Posts by Great Books Guy

Star Trek, Season 1, Episode Twenty-One “The Return of the Archons”

Stardate: 3156.2
Original Air Date: February 9, 1967
Writer: Gene Roddenberry/Boris Sobelman
Director: Joseph Pevney

“Joy to you, friends. May peace and contentment fulfill you.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Enterprise is orbiting Beta III in the C-111 system in search of any trace of the Starship Archon, a Federation ship which disappeared about a hundred years ago near Beta III.

The episode opens with an amusing scene as Lt. Sulu and another Enterprise crewman named Lt. O’Neill (Sean Morgan) are dressed in 18th century garb, outrunning strange hooded figures (“Lawgivers”) on the streets of a small town on Beta III. Sulu is zapped by one of them shortly before beaming back to the Enterprise where he starts acting strangely, he appears to be in a “highly agitated mental state” –and Lt. O’Neill is nowhere to be found.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy and three other crewmen form a search party and beam down to Beta III’s surface. At first the place seems peaceful. People strut about the streets with an empty, mindless demeanor smiling while declaring “joy to you, friend” and asking if the Enterprise crewmen have come from the “Valley” or if they are “Archons.” Soon, the crew are warned of the start of the “Red Hour” which will begin at 6 O’Clock.

We learn that these people are members of an unusual religious cult, ruled by a mysterious cleric called “Landru” who preaches that people should be “absorbed” and “of the body.” The “Red Hour” is shown to be a strange “Festival” in which all hell breaks loose –to quote John Milton– as the citizens begin wildly shrieking, breaking things, and violating all manner of social and cultural mores. Robbery and property destruction is suddenly widespread, as is rape and sexual assault. The scene is akin to a wild, untamed bacchanalia. Once the “Red Hour” ends, the people return to their formerly pleasant state of peace and tranquility.

Kirk and the landing party seek out a hotel room where the crewmen are asked if they are the “Archons.” Soon enough, the crewmen are brought before Landru, a hologram who accuses them of being hostile actors. He intends to “absorb” them whether they like it or not. Hypersonic sound-waves render them unconscious and the crew are thrown into a dungeon. In time, they escape being absorbed into the utopian cult and donning the robes of the “Lawgivers,” they head for overthrowing Landru. Spock mentions this being a violation of the Federation’s “Prime Directive” (the first such allusion in Star Trek lore) but Kirk notes a technicality: that the non-interference principle of the Prime Directive only applies to a “living, growing culture,” not forcibly stagnant societies as on Beta III. They meet a colorful cast of local denizens: Tula (Xenia Gratsos), Marplon (Torin Thatcher), and other “Lawgivers” (Sid Haig).

As they arrive at Landru’s cave dwelling, the Enterprise enters a decaying orbit as Landru is capable of pulling starships out of space sending them crashing down upon the Betans. With time running out, the projection of Landru appears not to hear the crewmen and so they fire phasers at his projection, and their phasers blast a hole in the wall for the big reveal: Landru is nothing more than a super computer reminiscent of The Twilight Zone episode “The Old Man in the Cave.” We learn that a man named Landru died some 6,000 years prior. At that time, Beta III was tearing itself apart in violent warfare and so he built this machine to govern a future peaceful society. The good of the body is the directive of Landru, in order to pursue a harmonious continuation of the body. However, Kirk argues with Landru by noting that this civilization lacks spontaneity, creativity, and humanity. Kirk twists Landru’s logic and persuades him that Landru is in fact a threat to the body. Persuaded of its own evil, Landru then short-circuits and dies. Kirk casually walks away, remarking to Marplon that he will soon need a new job.

With the situation now resolved, the Enterprise leaves Beta III as Sulu is returned to normal and Sociologist Lindstrom (Carl Held) remains behind to help restore the planet’s culture to a normal human state (or as Kirk puts it, “a more human” society). As they depart, Spock remarks on the marvel of engineering that Landru had created on Beta III, to which Kirk amusingly responds, “You’d make a splendid computer, Mr. Spock.”

While this episode contains lots of intriguing premises, it seems to be an incomplete story. There are lots fascinating threads here –a 6,000 year old computer which governs a formerly violent civilization in such a way that it now becomes a peaceful, brain-dead cult with occasional supervised bouts of animalistic lawlessness. Why has the Enterprise only arrived now, a full century later, to search for the Archon? How do Landru’s powers actually work? How is he able to send the Enterprise into decaying orbit so easily? Why is he only capable of brainwashing certain people? What is the point of the “Red Hour?” How has Landru managed to govern a society for 6,000 years without malfunction? And how was Kirk so easily capable of persuading Landru to self-destruct in a matter of minutes? What happened to O’Neill? How did Sulu manage to recover? Many questions linger for me, though I will admit there are glimpses of brilliant science fiction themes explored here.

I should also note there is something strangely imperial about Kirk’s handling of this situation. Is it truly “more human” to destroy Landru, thus upending a 6,000 year old civilization? Were the Betans truly oppressed under Landru’s rule? Perhaps further investigation was warranted by the Enterprise, though with a decaying orbit it appears Landru was indeed a hostile actor. At any rate, Kirk has a point that restricting human freedom, spontaneity, and creativity is an inhuman state of affairs. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” Landru’s civilization on Beta III is orderly and safe for the most part, but it is neither honest nor beautiful. Landru’s assimilating rule of the Betans is an obvious prelude to the Borg in The Next Generation. Many reviewers have also made note of parallels to certain religious cults, the thematic dominance of machinery, problems associated with the loss of hope and creativity as found in tyrannical communist regimes (like the Soviet Union), and even parallels to the United States in Vietnam. It would no doubt be interesting if offered the opportunity to read Lindstrom’s future sociological reports about this strange civilization.

One of the endlessly alluring traits of early Star Trek is that we constantly find ourselves stumbling upon ancient civilizations with ghostly relics of centuries past. Along with the ancient computer Landru in “The. Return of the Archons” we have also seen ancient androids in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and centuries-old children in “Miri.” In the next episode –a true classic– we will discover a race of genetically-engineered humans who have been suspended in space for centuries, as well.

1960s television writer Boris Sobelman (1909-1971) drafted this teleplay based on a story by Star Trek founder Gene Roddenberry which was originally in the line-up of stories considered for the pilot episode.

Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed. This was his second directed episode in the series after “Arena.”

Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode was originally in the running for the pilot episode but it was replaced by “The Cage” and years later the story was picked up again by Boris Sobelman to draft the teleplay.
  • According to internet resources, Gene Roddenberry once belonged to a club in school called “The Archons.” The word “Archon” comes from the ancient Greek word for ruler.
  • Apparently, this episode contains one of the first references to the Prime Directive.
  • “The Return of the Archons” was shot on a 40-acre backlot in Culver City, California. The street scenes were part of the “Town of Atlanta” set which was originally constructed for Gone with the Wind in 1939.
  • The “Festival” in this episode served as the inspiration behind the 2013 film The Purge.
  • “The Return of the Archons” is one of actor Ben Stiller’s favorite Star Trek episodes. “Red Hour” was borrowed for the name of his production company.
  • Frequent stunt performer Bobby Clark (who previously donned the Gorn suit) has his only speaking role in this episode when he shots: “Festival! Festival!” at the beginning of the episode.
  • A subplot involving Sociologist Lindstrom falling in love with a local girl was cut from the episode’s final draft script. Perhaps this would make an interesting bit of fan fiction.
  • The exact timeframe in which the “Festival” is typically set to regularly take place is not made explicit, however in James Blish’s episode novelizations (which were based on original screenplays) he describes Reger consoling Tula after the “Festival” that it is “…over for another year.”
  • Roddenberry picked this as one of his ten favorite episodes for the franchise’s 25th anniversary.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Star Trek: Season 1, Episode Twenty “Court Martial”

Stardate: 2947.3
Original Air Date:
Writer: Don M. Mankiewicz/Steven W. Carabatsos
Director: Marc Daniels

“Because Jim Kirk, my dear old love, I am the prosecution.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise has just traveled through a severe Ion storm causing considerable damage to the ship. In the midst of the storm one crewman tragically died after the decision was made to jettison his pod, saving the rest of the ship. His name was Lt. Cdr. Ben Kinney (Richard Webb), a records officer and old friend-turned-rival of Capt. Kirk. His death casts a pall over the crew, particularly Kirk, and since the Enterprise is damaged, Kirk orders an unscheduled layover on Starbase 11 to be fitted for repairs.

Once they land, Kirk is interrogated by Commodore Stone (Percy Rodriguez) who grows convinced that Kirk is lying about the order of events leading to Finney’s death –even Finney’s own daughter blames Kirk for her father’s death, despite being a close family friend (she is actually named “Jame” after James Kirk). When the recorded tape aboard the Enterprise is replayed, the evidence is damning. Did Kirk issue an alert thus giving Finney notice to vacate the pod, as Kirk claims? Or did Kirk eject the pod out of bitterness and vengeance against his one-time nemesis? Many of Kirk’s old school-chums from his graduating class at Starfleet Academy blame him for the accident. Kirk also reconnects with a one-time flame, Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall) –but it turns out she is actually the lead attorney intending to prosecute him!

As the trial unfolds, Spock and McCoy are called to testify, and it becomes apparent that Kirk has committed willful perjury. Despite the best efforts of his quirky attorney Samuel T. Cogley (Elisha Cook Jr.), Kirk’s chances of winning appears to be over. While on a break from the trial, Kirk makes an offhand comment to Spock about how the next Captain on the Enterprise might allow for better chess games in which Spock can win –and this leads Spock to investigate a hunch. Later, McCoy finds Spock alone in the recreation room playing chess –and beating the ship’s computer! Just before the defense is about to rest its case, Spock bursts into the room and speaks with Cogley who then calls the ship’s computer as a trial witness. It turns out someone has either wittingly or unwittingly adjusted the programming of the computer.

In a strange twist of events, Kirk institutes a Phase 1 search of the ship and the sensors are able to locate a unique heartbeat in the Engineering Bay –Ben Finney is actually alive. Kirk confronts Finney and they battle while Finney lists his many grievances for being passed over for a promotion, until Kirk distracts Finney by telling him that his own daughter is on board. This grants just enough space for Kirk to detain Finney and end his vengeful tirade.

In the end, Kirk and Shaw share a kiss and Cogley plans to represent Finney in his own Starfleet trial. Cogley sends the gift of a book to Kirk before the Enterprise departs from Starbase 11 (earlier Kirk and Cogley had an amusing exchange regarding the merits of books vs. computers –perhaps now Kirk will see the merits of the former).

I love a good courtroom drama –perhaps one day John Grisham will pen a script for Star Trek! We might dub it the trial of the twenty-third century. At any rate, there is an interesting contrast here between the supposedly unreliable testimony of Capt. Kirk, and the cold, unmoved record of events provided by the ship’s computer. However, machines are mere tools and can thus be edited by malicious humans in the service of wayward machinations. This is the case with Benjamin Kinney who stages his own death and edits the historical record to defame Kirk. In this episode, we in the audience sympathize with Kirk as he is expected to make decisions affecting many hundreds of people –including an old nemesis. Leadership is a burdensome task, and Kirk is forced to govern a man who both despises and resents him. As per usual, Star Trek treats its audience like competent adults, capable of grasping the hurdles facing leaders, and the struggle to tell the truth in the face of overwhelming odds. A more modern version of this story might offer a more sympathetic glimpse of Finney.

Writer Don Mankiewicz (1922-2015) was perhaps best known for writing the Harper Prize-winning novel entitled Trial about a prejudicial trial of a falsely accused boy. It was made into a 1955 film.

Steven W. Carabatsos (1938-Present) was the editor of Star Trek between the tenures of John D. F. Black and D. C. Fontana. He helped Mr. Mankiewicz adapt this script into a teleplay. Mr. Carabatsos’s tenure did not last long.

Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • The script for this episode was originally entitled “Court Martial on Star Base 11.”
  • The setting of a courtroom drama was chosen as a means of saving money (only four chief sets were required).
  • Apparently Elisha Cook Jr., who played Kirk’s flashy but eccentric defense attorney, had a tremendously difficult time remembering his lines. Many of his lengthy speeches in the script did not make it into the aired version.
  • In this episode, we learn that no captain has ever been put on trial like this before.
  • When the Enterprise first arrives at Starbase 11, Commodore Stone orders Maintenance Section 18 to stop work on the USS Intrepid in order to prioritize the Enterprise –giving further glimpses of other starships. The Intrepid is an all-Vulcan ship. There is also a list of registered starships briefly visible in Stone’s office.
  • Starfleet dress uniforms debut in this episode.
  • The bar in this episode is called “M-11 Starbase Club.” The barkeeper wears the same costume later worn by the barkeeper on Deep Space Station K-7 in the later episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”.
  • Actress Joan Marshall also appeared in The Twilight Zone episode “Dead Man’s Shoes.”
  • This episode is one of the first to affirm the hierarchy of Starfleet command.
  • The backstory to Kirk and Finney is as follows: Finney taught at Starfleet Academy when Kirk was a midshipman, and his daughter was later named after Kirk (“Jame” after “James”). But a number of years later, while they both were serving together on the USS Republic, Kirk says that Finney had left a circuit open to the atomic matter piles that should have been closed. In another five minutes, the Republic could have self-destructed with all hands. Kirk had closed the switch and logged the incident. Finney then had a letter of formal reprimand written into his record, and he was sent to the bottom of the promotion list where he slowly built up resentment. Kirk says that Finney believed that Kirk’s action delayed Finney’s assignment to a starship and ultimately his opportunity to command.
  • The date of the Ion storm was: 2945.7.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

On Upton Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth

“In tragic times like these, an elderly author has nothing to give but words. This collection of words is dedicated to the men and women in many parts of the world who are giving their lives in the cause of freedom and human decency.”
-Autumn 1941 (Upton Sinclair’s opening dedication)

Written during the throes of World War II, Dragon’s Teeth is the third novel in Upton Sinclair’s “World’s End” series (a series which was so-named after its first novel, though it is sometimes also called the “Lanny Budd” series). While it was initially considered for the 1942 Pulitzer Prize, Dragon’s Teeth actually won the Prize the following year in 1943 for reasons explicated below. Between 1940 and 1953, Mr. Sinclair published a total of eleven novels in the “Lanny Budd” series, each book featured the central protagonist Lanny Budd, a young left-leaning socialist whose upper-class activities are buttressed by his family’s wealth thanks to a successful munitions company entitled the Budd Gunmakers Company (in truth, there was an actual company named the Budd Company which manufactured arms during World War II, founded by Edward G. Budd in 1912). Apparently Lanny Budd was a composite figure of several people known to Mr. Sinclair: art dealer Martin Birnbaum and Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. among others. There is an interesting duality within Lanny –a contrast between Lanny’s elitist lifestyle on the one hand, and his abstract academic concern for the working poor on the other plays a central tension in the novel.

In fact, throughout nearly all of Dragon’s Teeth we experience the eccentricities of this prosperous patrician –his world is one of yachts, fine art, quality wine, operas, symphonies, and European villas– meanwhile economic and political troubles begin to brew all across the world. At the outset in France, Lanny’s wife, Irma, gives birth to a daughter named Frances. Irma is, herself, the daughter of a New York utilities magnate and she is heiress of the “Barnes fortune” –a family trust valued at $23M in assets alongside a vast Long Island estate. She represents the “old money” conservatism of yesteryear’s oligarchs as well as an outdated way of thinking which is in contrast to Lanny’s modestly righteous concern for social justice. After the birth of Frances, Lanny and Irma decide to leave their newborn daughter in the care of a nanny, freeing themselves to sail around Europe aboard a yacht entitled the Bessie Budd. En route to the best ports around Europe — France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Germany, and Russia among others– Lanny and the group wander through ancient ruins while contemplating the decaying fabric of human civilization. To set the scene, their venture coincides with the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe shortly before the outbreak of World War II.

After the stock market collapse, Lanny begins to sense a creeping specter of viciousness rising amidst the class warfare beginning to permeate Europe –from growing racial prejudice and demagogic populism, to newfangled anarchistic separatism and revolutionary bolshevism. “Nobody understood these events, nobody could predict them. You would hear people say: ‘The bottom has been reached now; things are bound to take a turn.’ They would bet their money on it – and then, next day or next week, stocks would be tumbling and everybody terrified” (135).

The excitement begins in Book II where we experience the impassioned exhilaration of an early Nazi rally. The yacht carrying Lanny and Irma arrives in Germany a week or so prior to the raucous 1930 election: “The city was in an uproar, with posters and placards everywhere, hundreds of meetings each night, parades with bands and banners, crowds shouting and often fighting. The tension was beyond anything that Lanny had ever witnessed; under the pressure of the economic collapse events in Germany were coming to a crisis, and everybody was being compelled to take sides” (107). Scores of disaffected lower middle class workers, burdened by the recession and dreams of regaining Germany’s lost greatness, chant ecstatically at the sight of the “everyman” Fuhrer. Waving flags, they berate the traitorous French and Poles, while blaming immigrants and Jews for poisoning their “superior” Aryan bloodline, and they hold fast to the promise of making Germany a great power once again –“Down with Versailles!”

Lanny and his friends are given an audience with Hitler, himself, along with several other high-ranking Nazi officers. These remarkable scenes examine characters with the courage to oppose the Nazi ethos (like Lanny) and those who decide to compromise their values in exchange for personal safety (like Irma). As time goes by, it becomes apparent that the forgotten “little people” of Germany who have been exploited by the industrialists of the west and the landlords of the east have willingly elected a monstrous new regime. Refugees quickly file out of the country and into France as academics, Jews, Romani, suspected homosexuals, socialists, bolsheviks, and other types of “others” are quietly rounded up. Newspapers are shut down and sham elections are advanced while Hitler marches toward solidifying his power. President von Hindenberg shocks the world when he appoints Hitler as Chancellor which is followed by immediate crackdowns under the auspices of neutralizing the communist “threat” and they mobilize young fanatics who begin a new reign of terror.

“Adolf Hitler taught that the masses did not think with their brains but with their blood; that is to say, they did not reason but were driven by instincts. The most basic instinct was the desire to survive and the fear of not surviving; therefore Adolf Hitler told that their enemies desired to destroy them and that he alone could and would save them…” (252).

One of Lanny’s Jewish compatriots –Freddi Robin– is placed in the Dachau concentration camp and, against his wife’s wishes, Lanny returns one final time to Germany under the guise of selling high-brow art works by his father-in-law, while secretly attempting to release his friend from imprisonment. Conversations with Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels seem to go nowhere, the Nazis then seize the yacht, and Lanny is also imprisoned where he is very nearly tortured but he is released at the last moment and the closing pages of the book reveal that his quest to be an unexpected success, but the greater tragedy is only beginning to unfold across the continent.

There is quite a lot of fluff which pads this 600-plus page novel as Lanny seemingly wanders aimlessly across Europe for most of the story, with much of the action occurring in the final sections of the book, however to the casual reader I might recommend reading only the specific sections wherein Lanny pays visit to Nazi Germany. Despite Upton Sinclair’s reputation as a bombastic socialist, Dragon’s Teeth is actually quite nuanced, or at least it is not a purely polemical work. That being said, I do not feel particularly compelled to read more of the Lanny Budd series.

The novel’s title comes from Lanny’s tearful reflections at the end of the book –he weeps for the Jews of Europe, the viciousness of the growing populist spirit, and for all the diligent men plowing the soils of Europe and sowing dragon’s teeth –from which, as old legends state, armed men will someday spring forth. A bit of research reveals this legend to be of ancient Greek origin, as featured in Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, in which the planting of dragon’s teeth breeds a new band of vicious warriors (“spartoi”) who fight amongst themselves and before the survivors found the city of Thebes. Colloquially, the phrase “to sow dragon’s teeth” is akin to spawning discord –perhaps not unlike the rising discord displayed throughout Upton Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth. In a cruel twist of historical irony, Upton Sinclair’s books were later burned by the Nazis.

The following are some notable quotations I discovered while reading this Pulitzer Prize winner:

“…such details were eagerly read by a public which lived upon the doings of the rich, as the ancient Greeks had lived upon the affairs of the immortals who dwelt upon the snowy top of Mount Olympus” (7, regarding the details of Lanny and Irma’s wealthy families).

“Marriage was a strange adventure; you let yourself in for a lot of things you couldn’t have foreseen” (27).

“Instead of peace the nations of the world had got more armaments and more debts. Instead of prosperity had come a financial collapse in Wall Street, and all were trembling lest it spread to the rest of the world” (40).

“Play your music, read your books, think your own thoughts, and never let yourselves be drawn into an argument! Not an altogether satisfactory way of life, but the only one possible in times when the world is changing so fast that parents and children may be a thousand years apart in their ideas and ideals” (41).

“…he kept wishing that people would stop robbing and killing one another and settle down to this task of finding out what they really were” (50).

“The Hitler Youth constituted the branches where the abundant new growth was burgeoning; for this part of the tree all the rest existed. The future Germany must be taught to march and to fight, to sing songs of glory, hymns to the new Fatherland it was going to build” (111).

“Yes, there were still some who had money and would not fail in their economic duty! People who had seen the storm coming and put their fortune into bonds; people who owned strategic industries, such as the putting up of canned spaghetti for the use of millions who lived in tiny apartments in cities and had never learned how to make tomato sauce!” (156).

“Say the very simplest and most obvious things, say them as often as possible, and put into the saying all the screaming passion which one human voice can carry – that was Adolf Hitler’s technique. He had been applying it for thirteen years, ever since the accursed treaty had been signed, and now he was at the climax of his efforts” (250).

“Assuredly neither of the Plinys, uncle or nephew, had confronted more terrifying natural phenomena than did the Weimar Republic at the beginning of this year 1933” (277).

“It is a dream, and the German people will wake up from it…” (513).

The 1943 Pulitzer Prize Decision
The debacle from the prior year (1942) led the Pulitzer Advisory Board to consider awarding the Pulitzer Prize to Dragon’s Teeth, however since the book was technically published in 1942, it was ineligible for the award and Ellen Glagow’s In This Our Life won instead (click here to read my reflections). In the midst of behind-the-scenes tumult, all three long-serving Jurors abruptly resigned which suddenly opened the door for new voices to serve on the Jury in 1943.

The 1943 Pulitzer Jury was composed of: John R. Chamberlain (Chair), a former anti-war advocate who wrote for a variety of publications —The New York Times, Time, Life, Fortune, and Scribner’s and Harper’s magazines– but by the early 1940s he had shifted into a more libertarian/right-leaning political conviction. He began writing for The Wall Street Journal, taught journalism at Columbia University, and then became a celebrated book reviewer for a libertarian publication entitled The Freeman. The other two Jurors in 1943 were: Lewis S. Gannett, a writer and book critic for the New York Herald Tribune; and Maxwell S. Geismar, a Columbia University alumnus and teacher at Harvard who became a famous literary critic for a variety of publications including The New York Times Book Review, The New York Herald Tribune, The Nation, The American Scholar, The Saturday Review of Books, The Yale Review, The Virginia Quarterly, Encyclopedia Britannica and Compton’s Encyclopedia (he also penned a notoriously belligerent critique of Henry James). These three Jurors continued to serve together the following year. Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Geismar would also continue serving for several more years thereafter, as well.

Upton Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth was listed as the first choice of two Jurors, and it was the second choice of the third. Aside from Dragon’s Teeth, there were two other novels recommended among the Jurors: The Just and the Unjust by James Cozzens, and The Valley of Decision by Marcia Davenport. Because Dragon’s Teeth had been previously suggested by the Pulitzer Advisory Board the prior year, there were no objections this time around.

Who Is Upton Sinclair?

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) lived an extraordinary life. He was born in Baltimore, MD to an alcoholic liquor salesman for a father who died in 1907 due to delirium tremens, and a pious upper-crust mother. Upton Jr.’s paternal great-grandfather was a veteran of both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The Sinclair lineage was considered aristocratic in the American sense. They were founders of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and their sons were distinguished Naval officers until the end of the Civil War which displaced the Confederacy. As a young man, Mr. Sinclair studied at the City College of New York and even pursued a law degree at Columbia University. He regularly signed up for classes and then routinely dropped them while teaching himself many languages like French, Spanish, and German. In addition to studying for his degrees he also began supporting himself by writing and selling various pulp stories.

Mr. Sinclair was always a bit of an eccentric. He refused to speak with his mother for many years over a small argument. He was obsessive about consuming a rigid diet of raw vegetables and nuts. He also became enamored with the practice of strict sexual abstinence. Despite his proclivity for abstinence, Mr. Sinclair was soon reconnected with an old childhood friend named Meta Fuller and, against all advice, they were married in 1900. Amusingly, they both attempted to maintain abstinence throughout their marriage, but Meta soon became pregnant almost anyway (she made numerous attempts to terminate the pregnancy). At any rate, both spouses dabbled in affairs and Meta had an illegitimate child with someone else before eventually leaving Upton for a poet. Not to be deterred, Mr. Sinclair remarried that very same year to Mary Craig Kimbrough.

Throughout this period, he wrote poetry and gradually became politically active as an avowed socialist. At one point, he founded a socialist colony (it burned down under mysterious circumstances), he deepened his involvement in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Mr. Sinclair spent several weeks in cognito at a Chicago meatpacking plant which became the basis of his 1906 bestseller The Jungle, a muckraking novel published as a serial in the socialist newspaper Appeal To Reason (which was in operation from 1895-1922) The novel details harsh working conditions faced by immigrants in Chicago’s meat-packing industry. Mr. Sinclair intended The Jungle to be a call for socialism in America, however most readers were simply appalled by its depictions of unsanitary working conditions leading to stronger federal regulations like the Meat Inspection Act (1906). Today, The Jungle is remembered as Mr. Sinclair’s most important work. At the time of its publication The Jungle was praised by Winston Churchill and criticized by Theodore Roosevelt.

Mr. Sinclair became a well-known agitator. He organized demonstrations in New York against John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, and he also wrote polemics against big oil, coal, and the auto robber barons. Between 1940-1953, Mr. Sinclair wrote his bestselling Lanny Budd series –a collection of eleven novels following an aspiring young socialist as he encounters the most important people and events of the 20th century. The third installment Dragon’s Teeth won the Pulitzer Prize, though today these books are mostly out of print.

In the 1920s, Mr. Sinclair and his second wife moved to California where he grew connected to the burgeoning film industry, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Charlie Chaplin. Mr. Sinclair also developed a personal fascination with telepathy and the occult, as well as strict vegetarian diet. He founded the California chapter of the ACLU and twice ran unsuccessfully for United States Congress on the Socialist Party ticket: in 1920 for the House of Representatives and in 1922 for the Senate. He was the Socialist Party candidate for Governor of California in 1926 and again in 1930. In 1934, he ran as a Democrat under the “End Poverty in California” (EPIC), but he was resoundingly defeated by incumbent Governor Frank Merriam. After his populist, rabble-rousing campaign in 1934, big business Hollywood studio bosses turned against Mr. Sinclair and his questionable campaign tactics. He was expelled from the Democratic party.

After his second wife died, Mr. Sinclair remarried for the third and final time to Mary Elizabeth Willis. The couple moved to Arizona for a spell before returning to the east coast and settling in New Jersey where they both died in a nursing home –Mary in 1967 and Upton the following year in 1968. Today, his former home in Monrovia, CA is a privately owned historical landmark.

Sinclair, Upton. Dragon’s Teeth. The Viking. Press, New York, 1945 (originally published in 1942).

Click here to return to my survey of the Pulitzer Prize Winners.

Click here to read my reflections on Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Star Trek: Season 1, Episode Nineteen “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”

Stardate: 3113.2
Original Air Date: January 26, 1967
Writer: D. C. Fontana
Director: Michael O’Herlihy

“If I remember my history, these things were being dismissed as weather balloons…”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

U.S. Air Force analyst Webb picks up a strange blip on his radar screen –an unidentified flying object seems to have just fallen out of the sky. Currently, the craft is sitting in the sky above Omaha Station. Webb alerts his Captain who then radios for aircraft support to investigate the situation. The Air Force decides to send a lone pilot, Captain Christopher, to investigate (actor Roger Perry actually served as an intelligence officer in the United States Air Force during the early 1950s).

Meanwhile, per Kirk’s log, the Enterprise, while en route to Starbase 9, was suddenly by a black star of high gravitational attraction which had pulled the Enterprise into its orbit. Using the full power of warp speed, the Enterprise managed to snap away from the star’s pull, but like a rubber band snapping into place, the force sent the Enterprise plunging through space only to stop here, in the atmosphere of this strange place…

In fact, the dramatic warp speed launch apparently has sent the Enterprise backward in time to late 1960s Earth (apparently it is 1969, two years after this episode was originally released). Note: Earth is located near Starbase 9 hence why it makes sense for the Enterprise to arrive at Earth. At any rate, Air Force pilot Captain John Christopher chases the Enterprise through Earth’s atmosphere. A tractor beam is then sent out but the beam is simply too strong so the Enterprise transports the lone pilot aboard the Enterprise just as his shuttle disintegrates. Now aboard the ship, he marvels at this strange situation. The Enterprise reaches an orbit-level and brings up its deflectors to prevent further detection as a “U.F.O.” by. the U.S. Air Force, but Spock privately suggests to Kirk that they now have a problem on their hands. Capt. John Christopher cannot simply be returned to Earth without risking a change to time, itself.

“We cannot return him to earth, Captain. He already knows too much about us and is learning more. I do not specifically refer to Captain Christopher, but suppose an unscrupulous man were to gain certain knowledge of man’s future? Such a man could manipulate key industries, stocks, and even nations. And, in so doing, change all that must be. And if it is changed, Captain, you and I, and all that we know, might not even exist.”

While the Enterprise requires repairs from its own debacle, it is also soon revealed that Captain Christopher has been sending clear images he took of the Enterprise from his plane back to base, so Kirk and Sulu beam directly into the base in an effort to retrieve Captain Christopher’s data before it can be viewed by the Air Force. Kirk is captured while Sulu secretly beams back aboard the Enterprise. The group is saved for the time being. Now, how to fix the situation with Capt. Christopher (along with another Air Force security guard who is accidentally beamed aboard)? And how to return to the 23rd century?

Spock suggests a new “slingshot” effect by rapidly moving toward the sun in order to bend time backwards and recreate the effect they accidentally stepped into. Thankfully, it works. The Enterprise manages to return the two men to their appropriate moment on earth, before they ever saw the Enterprise, by beaming them back without creating a doppelgänger effect. The arrival of the Enterprise in the late 1960s has now been corrected, and they speed away into the 23rd century as if they had never arrived just as the familiar voice of Starfleet is heard over the speaker.

While certainly a fun classic episode, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” is a bit of a contrived story. To be sure, time travel episodes of Star Trek are compelling, but they also have a tendency to unleash pandora’s box. It is apparently quite an easy albeit accidental achievement for the Enterprise to travel through time. Also, if the Enterprise has the capacity to turn back time using Spock’s “slingshot” maneuver, why waste time recovering the tapes from Omaha? Wouldn’t the tapes no longer exist if time goes backward? And how is it physically possible to beam a person back into their own body during a time warp? At any rate, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” is an amusing episode despite certain questionable plot-holes.

The writer of this episode, Dorothea Catherine “D.C.” Fontana (1939-2019), also worked as a writer for a few different television programs prior to Star Trek, and then she briefly worked as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary before becoming a writer on the show. At the age of 27, Fontana became the youngest story editor in Hollywood at the time, and she was also one of the few female staff writers. She remained a Star Trek writer until the end of the second season. Fontana had the notable distinction of being one of the few people to have worked on Star Trek: The Original Series, as well as Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Of them all, Deep Space Nine was her favorite Star Trek series.

Michael O’Herlihy (1929-1997) was an Irish television producer and director of shows like Gunsmoke, Mission Impossible, MAS*H and many others. This was the only episode of Star Trek he directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • This was the first full episode to be written by a woman, D.C. Fontana had previously written the teleplay for “Charlie X” but the story was the original product of Gene Roddenberry.
  • In this episode, Kirk notes there are 12 ships like the Enterprise under the “United Earth Probe Agency.” This fact is apparently contradicted in later series lore and literature.
  • The episode was originally conceived as a sequel to “The Naked Time” however when the ending to that episode was revised, “Tomorrow is Yesterday” was reworked as a stand-alone story. Associate producer Robert Justman devised the original idea for this story, and it was then handed to Dorothy Fontana to create the teleplay. Justman received neither credit nor payment for doing so, whereas Roddenberry’s agent charged the studio up to $3,000 for his own stories and rewrites.
  • There is an amusing scene in which Captain John Christopher notices a woman aboard the Enterprise. He looks at Kirk and asks, “A woman?” To which Kirk corrects him, “A crewmen” –highlighting the changing nature of the times.
  • Kirk’s recording computer has an amusing malfunction after the accidental time travel in this episode: it continually addresses him as “dear,” much to his chagrin. According to Spock, the computer was recently overhauled on the female-dominated planet called Cygnet XIV.
  • The “slingshot maneuver” was employed again by the crew in the motion picture Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
  • Actor Roger Perry who plays Capt. Christopher actually served as an intelligence officer in the United States Air Force during the early 1950s. Several other background characters in this episode also served in the military.
  • In this episode, the Air Force security guard reveals that an emergency button on a communicator automatically beams up a crewman.
  • This is the only episode which ends on a close-up of George Takei before the final Enterprise flies away.
  • This is the first episode where the Enterprise visits Earth during its five-year mission.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Thoughts On Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die (1954)

“Those who deserve to die, die the death they deserve.”

The second novel in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series takes us on an unusual adventure to the United States and Jamaica while Mr. Bond tracks a criminal named “Mr. Big,” a fearsome crime lord with ties to an underground voodoo cult and links to the notorious Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH (short for Smyert Spionam or “Death to Spies”). Live and Let Die amusingly concerns Mr. Big’s scheme to smuggle 17th century pirate gold (Henry Morgan’s treasure) from Jamaica to the United States in order to finance illicit operations. James Bond is sent to investigate.

Who is Mr. Big? He is a 45 year old black Frenchman involved in a strange voodoo death cult, his true name is actually Buonaparte Ignace Gallia and he is a known agent of SMERSH. The SMERSH connection piques Bond’s interest, recalling his brutal scene of torture in Casino Royale. By this point, MI6 has managed to heal most of Bond’s hand which was shockingly branded with a Russian spy insignia in Casino Royale. Now in Live and Let Die, Bond assumes an American cover –he is a New Englander from Boston on holiday and he sports a military haircut (he is also put through a brief “Americanization” course which advises him to change many of his British mannerisms and vocabulary).

CIA agent Felix Leiter returns in this story, as well. Together, he and Bond investigate Mr. Big’s clubs in Harlem where they meet an unusual girl named Solitaire, but they are quickly captured by Mr. Big’s henchmen. Bond and Leiter are tortured and then curiously released (I thought this was a rather convenient plot-hole –why do the villains never kill their known enemies?) Bond’s pinky finger is broken after Mr. Big’s supposedly oracular beau, Solitaire, claims Bond is telling the truth (she is so-named because she apparently gave up on men in her native Haiti). She is described as one of the most beautiful women Bond has ever seen, and we learn that she is being kept as a voodoo prophet by Mr. Big, exploited for her supposed psychic abilities. She flashes playing cards at Bond to indicate her disloyalty to Mr. Big, and this is all it takes for Bond. can she be trusted? The introduction of Solitaire as a seer in the eyes of Mr. Big is the first moment in the novel where we are introduced to its eerie supernatural voodoo cult sub-theme.

Upon his exit, Bond kills several of Mr. Big’s henchmen while escaping. Before skipping town Solitaire connects with Bond and they meet under an alias aboard a train from New York to Florida (Ian Fleming once took this exact train ride in 1943 while en route to Jamaica), however Mr. Big’s henchmen are watching everything. There is an accident in their train car but only after Bond and Solitaire have left. Bond meets up with Felix Leiter in St. Petersburg, Florida to investigate a large warehouse filled with Mr. Big’s tropical fish while Solitaire waits in the hotel, but they are turned away by a suspicious security guard. When they return, Solitaire has been kidnapped and shortly thereafter Felix Leiter decides to return to the warehouse alone where he is promptly captured, tortured, and dropped into a shark tank (he loses an arm and a leg). Bond is now alone on this mission, following the trial of mr. big’s right hand man known as “The Robber” (Bond kills him in a fight that only ends with The Robber falling into a shark cage).

It’s no secret that a key subtext in James Bond is a not-so-subtle critique of Americans, and this holds true in Live and Let Die. The Americans are apparently incapable of handling a criminal who is smuggling pirate gold onto their own soil! Indeed Ian Fleming originally intended to kill off Felix Leiter at this point he but was persuaded against it by his publisher and so Bond’s Texan CIA compatriot remains alive (albeit barely).

Bond flies from Tampa to Jamaica and we are given the backstory of Henry Morgan’s hidden treasure which was always rumored to be on the Isle of Surprise until a young fisherman suddenly disappeared one day and then a New York syndicate (later revealed to be wholly owned by Mr. Big) purchased the island for a thousand pounds. Strange activities like violent shark and barracuda attacks have since surrounded the island, meanwhile there have no less than twenty visits by a yacht called the Secatur (owned by Mr. Big), and also many people on the mainland start to hear the sound of loud beating of voodoo drums.

Bond’s Secret Service liaison in Jamaica, Strangways, connects Bond to his factotum, a local man named Quarrel who is described as the “best swimmer and fisherman in the Caribbean” (I recall this character from the first Bond film, Dr. No). He is a Cayman islander with a deep knowledge of the region and culture.

As the novel concludes, Bond makes a risky scuba diving venture through shark-infested waters in order to plant an explosive on Mr. Big’s yacht (Bond also spots a secret cave where the treasure is likely hidden), but after doing so Bond quickly gets into a silly tussle with an octopus which gets him caught by Mr. Big’s men. Bond and Solitaire are then tied to a line which is dragged off the back of his yacht until the explosion suddenly strikes, killing most of Mr. Big’s henchmen. Those that survive meet a remarkably grisly demise as sharks and barracuda feast on their flesh –we are given a particularly bloody account of Mr. Big’s bloody end. Bond and Solitaire are then rescued by Quarrel and Bond recovers in a hospital.

“Never before in his life had there been so much to play for. The secret of the treasure, the defeat of a great criminal, the smashing of a Communist spy ring, and the destruction of a tentacle of SMERSH, the cruel machine that was his own private target” (177-178).

Live and Let Die is a change of pace from Bond’s classier debut in Casino Royale. From odd beliefs in zombies and voodoo cults, to uncomfortable racial tropes and a slightly warmer, more romantic Bond even though the ghost of Vesper Lynd is entirely absent in the novel (“when the time comes I want to be alone with you, with all the time in the world”), Live and Let Die is a sophomoric effort in my view. Strangely enough, I greatly enjoyed the moments of background exposition, especially the classified information provided by the CIA or MI6, and as in Casino Royale I appreciated the latent paranoia underlying Bond’s coded phone call to MI6 following Felix Leiter’s injury. These moments stand out as Cold war literature at its finest.

I liked the exotic locale of Jamaica in this novel. There are lots of interesting allusions to the age of exploration, from Christopher Columbus to Henry Morgan: “Here, because of the huge coastal swamps, nothing has happened since Columbus used Manatee Bay as a casual anchorage. Jamaican fishermen have taken the place of the Arawak Indians, but otherwise there is the impression that time has stood still” (172). Apparently, Bond knows Jamaica well, he visited the island once on an extended assignment after the war when the communists tried to infiltrate the Jamaican labor unions. I imagine Ian Fleming deeply enjoyed writing these scenes while sitting on the veranda of his tropical Goldeneye estate in Jamaica.

There are several differences between the book and the 1973 movie –the pirate gold is replaced in the movie with an underground heroin ring, and an additional character called Dr. Kananga is featured in the film as a front for Mr. Big. I would submit that both the movie and the book, though considerably different, are both mediocre outings for Mr. Bond and thus not essential reading/viewing for the casual James Bond fan.

Fleming, Ian. Live and Let Die. Thomas & Mercer in Las Vegas, NV c/o Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. 1954 (republished in 2012). Paperback edition.

Click here to read my review of the film Live and Let Die.

Introduction to The Twilight Zone: Season 5

After experimenting with the hour-long format in Season 4, by the time Season 5 rolled around The Twilight Zone thankfully returned to its familiar collection of half-hour installments. While this was a celebrated return to form, Season 5 is often regarded as a jumbled mix of high quality episodes coupled with head-scratchingly mediocre episodes, a trend which becomes increasingly apparent as the season’s end nears.

By the time Season 5 was in production, Rod Serling was already fatigued from his extraordinary run as the show’s creative force. In addition, lead writer Charles Beaumont was now incapacitated due to the onset of his debilitating illness (Mr. Beaumont’s single fifth season script “Gentlemen, Be Seated,” adapted from his 1960 short story, was sadly never produced). Mr. Beaumont’s friends and fellow writers Jerry Sohl and John Tomerlin stepped in co-write several scripts in his stead. Other tensions emerged behind the scenes like George Clayton Johnson’s bitter spat with producer William Froug over full-scale re-writes to his fifth season script “Tick of Time” (renamed as “Ninety Years Without Slumbering”). This caused George Clayton Johnson to entirely walk away from The Twilight Zone.

On the plus side, Richard Matheson’s scripts saw much success and newcomer Henry Slesar also contributed several memorable scripts. The big shift came when producer Bert Granet abruptly departed the show after producing the first thirteen episodes of Season 5. He was replaced by William Froug, now known as the producer of shows like Gilligan’s Island and Bewitched. Mr. Froug unfortunately discarded scripts by Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Jerry Sohl and others which were already in pre-production, and instead he brought in new writers whose output was demonstrably subpar in contrast to the show’s prior greatness.

Despite background exasperations and frustrations, the fifth season of The Twilight Zone contains some absolutely wonderful episodes like “In Praise of Pip,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “Living Doll,” “The Old Man in the Cave,” “The Long Morrow,” “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” “Black Leather Jackets,” “Night Call,” “From Agnes – With Love,” “Spur of the Moment,” “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “Queen of the Nile,” “The Masks,” “Jeopardy Room,” and “The Encounter.”

Strangely, I picked up on a recurring theme of domestic/familial disharmony in this season which is not as prominent in earlier Twilight Zone seasons. Episodes like “In Praise of Pip,” “Living Doll,” “The Masks,” “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” and “The Bewitchin’ Pool” showcase neglectful or downright abusive parental/spousal/children characters in various ways. Some of them are drunk, verbally abusive, or exploitative in nature. In addition, episodes like “Uncle Simon,” “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross,” and especially “What’s In The Box” are simply too uncomfortable to watch as they are rife with overtly manipulative or physically abusive families. These latter three episodes represent a low-point for The Twilight Zone in my view.

Nevertheless, along with a litany of problems and certain points of declining quality, the fifth season still represents some extraordinary flashes of brilliance from The Twilight Zone.

By the end of January 1964, CBS President Jim Aubrey decided he was tired of The Twilight Zone. He felt the show was not pulling good ratings and that it was costing too much. In truth it still had solid ratings though in the top ten, and it mainly stayed within budget but “An Occurrence At Owl Creek” eventually pushed the show over its bottom line. Meanwhile Rod Serling was also ready to end the series. Discussions of selling showed took place –first to NBC which passed and then ABC which considered renaming the show “Witches, Warlocks, and Werewolves” as borrowed from a Serling anthology edition. However, Mr. Serling was not enthusiastic. He was not interested in a regular B-movie horror anthology program (at one point he considered “Rod Serling’s Wax Museum”) and so the idea was buried. Cayuga Productions, Rod Serling’s production company, officially closed its doors.

In the years following The Twilight Zone Rod Serling remained a busy man. He sadly sold the rights to The Twilight Zone to CBS who claimed at the time that they would never be able to recoup their losses with the show, but in decades of syndication that has been proven false. Mr. Serling won another Emmy in 1964 for “It’s Mental Work” which was part of Bob Hope Presents The Chrystal Theatre, and in 1965 he launched a unique character-driven Western called The Loner. While it was lauded by critics, it did not fit the typical Western formula and the show was canceled midway through its first season amidst squabbles between CBS executives and Mr. Serling.

Throughout the 1960s, Rod Serling’s celebrity grew. He hosted the Emmy Awards, as well as “Rod Serling’s Wonderful World Of…” –a show which examined various forms of prejudice and other human failings. He narrated a variety of programs from the Zero Hour radio broadcast to various Jacques Cousteau specials and he served as President for two years of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He continued writing celebrated television scripts as well as the first several drafts of the feature film script for Planet of the Apes. He appeared in many commercials which paid him handsomely but when he wrote the television movie Doomsday Flight (a movie about a skilled pilot who lands a plane amid a serious bomb threat) it was followed by real bomb threats on airplanes –this situation was described as a personal low point for Mr. Serling.

In 1969, NBC aired the pilot episode of Night Gallery, a unique anthology series of the mysterious and the supernatural which was hosted by Rod Serling (incidentally Steven Spielberg made his directorial debut on the program). However, while it was quickly renamed Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Mr. Serling was often excluded from the production end of things and the studio tended to sacrifice quality for mere shock value. It still won a couple Emmy awards despite Mr. Serling’s constant battles with NBC and Universal about the declining quality of the program. He was contractually obligated to remain host until the show was canceled.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rod Serling lectured at many colleges. He spoke out vehemently against the War in Vietnam as well as the rising racial tensions throughout the nation. Tragically, a lifelong chainsmoker, he died at the young age of 50 in 1975 due to heart failure.

In the 1980s, Steven Spielberg took up the mantle of The Twilight Zone by creating a multi-part feature film entitled Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) which was not particularly well-received. It was marred by all manner of production problems including an unfortunate helicopter crash that killed two illegally hired child actors. George Clayton Johnson dubbed it “a tragedy, just a bloody tragedy.” Around the same time, numerous directors tried to revive the television show with CBS, including Francis Ford Coppola. In 1985, finally CBS greenlit a new series with writers like Harlan Ellison and George R. R. Martin, and narrated by Charles Aidman. It lasted for three season (1985-1989). In 2002 another reboot was announced by UPN hosted by Forest Whitaker but this was canceled after two seasons. And most recently, CBS rebooted The Twilight Zone series (2019-2020) which was narrated by Jordan Peele, however unfortunately this series was also met with disappointing reviews. Unsurprisingly, no later remake of The Twilight Zone has been able to match the genius of the original program which continues to challenge and inspire new generations of actors, directors, and writers.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.