When we speak of sci-fi and horror legends, we all can easily come up with names of actors, directors and writers. Special effects wizards quickly roll off the tongue and we all speak fondly of aficionados such as Forest J. Ackerman. But there are others out there who don’t quite get the recognition they deserve. I think it’s time we start looking outside of the normal list of names and begin to recognize those who contributed not only to horror but to the cinematic genre as a whole. What better place to start than with William K. Everson.
William K. Everson was a film historian responsible for bringing classic cinema to life for a generation of avid moviegoers long before the internet made both movies and information about them so readily available. Everson would teach film history at The School of Visual Arts from 1964 to 1984. He was also Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University from 1972 to 1996, not to mention an author and film collector. His books would become bibles for hungry minds and his personal film collection was one of the largest in the world. Yet, unlike many private collectors, he would share his films with others through a regular film series in New York City as well as others around the world.
Everson was born in England in 1929 and would serve in the British Army before immigrating to the United States in 1950 at the age of 21. Through working at Monogram Pictures and on the TV series Movie Museum and Silents Please, he began collecting film. In fact, his collection consisted of many films that were to be destroyed. This was a time long before film preservation became mainstream. Everson was a visionary for saving these films for future generations.
Everson would become a founding member of the Theodore Huff Film Society. It was there that he would display his vast knowledge through written programs, sharing his research with other cinephiles eager for knowledge. Students of film would relish in double features during class or presentations at the New School for Social Research. Remember, these were the days long before home media and opportunities to see these films were rare.
In the 60s through the 80s, he was an influential figure and inspiration to fellow film historians such as Kevin Brownlow and Robert Youngson. Everson would even work with Youngson on some of the director’s 1960 compilation film revivals, such as Laurel and Hardy’s Laughing 20s (1965) and The Golden Age of Comedy (1957).
Everson was also an accomplished author. His many books, including Classics of the Horror Film, The Films of Laurel and Hardy and The Art of W.C. Fields, would be an invaluable source of material for young and old, myself included. He would also be published in several magazines, including Variety and Castle of Frankenstein. Thankfully, all of his manuscripts and film screening notes have survived and were donated upon his death to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, comprising what is now known as the William K. Everson Collection.
Amazingly, portions of this collection are now available online. His incredibly detailed program notes can be read by everyone, indexed by film title, director and country of origin. At a time when long-time film events such as Cinefest are beginning to shut down, it is vital that future generations continue to preserve and respect our cinematic past. Without Everson’s intervention, many films would not be with us today while others would be forgotten in obscurity.
William K. Everson would die of prostate cancer at the age of 67 in 1996. His film collection, consisting of thousands of 16mm and 35mm films (more than 4,000 by the 70s alone), would be turned over to the George Eastman House, preserved for the ages. Go to YouTube to watch part one and two of some interview footage of Everson filmed in 1983. His incredible knowledge will leave you wanting more, so be sure to check out the William K. Everson Archive online, in addition to going to Amazon or eBay to check out some of his amazing literary works. Hopefully, future generations will begin to appreciate his tremendous contribution to the cinematic history.