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March 29, 2014

Step Back in Time: March 29, 2014

25 years agoMarch 29, 1989

DOWNSVILLE — Gary Zeller doesn’t like the glitter and glamor of Hollywood, but on March 19 the star-studded film capital gave the Downsville man an Oscar for his contribution there. From a small laboratory in downtown Downsville, he makes the goo that saves the lives of film and television stuntmen.

The goo, called Zel Gel, earned him a technical/scientific Oscar. The substance is a thick, water-based gel coating that is put on a stunt person’s body before being engulfed in flames. Technical Oscars were given out in advance of tonight’s more well known Oscars.

Zeller didn’t go to Hollywood to pick up his Oscar. He prefers a quieter life. He works in a silver aluminum-sided laboratory, Zeller International, on the main street of Downsville and lives in a wooden cabin without phone or electricity.

“I don’t like going to Hollywood. It’s so hectic and frenzied,” he said. His laboratory’s one-room business office is different. “It’s a comfortable atmosphere.”

Zeller himself may be low-key, but his Zel Gel is right I the middle of high drama.

“I’m big on disaster scenes,” he said and smiled. Zeller has travelled to production sets around the world using his chemical creations to prevent injuries.

He’s made landslides and mudslides, caused homes to burn and windows to break. “I’ve done over 1,000 commercials, over 200 films and several hundred theatre shows including Broadway,” said the 25-year veteran of show business.

Not all of Zeller’s efforts go to far away movie sets. Each summer, he creates the Downsville fireworks display. “I manufacture and assemble them from scratch. It’s a labor of love,” he said. Zeller also wrote a book, “The Art of the Fire Stunt.”

Step Back in Time features news items from The Daily Star 25 and 50 years ago.

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