Bobcat’s documentary nominated for award named after film’s subject
“As a filmmaker and fiction writer, I’m interested in the human stories that define us,” says Texas State University alumnus Joe O’Connell (B.A. ’84, M.F.A. ’95), whose documentary Rondo and Bob is nominated for an award named for one of his film’s subjects. The film, which tells the entwined stories of actor Rondo Hatton and art director Robert A. Burns, is nominated in the Best Documentary category at the 2021 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.
As a journalism major at Texas State, O’Connell honed his writing and storytelling skills. After working as a newspaper reporter for several years, his desire to write fiction brought him back to San Marcos. He earned a M.F.A. in creative writing in 1995 and fondly remembers the film courses he took with English professor Rebecca Bell-Metereau.
O’Connell combined the journalism and film-writing skills he learned to write a column about the film industry that ran for a combined 12 years in the Austin American-Statesman, Austin Chronicle, and Dallas Morning News. In that capacity, he had the opportunity to interview Burns, art director of such horror classics as Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Burns told O’Connell about his obsession with Rondo Hatton, an actor with a distinctive look caused by a hormonal disorder known as acromegaly. In the 1930s and ’40s, Hatton’s look landed him several roles playing monsters and creatures in thriller films such as House of Horrors.
After learning both men’s stories, O’Connell felt compelled to share them through film. As he puts it, “Rondo was a normal guy who looked weird. Bob was quite normal looking, but he was brimming with weirdness and creativity. Rondo was happily married. Bob was lonely. That and their film careers make up Rondo and Bob.”
O’Connell was able to screen Rondo and Bob at the 2020 Saints and Sinners Film Festival, where the film was named “Best of Fest,” before its release was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. That festival earned the film the Rondo Award nomination.
The fan-based Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were created in 2002. The award itself is a bust of Hatton based on his appearance in House of Horrors. With no commercial sponsor, voting is done entirely by email and anyone who is a fan of horror is invited to vote. Those interested in voting can email the film name and category, along with your name to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is April 25, 2021. Detailed voting instructions and a full list of nominees can be found on the Rondo Awards website.
Rondo and Bob is just one project that showcases O’Connell’s passion for telling human stories. His 2018 debut film, Danger God, focuses on another of his interview subjects, stuntman Gary Kent. Next year, he will be taking a sabbatical from his day job as an associate professor of English at Austin Community College to complete his nonfiction book, The Contortionists, about three Texas sisters whose contortions in the 1944 film Broadway Rhythm have become viral on YouTube.