“Nothing but Sincerity as Far as The Eye Can See”: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.

I grew up in one of those families that didn’t celebrate Halloween. For the most part I didn’t even know what that day of the year fully was until I started kindergarten and even then much of my exposure came from two sources.  We were still a few years away from Tim Burton’s a Nightmare Before Christmas, and at that time, my only real exposure to the day came in the form of two sources. One was the trick-or-treating scene in the movie ET. The second was from one particular holiday special: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. All things considering, in a world with an endless glut of bad slasher movies, perhaps that is one of the better sources for a young child to experience.

We may complain nowadays about the Hollywood franchise machine cranking out sequels and spin-offs and remakes, but there was always a sense that if something was successful enough it just might warrant a follow-up. 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas was no exception, as it’s critical and commercial acclaim lead to them developing more specials. Great Pumpkin was not the second Charlie Brown special, that distinction goes to Charlie Brown’s All-Stars, a baseball themed short that aired the summer of ’66.

However, despite being the third special, it is safe to say that the Great Pumpkin is perhaps the second most well known Charlie Brown special, after A Charlie Brown Christmas.  With a bigger budget and more time, Great Pumpkin is much tighter then it’s Yuletide predecessor, and ahs neater details, but it still ahs the same genuine heart. Between Linus’s persistent beliefs in the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown cutting too many holes in his ghost costume, Snoopy’s battle with the Red Baron, and of course, Charlie’s exasperated lament while trick or treating of “I got a rock”, there is no shortage of now iconic moments in this short.

it's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

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These Are The Voyages: A Celebration of Star Trek: Mr. Sulu

It has been well noted by many fans and scholars of the series Star Trek, that while Scotty, Chekov, and Uhura were certainly popular and iconic characters, they really weren’t as well developed in comparison to the series “Power Trio” of Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Notably, Walter Koenig’s advice to which ever actor was cast as Chekov prior to Anton Yelchin in the 2009 reboot, was to stay out of the shadows and insist on having dialogue that did more than advance the plot along.

These supporting players, were sometimes known to the fans as the “Irregulars” in that while they were clearly integral parts of the Enterprise crew, they appeared almost infrequently on the series. In some cases this was due to scheduling conflicts. In others it was a matter of what the studio was willing to pay for that day.  However, despite how limited their appearances may have been on the show, they were fairly well defined in terms of personality and interests.  This was certainly the case with the ship’s helmsman, Hikaru Sulu.

As it is noted in Star Trek:  Adventures in Time and Space,

Mr. Sulu

Mr. Sulu

“The original series probably told viewers more about Hikaru Sulu than it did about Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov. Several episodes mentioned his love of plants as well as his secret passion for prancing, romantic swashbuckling, and derring-do. At his helm position, Mr. Sulu frequently had the first on-camera reaction to an alien menace or friend. He occasionally led landing parties, and he was a skilled helmsman.”

Despite how scholars and critics have written at length about the cultural significance of the role of Lt. Uhura on the series, the historical importance of the role of Sulu should not be overlooked. Today, we take for granted having Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennet as Agent Melinda May and Skye on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,  Rila Fukushima as Tatsu Yamashiro/Katana on Arrow, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park as Chin Ho Kelly and Kona “Kono” Noshimur on the reimagining of Hawaii Five-0, and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson on Elementary, the modern-day retelling of the Sherlock Holmes mythos , but all that would have been unheard of in 1966. Even the original Hawaii Five-O, which featured actor Kam Fong Chun as Chin Ho, didn’t air until 1968 a full two years after Sulu was introduced on Star Trek. Continue reading

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These Are The Voyages: A Celebration of Star Trek #6: Ensign Pavel Chekov

One constant in the sci-fi /fantasy fan bases is that while these stories may be created by adults, and heavily feature adults in lead roles, they appeal greatly to younger audience members and readers. It is for this reason that all too often creators will add a younger character to the story to appeal to that audience. These characters give the stories a since of wonder and fascination that would be otherwise missing from a cynical adult point of view, and also allow for meaningful exposition for ethos not familiar with the story or the world the characters live in.

Thus Batman had Robin, Superman had Jimmy Olsen, Captain America had Bucky

Ensign Pavel Chekov

Ensign Pavel Chekov

Barnes, Indiana Jones had Short Round, and the newer James Bond films with Daniel Craig envisioned Q as a tech-savvy young wunderkind. However while the characters became popular, and in some instances, such as Robin and Bucky, went on to be heroes on their own right, others were not so well received. One of the most infamous examples came in Star Trek with Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was a young, over eager ensign who was written as an author avatar for Gene Rodenberry, and seemed so perfect that he could even out think the captain.

Contrast this with the reception of another young character on Star Trek, the ensign Pavel Chekov on the original series. While Chekov was young and eager, he didn’t come across as an annoying kid. While he was a skilled navigator, he never tried to show up more experienced characters, like Spock or Dr. McCoy in their respective fields. He was a character who could appeal to kids, but one not meant exclusively for them. As Rodenberry noted,

“We may well find our most important secondary character this season, certainly one which might give us our best entre to youth, is Chekov. The studio has been sufficiently impressed by the volume of Chekov fan response to sign him to a contract, one of the few secondary characters we have so optioned in our third season… most of us…tend to forget that Kirk and Spock and the others actually seem rather “middle aged” to the large youthful segment of our audiences. We badly need a young man aboard the Enterprise—we need youthful attitudes and perspectives. Chekov can be used potently here.” Continue reading

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These Are The Voyages: A Celebration of Star Trek #5: Lt. Nyota Uhura

One of television’s most controversial moments almost happened very differently. In the Star Trek episode in “Plato’s Step-children”, the crew encounters a race of sadistic, telepathic aliens that based their society on Ancient Greek ideals. Their leader was dying and they send a distress call, that is intercepted by the Enterprise. Requiring the aid of Dr. McCoy they request that the doctor stay behind, and would allow the ship and the rest of her crew to leave. Kirk refuses, and they aliens use their powers to humiliate Kirk, and force him and Spock to act like court jesters, even torturing Spock to the point he feels emotion. They even used their powers to bring LT. Nyota Uhura, and Nurse Christine Chapel down from the Enterprise to continue their pleasure.

It was in this moment when the Platonians force Kirk and Uhura to kiss and force Spock and Christine to do the same. Today this would be nothing , simply a guy kissing a girl. However, in 1967, when the episode aired, it was a huge area of consternation as Kirk was played by a white man, and Uhura was played by an African-American woman. In fact, TV Historians note that it was the first interracial kiss in television history.

The original script called for Spock to be the one to kiss Uhura, however, Nichelle Nichols, who played the  character in the original series, recalled in Star Trek: “Where No One Has Gone Before: A History in Pictures,

“My understanding is Bill Shatner took one look at the scene and said, ‘No you will not! If anyone’s going to be part of the first interracial kiss in television history, it’s going to be me!’ So they rewrote it.”

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Lt. Nyota Uhura

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These Are The Voyages: A Celebration of Star Trek #4: Scotty

While prototypes for Kirk, Spock, and Bones existed in the earliest notes for Roddenberry’s original Star Trek pitch, one of the shows other iconic characters almost didn’t exist. This character is Montgomery Scott, better known as “Scotty.”Almost everyone in Western society knows the misquoted phrase “Beam me up, Scotty!” , which is intended to imply that Kirk, Spock, and Bones are in over their head and either need someone to rescue them, or the mission is over and it’s time to go home and role credits.

Scotty was one of the characters introduced in the second pilot for the series. However, as



actor James Doohan who played the character on the TV series and the feature films that followed, noted in his memoir,

“Three or four days after hearing that the pilot had sold, I got a letter from Gene Roddenberry saying, ‘Thanks very much, but we don’t really think we’re going to need an engineer.’ I think they were probably trying to save money. I got the letter about eleven o’clock in the morning, and I called my agent, Paul Wilkins.…He said, ‘You just wait there. We’ll see about this.’ I could tell from the tone of his voice and the pauses he took that he was trying to hold his temper…He went to Gene Roddenberry and Herb Solow, Herb being the executive in charge of production on behalf of Desilu. Paul was not one who was easily ignored. He was six foot two, with silvery dark hair. Then Paul called me and said, ‘You’re back on the show.’ I didn’t have a commitment for ‘every show produced’; they only signed me up for some of the episodes.” Continue reading

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These Are The Voyages: A Celebration of Star Trek #3: Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy

Despite how iconic his catch phrase was, Dr. Leonard McCoy, more commonly called “Bones” by his friends only said “I’m a doctor not a ( insert impossible task here)”a total of eleven times over the course of the original series, and twice in the two newer films.  However, despite its limited use and conveyed a sense of how out of his element this country doctor was when put in a situation that went beyond his training. In fact the spin-offs and later films even had Dr. Julian Bashir on Deep Space Nine, The Doctor from Voyager, and Dr. Phlox on Enterprise had to echo the statement.

In the second pilot episode for the series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” the

Dr. Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy

Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy

Enterprise actually had a different doctor. However, in the following episodes that doctor was replaced with McCoy, played by Deforest Kelley. Initially he was only listed in the end credits, but Kelley’s character became so integral that by the shows second season he was listed in the opening credits alongside William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

Surprisingly, the character of Bones was included in Rodenberry’s original pitch for Star Trek, and while much like Kirk, while the name may have been different at the time, the central core of the character remained the same. The short paragraph would go on to describe everything fans would love about “Bones”. As Roddenberry  noted,

“…An unlikely space traveler. At the age of fifty-one, he’s worldly, humorously cynical, makes it a point to thoroughly enjoy his own weaknesses…”Bones”..considers himself the only realist aboard, measures each new landing in terms of relative annoyance rather than excitement.” Continue reading

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These Are The Voyages: A Celebration of Star Trek #2: Spock

It’s hard to imagine Star Trek without one of its most iconic characters, but there was almost a time when Mr. Spock was destined for the dust bin of television. When NBC requested that Gene Roddenberry reshoot the pilot among the things they wanted him to get rid of was Spock, fearing that with his pointed ears and eyebrows that he looked too Satanic and would give the children nightmares. There was something unearthly about Spock’s appearance, and unlike Martin in My Favorite Martian, he couldn’t hide his unique features.

It seems surprising, considering that television on that time featured such magical creatures as  witch Samantha on Bewitched and the Jeannie on I Dream of Jeannie, that the pointy eared hobgoblin could cause this much consternation for network censors. The production notes from Gene Rodenberry addressed the Spock’s appearance probably

Mr. Spock

Mr. Spock

didn’t help matters much,

“The Captain’s right hand man, the hard working level commander of all the ship’s functions from manning the bridge to supervising the lowliest scrub detail. His name is “Mr. Spock”… and the first view of him can be almost frightening—a face so heavy lidded and satanic you might almost expect him to have a forked tail. Probably half Martian, he has a slightly reddish complexion and semi-pointed ears. But strangely—Mr. Spock’s quiet temperament is  in dramatic contrast to his satanic look.”

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