, right?
"Am I Blue?"
It's no picnic for McCallum, either. When the script calls for just his eyes or his smile to be visible, it's makeup time for him. His face is painted blue, except for the parts that are to be seen. The makeup artists told us that is usually takes four minutes to make McCallum up--but when he has to be blue, the job takes about an hour and 15 minutes.
"You've got to be very patient with all the technical things that are going on," McCallum told us. "I had to learn all about the blue set so I could be more inventive using it."
As if McCallum didn't have enough to worry about, he has to wear a mask for some scenes. "In the show we say it was made by a friend of Dr. Weston's who's a plastic surgeon. Actually it was made from a plaster cast of my face. And it has false blue eyes. One time my wife saw the mask on the kitchen table and it was quite a shock! It really is very lifelike. I wear it over the blue paint, so that when I take the mask off, it looks like I have no head."
After his starring role in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., McCallum pulled a disappearing act of his own, from TV at least. But he's back now, and unless the show disappears first, he should be around for quite a while. It's clear to us that he's one of the best things we've never seen on TV. See what you think.