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Who Created the Imperious Leader?
Written by Marcel Damen   
Tuesday, 15 April 2008

For years there was a rumor that Carlo Rambaldi had created the Imperious Leader for the Battlestar Galactica 1978 pilot "Saga of a Star World". Marcel Damen, a long time Battlestar Galactica fan and fan of the work of Carlo Rambaldi investigated the story. He caught up with Carlo Rambaldi on the opening day of his traveling exhibition to get the full story of the multiple Oscar winner himself.

Several years ago, I heard a rumor that Carlo Rambaldi had created the mask of the Imperious Leader (portrait by Dick Durock in the suit and Patrick Macnee as his voice) of the Battlestar Galactica 1978 pilot "Saga of a Star World".  It came to me as a huge surprise, something I definitely wanted to investigate, since Carlos Rambaldi was a hero to me, and for him to have worked on Battlestar Galactica would be an amazing story to tell. Since most of you probably don't know who Carlo Rambaldi is, let me provide the background.

Carlo Rambaldi was born in Italy in 1925 where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. Interested in the mechanics of movement, he became an expert in the electromechanics and the anatomy of the human skeleton and musculature. In 1963 he entered Italian cinema as a special effects artist where he worked for the next 20 years with all the great Italian directors, including Marco Ferreri, Federico Fellini, and Dario Argento. In 1976 he met Dino De Laurentiis, who asked him to work on King Kong, and this started his very successful career in the US. He continued by working on the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Steven Spielberg, impressed with his work, asked Carlo Rambaldi to create the creature and the mechanics for his next project: E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial. Carlo Rambaldi won an Oscar for his work on E.T. and later won another for the mechanics of the creature in Alien.

Maybe now you understand why I was excited when I learned that someone as great as Carlo Rambaldi could have worked on something as small as the mask of the Imperious Leader in Battlestar Galactica, and odder yet, how it could have gone unnoticed. The timing would have been right. Carlo Rambaldi arrived in the US in 1977 to work on the creatures in Close Encounter of the Third Kind and didn't have the fame of E.T. yet. He very well could have worked on some odd jobs like creating creatures for TV shows like Battlestar Galactica. Besides the rumors, the only solid lead I had that the story was true was an article in Future Magazine (#5, October 1978) which explicitly mentions Carlo Rambaldi as the creator of the Imperious Leader creature. This issue was published before the pilot aired, and written at the time they were really working on it.  It was also long before Carlo Rambaldi got famous for creating E.T. (so the article wasn't just dropping big names either).

 

Future 10-1978, p.28     Future 10-1978, p.29

Future 10-1978, p.28

Future Magazine #5, October 1978, mentioning Carlo Rambaldi as the creator of the Imperious Leader

 

The biggest problem in checking the story was Carlo Rambaldi himself. The good man, now 87 years old, had retired and moved back to some unknown place in Italy, so tracking him down was near to impossible. Last year my frustration only grew when I obtained this series of backstage photos of the work in progress on the Imperious Leader creature (still missing the iron wig). Wouldn't it be great to talk to the man about Battlestar Galactica before he hit it big, as well as his other great projects? It was a dream which probably would never come true...

 

Imperious Leader mask

Photo of Battlestar Galactica's Imperious Leader during creation

 

 

Imperious Leader mask

Photo of Battlestar Galactica's Imperious Leader during creation

 

 

Imperious Leader mask

Photo of Battlestar Galactica's Imperious Leader during creation

 

Then my luck changed, when Carlo Rambaldi himself decided it was time to do an exhibition of the work he had done over the past decades. He wanted to educate everybody on his craft in the form of a traveling exhibition, which included lectures, starting in Europe. For months I was excited that Carlo Rambaldi was coming to the Netherlands. I even cheated on the press form by claiming I wrote articles for several international sci-fi magazines and websites, just to get a 2 minute interview slot during the opening of his exhibition.

The opening was amazing. Carlo Rambaldi held a full hour lecture on the creation of various creatures and his inspirations, paintings of Guttuso and Picasso. On the other hand I was immediately stressed out too, since the man spoke fluent Italian, but hardly a word of English! Questions by the audience on his lecture were kindly translated by the Italian ambassador who was also in the audience, but I knew the press wouldn't be so lucky. It made me decide on the spot to change my interview. I would use (in fact: needed!) all my time to get as much info on Battlestar Galactica as possible and skip my other questions on E.T. and Alien.

 

Carlo Rambaldi's sketches of E.T.

Carlo Rambaldi's sketches of E.T.

 

The TV crew was up first and ran into the problems I expected. They tried repeating the questions slowly for him to understand, but it took him a long time to reply. When it was my turn for an interview, I introduced myself and asked him if he worked on a project called Battlestar Galactica, back in 1978. I repeated it a couple of times, even mentioned Glen Larson and showed him the pictures of the Imperious Leader, but it sadly didn't ring any bells. He said he never worked on it and said the work in the images was not his.

 

Below you can listen to the audio of me asking Carlo Rambaldi if he ever worked on the Imperious Leader of Battelstar Galactica. Click the "PLAY" button to start.


 

Carlo Rambaldi

Carlo Rambaldi

 

Now, you might think: Why write an entire article about Carlo Rambaldi, only to conclude with the fact that the good man had nothing to do with Battlestar Galactica? Besides, meeting one of my childhood heroes, the actual father/creator of E.T., seeing the screen used puppet of E.T., him signing a picture of E.T. for me, and seeing his exhibition, it does conclude into something: Carlo Rambaldi did not create the Imperious Leader as was long rumored and even published in magazines. I hope to do a follow up one day after I talk to the guy who did create the Imperious Leader. Both Mike Egnor and I love working out these tidbits of information, like trying to figure out who was responsible for doing what (even if it's as small as who designed the mask of the Imperious Leader). Tracking down these types of stories is something we also like sharing, even though they may not all end as you expected. Anybody can ask some main cast member how he got involved with Battlestar Galactica and what he thought about playing the part. Those stories have been published a million times before in the past decades, while the world of Battlestar Galactica is so much bigger and so many more unknown people also deserve some credit for bringing this to television. We only want to show that even now, in the year the series celebrates its 30th anniversary, new facts can still be found if you only take the time to investigate...

 
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