Happy 80th Birthday, Lee Majors!

The Six Million Dollar Man himself celebrates his 80th birthday today!

It’s been a bit since I saw him pop up anywhere. He looked great from the photos I saw from the set of Fuller House where he along with Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner guest-starred last year. They both still look great, and I hope I have 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.

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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!

April 9th, 1959: The Mercury Seven.

Ladies and gentlemen: Today we are introducing to you and to the world these seven men who have been selected to begin training for orbital space flight.

These men, the nation’s Project Mercury astronauts, are here after a long and perhaps unprecedented series of evaluations which told our medical consultants and scientists of their superb adaptability to their coming flight.”

April 9th, 1959 – 60 years ago today: America officially gets into the space race with Project Mercury.

Mercury7

(L-R: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom,
Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton)

They were to be America’s first guides to the stars. The right stuff, indeed.

Happy First Contact Day, Trekkies!

April 5th, 2063: We’re only 44 years from this most excellent of events, yo.

While we wait, we continue to look to the future with hope and excitement. After all, we know that this monumental meeting between humanity and intelligent beings from a world beyond our own will usher in a new era of peace, optimism, prosperity and collaborative spirit as the people of Earth take their first tentative steps into a larger universe.

first-contact

So, grab yourself the first Vulcan (or other non-terrestrial biological entity) you meet, wriggle to the left, wriggle to the right, and do the Ooby Dooby with all of your might. Let’s get this party started, all while living long and prospering in forthright, logical fashion, of course.

March 24-25, 1944: “The Great Escape.”

Seventy-five years ago, on the evening of March 24, 1944, the culmination of months of planning and preparation and the efforts of hundreds of men was put into motion as Allied prisoners of war launched the most daring escape attempt of the Second World War. The genesis and implementation of the scheme and its aftermath became the stuff of legend, earning it the quite appropriate moniker of “The Great Escape.”

Stalag Luft III, circa 1943.

Despite boasts by the German Luftwaffe that their prison camp, Stalag Luft III, was “escape proof,” history has shown that Allied soldiers and airmen incarcerated there made dozens of escape attempts over the course of the war. All would pale in comparison to the night of March 24th, however, when more than 200 POWs began the process of sneaking out through a tunnel they’d dug over the course of months (one of three, actually, along with a fourth tunnel connecting different buildings), leading out from their barracks to the forest just beyond the camp’s fences.

The escape plan’s scope was massive: clothing tailored so that prisoners could better blend with the civilian population, forged identity papers, maps, train schedules obtained from unwitting German soldiers, travel rations, and so much more factored into the mix. While making their way home or to friendly military forces was a hope carried by many, the primary goal was to spread across the countryside in a supreme effort to confound, confuse, and harass German military personnel, drawing them away from more pressing duties which in turn might expose vulnerabilities for Allied forces to exploit.

Circumstances dictated only 76 prisoners managed to get out before the effort was discovered in the early hours of March 25th, 1944. Of those, 73 were recaptured, 50 of whom were subsequently executed by the German Gestapo by order of Adolph Hitler himself, in direct violation of the Geneva Convention.

Upon learning of their comrades’ fate, prisoners at Stalag Luft III constructed a memorial to “the Fifty” which still resides at the camp’s former location, which is now a museum.

Those responsible for the murders and who survived the war–like so many other Nazis and sympathizers–were later hunted, and several were ultimately executed or imprisoned. The search for those responsible continued into the 1960s.

The details of the escape and its aftermath are the focus of the 1950 book The Great Escape. Written by Paul Brickhill, an Australian fighter pilot and himself a former POW of Stalag Luft III, the book brought this incredible story to the public’s attention and later served as the basis for the 1963 film of the same name. Despite the need to compress the timeline of events and create “amalgams” of characters in order to tell the story in such a limited block of time, the movie goes to great lengths to accurately depict the details of the escape itself. It’s a fine film and remains one of my all-time favorites, and yet still pales in comparison to the actual story of the “Great Escape,” the men who carried it out, and “the Fifty” who lost their lives as a result. It remains one of the most fascinating tales of the Second World War.

It’s William Shatner’s birthday, everybody!

Today we’re celebrating the 88th birthday of the Man himself. Captain Kirk, T.J. Hooker, Rescue 911 Guy, Denny Crane, Priceline Negotiator, and CAPTAIN JAMES TIBERIUS BY GOD KIRK.

:: ahem. ::

The one and only William Shatner: 88 years old, and still running circles around people half his age. I’ll have what he’s having.

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Happy Birthday, sir. May you enjoy many more.

Happy 55th anniverary to The Last Man On Earth!

“Another day to live through. Better get started.”


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At least some of you know that I rank Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend among my very favorite books. I read it for the first time when I was 11 or 12 after a chance discovery at a neighborhood library and was immediately hooked.

The story of Robert Neville, who believes he’s the lone survivor after a plague sweeps over humanity in the novel’s “far off” future of 1976 and turns most if not all people into “vampires,” is considered by many to be the first “modern vampire novel.” Additionally, there are those who’ll tell you it’s also a forerunner to the modern genre of “zombie” books, comics, films, and TV series. I long ago lost count of the number of times I reread this book just during my teenage years, and to this day it’s a story I still revisit on occasion when the mood strikes.

In addition to serving as inspiration or just flat out being ripped off for other books, comics, films, and whatnot in the decades since its publication, I Am Legend has itself been “officially” adapted for film three times: 1964’s The Last Man On Earth starring Vincent Price, 1971’s The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, and 2007’s I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Also in 2007, The Asylum, the direct-to-home video powerhouse, released an “unauthorized” version they dubbed I Am Omega which they hoped would cash in on the hype surrounding the Will Smith movie.

But hey! Only one of those flicks is celebrating its 55th birthday today, and that’s why we’re here.

Released on this date in 1964, The Last Man On Earth is, so far as I’m concerned, the most faithful adaptation of Matheson’s novel. This, despite Matheson himself not being satisfied with the finished product even though he helped with the screenplay. Produced on a very low budget and filmed in Italy, the film does deviate from the book in several respects, such as Neville being named “Robert Morgan,” and his occupation being changed to that of a scientist. Fans of the novel know that Neville begins the book as a worker at some kind of plant, largely ignorant of things like biology or viruses and related subjects, and much of the story involves him teaching himself these things so he can understand how the plague came to be and (later) to see whether a cure can be found.

Morgan’s encounter with a seemingly uninfected woman, Ruth, is the same in the broad strokes, including her real reason for crossing his path and that she’s been sent as a spy by a group of vampires who’ve learned to live with the plague and control its effects so that they can attempt rebuilding society. The movie’s ending also amps up action of the final confrontation with Morgan/Neville and the vampires as well as how said fight ends up playing out.

These differences work well enough for the film’s version of the story, though the production’s limited budget definitely shows around the edges so far as casting and production design. What does work is thanks largely to the presence of Vincent Price, one of the great genre actors of his generation. He seems miscast here, despite providing a solid if generally subdued performance. Regardless, The Last Man On Earth still feels right at home with other favorite 1950s science fiction and horror movies.

When I was a kid, the film was one of those which would pop up on Saturday afternoons on the local UHF TV channel, which is how I discovered and came to love so many great science fiction and monster movies of the 1950s and 60s. It’s conceivable I’m the only person I know who cared enough to even buy the movie on DVD when it was released by MGM in 2006. I guess it’s because I found it during that “golden age” of childhood fandom that I’m more forgiving of it than I am The Omega Man and the 2007 I Am Legend. Maybe one of these days we’ll get a proper, honest to goodness adaptation but until then? The Last Man On Earth will have to do.

Or, we could all just go and read the book again.

February 1, 2003: Columbia.

Sixteen years ago this morning, the Space Shuttle Columbia, returning to Earth after a successful 16-day mission, broke apart during re-entry and disintegrated, killing its seven-member crew.

I spent the rest of that afternoon and the ensuing days watching the news coverage as new information came to light, and possible explanations and causes for the disaster began to emerge. To this day, it’s hard to believe that something so seemingly simple as a few damaged heat tiles could wreak such unchecked destruction.

On the other hand, the tragedy served to reinforce the harsh reality of the incredible dangers inherent in manned space flight, and that nothing about it is “simple” or “routine.” I did and still believe that our exploration of space is a worthy and necessary endeavor, and I hope that the sacrifices made by men and women such as Columbia‘s crew always will be heeded when taking our next small steps and giant leaps.

Generations from now, when the reach of human civilization is extended throughout the solar system, people will still come to this place to learn about and pay their respects to our heroic Columbia astronauts. They will look at the astronauts’ memorial and then they will turn their gaze to the skies, their hearts filled with gratitude for these seven brave explorers who helped blaze our trail to the stars.

– Sean O’Keefe, NASA Administrator, Arlington National Cemetery, February 2nd, 2004.

 (l-r, blue shirts): David Brown, William McCool, Michael Anderson.
(l-r, red shirts): Kalpana Chawla, Rick D. Husband, Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Ilan Ramon

 

Where never lark or even eagle flew.

73 seconds after launch on a particularly cold Florida morning 33 years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

On March 21st, 1987, a permanent marker paying tribute to the crew was placed at Arlington National Cemetery. The marker’s face features likenesses of the crew and the following dedication:

In Grateful
and Loving Tribute
To the Brave Crew
of the United States
Space Shuttle Challenger
28 January 1986

Inscribed on the back of the marker is this poem:

High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings,
sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun split clouds – and done a hundred things
you have not dreamed of
wheeled and soared and swung
high in the sunlit silence hov’ring there.
I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
where never lark or even eagle flew
and while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space
put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

– John Gillepie Magee, Jr.

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L-R: Ellison S. Onizuka, Michael J. Smith, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Francis R. Scobee, Gregory B. Jarvis, Ronald E. McNair, Judith A. Resnik

God speed to the crew of Apollo 1.

Each year, January 27th marks the beginning of a somber week of remembrance for NASA.

On the evening of this date in 1967 while conducting a routine test of their spacecraft’s power systems, astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White, and Roger B. Chafee were killed when a fire broke out inside the Apollo 1 capsule.

Grissom had been with NASA almost from the beginning, flying missions for both the Mercury and Gemini programs, and White also was a Gemini veteran. The Apollo 1 flight was to be Chaffee’s first space mission.

Their sacrifice, though tragic, ultimately played a monumental role in NASA’s effort toward bettering the machines which soon would fly to the Moon, and ensuring the safety of the men who would take them there.

apollo1-crew

(L-R: Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee)

 IN MEMORY
OF
THOSE WHO MADE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
SO OTHERS COULD REACH THE STARS

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA
(A ROUGH ROAD LEADS TO THE STARS)

GOD SPEED TO THE CREW
OF
APOLLO 1

Happy Birthday, Gene Coon.

Today would’ve marked the 95th birthday of writer, producer, and novelist Gene L. Coon.

Serving as a Marine during World War II and the Korean War, Coon would later channel his experiences into a pair of novels, Meanwhile, Back at the Front, and The Short End (later retitled The Short End of the Stick). Both are books you might shelve next to such irreverent tomes as Richard Hooker’s MASH, Dean Koontz’s Hanging On (written before he was *Dean Koontz*) and even Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

Eventually making his way to Hollywood, Coon wrote scripts for a number of popular shows of the 1950s and 1960s such as Dragnet, Maverick, Bonanza, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Wild Wild West, and Wagon Train, and is also acknowledged for pitching the idea for what would become The Munsters. In the early 1970s, he wrote for shows like Kung Fu and The Streets of San Francisco, and produced the Robert Wagner series It Takes a Thief.

Somewhere in the middle of all of that, between 1966 and 1968, Coon was also one of the creative forces behind the original Star Trek.

GeneCoonWorking alongside series creator Gene Roddenberry as well as producers Herb Solow and Bob Justman and writer Dorothy Fontana, Coon was one of the show’s great influential voices. In addition to being a prolific writer who could turn out scripts in machine-like fashion (Bob Justman once called him “the fastest typewriter in the West”), he’s also credited with introducing concepts to the series such as the Klingons and the Federation’s Prime Directive, the genetically enhanced Khan Noonien Singh, and warp drive pioneer Zefram Cochrane to name some prominent examples, all of which continue to inform and guide Star Trek storytelling to this day. Some of my favorite Trek scripts, like “Space Seed,” “A Taste of Armageddon,” “The Devil In the Dark,” and (of course!) “Arena” sprang from Gene Coon’s imagination. Hell, I even have a soft spot for “Spock’s Brain.”

After Star Trek, he would partner again with Roddenberry as a co-writer for the TV film The Questor Tapes, and also was a co-writer for another Roddenberry concept that never went to series, Genesis II.

Coon died in 1973, never getting the chance to see what became of the show he helped shape and nurture. It’s unfortunate that his contributions seem to go overlooked except for the show’s most devoted fans, because there can be no denying Gene Coon’s impact not just on the original series but also the massive entertainment franchise Star Trek eventually became.