Robert A. Burns, Art Director on the Original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE Passed Away...
Published at: June 2, 2004, 4:07 a.m. CST by staff
Hey folks, Harry here... I haven't written an OBIT in quite some time now. Kinda haven't felt like it. Writing about death is an overwhelming thing, you sit down at a keyboard and try to sum up someone's life. Try to put a spin on it, make it feel like something complete, something finished and something missed. Often times, it's people I don't really know, and feels detached... Someone that I knew only in passing via the media constructed personalities that are created for the world of film or television. But this time it's someone I knew extremely well.
Robert A. Burns wasn't a name that many of you knew. Most of ya never saw his face, and the great many of ya perhaps have never seen one of his movies. However, Bob, as his friends called him, was a great guy. Professionally, he was an Art Director on 4 of the best known early works of genre greats. Tobe Hooper's original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Wes Craven's THE HILLS HAVE EYES, Joe Dante's THE HOWLING and Stuart Gordon's RE-ANIMATOR.
My first memory of Bob was at my third birthday party, I know that sounds impossible, but let me paint the picture for ya. I was turning 3, surrounded by central Texas personalities... My parents threw extravagant parties centered around my birthday and invited everyone they knew... Hippies, Politicians, Artists, Musicians and even the few filmmakers that they knew. I remember I was sitting in a red highchair in front of my living room table, the cake was decorated with Godzilla eating my Mom & Dad as a caricature of me was pissing on his foot gleefully. When all of a sudden, the front door of my house blew open, and a sound of a chainsaw filled the house... In came Gunnar Hansen in full Leatherface gear with a roaring de-teethed Chainsaw barging in... behind him followed two unidentified women on either side of a shit-eating grinned fellow carrying a basket filled with discarded body parts... decorating items from the set of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The guy with the basket came over to me, the birthday boy and let me pick out one to keep... I chose a hand which can be glimpsed oh so briefly in the film. My first film prop. That man was Robert A. Burns.
As I continued to reach an age of further immaturity, I met Bob many many more times. He was an enormous fan and collector of Rondo Hatton memoribilia... he even penned an unmade screenplay about the oddest of Hollywood Cult Personalities, Rondo, that has gone unproduced. He bought many of his items from my father, and another man named Bobby Morehead, who traded him for props from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE... notably... all the "bone furniture" from the film. There's a picture of me as a 5 year old covered in LICK & STICK tattoos that I self-applied sitting nude in one of those chairs with a leaf strategically placed smiling like the lil monkey that I was... It was a picture that made Bob smile, for he knew the story behind me having seen Rod Steiger in THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, and performing a bit of MONKEY SEE MONKEY DO. He was the sort of guy, who always seemed to be smiling when he entered a room, always jovial, always in good spirits and constantly in love with film, specifically the old black & white types.
I've had countless conversations with Bob about movies and I used to marvel at his stories about actually making movies with the likes of Hooper, Dante, Craven and Gordon! I mean, how could he make movies... He lived here... in Austin! It boggled my childhood mind! He was a fellow Famous Monsters Of Filmland super freak, having grown up with the puns of Ackerman.
Bob was a great guy, short... kinda crazy looking and funny as hell in a gallow humor kinda way. He lived outside Austin a ways in a small town called Seguin, Texas... though when I was a boy, he lived, if memory serves, a few blocks away in Hyde Park in a small rather normal looking white house. He was friendly with my parents and the crowd they hung with... He always dreamt aloud about the Austin film scene and how he marveled at its incremental progress.
He hated CG and overly lavish productions... He preferred a gritty reality that was often his calling card on his films, which played to the best of what a low budget horror film could be. REAL. The stories about the rancid props and intestines used in the dinner scene of Chainsaw... the smell under the hot lights and the long shooting... the stench of his set lending to the erratic madness of the sequence... the stuff of legend.
I got to work professionally with Bob on only one film, the first film I was ever on, BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE. Bob served as the Dialect Coach and he taught me to say, "She's Coming, She's Coming" in a Southern Georgian Accent at the top of my lungs... and we laughed about the concept of him and I working on a movie together. I was 19 at the time.
He passed away in his home in Seguin on Memorial Day, May 31st. A mutual acquantance informed me of it earlier today, I instantly called Tobe to let him know... We then had a 2 hour weep fest about Bob stories and how neither of us could believe he was gone. It truly is sad when real honest to goodness great people pass away. In my life he gave me scares in the theater and made me laugh in the world. He made me believe in the dream of filmmaking and the joy of genre love. He was a true spirit here in Austin, and he will most definitely be missed.
Father Geek, here, sadly... I lost a good friend Monday... One with many shared memories over a 30 year period... one that made me smile, ALOT, and often... I'll miss our way too scattered talks (since you moved to Seguin). Recently running into you at film fests and extra-special screening events has been an real treat... I'll miss your ever present smile, and experiencing all those fun-tastic Eeyore's Birthday Party & Halloween costumes every year. Bumping into you unexpectedly was always a pleasure... I'm sure that will happen again (like always when I least expect it)... annnnd probably much much sooner than I would really like, although it wouldn't be all that bad with you for company, just give me time to adjust before scaring the shit out of me... Thanks for being a friend
thru the good times and the bad in both of our lives... The family will miss you...