Yes! Another puppet post! This one is about a TV show that debuted in 1961 called Supercar. Supercar was produced by Gerry Anderson who, with his team of puppeteers and model builders, would later create Thunderbirds. Like Thunderbirds (1964) and Four Feather Falls (1960), Supercar utilized Anderson’s signature “Supermarionation”.
Supermarionation used marionettes suspended and controlled by thin wires. The fine metal filaments doubled as both suspension-control wires for puppet movement, and as electrical cables that took the control signals to the electronic components concealed in the marionettes’ heads. The heads contained solenoid motors that created the synchronised mouth movements for dialog and other functions. The voice synchronisation was achieved by using a specially designed audio filter which was actuated by the signal from the pre-recorded tapes of the voice actors; this filter would convert the signal into a series of pulses which then travelled down the wire to the solenoids controlling the puppet’s lips, creating lip movements that were precisely synchronised with the dialogue.
The one flaw in the system was that its simulation of walking was rather ridiculous looking. This weakness was likely the inspiration for a show where the hero spent most of his time sitting in a car. The hero is pilot Mike Mercury who lives in a secret base in Nevada with two scientists (Prof. Popkiss and Dr. Beaker), an orphan boy (Jimmy Gibson) and a weird monkey-like creature named Mitch.
The show aired on ITV in the UK and was syndicated to local channels in the US. The show spawned a comic strip in the British magazine TV Comics that outlasted the show itself by two years. In the US Gold Key published a Supercar comic book that lasted four issues.
Here is episode one (in two parts) in which Mike and the Supercar rescue young Jimmy and his monkey Mitch. Even if you’re not inclined to watch the entire episode be sure to, at least, treat yourself to the opening titles and the theme song sung by Mike Sammes.
When I originally posted the photo on the left in a post about Disneyland’s forgotten ride, Flying Saucers I assumed that the Spaceman and Spacegirl were there only for the grand opening of the ride in 1961. I have since learned that the space couple were regular features in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland from the mid-Fifties to the late Sixties The couple performed the same function as those in Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Snow White costumes; greeting guests and posing for pictures with them. They would sometimes be put to work selling balloons. One of those guests in 1959 was Vice President Richard Nixon. Various “cast members” filled the spacesuits over about a decade. The suits themselves evolved only a little over the years.
A little back story is necessary to really appreciate this 1961 MAD magazine parody by Wally Wood of Walt Kelly‘s Pogo comic strip. Kelly was drawing comic book adaptations of the Little Rascal films for Dell in the early 1940s when he came up with the idea for a comic built around southern swamp life. His first story appeared in Dell’s Animal Comics#1 and featured Albert the alligator, numerous other talking animals, and an eight-year-old black child named Bumbazine (Shown on the right). The only human in the strip, Bumbazine was portrayed as sweet, friendly and naïve, but Kelly felt awkward with racial stereotyping and soon retired Bumbazine with Animal Comics #12, replacing him with an equally innocent and naïve possum, Pogo. In 1949, Walt Kelly adapted the animal characters into the very popular daily comic strip, Pogo.
I’m unsure if Wally Wood is skewering Kelly here for replacing Bumbazine with a possum years earlier or just taking a pot-shot at Pogo‘s progressive cachet by implying a double standard in the segregation debate raging across America in the early Sixties.
The Superman comic strip ran in as many as 300 papers daily from 1939 to 1966. Readership at the peak of the strip’s popularity was over 20 million. In the early Sixties, storylines ran to about forty 3-panel daily strips. Although some famous comic book characters like Lex Luthor and Mister Mxyzptlk debuted in the strip, by 1961 the strip’s stories were being lifted from 3-year-old Superman comic books. The artwork was new and the scripts were tweaked to fit the storytelling conventions of a daily strip, but the plots were lifted wholesale from the comic book.
The story arc that ran from August 14, 1961 – September 16, 1961, was adapted from a story (“The Super-Luck of Badge 77″) in Superman #133 (Nov. 1959). In that story, Clark Kent’s boss, Perry White sends Clark undercover as a police officer. Otto Binder wrote the original story for the comic book but I don’t know if it was he who adapted it to the strip. I believe the artist is Wayne Boring. If not, I’m sure someone with a better eye will clue me in soon. Here are a few strips from that arc. If you want to know why badge 77 was so lucky, just turn the numbers upside-down to see whose initials are displayed.
There were several comic books in the early Sixties that included tales of both magic and science fiction, but the two genres were rarely combined into an individual story. An exception was the DC title House of Secrets which between 1959 and 1965 featured a magician named Mark Merlin. Mark Merlin was a supernatural sleuth (think Doctor Strange, except more sensibly dressed) who lived in a mansion he inherited from his stage magician uncle. The mansion was located on Mystery Hill and contained a vast collection of occult books and artifacts. Defying all expectations from an expert in the supernatural, Merlin would use these tools to battle extraterrestrial threats to Earth far more often than he used them to thwart villains with an occult bent. Along for the ride was Merlin’s beautiful blond secretary and girlfriend, Elsa Magusson.
Mark Merlin was created and drawn by Mort Meskin, however, as with My Greatest Adventure, the covers were all done by the prolific Dick Dillin. Here is the 1961 cover gallery for House of Secrets:
The magazine clipping on the left has been in my in box for a couple of months and until now I knew little more about the depicted mechanical man than what was in the attached text. Thanks to CyberneticZoo.com I not only discovered more details about this 50-year-old robot but also learned that it is on display in an Austrian museum.
The MM7 (not MM47 as identified in the clipping) was designed and built by Austrian scientist Clause Scholz in 1961 as a means of studying cybernetic movement. With its feedback stepping switches and visual receptors, the MM7 is regarded as the predecessor of today’s industrial robots. MM stands for “Maschinen Mensch” - mechanical man.
The MM7 is now on display at the Technical Museum of Vienna. It’s unclear whether the fiberglass exoskeleton was built without a back or if the back has been removed for display purposes. Regardless, its absence provides a fascinating peek into the workings of this incredible machine.
If you pick up a copy of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (1961) today it will likely be an edition illustrated with the wonderfully spastic drawings of Quentin Blake or pictures by a half dozen other artists who have taken a crack at the children’s classic over the last 50 years. When I was about 9 years old, my parents bought me a copy that was illustrated by an artist whose name I can no longer remember. Although that book was a treasured addition to my small bookshelf, I couldn’t help coveting an earlier edition of James and the Giant Peach found in my elementary school library. That edition had pictures that almost exactly matched those I created in my own head while reading the book. Four decades later I could still recreate in my head the pattern created by the seagulls as they lifted the giant peach into the air.
It’s ony recently that I decided to try to identify the illustrator and find out which edition of the book it was that had the great pictures. Turns out it was the first edition published by Knopf back in 1961. It’s fortunate that I didn’t own a first edition illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert when I was nine. In all likelihood I would probably have torn out the pictures and hung them on my wall. On the 50th anniversary of that first edition I’m going to do the next best thing (less destructive, too!) and post some of those illustrations here for all to enjoy.
You can quibble about the number of tails and legs all you want, but you can’t deny there is a resemblance between Jack Kirby‘s three-headed monster that appeared in Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 and Toho studios’ King Ghidorah who debuted in 1964. Some nerdly scholar should seriously explore how much (if any) cross-pollination there was between the Atlas/Marvel offices in Manhattan and the Toho studios in Tokyo.
Since I’m hardly a scholar nor very serious, I only have one question: Who needs Godzilla or Rodan for eradicating three-headed space dragons when you’ve got Mr. Fantastic?
In 1959, Air Force General Donald Flickinger and space medicine pioneer Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace II proposed that it would be more practical from an engineering standpoint to send women rather than men into space due to their lower body weights and oxygen requirements. Dismissed by the Air Force, NASA showed muted interest in the idea and encouraged Dr. Lovelace to create the Woman in Space Program which began medical and physiological testing of accomplished women aviators. The tests that these women underwent were identical to those used to test the original Mercury astronauts, with the addition of gynecological examinations. 13 of the 19 women tested passed the same strenuous physiological exams that only 18 of 32 men passed. Several of the 13 finalists pilots were further tested on a series of psychological exams that were similar to or, in some instances, more demanding than those given to male Mercury candidates.
Armed with these results, 12 female candidates were invited by NASA to begin astronaut training on September 17, 1961. Five days before they were to report to Pensacola, Florida for training, these women each received a telegram stating “Regret to advise you that arrangements at Pensacola cancelled. Probably will not be possible to carry out this part of the program.” It would be another 22 years before an American woman, Sally Ride would go into outer space, although the Soviets would send two women cosmonauts into orbit before then (Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982).
The thirteen women who passed the same physiological exams as the Mercury 7 astronauts were Jerrie Cobb, Bernice Steadman, Janey Hart, Jerri Truhill, Rhea Woltman, Sarah Ratley, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich , Myrtle Cagle, Irene Leverton, Gene Nora Jessen, Jean Hixson, and Wally Funk. Jan Dietrich and Marion Dietrich were twins and may have provided valuable comparative medical data if they had both had the opportunity to fly in space.
Jerrie Cobb and Janey Hart (wife of a US Senator) would champion the group’s cause before a Congressional committee hearing in 1962. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, officials from NASA, including astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter testified that women lacked interest in pursuing astronaut training and that few women were qualified. Cobb and Hart pointed out that most of the women astronaut candidates had more hours of flight time than the average of the Mercury 7 pilots and specifically more than John Glenn. Less uninformed was NASA’s claim that the prevailing social order did not accept women in the role of astronaut. On June 17, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova of the USSR became the first woman in space, removing the last motivation for pursuing the U.S. Woman in Space Program.
Audiences fifty years ago would have to wait a little closer to Halloween to see William Castle’s new horror spectacle, Mr. Sardonicus and it would hardly befit my moniker to give anything away before the anniversary of that film’s premiere on October 18. I can however show you the promotional materials that began to arrive at local movie theaters in September. I can imagine the grumblings of theater managers and protectionists over the prospect of polling the audience before showing the last reel.