Irwin Allen was either the worst or the best producer of TV science fiction in the world, depending entirely upon your point of view.
Irwin Allen produced four of the best known science fiction series of all time through the sixties and early seventies – Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants. The first one started life as a movie starring Walter Pidgeon, the second two become kitsch movies in the 1990s and no-one’s had a go at the fourth one yet, but it is probably only a matter of time.
None of the series had any pretensions to great art or deep concepts, but, as Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin might say, “By Crikey, they were entertaining.”
Irwin Allen deserved the nickname “Mr. Entertainment,” if anybody did. He was born in New York in 1916. He was given no particular advantages as a child – he attended public schools and when on to study journalism and advertising at Columbia University. At the tender age of 22, he became editor of “Key” magazine in Hollywood, and within a year was working as the producer of a one-hour show for radio station KLAC. His reputation of a workaholic started to form as he wrote, narrated, produced and directed the show which ran without a break for more than a decade.
As television began to make inroads into the entertainment business, Allen took his imagination to the small screen and came up with America’s first celebrity panel game, Hollywood Merry Go Round, which ran for four years.
In his spare time – what spare time there was, anyway – Allen went on to run his own literary agency, which led in turn to him putting together ‘packages’ for motion pictures.
His first Oscar was for The Sea Around Us which starred Rachel Carson, and for which Allen wrote the screenplay and produced. His stock was high with the Hollywood studios, and he went on to produce and direct the circus flick The Big Circus. He switched studios to Twentieth Century Fox and produced his first Sci Fi-Fantasy movie The Lost World, starring Michael Rennie.
Small screen success
His next science fiction epic, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, starred Walter Pidgeon at the helm of a futuristic nuclear-powered submarine, the Seaview. The Van Allen belts which surround the Earth caught fire, and the Seaview is all that stands between the human race and extinction in a planet-wide slow cooker. But it led to a spin-off TV series, which saw the Seaview take on a variety of undersea adventures in more than 110 episodes from 1964 to 1968. Sadly, the series degenerated over the years until it became a parody of itself. (I vaguely remember a series of monsters which generated fear – one was called the fear monster. Anyway, once they’d run out of fear spiders and fear jelllyfish, they ended up with a fear phobia, which seemed something of a contradiction in terms). The series economically used, re-used and and re-used again stock special effects footage of the Seaview underway, surfacing, and diving, and so on – a tradition which later Irwin Allen productions (and indeed most other science fiction series) repeated.
1964 was a bumper year for Allen – another long-running series that debuted that year was Flipper, which also ran to 1968 and featured the Ricks family who lived and worked in a Florida marine reserve with a friendly pet dolphin, Flipper. The series – filmed entirely in colour – lived on for decades in syndication and is still a staple of cable nostalgia channels.
A year later, Allen came up with another hit series, this time in outer space. Lost in Space featured Dr. John Robinson and his wife, Maureen; their children, Judy, Penny, and Will; their pilot, Don; and their robot, imaginatively named “The Robot.” Dr. Zachary Smith stowed away, throwing their spaceship off course (hence the title) and they spent the next three years (recurring) trying to find their way home. Similar production values to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea ensured plenty of carrot monsters (which, curiously, often look like the previous series lobster men). I watched it as a child and thought it was a great. My little boy watched re-runs at the same age as I did and dismissed it as silly. That goes to show we were less sophisticated in the olden days. (Trivia fans note that when CBS was looking around for ideas for the series, they called in a producer from another studio to talk about his plans. They turned them down as being too cerebral. That producer’s name? Gene Roddenberry. Paramount/Viacom hasn’t done badly out of his Star Trek franchise, all things considered.)
The Time Tunnel was less successful, only running for thirty episodes. The premise of the series was great – two scientists taking part in a U.S. government project are accidentally flung back in time. Sadly, history repeated itself and the plots did too, and The Time Tunnel came to a dead end.
In Land of the Giants, a routine space flight spirals out of control and lands on what the crew think is Earth, only to find it is populated by huge human beings, and they are the size of dolls. The series was the same as the other three in many ways, but had a darker edge to it, with less sympathetic and stereotypical characters and a genuine air of menace from time to time. At least there were no carrot monsters. The series lasted from 1968 to 1970.
Back to the big screen
Irwin Allen’s astonishing career continued to bloom, cornering the market in disaster movies. The Poseidon Adventure was a world-wide megahit based (very loosely) on a Paul Gallico novel. The Towering Inferno starred the entire population of Hollywood in a burning building. The Swarm is, arguably, one of the worst movies of all time but features a constellation of A-list celebrities being attacked by killer bees. Irwin Allen continued to work on TV, but now mostly in Made-for-T.V. Movies such as Fire!, Flood!, and When Time Ran Out…
Time ran out for the Master of Disaster in 1991, when he suffered a heart attack and died. By then Irwin Allen was one of the best known names in Hollywood, with a string of hugely successful TV series and film productions to his credit.
So was he any good? No one could survive as long and as successfully in Hollywood without being good. Allen’s great talent was to take an idea and make it run, and run, and run. Sometimes, as in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the idea was stretched so thin it became invisible. Other shows, like Land of the Giants had genuine moments of well acted and well produced drama. Allen had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the way Hollywood worked. After all, very few people have worked in radio, TV, and film, as a writer, producer, and director. He had, in fact, done it all, and been a success at all of it. Whether you love his stuff or hate it, you have to admit he did what he did very well.
Movie Tens: James Dean
Even sixty years plus after his death actor James Dean continues to fascinate, here are ten facts you may not know about the iconic star.
James Dean was nominated for two posthumous Best Actor Oscars: In 1956, for East of Eden (he lost to Ernest Borgnine in Marty), and in 1957 for Giant (he lost to Yul Brynner in The King and I).
Jimmy was not speeding when he was killed on California’s Highway 466. (He was struck head-on by a Ford station wagon, driven by Donald Turnupseed, 23. ) Although Dean had received a speeding ticket an hour earlier, it has since been proven he was actually driving 60 to 65 mph when the accident occurred.
Jimmy was set to star in two films at the time of his death: The Left-Handed Gun: Billy the Kid’s Story and Somebody Up There Likes Me, about the life of boxer Rocky Graziano. Both roles were filled by Dean competitor Paul Newman.
Jimmy often referred to himself as “the little bastard,” a name he had painted on the back of his Porsche Spyder days before his death.
In November 1951, struggling actor Dean worked as an offscreen stunt tester on the N.Y.-based TV game show Beat the Clock.
Before his three starring film roles, Jimmy had bit parts in Fixed Bayonets, Sailor Beware and Has Anybody Seen My Gal?
Rumors have always run rampant that Jimmy had homosexual relationships. When asked about it, he answered enigmatically, “Well, I’m certainly not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.”
Jimmy’s famous red jacket from Rebel was purchased from Mattson’s department store on Hollywood Boulevard. Following his death, the store hiked the price on the jackets to a then exorbitant $22.95. Warner Bros. actually bought two of them for filming. Afterward, Jimmy gave one to his friend, composer Leonard Rosenman, who wore it until it fell apart. Nobody knows what happened to the other.
A week before his death, Jimmy ran into one of his favorite actors, Alec Guinness, at Hollywood’s Villa Capri. When an excited Dean showed Guinness his new Porsche Spyder, the British star begged him to get rid of it, saying Dean wouldn’t live long if he kept the car.
When Jimmy finally met his idol, Marlon Brando, at a party, he acted so strangely Brando told Leonard Rosenman that Jimmy needed to see a psychiatrist. Jimmy was already in therapy at the time.
Classic Movie Quotes: The Godfather – My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse
The Line: “My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
Who Said It: Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in the 1972 film The Godfather.
The Setup: Corleone relates the story of how his father, Mafia boss Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), got a singer released from a personal-services contract with a bandleader. After the bandleader turned down Don Corleone’s $10,000 check, Vito’s henchman held a gun to the bandleader’s head and “assured him either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.” The bandleader then released the vocalist and accepted a certified check for $1,000.
The Payoff: “Mafiosi are like urban cowboys,” wrote author Gay Talese. “[They are] feudal lords, and whether you like them or not, they’re fascinating father figures.”
Brando played a “man of respect” who was seemingly benign, but yet a monster. He made the role warm and real enough to command belief and even empathy, yet vicious enough to deter admiration. After Vito, the Mafia was big box office everywhere, from bookstores to toy stores, where The Godfather game sold briskly.
Curiously, Brando was disappointed by his performance: “What the hell did I know about a 65-year-old Italian who smokes twisted goat-shit cigars?”
Dawson’s Creek Favourite Moments
Dawson’s Creek… The 90s cult classic that defined a generation, introduced us to the hormone-riddled and lexically-advanced adolescents of Capeside, and taught us about the mind-bending, heart-shattering rawness of teen love, lust and crucially angst makes a return to UK TV with every episode of the series being made available on All 4.
Back in 1998, when Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) worked in Screenplay Video and could only dream about getting the girl (let alone the invention of digital boxsets) the first series began on Channel 4 and, along with Joey (Katie Holmes) and Jen (Michelle Williams), the nation became embroiled in the love triangle of the decade.
As Andie (Meredith Monroe) and Jack (Kerr Smith) joined the cast of Kevin Williamson’s hit show it saw some of the biggest TV moments of its era and paved the way for all teen dramas that followed. From coming out and the first gay kiss on American screens to the struggle with sex, losing your virginity, drug addiction and mental health to coping with the death of a parent and having an affair with a teacher, the creek kids covered it all… complete with infamous cry faces that broke our dial-up internet.
In celebration of its return we’re looking back at some of the most totes emosh episodes that rocked our lives, and theirs, and gave us all the feels in a time before “Cruise control”, Oscar noms and The Affair… *Warning*… Spoiler Alerts aplenty…
Series 2, episode 1 – When Dawson and Joey kissed, repeatedly… We’d waited an entire series for it to happen but they had waited 15 (yes, they were only 15 at the time) lustful years. The episode that also led us to meet The McPhee’s was responsible for the now CONSTANT lip-locking of our two childhood best friends. After finally realising their feelings for one another Dawson and Joey made up for lost time and there were puppy dog eyes, damp bangs, slo-mo walking and as Joey and Dawson kissed in the rain (they apparently hadn’t realised it was raining either) we were sweetly serenaded by the backing track of Billie Myers “Kiss the Rain”…. Meta.
Series 2, episode 19 – When Abby Morgan died… Abbie Morgan, the original bitch of Capeside and the first recurring character to meet her untimely fate, threw the gang into a complete tailspin. Not only was Abby a lesson in underage drinking and tributary safety, she showed the teens how to grieve for the first time. Her demise propelled the equally troubled Jen down the bumpy road back towards the security of the group and led Andie to deal with the death of her other brother Tim.
Series 3, episode 19 – When Joey Kissed Pacey First – Fast-forward a series and Dawson had competition for Joey’s heart in Pacey-shaped form. Across the past 19 episodes we’d seen the two grow closer, and Dawson had even asked Pacey to look out for her. The exceptionally witty Witter had taught Potter to drive, he’d rented her a wall for God’s sake, he’d rescued her from an ill-fated trip to the city and snogged her by the roadside (all while babysitting that cute kid from Jerry Maguire). But it took a Spring Break trip to visit Dawson’s Aunt Gwen (who we randomly hadn’t heard about before), a questionable karaoke session and Pacey’s arm (yes, that’s what we thought too) brushing up against Joey in bed and ‘making her feel alive’ for her to finally wise up to what the rest of us already knew and after much hesitation she kissed him.
Series 3, episode 23 – When Jack kissed Aidan and When Pacey told Joey to ‘Ask me to stay’ – Never before has so much happened in a 47 minute series finale. The episode that saw Mitch and Gail tie the knot for the second time, reassuring everyone (for a series at least) that ‘love ends and begins again’ no matter how old you are, also spawned the notorious ‘cry face’ and saw Grams go rogue, leading the gang on a carpe diem road trip to track down their almost-lost loves. After Jack had failed to kiss Aidan at the anti-prom in the previous episode he was finally ready. And as he took the plunge and put himself on the line, teens and adults the world round rejoiced with the first gay kiss on American screens finally being broadcast. Meanwhile Pacey had put Joey’s wall and a few tins of Dulux to good use, emblazoning it with his heartfelt plea to ‘ask me to stay’. She didn’t of course, but instead climbed aboard True Love with the boy who remembered everything about her (also note the previous ep) and set sail into the sunset, in nothing more than the outfit she stood up in…
Series 4, episode 6 – When Andie tried ecstasy – Andie McPhee was one of the first characters on a teen drama to illustrate the importance of mental health awareness. Her battle had been well- documented, but, failing to deal with the success of her acceptance into Harvard and believing that her medication was stopping her from feeling anything, she stumbled upon an ecstasy pill and took it at a rave. With everyone else too embroiled in their own Dawson/Pacey/Joey dramas to notice Andie ended up having a bad reaction and battling for her life. Proving that the drugs really don’t work she finally recovered but chose to travel to Italy for the summer, leading to essential viewing and the need for all the Kleenex in the following episode as she used her departure to try and mend the now somewhat splintered group.
Series 4, episode 14 – When Jen and Jack almost did it and when Joey and Pacey finally did –Though this lot could talk about almost anything with more eloquence than most Ivy League college professors (they talked about college a lot) they couldn’t quite confront the issue of S.E.X with each other. However, throw in a ski-trip, a hot-tub and a mini-bar, all horny hell broke loose. We saw Pacey and Joey ‘take the next-step’ in their relationship with Joey FINALLY letting go of the idea that her first time would be with Dawson. Elsewhere Jen and Jack’s purely platonic relationship bubbled over faster than said hot-tub when they lost their minds to several little bottles of Smirnoff and the kind of loneliness that, these days, can only be caused by a 2am Tinder binge, after several shots of Sambuca. Thankfully they recovered their tiny minds and realised what they were doing before it was too late.
Series 5, episode 3 – When Mitch died – In a time when many of us were still eating gluten and dairy who would have thought an ice cream cone could be so dangerous?! Mitch Leery, the original DILF (stand down Sandy Cohen and The O.C, you came later), taught us the very true perils of driving hands-free. The brilliant thing about Ma and Pa Leery was that they showed us that parents could be totally flawed. They were the folks that we either fancied or wanted to be adopted by and Mitch’s untimely death saw Dawson deal with recurring anxiety and failed dreams as a result. Conversely, it ultimately healed the brotherly like bond between him and our hero Pacey that had been shattered due to the previously aforementioned love-triangle. So, some good came of it…
Series 6, the final ever episode – When Dawson told Lily about soulmates based on his relationship with Joey – Dawson and Joey, Joey and Pacey, Dawson and Joey again, briefly, then PLEASE LET DAWSON AND JOEY END UP TOGETHER. During a series finale that so brilliantly ate itself with Dawson becoming a show runner for his own teen soap, The Creek (where he ignored all plagiarism rules and basically based the entire thing on his adolescence. Hello Colby, Sam and Petey). We saw Pacey finally get the girl and Dawson accept that he never would, but that it didn’t matter because Joey would always be his soulmate, “The one person who knew you and accepted you and believed in you before anyone else did or when no one else would.” The episode also saw the death of the much loved Jen, who left behind her baby daughter Amy for Jack and Pacey’s bro Doug to raise. Whoever said dwindling youth was easy?!
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