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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Magic of Gerry Anderson


Yesterday while I was writing about the deaths and lives of Jack Klugman and Charles Durning, we lost someone who was definitely lesser known, but also much closer to my heart - producer Gerry Anderson. They say these things happen in threes. Let's hope this is the cycle and we don't lose anyone else.

Many of you probably don't recognize the name Gerry Anderson and there are some of you who are mourning the loss of this great talent in genre television. He was a writer, director, producer, publisher, futurist, a television pioneer, the developer of Supermarionation, and a master of storytelling. However, all that said, you might just know him better by three specific words - "Thunderbirds are go!"

I first encountered Gerry Anderson, and his then wife and partner Sylvia, as a child of the 1970s. I have a very distinct memory of hearing about a new show coming on weekday afternoons on UHF channel 17, the TV announcer had said it was 'cooler than "Ultra Man,"' so you know darned well I was glued in front of the folks' black and white television when "Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons" premiered.

"Captain Scarlet" was a program created completely using marionettes and models, and it wasn't stop motion or animation, it was film, and the puppets and machines were actually moving. To add to the fascination was the stunningly adult, startling violent story that went along with it. It was a spy drama with the earth defending itself against an evil alien race, the Mysterons, who had infiltrated mankind, and the hero who would save the day, Captain Scarlet, who had become indestructible.

It was awesome, and I was hooked. The only things that "Captain Scarlet" had going against it were my low tech TV (all the characters were color codenamed) and my own as yet non-mastery of spelling (I kept waiting for Mogera from the Toho film The Mysterians to show up). This was also around the time "Space: 1999" was hitting it big on prime time television, also, although unknown to me at the time, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, but in live action.

Anderson's most famous creations are perhaps only peripherally known here in the United States, but in his native UK, everyone knows "The Thunderbirds." Among his other work, both in live-action and in Supermarionation, include "Stingray," "Supercar," "UFO," "Terrahawks," "Space Precinct," "Fireball XL5," and "The Protectors," among others. He and his wife also produced two "Thunderbirds" movies at the height of their popularity.

In recent years, Anderson produced a fully computer animated version of "Captain Scarlet" and consulted on the big budget live-action motion picture version of The Thunderbirds. The former did quite well in the UK, but the latter was pretty much a flop here. The beloved producer's reputation was still untarnished.

Gerry Anderson passed away yesterday after a long battle with dementia brought on by Alzheimer's disease. We have lost a creative star in the field of television, he will be missed.





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