Category Archives: wphl

The Magic of Gerry Anderson

Yesterday while I was writing about the deaths and lives of Jack Klugman and Charles Durning, we lost someone who was definitely lesser known, but also much closer to my heart – producer Gerry Anderson. They say these things happen in threes. Let’s hope this is the cycle and we don’t lose anyone else.

Many of you probably don’t recognize the name Gerry Anderson and there are some of you who are mourning the loss of this great talent in genre television. He was a writer, director, producer, publisher, futurist, a television pioneer, the developer of Supermarionation, and a master of storytelling. However, all that said, you might just know him better by three specific words – “Thunderbirds are go!”

I first encountered Gerry Anderson, and his then wife and partner Sylvia, as a child of the 1970s. I have a very distinct memory of hearing about a new show coming on weekday afternoons on UHF channel 17, the TV announcer had said it was ‘cooler than “Ultra Man,”‘ so you know darned well I was glued in front of the folks’ black and white television when “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” premiered.

“Captain Scarlet” was a program created completely using marionettes and models, and it wasn’t stop motion or animation, it was film, and the puppets and machines were actually moving. To add to the fascination was the stunningly adult, startling violent story that went along with it. It was a spy drama with the earth defending itself against an evil alien race, the Mysterons, who had infiltrated mankind, and the hero who would save the day, Captain Scarlet, who had become indestructible.

It was awesome, and I was hooked. The only things that “Captain Scarlet” had going against it were my low tech TV (all the characters were color codenamed) and my own as yet non-mastery of spelling (I kept waiting for Mogera from the Toho film The Mysterians to show up). This was also around the time “Space: 1999” was hitting it big on prime time television, also, although unknown to me at the time, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, but in live action.

Anderson’s most famous creations are perhaps only peripherally known here in the United States, but in his native UK, everyone knows “The Thunderbirds.” Among his other work, both in live-action and in Supermarionation, include “Stingray,” “Supercar,” “UFO,” “Terrahawks,” “Space Precinct,” “Fireball XL5,” and “The Protectors,” among others. He and his wife also produced two “Thunderbirds” movies at the height of their popularity.

In recent years, Anderson produced a fully computer animated version of “Captain Scarlet” and consulted on the big budget live-action motion picture version of The Thunderbirds. The former did quite well in the UK, but the latter was pretty much a flop here. The beloved producer’s reputation was still untarnished.

Gerry Anderson passed away yesterday after a long battle with dementia brought on by Alzheimer’s disease. We have lost a creative star in the field of television, he will be missed.

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Lost Hits of the New Wave #13

“Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners

This song, and “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, is one of the reasons I started this “Lost Hits of the New Wave” project. It really bothered me how these two songs are usually what folks who weren’t there, think the new wave is all about. There was so much more, and so much that has been sadly forgotten. It’s not just “Safety Dance” and “Come On Eileen.”

“Come On Eileen” hit huge in the summer of 1982 in the United States, filling the number one spot in the charts between Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” Like most acts of the era, Dexy’s Midnight Runners had already had several hits in the UK. The group at this time, was led by Kevin Rowland, who would eventually take lead billing over the Runners, and also included the addition of a fiddle section called The Emerald Express.

The album “Too-Rye-Ay” also introduced a new look for the band, a kind of ragged gypsy farmer fashion that was unique at the time. I remember the first time I saw the music video for “Come On Eileen” was on “Dancin’ On Air,” and the host made much of asking the kids what they thought Dexy’s Midnight Runners looked like. One kid said he thought they were all shiny like ABC. Most were surprised.

“Come On Eileen” was followed up in the States by two more songs from the album that went nowhere, making “Eileen” a true one hit wonder. The Runners broke up after another album, multiple hits in the UK, and even attempted a couple reunions. Supposedly there is a new album in the works, with the latest release date June of 2012.

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RIP Peter Fernandez

Award winning actor, voice actor, author, lyricist, writer and director Peter Fernandez passed away Thursday after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 83.

Peter Fernandez was the guiding force behind the Americanization of such anime classics as “Speed Racer,” “Gigantor,” “Astro Boy” and “Star Blazers,” and also live action imports from Japan like “Ultraman,” “Space Giants,” “Mothra” and several of the Godzilla films from the 1960s. His early career was in radio on shows like “Gangbusters,” “Mr. District Attorney” and “Superman.”

More recently he had a small part in the big screen version of Speed Racer and a featured role in the newest incarnation of the animated series. Other recent work included “Kenny the Shark” and “Courage the Cowardly Dog.”

I had the opportunity to interview the man at the New York Comic Con a few years back and it’s one of my most cherished memories. I was nervous as hell but he was a very kind and generous, and understanding interviewee. Some of that interview is available here.

I have lost another huge chunk of my childhood, but I’m glad I was able to meet Mr. Fernandez, and at least tell him how much his work meant to me. He will be missed.

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Bill Webber Passes

Philadelphia radio and television legend Bill Webber passed away this weekend. He was scheduled for heart surgery but died before it could be done. He was 80.

Webber was a fixture on the Philadelphia media scene for over five decades, and never retired. He was a radio disc jockey, television pioneer, talk show host, kids show host, telethon emcee, announcer, nice guy, a giant of a man, and an industry legend. He served for years as an officer in the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1999. He worked in many, if not most of the media outlets in the Philadelphia area.

That would be enough, but on a personal level, I feel like I’ve lost a part of my childhood. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bill Webber doubled as Wee Willie Webber on local channel 17 on weekday afternoons as the host of their children’s programming. Bill Webber was the face that greeted me when I got home from school and filled in the commercial breaks during such life-shaping TV shows like “Speed Racer” and “Ultraman.”

That might sound silly, but when I met the man in person years later – thinner, older and sporting a goatee – Mr. Webber was thrilled to hear that he was remembered so fondly and insisted that I, then a grown man, call him Wee Willie and even imitated Ultraman’s Spacium Ray gesture at me as he walked away. A nice man, and a very cool man. He will be missed by many.

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