Remembering Shirley Hemphill

During African-American History Month, it’s normal to focus on people like Elizabeth Key Grinstead, Sojourner Truth,  Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks.  While they were important to our nation’s history, it’s OK to remember the entertainers as well as the civil rights heroines.

Shirley Hemphill

Shirley Hemphill  was an actress and a comedienne.  She was a funny lady, and from what those who knew her said, very nice in person.  Her career was too short.

I first became aware of Shirley Hemphill when she guest starred on the short-lived sitcom All’s Fair as a thief.  It was her second TV role.

She became famous playing smart-talking, sassy waitress Shirley Wilson on What’s Happening!!  She would later reprise the role in the sequel, What’s Happening Now!!

My favorite role of hers was as Shirley Simmons in One in a Million, where she played a taxi cab driver who inherited a Fortune 500 company from one of her regular fares.  The show dealt with her being a regular, normal person who suddenly had a lot of money and control of a major company.  I remember the episode when an African prince courted her … without bothering to tell her he already had over forty wives.

My father met her once or twice.  He said she was very nice, very funny.  Mark Maynard suggested that a drink should be named after her, an adult version of the Shirley Temple.

She was first and foremost a stand up comedienne.  Being a TV star came second, and being a movie actress came in a distant third.  She only made two movies, CB4 in 1993 and Shoot the Moon in 1996.  She was also an waitress in real life for a time, like so many actresses waiting tables as she waited for her chance for a role.

Shirley Hemphill in office

She wasn’t the first African-American to earn a Ph. D. from Yale like Pauli Murray.  She wasn’t Secretary of State like Condoleezza Rice or an astronaut like Dr. Mae Jemison.  But she made people laugh, and in a sad and crazy world, we could all use a little more laughter.

Shirley Hemphill (July 1, 1947 – December 10, 1999)

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Goodbye, Professor, Hello, Horace (SPOILERS)

SPOILERS:  This blog contains spoilers for the Crisis on Earth-X crossover of SupergirlThe Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow.  If you have not seen the four-part adventure yet, read no further.

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Victor Garber, who played Professor Martin Stein on Legends of Tomorrow and Admiral Halsey on The Orville, has left the cast of Legends of Tomorrow.  Professor Stein, who was half of the superhero Firestorm, died as a result of his wounds fighting Nazis (an honorable way for a Jewish scientist to perish) in the Crisis on Earth-X crossover event.

Victor Garber played Professor Martin Stein on "Legends of Tomorrow" and "The Flash."
Victor Garber as Professor Stein in “Legends of Tomorrow” {image via the CW by way of IMDB.com}

In the show, Professor Stein had been discussing retiring from the Legends, a group of time-travelling heroes, in order to spend more time with his daughter and his newborn grandson.  Before he could accomplish that goal, he died.

In real life, Victor Garber will be returning to Broadway.  The four-time Tony nominee will be starring in Hello, DollyHe will play Horace Vandergelder, the role played by Walter Matthau in the movie and currently played by David Hyde Pierce on stage.  Bernadette Peters will star as Dolly Levi.  Garber will replace Hyde and Peters will replace Bette Midler on January 20, 2018.

“The opportunity to play this role, in this production, with the incomparable Bernadette Peters, is truly a dream come true. I cannot wait to be back where I belong.”

Victor Garber has appeared on "The Orville" twice as Admiral Halsey.
Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) and Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) – {image via Fox by way of IMDB.com}

I was upset with the producers and scriptwriters of Legends of Tomorrow for killing off Professor Martin Stein, but at least now I know why.  Mystery solved.

[All photos “borrowed” from IMDB.com’s website.  No copyright infringement intended]

Happy Birthday to Bill Nye, the Science Guy!

Dr. William S. Nye was born November 27, 1955, in Washington, DC, making November 27, 2017, his sixty-second birthday.  Happy Birthday to Bill Nye, the Science Guy!

Bill Nye is a science advocate.  He is a science educator.  He is also an engineer, an inventor, an author, a scriptwriter, a producer, and a comedian.  He has (at last count) six honorary doctorates, although the highest degree he earned was a BS in mechanical engineering.  He has, of course, never stopped learning.

Bill Nye is most famous for his television show Bill Nye the Science Guy, which from 1993 to 1998 taught scientific principles to children and their parents.

Now, when our president claims climate change is nothing but a Chinese hoax, it’s more important than ever to study and understand science.  Bill Nye considers scientific illiteracy a clear and present danger to our nation.  DVDs of Bill Nye the Science Guy episodes are available for sale through the Disney Movie Club.  Dr. Nye can also be heard on Planetary Radio Sundays on Krypton Radio.

Our country is the only country in the world that has some people that don’t believe in evolution. America is still the leader in scientific advancement, and yet we have adults who want to ignore the evidence of millions and millions of years to believe something much more complicated and complex with zero proof. It’s important that our children are raised to be educated, well-rounded tax paying citizens that understand the importance of technology and science. If you’re an adult and you choose not to believe in science, fine, but please don’t prevent your children from learning about it and letting them draw their own conclusions. I think in 30-40 years this won’t even be an issue, but right now it’s a major concern for a country that has a significant amount of adults raising children to ignore the facts and the evidence surrounding them about our universe, our creation and our well-being.  (emphasis added)

Bill Nye attended Cornell University, where Carl Sagan was his astronomy professor.  Years later, he met up with Dr. Sagan and told him that he was planning a children’s science and technology show.

“I mentioned how I planned to talk about bridges and bicycles and so on—stuff that, as an engineer, I’d been interested in—and he said, ‘Focus on pure science. Kids resonate to pure science rather than technology.’ And that turned out to be great advice.”

In his personal life, Bill Nye is a baseball fan and an avid swing dancer.  His favorite teams are the Seattle Mariners and the Washington Nationals.  He’s done experiments to demonstrate the physics of baseball.  In addition to appearing on Stargate: Atlantis and The Big Bang Theory as himself, he was also a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.  Of his many patents, most are for dancing shoes.

Nye has written two best-selling books on science: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation in 2014 and Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World in 2015.  He is also the author of Everything All at Once:  How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap into Radical Curiosity, and Solve Any Problem (whew, that’s a mouthful), Bill Nye the Science Guy’s Big Blast of Science, Bill Nye the Science Guy’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germsand several others.


MAT Spelled Correctly

I have written a children’s book, R is for Renaissance Faire, and have contributed a story to Alternative Truths and a song to More Alternative TruthsBooks make great Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice gifts.  Consider buying books for your loved ones this holiday season.  Bill Nye’s books, my books, Juliette Douglas‘ books, Jefferson P. Swycaffer‘s books.  Buy a book.  Fight ignorance.  Read.

Susan Murrie with her children's  book

 

Team Scorpion at the RenFaire

 

My husband and son are fond of CBS’ show Scorpion on Monday nights, and I watch it with them.  November 13, 2017, Scorpion had an episode called “Faire is Foul,” which took place at a RenFaire.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a volunteer at Mid-South Renaissance Faire, so I was especially interested in this episode.  I enjoyed it very much, but I couldn’t help noticing a few plotholes.

Beware:  SPOILERS!

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Necessary background information:  for humanitarian reasons, Agent Cade Gallo (played by Robert Patrick) was forced in a previous episode to choose between killing a prisoner and risking letting him escape.  The prisoner escaped.  Cade Gallo was arrested and suspended from duty as a federal agent.  Sylvester Dodd (played by Ari Stidham), a mathematician with an eidetic memory, took and passed the bar test so he could become Gallo’s lawyer.

Agent Gallo on horseback

Robert Patrick as Agent Cade Gallo {image via CBS}

The show opens with Gallo and Sylvester in court.  After the courtroom scene, all of Team Scorpion (except Ralph Dineen) go to the Los Angeles Renaissance Festival.  One problem:  RenFaires are usually only open on weekends and holidays, days when courthouses are normally closed.

Happy Quinn (played by Jadyn Wong) was dressed as an executioner and wore an axe on her back.  Contrary to safety procedures at every RenFaire I’ve ever been in, her weapon was not peace-bonded.

King Philip came riding through the faire on horseback.  He was unaccompanied.  At Mid-South Renaissance Faire, when Good Queen Bess goes walking through the faire, she is accompanied by at least two guards and two or more ladies-in-waiting and/or courtiers.  She never goes anywhere unescorted.

At the RenFaire, the bad guys sabotaged the transformer, because they needed to steal something from a nearby building.  In the show, this deprived the faire and the surrounding area of power.  Most RenFaires, several of the merchants will have portable generators.

The guard at a nearby warehouse was shot.  Team Scorpion had to save his life, and they did so, MacGyver-fashion.  A friend watching the show asked, “Where are the EMTs?”  Most Faires will have EMTs on standby, in addition to a first aid tent.

Scorpion RenFaire

Left to right, Elyes Gabel as Walter O’Brien, Jadyn Wong as Happy Quinn, Eddie Kaye Thomas as Toby Curtis, Robert Patrick as Cade Gallo, and Katherine McPhee as Paige Dineen.  {image via CBS}

The faire was evacuated of all but a handful of people: a few vendors and craftsmen, Sylvester’s gaming comrades (who performed as the Lords of the Sing), King Philip, and Team Scorpion.  There are generally several thousand people at a faire and dozens of volunteers, performers, and vendors.  I have trouble believing that there would have been so few people.  And where were the county sheriff’s deputies or local police, who usually assign a few men and women to Renaissance festivals just in case?

On the whole, I enjoyed the episode.  It was fun.  The good guys were heroic.  Sly gave a great speech to inspire the folks at the RenFaire, to which all present shouted “huzzah!”   There was some romance between Toby and Happy, and between Walter and Paige.  But when Beauty and the Beast was on TV, I worked for the Public Defender’s office as a legal procedures clerk, and I saw Catherine Chandler get courtroom procedure wrong on a regular basis.  As a RenFaire volunteer and author, I couldn’t help notice a few things off about “Faire is Foul.”

Scorpion team logo

Left to right, Ari Stidham as Sylvester Dodd, Eddie Kaye Thomas as Dr. Toby Curtis, Katherine McPhee as Paige Dineen, Elyes Gabel as Walter O’Brien, Jadyn Wong as Happy Quinn, and Robert Patrick as Agent Cade Gallo. {image via CBS}

If you like Renaissance faires and festivals, buy my book, R is for Renaissance Faire.

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If you like political satire written by some of the best science fiction and fantasy authors on two continents, More Alternative Truths, the sequel to Alternative Truths, was released one week ago today.  A portion of the royalties from both More Alternative Truths and Alternative Truths go to the American Civil Liberties Union for three years.  After three years, all royalties will go to the ACLU.

MAT Spelled Correctly

All pictures of the cast of Scorpion are taken from IMDB.com or CBS’ own website.  No copyright infringement is intended.

 

 

What is Fanfic?

What is fanfic?  Is it a crime to write it?  Is it a sin?

There’s a lot of misunderstandings about fanfiction (aka fan fiction, fanfic), especially since ‘netfic became more popular than fanzines.  (Don’t worry.  All terms will be explained presently.)  Fanfic is generally defined as writing stories based on TV shows or movies, without the permission of the copyright holders.

Stephen Downes defines fanfiction as “any work which embellishes, alters or rewrites the work of another (usually a published author) with new storylines, characters, alternative endings, beginnings and substitute sets of morals, ideals or sexual politics.”

The Urban Dictionary says “fanfiction is when someone takes either the story or characters (or both) of a certain piece of work, whether it be a novel, tv show, movie, etc, and create their own story based on it. Sometimes people will take characters from one movie and put them in another, which is called a crossover. ”

Wikipedia says “Fan fiction or fanfiction (also abbreviated to fan ficfanfic or fic) is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator. It is a popular form of fan labor, particularly since the advent of the Internet.”

Please note the last seven words of the paragraph above.  Fanfic predates the Internet.  Many people are under the misapprehension that the Internet created fanfic.  The Internet simply made fanfic cheaper and more accessible.

Once upon a time, there was a TV show called Star Trek.  (You may have heard of it.)  Some fans felt three seasons wasn’t enough, so just as Tom Sawyer played Robin Hood and King Arthur with his friends, they played Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura and Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy and Nurse Chapel and Scotty.  Only instead of going outside to play make believe, these fans wrote down their stories.  Some were good.  Some were dreadful.  Some were eventually professionally published (often with the names and serial numbers filed off).  Many of these writers wanted to do things that the censors wouldn’t let NBC do at the time:  “adult” stories, what-if stories, crossovers, deathfic.

Examples:

  • What if Spock went into pon farr and Kirk was the only other person there?
  • What if Spock and Kirk were stuck in the 1930s with Edith Keeler?
  • What if the Enterprise found Captain Buck Rogers’ capsule and thawed him out?
  • What if the Enterprise went forward in time and was trapped in the Planet of the Apes future?
  • What if Kirk were never rescued in “The Paradise Syndrome” and Spock became captain of the Enterprise?
  • What if Spock really killed Kirk in “Amok Time”?
  • What if the Enterprise met the Battlestar Galactica and its ragtag fugitive fleet?

These stories were printed in homemade magazines called fanzines (fan magazines).  The fans didn’t invent fanzines — they were already around, but more for discussing SF and fantasy than writing stories based on other people’s characters.  But with mimeograph machines in their parents’ garages, these fannish authors abducted the term fanzine and refused to give it back.  Eventually, printing methods improved.  Photocopying costs came down.  (Oddly, photocopying costs were much lower on the West Coast than the East Coast, which affected the price of ‘zines.)  Kinko’s made editors’ lives easier.

Once writers get in the habit of writing, they don’t stop.  Fans of one show seldom like just that show, they become fans of other shows.  Star Trek fanzines and letterzines started having material from other shows and movies.  Eventually, those shows and movies started having their own ‘zines.  There were genzines.  There were multimedia ‘zines.  Under the table and in a whisper, there were slash ‘zines and het ‘zines.

It was a glorious time for fanfic authors and readers.


Vocabulary:

AO3:  Archive of our Own (archiveofourown.org), a popular ‘netfic site that has quite a few “adult” stories, theoretically by invitation only, but it’s easy to get invited.

AU:  alternative universe, a what-if such as what if your favorite Harry Potter character that J. K. Rowling killed off lived, what if the Pevensie children stayed in Narnia, what if Leia Organa had been trained since childhood as a Jedi knight

canon:  what happened in the original material

crack or crackfic:  a very silly story, not meant to be taken seriously

crossover:  a story that combines the characters from two or more fandoms, such as Batman meeting Jessica Fletcher or Dr. Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory and Dr. Spemcer Reid of Criminal Minds collaborating on a physics project together/

crunching:  The Mills Brothers sang “you always hurt the one you love.”  Crunching is showing how much you love a favorite character by writing a story where he is physically and/or emotionally hurt.

deathfic:  a story that features the death of a major character

fanfic or fanfiction:  an amateur story written by a fan, based on characters and situations created by someone else (usually a TV show or movie, sometimes a book or series of books)

FanFiction.Net:  one of the more popular fanfic websites, sometimes referred to as the Pit of Voles because it obeys Sturgeon’s Law.  Proofreading is regrettably rare.

fanon:  something that happens so much in fanfic that it is accepted by other writers as semi-canonical

fanzine or ‘zine:  a homemade magazine containing fanfic stories, poems, artwork, etc.

genzine:  a fanzine that has stories rated G to PG-13, with limited sex in the stories

het:  R or X rated stories focusing on male characters with female characters

hurt/comfort or h/c:  a story where character A is badly hurt, so that character B can comfort and console him

letterzine:  a homemade magazine with little or no fiction, with the emphasis on letters between fans discussing and debating their favorite shows

Mary Sue:  a character who is beautiful, intelligent, has multiple skills, is often of royal or noble birth, frequently has psi-powers, a born leader, and whom the hero falls head-over-heels in love with; very common in beginning writer’s stories as they attempt to have a character who is good enough to keep up with the canon cast, and winds up outdoing them in every category.

multimedia:  a fanzine that has stories from multiple fandoms

‘netfic:  fanfic that originates on the Internet, instead of being published in a ‘zine first

slash:  stories of any rating focusing on romantic relationships between two characters of the same gender, especially if they were heterosexual in canon, ie, Ellison/Sandburg, Kirk/Spock, Solo/Kuryakin, etc.


Then came ‘netfic.  Now, ‘netfic is not inherently bad, just as ‘zines are not always good.  But ‘netfic has a tendency to jump from writer’s brain to keyboard to posted on-line, without stopping for a breath in between.  This is especially true of the younger writers.  Paula Smith had this to say of the difference in the writing process between ‘zines and ‘netfic:

In writing, there is a crucial step of rewrite which is not regularly being seen these days. This is one difference we noticed in the late 1990s with fans coming in from the Internet. In the old days, I would write the first draft of a story in longhand, type it up, read it again, fuss with it, type it up again. And then the editor would read it, recommend changes, and you would have to type the whole bloody thing up yet again. The stories went through the typewriter more than once, and a lot was changed slowly but crucially. I’ve noticed the difference in my own writing. Now, you write something, put it aside, write something, put it aside, and then jam it all together.  {Paula Smith}

On the one hand, ‘netfic is free.  (Due to printing costs, ‘zines can be as expensive as hardcover books.)  The feedback is almost instantaneous.  On the other hand, GIGO.  Since no editor looks over the story before it’s posted, typos abound in ‘netfic.  Typos aren’t unknown in fanzines, of course, but authors and editors at least try to catch and correct them.  As Paula Smith said, “Another difference is the level of literacy of people coming to it—and the level of entitlement about their level of literacy: “Well, I don’t care if this is misspelled because that’s how I want it to be.” I may sound a bit snotty, but heck, I’ve seen typos completely wreck the point of a story.”


Is fanfic a sin?  Is it a crime?

Most people say that fanfic violates copyright.  This is why is must be done on an amateur basis, and fanzine editors and publishers can only charge enough to get their printing and mailing costs back.  They cannot make a profit.

However, there’s the Fair Use argument.

Like every other potentially infringing thing we do on the Internet every day, from reblogging a photo on Tumblr to uploading a song cover to YouTube, in the U.S. fanfiction writers are protected by a magical thing called the Fair Use clause. The Fair Use clause states that if use of someone else’s work is “fair,” it’s OK. Traditionally, “fair” has usually been granted to purposes of education or commentary, but this is also the clause that allows and protects parody. (By Gavia Baker-Whitelaw AND Aja Romano )

Many “real” authors got their start in fanfic  Mercedes Lackey, Jean Lorrah, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Lois McMaster Bujold, Rosemary Edghill, Jean Graham.  Dr. Lorrah uses the supporting characters she developed in her Star Trek fanfic stories in her professionally published by Pocket Books Star Trek novels.  (I don’t know whether Pocket Books is aware of this.)  Take a close look at Bujold’s Hugo-winning Miles Vorkosigan series.  If you squint, you can see the roots of a Klingon admiral in Aral Vorkosigan and a Starfleet officer in Cordelia Naismith.  Rosemary Edghill’s Hellflower trilogy started life as Star Wars fanfic, with Butterfly St. Cyr as a business rival to Han Solo.  I’ve seen a series of romance novels where the heroes were very clearly based on the men of TV’s Magnificent Seven, although again, I’m not sure if the publisher was aware of that.

If you are willing to risk the legal issues, fanfic is a good way for writers to practice.  Since the settings and characters already exist, the writer can concentrate on plot, description, etc.  Fanfic does not require a plot; many fans see nothing wrong with a vignette that is just character development.

And then there’s the success story many fanfic readers and writers are both proud of and embarrassed by:  Fifty Shades of Gray.  It started life as Twilight fanfic.  People are pleased (and jealous) that one of their own made it to the big time.  They’re embarrassed because it’s so dreadful.  But then, so was Twilight, IMHO.

“Author Orson Scott Card (best known for the Enders Game series) once stated on his website, “to write fiction using my characters is morally identical to moving into my house without invitation and throwing out my family.” He changed his mind completely and since has assisted fan fiction contests, arguing to the Wall Street Journal that Every piece of fan fiction is an ad for my book. What kind of idiot would I be to want that to disappear?’ “(Wikipedia)

The inimitable but oft-imitated J. K. Rowling says she’s flattered by fanfic set in the Harry Potter universe.  (Which is a good thing, because there are over 776,000 HP stories at FanFiction.net and 154,267 HP stories at AO3.)  Shannon Hale admits she still writes fanfic on occasion.  Raymond Feist, Anne Rice, and George R. R. Martin are opposed to fanfic and have requested their fans not write any based on their novels.

I think fanfic is A, harmless fun, and B, good writing practice.  My opinion may change when other people start writing stories about my characters without permission.  As the saying goes, YMMV;  your mileage may vary.  What’s your opinion on fanfic?

Tammy Grimes, Broadway’s Molly Brown and The Last Unicorn’s Molly Grue, Dead at 82

Actress-singer Tammy Grimes died Sunday, October 30, 2016, in Englewood, New Jersey. She was 82.  Her theatrical career spanned — and soared — over half a century.  Her two most celebrated roles were as the unsinkable Molly Brown on Broadway and as the voice of Molly Grue in the animated feature The Last Unicorn.

Tammy Grimes was a star of the legitimate theater, but far from unknown in movies, television, cabaret performances, and doing voice-overs.  She recorded several record albums.  She won two Tony Awards, one for originating the role of Molly Brown on Broadway, a part Debbie Reynolds played in the movie version, and one for starring in Noël Coward’s play Private Lives.  She also won an Obie Award for her performance in Clerambard and a Theatre World Award for her work in Look After Lulu!  She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2003.

Tammy Grimes worked with a variety of co-stars and playwrights.  Noël Coward discovered her in a New York cabaret, and insisted she star in several of his plays.  She performed in plays by William Shakespeare and Neil Simon.  She guest-starred on TV shows as diverse as Love American Style, Route 66, The Danny Kaye Show, Tarzan, The Love Boat, and The Young Riders.  She turned down the chance to play Samantha Stevens on Bewitched (a role which went instead to Elizabeth Montgomery) to concentrate on her stage career.

Tammy Grimes acted in mystery, horror, and comedy movies, co-starring over the years with David McCallum, Eddie Albert, William Shatner, Steve Guttenberg, Bernadette Peters, Muppets, mice, and unicorns.

Her fantasy/science fiction roles include:

  • Mrs. Pinder in The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)
  • Homily Clock in The Borrowers (1973)
  • Albert in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)
  • Narrator in The Lord of the Rings (radio version, 1981)
  • Molly Grue in The Last Unicorn (1982)
  • Catrina in My Little Pony: Escape from Catrina (1985)

Because of her aristocratic accent, she was often cast to play royalty or nobility.  Like Katherine Hepburn, Tammy Grimes was taught to speak in the Mid-Atlantic Accent, the American version of British Received Pronunciation beloved by Hollywood, in a girls’ boarding school.

  • Lady Joan Mellon in Arthur? Arthur! (1969)
  • Princess in The Practical Princess (1980)
  • Princess in The Incredible Book Escape (1980)
  • Queen Mother Estelle in Royal Match (1985)

Although many fans assumed she was British because of her accent, Tammy Grimes was born in Lynn, Massachusetts on January 30, 1934. She attended Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, where she was taught to speak with a Mid-Atlantic Accent, the American version of the British Received Pronunciation that was so popular in Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1950s. She graduated from Stephens College, an all-female school in Columbia, Missouri, before going to New York City to pursue an acting career.

Tammy Grimes was thrice married, twice to actors and once to a composer.  Her marriages to actor Christopher Plummer, CC, and Jeremy Slate were brief, ending in divorce.  Her marriage to composer Richard Bell lasted from their wedding in 1971 to his death in 2005.  She had only one child, award-winning actress Amanda Plummer.  She is survived by her daughter, her brother Nick Grimes, and her nephew Duncan MacArthur.

Tammy Lee Grimes (January 30, 1934 – October 30, 2016)  RIP

Dr. Simon McKay, aka the Wizard

Do you remember a TV show called The Wizard? It premiered thirty years ago, on September 9, 1986. Unfortunately, it only lasted 19 episodes.  It was about a toymaker named Simon McKay and his live-in bodyguard, Alex Jagger.

Why did a toymaker need a live-in bodyguard?  Well, he was in more danger from Moscow than Mattel.  Simon McKay — who patented his first invention at the age of seven — was described as the greatest inventive mind of our time.  Before he went into toymaking, he was a weapons designer and analyst for the Pentagon.  There are people who would happily abduct Dr. McKay to sell his brains to the highest bidder.  Hence, the bodyguard, especially after those six years.

What six years?  Well, after an incident at the Pentagon where a colleague tried to sabotage a project and kill him, Simon decided he needed to rethink his priorities.  So he resigned his position, and disappeared for six years.  CIA, FBI, MI6, KGB — no one could find him, and everyone looked.  He reappeared in Los Angeles, moved into a house on Elm Street (hence the nickname the Wizard of Elm Street), and set up as a toymaker.  The American government was afraid he’d disappear again, either of his own accord or be abducted.  After all, if the KGB or GRU had found Simon, they wouldn’t have let him go.

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Simon McKay (David Rappaport)

Hair: red (halfway between chestnut and auburn)

Eyes:  blue

Height:  3’11”

Weight:  I’m too polite to ask him.  None of my business.

Background:  Born in England.  When his parents realized he would never grow big, they decided it was important he grew up.  About the same age as he patented his first invention, he was apprenticed to a freighter out of Liverpool as a cabin boy.

“When my parents realized I was never going to grow big, they decided I’d need to grow up, and fast. So they apprenticed me onto a tramp freighter when I was seven. When the other kids were going down slides and kicking a ball, I was sailing from Liverpool to Singapore, fetching and carrying every mile of the way.”

How and why a British inventor came to work for the Pentagon was never explained, nor why his enemy Troyan was working on the same project, as he was equally British.  Perhaps Simon was a naturalized American citizen, perhaps it was an international project.  At any rate, Simon worked at the Pentagon, and the last project he worked on was a communications satellite which his colleague Troyan (first name never revealed on the show) had been paid by a foreign power to sabotage.  Simon found out about the sabotage and tried to stop Troyan.  Troyan tried to kill Simon, but was caught in his own trap and subjected to radiation poisoning which has left him in constant pain ever since.  After the incident, Simon decided he needed to rethink his priorities.

“The Pentagon has five sides and I suddenly found myself opposite most of them.”

He spent over a year in Tibet.  Where he spent the rest of the time, he hasn’t said yet.  That’s a question for fanfic to answer.

Occupation:  inventor, toymaker, ex-weapons designer/analyst

Simon McKay was  short in stature, gigantic in brain power, and titanic in imagination.  He celebrated dreaming and imagination. His mantra was that anything was possible, but he wasn’t an idealist.

“An idealist is someone who thinks ’cause a rose smells better than a cabbage it will make better soup. I am not an idealist.”

Alex Jagger was a CIC agent who was assigned as Simon’s live-in bodyguard.  (After 30 years, I don’t remember what CIC stood for, and my Google Fu is too weak to find the information on-line.)  At first, he wasn’t crazy about the assignment, but he and Simon soon became friends.  Alex was the brawn to Simon’s brain.

Alex Jagger:  Douglas Barr

Hair: dark brown

Eyes:  hazel

Height:  6’1″

Weight:  I’m too polite to ask him.  None of my business.

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Tillie Russell:  Fran Ryan

Hair:  red (carroty-orange)

Tillie Russell has been a friend and surrogate mother to Simon since he was a child.  She was the ship’s cook on the freighter where he was a cabin boy.  After Simon rescued her from Troyan in Hong Kong, she became his housekeeper, taking care of him and Alex.

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There is a Facebook group dedicated to attempting to get The Wizard released on DVD.  Feel free to check out their FB page. I also blogged about The Wizard at HubPages in more detail.