morris mn - We're a community on the grand, seemingly endless prairie of the Upper Midwest. Empty, you might say? It's the epitome of richness, both in the overall environment and the hardy souls who populate. Morris is home to the University of Minnesota-Morris, a small public liberal arts college of distinction.
History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).
The ways of the business world puzzle me sometimes. How can Los
Angeles be without an NFL team? I remember when both the Rams and
Raiders made L.A. home.
Let's look back to a previous era when New York City of all places
had a void. How was that possible? So much romance surrounded the New
York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.
The West Coast was beckoning. The days when a trip to St. Louis was
"a trip west" would begin looking quaint. Quaint, too, was the image of
teams traveling by train.
Change is as irresistible as the flow of a river. Major league
baseball would plant itself firmly west of the Mississippi. Two of the
New York teams pulled up stakes. The New York Giants with Willie Mays
got settled in San Francisco. We have heard rumors in Minnesota that
those Giants almost re-located to Minnesota. Our Metropolitan Stadium
got built in 1956. It wasn't until 1961 that the big leagues came here
in the form of Calvin Griffith's Washington Senators. But big league
baseball waited not a moment to see that Washington D.C. kept its
presence. A new "Senators" franchise was created although that, too,
would not be permanent.
The Giants and Dodgers headed west in the late '50s. The Dodgers
who had ushered in integration of the races, settled in Los Angeles.
New York City had been the home for three big league teams for over
50 years. "The cheese stands alone," indeed, and this was with the
grandiose New York Yankees franchise and "The House that Ruth Built."
The movie "61+" was set in that period when the Yankees were the lone
team in the Big Apple.
Los Angeles has gotten along for some time without pro football.
But New York City wasn't going to tolerate its baseball void for very
long. We even saw the prospect of a new league which would naturally tap
into New York City. William Shea, a New York City attorney, was pushing
this vision. It would be called the Continental League with teams in
NYC and seven other cities. No games were ever played.
Major league baseball reached a compromise with the would-be
fledgling league. Certain cities that were ready for big league ball
would have their wish granted, so our Minnesota Twins were born. Calvin
Griffith was the hero owner in our eyes. The young baby boomers of
Minnesota would be able to grow up with not only the Twins but also the
Minnesota Vikings. It all started in 1961. The people who built
Metropolitan Stadium were visionaries. Could we imagine the last 50-plus
years without the Twins and Vikings?
New York City was smarting with emptiness and betrayal after the
Giants and Dodgers left. These were storied franchises. Jackie Robinson
is an icon out of U.S. history. New York City wanted the National League
back. The dream was fulfilled in 1962. It was the time of JFK and
Camelot. The Peace Corps presented our vision. John Glenn orbited the
Who to don the Mets' uniforms?
The 1962 New York Mets were not the kind of team that Brad Pitt
(OK, Brad Pitt as Billy Beane) would have put together. Assembling an
expansion team is never easy, although we learned with the birth of the
NFL's Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars that the road needn't
be entirely futile. Perhaps the thinking has changed some. It's not
written in stone that an expansion team must be an abject failure.
It's almost as if the fans are supposed to pay dues. "Wait your turn" (to be a contender).
The puppetmasters behind the '62 New York Mets were not carefully
calculating to maximize wins, it appears. Marketing was a big aim. Or,
let's say drawing fans was a big aim. This was done by stocking the
roster with cast-offs and has-beens from the former Giants and Dodgers
plus the Yankees. Nostalgia was tapped.
Pitcher Al Jackson would say years later: "They wanted names,
especially ones that identified with New York, so fans would come out."
Of the nine starters on opening day, only one, shortstop Felix
Mantilla, was under age 30. That seems utterly shocking for an expansion
team. One might think that veterans would be sought to promote
stability. Alas, stability was not an attribute of the 1962 New York
Mets. It has been written that America could "take a joke" at the time
of Camelot. The '62 Mets indeed became the butt of jokes. But history
has judged that team to be charming with its futility.
Jimmy Breslin wrote a book about the team called "Can't Anybody
Here Play This Game?" The title is a Casey Stengel quote. The fatherly,
or should we say grandfatherly, Stengel was the manager of the '62 Mets.
He carried himself as a promoter which was what the team needed. He
bantered with fans. After a loss he said "the attendance and Mrs. Payson
got robbed." The Mets owner was Joan Whitney Payson. The general
manager was George Weiss. One of the radio voices was Ralph Kiner who is
associated with malaprops on the air. Also at the microphone were
Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. What a spectacle these three described.
The Mets played in the old Polo Grounds in Manhattan while Shea
Stadium was being built. Shea Stadium would be very close to the New
York World's Fair grounds. I remember being in NYC with my family for
the World's Fair in 1964, and we almost worked in a Mets game. The Mets
still had their image of futility. We didn't see a game but we had a
wonderful time at the Fair. My father Ralph directed the University of
Minnesota-Morris men's chorus which performed on the fairgrounds. In
1962 the UMM men's chorus performed at the Seattle World's Fair.
Those 1962 New York Mets at the Polo Grounds became the poster boys
for abject failure. So what? This was not a winning cast that was
assembled. But they were pro players who were doing the best they could.
They only won 40 times. But I'm sure there's an interesting story
behind each of those 40 wins. The Mets were a way for NYC fans to enjoy
the National League again.
Stengel, known as the "Old Professor," deflected attention from the
futility with his antics and quotes. Supposedly he had been fired two
years earlier for "being too old." America didn't have its grasp of
political correctness yet. The boomer youth probably equated "old" with
anyone over, say, age 45. Stengel turned age 72 during that maiden
voyage of the Mets. He managed his first big league team in 1934. He led
the Yankees to seven World Series titles.
He couldn't have been as absent-minded as many of his quotes
suggested. Quotes like: "Good pitching will always stop good hitting and
vice versa." And: "I don't know if he throws a spitball but he sure
spits on the ball." Let's keep going: "If anyone wants me, tell them I'm
Between Stengel and Kiner, the language got abused to no small
degree. Oh, it's no matter. The '62 Mets were "a lovable loser." The
team reflected American optimism in the face of hurdles. Pitcher Jay
Hook would say "the beauty of baseball is that it's a new game every
day." This is the quote I would place front and center in connection to
the 1962 New York Mets.
The team was like "The Little Engine That Could" even though
success seemed stuck in the distance. But success would prove to be in
the not-so-distant future. In 1969 we saw the Mets with Jerry Koosman, a
player with West Central Minnesota connections, win the World Series
(over the Baltimore Orioles). This is likely the most fondly remembered
World Series in the minds of the boomers. The Mets! Winning it all!
Those "Amazin' Mets."
Players of limited skills
If the Mets were a poster child on a team basis, Marv Throneberry
was probably the individual. The first baseman was called "Marvelous."
It was wishful thinking. He had been a backup with the Yankees. He hit
16 home runs with the '62 Mets but committed 17 errors in 116 games. He
once hit a drive into the gap, extra bases for sure, but he was declared
out despite arriving at third with no tag attempted. Alas, he had
failed to touch either first or second bases! The legend grew.
Eventually "Marvelous Marv" could make a beer commercial.
Such episodes weave an image that seemed to invite fondness and not
scorn. The Mets were "a flawed but embraceable option to the imperial
New York Yankees," Mike Tomasik wrote.
Gil Hodges was Throneberry's backup at first base. Former Dodger
Hodges was 38 years old. Hodges would become manager for the Mets' 1969
World Series run. The braintrust of the original Mets felt veterans
like Hodges would give the team a patina of respectability. Richie
Ashburn was a former "Whiz Kid" with the Philadelphia Phillies. But he
was a kid no more. He played in 135 games with the '62 Mets and batted a
quite fine .306, but this season would be his last.
Ashburn played outfield in the vast Polo Grounds where the center
field fence was over 500 feet away! And to think that our Metrodome
would be decried as the "homer dome" (i.e. flawed). It's harder to impress when you're
in the Midwest. Defects in East Coast stadiums exude charm, whereas
here they demonstrate we're bush (but not so much anymore).
Frank Thomas joined Ashburn in the Mets' outfield. He'd have his
last good year in 1962, homering 34 times and driving in 94 runs. Jim
Hickman was the other main outfielder and he lasted with the Mets until
1967. He had an aberrational year with the 1970 Chicago Cubs, when he
drove in 115 runs. His previous high was 57 and his next best total
after 1970 was 64.
The three outfielders had 22 errors among them. Alas, the infield
didn't offer any relief. There was the "Marvelous" man at first. At
second we had Charlie Neal and Rod Kanehl booting the ball around (35
errors between them). At shortstop there was Elio Chacon, a good name
for a shortstop I might add, doing the best he could but committing 22
errors while batting .236. Neal was the backup at short and struggled
The former Milwaukee Brave Felix Mantilla pulled his weight pretty
well at third, supplying offense with his .275 average, eleven home runs
and nearly 60 RBIs. Former Dodger Don Zimmer, a future manager of note,
was a backup and offered no relief defensively.
Catcher Chris Cannizzaro was homerless in 59 games. Choo Choo
Coleman offered a neat name at catcher, where he plied the glove for 44
Pitchers paid their dues with this kind of backdrop. Roger Craig,
one of those former Dodgers, is jokingly described as the staff "ace"
and he did win ten games. But alas, ol' Rodg lost 24! Four Mets pitchers
lost 17 or more games. Craig hung in there, going on to post a 5-22
record with the '63 version of the Mets.
I have heard it said "it takes a pretty good pitcher to lose 20
games." What's meant, I guess, is that you have to show the tools in
order to be sent out to the mound so often. You have to be a gamer.
Roger Craig had 13 complete games among his 33 starts in '62.
The staff ERA was 5.04. Al Jackson had an 8-20 record and would
eventually end his career in a timely way, one loss shy of a hundred.
Jay Hook went 8-19. Bob Miller hung in there through a 1-12 record.
Reliever Craig Anderson lost 17 games but somehow managed to pick up
The Mets' team batting average was .240. They were able to
out-homer four other National League squads. But the record shows these
Mets were in the shackles of futility, posting a 40-120 record and
finishing in tenth and last, 60 1/2 games behind the champion Giants,
and 18 games behind the ninth place Cubs.
It was the Cubs who the Mets chased down and surpassed in the 1969
divisional race, in the first year of East/West divisions. Leo Durocher
managed the collapsing Chicago Cubs of 1969. Us boomers sat mesmerized
as the Mets ascended to the top of baseball in '69, boosted in no small
way by our Mr. Koosman, a graduate of the West Central School of
Agriculture in Morris. Koosman was the big lefty, complementing the
righty Tom Seaver. Seaver was the celebrity and Koosman the big, stable
Hodges was the skipper in '69, probably looking on in wide-eyed
fashion, perhaps wanting to pinch himself once in a while. Hodges had
the success but Stengel had his niche carved out as the first, guiding
his team of guys who were either on the way down or (possibly) on the
way up - the classic state of affairs for expansion teams.
Stengel understood the role of failure in setting the stage for
ultimate success. He once said: "You have to go broke three times to
learn how to make a living."
"Make a living" the Mets did. The rest is history. It all started during Camelot.
"The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided."
Boomers sat transfixed watching the 1953 "War of the Worlds" movie.
We sat transfixed not in theater seats but in our families' living
rooms. The heralded movie turned up on TV during that medium's first
major decade of existence: the 1960s, when color got ushered in.
The '60s were also when my generation by sheer force of numbers
began shaping entertainment tastes. Our parents didn't really eat up
sci-fi. We did. Sci-fi movies that had already had their run on the big
screen got a whole new lifespan. Once boomers discovered this fare, it
became timeless. It made such a stamp, re-makes were considered a must
years later when boomers were in middle (or much older) age.
We started coming into the world in 1946. So the oldest boomers
were a mere seven years old when George Pal's "The War of the Worlds"
came out. Television is where we really discovered this gem. Same for
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) and "The Time Machine" (1960).
Television gave us its own sci-fi fare, "Star Trek" atop the list.
Remember the sound of the "photon torpedoes?" That sound might have
seemed familiar. It's the same sound we heard when the Martian war
machines in "War of the Worlds" fired the "green ray" from wingtips. It
was created by striking a high-tension cable with a hammer.
The 2005 re-make of "War of the Worlds" has not seemed to have
staying power. I remember looking forward to that movie, traveling to
Alexandria to see it, and not being much moved. The 1953 George Pal version
is the one continuing to stick in our minds. It had inspiration, first
of all as an unabashedly Christian movie, not that I say this as some
sort of Pat Robertson. I don't, but the tone of the movie reflected
conviction, not merely an assemblage of Hollywood ideas to try to garner
I admire conviction. A church is a true sanctuary at the end of the movie. The
weak and the hurt are comforted. Humanity finds a new wellspring of
George Pal was the producer of the cinema classic. Lest there by an
doubt about its staying power, it was chosen for the National Film
Registry in 2011. The movie was inspired as a reflection of the
apocalyptic paranoia of the atomic age. Here you are probably instantly
reminded of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" also.
The world was still in the recovery spasms from World War Two. The
forces of good had to crush the menacing Axis powers. Was the conflict
truly behind us for the foreseeable future? We couldn't be sure. The
Cold War meant that evil was still hovering over us. We weren't sure of
the true nature of our enemies. The paranoia set the stage for the
incredibly horrible and unnecessary Viet Nam War.
"War of the Worlds" showed us how a foreboding and mysterious enemy
could surface. It was the Martians. The template would have been useful
for other enemy entities. How about the "Klingons" from "Star Trek?" In
real life, were our "enemies" really as sinister and threatening as the
popular conception suggested? I mean, we learned that the "domino
theory" that propelled the Viet Nam conflict was empty. We learned that
Communists in Hollywood were a weird sort of boogeyman, convenient as
some sort of political dart board used by the political right. Communism
imploded on its own.
The Martians on the screen were done in by bacteria, not by
military might. The military could do nothing vs. the Martian war
machines. Was Hollywood trying to tell us something? The military was
impotent in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." And in the comedic "Mars
Attacks!" we see the invading Martians done in by yodeling! Again the
U.S. military was impotent.
The military hasn't had the solution for lots of things. What if we
took all the money we've spent on military intervention in Afghanistan,
and spent it instead on lifting the standard of living and education in
that country? Ignorance as opposed to education probably caused a lot
of problems we had in the Deep South up through Jim Crow. Ignorance and
Conflict resolution minus guns
"War of the Worlds" projected hope and triumph without the strong
arm of the military playing a role. We see the U.S. Air Force "Flying
Wing" take flight in Pal's movie, dropping an atomic bomb. We admire the
technology. The atomic bomb might have helped end WWII early, or was it
dropped as a warning shot to the Russians?
The bomb did nothing to the Martians in the movie. Those war
machines had protective "blisters." We learn the Martians can conquer
the Earth within six more days. So, someone responds by making a
comparison to how long it took God to create it! The religious tone
prevails, not in a hectoring way but with a purposeful vision.
The Martians are extremely weak and anemic. Their machines cannot
overtake us. People emerge out of the church as quiet takes over. The
"crawling hand" of the dying Martian is a signature scene.
"H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds"
The movie is considered a "loose adaptation" of the classic novel
by H.G. Wells. Wells was truly a genius ahead of his time. Both this
movie and "The Time Machine" were promoted in many instances with H.G.
Wells' name at the beginning, e.g. "H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds."
The movie departs from the book in that Wells was a secularist. A
divine presence was not part of his construction. Wells gave us a 19th
Century journalist who journeys through Victorian London during the
attack. Eventually the journo is reunited with his wife. The story is set in
Roger Ebert in his review of the 2005 movie said the "tripods" (war
machines) were "state of the art" for Martian technology in 1898.
Trying to revive those images for a contemporary movie doesn't
necessarily work well, Ebert continued. He talked about "clumsy retro
I might suggest as one solution to have the movie actually set in
1898. I read this same suggestion in connection with the movie "The Lost
World" based on a long-ago novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A remote
plateau with dinosaurs might have been believable for Sir Arthur's time,
not so much for 1960 when the movie was made.
So, should sci-fi classics be left in the time when they were
written? The late Ebert certainly made us think, as he always did.
Ebert's "gut reaction" to the 2005 movie (with Tom Cruise): "I do not
like the tripods."
Three legs as opposed to four (or any number divisible by two)
certainly seem a defective proposition, based on rudimentary
engineering. The 1953 movie did not present the three legs in such
direct form. Let's credit Pal for how he avoided this bothersome detail
or at least shrouded it. His war machines essentially "floated in the
air" on three invisible legs.
Steven Spielberg gave us the 2005 movie. Ebert described it as "big
and clunky, lacking the zest and joyous energy we expect from
Spielberg." Was Tom Cruise the best he could do? The actor brings
baggage. He's shallow in the movie, an immature, divorced hotshot who
has custody of the kids for the weekend.
The Martian invasion in the Cruise version is nothing but "malevolent, destructive and pointless" (Ebert's words).
In the 1953 release we at least appreciate the metaphors with the
Cold War, and the wellspring of hope that humanity finds with
Christianity. I wouldn't care if the wellspring had been Muslim, if it
at least painted a picture of optimism vs. mysterious adversaries. We
still hadn't gotten the Nazis out of our head. We still hadn't moved
beyond that spectre when "Indiana Jones" resurrected it.
The military saved us in the 1940s. We call it "the good war" in a
perverse sort of way. The scenario since then has been more foggy. It's
how us boomers got disillusioned.
Showcase for Barry and Robinson
We watched Gene Barry and Ann Robinson act in the George Pal movie.
The movie's director was Byron Haskin. The Martians scrutinize our
lush, green and blue Earth. Their preparation is meticulous in all
versions of the story. Somehow they miss the bacteria.
The setting is southern California in the early 1950s. Gene Barry
plays "Dr. Clayton Forrester," and Ann Robinson is "Sylvia Van Buren."
A large object crash lands near a town called Linda Rosa. Dr.
Forrester, a scientist, is out fishing at the time. He meets Sylvia at
the crash site. Also present is Sylvia's clergy uncle, "Pastor Matthew
Collins." The religious tone gets stamped.
Pastor Collins eventually recites Psalm 23 in the face of advancing war machines and is vaporized in a riveting scene.
Dr. Forrester waits in town overnight as the fallen object cools.
The movie gets scary for kids when late that night, a hatch on top
unscrews and falls away, and we see a pulsating mechanical cobra-shaped
head piece emerge. Three volunteer "night guards" approach with a white
flag in a scene that I remember my father laughing at. Dad probably
figured the three were just volunteering to be toast. Indeed, these
forlorn guys meet the Martian "heat ray." They're goners.
Three of the manta ray-shaped war machines rise from the gully and
advance. Reports come forth from around the world. Our civilization is
imperiled. Forrester and Van Buren, undaunted, take to the air in a
spotter plane. The plane crash lands, the two heroic characters emerge
unhurt and end up in a farmhouse, a scene reflected in the 2005 movie's
much-derided (and long) "basement scene."
The 1953 movie has suspense in the farmhouse scene, the kind that
might have kids getting nightmares. It works. We get our only real
glimpse, fleeting, of a Martian. So, much is still left to the
Forrester and Van Buren get separated amidst all the panic as the
story nears conclusion. They're in Los Angeles now, surrounded by ruins.
Forrester remembers something Van Buren told him and realizes she might
be found in a church sanctuary. There we find huddled refugees looking
as though they were plucked right out of Europe at the end of WWII. The
ruins are similarly haunting.
A war machine crashes just as the church seems about to come down.
Viruses and bacteria have vanquished the Martians - "the smallest
creatures that God in his wisdom put on this Earth," an unseen narrator
Disturbing as the Cold War was, the movie reminds us that man is an instinctively optimistic creature.
Spielberg's 2005 movie had a $135 million budget and didn't seem as
interesting. Plausibility is an issue. The 2005 movie has Martian
machines buried in many places including big cities. How could they have
gone undetected? Tentacles suck our blood. "To what purpose?" Ebert
Another review felt the Spielberg movie had potential but was
"ruined by the 'I'm a bad father' subplot." And still another makes the
cogent point: "Spielberg blew it by once again making the meat and
potatoes of the film take a back seat to some sort of dysfunctional
family crisis reunion."
I have hardly given another thought to the 2005 movie since seeing
it. It was just a nice excuse to visit Alexandria where of course many
Morris residents go to spend money without feeling any shame.
The 1953 George Pal movie is deservedly in the ranks of classic
sci-fi films, filmed with genuine inspiration and not just with an eye
toward opening weekend box office "pop."
They don't movies like they
used to. Boomers know this full well.
The blending of cowboys and dinosaurs was an idea waiting to
happen. Fantasies involving dinosaurs had been irresistible for a long
You would think special effects would have to advance a long way
before dinos on the screen would be workable. It's fascinating that in
the 1933 "King Kong," various dinos including a flying one, came off on
screen as good as you would want. We have Willis O'Brien to thank for
O'Brien became a mentor for Ray Harryhausen. Basically that
relationship was a passing of the torch. The two gave us "stop-motion"
special effects. "King Kong" does not need to be viewed in the context
of archival movies, where we expect the craftsmanship to come off as
primitive. It leaps off the screen at you. When that stegosaurus tail
does its swipe as the creature is dying, we flinch in our seats.
Harryhausen gave us dinosaurs in "The Valley of Gwangi." His genius
comes through in the roping scene. That signature scene was
labor-intensive even by the standards of "stop-motion."
I have written before about two movies that had to scrap
stop-motion because of its cost. One was "The Lost World," a 1960
release that ended up using real modern reptiles as dinos, filmed so
that they might seem large. The other is "Mars Attacks!" which should
need no introduction, but I'll note that CGI came to the rescue for that
In "King Kong" it was beauty that killed the beast. In "Mars
Attacks!" it was yodeling that killed the invaders.
"Gwangi" in cultural/historical context
"The Valley of Gwangi" came out in 1969. America at that time was
getting weary of the kind of monster movie that had become standard
fare. I should emphasize that America was getting tired of lots of
things in 1969. Our society was in flux. We certainly had become tired
of "robes and sandals" movies typified by "Cleopatra" (with Liz Taylor).
Our society was in tumult in many ways. It's sad that "The Valley
of Gwangi" came out when our appetite for this entertainment had
The movie had been conceived years earlier. As with many Hollywood
projects, bumps in the road had to be navigated. O'Brien drew up this
movie idea, decades earlier in fact, inspired by the Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle book "The Lost World." That book led to the movie of the same name
in 1960 (with Claude Rains). The premise of that book was one that
could be mined further of course. It was mined for the comic book series
"Turok, Son of Stone." Prehistoric creatures continue to live in some
remote section of the Earth. It might be a "lost valley" or in the case
of the 1960 "The Lost World," an elevated plateau in South America. (I'm
not sure how the dinos could stay totally confined in such places.)
Willis O'Brien envisioned a movie called "Valley of the Mists." Who
knows why it couldn't get a thumbs-up for making. O'Brien passed away
in 1962. I'm not sure to what extent "The Valley of Gwangi" followed
O'Brien's conception. But the 1969 American western fantasy is
considered to be the fruit of that conception.
The public taste for such a movie was at a diminished level, and
adding to the problem was a change in management at Warner Brothers and
Seven Arts. The powers-that-be didn't have their hearts in this cinema.
So, "The Valley of Gwangi" was released with little promotional effort
on a double bill with a biker film! It thus missed its target audience
and was not as successful as other Harryhausen efforts.
You'll remember that ol' Ray gave us the seven swordfighting
skeletons. Who can forget that scream as the skeletons began their
attack! America may not have been fired up about a movie like "Gwangi"
in 1969. Little did we know that such movies would make a spectacular comeback! There is a scene in "Gwangi" that
appears to have inspired a scene in the celebrated "Jurassic Park." The
big dino in "Gwangi" appears from behind a hill and snatches a fleeing
ornithominus in his jaw. Steven Spielberg gave us a scene almost exactly
like this. Was he paying homage? It's possible because after all, he
used the actual "time machine" from the 1960 movie in one of his
"The Valley of Gwangi" with its unheralded release might have ended
up in the dustbin. Except that it emerged in subsequent years drawing
on its obvious appeal for sci-fi buffs or people who just like
reasonably good action/horror movies. Because, "Gwangi" certainly
delivers on these grounds.
Remember the 1980s TV series "Scarecrow and Mrs. King?" Any time a
TV screen is shown in the series, "The Valley of Gwangi" is playing. An
inside joke? Someone's attempt to pay more homage?
Let's give a tip of the hat to "The Valley of Gwangi" which is what they might call "a good popcorn movie."
Spielberg gave us the T-Rex as his headlining menacing creature -
an obvious choice. What's interesting about "Gwangi" is that even though
the star monster is like a T-Rex, it's not actually a T-Rex. I'm not
sure why they bothered making this minor deviation. "Gwangi" is an
allosaurus, which to the uninitiated would be considered a tyrannosaurus
The story: rodeo is the backdrop
"The Valley of Gwangi" takes place in Mexico at the turn of the
century. A cowgirl hosts a rodeo which isn't doing particularly well.
She has a former love interest played by James Franciscus, an actor who
we might say became famous for not being Charlton Heston in "Beneath the
Planet of the Apes." Franciscus is a quite fine actor who for some
reason - lacking intangibles? - got a 'B' movie tag. Hollywood bestows
fame in mysterious ways.
Franciscus works in his character of "Tuck" in "The Valley of
Gwangi." He's charming as a roguish individual. Actually, everyone in
this movie seems to have venal goals. Perhaps that tone was a reflection
of the times in which "Gwangi" was filmed. America was brimming with
cynicism. It was easy to envision less than laudable motives on the part
I have written before about the 1969 release "The Bridge at
Remagen," a WWII flick that has cynicism stamped all over it. A reviewer
has said of "Remagen" that "every character is pissed off all the
time." Also, the military people give "lip" to their superiors
constantly. Movies reflect the cultural tone and priorities of the time
in which they were made. So, the tone of "Gwangi" can't be expected to
be real uplifting. There's no uplifting feeling of the human character
in triumph. The venal tone doesn't get impaled like it would in a
I have written before about "Almost Famous," that movie set in the
1960s that has a happy ending for all of the sympathetic characters.
Such optimism was the norm for when the movie was made (in 2000). I
wrote that in the real-life '60s, happy endings were hardly frequent or
to be expected.
"The Valley of Gwangi" doesn't have the uplifting qualities but it
has action and horror attributes to guarantee its audience. We see the
allosaurus fighting men on horses. We have gypsies who know all about
the valley and its mysteries, and are superstitious about this.
Cowboys vs. dinosaurs is really great, a plot line waiting to
happen. Cowboys vs. their ex-girlfriends wasn't quite as engaging.
There's a paleontologist in the movie just like in "Jurassic Park."
"Bromley" the paleontologist shows "Tuck" fossilized horse tracks.
Ergo, such a horse actually exists in the flesh in the traveling circus
which is run by the seductive "T.J."
Bromley declares this little
creature to in fact be an eohippus. It has a name: "El Diablo."
A gypsy named "Tia" claims the horse is cursed. The gypsies feel it
needs to be released back into "the forbidden valley." Bromley learns
of these intentions and feels it's just fine, as he can then follow them
to find more such creatures. Tuck sets off after Bromley. Still others
follow, including T.J., and eventually they all meet up.
A flying dinosaur swoops down at them. They follow a small dino
which is then seized and eaten by "Gwangi," the star of the movie - that
allosaurus (slightly smaller than a T-Rex). A styracosaurus appears and
chases Gwangi away. The "sty" has horns that can fend off the largest
Gwangi later pursues the humans back to their base camp. The
cowboys try to rope him but he breaks free when the "sty" reappears.
Gwangi with the help of a circus employee named "Carlos" finally
disposes of the "sty." But Gwangi also dispatches poor ol' Carlos. Gwangi gets "knocked out" as it attempts to pursue the other humans as
they exit the valley. Thus the humans can capture the dino, dollar signs
in their eyes for sure.
The idea now is to have the dino in T.J.'s show. The gypsies still
feel uncomfortable with the beast outside of its valley. So, a gypsy
dwarf sneaks around and tries to free Gwangi from its cage. Gwangi
breaks free and eats the gypsy. Bummer.
The crowd flees as Gwangi goes on your basic monster rampage. The
crowd seeks refuge in a cathedral (inspired by "War of the Worlds?").
Gwangi is able to break in. Many of the people flee through a back exit.
"Tuck" has a torch and starts an interior fire which eventually kills
the dino. There's your plot synopsis.
Gina Golan plays the beautiful T.J. if you'll permit me to make a sexist observation.
A critic has written of "The Valley of Gwangi" that it's "a
disposable piece of fluff, and yet there's something wholly appealing
about it anyway." I have also read the following: "It's gratifying to
see a movie that doesn't want to be more than it is."
And: "(It's the)
kind of tossed-off ephemera that does right by the eight-year-old hiding
inside all of us."
I think of "The Valley of Gwangi" as the kind of movie that was
typical for the weekly "Taconite Theater" - I think that was its name -
us Minnesota boomers watched when young. We also watched "Zulu" (Michael
Caine) which eventually came out on VHS tape in a series called "Fun
Time." That was a hoot: "Zulu" as part of a "Fun Time" video series! Ah,
the movies. They aren't what they used to be. And that's a compliment
for what they used to be.
"The Valley of Gwangi" gets plenty of barbs from the highbrow crowd,
but I encourage a tip of the hat for such imaginative sci-fi. Now we
need to get "Turok, Son of Stone" on the big screen. "Jurassic Park III"
was an ambitious movie but it came off odd, like it couldn't make up
its mind whether it was serious or somewhat farcical. It was
schizophrenic. Such movies ought to be totally serious. Even if all the
humans have venal motives.
"The Valley of Gwangi" passes muster by my standards. Even on a double billing with a biker movie.
The 1960s were a time for certain actors to get roles that would
define them and endear them to a generation. William Shatner was
"Captain Kirk." Lorne Greene was "Ben Cartwright."
These actors already had solid resumes. We might catch Shatner on an episode of "The Twilight Zone."
Television really felt its oats in the 1960s. It took on color. And
most importantly, my generation - the boomers - was teeming in numbers,
impressionable and a big target for marketers!
Richard Basehart became
synonymous with a high-tech submarine. Irwin Allen, who crafted
entertainment right in line with the boomers' tastes, gave us "Voyage to
the Bottom of the Sea." It was a sci-fi series that grew out of a 1961
big-screen release of the same name. Allen was the creative mind behind
The movie's sets were used in the series. "Voyage" was the first of
four sci-fi TV series given us by Allen. Comic books grew out of these
The submarine "Seaview" had a stated mission of undersea marine
research. Of course, the series wouldn't have lasted more than a few
episodes if that were its only mission. The secret mission of this
nuclear-powered vessel was to defend the Earth from all worldly and
extraterrestrial threats. The story was set in the future, the future
being the 1970s at that time! (Why couldn't the Seaview have saved us
from disco, or the "Smokey and the Bandit" movies, or "Cannonball Run?"
The underwater world is not as "sexy" as outer space. Therefore,
"Star Trek" has left a more enduring impression than "Voyage to the
Bottom of the Sea." Shatner become recognizable to everyone in the U.S.,
whereas Basehart, who died in 1984, never seemed to reach that level.
Basehart played "Admiral Harriman Nelson" in the "Voyage" series. The
series was satirized in Mad Magazine as "Voyage to See What's on the
Bottom." I felt it was one of the magazine's better satires.
Yes, "Voyage" hasn't had the staying power in our memories like
"Star Trek" (with Shatner). But a tip of the hat is certainly in order
for the submarine series, based on how it lasted for 110 episodes. It
lasted so long, its futuristic timeline had to be shifted to the 1980s
(the last two seasons). "Star Trek" is on its pedestal, rightfully so, but
"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" which ran from 1964 to 1968, was the
decade's longest-running U.S. sci-fi TV series with continuing
Maybe we should see a contemporary movie "franchise" get launched
from it. The formula certainly worked before. And, Hollywood likes
nothing better than a proven formula these days.
"Voyage" was one of those '60s TV series that changed over from
black and white to color. It's odd how the mere use of color could
change the fundamental atmosphere of some of these series. Many critics
say there's something to be said for black and white. The movie "The
Longest Day" about the D-Day invasion was made in B&W long after
color had become the norm. Oh, and let's acknowledge "Young
Frankenstein" the same way. "Young Frankenstein" epitomized the kind of
irreverent fare boomers really ate up when they were young and foolish.
I remember two other TV series that "morphed" into color: "My Three
Sons" (Fred MacMurray) and "Combat!" (Vic Morrow). I always liked "My
Three Sons" best when William Frawley was on it.
I recently wrote about the 1960 movie "The Lost World." Irwin Allen was director and had David Hedison in his cast. Allen enlisted Hedison again for the
"Voyage" TV series, to play Basehart's right hand man. Hedison played
Commander Lee Crane on the Seaview.
Hedison was one of those stable,
clean-cut Aryan men who could play a reliable leadership figure. I'm
prompted to use the word "Aryan" because of a book I once read that
described TV sitcoms of the 1950s as "benevolent Aryan melodramas."
America wasn't ready for the top officer of the Seaview or the
Starship Enterprise being anything but a white male. "Star Trek" pushed
the envelope for that time - perhaps one reason it was canceled
prematurely - by having several characters outside that mold in key
positions, characters who were non-white, female or alien! "Voyage to
the Bottom of the Sea" may have explored perilous depths in the ocean,
but didn't venture into the same diverse casting as did "Star Trek."
Basehart and Hedison were as "white bread" as Robert Young in "Father
Basehart was the killer in the 1948 film noir classic "He Walked by
Night." He played Ishmael in the 1956 "Moby Dick." In 1980 he narrated a
mini-series written by Peter Arnett on the Viet Nam War.
Basehart in role "above" the water
"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" had completed its run before I
became familiar with Basehart's role in the 1953 "Titanic." He was part
of a cast that was headed by Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb. I was
very impressed by Basehart's portrayal of a character inspired by the
real-life Father Thomas Byles.
Fr. Byles was an English Catholic priest who remained on the ship
as it sank, hearing confessions and giving absolution. He was a convert
to Catholicism. Fr. Byles was on board the Titanic en route to officiate
at the wedding of his younger brother William. He said mass for the
second and third class passengers on the morning of the sinking. His
sermon was on the need for a spiritual lifeboat in the shape of prayer
and the sacraments, when in danger of spiritual shipwreck in times of
Fr. Byles was on the upper deck praying his breviary when the ship
hit the iceberg. He assisted many third class passengers up to the boat
deck, to the lifeboats. He twice refused a place on a boat. Toward the
end, he recited the rosary and handled confessions/absolution to
100-plus who remained trapped on the stern after all the lifeboats were
gone. His body, if it was ever found, was never ID'd.
The 1953 movie "Titanic" took artistic license with how it
presented lots of things, including Fr. Byles. Nothing wrong with that
as long as you realize it. The Basehart character is in a mood of
despondency, with alcoholism which has gotten him suspended as a priest.
He prepares a wireless message informing family of this unfortunate news. It
isn't sent. A crewmember who needs to send an urgent message sees the
scrap of paper with this unsent message, and in a mood of emergency,
flips it over and begins scribbling on the other side.
The Basehart character has the name "George S. Healey." His
character is spared any further humiliation from being defrocked.
Instead he remembers his most inspired mission in life, and he refuses
possible rescue to go to a boiler room and comfort trapped crewmen.
The movie was never intended as any sort of documentary. It's one
of those movies that is "inspired by" a real event rather than
attempting to present it in wholly authentic terms. But the Basehart
character was clearly drawn up to reflect the real-life Fr. Thomas
Byles. Bless the memory of both Fr. Byles and Basehart.
Cold War influences for TV
The pilot episode of TV's "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" was
filmed in color but shown in black and white. The first season had Cold
War themes (pervasive, unfortunately) and the near-future speculative
fiction that came to define the series. Espionage blended with sci-fi.
The Cold War shaped a lot of entertainment in a way that made a lot of us boomers paranoid, I feel.
The Seaview had a diving bell and mini-sub. Space aliens, sea
monsters and even dinosaurs loomed. Hedison might have thought he was
back on that South American plateau from "The Lost World" (a movie he
hated, incidentally, with monitor lizards presented as dinosaurs,
although he couldn't have hated acting next to the 19-year-old Jill St.
The main villains in "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" were hostile
foreign governments. The Cold War truly gave a grim dimension to life
in the U.S. in the 1960s. "The Man from Uncle" sought to have fun with
that. Robert Vaughn found his career-defining role in that series.
"Admiral Harriman Nelson" is promoted from three-star to four-star
admiral during the first season of "Voyage." The Seaview is a key part
of the U.S. military. We see this vividly in the episode "Doomsday."
We got a ghost story in season #2. The ABC network wanted a lighter
tone for the second season. We got the sea monsters. The flying sub was
introduced in season #2: a two-man mini-sub armed with a laser
gun, capable of becoming an aircraft.
Season #2 included "The Sky's on
Fire" which was a redux of the storyline from the 1961 big-screen
release which starred Walter Pidgeon as the admiral.
The third season of "Voyage" ran simultaneously with two other
Allen-produced TV series: the campy and disgusting (in my view) "Lost in
Space," in its second season; and "The Time Tunnel" in its premiere
"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" became quite imaginative for its
season #3, giving us an evil disembodied brain from outer space and some
Nazis who thought the war was still on. The final two seasons saw a shift
toward paranormal storylines. Such fare would be quite appealing today.
On the scene came mummies, werewolves, talking puppets and an evil
leprechaun. Oh, and there were fossil men, flame men, frost men and
lobster men. (Remember the movie "Lobster Man from Mars?" Maybe you
don't. I still have that movie, starring Tony Curtis, on VHS tape.)
Season No. 4 of this series with staying power began with a five
centuries-old alchemist. There were three unrelated stories of
extraterrestrial invasion. We get into time travel for two episodes.
There was a trip back in time to the U.S. Revolution.
All good things came to an end in 1960s television. The
cancellation of "Star Trek" was parodied in a memorable "Saturday Night
Live" skit with Elliott Gould as the bad guy TV executive. The skit
ended with the Shatner character uttering a line that wouldn't mean
anything to nearly everyone today, as it was a take-off on a margarine
commercial at the time, with Shatner: "Promise."
It's amazing a series like "Star Trek" would be cancelled given the
wave of retro interest that continues to this day, not to mention the
movies. We must remember that in the 1960s, the generation that really
took to shows like "Star Trek" and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" was
very young and without a lot of money or influence. The influential
generation of that time liked watching Lawrence Welk or Mitch Miller.
Today the big names of the '60s who are still around can go to
casinos, perform and make tons of money from the boomers who are now the
ones with money and influence! However, maybe it's time for the Rolling
Stones to finally retire. Maybe even "Sir Paul" McCartney.
Big-screen "Voyage" had "Floyd the Barber!"
The original movie of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" still shows
up on cable TV. I found it odd that a crooner like Frankie Avalon would
sing the theme song for this serious sci-fi movie. It was a 20th
Century Fox production. The admiral character had the same name as on
TV: "Harriman Nelson."
We see the Seaview under the Arctic ice cap. The
ice begins to crack and melt as there's a fire in the sky. My goodness, a
meteor shower has pierced the Van Allen radiation belt! Heat builds up
all over the Earth. The Seaview prepares to fire a nuclear missile at
the burning belt. But a Vienna-based scientist says no, arguing the fire
will burn itself out and the missile has risks. There's your conflict.
Walter Pidgeon as Admiral Nelson positions his sub above the trench
in the Marianas. There's a saboteur on board. There's also a minefield
and a near-mutiny. I was distracted when I noticed the actor who would
go on to play "Floyd the Barber" in "Andy of Mayberry."
A giant squid confronts the Seaview - a scene that could have come
right out of the subsequent TV series. Blobs and monsters of various
kinds were a nemesis for that sub. A character at the end of the Mad
Magazine satire remarks: "Oh boy, I'll never eat another bowl of Jello."
The movie ends with the Seaview, naturally, saving the world thanks
to the missile. Because of that good fortune, we could all go on to
watch those Frankie Avalon beach movies with Annette Funicello. Maybe
the fire should have gotten us after all.
Seriously, Allen's creations were a source of bountiful
entertainment in the boomers' youth. "Voyage" has gotten overshadowed by
"Star Trek" (not an Allen creation) in the post-Cold War years, but it
deserves its place in the pantheon of sci-fi.
Richard Basehart, RIP. God loves you for helping us remember Father Thomas Byles.
The church my mom and I attend: First Lutheran, Morris. (B.W. photo)
We get too soon reminded how our churches need more money. The
church I attend is going through that routine. I'm not sure it's
necessary for a big demonstration on the subject to be made in front of
the rather thin turnout on Sunday. After all, we're the ones interested
enough to at least be in church.
The nagging (by insinuation) should be directed at the people are aren't in church.
OK so what are the issues? One impulse tells me that the so-called
"main street economy," translated as us rubes out across the U.S. who
aren't connected to the East Coast power corridor, isn't in as good a
shape as the national media (with ties to that East Coast elite) are
You know what I think we need? I think we need to go back to a
system where you can go to your local bank, set up a savings account or
CD and get paid some interest. Like in the old days. The controversial
TARP legislation had the effect of pushing interest rates to a
negligible level over a long period of time.
The stock market isn't the answer. Now, with the Federal Reserve
backing off on its manipulation that elevated the stock market bubble,
we ought to all be whistling in the graveyard. People who exited stock
funds in favor of bond funds have hardly gotten a windfall. There also
may be growing cynicism across the U.S.
We have accepted a system in which profits rule. That's what
happens when we decide the stock market is going to have primacy in our
lives. Anyone who was alive during the Great Depression will likely tell
you "Don't trust the stock market." In the end, it's always the big
operators with inside connections who come away with the windfall.
Money corrupts. All the naive common folks who got sucked into
mutual funds and 401Ks are not going to be reaping any windfall. Not if
history is any indicator. When I was a kid, I had it pounded into my
head (by parents who were young for the Depression) that the stock
market was a mysterious and foreboding place, not really to be trusted,
certainly not by middle class folks.
Starting in about the mid-1980s, popular notions about this seemed
to change. "Financial services professionals" started opening their
offices on main streets across America. It seemed a revival plan for an
otherwise blighted main street America. We had the "Main Street" program
in Morris, overseen by government, as evidence that even we needed
help. My assessment of "Main Street?" It was sheep dip. It was an
example of the overreach of government.
Many experts see a big stock market "correction" coming, as early
as this fall. It's more than the usual warnings. You might get ahold of
David Stockman's book, "The Great Deformation."
I have been aghast observing how the whole nation thinks Ben
Bernanke can lead us along like he's some sort of savior. We'll all
eventually realize that he was just buying some time. His actions may be
found to be counterproductive in the long run. We send representatives
to Washington D.C. from all over the country, and there they blather and
demonstrate, seeking attention, when in fact an unelected person like
Bernanke seems to hold all the cards. The chairman of the Federal
Reserve is supposed to responsibly manage the money supply. That's all
he is supposed to do. He is not supposed to try to solve the problems
that we elect politicians to solve.
The day of reckoning hasn't quite come yet. While predicting the
future with certainty is never guaranteed, the signals are most ominous.
One doomsaying economist said: "I'm not saying I can't be wrong; what
I'm saying is if I'm wrong, it will mean everything I was taught about
economics is wrong."
So, people aren't giving enough money in church. The primary point
I'm making is that maybe the economy for common folks - us rubes out
here in the Great Plains - isn't as solid as we're led to think. People
feel less generous.
At the micro level: two ELCA churches?
Focusing on Morris specifically, I think we have trouble supporting
two ELCA Lutheran churches in town. I have written before that the
creation of the Good Shepherd Church north of town might drain support
from existing churches. I'm not sure to what extent this has happened.
This theory might be overblown.
Our two ELCA Lutheran churches are on opposite sides of town, on
"opposite sides of the tracks." The street out in front of First
Lutheran Church (our church) is in horrendous shape. You'll
thump-thump-thump over it.
Of more serious concern is how First Lutheran was designed. There
are stairs to negotiate all over the place. It's like our old school
that was recently torn down. What's the first thing you saw when you
entered the main doors of the 1914 building of our old school complex?
You saw a substantial flight of stairs headed up. What's the first thing
you see when you go through the doors at the front of First Lutheran?
Steps going upward. Oh, and steps go downward to the fellowship hall
too. You had to choose.
When the time came for First Lutheran to install an elevator,
leaders had no choice, given logistics, but to locate that elevator a
long ways from the sanctuary. What a difference from the Catholic Church
in Morris. When you step out of the elevator at Assumption (Catholic)
Church, you are basically "in the sanctuary!" In fact, you're closest to
the front pews, which are the hardest to get filled anyway (in our
modest Minnesota culture).
The ELCA Lutheran Church on the west side of the tracks is the
complete opposite, architecturally, from First Lutheran. Faith Lutheran
in west Morris has everything on one level. There aren't even any steps
leading to the entrance! Given how our population is aging (and how
older people tend to have more money), Faith Lutheran seems far more
advantageous. That's sad for First Lutheran whose leaders have of course
always meant well.
Given the financial shortcomings for First Lutheran now, I wonder
if a full-fledged consolidation might be coming. To date we have seen
some small steps toward consolidation - more sharing of resources and
more combined events. But I wonder if those small steps might actually
have been counterproductive. You see, these steps may be reducing the
sense of identity the respective congregations have. It might be best to
"get it over with" and consolidate.
Let's be blunt: Faith Lutheran has been handicapped by a reputation
of quite unpleasant conflict among parishioners and/or clergy. I have heard some
bizarre stories about parishioners' behavior there. I know of at least
two families that have left Faith for First, for this reason. I have
been told that some of the more "edgy" parishioners at Faith have gone
out to Good Shepherd (what a friend and I refer to as "the dog kennel
church" since it's next to Dan Sayles' place). Consider that a rumor.
I have always been bothered about how Morris public school employees seem under pressure to join Faith, as if it's part of the package of
working for the school. I don't see why people can't just be left alone
in their private lives. Once in a while a free spirit like Wanda Dagen,
band director, will come along and just join First.
Broader forces at work too?
Are the financial struggles of churches a reflection of broader
social trends? Let's not sneeze at this. The "information age" means we
can connect with people of common interests, thus we become part of
these new "online communities," and we're less dependent on communities
that are defined geographically. Instead of defining ourselves by living
in Morris or West Central Minnesota, or by belonging to a certain
church, we connect with people in a virtual way who are like us.
The epitome of the old model was "Peyton Place." It was a place
where people got bored. I think we overlook how in our contemporary
society, thanks to the tech explosion, we have conquered boredom. We
have crushed it. So much so, distracted driving has become a major
problem and issue. We can hardly keep up with all we're trying to cram
into our heads.
A friend tells me that today's younger generation doesn't seem to
need to affirm faith by "going to a building." It's a different attitude
I still go to church at First Lutheran but I don't like taking
communion. I have sort of a phobia about it - always have. I'm scared
I'll get to the front of the sanctuary and not know quite what to do. Or
that I'll trip or something, or - horrors - I'll forget where to sit
back down when I'm done. Leave a trail of bread crumbs?
First Lutheran is a venerable old institution in Morris. We'll just
have to see what happens. Pastor Paul Erdal is as articulate as they
come. He could be a successful "TV pastor."