Friday, June 18, 2010

Voltron Creator Peter Keefe Passes On

Peter Keefe, executive producer of the animated series Voltron, passed on May 27 at the age of 59. The cause was throat cancer.

Peter Keefe was born on November 16, 1912 in Rochester, New York. His mother was Anne Keefe,  a radio personality on St. Louis station KMOX. He started his career in television at TV station KPLR in St. Louis. In 1983, he went to work for World Event Productions (a company founded by Ted Koplar, the son of KPLR's founder, Harold Koplar), where he produced documentaries. It was in 1983 that Mr. Keefe encountered the series Hyakujūō Goraion (Beast King GoLion) and Kantai Dairagā Fifutīn (Armoured Fleet Dairugger XV), two series which were similar insofar as they featured robots who were created when several spaceships combined, at a merchandising convention in Japan. Mr. Keefe bought the rights to the two anime, then used them to create the syndicated cartoon Voltron. Voltron debuted in the United States in 1984 and became the number one rated children's show in syndication. The show was so successful that once the animators ran out of footage from Hyakujūō Goraion and Kantai Dairagā Fifutīn that Mr. Keefe directed them in creating new Voltron episodes. Voltron ran for three seasons and produced the spinoff projects Voltron: Fleet of Doom (1986 television special), Voltron: The Third Dimension (1998 computer animated series), and Voltron Force (2010, new animated series set to debut on Nicktoons).

Peter Keefe followed up Voltron in 1987 with Sabre Rider and the Star Sheriffs, freely adapted from the 1984 anime Seijūshi Bisumaruk (Star Musketeer Bismark). In 1988 he produced the animated series Denver, the Last Dinosaur. From 1990 to 1992 Mr. Keefe produced the series Widget, one of the earliest children's cartoons with an environmentalist theme.  His final series were Twinkle, the Dream Being and The Mr. Bogus Show, both debuted in 1993.

In 2001 Peter Keefe produced the animated television special Nine Dog Christmas. He also wrote an episode of Tales From the Darkside, "Let the Games Begin," which aired in 1987.

Peter Keefe is a pivotal figure in the history of anime in the United States. Following the series Speed Racer and Marine Boy in the Sixties, anime was virtually unseen in the United States.Battle of the Planets (adapted from Gatchaman) and Star Blazers (adapted from Uchū Senkan Yamato) both debuted in the United States in the late Seventies, but had little impact. It was then left to the series Voltron, debuting Stateside in 1984, and Robotech, debuting a few months later in 1985 in the United States, to bring anime back to the attention of the American public. In this way Voltron paved the way for many of the anime series and movies which would make their way to the United States in the Sixties and Seventies. In its own way, Voltron readied American audiences not simply for Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon, but Akira and Howl's Moving Castle as well.

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