Derek Lamb and I met in 1969, 36 years ago while I was a student at the Harvard Business School. Derek worked at the Harvard Carpenter Film Center back then. I was looking for a film maker who could direct “Dr. Eziariah Little’s Traveling Light Show," a film we used to convert drive-in movie theatres into drive-in discotheques.
Drive-in discotheques weren’t the rage that rainy summer – remember ‘69 was the summer of Woodstock. But we sure had a blast and Derek’s creativity and spirit had a way of encouraging my outrageous behavior.
I remember once coming back from visiting the executives at a New York drive-in movie chain in a Silver Cloud Rolls Royce that belonged to one of our investors. A Connecticut State trooper pulled me over; Derek was in the car. I was going 92 miles per hour down the center of Route 91. The trooper asked for my license and registration. I said, “Officer I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me for my license - because I don’t have one.” He looked at me and asked, “What are you two guys doing driving a Rolls Royce, which apparently does not belong to you, in the state of Connecticut where neither of you live?”
While pointing to the cans of film in the back seat, I told him that Derek and I were filmmakers coming back from pitching our project to movie executives in NYC. “Porno films?” the trooper asked.
Derek chimed in: “No officer, teenage exploitation films, we convert drive-in movie theatres into drive-in discotheques.” For some reason this softened up the trooper. “You two sit tight while I make sure this car isn’t stolen. And you,” he said, pointing to Derek, “Do you have a driver's license?”
“Yes I do officer,” he replied.
The trooper ordered Derek to show his license, takes it, goes back to his cruiser and after an interminable time comes back and gives Derek a warning ticket for going 92 mph on the Connecticut Turnpike. He said, “Okay, Mr. Lamb, you are driving out of here. And you, Mr. LaMagna, are sitting in the back.”
Fast forward ahead three and a half decades, and find Derek being sent out of the hospital and into hospice where his health care team expected him to die from colo-rectal cancer that had finally metastasized into his stomach. But, Derek had been “living with his cancer” for six years and had no plans “to die” from it.
Four months ago I was passing through Cambridge, Massachusetts on one of my runs through my east coast memories and made my usual stop at his place. He didn’t mention the seriousness of his condition, but his fiancée, Tracie, did. I asked if there were anything I could do for him. Anything?
Well, there was. Derek wanted a break from the oppressive 90 degree heat of Cambridge and the craziness that comes with being “in hospice.” Would it be okay if he came out to my place in Poulsbo, Washington for a couple weeks vacation?
“Of course,” I replied. “Didn’t you take that speeding ticket for me 36 years ago? I owe you.”
That day I bought him a first class ticket on a direct flight from Boston to Seattle.
Three times I had to postpone the flight, each time thinking it more unlikely he would ever make the trip. But he did. He rolled off the plane in a wheelchair, carrying a cane and his guitar. As soon as we arrived at my house on the Hood Canal, he tossed his cane and we began an incredible journey that we filmed, calling it Living with Cancer.
Weeks passed while we worked the system looking for a cure and any life extending processes we could devise. Our diet was perfect – no sugar, lots of local fish, brown rice, kale, super food, and all completely alkaline. (it seems that tumors thrive in acidic conditions while withering in alkaline solutions.) We did Chi Gong, went in for peritoneal taps every 10 days (extracting from his stomach cavity 5 to 6 liters of ascites fluid buildup each time), meditated, kept a healer busy 20 to 30 hours a week, interviewed oncologists looking for specific chemotropic agents to knock out his tumors, took saunas, and maintained a very positive state of mind. Except for his cancer, Derek was the healthiest person I knew.
I rose out of a slight depression I had fallen into 20 years ago and into a state of excellent health. Meanwhile Derek was writing songs, drawing cartoons, and living every minute of his life to the fullest while we shot the film.
The film became more important than returning to Cambridge so we lured Tracie to come out and join us. Thank God for Tracie because I was caught between being Derek’s caregiver and his documentarian. Tracie concentrated on the care, leaving me time to work with him on the film aspect.
After a few weeks, though, Derek starting falling into long sleeps and then a wound developed that we couldn’t heal. Two weeks ago Derek’s energy was getting shorter and shorter just as did the Northwest days. His energy was waning and he decided he wanted to return to Cambridge to be with his stuff and see all his Boston friends while he could still travel. I set up the trip he would never make.
He fell into a spiral from which he would not recover. But, a few days after the start of his demise, Derek asked Tracie to marry him, now!
I rushed around; got the marriage license application on line; brought over a notary to witness the signing; got the marriage license; and then as soon as Derek’s son, Tom - who was flying up from Los Angeles - walked in the door Pastor Chuck from the nearby Lutheran Church performed the ceremony. Derek married his love and had his last film in the can.
His life complete, he passed away 12 hours later.
He had me shoot the closing scene a week ago, just a day or so before he died Close up on Derek in bed looking as if he is about to expire. He passed his right hand across the field of the camera and his head followed to the left while his eyes closed and he said, “Animators don’t pass away; they fade away”.
Derek Lamb, educator, writer, musician, animator and film director and producer, was born June 20, 1936, in London, England. He began his animation career with the National Film Board of Canada in the 1959, leaving later to create animations for the BBC before moving into the teaching of animation at Harvard and McGill Universities and the National Institute of Design in India before returning to the National Film Board in 1976.
In 1983, he and his ex-wife began their own independent film production company, Lamb Perlman Productions, with offices in Montreal and Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1986, Lamb was an artist-in-residence and lecturer at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard.
And although much of his work was with adults and teaching adults, sharing his talents for the benefit of children was a mainstay of his life. He worked with several children’s organizations including Save the Children, Street Kids International, and UNICEF, on productions to promote health and education for kids around the world, particularly for those who were marginalized and living in poverty.
In 1979, at the invitation of the United Nations in honor of UNICEF’s Declaration of Children’s Rights, Lamb co-wrote and produced Every Child, a collection of 10 six-minute short films celebrating the International Year of the Child. Each part of the film illustrates one of the ten principles of the UNICEF Declaration, which in essence states that every child is entitled to a name and nationality. Every Child received an Academy Award that year for Animated Short Film.
A little more than a decade later, in 1990, Lamb produced Karate Kid, a project released by Street Kids International, and sponsored by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. It’s a 22-minute entertaining cartoon, complete with chase scenes, street kids without shoes, and an Afrobeat aimed at kids aged 8 to 14 that offers practical AIDS prevention information for kids living on the street. It’s still available In 15 languages and is being used by health educators and street workers in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Philippines and more than 100 other countries. In many of those areas, the film is shown out of the back of trucks by street workers.
To create the cartoon, Lamb spent three months on the streets of Guatemala and Mexico, where he ate, slept, and lived with street kids. During that time, he and Peter Dalglish, a Canadian street worker turned film distributor, discovered that the street kids were enamored of cartoons. Prior to the release of Karate, Lamb and Dalglish worked on Goldtooth, a cartoon that taught about friendship and trust and substance abuse. (For more information see “Making Contact: Reaching Street Kids with Cartoons.)
Most recently, along with Kai Pindal and Jeff Schon, Lamb developed an animated TV series, Peep, with public television in Boston. designed to introduce elementary-science to pre-schoolers
Other film credits include:
- The Great Toy Robbery (1963), described as “a delicious exercise in camp aesthetics in which the Three Wise Men from the Nativity are Wild West bandits whose attempts to steal Santa Claus' gifts--hula hoops, balls and horns--are thwarted by a square-jawed, pure and utterly fatuous hero.”
- I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (1964), a “darkly comic fable of greed that is the basis of the classic folk song” featuring “a terrorist Cat, a Spider that resembles a magician, a Peep-like bird, a dancing Dog wearing a Derby hat, and a wacky grey-haired Old Lady.”
- A History of Communications (1967), produced for Expo 1967, the Montreal World’s Fair
- The Last Cartoon Man (1973), which won the Best Scenario Award in Zagreb
- Special Delivery (1978), winner of an Academy Award for Animated Short Film
- Skyward (1984), which looks at the relationship between humans, birds and the environment was also the first stop-frame animation created for IMAX
Written in collaboration with Jennifer Hicks
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