Monday, January 12, 2015

BUCK RODGERS: Armageddon 2419 A.D.: Novel to Movies &Television

His name was Anthony "Tony" Rodgers, but we knew him as "Buck" .

This post came about as a result of a technology news story, Sunday, January 11, 2015, on Los Angeles television concerning how children where not getting enough sleep at night, because they had either a computer tablet or smart phone in the same room near them. The "Blue Light" given off by the screens seems to effect the sleep areas of the brain, according to two independent reports one in the United States and the other in Great Britain, and the children loose an average of 18 minutes of sleep a night. This then is an example of the unforeseen problems with the technological advancements we are currently making in the 21st Century.

Having been born just four years shay of the middle of the 20th Century and having seen many such advancements. I thought of the old Science Fiction writers who predicted the future and what they might think, if they could have actually seen that future after their predictions were made. When it comes to "seeing the future" the idea of H.G. Well's "Time Machine" naturally came to my mind, but that's about a scientist's controlled experiment. Then I thought about the one person from the past who through a series of circumstances finds himself in future Earth, "Buck Rodgers", a character I love.

                                                                   Philip Francis Nowlan.

Philip Francis Nowlan aka: Frank Phillips was a newspaper columnist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and  the creator of Anthony Rodgers originally known as "Tony" to his friends. Rodgers would first appear in a short novella in "Amazing Stories" for August 1928.The title was "Armageddon 2419 A.D." and would be followed by a sequel "The Airlords of Han" in the magazine's March 1929 issue. After the success of the first novella's Nowlan spoke to the John F. Dille Newspaper Publishing Company about turning his book into a comic strip. John F. Dille liked his idea and hired illustrator Dick Calkins. Nowlen would write the original strips with Calkins' doing the illustrations and a cult hero was born.

I know this question will be in many minds. So for those who might be thinking it. Cartoonist Alex Raymond created "Flash Gordon" and his first appearance was in newspaper comic form on January 7, 1934 five years after "Buck Rodgers".

"Armageddon 2419 A.D." and "The Warlords of Han" are exciting stories for the period and both are available as free E-book downloads and contain some interesting predictions by Nowlan.

The "Han's" were originally a warrior race who became business men and eventually take over the World long before 2419 A.D.. The real "Han Dynasty" actually ruled China from 189 to 220 A.D. So anyone reading this work today must consider the business practices of current China and how involved they are becoming with the United States and other countries Worldwide.

The citizens of any "Han" city are not paid by either cash, or check. According to Nowlan every person has a Bank Account Number assigned to them. Their pay is automatically deposited into their personal account to avoid theft. Then within their own home is found a small table top personal video screen that can display all the products available to the individual from food and clothing to any item they may need. Attached to this screen is a form of typewriter that the individual uses to order the items they want to purchase. A message is sent to the proper vendor who deducts the purchase price directly from that individual's bank account and sends the requested item by a delivery system to them. Found on one wall of a "Han" living room is a flat screen. It projects motion pictures and live entertainment. Brings them the daily news and other programming. Also the table top devise is hooked up to that flat screen so that they may call somebody up and visually have a conversation with them. Does all of this sound familiar?

In the original work Anthony "Tony" Rodgers is a mining engineer working for the "American Radioactive Gas Corporation" that becomes trapped in a mine cave-in. It is the gas found in the mine that places him into a state of hibernation. After emerging 491 years later he meets warrior Wilma Deering and she will take "Tony" to meet Dr. Huer/ The three main characters of the series are established.

On January 7, 1929  in black and white the now named "Buck Rodgers" newspaper comic strip first appeared. Also on that date was the first newspaper comic appearance of Edgar Rice Burroughs "Tarzan of the Apes". "Buck Rodgers" is considered the first Science Fiction comic. The nickname of "Buck" instead of "Tony" was suggested to John F. Diles, because of the popularity of Silent Motion Picture Cowboy star "Buck Jones".

The strip began with these words:
I was 20 years old when they stopped the world war and mustered me out of the air service. I got a job surveying the lower levels of an abandoned mine near Pittsburgh, in which the atmosphere had a peculiar pungent tang and the crumbling rock glowed strangely. I was examining it when suddenly the roof behind me caved in and...

In the comic strip as with the novella "Armageddon 2419 A.D." Rodgers is exposed to a strange gas that makes him unconscious and he reawakens not in 2419, but 2429 A.D. In the original strip the enemies are not the "Hans", but the very similar "Mongol Reds". The name obviously refers to the Chinese Communist Party founded in 1921 by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao.Which like there counterpart in the Soviet Union were becoming very active in World affairs in 1929.

That original comic strip started by Philip Francis Nowlan and Dick Calkins would end on July 8, 1967 after a 38 year run. The strip would be revived in 1979 and be renamed "Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century" in 1980. It's short run ended during the middle of 1981.

"Buck  Rodgers" also became the first Science Fiction Radio Program. The show was on CBS and ran 15 minutes per episode in 1932 and ended in 1936. It would be revised by another network twice more. First from April to July 1939 and again from May to July in 1940. A new 30 minute radio show entitled "Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century" was heard on Saturdays from  September 1946 until March 1947. While a 15 minute version ran weekdays.

At the 1933-1934 Worlds Fair a ten minute motion picture about Rodgers appeared. The attached link is from an IMDb page and note the name of the first actor to play "Buck Rodgers on screen.

In 1939 Universal Studio's released a 12 Chapter Serial about "Buck Rodgers". It ran a total of 237 minutes, but had a very minimal budget. In fact some of the sets and costumes came from another Universal Studios serial "Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars".

"Buck" and his young friend Buddy Wade, modeled after the character of Buddy Deering in the newspaper comic strip series, are flying a dirigible over the North Pole. On board is a new type of experimental gas called "Nirvano". A storm comes up and the two crash releasing the gas which acts as a preservative that keeps them alive in a form of hibernation. The two are dug out in the year 2439 A.D.

When the two awaken the world as they knew it is gone and the new one is not under the rule of either the "Hans", or "Mongol Reds", but a dictator named "Killer" Kane. A character first seen in the comic strip. "Buck" and Buddy join with Wilma Deering and the resistance. Later Buck will take a spaceship to Saturn in the hope of finding help for the Earth against Kane.

Besides the reused sets and pieces of costumes further tying both the "Buck Rodgers" serial to the earlier "Flash Gordon" serials is that both title characters were played by actor Larry "Buster" Crabbe.

Clarence Linden "Buster" Crabbe II won  the 1932 Olympic Gold Medal for the 400 meter freestyle swim. Crabbe's first motion picture role was as Tarzan in the 1933 12 Chapter Serial "Tarzan the Fearless". It was because of his swimming skills the he was offered the role.

Image result for images of movie tarzan the fearless

In 1936 as Richard O'Brien's lyrics for "Science Fiction Double Feature" from "Rocky Horror Picture Show" tell us: "Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear...".

"Flash Gordon" Buster Crabbe circa 1938

Crabbe would be billed as Larry Crabbe, Larry "Buster" Crabbe and just "Buster" Crabbe in 113 roles, including several "B" Westerns as a kind of folk hero version of "Billy the Kid". However, from a Hollywood perspective he is the only actor, to date, to play all three top rated 1930's radio and newspaper comic strip heroes "Tarzan", "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rodgers".

My look at his career can be read at:

Above Buster Crabbe as "Buck Rodgers" and Constance Moore as "Wilma Deering".

A distinction that had a kind of retro, or deju vu quality to it in an episode of Gil Gerard's television series "Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century". When "Buster" Crabbe played an old Space Ranger named "General Gordon" in reference to "Flash".

Above Buster Crabbe, Erin Grey as "Wilma Deering" and Gil Gerard as "Buck Rodgers".

In 1983 at the age of 75 Larry Crabbe passed away, but as long as people remember "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rodgers" or listen to the sound track for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" "Buster" Crabbe lives on.

April 15, 1950 Lloyd joined other children watching the "Buck Rodgers" television show on ABC. The series ran until January 30, 1951 and originated at 6 PM on Saturday nights in a 30 minute format. ABC then made one of the first rating decisions by moving this popular show to Tuesday nights at 7 PM. That would be bring about its end as would such moves by future television networks to other successful programs. :"Buck Rodgers" was placed opposite "The Texaco Star Theater" starring the very popular Milton Berle who would become known to viewers as "Mr. Television" during TV's "Golden Age".


Playing "Buck" were actors: Earl Hammond, Kem Dibbs and Robert Pastene. Hammond would become the voice of "Mum-ra" on the original "Thundercats" series along with other cartoon voices during the 1980's.

First playng "Wilma Deering" was Lou Prentiss and she would be replaced by a young "starlet" learning her craft. Future Academy Award winning actress Eva Marie Saint.

"Dr. Huer" was played by 67 year old British actor Harry Sothern.

They're no known surviving recordings of the series. What we do know is that "Buck" Rodgers was a football player who somehow ends up in the year 2430 to fight an evil dictator. The resistance is located in a secret lab behind Niagara Falls.

The above formidable weapon is a "Disintegrator Gun" from the 1950's television series. Actually this is the cap gun model sold in stores that I remember having as a kid. It was also heavy as it was made primarily of metal with just those plastic hand grips. Toys back in the 1950's were in my mind a little more imaginative than today's copies of AK-47's and 45 Magnum handguns. We never had the problem of somebody mistaking them for real weapons.  

Shortly after the premier of the television series a syndicated version of the 1939 serial appeared on TV stations. This was the first of many such revamps of those Saturday Matinee series.

In 1979 NBC brought back "Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century", but in an interesting bit of trickery the network was not sure if American's would still want to see the program. So they had the pilot episodes edited into a full length motion picture first. The film was a hit and the series was green lighted.

Playing "Buck" was Gil Gerard. "Wilma" was played by Erin Grey and "Dr. Huer" by Tim O'Connor. O'Connor would be replaced in the second season by Wilfred Hyde-White as "Dr. Goodfellow" and the format changed.

Image result for images of tv show buck rogers in the 25th century

Originally the series opens in 1987 where Captain William "Buck" Rodgers is on a mission in deep space. Something goes wrong after he flies through some strange gas and he goes into suspended animation. Rodgers then awakes 504 years later in 2491 A.D. and the series really begins. The first season has a serious side to it and was more in line with the original concept of the characters including having "Kane" in it. After the actor's strike the delayed second season had a touch of whimsy to it with the robot character of "Twicki" and "Dr. Goodfellow".

The Second season placed "Buck" and "Wilma" aboard the research and exploration spaceship "Searcher". There mission was to seek the lost "tribes of humanity". Can anyone say Producer Glenn Larson's previous series "Battlestar Galactica" from 1978, or for that matter an idea borrowed by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor for their excellent "Star Trek: Voyager" series as part of the "Voyagers" returning to their own Earth scenario?.Of course that's the beauty of good, fun Science Fiction over the years. The sharing and expanding of ideas.

Unfortunately that Second season didn't work out with the public and in 1981 the show was cancelled, but "Buck Rodgers" lives on. You can find him on Pinball games, video games and comic books. In fact Hermes issued the first of a four issue series in August 2013. All four are now available. Additionally Frank Miller who made "The Spirit" announced in 2008 that he was going to make a "Buck Rodgers" feature film and in 2010 the blog-sphere was still talking. Saying that it would be in 3-D. Five years later, unfortunately, no movie and no more news of the project.

I cannot end this posting without mentioning that great equal to "Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century" "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th (Twenty-fourth and a half) Century". The cartoon was released on July 25, 1953 directed by Chuck Jones and starring Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Marvin Martian by special arrangement with the Queen of Mars. In 1994 it would be voted #4 of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time by members of the animation field. In 2004 the cartoon was retrospectively nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Below is a video from the original 1936 Chapter Serial of "Buck Rodgers" and a short 28 second clip from the television series "Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century". Which features Larry "Buster" Crabbe the 1936 Rodgers meeting Gil Gerard the 1979 TV "Buck" Rodgers.

1 comment:

  1. A very entertaining article Lloyd! I have a "Buck Rogers In The 25th Century" comic book from October 1964 that my dad or uncle purchased when they were young. I have read it, although now it is in a plastic bag in a box at my parents house to protect it. Here is the cover.
    I love this character very much!


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