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Moon Landing: The Small Step that Inspired a Genre



When Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the Moon’s surface on Monday 21 July, 1969, he supposedly fluffed his lines: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, he said. On returning to Earth, the Apollo 11 astronaut pointed out that he’d meant to say “That’s one small step for a man”, but to no avail. Of course, if NASA had sent an actor instead, all of this might have been avoided but we’d have lost one of the best lines of the century.

Hollywood’s fascination with space and man’s attempts to travel to infinity and beyond has given actors ample opportunity to practice their moon talk and walks over the years.

Trip to the Moon

Melies Trip To The Moon

As early as 1902, George Melies was directing the silent movie Trip To The Moon, while Fritz Lang followed Metropolis with the 1928 film The Girl In The Moon, remarkable for both its visionary technical detail and its attempts to build an actual space rocket as part of the publicity campaign — unlike Lang’s career, the rocket never took off.

The novels of Jules Verne also provided early inspiration for race to space movies, in particular Rocket To The Moon, but it was only when science fiction became science fact that films were truly able to capture the awesome realities of space travel.

The pioneering Mercury programme of the early 60s (in which America’s first seven astronauts were selected from a pool of 508 test pilots) is thrillingly captured in The Right Stuff Philip Kaufman’s exhilarating 1983 movie based on Tom Wolfe’s book.

The Right Stuff

The 1970 ordeal of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, who drifted helplessly in space for 90 hours, is recreated in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and the latter’s star, Tom Hanks, was the driving force behind the award-winning TV series From the Earth to the Moon which looks at the space programmes in the USA and Russia from their infancy to the demise of the Apollo project in the 1970s.

A Love Affair with Astronauts

It’s easy to understand the love affair between Hollywood and the space programme. Writing in 1969 after the successful Apollo 11 mission, sci-fi novelist Isaac Asimov compared the NASA astronauts to creations in a teen romance magazine, noting: “Look at the astronauts’ faces: all keen, all incisive, all clean-cut, all handsome. Look at their characters: all noble, all intrepid, all boyishly modest, all winningly good-natured. They are all married, all family men, all church-going.”

No wonder, to an industry that’s business is making films about extraordinary people who live out the fantasies of normal folk, the fearless men from the space programme were the equivalent of super-heroes. And, even better, they were American — it was commonplace for 60s astronauts to be featured on the cover of Time magazine and be voted ‘Man of the Year’.

Tom Hanks, who played Lovell in Apollo 13, is a self-confessed fan of space movie who has admitted he’d be happy to “play any astronaut”. He cites Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as the benchmark by which all other movies in the genre must be judged: “2001 was a huge influence on me because it actually obeyed the laws of physics in its storytelling. It wasn’t just a fake movie in which people pressed a button that said ‘Rocketship go!’ and they went. There was zero gravity and spaceships based on authentic designs.”

The veracity of space movies become one of the genre’s major selling points. The Right Stuff’s desire to look authentic was helped by NASA, which gave the film’s producers 500,000ft of footage, while the makers of Apollo 13 used a specially modified Boeing 707 (nicknamed The Vomit Comet) to recreate the effects of weightlessness for the space scenes. These small steps ensure that the audience, most of whom are unlikely to experience space travel in their lifetime, gets the next best thing: a cheap ticket for an experience that is out-of-this-world.

Hidden Figures

The genre continues to be explored today with Oscar contender Hidden Figures examining the role played by women of colour working at NASA in the 1960s’.



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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