Welcome 2011 and 1971 Revisited
To put it very bluntly, 2010 is a year I am very glad to see the last of. It was a year full of more than its share of turmoil, both on a personal and professional level and I sincerely hope that 2011 will be much calmer. 2010 saw the passing of an alarming number of pop culture icons but many of these, like Barbara Billingsley, Kevin McCarthy, Leslie Nielsen, Dennis Hopper, Peter Graves, and Robert Culp, lived long and fulfilling lives. Others like Corey Haim and Gary Coleman died far too young. While one of the burdens of fandom is that we must often endure the loss of those we admire, here’s hoping that 2011 will keep that loss to a minimum.
Forty years ago in the far away time of 1971, it was a landmark year for young Edward Tucker as he started kindergarten that fall at St. John Lutheran School in Ocala, Florida. It was the beginning of an academic career he would continue at that same institution all the way through high school. Also beginning in Florida that year was the age of the theme park. Walt Disney World opened in October and sounded the death toll for the small roadside attractions that had flourished throughout the 50’s and 60’s.
The music industry lost two giants in 1971 as both Door’s lead singer Jim Morrison and jazz legend Louis Armstrong fled the mortal world. Sony introduces a new three-quarter-inch videotape format, called U-Matic, that would eventually lead to the home video revolution. In other news, President Richard Nixon lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 and the infamous Manson Family murder trial ended with the major participants, including Charles Manson, receiving the death penalty which would be overturned a year later.
A major shake up occurred in comic books this year as medium pioneer Jack “King” Kirby, who had already helped create Captain America, The Fantastic Four, and The X-Men among many other characters, was convinced by DC Comics to leave Marvel and join their team. Kirby’s first order of business was to introduce his Fourth World to with the debut of three new DC titles, New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle. Kirby also began an entertaining run on the second tier book Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. In addition to tying this title in with his other Fourth World books, Kirby also revived the Golden Age hero The Guardian and his youthful sidekicks The Newsboy Legion. This move would be the beginning of a long and successful run whose repercussions are still felt in comic books today.
On television, the ground breaking sitcom All in the Family premiered and introduced audiences at home to the lovable racist Archie Bunker played by Carroll O’Connor. The series would go on to break many television taboos and change situation comedies forever. Also debuting on television this year are Sid & Marty Krofft’s third Saturday morning show, Lidsville, Soul Train, The NBC Mystery Movie, and on PBS the long running Masterpiece Theater and The Electric Company. Ending this year are the rural comedies The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Mayberry R.F.D. (the successor of The Andy Griffith Show) plus Hogan’s Heroes and the original vampire soap opera Dark Shadows.
1971 was a strange but significant year for motion pictures. Steven Spielberg made his first foray into theaters with Duel which pitted Dennis Weaver (who made his own debut this year on television as the country-fied lawman McCloud) against one mean mother trucker! Duel was originally produced as a made-for-television movie but it was so successful that Universal paid for additional footage to be shot and released it overseas to theaters. Other releases this year included Frank Zappa’s bizarre 200 Motels, The Summer of ’42, Sam Peckinpah’s brutal Straw Dogs, The French Connection, and Roger Corman’s historical drama on the Red Baron, Von Richthofen and Brown. Walt Disney combined live action and animation in Bedknobs and Broomsticks starring Angela Lansbury and another children’s classic, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, premiered. Sean Connery returned to the role of James Bond in Diamonds are Forever and John Wayne turned in an excellent performance as a disgruntled rancher determined to save his kidnapped grandson in Big Jake.
Science fiction fans had a lot to enjoy with the release of films like The Andromeda Strain, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston. A young upstart named George Lucas even gave us a thinly veiled allegory about future fascism called THX-1138. After painting themselves into a corner with the previous installment, the only way 20th Century Fox could come up with another sequel was to Escape from the Planet of the Apes! Giant monsters were on their way out but we still got the eco-friendly Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster and the final film in the original flying turtle series, Gamera vs. Zigra.
Whew, what a year 1971 was! This all happened forty years ago and its still exciting. Perhaps 2011 will be the year that Hollywood finally stops cannibalizing itself and any other medium it can get its hands on and starts to deliver original material again? Maybe comic books will stop padding stories to stretch them over a greater number of issues and return to solid story telling instead? I doubt most Fanboys like me are holding their breath in anticipation of this but at least a few Retrorama columns can be dedicated to celebrating the innovations of forty years ago. Happy New Year!