Harvey came to Lawrence, Kansas in 1945 to study at the University of Kansas, where he majored in theater, directing and acting in stage productions, such as "Harvey," "Beggar on Horseback," and "Hamlet." During his college years, he was vice-president of the Dramatics Workshop, appeared with the University Players, and was a member of the Owl Society. He earned a bachelor of science degree in education from the KU speech and drama department in 1948 and received a master of arts degree in speech and drama from KU in 1950. Besides student appearances, he appeared in summer stock, with the Topeka Civic Theater and with Kansas City's Resident Playhouse.
On June 3, 1950, Harvey's 26th birthday, he married Bernice Luella Brady, a girl from Wichita some five years his junior. The wedding ceremonies were held in the Plymouth Congregational Church of Lawrence. The two had met at KU in the drama department and had performed in "Hamlet" together in 1948. After the marriage, Harvey did a graduate study in drama during the 1950 summer session at the University of Denver, and then studied at the University of Colorado for a doctorate in theater. "I made it through summer school and then I decided to go back to Kansas," Harvey has said. He and his wife then returned to Lawrence, rented an apartment on campus, and Harvey began working as an instructor, teaching and directing for the KU speech and drama department.
Harvey broke into the film business as an actor in some of the movies being made by Centron Corporation of Lawrence, an independent industrial and educational film production company. He subsequently went to work for Centron as a film director and producer for 35 years, making a variety of short industrial, educational, documentary, and government films. Several of these films have found their way into offbeat television shows of today, poking fun at the early production technology, mannerisms, and acting often found in these shorts, including Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Many of Centron's early productions were shot in and around Lawrence, but as their staff and their studio space expanded in the late 1950s, Centron film crews were dispatched to locations around the globe to bring back images for geography and travel films. Harvey often was assigned these bigger jobs. During the 1960s, large corporate clients, such as John Deere, AC Delco, Caterpillar Tractor, and Monsanto Chemical, hired Centron to help carry out their message to stockholders and consumers through film. Centron occasionally brought big-name Hollywood stars, such as Anita Bryant, Walter Pidgeon, Ed Ames, Eddie Albert, Jesse White, Ricardo Montalban, and the Rowan and Martin comedy team, to Lawrence to appear in these films. Harvey often got to work with these big stars, as well. Harvey's efforts for Centron garnered him numerous national and international awards, the highest honors from the American Film Festival, C.I.N.E., and the Columbus Film Festival, as well as an Academy Award nomination for a short Centron film he directed about a small, disabled local man and how this man overcame his disability and found relatively large success with his clock-making business. The film was titled Leo Beuerman.
It is most likely that the long hours and the many weeks spent away from home on location in different parts of the country, and sometimes the world (Harvey and a two-man crew spent sixty days filming a series of seven geography films on location in South America, a number of problems, both political and technical, arose during filming, and it was during this trip that the distribution company for Carnival of Souls went bankrupt and once Harvey returned home, he was chagrined to find that the film had been abruptly pulled from theater screens, and that the funds were nowhere to be found), it all took a toll on Harvey's marriage. He and Bernice were divorced around 1960, and shortly afterward Harvey met Pauline G. Pappas, who was one of the investors for Carnival of Souls. The two were married by the end of the 1960s.
Through all of his 33 years at Centron, from 1952 until 1985, Harvey displayed several unique personal qualities which are still well and warmly remembered by his former co-workers and friends. One was his ability to create excitement and generate the best performance from actors on the set. Another was his understanding of the problems of actors, actresses, crew people, and writers, knowing that working in a film was tedious work. And the one major quality that Harvey is best remembered for by all who knew him was the massive amount of energy, enthusiasm, and effort he put into his work. As his obituary stated, "No matter the size of the project, Harold A. 'Herk' Harvey also gave it his all."
A cameraman who worked with Harvey at Centron remembered that once, both he and Harvey climbed to the very top of a water tower to get just the right shot of a banana plantation in Costa Rica. Back on the set at the Centron studios in Lawrence, Harvey would also strive for getting the best performance out of actors, the best sound, the best lighting, the best camera angles, etc., while experimenting with film-making techniques and attempting to make his day job more interesting all the while.
Harvey became friends with all Centroners he worked with, but he became closest with John Clifford, a Kansas writer who came to Centron as an advertising copywriter in 1960 and found that he and Harvey had mutual interests. For instance, Harvey had been inspired to write a screenplay of his own from a story he had read in a Topeka newspaper which was written, he found out, by Clifford. The two hit it off. Clifford wrote the script for Harvey's feature film Carnival of Souls and convinced the Centron people, with this film, that he could write movie scripts.
Clifford went on to become one of Centron's best scriptwriters, remaining with them from the early 1960s until 1985, when he, Harvey, and most of the original Centroners retired. Starting in 1981, Harvey and Clifford began working on many community and university theater projects together, with Clifford writing and Harvey usually acting or directing. These local stage productions included a comedy, "The Wabash Winning Streak," which Harvey directed, and a drama set during the Depression era, titled "Here's to You, Grandma," where Harvey played a starring role.
It is also interesting to note that when a crew from ABC came to Lawrence in 1982 to shoot the controversial television movie on nuclear war, The Day After, they cast Harvey (who had always been an actor at heart) as a Midwestern farmer struggling to rejuvenate his crops after the nuclear attack. The film was broadcast to much international publicity and controversy in 1983.
After his retirement in 1985, Harvey continued to be active, teaching film production at the University of Kansas, adjudicating films for the American Film Festival and the Kansas Film and Video Festival, and directing and acting in plays for the Lawrence Community Theater. On March 13, 1996, just weeks before his death from pancreatic cancer, Harvey was honored by a gathering of over seventy friends and former co-workers at the old Centron film studios in Lawrence, which by that time housed the University of Kansas film school. The building's large sound stage---for a time the largest sound stage in the Midwest---was given Harvey's name. A metal plate on the door states, "Herk Harvey Sound Stage/May all who enter here find his spirit of excellence."
Carnival of Souls
However, if it hadn't been for Harvey's one feature film, made independent of Centron, titled Carnival of Souls, a 1962 horror film that bombed upon its first release but later attracted a devoted cult following, probably no one in the general public would have heard of Herk Harvey. Harvey was driving home to Kansas from Los Angeles, where he had been shooting an industrial film, when he spotted an eerie pavilion-like structure standing on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, and, intrigued by its isolated location and "weird" look, he suddenly hatched the idea of making his first feature film, something about "dead people dancing in a ballroom on the Great Salt Lake."
Harvey commissioned Centron co-worker and best friend, John Clifford, to write the screenplay for the film. Meanwhile, Harvey raised $30,000 with the help of local businessmen, cast the movie, and scouted locations. Within a couple of weeks, the script was completed, and after casting the lead for the film, Candace Hilligoss, in New York, Harvey took a leave of absence from Centron and shot the film in two weeks on location in Lawrence and in Salt Lake City. Much of the cast (with the exception of the lead) were found in Lawrence, many of them having appeared in local civic theater presentations and in Centron films prior to this feature.
The crew was made up mostly of Harvey's co-workers at Centron, as well. The film was extremely low-budget and met with a mixed reception at its premiere in Lawrence, and bombed further when it was placed in the hands of a crooked and almost-bankrupt distributor. But in 1989, after Harvey had already retired from Centron, young people and film buffs across the nation began to take notice of the old horror film and praised and admired the eeriness and haunting feeling it was able to provoke without turning to the blood and guts and what Harvey termed "physical horror" that was a common feature of horror films.
They also praised the fact that the film had accomplished all of these things with meagre financing. Demand for the film grew, and Harvey and John Clifford agreed to release the original film on home video and make a series of appearances in movie houses and film festivals across the nation to talk about the film. Carnival of Souls ended up winning several festival awards and was the subject of hundreds of articles and favorable reviews in many prestigious newspapers and magazines.
A revival of interest in the film was taking place. Eventually, an exhaustive and popular DVD release of the film, complete with countless extras regarding the making of the film, the film's locations, the life and career of Harvey, and Centron, was released by the prestigious Criterion Collection. Unfortunately, Harvey did not live to see the release and popularity of this DVD, for he died of pancreatic cancer in 1996, at his home in Lawrence. Other than his wife of about twenty-seven years, Pauline, Harvey's other survivors included two nieces and one nephew.