Regarding Captain Kangaroo: thanks to all of you for all the emails I got on last issue's story that reminds me how very pervasive the Captain's influence was, especially on the Baby Boomer generation.
I learned that the original theme song that opened the show in the '60s was called "Puffin' Billy", a reference to the locomotive theme, consistent with my casual speculation that the Captain character was based, more or less, on a train conductor. I learned the identity of the clown character Bob Keeshan himself played on the show, not based on the earlier Clarabelle was "The Town Clown" (reminded actually, I remembered it post-facto after ED made mention of it, then it was clear as a "'belle" --thanks ED). I also learned that Keeshan's abandoning his conductor's hat as part of his costume early on was based on his decision to go with that wig or hairpiece ensemble (alhough I thought he started with both, so what do I know). I learned that the Banana Man was played by character actor A. Robbins and he has his own website! (Shows how I still have to actually think to get on search engines, even after all this time. I tend to rely on my aging memory because, well...it's just more meaningful that way. But...umm.....yeah, can be unreliable too. Ha ha!)
I got ZERO feedback on The New Captain Kangaroo which proves it died a worthy death, admirable for its attempt, but I'm unclear if anyone even remembered it outside of me.
Regarding Hugo Morley, Robert Morley, and THE WEAKEST LINK piece: Quite a few of you out there reacted to the mention of actor Robert Morley at least as much as his nephew, Hugo's, piece about trying out for The Weakest Link. The Morleys are, of course, grateful that their relative is still thought of so highly.
I myself was less-than-perfect at transcribing Hugo's thoughts, however, and unfortunately, several typos crept into the final draft. Hugo did not email that piece to me, it was printed out and handed to me, which means I had to re-type it all it by hand, something I usually never do, but made an exception this time. I thought I had it all nailed until several days (and much-needed hours' sleep) later, I re-read it and discovered to my horror it had at least 5 terrible typos. These were NOT Hugo's fault, but mine, and have since been corrected.
That said, there are a couple dangling story parts from the original I have since added footnotes to in the PCR story, but for your convenience, I will repeat them here: The starring actor in Notting Hill was Hugh Grant for those who didn't see that movie. Regarding the business about Madonna's last name: When I later talked to Hugo he said that the interviewer had asked something about the rarely heard last name of a famous person he pronounced as "chick-KANE" or something like that. Hugo joked that it sounded like he was saying "chicken" with a bad French accent. Not ever having heard it before, Hugo took a wild stab that it might be Prince. When the interviewer said "Madonna", Hugo remembered her last name as being pronounced "kitch-SHOWN" or "kitch-SHOWN-ee" which he would've instantly recognized as being Madonna. Burns him up to this day.
And now, another little experiment...
I have gone on record many times as not being the biggest fan of online polls or online voting or online petitions, I usually have to be cajoled into it. I write about whatever I want, and everyone who writes for me writes about whatever they want, and their columns are rarely, if ever, edited for content, it's usually only punctuation and spelling or something that see changes. However, one or two writers, who shall remain nameless, have expressed a desire for a casual reader's poll to indicate more specifically what topic matter is being more vigorously sought by readers. (My usual reply of "who cares" was not acceptable.)
Another thing everyone knows is I'm a pushover where my writers are concerned, so I knew I'd cave on this eventually. I even had a radio-button style vote-a-matic standing by, but was advised it was overkill.
So, in 50 words or less (hopefully), tell me what you enjoy reading in the PCR, what you don't enjoy, what you'd like to see more of, less of, and perhaps something you'd like to see, but up to now never have or rarely have. When you've made these decisions, CLICK HERE and tell me all about it. Your submissions will remain anonymous, only the results will be tallied. (If the fancy CLICK HERE email link doesn't work on your browser, just write me at Crazedfanboy1@aol.com and put "Reader's Poll" in the subject line.)
Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot
By ED Tucker
In light of the recent interest in the film Voyage into Space, the time seemed appropriate for a brief trip down memory lane to revisit the giant robot that so many of us wished we had as a kid and still love today.
Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot was a 26-episode Japanese television series that was syndicated in US in 1969 by American International Television, the TV branch of AIP. The series was produced in Japan by Toei studios and reworked for US consumption by Rueben Guberman and Salvatore Billitteri, the team who had already scored a hit with the animated series Prince Planet. The show was essentially a live-action version of the popular Japanese cartoon Gigantor (a.k.a. Iron Man #28) which told the simple and heart-warming story of the adventures of a boy and his giant robot. The series proved so popular that five episodes were edited into the television feature Voyage into Space and syndicated as part of AIP’s Japanese Monsters television package. The show was also reincarnated years later as a Japanese Anime and revamped in America as the 1999 feature film, The Iron Giant.
As our story begins, we are introduced to Johnny Sokko, who has to be the ultimate latchkey child! He is aboard a cruise ship unescorted when he meets incognito Unicorn Agent U3 in his alias of Jerry Mano. From this point forward there is no mention of Johnny’s family or past, just his adventures with Unicorn. Unfortunately our heroes’ vacations are about to be cut short by the arrival of Emperor Guillotine who lands his flying saucer in the ocean nearby and releases his giant creature Draculon to destroy the ship. In the nick of time, Johnny and Jerry jump overboard and swim to a nearby island that just happens to be the headquarters of Guillotine’s Gargoyle Gang!
The evil Emperor has captured an Earth scientist, Dr. Lucious Guardian, and is forcing him to build the ultimate weapon, a giant robot complete with an arsenal of weapons and a rocket pack. Johnny and Jerry meet up with Dr. Guardian just in time to learn all these important plot details and to help him with his plan to detonate an atomic bomb to destroy his creation before the Gargoyles can use it to conquer the world.
Just prior to setting off the bomb, the kindly professor gives young Johnny the control watch to the giant robot and tells him that, had the robot been activated, it would only respond to the commands of the first person to speak into the watch. Johnny and Jerry run for cover as Dr. Guardian is shot by Gargoyle guards and he dies pressing the bombs detonator. Fortunately our heroes manage to get a few hundred yards away by the time the atomic bomb goes off so they are completely safe from the blast!
The giant robot is also unharmed by the explosion and it seems the atomic bomb has had the exact opposite effect Dr. Guardian had hoped for. The robot’s batteries are fully charged and he is now active. Johnny quickly speaks into the watch and instantly becomes the master of Giant Robot and the envy of every young boy in America. Apparently the bi-laws of the Unicorn Agency state that anyone with a giant robot at their command is automatically eligible for membership because Johnny is instantly inducted as Agent U7.
After the fast paced and exciting pilot, the remainder of the series became fairly formulistic. Each week Emperor Guillotine releases a new monster to hassle Unicorn and Giant Robot inevitably sends it packing. Some of the creatures, like Draculon and Ligon, were pretty cool but others, like Nucleon (a sort of giant bumble ball), Optikon (a giant eyeball), and the giant flying jawbone (I’m not making this stuff up folks), were pretty goofy. Even the ultimate menace, Emperor Guillotine, looks a lot like a guy in a gold lame jumpsuit with a squid for a head!
The series was surprisingly violent for its time with almost weekly gun battles between the Unicorn and Gargoyle agents. The fights between Giant Robot and the creature of the week almost always ended with the monster’s death, often by being blown apart by the robot’s missiles. There were also scenes of the bad guys being routinely killed for failing their missions or ending up on the wrong end of the monster they were trying to control.
Perhaps most memorable of all though was the final episode where the series is actually allowed to end and on an uncharacteristically sad note. In “The Last of Emperor Guillotine”, Mr. Squid Head opens up a can of robot whoop butt and goes in for the kill personally. Through the use of stock footage from the previous episodes, Guillotine revives most of his creatures and sends them in a constant battle against Giant Robot. While they are still no match for Johnny’s metal champion, they do succeed in draining his power cells dry. At this point Emperor Guillotine orders the immediate surrender of the Unicorn Agents and the return of the control watch. Just as things look their darkest, Giant Robot suddenly activates a hidden power reserve and attacks the now giant-sized Emperor, head on. At this point we finally learn how Guillotine got to be Emperor, his entire body is one explosive mass and killing him will destroy the Earth! Undaunted, the valiant robot flies Guillotine out into space and smashes him into a meteor, sacrificing himself in the process.
Some of the monsters may have looked silly and the acting was exaggerated, but this ending was pretty deep for a kid's show and made a lasting impression on more than one viewer. It is also the main reason Voyage into Space works so well as a feature. The five episodes used to create the film include the first and last ones of the series which make perfect bookends for some of the more action oriented shows chosen to fill in the middle. Of course we also get the downbeat ending carried over from the series as well. Ken Films released Voyage into Space in a twelve-minute abridged format on Super-8mm film. This is a very rare item and hard to find, especially the color and sound version, but the box artwork is awesome!
It is hard to zero in on what made this series stand out from its live-action competitors like Ultraman, Spectreman, or Space Giants. Perhaps it was the youthful protagonist that children could identify with and live out their own fantasies of commanding a giant robot. Maybe it was the robot design with its unique Sphinx-like head and seemingly endless arsenal of high tech weaponry. I believe a large part of the attraction was the finality in the last episode that concluded the series on a dark and powerful note that most others would not dare touch. I am sure more than a few tears were shed when Giant Robot willingly sacrificed himself to save his young master and the entire planet from destruction. Whatever the appeal, it is obvious that this one season series and companion feature are still a part of fond television memories for '70’s viewers. I leave you with the announcer’s final words “And so the saga comes to an end. Giant Robot sacrificed himself to save the Earth from the terrible Guillotine. But who knows, when Johnny desperately needs him again, perhaps like a miracle, he will come back out of the sky”. Attack Giant Robot, attack!