Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on January 3, 2013
During the ‘70s there were only about 8 or 9 television channels in Northern California that regularly beamed programs and movies into my home. One of them was our local KTVU Channel 2 that featured two programs I would watch religiously; Dialing For Dollars, which was a sort of early game show hosted by Pat McCormick that often aired classic films, and the late night horror movie program Creature Features hosted by local legend Bob Wilkins. I got my film education early on through these two programs, particularly Creature Features, which regularly featured interviews with actors, directors and various crew members who would discuss their craft in terms that any kid could understand. Following the huge success of STAR WARS in 1977, Bob Wilkins launched a second television program on KTVU called Captain Cosmic, which aired science fiction such as the original FLASH GORDON serial and many terrific Japanese shows including SPACE GIANTS, JOHNNY SOKKO & HIS FLYING ROBOT, ULTRAMAN, SPECTREMAN and STARBLAZERS. Captain Cosmic also introduced me to the wonderful world of Gerry Anderson when it aired THUNDERBIRDS and CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS.
At the time marionette programs aimed at children were commonly seen on television but nothing had prepared me for Gerry Anderson’s high-tech (at the time) puppet shows. Gerry Anderson, along with his talented crew, were responsible for creating a technique Anderson called ‘Supermarionation’ that used thin wires to control the puppet’s movements and voice synchronized motors placed in the puppet heads made them appear as if they were actually talking. The detailed set designs for THUNDERBIRDS and CAPTAIN SCARLET were innovative and incredibly detailed, and the action-packed storylines were often surprisingly adult in nature. Like a lot of other kids and adults I became mesmerized by these Supermarionation shows. They sent my 10-year-old mind reeling and seemed to unlock some deep recesses of my imagination. In retrospect, watching these pioneering puppet shows was a lot like seeing your toy box come to life. Suddenly stagnant rocket ships were able to launch themselves into space and the dolls and action figures that I loved playing with were now able to move and talk on their own without any help from me.
My favorite Gerry Anderson program was the widely popular THUNDERBIRDS, which originally aired on British television between 1965 and 1966. This groundbreaking show depicted the adventures of International Rescue, a super secret organization run by an ex-astronaut called Jeff Tracy and his 5 sons, John, Scott, Virgil, Alan and Gordon who were all named after the history making Mercury Seven astronauts. With the help of other characters including Brains, Tin Tin Kyrano and my favorite Thunderbird, the James Bond-like Lady Penelope (who was designed and voiced by Anderson’s second wife & creative partner, Sylvia Anderson), the Thunderbirds averted disasters and saved the world from evildoers. Anderson made two films based on his popular marionette programs (THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO and THUNDERBIRD 6) and in 2004 THUNDERBIRDS was turned into a live-action film starring Bill Paxton, Anthony Edwards, Sophia Myles and Ben Kingsley but I haven’t seen it. I have no idea if it’s anywhere near as fun or inventive as Gerry Anderson’s original show but I suspect that like many live-action movies based on popular television programs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, it probably wouldn’t hold my attention for too long.
Besides creating many thrill-filled puppet shows aimed at kids, Gerry Anderson also created successful live action science fiction programs for adults including UFO, SPACE: 1999 and SPACE PRECINCT. The fantasy worlds that Anderson helped bring to life have influenced generations of filmmakers and animators and made him thousands – possibly even millions – of fans around the world. Andersom’s shows could be enjoyed by the whole family and they often persuaded kids to become interested in space exploration at an early age. Television needed Gerry Anderson and I’m grateful that he shared his limitless imagination with us.
Gerry Anderson passed away at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s. When the news was announced voice actor Matt Zimmerman, who played Alan Tracy as well as other characters in THUNDERBIRDS, told the BBC News that the show was “a big part of peoples lives” and mentioned that “people speak of the shows with such affection, and I held Gerry with that kind of affection as well.” Anderson is survived by his current wife Mary and four children, including his youngest son, Jaimie, who wrote briefly about his father’s passing on his website saying that, “I’m very sad to announce the death of my father, THUNDERBIRDS creator, Gerry Anderson. He died peacefully in his sleep at midday today (26th December 2012), having suffered with mixed dementia for the past few years.” After the public’s reaction he added, “I just wanted to thank everyone for their incredibly kind messages of support, and for sharing their happy childhood memories – inspired by Dad’s work. I know Dad would have been blown away by the support, positivity, and kind words. I think the saddest thing would have been if he had passed without being noticed, but the response has been the total opposite. Thank you.”
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