ASCII and Ye Shall Receive: The Invisible Man

The last time anyone saw Dr. David Westin, he was being broken down into alphanumeric characters which then disappeared into thin air!

If you have any clues to his whereabouts, contact Pop Culture Retrorama immediately.

Jack Palance Reveals Real-Life Inspiration For Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

Friends, in the early ’80s on Sunday evenings there was a television show that my Family would never fail to watch, that was the ABC series Ripley’s Believe It or Not! A wonderful show with the iconic Jack Palance (Batman, City Slickers) acting as host – inspired by the newsreels, radio series, books, and comic books of Robert Ripley. After testing the waters with a television pilot on May 3rd of 1981 – ABC picked up the series and the first episode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! aired on September 26th of 1982. For four seasons viewers were guided by Jack Palance through the more bizarre elements of history, noteworthy individuals, and interesting cultural activities. Just a few of the subjects covered on the TV show included the research on cryogenics, a prisoner who took his life with the aid of playing cards, a fire that burned non-stop for eight months, and Stephen Hawking. Palance did not host the show alone, as he was joined by a trio of co-hosts for various segments throughout the 76 episode run of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!. That included the likes of Catherine Shirriff (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), Marie Osmond (Donny & Marie), as well as Holly Palance – who not only joined her Father for two seasons on the show but was recognizable from her role in 1976’s The Omen!

Jack Palance was the perfect choice as host, there seemed to be a merry twinkling in his eyes and barely restrained glee when he was discussing something gruesome. The fact that the audience could see that Palance was having fun sharing these interesting facts and legends – it helped to knock a little edge off the sometimes more gruesome subject matters featured on the show. Having said that however, it did nothing to diminish the chills I would experience from the rather memorable intro to the TV show. Which just so happened to feature a theme song composed by none other than Henry Mancini (Peter Gunn, The Pink Panther).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVT3kOxqStA
VIDEO PROVIDED BY CNNRotatingSquare.

Which brings us to the point of this article, the real-life inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. In the nearly four minute segment, Palance points out the inspiration came from one William Brodie – a man living two very different lives – respectable member of the community by day and a flamboyant burglar by night. The short segment in addition features Palance from his role in the 1968 made-for-TV movie adaptation of Stevenson’s famous story… believe it or not!

VIDEO AND ARTICLE IMAGE PROVIDED BY spookylorre.

As far as I know, the excellent Ripley’s Believe It or Not! series has yet to be released on any version of home media. Which is truly a shame as the show was a whole lot of fun. At the very least we can enjoy the various segments that have been uploaded on social media, right?

David McCallum was… The Invisible Man!

After UNCLE, but long before NCIS, David McCallum was the lead in a lightweight spy series that just disappeared.

In the fall of 1975, opposite CBS’ Monday night smorgasbord of sitcoms and ABC’s Barbary Coast, NBC aimed for a new “spy-fi” hit in the form of The Invisible Man…but unfortunately, audiences and network executives just couldn’t see it happening.

This latest retelling of H.G. Wells’ timeless tale, now set in a 1970s spy milieu, was the invention of up-and-coming producers Harve Bennett and Steven Bochco. Bochco was in the earliest stages of his career, while Bennett already had a proven hit on the air in the form of ABC’s Six Million Dollar Man. With veteran producer Leslie Stevens (The Outer Limits, Search) on board to keep an eye on the “rookies”, and a serpentine, sinewy earworm of a theme tune by Henry Mancini to open the show, now it was all about finding just the right cast and writers.

Seriously, dig that Henry Mancini theme music. Video courtesy Louish Waltz

The casting of the show settled on proven TV faces in the form of David McCallum (fresh from the BBC/Universal co-production of Colditz, but still best known from his star-making stint on The Man From UNCLE) as the titular Invisible Man, Dr. Daniel Westin, a scientist trying to find a way to make solid objects (including himself) invisible. His boss, played by Jackie Cooper in the pilot movie, was recast for the series with Craig Stevens – a household name of early ’60s TV as the star of Peter Gunn. Rounding out the cast as Dr. Kate Westin (Daniel’s wife) was veteran soap actress Melinda O. Fee.

Melinda Fee, David McCallum, and Craig Stevens, managing both ’70s fashions and “the Klae Resource”

At the center of the show’s mythology was the somewhat hazily-defined Klae Corporation, employer of all three of the main characters. Armed with friends in high places and top-secret clearances, the Klae Corporation deploys the mysterious “Klae resource” – i.e. the Westins – to solve problems for anyone who can pay the fee for their services. Only late in the show’s short run was more information about the Klae Corporation divulged, and what little information was added – namely, a power struggle over a family fortune between three heirs – raised more questions about the Klae Corporation than it answered.

The tone of the pilot movie, aired early in 1975 as a movie-of-the-week “backdoor pilot”, was markedly different from the series. Dan Westin agonizes over his permanent invisibility, and there is much angst over how this affects his future, his marriage, and his job. He worries that his discovery of invisibility will be used to alter the political balance of the entire world. By the time the series proper begins, that angst has been replaced with a more playful tone: the Westins have apparently found ways to enjoy Dan’s invisibility in their downtime, and if anything, Dan’s invisibility makes him absolutely indispensible to the Klae Corporation. None of the Westins’ missions involve attempts to take over the world.

By the end of each episode, the Westins are both itching to ditch this spy jazz and engage in invisible hanky-panky

The series’ invisibility special effects fell into two categories: things moved by wires, and blue screen effects shot on video and then transferred to film. The latter was reportedly an expensive and time-consuming process, involving playing video back on a monitor whose refresh rate matched the shutter speed of a 25fps film camera, with the idea being that the end result would look like film rather than video, which would also make the show viable internationally without having to transfer video from the NTSC standard to the PAL video standard. In the end, unfortunately, it looked like what it was: a film of footage on a video monitor. (This same technique was used only once or twice to depict Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman in her invisible jet very early in that series’ run.)

The combination of expensive effects and soft ratings eventually shortened The Invisible Man’s tenure; after only a dozen episodes, it was replaced at mid-season by The Rich Little Show. Producer Harve Bennett would take the same concept – an invisible secret agent working for a high-security operation that isn’t necessarily part of the government – and retool it for cheaper effects, launching it as the TV movie Gemini Man mere months later. While that movie did lead to a series order, that series vanished (pun very much intended) even faster than McCallum’s Invisible Man.

Previous versions of this article have appeared previously at theLogBook.com (where you can find a complete episode guide, including the one with the guy who played Harry Mudd) and Retroist.com.