Happy Birthday, Lee Majors!

The Six Million Dollar Man himself celebrates his 84th birthday today!

Yes, I know he’s had a long, full career, both before and especially well after his bionic adventures, but he’ll always be Colonel Steve Austin to me. Okay, with a side of Colt Seavers. And maybe a dash of Christopher Chance. And Pop Scarlet.

A check of his IMDB page shows he’s still finding ways to keep plenty busy. I’m actually kind of tired just reading it all. He’s currently involved in a handful of upcoming projects, and recent interview appearances just show he still looks like he could outrun me pretty easily. Here’s hoping I can find my way to having half his energy when I’m his age.

Also? I fervently maintain that Lee Majors has the manliest running stride in the history of running men. Fight me. I offer into evidence this bit of bionic bravado from the very first episode of the TV series, “Population: Zero.”

And yes, I was definitely one of those kids who would offer up my best bionic sound effects as I ran around the neighborhood in something attempting to resemble “Steve Austin slow motion.” I somehow managed to avoid breaking any bones while performing all manner of “bionic” stunts.

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Geek Fact: When I was a kid, I so wanted a jacket like the one in this pic.

Geek Fact 2: I kinda still do.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Majors!

Happy 50th Birthday to The Six Million Dollar Man!

That’s right! Fifty years ago today, television audiences got their first look at Steve Austin: a man barely alive, and got to watch as he was made better, stronger, and faster for the tidy sum of just six million dollars.

Title card from the original The Six Million Dollar Man TV film.

Based on Martin Caidin’s 1972 novel Cyborg, The Six Million Dollar Man was the first of what would be three television “movies of the week.” Adapting the original book in rather broad fashion , this initial outing gives us the story of Steve Austin, a test pilot tasked with flying a new experimental “lifting body” craft which at the time was a prototype for what eventually became the Space Shuttle. As in the book, Austin suffers horrific injuries when the aircraft crashes, including the loss of both legs, one arm and one eye.

Along comes the government, in the form of Oliver Spencer (substituting for Oscar Goldman in the novel and played by the always delightful Darren McGavin, showing up between his own first two appearances as Carl Kolchak in The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler TV films), who proposes taking Austin’s mangled body and marrying it to a revolutionary form of prosthetics known as “bionics.” Once fitted with new cybernetic limbs and other necessary components, Austin will be far stronger and faster than any normal human, making him the ideal candidate for special missions in which his new abilities will be well-suited. Spencer’s cold, even callous outlook on the plan and its need for a human test subject (“Accidents happen all the time. We’ll just start with scrap.”) will be echoed years later in a film with a similar origin story for its central character, RoboCop.

Steve Austin running to test his new bionics, as first seen in the original TV film and later in the opening credits sequence of the weekly series.

After all the surgeries along with the accompanying rehabilitation and physical and emotional therapy, Austin is sent to the Middle East on a top-secret mission (very much watered down from the assignment he’s given in the book), where his special nature helps see him through to the end. What’s next? Well, I guess we’ll see.

It’s worth noting that the Steve Austin we meet in Caidin’s novel really isn’t all that likeable a guy. To be honest? He’s kind of a dick, though you can understand and even sympathize with his attitude given the situation into which he’s been thrust. For TV, Austin is definitely someone you want to root for, owing in large part to an understated performance from Lee Majors. Yes, Majors has always taken heat for appearing to lack a lot of acting range at this point in his career, but it actually works here as he navigates the bizarre circumstances visited upon his character.

The original telefilm was popular enough to warrant a pair of follow-ups — Wine, Women and War and The Solid-Gold Kidnapping — later in 1973, which of course begat the weekly television series which premiered in January 1974. This first movie doesn’t have many of the things people remember about The Six Million Dollar Man: No iconic opening credits sequence, no Oscar Goldman, no bionic sound effects, no bionic eye reticle, none of that awesome music by Oliver Nelson which would become such a vital part of the weekly episodes. Even the slow-motion running effect is used very sparingly here, and even then not in the same way which soon would come to personify the whole “bionic action” sight gag.

What? You said you want to see what still ranks as one of the absolute best opening credits bits ever? Well, BAM!

Following the original Cyborg novel, Caidin would pen three sequels, which would be published while the television series was in production. Several novelizations of TV episodes also would be published, and the authors of these books would–more often than not–model their characterizations of Steve Austin more on Caidin’s version than the show itself.

As for the television series, it would last five seasons, the last three alongside its spin-off, The Bionic Woman starring Lindsay Wagner. These were followed by three reunion movies, 1987’s Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, 1989’s Bionic Showdown and 1994’s Bionic Ever After?

Bionic Woman was a 2007 attempt to remake Lindsay Wagner’s series, though it lasted only one season. There are also on-again/off-again rumors of a big-budget cinematic remake of one or both of the series.

Whatever.

In the meantime, here’s to you Steve Austin: You’re the man! The Six Million Dollar Man!

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The A-Team!

It’s a Monday, which called for a bit of nostalgic wallowing in an around tackling the day’s more important tasks. Today, that means another trip to the “Tied Up With Tie-ins,” where I take a gander at a fondly remembered series of novels based on movies or television series.

It’s most definitely an outgrowth of my collecting old books, which often means I’m revisiting something older, such as the many different tie-ins which were all over the place during my childhood and early adulthood. I’m certainly not above covering newer material, including books or book series which in turn inspired a film or television series. One example I’ve added to my “To Do” list for a future entry is the series of “Walt Longmire mysteries” penned by author Craig Johnson and the basis for the Longmire TV series. I’m also gathering notes for a couple of special entries about 1) 1980s movie novelizations, and 2) off-beat choices for movie novelizations. There might be a little overlap between the two pieces (Howard the Duck or Meatballs, anyone?), but I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

Meanwhile, today’s entry is inspired in part because it was 40 years ago tonight that we were introduced to this team of ne’er do wells:

In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…The A-Team.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The A-Team!”

40 years of Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator.

Fair warning: It’s gonna get nerdy in here.

We’re good? Sweet.

Set the Wayback Machine for 1983, and me the wayward teen wandering into one of the numerous video game arcades taking up space inside pool halls or strip malls, renovated fast food joints and other odd-sized buildings all over the city of Tampa. My pockets jammed with however many quarters and dollar bills I could scrounge, I move past such favorites as Tron and Tempest, on my way to the hot new game I’ve been dying to play:

Your mission, should you insert your quarter(s) and press the button for 1 or 2 players, was to pilot the U.S.S. Enterprise from “sector” to “sector,” defending varying numbers of starbases from varying numbers of Klingon battle cruisers. Some of the enemy ships concentrated on destroying the starbases while others were intent on destroying the Enterprise (and you).

Successfully defending the starbases meant bonus points after clearing a “sector,” so your first priority was taking out the Klingons attacking them. Docking at a starbase also was one means of repairing “damage” and replenishing your various “consumables” — warp drive power, photon torpedoes, and deflector shields. However, docking at a starbase reduced the bonus points it offered for your successful defense. So, the object? Destroy all the Klingons, defend all the starbases, and do so (if possible) without being forced to dock for emergency repairs.

Every five sectors or so, you entered a special “bonus” round where you faced off against the “Nomad probe,” which was busy deploying mines like a rabbit shot-gunning Red Bull. Taking out Nomad without incurring damage from any of the mines meant more sweet bonus points, after which you charged into the next round of “sector battles” with ever more angrier, faster Klingons.

Continue repeating all of the above until your ship is destroyed.

(Pic courtesy of the Sega Wiki)

A fossil by today’s gaming standards, Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator was pretty slick when it was released by Sega in January 1983. The vector graphics were typical of the era, but the game also benefitted from Leonard Nimoy and James Doohan supplying their voices for various snippets of dialogue throughout the game. Familiar Star Trek music and sound effects rounded out the presentation. The controls were pretty simple, with a “spin knob” to control direction and four buttons–one each for phasers, photon torpedoes, thrusters and “warp drive” to get you out of a tough jam, at least for a couple of seconds.

The game itself came in two basic configurations: the standard stand-up cabinet model prevalent in most arcades, and the deluxe “sit-down” model that partially enclosed the player in a “captain’s chair,” with the controls set into the arms. Of course, back in those days it was common practice to repurpose arcade cabinets by swapping out the innards and the exterior artwork, so finding an actual honest to goodness sit-down model is a pretty rare event anymore. That said, now you know what to get me for Christmas or my birthday if you chance across one. Until then, I have to make do with what I have:

My oldest child, teaching me how not to suck at this game, circa 2008.

In addition to the original arcade game version, the game also was made available for home console systems of the day–Atari 2600/5200, Commodore 64, the TI-99, and so on. Stop laughing. The Commodore 64 graphics actually were better than the arcade model. I said stop laughing!

Forty years after I first played it in that long-gone arcade, I still love this thing. I don’t play it every day, of course, but every so often the itch needs scratchin’, you know? The model which currently sits in my home office was acquired soon after we moved into our house, allowing me to cross one item off my Bucket List (“Own actual Star Trek arcade game.”).

(Sadly, “Own actual Tron arcade game” is still on the list, so remember: Christmas or birthday. I’m not picky.)

Happy 40th, Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator. Who’s got quarters?

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Lost In Space!

Previously, on The Fog of Ward:

Yeah, it’s been quiet around here lately. All I’ve got is that it’s been busy on the work front(s) and with other stuff going on leading into the holidays. Hopefully things can throttle back a bit during the next……you know what? I’m not even going to finish typing that sentence. Fate has already been tested enough, and it’s only Monday.

That said, I knew I should come in here and blow the dust off this blog-type thing, if for no other reason than to make room for new dust.

For those of you who’ve only recently discovered my little corner of internet banality and haven’t yet poked around too much, one of this places “irregularly recurring features” is something I like to call, “Tied Up With Tie-ins.” It’s here that I take a fond look back at a favorite series of novels based on movies or television series.

Given my penchant for nostalgia and collecting old books, I figure this is a nice intersection for those two interests, which often means I’m revisiting something older, such as the many different tie-ins which were all over the place during my childhood and early adulthood. That said, I’m certainly not above babbling about something published much more recently if it trips my trigger. A few of the subjects previously tackled represent books or book series which inspired a film or television series, so that’s obviously on the table. One example I’m pondering for a future entry is the series of “Walt Longmire mysteries” penned by author Craig Johnson and the basis for the Longmire TV series. I guess we’ll see, eh?

For this entry I’m actually straddling a bit of fence with respect to this property’s publishing history. Created during the same era that gave us the original Star Trek series, it’s a show that’s also experienced its own reboots and re-imaginings over the decades since its original television heyday. Despite enjoying a similar, near-continuous public awareness, it never cultivated the sort of tie-in publication history that Star Trek has commanded since the days of the original show being in active production. This, despite being one of those shows that to this day still has its ardent fans.

So, it’s not the U.S.S. Enterprise we’re talking about today, but rather the Jupiter 2 as we join the Robinson family, their Robot, and Dr. Zachary Smith as we all go and get Lost In Space.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Lost In Space!”

Tuesday Trekkin’: Star Trek Halloween costumes!

Been a minute, huh?

Things have been busy here at the manor, forcing me to let idle things like this “irregularly recurring” feature that’s little more than an thin excuse for me to babble on a bit about some nugget of Star Trek fandom. Most of the time, this means me babbling about some fondly remembered bit of goofy merchandise or collectible, anniversaries and “milestones” or important dates in franchise history, convention memories, or whatever else tickles my brain on any given day.

The “Tuesday Trekkin’” moniker is also a tip of the hat to Dan Davidson and Bill Smith, aka “The Hosts of the TrekGeeks Podcast.” Their fan group over on Facebook, Camp Khitomer, is devoted to all things Trek where all are welcome to join in their positive vibes and community. Sometimes, they also like to push a #TrekTuesday hashtag over there, inviting members to share updates, links, and/or pictures celebrating their fandom, so this feature is definitely offered in that same spirit.

I’d actually been thinking about this one for a bit, given the season. We’re less than a week away from Halloween, so naturally my thoughts turned to the very oddball assortment of costumes that have come along specifically for engaging in trick-or-treat landing parties (or, “away teams” if that’s your kink). If we’re being brutally honest, Star Trek Halloween costumes have always been sort of a mixed bag. Not counting the really higher-end costumes that run into the hundreds of dollars, companies like Rubies II, which has been making affordable Halloween costumes and accessories since the 1950s, including various iterations of Star Trek. Their selection is, I imagine, decent for the price-range, though I suspect very few of us can make them look as good as the actors on any of the shows.

Are you more the do it yourself type? For years, the Simplicity Pattern Company offered back in the 1980s sewing patterns for both the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. They updated and rereleased those patterns in 2016 as part of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, accompanied by new patterns from TNG and the Star Trek films. Somewhere in my archives I have a set of the 80s patterns, though I never tried to make them, myself. I have a sneaky suspicions the final result would not look even as good as the photos on the original packaging.

Don’t feel like going all in with the whole costume? I suppose you could just get by with a mask. Trick or Treat Studios carries among their sizable inventory a few Star Trek masks that are bit pricey, but maaaaaaaaaan do they look cool.

Star Trek masks, L-R: The Gorn, the Balok puppet, and the Mugato.

On the other hand, the less said about this one, the better.

The infamous Michael Myers mask as seen in the Halloween movies, and the William Shatner mask which served as inspiration and point of departure.

However — HOW. EVER. — no discussion about Star Trek Halloween costumes is complete without the king of them all: the Ben Cooper jobs based very loosely on the original Star Trek series. Now this was my Halloween experience as a young, single-digit proto-human in the 1970s. Look at the stunning on-screen accuracy, the near-total lack of ability to breathe let alone see, and if you’re thinking the entire thing is one stray match away from total walking miniature inferno, well….you’re not wrong.


Trick or treat, yo.

To read much more about these little packages of insanity, check out these articles from Trekker Scrapbook and Plaid Stallions, which is where I found the above Ben Cooper costume photos. Ben Cooper has recently gotten back into the costume game, offering “nostalgic” costumes for grown-ups modeled after the original designs. So far, they’ve released costumes based on Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and superheroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash. Can Star Trek be too far behind? Let’s hope not.

All right, friends! Armed with newfound vital knowledge on this #TrekTuesday, which of these are you planning to wear for Halloween?

Pics or it didn’t happen.

It’s Jupiter 2 Launch Day!


October 16th, 1997:

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“This is the beginning. This is the day. You are watching the unfolding of one of history’s greatest adventures–man’s colonization of space beyond the stars. The first of what may be as many as ten million families per year is setting out on its epic voyage into man’s newest frontier, deep space. Reaching out into other worlds from our desperately overcrowded planet, a series of deep thrust telescopic probes have conclusively established a planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri as the only one within range of our technology able to furnish ideal conditions for human existence.

Even now the family chosen for this incredible journey into space is preparing to take their final pre lift off physical tests. The Robinson family was selected from more than two million volunteers for its unique balance of scientific achievement, emotional stability, and pioneer resourcefulness. They will spend the next five and a half years of their voyage frozen in a state of suspended animation which will terminate automatically as the spacecraft enters the atmosphere of the new planet.”

Lost In Space, “The Reluctant Stowaway”

jupiter2-missionpatch



Happy 35th Anniversary, Star Trek: The Next Generation!

“YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH, DAYTON!”

Sorry, folks, but it’s true. 35 years ago tonight, the 24th century began.

Star Trek: The Next Generation opening title

I’ve told this story before, but on the evening of September 28th, 1987, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s premiere episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” in the TV room of my barracks at Camp Pendleton. The room was stuffed with Marines, and maybe it was because of the beer, but we all stayed to watch the whole thing.

Our first look at the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-D, from the opening credits of “Encounter at Farpoint,” which for the premiere ran before the opening scenes.

It was a new era, with a new captain and crew aboard a new Starship Enterprise, something all but unthinkable just a couple of years earlier. “What’s that? It’s not Captain Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the gang? BLASPHEMY!”

:: ahem ::

While “Farpoint” certainly had its problems, it was Star Trek, by golly. And, it was new Star Trek, and little did we know at the time what that really meant, or would come to mean.

Anybody remember this bit, which ran before the episode?

Man. How time flies.

So, yeah. The show got off to something of a rocky start, and took a while to find its footing. Still, even with this first episode, it was easy to see the potential in this new show. A big part of that is due to Patrick Stewart, who carried much of the load that first year and who as Captain Jean-Luc Picard brought a gravitas to the series which helped us forgive some of the hokier storylines. The other actors soon settled into their roles, of course, in time becoming a comfortable ensemble and even a family. By its third season, the show cemented itself as a worthy bearer of the Star Trek torch.

Seven television seasons, four feature films, a return of the cast early next year with the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard, and merchandising out the wazoo, including a whole bunch of novels published by Pocket Books. As one of those responsible for foisting more than a few of those on an unsuspecting reading public, I’ve always enjoyed my time spent with Captain Picard and his merry band. Here’s hoping they let me do a few more.

Happy 35th Anniversary, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Go. Go see what’s out there.

Star Trek: The Next Generation season 1 cast publicity photo

AMT’s U.S.S. Enterprise model at 55!

It’s not the sort of anniversary that a lot of people would notice or care about, and even within the vast Star Trek fandom it’s likely something only a segment of people would even recognize let alone take time to observe. However, for that special subset of fans for whom models in general and Star Trek models in particular are something they enjoy? Yeah, 2022 is a bit of a milestone, all right.

I guess I’m one of those people, at least to a degree.

While I can under no circumstances call myself a particularly skilled or accomplished model hobbyist, I’ve assembled my share of models. Most of these efforts were undertaken during my youth, of course, but I’ve also gone through phases as an adult where the challenge of building a model enticed me to spend more than a few late nights tinkering with this or that. As a kid in the mid to late 1970s, I built things like the Batmobile, the Eagle transport from Space: 1999, figure models from The Six Million Dollar Man or Planet of the Apes, Star Wars X-wings and TIE fighters, and — yes — several Star Trek models.

Star Trek models with 1970s-era packaging: the “Exploration Set,” the Bridge diorama, and Spock (with snakes!)

Particular favorites from the final frontier included the “Exploration Set,” the Enterprise bridge diorama, and the Spock (with snakes) model. Though I never successfully completed the latter, I did build the version of that kit retooled to tie into the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with the three-headed snake removed and Spock’s uniform now made to resemble his ensemble from the film rather than the original TV series. Yeah, it didn’t really hit home the way the original version did.

And, of course, there was the Enterprise itself.

As a kid, I can remember building the bridge model twice. Same with the Exploration Set (both sets became casualties of playing outside…damn those things were fragile), but the Enterprise? Probably a half-dozen times, and then a couple more later on.

That Enterprise model was created by a Michigan-based company, Aluminum Model Toys or “AMT.” It was created and first released in June of 1967, just a couple of months after the last new episode of Star Trek‘s first season aired on NBC. It’s been around pretty much since then. As years passed, AMT’s Star Trek line expanded beyond the original series to include models from the feature films and spin-off television series. Along the way, the Enterprise model was released and re-released who-really-knows-for-sure how many times over. It was even updated (addressing some long-standing structural and accuracy issues) and released to pretty decent fanfare in 2016 as part of commemorating the original TV series’ 50th anniversary, and was re-issued yet again just last year in time to celebrate the original series’ 55th birthday.

I want this tattooed on my thigh.

And now, 2022 marks the model’s own version of that latter milestone.

Related: Tuesday Trekkin’: The original AMT Star Trek models

Author and one-time NASA chief historian Glen E. Swanson wrote a wonderful article about the original AMT Enterprise model for a 2021 issue of Michigan History magazine. I heard about the magazine and Mr. Swanson’s article through the Facebook/Star Trek grapevine and it was enough for me to purchase a physical copy from the MH website.

To celebrate the 55th anniversary of the model as well as AMT’s enduring connection to Star Trek, Mr. Swanson penned a series of new essays, drawing inspiration from his original article. In addition to hosting these on a site he maintains, Liftoffworks.com, the essays are also being shared on CultTVman, the absolutely off-the-charts awesome website devoted to all things science fiction and monster models. Seriously, if you are at all interested in this topic, you need to bookmark this site. The sheer width and breadth of essays, build walk-throughs, reviews, and other information about models old and new is – in my mind, at least – unmatched. Plus, I don’t mind saying they’ve managed to separate me from more than a bit of my money over the years. You can read all of Mr. Swanson’s Enterprise essays by following this link:

CultTVman.com: AMT’s Enterprise at 55

AMT Enterprise model. Photo credit: National Air and Space Museum

Like a lot of people, building this particular model fired my imagination as a young kid. It fueled an interest in the original series that went beyond just watching those reruns every day after school. Having my very own Enterprise — along with those super groovy Mego action figures — drove me to create my own adventures for Kirk and the gang. It’s not at all a stretch for me to draw a line from those childhood imaginings to the Star Trek stories I now get to write as an alleged adult.

I don’t know about anyone else, but reading all this stuff and seeing the pictures of different people building and enjoying their models makes me want to break out the tools, glue, and paints and see what sort of trouble I can cause.