Quantum Leap: Breaking all the Time Travel Rules

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Veteran actor Dean Stockwell plays Al Calavicci , a hologram, in Quantum Leap. Stockwell became famous as a child actor and is still busy with his career, currently working on a new series in his home state of New Mexico. 

The writers of Quantum Leap didn’t care if they broke the rules. Time travel? Change the past? Jump into the bodies of others? Sure! If the audience liked it and they could manage to create a semi-plausible explanation, they did it.

The audience loved it!

Quantum Leap aired on NBC from March 26, 1989 to May 5, 1993 with a stellar cast of Scott Bakula and the impressive veteran actor Dean Stockwell. Although the show was not anticipated to survive, it lasted five years. Quantum Leap was rated number 19 on TV Guide Magazine’s list of “Top Cult Shows Ever.” The shown and its actors also received numerous Golden Globe, Emmy and Edgar Awards.

Donald-bellisario-1993Quantum Leap’s creator Donald P. Bellisario. Photo by Leap Con 1993. Photo by Nancy J. Price.

The Plot

Quantum Leap was created by Donald P. Bellisario, who was inspired by the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and its 1978 remake Heaven Can Wait. In both films a man who dies “before his time” is allowed to return to earth in another person’s body, presumably to make the world a better place. In Quantum Leap, Dr. Sam Becket “leaps” into the bodies of other people and helps them correct situations using knowledge of the situation sent by the Quantum Leap Team to Al Calavicci’s hand-held gadget. The information helps Dr. Becket and the hologram keep track of whether or not Becket’s actions are actually making the situation better.

Quantum Leap is accurately titled. In this story, Dr. Sam Becket is a Quantum Physicist who becomes lost in time during a time travel experiment when he steps into the Quantum Leap accelerator. Suddenly, when he looks into a mirror he sees the faces of people whose bodies he has entered. Instead of focusing his efforts on returning to his original location, Becket dedicates his time to restore situations that went wrong for these people, turning pain and heartache into joyful situations. Dean Stockwell plays Al Calavicci, Becket’s hologram and only friend who guides Becket toward problem situations and assists Becket in his efforts to help others. Al can only be seen by Sam, children, animals, and the developmentally challenged. His trademark is his cigar, womanizing behavior, and the comment he makes at the end of the show, presumable before the next episode begins: “Oh boy!”

Time Travel Delimma

Time travel is literature is as old as Hindu mythology. Early time travel stories generally involved moving forward in time. Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” could be considered a time travel story as Rip falls asleep and wakes up 20 years in the future to meet his grown daughter.

One of the problems with writing science fiction is the readers are generally science fans and time travel stories can be controversial depending on how the travel aspects are handled. Although the possibility of forward time travel is generally accepted, traveling back in time is thought to be illogical due to the problems it would cause.

One common example is the possibility that a time traveler could travel to the past, fall in love with a stranger and become his own father, or the “Grandfather Paradox,” where a time traveler hypothetically travels back in time and accidentally kills his own grandfather before his father is conceived, which would make the time traveler disappear, therefore, how could the event take place? Physicist Stephen Hawking, in his lecture “Space and Time Warps,“ suggests that time travel is possible if spacetime is warped in the correct way.

The time travel dilemma in Quantum Leap is conveniently tackled with ignorance–Dr. Becket’s support crew, the Project Quantum Leap Team, has no control over where he will “leap” next or how the leaps work. He generally ends up in random places, but sometimes the episode’s story line places him in celebrity situations, like when he leaped into the body of Marilyn Monroe’s bodyguard, one of my favorite episodes.

Scott_BakulaScott Bakula was nominated for three Golden Globes and won once for his role in Quantum Leap. 

The Stars

I think the acting is one of the reasons this show was so popular. The show has two primary stars with various guest stars. Scott Bakula started his career in 1986 with Walt Disney, then made various appearances on shows such as Matlock and Designing Women, but I first saw him in the hysterically funny 1990 comedy Sibling Rivalry where he played the husband to Kirstie Alley, who cheats on her husband with his older brother who then dies of a heart attack in their hotel room bed.

Bakula’s performance in Sibling Rivalry impressed me, so when I heard he would star in Quantum Leap I was excited to see how he would do, and of course he did a great job. He was nominated for three Golden Globes for his performances and one once. Bakula was also nominated for Golden Globes for his performances in Star Trek Enterprise in 2001.

Dean_Stockwell_in_Gentleman's_Agreement_trailer

Dean Stockwell in a trailer screenshot from Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947.

Dean Stockwell, surprisingly, plays a secondary role in this series. This is surprising because he is a television and film star of some magnitude. His career began when he was nine years old and offered a contract with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. He appeared in four films in 1945. He was born on March 5, 1936. Therefore, his acting career spans over 65 years, which is impressive. He made frequent appearances on shows such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Night Gallery during the television anthology era; and appeared on shows such as Wagon Train and Bonanza during the Westerns era of television; and also made frequent appearances on shows such as Columbo, Ellery Queen, and The Streets of San Francisco during the television mysteries era of the 1970s.

Stockwell made more films as a child actor and television appearances as an adult, but he’s had steady work since his childhood, which does not happen often to child actors, and his career is still going strong. He also appeared on Star Trek Enterprise and episodes of other recent television series, such as Battlestar Galactica. He is currently working on the film Persecuted. Filming of Persecuted began in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2013. Stockwell is also an artist, musician, golfer, and practices martial arts. According to SciFi.com, Stockwell is a golf maniac. “If you want to get on his good side, ask him about golf,” one of his coworkers is quoted as saying on the site, but considering his career record, I’d rather ask about his acting!

Resources:

  • Hawking, Stephen. “Space and Time Warps.” Stephen Hawking: The Official Website. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
  • “The Pro: A Conversation with Dean Stockwell.” Quantum Leap: Cast & Crew. SciFi.com. Retrieved September 26, 2013.

Night Gallery: “The Sins of the Fathers”

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Welcome to Supernatural Television and the A to Z Bloggers Challenge. I’m glad you’re here–thank you for reading! If you enjoy the post, please leave a comment. I love talking TV!

Tonight we are watching one of the scariest shows I watched as a teenager, and it starred John Boy Walton! It’s true. On February 23, 1972, Richard Thomas starred in a terrifying episode of the Night Gallery: “The Sins of the Fathers,” a show that gave me nightmares for weeks. I was only ten years old the night it aired, and most likely slipped out of bed, crept up the stairs and lay on my belly on the kitchen floor to watch the show (believe it or not, my parents did monitor my television viewing, but I was very sneaky!)

Richard_Thomas_John-Boy_Walton_1973 Richard Thomas who starred in The Waltons, also starred in Night Gallery: “The Sins of the Fathers.” Night Gallery is a supernatural classic anthology that ran on NBC from 1970 to 1973. The show was hosted by Rod Serling and many of the scripts were by Serling, as well, but it lacks the class of his earlier works. Even as a child watching this show I could tell it was often a bit on the ridiculous side.

SerlingZeroHourRod Serling, Creator of Night Gallery

The show opens with Serling walking through an art gallery at night. The works of art are all spooky and macabre. Sometimes the art has a comic book quality, which may have added to the negative criticism of the show. Generally the paintings hint at the plot of the segment, but a few of the paintings actually appeared in the episode.

Serling introduces the show as he walks through the gallery. He does not appear on the scene as in The Twilight Zone. He wrote some of the scripts, but was not allowed control of the content or tone that he was on The Twilight Zone and by the time they show ended its run he was so tired of the criticism of the show that he tried to disassociate himself from it completely.

Series Introduction

The series’ pilot aired on November 8, 1969, and was the directorial debut of Steven Spielberg, as well as the last performance of Joan Crawford. Night Gallery was originally intended to be part of a rotating anthology, or what was called a “wheel series,” rotating with McCloud; San Francisco International Airport (SFX); and The Psychiatrist. Night Gallery did have some outstanding writers, though. In addition to Rod Serling there were episodes by Robert Bloch and Jack Laird and numerous episodes were based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft, who should be considered one of the greatest American horror and science fiction writers. 

“The Sins of the Fathers” is one of the few “Night Gallery”shows I enjoyed watching, even though it’s rather short and was shown in tandem with another short episode. Although Rod Serling is often credited with writing this show, according to the credits (I am watching the show now) the show was actually scripted by Halsted Welles and is based on a story by Christianna Brand, who also wrote the Nanny McPhee book series.

“The Sins of the Fathers”

“The Sins of the Fathers” first aired on February 23, 1972. The story takes place in Wales during the 19th century. There is a famine and the people are starving. However, there is also a common religious practice in this community of eating the food placed around the body of the deceased so the Sin Eater takes on the sins of the person who died, and the deceased can move on to Heaven free of the shackles of his crimes. It is a terrible thought, taking on the sins of others, but starvation is a terrible, painful experience and when a person is starving there is little he or she won’t do for food.

At the beginning of the show we see the wealthy Mrs Craighill (Barbara Steele) arguing with her servant (Michael Dunn) who just returned home after spending three days on horseback searching for someone to eat the food lying on a table beside the deceased Mr. Craighill’s body. The food must be eaten in a sin-eater’s rite in order for Mr. Craighill to be free of his sins and go to Heaven.

Sin-Eating

The practice is considered a form of religious magic performed in Wales, England, and Scotland until the late 19th century. It is also believed that sin-eating was performed in the Appalachian Mountain villages in the United States. The process generally involved finding someone who was starving, a beggar or poor person, but some towns, such as the one in this story, had a village sin-eater who followed a family tradition of taking on the sins of the town so the deceased villagers could rest in peace.

During the ritual, the sin-eater is brought to the bedside of the dying or deceased relative and a crust of bread is placed on the body while a bowl of ale is passed to the sin-eater across the corpse. The sin-eater recites a prayer, drinks the ale, eats the bread, and removes the sin. In wealthier families a variety of foods are placed the body or on a nearby table for the sin-eater, perhaps assuming the more food that is eaten, the greater chance that all sin will be forgiven.

Mrs. Craighill’s Dilemma 

In “The Sins of the Fathers,” Mr. Craighill dies during a time of famine and disease and there are few sin-eaters or even beggars left who are able to consume the food and take his sins upon them. Her servant (Dunn) finally arrives at the farm of sin-eater Dylan Evans, only to find that Evans is also dying.

The servant (who I recognized immediately as the co-star of the Bonanza episode “It’s a Small World” and many other films and television series appearances) describes the feast laid out beside the body in great detail to Mrs. Dylan, played by Geraldine Page (1924-1987), (who was nominated for eight Best Actress Academy Awards during her career and awarded one, and who I also believe is the reason this episode is so eerie. Page is often seen in classic supernatural anthologies.) Mrs. Dylan, who is also starving, is tempted by the feast, but tradition holds that the sin-eater’s task must be handed down to the eldest son. We soon learn, however, that it is not the food that is tempting Mrs. Dylan.

Geraldine-pageGeraldine Page (1924-1987)

Mrs. Dylan has a son, Ian, played by Richard Thomas, who became famous playing John Boy in the popular television series The Waltons. Ian appears to be mentally slow, but he also appears to comprehend the consequences of what he is asked to do. However, his mother (Page) makes an odd request. She specifically instructs Ian to insist that all mourners at the Craighill home leave the room, then he is to hide all of the food in his cloak and bring it back home without eating so much as a crumb in the presence of the corpse. Of course, as a viewer, we assume she is doing this to protect her son from taking on the sins of Mr. Craighill.

Ian is so weak from starvation he can barely stand, but he rides through a misty forest (the atmosphere in this episode is perfect) to the Craighill home on the servant’s horse. Mrs. Craighill suspects Ian is too young to perform the ritual, and in fact he does seem to know the words, so the mourners believe him. They do object when he insists that they leave the room, but he refuses to eat unless they allow him to perform the ritual alone, and Mrs. Craighill, desperate to have her husband’s sins removed, finally obliges.

Ian begins to recite a prayer while he is stuffing the food in his cloak and gagging at the sight of the body of Mr. Craighill. He pauses on occasion to shriek as if he is absorbing the sins of Mr. Craighill. He runs from the house as if he is terrified of the sins he has seen and Mrs. Craighill throws three gold coins after him.

The Feast is Prepared

When Ian arrives homes his mother removes his cloak. Ian is drooling over the food, but she does not offer it to him. Instead, she takes the food into the next room. Ian is confused, but she continues to remove the food and carry it into the next room. Mrs. Dylan finally tells her son that the feast is prepared. Ian walks into the room and finds the food spread out around the corpse of his father.

Ian is terrified. He does understand. He knows that if he eats this food he will take on the sins of his father, and his father’s father. He understands very well, but he is starving. He tries to resist, but his mother–and it is here that Geraldine Page truly shines as an actress–pleads with her son, begging him to consider that unless he eats the food, his father will spend eternity with the sins of the village on his soul. She reassures him that some day he, too, will have a son to eat his own sins, but Ian knows this is doubtful as he is mentally slow and already nearing adulthood.

Ian finally realizes that he is doomed to the life of a sin-eater. He begins to eat the food, shrieking and sobbing as he recites the prayer. Ian’s mother stands proudly in the background, pleased that her beloved husband will pass into the next world with a clean soul, clearly unconcerned by the suffering she has inflicted upon her child. It is a chilling, terrifying scene and I believe it is the best horror scene in the Night Gallery series. Have you seen this episode? If so, tell me what you think. I’d love to hear from you! –Darla Sue

Source:

  • “The Sins of the Fathers.” Night Gallery. Screenwriter: Halsted Welles; story by Christianna Brand. Dir: Jeannot Szwarc. Perf. Richard Thomas, Geraldine Page, Barbara Steele, Michael Dunn. First aired February 23, 1972.  

The Munsters: Typical American Monster Family

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 Welcome back to the A to Z Bloggers Challenge. Thank you for reading–I appreciate having you here! Today we will discuss another monstrously popular 1960s family sitcom, The Munsters! The Munsters were one of many family monster shows aired in the sixties, but according to Butch Patrick’s Munsters.com, unlike other shows, the idea for The Munsters was first suggested to Universal Studios in the 1940s by Bob Clampett who envisioned the show as a series of cartoons. Americans were still obsessed with Westerns in the 1940s, though, and the show was rejected, but a similar project was suggested by the creators of the popular Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons–Allan Burns and Chris Hayward–in the 1960s when supernatural and science fiction shows were replacing the happy homemaker shows of the 1950s.

Universal executives continued to argue over whether or not the show should be a cartoon or live-action. The pilot was finally filmed by MCA Television in Live-Action for CBS, and the show was a hit.  The Munsters, filmed in black and white, was on the air for two years, from September 24, 1964 to May 12, 1966, but we all know that shows are not necessarily cancelled based on a lack of popularity. The Munsters are popular to this day. They still have many fans and a few websites dedicated completely to the show. So today, M is for The Munsters!

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The cast of The Munsters in a publicity photo taken in October of 1964. The photo shows Butch Patrick as Eddie Munster seated to the left; Fred Gwynne, who played Herman Munster seated on the chair; Beverly Owen, who played the family’s only “normal” member, oldest daughter Marilyn (she was later replaced by Pat Priest); and standing, Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster; and Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster. 

The Munsters was created as a satire, mocking the Leave it to Beaver-type family shows of the 1950s and the 1960s monster obsession in shows such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The appeal of The Munsters, however, was quite similar to the appeal of another monster family show that ran at the same time: The Addams Family. Audiences loved The Munsters because this family of monsters view themselves as perfectly normal and the rest of the world as strange!

Meet the Munsters

There are five primary characters in the Munster family: Herman, the Frankenstein-look-alike, hardworking head of the household who clomps about their dark and creepy mansion in big black boots. Herman’s lovely, graceful wife, Lily, with her trademark streak of white highlighting her thick, black hair is the actual head of the household making all important family decisions. Lily’s character is strong, logical, and level-headed, while Herman tends to panic in stressful situations. She is also supposed to be a vampire.

MunstersFred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo as Herman and Lily Munster.  Trailer screenshot, 1964.

Herman and Lily have two children. Their oldest daughter, Marilyn, is sweet, compassionate, and as normal as normal can be under the circumstances. She is also the source of quite a few family conflict plots as her beauty tends to attract many young men who her Munster parents disapprove of, mainly because they are too normal, and her father is a bit overprotective of his only, and exceptionally lovely, daughter. Eddie is the youngest member of the family, a bit precocious for his age, who, like his father, tends to get into trouble because he spends too much time with his grandfather, who also lives with the family and creates quite a bit of havoc with his many grand ideas. Grandpa is also a vampire and Eddie is a werewolf.

The_Munsters_Butch_Patrick_1965Butch Patrick as Eddie Munster, the precocious baby of the family who hangs out with his grandpa. 

The episode plots for The Munsters generally involve the troubles that arise when Grandpa comes up with a new invention in his dungeon, or a money-making scheme (remember, this is a typical, middle-class, hardworking family), or some other great idea and he creeps about the house in his black cape trying to convince Eddie to assist, or Herman to go along with the idea. It was rather clever of the producers to cast Fred Gwynne as Herman and Al Lewis as Grandpa since the two had recently appeared together in the Emmy award-winning Car 54 Where Are You?, which ran from 1961 to 1963.

The Munster Mansion

Although the premise behind The Munsters was to have a bunch of monsters living like a typical middle-class family, the Munsters actually lived in a multi-level Victorian mansion with an address that became semi-famous with Munster fan clubs: 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights, California. The show was actually filmed at the Universal Studios, but the house used in the show was an actual house built in 1946 for the film So Goes My Love, according to an article on Wikipedia, which also states that the house can be seen as a backdrop in other shows filmed at Universal Studios, such as Leave it to Beaver.

MunsterMansion_Universal-Studios_CA

The Munster Mansion at Universal Studios.

Now for some bedtime trivia: There were rumors when I was a teenager that The Munsters was the first show that implied a married couple shared the same bed–yes youngsters it’s true, 1950s sitcoms showed couples in separate beds. I also believed the first couple shown in the same bed was Dick and Laura on the Dick Van Dyke Show, but apparently there was a series called Mary Kay and Johnny in 1947 that showed a married couple’s bed as a single bed. The first actors who were not actually married to each other in real life, but had one bed in their show, was Samantha and Darrin Stephens of Bewitched, which was discussed earlier on this blog.

The Munster Koach

Another misconception on my part–I always thought the Munsters only had one vehicle. A man named George Barris created two automobiles for The Munsters. The first one, The Munster Koach, was actually a, 18 foot long hot rod that was built out of a 1926 Ford Model T chassis with a hearse body. The vehicle cost $20,000 to build–a lot of money back then.

munsterkoachHerman Munster and the Munster Koach.

However, there was a second family vehicle. Barris also built a car called the DRAG-U-LA (clever!), which was a dragster made out of a real coffin. Grandpa used the DRAG-U-LA in a race to win back the Munster Koach when Herman lost it in another race in the episode “Hot Rod Herman,” which aired on May 27, 1965. (See what I mean? Always scheming!)

Mockingbird Lane

Mockingbird Lane, a semi-remake of The Munsters aired on October 26, 2012. The show was written and developed by Bryan Fuller who also created two of my favorite supernatural television serials, Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies. The show was created with the hopes of convincing NBC to pick it up as a regular series. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and only one episode was filmed.

Sources:

  • Decaro, Frank. “A Neighborhood Where Every day was Halloween.” Television. The New York Times. Published November 19. 2008. Accessed April 10, 2013. 
  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Patrick, Butch. “About The Munsters.” Butch Patrick Presents The Munsters.com.
  • The Munsters. Creators: Allan Burns, Chris Hayward. Perf. Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, Yvonne De Carlo, Butch Patrick, Pat Priest, Beverly Owen. Columbia Broadcasting Systems and Kayro-Vue Productions. Running Time: 30 min.

Lost in Space: Classic Family Science Fiction

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Welcome to day twelve of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! I hope you’re having fun! Today we’ll take a look at one of my favorite childhood television shows, which also happens to fit perfectly in the supernatural classic television serial category: Lost in Space! Lost in Space first aired on CBS on September 15, 1965. The last show was on September 11, 1968. The show never ranked in the Top 25. (I’m beginning to see a trend here. All of my favorite childhood shows, shows with fan clubs and followings, and pictures on lunch boxes never hit the Top 25! I think this may be because adults voted on the Top 25, or (gasp) the sponsors!)

Lost in Space, like so many of the early supernatural shows, was far from high-tech when it came to the show’s sets. In fact, they were often rather silly looking, but that’s okay because we didn’t watch the show for the set, we watched it for the plot, and this show had a great plot! Imagine your family traveling in a spaceship and becoming lost in space! Cool!

Lost_in_Space_program_premiere_1965

This photo is from the pilot show for Lost in Space. The photo shows the Robinson family and the geologist who traveled with them being placed in suspended animation before beginning their space flight. Shown from left to right are: Angela Cartwright, Billy Mumy, Marta Kristen, June Lockhart, Guy Williams, and Mark Goddard.

The great Irwin Allen was the creator and Producer of Lost in Space. Allen is most famous for The Towering Inferno (1974) and the original The Poseidon Adventure, which was made in 1972 and earned him the title Master of Disaster. Allen won an Oscar for his equally famous documentary The Sea Around Us. In the early days of his career, though, Allen created numerous science fiction shows, including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space. Lost in Space is considered by many to be his best science fiction work, mainly because they thought it was so funny! I just thought it was fun.

Lost_in_Space_Jonathan_Harris_&_Robot_1967

 The robot and the villain, Dr. Zachary Smith, played by Jonathan Harris. Dr. Smith was written into the show at the last minute and not expected to stay on the show more than a few weeks, but the overwhelming amount of fan mail in his defense kept him on the show. This is a publicity photo used by Jonathan Harris to promote his role. 

However, here’s an interesting bit of trivia: Irwin Allen, the creator, believed he was making a serious show, but everyone else was under the impression it was supposed to be funny! According to John Javna’s Cult TV, the original plot consisted of the family and the geologist, but the story editor, Tony Wilson, suggested adding a robot and a villain, which created a comedic element. Allen Irwin and the show’s director, Don Richardson, met with the network executives to watch the pilot. While they were watching the film, the network executives suddenly started laughing hysterically. Irwin, who lacked a sense of humor, was furious and ready to stomp out of the room. Richardson claims he kicked Irwin under the table and whispered, “They’re buying it!” And he was correct, CBS bought the show.

The First Family to Journey Into Space

Well, first you need a spaceship. The original spaceship was called Gemini 12 in the pilot, but the pilot episode never aired because it was missing the villain and the robot. The spaceship was renamed for the first episode.

lost in spaceshipThe Jupiter 2 saucer-shaped space ship, which of course was created to resemble a classic UFO!

It is October 16, 1997 (this was approximately 30 years from the start of the show). The United States is about to make history as they prepare to launch the Jupiter 2, a saucer-shaped ship, into space with a carefully-chosen family on board who will begin a five 1/2 year journey to Alpha Centauri, a nearby star possessing the perfect conditions to sustain human life. There were two million volunteers for this mission, but the Robinson family was selected for the project, so you can assume they all have superior intelligence.

Lost_in_Space_Williams_Lockhart_1965

Guy Williams and June Lockhart play Professor John Robinson and his wife, Maureen, in Lost in Space.

The Robinson family is headed by Professor John Robinson (Guy Williams), an astrophysicist and the father of the Robinson clan. Williams was a male model before the show, but his career took off when he was cast as Zorro in the 1957 Disney television series. His wife, Maureen, a biochemist, is played by June Lockhart, who starred in Lassie, Petticoat Junction, and many other popular television shows and films.

Lost_in_Space_Billy_Mumy_Angela_Cartwright_1965

Billy Mumy and Angela Cartwright who play Will and Penny Robinson in Lost in Space.  

The couple has three children: Judy (Mart Kristen); Penny (who, along with her sister, is one of my favorite childhood actresses, Angela Cartwright); and Will, an electronics whiz kid who is played by Billy Mumy, the young actor who appeared in one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone, “It’s a Good Life,” a truly freaky show about a boy who terrifies everyone around him because he has the ability to make them disappear. By the time he was 11, Billy Mumy appeared in over 100 TV shows. He was definitely an asset to the show.

Marta_Kristen_Jonathan_Harris_Lost_in_Space_1966Marta Kristen plays the oldest Robinson child, Judy. She is shown here with Dr. Zachary Smith, played by Jonathan Harris, in a trailer screenshot taken in 1966. 

The military pilot of the Jupiter 2 is U.S. Space Corps Major Donald West (Mark Goddard). Although the ship is designed to fly itself, West is trained to take over in case any of the systems fail.  He is Dr. Smith’s foil, dedicated to protecting the family and eventually bringing them safely home. He has no patience for the evil Dr. Smith.

A bit more trivia: Actor Mark Goddard originally agreed to play Major Donald West in the pilot for Lost in Space, but he did not agree to do the show. He was uncomfortable acting in science fiction, but when the show sold, he was stuck. He later became a regular on the soap opera General Hospital.

Wally_Cox_Lost_in_Space_1966

 Actor Wally Cox and Robot. Cox plays an alien who believes his planet is being invaded in an episode of Lost in Space. 

Contrary to popular belief, the robot is not named Robby. Robby was the robot in Forbidden Planet, and the two resemble each other, but the robot on Lost in Space has no name. He is a Class M-3 Model B9 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot with superhuman strength and built-in weaponry. He has human emotions–he laughs, becomes sad, is occasionally sarcastic, and can sing and play the guitar. He is played by Bob May in a costumed designed and created by Bob Stewart.

So, how Does a Family Become Lost in Space?

So, did the system fail? How did the family become lost in space? That’s where the villain comes into the story! There are (of course) other countries trying desperately to sabotage the project. Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), who is a medical doctor and environmental control expert, is also a spy! That’s right folks, he is a secret agent! (I loved secret agent movies as much as I loved science fiction as a kid. Remember I Spy? Mission Impossible? The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? I thought the addition of a spy to the cast was perfect! But I digress–back to the story).

Lost_in_Space_Jonathan_Harris_1966

 Jonathan Harris as Dr. Zachary Smith, the villain on Lost in Space.

The ship goes off course for two reasons. First, Dr. Smith reprograms the Jupiter 2 so it’s critical systems will be destroyed eight hours after the ship is launched. Second, Dr. Smith is accidentally trapped on board (No one said he was a good spy!) and his additional weight, in addition to the weight of his robot, an extra 200 pounds, throws the sensitive timing of the ship off course just enough to send it into a meteor storm. Finally, the robot goes on a rampage and the Robinson family is now hopelessly lost in space.

“Danger, Danger Will Robinson!”

I had to find a way to fit that quote into the post. It’s one of my favorites. I still use it. In fact, I used it often when teaching my five children how to drive, and when I used that line my children would look at me as if to say, “What on earth is she talking about?” but adults my age know (especially if they are teaching their children how to drive!) This is the phrase the robot uses when talking to young Will, warning him that Dr. Smith is creating even more chaos to place Will and his family in danger. He would also say “That does not compute,” a phrase my siblings and I often used on my poor mother.

robot and Will

 Robot and Will. The Robot often warns Will that he is in danger from Dr. Smith by shouting “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” One of my all-time favorite lines from a television show.

Dr. Smith’s role in this show is to place the Robinsons in danger. In fact, that’s pretty much all he does, which would seem to be rather boring for a man of his superior intelligence, but remember, he is a villain, and he enjoys what he does! In the later shows Dr. Smith’s villainous is less, um, villainy, but in the beginning he is one of the most dangerous men the Robinson family has ever encountered.

An Uncharacteristic act of Compassion

There is one moment in the show’s run where Dr. Smith displays a surprising amount of compassion. In the episode “The Time Merchant,” which aired on January 17, 1968, the last year of the show’s run, Dr. Smith finds a way to travel back in time to the day the ship is first launched, hoping to change his personal history by escaping from the ship before blast off.

Lost_in_Space_Jonathan_Harris_1967

The evil Dr. Zachary Smith played by Jonathan Harris, spends pretty much all of his time devising ways to place the Robinson family in peril, but his devious plans are always thwarted. In one episode, however, “The Time Merchant,” Smith actually stops himself from harming the Robinson family. 

When Smith calculates the results of what will happen without his weight on board, he discovers that without him, the family will die when the ship collides with an uncharted asteroid and explodes. By this time in the show, Smith has become somewhat emotionally attached to the family, particularly young Will. Smith decides to reboard the ship and relive the experience exactly as he did the first time in order to save the lives of the Robinson family. It is a brilliant episode, in my opinion. It shows tremendous strength of character for Dr. Smith to make this decision as he is generally revealed to be a coward.

All Good Things Must Come to an end…

Lost in Space was nominated for an Emmy in 1966 for Cinematography and Special Photographic Effects. It was nominated again in 1968 for Achievement in Visual Arts & Makeup. Perhaps even more importantly, John F. Kennedy, Jr., declared it was his favorite childhood show!

lost in spaceThe cast of Lost in Space were preparing to shoot the fourth season when they were told the show was cancelled with explanation. 

 The cast was preparing to shoot the episodes for the 1968/1969 season when they were told the show was cancelled, and they were never told why it was cancelled. Wikipedia has an article online that speculates on some possible reasons, such as a high budget–the salaries of some of the actors were nearly doubled as the show increased in popularity. The show was also owned by 20th Century Fox, a company that suffered tremendous financial losses from the production cost ($44 million) of Cleopatra and the record-breaking salary ($1 million) of its star, Elizabeth Taylor. The show was also beginning to decline in ratings, which is surprising considering the extreme disappointment of its fans when it was cancelled.

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Trailer screenshot from the 1998 film Lost in Space

In 1998, Lost in Space was revived as a blockbuster film with a remarkable cast including Gary Oldman; William Hurt, Mimi Rogers; and Heather Graham. Some of the original cast members were also in the film, such as June Lockhart; Mark Goddard; Angela Cartwright, and Marta Kristen. Although the Internet Movie Database rated the film with a 4.9, I thought it was fantastic and was thrilled to see the show revived, even if it was for a one-time film.

Sources: 

  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Lost in Space. Creator Irwin Allen. Perf. Mark Goddard, Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Jonathan Harris, Marta Kristen, Billy Mumy, Angela Cartwright. 20th Century Television. Running Time: 60 min.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

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Welcome to day eleven of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Thank you for reading! Today we’ll take a look at the 1970s short-run, but oh so fun news reporter, Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) who somehow managed to find every strange creature and event in Chicago for the Independent News Service in the supernatural television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

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Darren McGavin as Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Carl Kolchak investigates mysterious crimes. He is particularly drawn to crimes that have unlikely causes and appears to the local law enforcement to be a bit ridiculous because he insists on pursuing crimes that they believe are solved. Kolchak, however, is a careful investigator and always finds some piece of evidence pointing to the possibility that there is a supernatural cause for the event.

Kolchak’s character as a reporter is a bit cliched. He drives a sharp-looking yellow Mustang and is always dressed in the same wrinkled suit that looks like he sleeps in it. He wears a reporter’s hat and sometimes has a racing ticket or note in the band. He has a knack for getting the “exclusive” on a story as he is always shown with both his camera and cassette tape recorder, but he often has to try quite a few times throughout the show to catch the evidence he needs because he is so often shocked into dropping his camera or running for his life.

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Kolchak always solves the crime by exposing some supernatural cause of the crime,but his evidence mysteriously disappears. 

Once he manages to obtain the required evidence it inevitably disappears, along with some local official who is also involved in the story. Thus, the story remains unsolved and only Kolchak and the government know the truth–that the crime was committed by an alien, a zombie, a werewolf, or witch. Kolchak also encounters mummies; Satan; ghosts; the Headless Horseman; Jack the Ripper; a prehistoric man; Helen of Troy; and others that I can’t remember now, but they were certainly scary in 1974!

Quirky Characters

In addition to strange creatures, Kolchak was also forced to deal with some quirky characters on the show, both allies and enemies, or those who aren’t so helpful. In the not-so-helpful category we find Kolchak’s editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) resembles the cliched angry police lieutenant who is constantly arguing with Kolchak about his questionable investigative techniques. These arguments end with Vincenzo ranting about his blood pressure or stomach problems. Kolchak must also cope with the insults and harassment of Captain Mad Dog Siska (Keenan Wynn), the local police officer whose temper and lack of patience rivals that of Vincenzo. And of course, Kolchak has a competing reporter at INS who is his foil, his complete opposite. Ron Updyke (Jack Grinnage) does not wear the same suit every show. He is a sharp dresser who plays the French horn.

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Keenan Wynn in a trailer screenshot from Annie Get Your Gun. Wynn plays Captain Mad Dog Siska in Kolchak: The Night Stalker, an irritable police captain who finds Carl Kolchak annoying. 

In the helpful category of characters we find another INS employee is Emily Cowles (Ruth McDevitt) who write the column “Miss Emily.” Emily is Kolchak’s ally. She believes in him, which doesn’t do much for his career as her job is to write puzzles and offer advice to the elderly, but they do have a strong relationship. Monique Mamelstein (Carol Ann Susi), an INS intern who got the job through her Uncle. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, but everyone believes the only reason she’s with the INS is her uncle. There is also Gordy “The Ghoul” Spangler (John Fiedler) who works at the morgue and assists Kolchak in finding some of the morbid pieces of evidence.

How the Show Began

Contrary to what one might think, Kolchak: The Night Stalker was not cancelled due to low ratings, but the usual nasty television politics. Kolchak was originally a character in a novel that remained unpublished until after the show was released.

Kolchak’s character influenced two made for TV films that were combined to create the television show: The Night Stalker, which aired in 1972 and also starred McGavin as a Las Vegas reporter tracking a vampire; and The Night Strangler, 1973, which again stars McGavin as a reporter stalking a chemist who kills women for their blood.

An Unhappy Star Brings a Quick end to Kolchak

Kolchak: The Night Stalker was cancelled after only one year. The series aired at 10 p.m. on Friday nights, which was bad timing for older teenagers interested in horror, but perfect for kids like me who would sneak out of bed after our parents were sleeping and watch late night TV. Darren McGavin was unhappy with the show, though. He was given a tremendous responsibility for the show including work as the show’s producer, work that he was not paid for and finally refused to continue, which brought the show to an end. Frankly, I think the politics in Hollywood are ridiculous. This show could have continued for years and built a huge fan following if they had aired it at a decent hour and given McGavin the support–and financial compensation–he required.

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Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak

However, this was not the end for Kolchak! Kolchak is occasionally seen on reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel and sometimes appears on the Chiller channel, as well. In 2005 the show was revived for a short time. It also spawned fiction books and a comic book. The show has numerous fan pages and fans frequently credit Kolchak: The Night Stalker with influencing the creator of The X-Files, Chris Carter. According to the Screen Spy blog, Walt Disney Productions plans to revive the character of Kolchak starring Johnny Depp, which would be so cool!

Source:

  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Creator: Jeffrey Grant Rice. Perf. Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jack Grinnage. Universal TV Productions. Running Time: 51 min.

“Judgement Night”: The Twilight Zone

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Welcome to day ten of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Thank you for returning to my blog, and thank you for reading! Tonight we will discuss one of my many favorite episodes of the supernatural anthology The Twilight Zone. It is a dark story, intense, fearful.

The Twilight Zone was so popular it has now appeared on television three times. It began in the 1960s, the masterpiece of Rod Serling, one of the most skilled radio and television writers in America. Serling wrote tonight’s episode. “Judgment Night” was Episode 10 in the first season of the show. It aired on December 4, 1959.

This is a supernatural war story, one of many Serling wrote for The Twilight Zone. Serling joined the U.S. Army during World War II and served in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. He once wrote that he was disappointed to be fighting Japanese as he was more concerned with stopping Hitler. Eventually, Serling was transferred to the 511th’s demolition platoon. His platoon was named “The Death Squad” because it was often sent into the most dangerous areas and suffered heavy losses. After serving in Manila, Serling’s regiment suffered a 50% casualty rate. For his service, Serling received a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.

When I watch this episode, I often wonder if this was Serling’s way of coping with the trauma of war, his way of coming to terms with his experiences in various battles where eventually, 50% of his fellow soldiers were killed. Perhaps this is how he coped with his anger and frustration over a situation he could never change, perhaps still living in his own Hell on earth as do all who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. So tonight, J is for Judgment.

Rod_Serling_photo_portrait_1959Rod Serling was the creator and writer of many episodes of the 1950s/1960s version of The Twilight Zone. He also wrote tonight’s episode, “Judgment Night,” which first aired in 1959.

Carl Lanser is a nervous man. A bit confused, perhaps even frightened. It is 1942. Lanser is standing on the deck of a British ship, the S.S. Queen of Glasgow, one day out of Liverpool, destined for New York. It is night, and the ship’s steward (Richard Peel) is calling him to dinner–and that is all Lanser knows. He does not remember who he is, or what he does, except for his name. He does not remember how he came to be on board a British ship in the middle of the ocean. Carl Lanser has reason to be nervous. Carl Lanser has entered the Twilight Zone, and unlike other characters in The Twilight Zone episodes, Lanser knows he is in the twilight zone. He senses it, and his heart is filled with terror.

Nehemiah Persoff

 Actor Nehemiah Persoff stars as Carl Lanser in the episode “Judgment Night.” 

Carl Lanser is not the only man who is frightened on this ship. In the words of Rod Serling, the ship itself is consumed with fear, for the S.S. Queen of Glasgow is traveling has lost its convoy, traveling alone in the dark while the captain records her longitude and latitude in the Captain’s Log, but in the words of Rod Serling, “what is never recorded in a log is the fear that washes over a deck life fog and ocean spray, fear like the throbbing strokes of engine pistons, each like a heartbeat parceling out every hour into breathless minutes of watching, waiting, and dreading.”

In this episode, we do not see Serling enter the scene as in later episodes of the show. He narrates the show at the beginning and end, and his introduction is like poetry, writing so fearful it is reminds one of Edgar Allen Poe. Serling speaks of the ship traveling through without its convoy, how it “travels alone like an aged, blind thing groping through the unfriendly dark, stalked by unseen periscopes of steel killers. Yes, the Queen of Glasgow is a frightened ship, and she carries with her the premonition of death.”

Lansing answers the call to dinner. He enters the dining room. He crosses the room and retrieves a doll that a child has dropped. It is a friendly group of passengers, a kind gathering eager to comfort Mr. Lanser. A stranger introduces himself, Jerry Potter (Hugh Sanders), and apologizes for not waiting for Lanser before beginning dinner, but invites them to join them for dessert. Lanser is not hungry, but accepts coffee.

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It is an interesting moment when Lanser picks up the fallen doll. It is a moment of compassion from a man who we later learn lacks compassion, as if he is doing more than helping a child retrieve her toy. It is as if he is apologizing for what he senses will happen in the near future. Photo of Kewpie Doll by Lara.

(The coffee is an interesting issue in this episode. Of the 17 episodes Serling wrote for CBS, this particular one was the only one where he had a conflict with CBS, and it was over coffee. Serling knew the British drank tea. He insisted that the serve tea in the dining room as he wanted to emphasize that this was a British ship and Lanser would have been out of place asking for coffee, but CBS wanted Lanser to have his coffee, because one of the sponsors of the show was Sanka.)

Lanser joins Potter and other passengers at their table. He is introduced to Major Devereaux (Leslie Bradley) and his secretary, Barbara Stanley (Deirdre Owens). Potter asks Lanser what he does for a living. He saw his name on the list and thought he might be a professor. Lanser does not answer.

The lights go out, then Captain Wilbur (Bill Wright) enters the room and the lights come on again. (I’m not sure why the lights are turned off when the door is opened, but I have a feeling this has to do with ship safety during war time). Captain Wilbur tells the passengers that it is still foggy outside. The Major says he would feel better if they were still with their convoy, that he can almost feel “those wolf packs” converging upon them.

Lanser’s response is shocking. “There will be no wolf packs converging on a single ship, Major,” he replies. “The principle of a submarine pack is based on a convoy attack.” The captain agrees, but looks at Lanser with a bit of suspicion in his expression. Potter comments that he’d rather be attacked by a ship than a skulking piece of tin and Lanser becomes defensive and tells them that they will see the U-boat if they are actually being followed, that in the thickness of the fog the U-boat will likely rise out of the water and “shell us with impunity and sink us at will.” Now, clearly, everyone is uncomfortable. The captain asks to be introduced to Mr. Lanser, then comments that “you sound rather like a U-boat commander.” Lanser drops his coffee, then becomes irrationally angry when others try to help him.

The captain asks Lanser to sit back down so they can become better acquainted. He apologizes for the fact that the ship was not built to carry passengers. He asks the passengers to introduce themselves and Mr. Potter tells them he is with the War Board, but from Chicago and cannot wait to get back home. Lanser repeats the word home and Barbara Stanley asks him where he’s from. He replies that he was born in Frankfurt, Germany. He wants to tell him more, that is obvious, but this is all that Lanser can remember.

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German ship in the fog, 1966. Photo by Eigene Dateien.

Lanser steps outside for some air, but the atmosphere is so thick with fog it is claustrophobic. He sees Barbara Stanley on deck and stops to speak to her. He tells her she looks familiar. “I know that feeling,” she says. “As if you have been in this place before.” Lanser tells her she is familiar, that he knows her somehow. She asks if he is okay and he replies that he has this “crazy feeling” of doing and saying things before. He tells her he felt as if he knew everyone in the dining room before he met them. Stanley tells him, “I know that feeling, I’ve had it before, being in a room somewhere and you’d swear you’d been there before. Even the conversation seems identical to a time before.” Lanser is even more disoriented. “And the people?” he asks her. “Yes, the people, too!” she replies. “How odd,” Lanser replies. Oh, Barbara, if you only knew!

Lanser tells Miss Stanley that he is not okay, that he still cannot remember how he got on the ship, or anything else, as if he woke up and was standing on the ship. And yet, he knows who he is, he knows he is Carl Lanser, he knows where he was born, he knows he is in the…then he stops. She asks him to continue, but he will not do so. He holds his fingers to his lips as if he is keeping a dark secret held inside. He tells her he doesn’t remember. She suggests that he try to rest so he returns to his cabin, but he replies that he feels he is living a nightmare, he feels a sense of doom, as if they are being stalked.

Lanser does return to his room. A second ship’s steward (Donald Journeaux) is helping him unpack. The steward finds a captain’s hat and asks Lanser if it is a war souvenir. “It’s a Captain’s hat. A submarine captain, to be exact,” the steward tells him. Lanser grabs the hat and tells the steward it doesn’t concern him. The steward apologizes. Lanser looks inside the hat. There is a label sewn onto the silk lining. It reads, “Carl Lanser, Kapitan Lieutenant Kriegsmarine.”

The captain is back in the bridge. The ship is not running well. The tension is building. The captain orders his crew to reduce speed and give the engines a break. He, too, is nervous as he stares out the window . He is concerned about the fog. “They’re out there,” the captain says. “God knows they’re out there, waiting like vultures.”

Lanser is now in the ship’s bar. The bartender (Kendrick Huxhum) reminds Lanser that it is late. Lanser suddenly stares at the floor and tells the bartender that then engine doesn’t sound right. The bartender tells him it’s an old ship, according to the engineer, and they’re probably giving her a break since it’s after midnight. We see the clock on the wall like the Gary Cooper classic High Noon, reminding us of the coming doom. Suddenly, Lanser remembers. Something will happen at 1:15 a.m. and he knows it will be something truly horrible.

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Lanser looks at the clock and remembers that something horrible is about to happen!

First Officer McLeod (Patrick Macnee) enters the room and asks for a tray to be sent to the bridge. The bartender tells him it will take a few minutes to prepare…coffee! For a British Captain! Gasp! The bartender and McLeod lean on the bar. Lanser is visibly upset. He begins to rant about how the engines have stopped. McLeod tells him there is a problem. Lanser shouts at McLeod that the problem with the engines have left them defenseless. Lanser walks over to the clock on the wall and touches it as if he is checking to see if it is real.

Patrick Macnee

Actor Patrick Macnee who became famous in The Avengers plays the First Officer in “Judgment Day.” 

We see the engine room. The pistons are moving slowly. We see the captain gazing out into the fog. We see Lanser finish off his drink, then begin to rant once more about how the passengers must get off the ship. “Yes! They must abandon ship!” he shouts.

He looks around. The bar is suddenly empty. He runs onto the deck and he sees no one. He looks out to sea and in the distance, the light of the U-boat is shining. He runs back inside, runs through the halls, bangs on the doors, shouts for the people to leave. “I saw it! It is going to sink us!” he shouts. He turns and sees all of the passengers huddled together in front of a door. They appear to be in a fog. Then they disappear and all he can see is a door.

Lanser falls against the wall. The look of terror on his face is nauseating. He runs to the deck, shouts for Potter and Mrs. Stanley, the Major. He runs down the deck, sobbing, shouting for the captain. The U-boat is shining its lights on the deck. Lanser reaches for binoculars and looks at the deck of the U-boat. He sees himself.

U-Boat

U-Boot Truppentransporter by Altes Gemalde von Willy Stower (1864-1931). The painting was on a postcard and the text reads “Sinking of a hostile armed troop carrier by German submarine in the Mediterranean Sea.” 

The U-boat fires on the ship. The engineer (Barry Bernard) is trapped in the engine room. Mrs. Stanley tries to climb out of her window. Her room is on fire and she is slowly consumed by the flames. It is a horrific sight. She is screaming, her arms flailing as she tries to put out the fire that is burns her clothing. Lanser watches as passengers climb from their cabin windows and leap into the ocean. Potter is trying to make his way down the hallway of the sinking ship when a burning log falls and traps him. Two other men struggle in the dark as they try to escape by life boat, but the U-boat fires on the boat and it crashes into the sea. The captain walks into the flames. Lanser also falls into the ocean and is pulled under by the waves. A lifesaver ring marked U.S.S. Queen of Glasgow is shown floating in the water.

Now we are in the captain’s cabin on the U-boat. The hat, Lanser’s hat, is on his desk. He is writing in his log. Lt. Mueller (James Franciscus), Captain Lanser’s second in command, enters the room. He is wringing his hat in his hands. He is clearly upset. Captain Lanser sees that he is upset and laughs.

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James Franciscus, known for his many appearances in films and television shows, including Longstreet, plays the German soldier with a conscience, Lt. Mueller, in “Judgment Day.” 

 Captain Lanser asks Mueller what is bothering him and Mueller reminds the captain that there were passengers on the boat they just destroyed, innocent passengers, civilians. Mueller is upset that there were women on board, children, and that they destroyed the ship without giving them warning. Lanser reminds him that warning the captain would have given him time to call in their coordinates and the British would therefore also know the location of the U-boat.

Then Mueller asks Lanser if he believes they will be judged, in some way, for what they have done. “It makes me wonder if we are not damned now in the eyes of God.”

Lanser is a different man on his own boat. He is calm, and sympathetic toward the younger man, but he understands his duty. He shakes his head. “You are a religious fool now? Perhaps even a mystic?” he says. “Suppose we are damned? What will happen then?” he asks.

Mueller explains that he has dreamed of this before. “Perhaps there a special kind of Hell for people like us,” he replies. “Perhaps to be damned is to have a fate like the people on that ship, to suffer as they suffered, to die as they died.” Captain Lanser tells Mueller that he is a mystic. Mueller will not be deterred. “We ride the ghost of that ship every night,” he tells his captain. “Every night, Herr Kapitan, for eternity. They could die only once, just once, but we could die a hundred million times. We’d ride the ghost of that ship every night, every night into eternity, Herr Kapitan. A ghost of that ship.

There is a look of fear, once again, on the face of Carl Lanser. Lanser is no longer in his quarters on his ship. He is standing on the deck of the S.S. Queen of Glasgow staring out to sea, and once again, we hear the voice of Rod Serling.

“The S.S. Queen of Glasgow, heading for New York. And the time is 1942. For one man it is 1942.” Someone calls out in the distance, “Light in the salon. Let’s blackout down there.” Serling continues. “And this man will ride the ghost of that ship every night for eternity. This is what is meant by ‘paying the fiddler.’” The steward steps onto the deck. We assume he is telling Carl Lanser that dinner is being served. Serling continues to speak. “This is the comeuppance awaiting every man    When his life’s ledger is examined, the tally made, and the reward or the penalty paid. In the case of Carl Lanser,  former Kapitan Lieutenant of the Navy of the Third Reich, this is the penalty. This is the justice meted out. This is judgment night in the twilight zone.”

Source:

  • Serling, Rod. “Judgment Night.” The Twilight Zone. Dir. John Brahm. Perf. Nehemiah Persoff, Dierdre Owens, Patrick Macnee, James Franciscus. Columbia Broadcasting Systems. Running Time: 25 min.  

 

In Search Of…Classic Supernatural Mysteries

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Welcome to day nine of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Today we will be discussing another childhood favorite: In Search Of... Yes, it’s true. I am a geek. I love aliens (of course I love aliens, I live in New Mexico!), Big Foot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster. Gosh, Nessie and I have been friends since elementary school!

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Leonard Nimoy in 1960. Nimoy narrated In Search Of…

In Search Of… first aired in 1976 and the last show was broadcast in 1982. It was narrated by Leonard Nimoy, one of the most popular actors to appear in a supernatural television program. Who doesn’t love Dr. Spock? His voice was perfectly objective–no emotion. Just the facts, or at least what appeared to be facts. If the information came from Leonard Nimoy, we questioned nothing. Nimoy developed a fan following from this show in addition to his existing fan following from his Star Trek appearances. He also wrote an episode on Vincent Van Gogh, In Search Of Vincent Van Gogh, Season 4, Episode 16, suggesting that Van Gogh suffered from epilepsy.

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Rod Serling was cast as the narrator of In Search Of…, but he died of a Myocardial infarction before filming began. 

The who was inspired by three documentaries produced by Alan Landsburg: In Search of Ancient Astronauts, which was based on the blockbuster book Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken; In Search of Ancient Mysteries; and The Outer Space Connection. The latter were adapted into paperback (interesting–it generally works the other way around!) in 1975. Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone narrated all three shows, so of course I watched them! I think my sister still owns the books. Serling was cast as host of In Search Of…, but he died of a Myocardial infarction in 1975 so Nimoy was cast instead, an equally powerful voice in the realm of the supernatural.

Supernatural Topics

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 One of many fraudulent photos of the Loch Ness Monster. Photo by Ad Meskens.

The availability of supernatural topics for this show was endless, and each one was popular enough to draw the viewing audience to the show before it aired by announcing the topic the week before. Some of my favorite topics discussed Big Foot, following sightings from Nepal to Texas; the Loch Ness Monster or Nessie, complete with film footage of the beast floating across the lake.

Intriguing Mysteries

One episode, “In Search of Anastasia,”  Season 2 Episode 13, featured Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikoaevna, daughter of Czar Nicholas II of Russia and the Tsarina Alexandra, who were all brutally assassinated during the revolution by the Bolsheviks on July 18, 1981. The massacre of the Romanov family was so horrific that people desperately wanted to believe one of the children had managed to survive, that one of their captors was humane enough to protect the children. Sadly, DNA testing proved the entire family was murdered. The In Search Of… episode dealt primarily with a woman named Anna Anderson who claimed to be Anastasia, but was later proven to be a fraud.

Grand_Duchess_Anastasia_Nikolaevna

 Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. Photo taken in 1918. 

There was also an episode discussing the many possible suspects in London’s Jack the Ripper unsolved mystery, including the doctor who immigrated to the American West; the Lincoln Assassination; missing airplane daredevil Amelia Earhart; and the lost residents of the Roanoke Colony, a mystery that still intrigues me to this day.

Mary_Celeste_as_Amazon_in_1861

The Mary Celeste in 1861.

One of our family’s favorite episodes is “The Ghost Ship,” Season 4 Episode 18, which aired in 1980 and discusses the ghostly appearance of the abandoned British-American merchant brigantine discovered on December 4, 1872. The Mary Celeste was discovered unmanned, and her lifeboat and seven crew members were missing. It was also discovered that she still held six months of food and water on board. The ship was believed to be cursed, and in an odd twist of fate, her last owner deliberately destroyed her off the Cape of Haiti to collect insurance money.

Spin-off Books

In Search Of… also inspired the writing of six spin-off books and a “best of” collection by Alan Landsburg: In Search of Lost Civilizations; In Search of Strange Phenomena; In Search of Missing Persons; and In Search of Myths and Monsters.

Introductory Disclaimer

One aspect of this show that I found particularly interesting was the introductory disclaimer. The producers realized they were delving into subjects that were not sufficiently scientifically documented, so each show began with the speech: “This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture.

The producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.” It was the perfect answer to the perfect problem. Of course there were no answers. How could they call them “mysteries” if the mystery was solved? On the other hand, no one wanted television viewers popping in on the middle of a show and assuming the planet was surrounded by UFOs. One Orson Welle’s The War of the Worlds presentation was enough for Americans.

Total Episodes and Revivals

There was a total of 144 episodes of In Search Of… covering everything from haunted castles to killer bees to Noah’s Ark. That’s a lot of mysteries!

There was also a short-run revival of the show–eight episodes–that aired in 2002 on the Sci-Fi Channel and featured Mitch Pileggi. These episodes covered more than one topic. For instance, episode one dealt with the subject of Hell, Vampires, and Nikola Tesla. The first episode aired on October 4, 2002. The final episode aired on November 22, 2002 and discussed the Shroud of Turin; Faith, and aliens.

  • Source: 
  • In Search Of… Host: Leonard Nimoy. Alan Landsburg Productions. Running Time: 30 min. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.”: The Twilight Zone

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Welcome to day eight of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! I’m having fun, and I hope you are, too, because today we’re taking a look at the 1961 Twilight Zone episode “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” starring Cliff Robertson where H stands for a Hundred Yards, which may seem trivial when the word stands alone, but when you are the one standing in the vast desert surrounded by sand and cactus without another person in sight, a hundred yards seems to go on forever.

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Cholla buds in the setting sun of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

This is one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes for many reasons. First, it takes place in New Mexico, where I now live and have lived in the past on numerous occasions. I love the high desert. It is a beautiful place with spacious skies, strange wind storms and a mystical feel that is difficult to explain, but it certainly is portrayed well in this episode.

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Sandy hilltop in the high desert of New Mexico near Albuquerque. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I also like this episode because it is a Western, and I love Westerns! I write about the American Old West in my blog Wild West History. As I walk through the desert with my dogs admiring the tall Cholla cactus trees with their masses of pink flowers and listening to the coyotes howling in the distance I often imagine what it would be like to be a pioneer traveling through this area in the 1800s, and this is the topic of “A Hundred Yard Over the Rim.” The story also deals with time travel, one of Rod Serling’s favorite topics, and mine, too, since I am constantly daydreaming about being a pioneer!

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Flowering Cholla tree in the New Mexico desert. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I also like the title, which captures the emotion of this episode so perfectly. A hundred yards. It seems like such a short distance, but when you’re traveling in the desert everything seems so vast.

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New Mexico sandstorm. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Sometimes it feels as if you can see from Alaska to Mexico, and it all looks so familiar, and yet, different enough that if you walk too far away from your source of transportation you will easily become lost, especially if the spring winds are blowing and the sands are slamming into you like a wall. It is so very easy to get lost in the desert at any time of year, and this is what happens to Cliff Robertson in tonight’s episode, “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.”

The Wagon Train

In “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” Cliff Robertson is Christian Horn, the leader of a wagon train. As the story opens, we see the train of wagons moving over the hot sand with mountains in the distance. The wagons stop. Robertson leaves the front of his wagon and walks around to the opening in the back of the canvas cover. to check with his wife. She is caring for their young son, who is extremely ill. The child has been sick for 11 days.

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Conestoga Wagon on the Oregon Trail. Photo by National Park Service. 

Robertson is wearing a dusty black overcoat and top hat and looks beyond exhausted, as well. He dampens a cloth with a bit of water and hands it to his wife, who looks frantic. “He just can’t take anymore, Christian,” she tells him, and she’s probably right, eleven days of fever in the 1800s is a long time, especially when traveling through the hot desert. Christian, however, tells her the boy will take more, just like the rest of them. He isn’t showing much sympathy, but perhaps he is trying to show strength, to help her prepare for what he believes will happen to the child.

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John Astin from Operation Petticoat, 1977. (Since we’re time traveling, I thought we’d take a leap forward, too!)

The other pioneers are climbing from their wagons. Another pioneer, Charlie, played by John Astin, stops to check on the child. Charlie tells Christian, or “Chris,” that the rest of the pioneers are concerned that they are in Apache country. In fact, that area of New Mexico was populated by a number of different Native American Indian tribes and Charlie is correct, they are in potential danger. The rest of the men have discussed turning back, trying to find a town to resupply and help the sick child. The men point out that they are nearly out of water and food, but Chris insists they must push forward. Christian’s wife, Martha Horn, played by Miranda Jones, agrees that they should turn around. She is frightened for their son.

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Cliff Robertson from an episode of The Outer Limits. 

Christian tells the men to bunch up the wagon. He is determined to find water. He nods his head forward and tells them he is headed for the rim, “Maybe a hundred yards over the rim I might find water, or a canyon.” Chris grabs his gun and heads for the rim, a hundred yards over the rim in search of salvation.

Rod Serling in the New Mexico Desert

Suddenly, Rod Serling appears beside one of the wagons in his suit and tie. I love his sudden appearances in the past. They feel so…supernatural! One minute your heart is breaking for this poor, sick boy in 1800s New Mexico and the next you are chatting with Rod Serling. You would think his appearance would break the suspension of disbelief of the audience, but this is a supernatural show, and the fact that he suddenly appears in the middle of any scene, at any time in history, fits with the theme.

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 Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone creator, director, and writer of many episodes,                                                                      including “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.”  

 ”It is 1847 in New Mexico,” Serling explains.  ”A handful of men and women in search of a dream. Eleven months ago they started from Ohio and headed West. Someone told them about California, a land of riches and blue skies. After all this time, they’ve found neither. He has a dying son and a scared wife. Mr. Chris Horn, going a hundred yards over the rim to find water and sustenance, in a minute will enter the twilight zone.”

Suddenly, Nothing Looks the Same…

and this is the way it is in the twilight zone! Chris Horn walks over the rim and sees the foothills of the Sandia Mountains and a road, giant electrical towers that look like horrific beasts, houses. He runs back over the rim and the small train of wagons has disappeared. He shouts out for his friends and no one answers. He has no choice, but to move forward, over the rim, to the town, seeking help.

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The Sandia Mountains. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Chris Horn sees nothing but desert and mountains. He holds his rifle tight and stares at the nearby railroad tracks. “What’s going on here?” he shouts in confusion as he stumbles down the sand on the other side of the rim. He sees fences, posts, roads where moments before there was nothing but sand. A truck races past and nearly runs him over. He dives into a ditch, terrified, dusts himself off and starts running down the road.

He finds a sign. “Joe’s Airflite Cafe and Gas Station 1 Mile Ahead.” He continues down the road to the cafe, a typical Route 66 truck stop. He stares at the gas tanks, then notices a cowboy staring at him, laughing. “Did you see it?” he asks the cowboy, pointing toward the truck. “That monster that almost hit me?” The cowboy removes his sunglasses. “Do you mean the truck?” he asks. Chris is confused. He’s never heard of, or seen, a truck.

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A 1950s semi-trailer truck. 

Chris begins to explain to the stranger about the wagon train. He tells the man they are desperate for food and water. The man notices Chris accidentally shot himself in the hand when he fell to avoid the truck. He leads Chris inside and tells a woman behind the counter that Chris needs help. She is afraid of him, of the way he looks and is dressed, and his confusion. The man offers Chris a glass of water and the woman brings a first aid kit from the kitchen. The cowboy introduces himself as Joe (John Crawford) the cafe owner.

Joe comments on the rifle, “a real antique!” and reaches forward to take a look, but Chris pulls back–in the 1800s a man would never hand over his gun to a stranger. Joe’s wife, Mary Lou (played by Evans Evans, the second wife of director John Frankenheimer) gently removes the injured hand from the gun and tends to the wound. Chris asks about Indians and she laughs. “No, we don’t see them around here, at least not hostile ones,” she says, which is probably true as most Native American Indians in New Mexico were moved onto reservations in the late 1800s.

The Confused Pioneer

Cliff Robertson does a remarkable job of portraying Chris Horn, a man lost in time. Looking at his face you can feel his fear. He is confused, disoriented. He asks how long Joe and Mary Lou have been in the area and they tell him a couple of years, but Chris and the wagon train just moved through this same area and no one was there! As he listens to Joe explain how they bought the cafe he wanders over to the jukebox and stares in shock, then to the table. Joe follows him and asks where he is really from, and Chris tells him the truth–he’s from Ohio.

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Vintage juke box. Photo by Joe Mabel.

Then Joe mentions that there is a natural spring nearby and Chris is stunned–he knew there was water! Mary Lou hands Chris a glass of water and a handful of penicillin to help avoid infection. Chris asks where she found it and she tells him at the drugstore. Chris is beginning to realize there is hope for his family and the rest of the pioneers. Mary Lou tells him it is good for all kinds of sickness and Chris tells her his son is sick back in the wagon, then he turns around and sees a poster on the wall, a poster of the Old West, of a wagon train moving down the mountain. Then he notices the date: September, 1961. “How can that be?” he asks. “It’s 1847!” and Mary Lou drops the glass of water on the floor. Chris begins to panic. “Where am I?” he asks, and he starts to back toward the door.

And of Course, a Doctor’s Exam

In the next scene we see a doctor (Edward Platt) leaving the back room with his black bag. He sets down the bag and pours himself a cup of coffee. He tells Joe that Chris looks fine except for malnutrition. Joe is confused. How can Chris be fine? The doctor reminds Joe that he’s not a psychiatrist, but tells him Chris seems perfectly rational. The doctor tells Joe and Mary Lou that the fillings in Chris’s teeth are not modern, and they agree that Chris’s gun must be at least 100 years old. “He may be having a delusion of some kind,” the doctor agrees, “but it is so pure, the way he describes the wagons, and his son!” The doctor explains that Chris’s description of his son’s illness sounds like pneumonia, that the boy could be dying. The doctor decides to call the sheriff.

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Sheriff’s car. Photo by Youngwiseman. 

Just then, Chris walks out of the back room. He has a book in his hand. It’s an encyclopedia. He shows the book to Mary Lou and tells her he has found his son in the book. She reads it out loud. “Christian Horn, Jr., M.D. Famous for his early work in pioneering vaccine research. Born in Ohio in 1849, died in 1914. Chris Horn’s story matches the entry in the encyclopedia exactly!

“That’s my son, that’s Chris,” Christian Horn tells Joe and Mary Lou. “I may be crazy, or the world’s turned upside down, but I know I was put here for a reason,” Chris says. He takes the penicillin and places it in the pocket of his jacket. “Thank you,” he says. “You’ve been kind and gracious and I appreciate it.” He takes his rifle and tries to leave, but the doctor stops him. He tells Christian he has sent for the authorities. Joe tries to grab his gun.

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Bottle of pills. Photo by Ragesoss.

Chris ducks through the open doorway and starts running down the highway, back the way he came. The police are driving down the road. They see Chris and start after him, driving over the sand. Chris keeps running, running toward the rim. He falls and drops his gun and penicillin. He grabs the medication, turns around to face the police, turns back to the rim, stumbles over the top with the medication in his hand, then stops and stares. There before him is the wagon train, just as he left it.

He walks back to the top of the rim. He sees nothing but sand where the police were moments before. He looks at the bottle. He still has the pills. He looks at his hand–it has healed. He walks to the wagon and asks his wife where she went. Now she is confused. He tries to explain, but can’t. Instead, he hands her the bottle and tells her to give him two pills, that it will save his life.

“Short trip, Chris. Not much on the other side, was there,” Charley asks. “You’d be surprised,” Chris replies. “There’s a whole lot on the other side of that rim.”

The police drive Joe back to the cafe and tell him not to worry, that Chris doesn’t seem like a threat. Apparently he was with them in the car. Joe walks inside with the rifle and shows his wife. He tells her he picked it  up right where Chris dropped it. It is falling apart, as if it was lying in the desert for a hundred years. It falls apart in Joe’s hands. Mary Lou is still holding the encyclopedia. “Where did he come from?” she asks. “Wherever it was, I think he went back, he says

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Prairie Schooner wagon. Painting by Newbold Hough Trotter (1827-1898).

Once again, we are at the wagons with Chris Horn. “Let’s go boys,” he shouts to the rest of the pioneers. “There’s water up ahead, and we’re going to California!’ He looks back in the wagon where his child is now sitting on his wife’s lap. “And my boy has a whole lot to accomplish there,” he says.

And once again, we hear the voice of Rod Serling. “Mr. Christian Horn,” he says. “One of the hardy breed of men who headed West at a time when there were no highways or signs of civilization. Mr. Christian Horn and his family of pioneers, heading West after a brief visit through the twilight zone.”

Source:

  • “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.” The Twilight Zone. Dir. Buzz Kulick. Writer Rod Serling. Perf. Cliff Robertson, John Astin, John Crawford, Evan Evans. First aired April 7, 1961. Columbia Broadcasting System. Running time: 25 min.

 

 

 

 

Bewitched: The Sexiest Nose Twitch on Television

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Welcome to day two of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Today we will be discussing the supernatural family show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens, the suburban housewife with the cutest nose twitch on television! Contrary to other supernatural television characters, Samantha was uncomfortable with her witchy abilities. She wanted the life of a traditional housewife with two children–a boy and a girl, of course–a station wagon, a dog, and a house in a quiet neighborhood where friends could stop by on occasion for a cup of tea and gossip. Instead of cleaning up after her children, Samantha was forced to use her supernatural abilities to clean up the messes created by her meddling mother, Endora, and other various nuisance relatives.

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Publicity photo of Elizabeth Montgomery. Montgomery played the lovely mother, housewife, and secret witch in the supernatural sitcom Bewitched, which of course was released in the magic year of 1968.

It’s not that Samantha is ashamed of her family or her supernatural ancestry. The problem is that her husband is a traditionalist, a corporate fanny-kisser, and Samantha, though she lives in the 1960s, prefers the happy homemaker image of the 1950s, which includes remaining faithful to her husband’s ideals, which include not cheating–and by cheating I do not mean infidelity.

The business ethics of Darrin Stephens include honesty, hard work, and acquiring wealth and achieving success only if it is earned. This list, of course, does not include the use of magic spells or nose twitches. Darrin is proud of his wife for her beauty and dedication to their family, but he is embarrassed by her family, and the fact that his daughter is a witch, and his son is a warlock.

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Dick York as Darrin Stephens and Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens in Bewitched.

When you think about it, although this sitcom was exceptionally popular–it ran from September of 1964 to July of 1972 and ranked in the Top 25 five times during its run–it was shocking sexist for the times. Samantha’s appeal is sexual–she is alluring, bewitching, enticing, charming, and although her husband often ends up looking like a fool in his efforts to prevent his wife from exposing her supernatural abilities, Samantha always remains calm, cool, and silky smooth.

The Cast of Bewitched

Samantha Stephens is played by Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of actor Robert Montgomery. Robert Montgomery was nominated for two Oscars and believed to be the best dressed man in Hollywood, which may explain what appears to be an almost instinctive sex appeal in the performances of his daughter, Elizabeth–she had a great teacher. Elizabeth surprised her father when she enrolled in the Academy of Dramatic Arts, then shocked him again when he was told of her success with her first audition–Elizabeth had landed a role in the show Top Secret, and her father was the show’s star. Elizabeth met television producer William Asher and the two fell madly in love. The two searched for a script  for a show she could star in so they could spend more time together, and discovered Bewitched. Elizabeth designed her own costumes for the show, which were so popular that she eventually created her own clothing line.

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Dick York as Darrin Stephens in Bewitched. Dick York played the role from 1964 to 1969.

Dick York played Darrin Stephens in Bewitched, an executive with the New York advertising firm of McMann and Tate. York was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series. In short, he was hysterically funny! Unfortunately, he also had a degenerative spine injury and was forced to leave the show in 1969. He actually tore all the muscles in his back in 1959 while working on a film with Gary Cooper and never recovered. The pain was unbearable for York, and in 1969 he had a seizure on the set of Bewitched. He was taken to the hospital and never returned to the set. Bewitched continued with Dick Sargent playing the role of Darrin and the show’s ratings dropped immediately and drastically–apparently, the audience loved the wimpy character played by Dick York!

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Agnes Moorehead starred as Samantha’s mother, Endora, in Bewitched.

The Most Dangerous Mother-In-Law in Sitcom History

Samantha’s mother was clearly the greatest source of conflict in this family sitcom. She was more than a meddler, she was a witch in every sense of the word. She did not like her son-in-law and did everything she could to interfere in her daughter’s relationship, inspiring television historian John Javna to refer to her as “The most dangerous mother-in-law in sitcom history!” In fact, Agnes Moorehead was a bit uncomfortable with the role. She was 57 when Bewitched started filming with a 50 year successful acting career that began with the American Mercury Theater starring alongside Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. She won an Emmy, was nominated for five Oscars, and appeared in over 100 films before Bewitched. The audience would never have guessed that she was uncomfortable with the role, though. Agnes Moorehead was a professional in every sense of the word and her performance as the meddling mother-in-law was outstanding.

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The Stephens family in 1971 screenshot for Bewitched. At this point, Dick Sargent had replaced Dick York as Darrin Stephens. Erin Murphy played young Tabitha and David Lawrence played Adam Stephens. Both children inherited their mother’s supernatural powers in the show.  

Bewitched is still believed to be one of the most popular supernatural sitcoms in television history. Although Elizabeth Montgomery had bit parts in films and television shows before Bewitched, this was the show that truly made her famous. The show also won three Emmys, a testament to its popularity. Samantha Stephens was the first “witch” to star in a television show. When Dick York left the show, his disappearance was also a first–it was the first time a lead character left a show without an explanation. Nevertheless, the show continued for three more years in spite of the drop in ratings, due primarily to the popularity of Elizabeth Montgomery.

Little Tabitha (Erin Murphy) also contributed to the show’s popularity. In fact, ABC gave Tabitha her own sitcom in 1977. Tabitha was played by Lisa Hartman who was an adult employed by a television station. The show only lasted a year.

When Tabitha first appeared on the show as a baby she was played by three sets of twins until the producers finally settled on the adorable Erin Murphy. The fans loved the name Tabitha, though. After her first appearance, thousands of babies were named in her honor in the US.

Sources: 

  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.

The Addams Family: The Dysfunctional Family Cult Classic

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Welcome to day one of the A to Z Blogger Challenge! Today’s topic is The Addam’s Family, the supernatural, happily dysfunctional family based on a classic cartoon from The New Yorker Magazine. The Addams Family ran on prime time television from 1964 to 1966, but remains a cult favorite for many reasons discussed below. The show was introduced at a time when the networks was inundated with quirky families, like The Munsters and Bewitched. According to Michael Winship, author of Television, the public was tired of the perfect families found in the 1950s sitcoms, so the networks responded with a monster explosion in the 60s. Though it only ran for two years, The Addams Family ranked #23 in the Top 25 Television Shows, but more importantly, it became a supernatural cult classic favorite. However, today, we will discuss this well-loved family because it’s one of my childhood favorites, and because…A is for Addams! 

Meet the Addams Family, their Family and Friends

One of the definitions of the word supernatural is “weird, unearthly, and beyond scientific understanding.” This is precisely what makes the Addams Family so charming. They are strange, goofy, and some members of the family are most definitely beyond scientific understanding. They have an octopus for a pet, and Thing T. Thing, a disembodied hand that fetches the mail and lights cigars for Gomez Addams. The daughter of the family, Wednesday Friday Addams, has a pet spider collection and Pugsley, her brother, spends much of his play time using his toy guillotine on Wednesday’s doll. The family pet, though, is a man-eating plant named Cleopatra.

Some viewers may consider this family a bit weird, they are definitely “supernatural,” and may even fit the definition of dysfunctional in the minds of contemporary family therapists, but they are also lovable, simply because they do not see themselves as strange, and they rarely judge others as strange, either. To the Addams, their way of life is quite normal and they seem to be completely oblivious to the opinions of others and the fact that other people think they’re “different.” I like this.

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The Addams Family, from left to right: Gomez Addams (John Astin); Wednesday Friday (Lisa Loring); Morticia Frump Addams (Carolyn Jones); Pugsley Addams (Ken Weatherwax); and standing behind Morticia’s chair is Lurch the Butler, played by Ted Cassidy, who also played Thing T. Thing. 

The head of the Addam’s clan is Gomez Addams (John Astin). Gomez is a lawyer who dresses like a gangster–not contemporary gangsters, but the 1940s gangster style. He is intelligent and charming, and often completes complicated mathematical calculations in his head. He has a magic cigar that lights when he removes it from his jacket pocket and extinguishes itself when replaced. According to John Javna’s Cult TV, when John Astin first auditioned for a role on this show he was turned down, but he auditioned for the position of Lurch! Instead, of hiring Astin to play Lurch, Executive Producer David Levy offered him the role of Gomez on one condition, that he grow a mustache. That mustache must have felt like a caterpillar on the skin of Carolyn Jones as Gomez spent most of his time at home kissing the hand, wrist, and arm of his lovely wife, Morticia! True story–according to John Javna, when Ringo Starr met John Astin he greeted him by grasping Astin’s hand and kissing him all the way up his arm just as Gomez does to his wife.

Morticia is one of my favorite characters in the show. She has white skin, long black hair, and is always dressed in a long, tight, black wedding gown. She lights candles with the touch of her finger. Morticia is sexy and spooky at the same time. Morticia is played by Carolyn Jones, who also plays Morticia’s sister, Ophelia, in the show. Carolyn Jones was cast because Levy was looking for an actress with a “name,” and she was the only well-known actress who auditioned. Her previous roles, though, were bit parts in House of Wax and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but they were supernatural films and she was able to show that she could play the part. Jones spent two hours each day dressing for the role. Her makeup was meticulous, and her wig was made of real human hair. Punk rocker Siouxsie of Siouxsie and the Banshees (am I revealing my age here?) bragged that she used Morticia as her costume and makeup role model.

Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) and Wednesday Friday (Lisa Loring) were inseparable siblings (no, I do not mean this literally!). They are always seen together, but rarely featured in an episode. They look and dress like normal children in the television show with Wednesday’s long, dark hair woven into two braids and Pugsley in the popular striped shirts. The children do not have friends on the show for obvious reasons–not many young girls would appreciate the joys of playing with a spider collection. They do have special talents, though. Puglsey hangs from tree branches by his teeth and Wednesday is a Judo expert. They appear to be home-schooled by their grandmother, though in the contemporary film versions their roles are much larger and Uncle Fester appears to be their tutor. The Addams Family was the only television show or film that Ken Weatherwax appeared in, though he did make an occasional guest appearance on talk shows. Lisa Loring is still acting in soap operas, films, and television shows.

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Famous child actor Jackie Coogan played Uncle Fester in the original television series.

Uncle Fester is shaped like a long box, has dark, sunken eyes and pale skin, and dresses like a monk. He also sleeps on a bed of nails. He has the personality of a child at times, but is well-loved by the family. In the television show he is Morticia’s Uncle. His most famous trick on the show is electrifying a light bulb by sticking it in his mouth. He also plays records using his finger for a needle. Uncle Fester is played by the adult child star Jackie Coogan. Coogan came from a famous Vaudeville family and made his first film with Charlie Chaplin. He made hundreds of appearances in films and television shows, from The Love Boat to I Dream of Jeannie. He even played Oliver in one of the first film versions of Oliver Twist made in 1922. Coogan made his first film, The Kid, at the age of four and was still making films right up to the year that he died, in 1984.

Grandmama Addams (Marie Blake) was a bona fide witch who flies on a broom and is constantly working on her special brews. She is such a fun character with her witchy laugh and her hexes and spells. She always wore a shawl like all good grandmammas do, and her hair was frizzy as if she’d stuck her finger in the socket after Fester removed the light bulb. Grandmama was Morticia’s mother.

Lurch (Ted Cassidy) is the butler, but clearly a member of the family, which is shown in his careful attention to the children (and the fact that he waxes Uncle Fester’s head.) Although Ted Cassidy was a well-established, handsome actor, he was rather ghoulish and a bit scary in the show. He was expected to perform a variety of tasks on the show, but often found them difficult to accomplish due to his great height, something that strangers and neighbors often found terrifying when they dared to knock at the door.

Thing T. Thing is also played by Ted Cassidy, but when Thing and Lurch appeared on screen at the same time, Thing was played by the hand of Associate Producer Jack Vogelin. Thing is generally Cassidy’s right hand, but Cassidy sometimes switched hands to fool the viewing audience. Thing had his own house inside the house inside the upstairs closet of the Addam’s residence. He generally made his appearance at the most inopportune moments, such as when a visitor was alone in the room. Thing does fall in love in one episode, “Morticia Meets Royalty,” when the Princess Millicent von Schlepp visits with a female “thing,” the hand of Carolyn Jones, which is kept inside of an ornate box. She was called “Lady Fingers.”

Although there are many other notable characters in the family, Cousin Itt (Felix Silla and later, Anthony Magro) is probably one of the most popular. He is, well, a hairy It. Itt is about four feet tall and covered head to toe with long, thick hair. He doesn’t speak, he mumbles. He does, however, drive a three-wheeled car.

The New Yorker Cartoon created by Charles Addams

The Addams Family was the creative inspiration of Charles Addams and based on a popular cartoon Addams wrote for The New Yorker. The family had a cult following before it was introduced to television. In fact, David Levy noticed a book collection of the cartoons in a bookstore and as soon as he opened the book he realized the Addams family was perfect for the 1960s monster obsession. Addams had rejected numerous offers in the past to turn the cartoon into a television show, but when he met with Levy the two men seemed to understand what Charles Addams had in mind when he created the family, so Addams agreed to the transformation of his characters from cartoon figures to television actors.

The House is a Museum…

The Addams Family theme song claims, “Their house is a museum, when people come to see ‘em they really are a screa-um. The Addams Family.” And the house truly is a cluttered, dusty museum. The house has a growling bearskin rug; a giant stuffed Polar Bear; a noose hanging from the ceiling (nice touch); and an Eskimo Totem Pole. There is also a rack, iron maiden and stocks. My favorite, though, is the suit of armor that coughs whenever Gomez Addams flicks his cigar ashes.

The Addams Family on Film

The Addams Family was revived in 1991 with a feature film by Orion Pictures who sold the film to Paramount. I love this film. At first, I didn’t think it was possible to replace the original cast, but it was! The film stars Raul Julia, one of my all-time favorite actors, as Gomez, and Angelica Huston as the perfect Morticia. Christopher Lloyd surprised me with his excellent portrayal of Uncle Fester, but Christina Ricci steals the show as the morbid mini-Morticia, Wednesday Friday. In this show, Uncle Fester is the older brother of Gomez. He has amnesia and is hoodwinked by a shady lawyer (Dan Hedaya) and his loan shark (Elizabeth Wilson). In the end, though, the family joyfully reunited.

Addams Family Values was released in 1993 with the wonderful Carol Kane playing “Granny.” Uncle Fester is again the star of the show as the husband of evil nurse Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack) who tries desperately to murder Fester. She convinces the Addams parents to send the older children to summer camp to protect the third addition to the family, baby boy Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper) who Wednesday and Pugsley are constantly trying to kill through various means, such as dropping him from the top of the stairs. At summer camp, the two are tortured by two over-zealous camp counselors (Christine Branski and Peter MacNicol) and forced to watch family films, but Wednesday meets her first boyfriend, Joel (David Krumholtz). Jellinsky fails in her murder attempts, so she finally resorts to attempted murder of the entire family. The family is saved by baby boy Pubert, of course! The film ends with a touching scene between Wednesday and Joel in the family cemetery.

Sources: 

  • Javna, John. Cult TV: A Viewer’s Guide to the Shows America Can’t Live Without! St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.