History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

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).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let's take "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea"

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 both.
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 ventures too.
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?" Rimshot.)
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 characters. Kudos!
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 Knows Best."
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 temptation.
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. John.)
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 season.
"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.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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