Simply Lou: Science Fiction Favorites
article and illustration by Lou Davenport
Having had such a good time writing about “The Golden Age of Television” last month, I decided to write about TV shows from the 1960’s. There were so many that finally, I had to narrow it down to Science Fiction programs. Most of them were my favorites especially The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. My title comes straight from Rod Serling, creator and host of “The Twilight Zone. I improvised a bit of Captain Kirk at the end. And, I’ve added a few well known lines from TV commercials of the 60’s, just for fun!
“See the USA in a Chevrolet….”
The “Space Race” began in the late fifties and early sixties. The Cold War was raging, too. I was young, but I remember when Russia launched Sputnik. It sounded scary back then to think a satellite orbiting the earth was “watching us.” Then, Russia sent the first man into space. The United States had lost “being first” in the race, but, not long after, we would watch astronauts being launched from Cape Canaveral on TV sets brought into our classrooms. The launches got more and more ambitious and the astronauts became America’s heroes. Late one July night in 1968, I stayed up with my Mom to see the first man walk on the moon. (or did they?)
“Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Meyer Weiner…”
There was always the threat of nuclear attack lurking and I, too, felt frightened by that thought. I vividly remember how afraid everyone was during the Cuban Missle Crisis. We didn’t have a bomb shelter, in fact, I didn’t know of anyone having one in Bastrop, Louisiana. Even as young as I was, I was concerned. I do remember seeing a yellow and black Civil Defense Shelter sign on the outside wall of the post office. I wondered whether that would be where we would go if the worst ever happened.
“How about a nice Hawaiian PUNCH?”
Science Fiction TV shows were “signs of the times.” Some were thought provoking. Others were imaginative. Some were scary and others could be downright silly. Most were still shot in black and white. But, with all the frightening things going on in the world back then, they offered an escape.
“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are now in control of the transmission.” In 1963, if you had tuned in to “The Outer Limits,” that was the first thing you would have heard. Those words set the tone for a dark, moody, black and white television show that was at times downright creepy. Some episodes featured a monster, or an alien from some far away galaxy that was here to do us great harm or to bring us peace and goodwill. Other episodes pondered mysterious phenomenon from other worldly places. The special effects were typical of the time but scary enough for me! Many of the sets featured early computer-like contraptions along with a lot of buttons, blinking lights, knobs, levers and such. Outer Limits music was tense and threatening. I love to see all the mid-century fashions, architecture, room décor and cars now. At the end of each episode these words were spoken, “We now restore control back to you.”
“Take Sominex tonight and sleep….sleep….sleep”
“You are traveling through another dimension…a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind…Your next step…The Twilight Zone.” There were several different openings for The Twilight Zone, all read by Rod Serling in his distinctively cerebral sounding voice. The show premiered in 1959. As the words were read, the theme played and you knew you were about to watch something unusual. The Twilight Zone had a different style of storytelling than The Outer Limits.There were sometimes aliens or monsters but not always. The episodes involved some sort of problem solving in often whimsical or ironic ways. Each of the episodes gave you something to think about and I have never gotten tired of watching them. All of them still hold up even after all these years. A true classic!
“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is!”
Lost in Space came along in 1965 and lasted three seasons. I loved it when I first saw it, but, now, it is just downright “cheesey” and out dated. The original story line was to be about a family, such as Swiss Family Robinson, traveling to Alpha Centaur in their Jupiter 2 spaceship. There, they are to establish a colony to alleviate the earth’s overcrowded conditions. But, the Jupiter 2 is sabotaged by the vile Dr. Zachery Scott, who ends up as a stowaway. The ship goes off course, is nearly destroyed but just in the nick of time, everyone survives. Oh! The drama! The mission changes and the space travelers wander from place to place in the universe with the hope of one day returning to Earth. The best parts of the entire show were Dr. Scott and the robot arguing with each other and Will Robinson, the freckle-faced, precocious youngest kid being warned by the robot, “Warning Will Robinson! Warning!” Every week there was always a dramatic life and death situation that the Robinson Family managed to escape. But by the end of each show there was always an epic cliffhanger. You were told to “be back next week, same time, same channel.”
“How do you handle a hungry man? The Man Handler!”
“Space…the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.” In the year 1966, the crew of the Starship Enterprise with their captain, James Tiberius Kirk appeared in color on our television screens. This show was something different from the others! Each week, Capt. Kirk and the crew, Mr. Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov, would “boldly go where no man has ever gone before,” often at warp speed! All they needed to travel from the ship to another place was by standing inside the transporter and being de-materialized or “beamed.” When returning, they spoke into flip-open communicators and said, “Beam us up, Scotty!” There were force fields, phaser guns, advanced medical procedures, and all kinds of futuristic things. By today’s standards, the sets and special effects were strictly low budget and the acting was a bit “over the top.” But who really cared? It was great fun and who would have ever dreamed their five-year mission would keep going and going? I still love the original series best.
“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing…”
In 1967, The Invaders came on with these words, “Alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. One man, David Vincent, saw them as they took human form. He now has to convince others that the nightmare has already began.” The opening shot is of a flying saucer-like spaceship landing. Oh my, I would not miss this show! The poor guy! In each episode, he desperately tries to convince others of the imminent alien take over! Exactly where the aliens were from was never told and their appearance was not really revealed either. When an alien was killed, they would glow red, then turn to ashes. The easiest way to identify an alien inhabiting a human being was by looking at their unbending little finger! Nobody will believe poor David Vincent and the aliens just keep growing in number. He finally convinces a few important people to believe him and when the series ended, the aliens depart but, for how long? We may never know. My cousin Judi and I were convinced we saw a few aliens with those straight little fingers! The Invaders was great fun but also, exhausting!
“In the Valley of the Jolly…ho ho ho…Green Giant!”
An interesting thing I noticed about these shows was the number of actors that were starting their careers. There’s a young and handsome Robert Redford playing “The Angel of Death” on The Twilight Zone, as well as William Shatner seeing a “gremlin” on the wing of the plane on which he’s traveling. Young George Takai and Billy Mumy appeared in episodes as well. Robert Duvall turned up in two different Twilight Zones and on The Outer Limits. Before he was Mr. Spock on Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy appeared on The Outer Limits. Who knew Captain Kirk and Mr. Sulu would team up with him on the Starship Enterprise. (Leonard Nimoy, ended up on one of my favorite modern Sci-Fi shows, Fringe as William Bell, a mad scientist!) Billy Mumy became “Will Robinson” on Lost in Space. And we all know what happened to Robert Duvall, one of our most successful actors.
“Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t!”
Captain’s Log: Stardate: 1961.8 Mission completed for this installment of Simply Lou. Returning in July for further exploration. Proceeding at Warp I to Planet BayouLife, quadrant Monroe, Louisiana. Live long and prosper.