Sunday, October 31, 2021

October Surprise!


A séance has been held. That was the only way I could begin to describe the events of a recent trip to Atlantic City where I just may have participated in one of the greatest of all paranormal happenings.
A festive
Jack-O-Lantern

Strolling by the boardwalk vendors, my friends, Tim, Vinnie, Vinnie’s wife, Bonnie and myself were somehow prophetically drawn to a neon sign-GREATEST PSYCHIC IN WORLD-MADAME OUSPENSKAYA $10 PER PERSON. My cynicism was firmly in check but Tim and Bonnie thought it was an experience we had to share before leaving the following morning. So, reluctantly I went along with it and the four of us entered the small shop adorned with peeling wallpaper and ubiquitous incense.

Atlantic City
An elderly woman in black garb with a simple string of beads greeted us in a seemingly Russian accent, collecting forty dollars from us with instructions to follow her to a small round table with three lit candles near a wall where she was apparently brewing some potent tea. We all sat down as we took a quick glance at our surroundings.

“Please to put away your cigarette. Then we begin.” She directed Vinnie.

“Come on, you’d do it for Ravi Shankar.” I quipped, realizing I probably should keep quiet.

He put his cigarette out in a nearby saucer and Madame Ouspenskaya seemed content to continue. My friends exchanged some glances and then waited to see what was next. No one spoke for almost a minute until Madame Ouspenskaya closed her eyes and asked that we join hands. As we did so she quietly uttered some words that we took to be invocations for the beginning of the ceremony.

“What are we here to do today?” No one answered. Our eyes were closed but we knew none of us had properly figured out any purpose for what we had come for, if this was, in fact, a séance. So, to avoid embarrassing our medium or my cohorts, I spoke up. I didn’t want to insult this nice woman but at the same time, I was trying not to say or do anything to get us tossed out. We should get something for forty dollars, right? I didn’t know what to say but began talking (I do that from time to time). On this occasion, it proved beneficial to my curiosities regarding the unexplained. I opened my mouth, from which the words came.

“Can we talk to someone’s spirit?” An uncomfortable moment passed as I thought we would all be shown the door amidst a string of Russian profanities. She quietly responded.

“Madame Ouspenskaya will try. That is what she does.” I wondered if that meant that she does it, or tries to do it. “Whose spirit?” she asked. More silence.

“I guess…” What does one say? Where do you go with something like this? My friends must have been rolling their eyes at each other. I had to get this going so we could finish up and get out.

“I guess I want to talk to someone that I could write about. I write sometimes for… well, it’s an online publication called Western Magazine Digest.” She interrupted me right there, her voice now more pronounced as though she had received something.

“I think… that someone wants to talk to you.” Really? Wow! I thought I’d have to tell her a name of someone I was thinking of. Maybe she had her own ideas.

“He rides a horse, yes?” Hey, Is she talking about who I’m thinking? “Near… a red… river?”

Woah! It seemed Madame Ouspenskaya knew who it was, or better yet, had him ready to talk with us, right there. Could it be?

“Yeah.” I responded, trying not to show obvious signs of excitement about this.

“He has grit… he has true grit, yes?” Do you believe this? She’s doing it. She’s contacting the man himself, I thought.

“Yes, Madame Ouspenskaya. Yes, indeed!” By now I couldn’t hide my exuberance.

“And he rides… tall in the saddle, yes?”

“Yeah. He does! He does!” I replied.

"His initials, they are J-W?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s right!" I exclaimed. 

She paused and proceeded with the portentous revelation. “He has something to say to everyone… all over the land.” We were in awe. What was he going to tell us?

She continued. “He says we need to remember … that even when so much is happening, that this land, America, it is strong. It is a beacon of hope and aspiration for all. Must remember our laws are good and they prevent tyranny. Also, dissent and free speech, they are good things because we make our decisions in elections. And… that we will always have freedom of religions and choices and it is a just land and those are things to be proud of and defend. We also must honor the people who defended them.”

Jackpot! We hit the jackpot… and we never even went into the casinos!

“What else? What else?”

“Nothing else.” She whispered. “But yes, he says one more thing.”

“What?”

“He says when the road looks rough ahead, remember the ‘Man upstairs’ and the word ‘hope’. Hang on to both and tough it out, pilgrim.”

Incredible!

JW's Horse

“Thank you, JW! Thank you for everything! Thank you, also, Madame Ouspenskaya. You really are the greatest in the world!” She simply blew out the candles and gestured us all to the exit. What was thrilling for us must have been emotionally draining for her.

We walked out onto the boardwalk, speechless. We were still partly in shock from what had occurred in that place as our vacation resumed. Who would have guessed that I did the unimaginable? Did what others have tried in vain to do for so many years, actually communicate with the spirit of the one, the only… JACK WEBB! What he was doing on that horse, though, I’ll never know.

Jack Webb


Happy Halloween!





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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Power Sword for the Overlord

A notable predecessor to He-Man and the Masters of the
Universe, Blackstar, was produced by Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott for Filmation and aired on CBS for a perfunctory 13 episodes. The short-lived animated fantasy can be viewed as an intermediary link between Thundarr the Barbarian and the aforementioned He-Man.

In Blackstar, the titular hero is an astronaut who is stranded on planet Sagar and must continually battle formidable evil forces with the aid of his new alien friends and an assortment of kooky and bizarre interplanetary inhabitants like Trobbits, mermanites, Wood Sprites, Desert Sprites, Amazons and Flame People.

Blackstar’s obligatory tropes are as reminiscent of Star Wars and Thundarr as they were influential to He-Man. The massive trusty steed this time around is a ‘dragon-horse’ named Warlock. Similarly, his mystical ‘good witch’ friend, a magical wizardess named Mara assists periodically in Blackstar’s struggles. Additionally the planet’s token evil purple dude and Sagar’s overlord is known appropriately as— Overlord!

The supernatural sword of choice for Blackstar is his ‘Power Sword’ which can store outside energy and reflect it back at will. It is this sword that Overlord likewise wishes to acquire as a missing piece to his similar one in gaining supreme power and energy. Like those wielded by counterparts Thundarr and He-Man and not unlike Batman’s utility belt or Doctor Who’s ‘Sonic Screwdriver’, the Power Sword was as much a valuable tool for its owner as it was for the show’s writers who often relied on the weapon as a handy script device.

Once again, an interesting and imaginative premise wasn’t enough to appease network execs who may have had their eyes on a hotter property. As such, fans are left with another brief glimpse into a strange fantastic world where good confronts evil through might, confidence, determination and teamwork (and perhaps a few superior magical weapons).




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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Sun Sets on a Solid Site

Some of the material on my weblog is linked to another one called Western Magazine Digest which I’ve had the pleasure of contributing to for a couple of years. WMD, as we call it, is an informative and entertaining online publication covering Western history, fiction, biographies, cinema and trivia— though it unfortunately will no longer be actively published.

The western weblog has been run by publisher Allan Colombo since 2018 and as Al is perpetually working on a dizzying number of projects, he decided it was time to unhitch his wagon and water his horses.

Over the years, Al and an impressive team of contributors have posted articles on just about every kind of western subject and story, fictional or true, under the sun. I myself enjoyed sharpening my writing skills and sharing knowledge learned about that most quintessential of American topics, the Wild West.

One of my favorite projects was a piece where I had the honor of interviewing James Drury of TV’s The Virginian. It became quite popular and incidentally turned out to be one of the actor’s final interviews. Below is a short video in which I discussed that experience.


Fortunately, Al will keep WMD online so we can continue to enjoy it and learn from its countless articles and stories. A matrix on the site helps visitors find topics alphabetically and access those corresponding articles easily. Links to some of my early pieces, such as the Virginian interview, can likewise be found on the ‘articles’ page of my own weblog’s menu.


I may even occasionally continue to post new reviews on the WMD weblog under my WMD Movie Reviews page, much like a prospector checks into an old ghost town now and again.

So be sure to keep visiting Western Magazine Digest and continue to post any comments you may have. You never know what you might come across or may have missed the first time around.

I can attest to WMD’s high quality and well-researched content and I think it capably served its role in helping to inform and remind us of those old cowboys and gunslingers and the crucial values that go along with their wild western mystique. Thanks for ridin’ along, folks. Happy trails.

Western Magazine Digest (image)
Click for the 'Western Magazine Digest'





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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Hoo-Ra for Girl Power!

As Filmation wound down its He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, a ‘back door’ had magically opened up for the hulky hero’s long-lost twin. Now the torch could be ably carried on with She-Ra: Princess of Power and by 1985, sisters were doin’ it for themselves.

Not a completely sloppy imitation, She-Ra had a style and appeal that was all herself, rather than a Xerox copy of her famous brother wearing a pink bow. She lived in another universe on a unique planet of her own, albeit one decidedly more pink and lavender!

Created by Larry DiTillio and J. Michael Straczynski, the spin-off followed the previous winning formula and introduced new characters and premises clearly modeled on the first series. Mattel Inc. similarly went to work on expanding and marketing this new world aimed at a juvenile female demographic.

On an Oz-like planet called Etheria, Princess Adora wields her ‘Sword of Protection’ to defend her people from a ruler named Hordak; a male villain, interestingly. She transforms as needed into the invincible She-Ra while leading a ‘Great Rebellion’ against evil forces known collectively as the ‘Evil Horde.’

Lasting only two modest seasons, She-Ra perhaps relied too heavily on its parent series, only partially reaching its intended target in the end. Its overall scenarios and characterizations seemed to center between powerful and mystical statuesque women with muscular thighs and absurdly infantile cartoon creatures such as ‘Twiggets’, ‘Bee People’ and even a walking, speaking broomstick with a ridiculous face on it called (wait for it...) “Broom.”


So perhaps originality wasn’t She-Ra’s most prominent asset. The short-lived He-Man companion piece served its purpose nonetheless, filling a missing piece in the Filmation world’s puzzle while simultaneously proving that cartoons could balance out any inherent gender disparities with considerable style. In our own world we often dream of a day when pigs fly and talking rainbow-striped unicorns roam the land. For She-Ra and her princesses of power, that was just a typical walk in the park. Powerful, indeed.



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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 


Sunday, October 3, 2021

He Da Man!

Hot on the heels of Thundarr the Barbarian, He-Man emerged
in the early 1980s as a comic series and line of action figures from Mattel, Inc. Eventually burgeoning into a long-running franchise including various films, series, books and video games, it is nonetheless remembered chiefly by those between the ages of 40 and 60 by the Filmation series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, running from ‘83-‘85.

On a colorful and amorphous Star Trek-like planet named Eternia which uncannily resembles Earth from space, a struggle for power continually rages between Castle Grayskull, a benevolent kingdom of noble warriors and the dark and ominous inhabitants of Snake Mountain ruled by its ever-evil emperor Skeletor and an obsequious slew of grotesque and unique monsters consistently at his employ.

Skeletor’s formidable forces would easily overtake Grayskull were it not for a highly secret weapon in the form of the royal couples’ son Prince Adam. A seemingly lazy and mild-mannered ‘Clark Kent’ type, Prince Adam owns a ‘secret sword’ much like Thundarr and, with it, transforms as needed into He-Man, the strongest man in Eternia. With a magical lightning-like force, he then acquires his supernatural strength in addition to fur briefs, a bronze tan and a darker shade of blonde hair!

The prince’s timid pet tiger gets a makeover as well, morphing from “Cringer” to the mighty “Battle Cat.” Despite the explosive public scene that is created each time he becomes He-Man, Prince Adam’s secret is held only by the Heroic Master of Weapons- Man-At-Arms or “Duncan” to the King, the Sorceress, a ‘good witch’ much like Thundarr’s Princess Ariel and Orko, a ‘friendly ghost’ of indecipherable species who floats around attempting magic tricks and providing unnecessary comic relief.

Backing up both teams of this juvenile Armageddon are a roster of two-dimensional characters with names like Ram-Man, Beast Man, Mer-Man and Trap Jaw. Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy, the series that was born out of a lucrative toy line was clearly introducing characters for the sole purpose of selling new action figures.

At each 30-minute episode’s conclusion, He-Man could be expected to restore order to the universe and keep the meanies away long enough to begin the absurd process all over again the following week. To cap it all off, a postscript was presented by one of “our friends” who would summarize the story and explain its ‘lesson.’ These lessons ranged anywhere from setting good examples and learning from mistakes to remembering to brush your teeth!

Though, as a kid, I had collected countless figures of the original two Star Wars films, I considered myself too old for those of the muscle-bound homoerotic He-Man line. That didn’t stop friends and I from enjoying the show, however, as it presented us with amusing characters, entertaining stories, a rocking theme song and even some unintended humor.

“The lost diamond of disappearance! He found it!”

Now co-existing as an obligatory CGI reboot for contemporary audiences and a nostalgic memory for many others, He-Man epitomized a classic trope, however fantastically campy it may have come across, then or now. The clashes of good and evil are every bit as relevant today as they were in 1983. Only, where is our He-Man? If true change comes from within, then perhaps we can all raise our swords of power and someday say:

“By the power of Grayskull... I... HAVE... THE POWER!!!"
 


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