Friday, September 8, 2023

The 50th Anniversary of Star Trek: The Animated Series

The Saturday morning cartoon Star Trek, now known as Star Trek: The Animated Series, debuted fifty years ago today on NBC, on September 8 1973. Star Trek: The Animated Series was unusual for a Saturday morning cartoon based on a prime time television series in two ways. First, the original show's creator (Gene Roddenberry) served as an executive producer and had near total control over its production. Second,  most of the original cast returned to voice their characters. Another thing that set it apart was the sophistication of its writing, which was such that it would appeal more to teenagers and adults than very young children. Star Trek: The Animated Series was produced in part by Filmation, an animation company that had already made its name with adaptations of DC Comics characters (The Adventures of Superman, The Superman/Aquaman Hour, and so on) and Archie of Archie Comics fame.

The origins of Star Trek: The Animated Series go back to 1969, when the original Star Trek was in its third season on NBC. According to Lou Scheimer in the book he co-wrote with Andy Mangels, Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, Filmation worked with Philip Mayer, the director of special programming for Filmation, and animator Don Christensen in developing a proposed animated series. Don Christensen had worked for a variety of animation studios, including Warner Bros., Disney, and DePatie-Freleng. He had written two episodes of Filmation's Saturday morning cartoon Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1967. The proposed series would have seen the original crew of the Enterprise training teenagers aboard a ship called the Excalibur. The new, teenage characters would have included a young Vulcan named Steve, an African American named Bob, a Chinese youth named Stick, and others. In the end, nothing really came of the project.

It was in 1972 that Filmation finally made a deal with Paramount to produce an animated Star Trek series (according to Lou Scheimer in Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, Star Trek story editor D. C. Fontana said it was February 14 1972). Star Trek: The Animated Series was guaranteed two seasons with 22 episode spread out over those seasons. At the time Paramount and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry were not getting along, and the studio could not do it without Mr. Roddenberry's involvement. With Paramount and Gene Roddenberry not getting along at the time, Lou Scheimer found himself talking to the two different parties to make the deal. Ultimately, they reached a deal where Paramount had a third of the series, Gene Roddenberry had a third of the series, and Filmation had a third of the series.

The 1972-1973 season had been disastrous for NBC with regards to their Saturday morning line-up. The network wound up cancelling most of their new shows from that season.. Since its cancellation in 1969, Star Trek had proven to be a hit in syndication and had developed a rather sizeable following. Desperate for a hit on Saturday morning, NBC then wanted Star Trek: The Animated Series very badly, so badly that the network allowed Gene Roddenberry, Filmation, and Paramount total creative control over the show. From the beginning, it was decided that Star Trek: The Animated Series would not be a children's show.

Gene Roddenberry was not the only person from the original show to work on Star Trek: The Animated Series. Filmation hired D.C. Fontana, who been story editor on the original series, to serve as story editor on Star Trek: The Animated Series. D.C. Fontana convinced many of the writers on the original show to write for the new series. Samuel A. Peeples, who had written the second pilot of Star Trek ("Where No Man Has Gone Before") also wrote the first episode of the animated series, "Beyond the Farthest Star." David Gerrold revived a script, "More Tribbles, More Troubles," that was to serve as a sequel to his episode "The Trouble With Tribbles," which had gone unproduced during the original series's third season. Stephen Kandel, creator of con man Harry Mudd, wrote the episode "Mudd's Passion." D.C. Fontana even brought respected science fiction writer Larry Niven on board to write an episode.

Most of the original cast also reunited for Star Trek: The Animated Series, although it could have turned out otherwise. To keep costs down, Filmation originally planned to cut the characters of Sulu and Uhura It was Leonard Nimoy, who was returning as Spock, who pointed out that they would be excluding the two minority actors from the show. In Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, Lou Scheimer wrote,"We were horrified at our unintended slight, made all the worse because we were the one studio who had been championing diversity in its output." The character of Ensign Chekov was cut from the show, which meant Walter Koenig would not be part of the series.  Largely due to Leonard Nimoy, Filmation did buy a script from Mr. Koenig, "The Infinite Vulcan."

Two new characters would be added to Star Trek: The Animated Series. Lt. Arex, who was voiced by James Doohan, was an Edosian, a tripedal species who took Chekov's place as navigator. Lt. M'ress was a Caitian, a feline humanoid species. She served as a communications officer on the Enterprise. She was voiced by Majel Barrett. Majel Barrett also provided the voice for the ship's computer. Both James Doohan and Majel Barrett would voice various other incidental characters throughout the series.

Not only did original regular cast members return from the original series, but Star Trek: The Animated Series also featured guest stars from the original show. Mark Lenard once more played Spock's father Sarek in "Yesteryear." Stanley Adams reprised his role from "The Trouble with Tribbles," Cyrano Jones, in "More Tribbles, More Troubles." Roger C. Carmel returned as con man Harcourt Fenton Mudd in "Mudd's Passion."

Star Trek: The Animated Series had a huge budget for a Saturday morning cartoon at the time. It cost $75,000 per episode. While much of the budget went to the cast, a good deal of it also went into the animation. Don Christensen, who had worked on Filmation's earlier proposed Star Trek series, served as art director on the show. Bob Kline, Herb Hazelton, and George Goode, who all worked on other Filmation shows as well, did much of the design work on Star Trek: The Animated Series.

Star Trek: The Animated Series did not use the theme Alexander Courage had written for the original series. Instead, it used a theme credited to Yvette Blais and Jeff Michael, but was actually written entirely by Filmation's resident composer Ray Ellis. He used the pseudonym "Yvette Blais"due to problems with royalties, while "Jeff Michael" was producer and Filmation co-founder Norm Prescott, who received a cut of the royalties for all music composed for Filmation productions. According to Star Trek writer David Gerrold, the original theme was not used due to a disagreement between Alexander Courage and Gene Roddenberry. Mr. Roddenberry had added lyrics to the original theme, which effectively cut Mr. Courage's residuals for it in half.

Star Trek: The Animated Series debuted on September 8 1973. By total coincidence, this was the date that Star Trek: The Original Series debuted in 1966. The show was well received by critics. It won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Entertainment Children's Show in both 1974 and 1975. Star Trek: The Animated Series did relatively well in the ratings with regards to teenagers and adults. Unfortunately, it did not do particularly well with younger children, the audience that mattered the most to advertisers with regards to Saturday morning television in the Seventies. Star Trek: The Animated Series would be cancelled following its second season.

At the time it should not have been surprising that Star Trek would be revived as a Saturday morning cartoon. During the 1973-1974 season there was a cycle which saw the debuts of several cartoons based on prime time, live action shows. Lassie's Rescue Rangers was inspired by both the Lassie movies and the long running TV show. My Favorite Martians (which, like Star Trek, was produced by Filmation) was based on the classic sitcom My Favorite Martian. Jeannie was very loosely based on the classic sitcom  I Dream of Jeannie. Emergency +4 was based on Emergency!, which was then still on the air. Given this cycle towards Saturday morning cartoons based on prime time shows, it would have perhaps been more surprising if Star Trek has not been adapted as a Saturday morning cartoon.

Star Trek: The Animated Series would not produce a lot in the way of merchandising. Filmation sold animation cels of the series. A series of novelizations of the show's episodes by Alan Dean Foster would also be published under the title Star Trek Logs. A public service announcement for the non-profit group Keep America Beautiful was produced featuring voices of the cast and animation by Filmation. It aired on Saturday mornings while Star Trek: The Animated Series was on the air.

While Star Trek: The Animated Series was well-loved by many fans, it was following the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation that Gene Roddenberry decided Star Trek: The Animated Series was no longer canon. David Gerrold placed much of the blame for Star Trek: The Animated Series no longer being canon on Richard Arnold, a research consultant Mr. Roddenberry appointed "Star Trek archivist. Regardless, even after Gene Roddenberry decided it was no longer canon., Star Trek: The Animated Series introduced several concepts that would continue to be accepted  It was first on Star Trek: The Animated Series that it was established that James Kirk's middle initial, "T," stands for "Tiberius." The episode "The Practical Joker" introduced what would be known as the Holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation and subsequent Star Trek shows, but was called a "Rec Room" in the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode.  The Vulcan city ShiKahr, which first appeared in the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "Yesteryear," also became an established part of Star Trek lore.

Since the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991 and Richard Arnold's departure, it would seem that Star Trek: The Animated Series, or at least most of the show, is once more regarded as canon. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine made several references to the animated series. In the episode "Once More into the Breech," Klingon officer Kor refers to his ship as the Klothos, the same name it had in the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "Time Trap." The episode "Broken Link" includes a reference to Edosians (Arex's species). When the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Ultimate Computer" was remastered, the ship Woden was redone as a grain carrier of the sort that appeared in the animated series's episode "More Tribbles, More Troubles." The character of Robert April, a recurring character on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, first appeared on Star Trek: The Animated Episode in "The Counter-Clock Incident."

Perhaps no show has made as much use of concepts from Star Trek: The Animated Series as its fellow animated series, Star Trek: Lower Decks. Indeed, the chief medical officer on the Cerritos, T'Ana, is a Caitian just as M'Ress was. The episode ""Kayshon, His Eyes Open" includes the skeleton of the giant clone of Spock from the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Infinite Vulcan." The show has also featured an Edosian. The aforementioned instances are not the only times concepts from Star Trek: The Animated Series have appeared in subsequent Star Trek projects.

Regardless of whether Star Trek: The Animated Series is canon or not, the show would have a lasting impact. It was the first new Star Trek project since the cancellation of the original series, six years before the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). In this respect, it kept the franchise alive at a time when a live-action Star Trek project seemed unlikely.

Perhaps more importantly, Star Trek: The Animated Series would lead to the creation of new Star Trek fans. Prior to Star Trek: The Animated Series, I had seen the occasional Star Trek rerun on those rare days when we could pick up the television stations from St. Louis and Kanas City, so that Star Trek: The Animated Series was my first prolonged exposure to the franchise. By the time the show had ended, I was hooked. When KRCG in Jefferson City started rerunning the original series on Saturday nights, I was already a Star Trek fan. I am sure I am not alone in my experience, and that there are others who became Star Trek fans because of the animated series.

Star Trek: The Animated Series was hardly perfect. Being a Saturday morning cartoon, the animation could be extremely limited. The occasional error crept through to finished episodes. That having been said, the backgrounds on the show could be amazing and the scripts were top notch. In particular, "Yesteryear," by D.C. Fontana, ranks among the best episodes of any Star Trek series in my book. For much of its history, Star Trek: The Animated Series has been overlooked among the shows in the franchise. It is time that it was recognised for the remarkable achievement it was.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

"Better By You, Better Than Me" by Spooky Tooth

Many of the obituaries following Gary Wright's recent death focused primarily upon his solo career, particularly his hit single "Dream Weaver." What these obituaries overlooked was his work with Spooky Tooth many years earlier. The songs Gary Wright wrote or co-wrote for Spooky Tooth feature the same poeticism found in his later solo work. Possibly my favourite Spooky Tooth song is "Better By You, Better Than Me." The song appears on Spooky Tooth's second album, Spooky Two, released in March 1969.

"Better By Me, Better Than You" would later be covered by Judas Priest in 1978. It was released as a single and appeared on their album Stained Class. It was in 1985, during the moral panic over backmasking that Judas Priest's cover of the song was at the centre of a lawsuit alleging that two teenagers killed themselves due to subliminal messages on the song. The case was eventually dismissed the case, with the judge stating that the "...plaintiffs lost this case because they failed to prove that defendants intentionally placed subliminal messages on the album and that those messages were a cause of the suicide."

In addition to Judas Priest, "Better By Me, Better Than You" was also covered by Armageddon in 1970, Gunhill in 19975 and Blues Karloff in 2014.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Gary Wright Passes On

Gary Wright, the singer, songwriter, and keyboardist known for his work both with the band Spooky Tooth and as a solo artist, died on September 4 2023 at the age of 80.

Gary Wright was born on April 26 1943 in Cresskill, New Jersey. As a child actor he appeared on television on the TV show Captain Video and His Video Rangers. He also appeared in TV and radio commercials. In 1954 he appeared on Broadway in a production of the play Fanny. He studied both piano and organ. While attending Tenafly High School in Tenafly, New Jersey, he was a member of various rock bands. It was in 1959 that he made his first professional recording along with Billy Markle as the duo Gary & Billy. The single "Working After School" was released in 1960, but did not chart.

Concerned about the instability of a music career, Gary Wright decided to become a physician. He studied medicine at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, then New York University and Downstate Medical College in Brooklyn. He went to the Free University of Berlin in West Germany to complete his medical studies. The whole time he continued to play in bands. It was while he was in Berlin that he toured with a band called The New York Times.

The New York Times was touring with Traffic when Gary Wright met Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, the label to which Traffic belonged. Chris Blackwell persuaded Gary Wright to go to London. It was in London that Gary Wright formed Spooky Tooth with  pianist Mike Harrison and drummer Mike Kellie. Spooky Tooth was signed to Island Records and their first album, It's All About, was released in June 1968. Their second and third albums, Spooky Two and Ceremony, were released the following year. Gary Wright left Spooky Tooth following Ceremony.

It was in 1970 that he signed with A&M Records to pursue a solo career. His first solo album, Extraction, was released that same year. Gary Wright also performed on George Harrison's solo album, All Things Must Pass. It was following his second solo album that Gary Wright reformed Spooky Tooth with Mike Harrison. Gary Wright would record three albums with the newly formed Spooky Tooth, You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw, Witness, and The Mirror. Gary Wright and Mike Harrison also worked on the duo Splinter's debut album The Place I Love.

Following the break-up of Spooky Tooth, Gary Wright signed with Warner Bros. Records as a solo artist and recorded the album The Dream Weaver. The album proved to be a hit and peaked at no. 7 on the Billboard album chart. The single "Dream Weaver" from the album went to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single "Love is Alive," from the same album, also went to no. 2 on the chart. His next album, The Light of Smiles, peaked at no. 23 on the Billboard album chart. In total, Gary Wright released twelve studio albums from 1970 to 2010. His 1979 single "Really Wanna Know You" went to no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Gary Wright also wrote soundtracks for films, including Benjamin (1972), Endanger Species (1982), and Feuer und Eis (1986). He reunited with Spooky Tooth in 2004 and their DVD/CD Normal Poets--Live in Germany was released in 2007. In 2008 he toured with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.  He joined up with Spooky Tooth in 2009 for a series of concerts in London celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Island Records. He toured again with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band in 2010 and 2011.

Gary Wright was a very talented songwriter. While best known for his hit "Dream Weaver," he composed many other songs that would have a lasting impact. Some of the songs he wrote for Spooky Tooth, such as "Sunshine Help Me," "That Was Only Yesterday," and "Better By You, Better Than Me," would be covered by other artists. His solo hits "Dream Weaver," "Love is Alive," and "Really Wanna Know You" remain popular to this day. He was also one of the most gifted keyboardists in rock music. He could play multiple styles, ranging from bluesy piano to more classical sounding keyboards. He was also among the first rock artists to use a portable keyboard, utilising the instrument as early as the mid-Seventies. As if being a talented keyboardist wasn't enough, Gary Wright also had a powerful voice. His vocals could be by turns dreamy or soulful. Gary Wright was an incredible talent, and he will continue to have an influence on rock music for years and years to come.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Godspeed Gayle Hunnicutt

Gayle Hunnicutt, who starred in such movies as Marlowe (1969) and was a regular on Dallas, died on August 31 2023 at the age of 80.

Gayle Hunnicutt was born on February 6 1943 in Fort Worth, Texas. She attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a scholarship, where she studied English and theatre. A Warner Brows. talent scout spotted her in a production at UCLA. She made her television debut in 1966 in an episode of the short-lived comedy Mister Roberts. That same year she appeared in the movie The Wild Angels. In the Sixties she guest starred on such TV shows as The Beverly Hillbillies; Hey, Landlord; Love on a Rooftop; and Get Smart. She appeared in the movies P.J. (1967), Eye of the Cat (1969), Marlowe (1969), Fragment of Fear (1970), and Freelance (1970).

In the Seventies Gayle Hunnicutt appeared in the television mini-series The Golden Bowl, Fall of Eagles, L'homme sans visage, A Man Called Intrepid, The Martian Chronicles, and Fantômas. She guest starred on the TV shows Love, American Style; ITV Saturday Night Theatre; Away from It All; Thriller; Affairs of the Heart; Switch; 2nd House; BBC Play of the Month; Return of The Saint; and The Love Boat. She appeared in the movies The Love Machine (1971), Running Scared (1972), Scorpio (1973), The Legend of Hell House (1973), Voices (1973), Nuits rogues (1974), The Spiral Staircase (1975), Una Magnum Special per Tony Sarita (1976), The Sell Out (1976), Once in Paris.. (1978), and Flashpoint Africa (1980).

From 1989 to 1991 Gaye Hunnicutt had a recurring role on the night-time soap opera Dallas. She guest starred on the TV shows Lady Killers; Matt Houston; Taxi; Fantasy Island; Philip Marlowe, Private Eye; Tales of the Unexpected; The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; and Lime Street. She appeared in the mini-series The First Olympics: Athens 1896, A Woman of Substance, and Dream West. She appeared in the TV movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The 15 Years Later Affair. She appeared in the movies Target (1985), Dream Lover (1986), Turnaround (1987), Zwei Frauen (1989), and Es ist nicht leicht, ein Gott zu sein (1989).

Gayle Hunnicutt continued to appear on Dallas until 1991. In the Nineties she guest starred on the shows Screen Two, Tales from the Crypt, and CI5: The New Professionals.

Gayle Hunnicutt was a very talented actress who played a variety of roles. Among her most notable roles on television was one of her earliest, her guest appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies episode "The Badger Game" and "The Badgers Return." She played con woman Emaline Fetty who attempted to con millionaire Jed Clampett out of money. On Dallas she played Vanessa Beaumont, an old flame of J.R. Ewing. In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia" she played none other than Irene Adler, the character that Sherlock Holmes always referred to as "the Woman." In the movie Marlowe she played Mavis Wald, a television actress who had a tryst with a mobster. In The Legend of Hell House she played the wife of a physicist hired to investigate Belasco House, an unusual mansion said to be haunted. In P.J. she played the mistress of a millionaire that the private eye of the title is hired to protect. Gayle Hunnicutt played a wide array of different roles. What is more, she did all of them well.