Friday, March 29, 2013

Looking Back at 'Logan's Run' (1977-78)

(The following is a segment from a memoir writing project I'm playing with. Hope you like it. Share your own recollections of 1970s Sci-Fi TV shows in the comments.)

Logan 5, Jessica 6 and Rem (Wikipedia)
A spin-off of the 1976 movie that starred Michael York and Jenny Agutter, the Logan’s Run TV series suffered from the common practice of dumbing down scifi to try to appeal to mass audiences and to make the show more “kid friendly.”  The series starred Gregory Harrison and Heather Menzies in softer, less sexualized versions of the characters played by York and Agutter, Logan 5 and Jessica 6, with supporting actors Donald Moffat as the android Rem and Randy Powell as Francis 7, Logan’s former best friend, fellow Sandman, and now relentless pursuer.

Carousel (Ebay image)
In the post-nuclear holocaust world of the 23rd Century, Logan is a Sandman; Sandmen are a sort of police force that patrols the City of Domes, where the last humans known to be alive chose to live a hedonistic existence in what looks like an upscale shopping mall, and then give up their lives at age 30 (age 21 in the original novel).  The populace believes they will be reincarnated via the “Carousel” ceremony, but they are simply killed to make room for new test-tube babies.  Sandmen track and kill any citizens who try to escape rebirth by running, i.e., “runners.”

(The series recycled many of the movie’s special effects, including the Carousel sequence, but exchanged the spectacular image of exploding bodies used in the film for a freeze-frame and a “crystallizing” effect.  Probably to keep little kids from trying to blow up their friends at home, which seemed to be the prevailing thought process at TV studios.)

In the film, Logan is placed undercover by the ruling computer to infiltrate a subversive group that is seeking to escape the city for some mythical “Sanctuary” where they can live out their lives in peace.  He gets Jessica to help him, and the two make it through a series of adventures to the ruins of Washington, D.C.  There, they meet an old man and Logan realizes there’s no reason to continue supporting the old ways of the City of Domes. He decides to return there, overthrow the computer ruler, and set the people free from Carousel.

The series wanders from the film’s plot, however, almost as soon as it begins.  Logan is already questioning the rite of rebirth, and he runs with Jessica.  Francis is taken before a secret council of old men and told he can join their number if he successfully brings Logan back for re-education.  It is never really made clear why Francis — not to mention all the other Sandmen dispatched into the outside world — would want to prop up the City of Domes when it’s obvious that there are many other survivors and civilizations in the outside world, which appears to be fully recovered from the war, and they no longer have a reason to die young.

So we once again have the familiar “Fugitive” structure for our episodes:  Innocent of any crime, our hero is on the run from relentless pursuit, meeting new people each week that need help, and then being forced to move on just one step ahead of the long arm of the law.  But rather than a search for proof of innocence, we have innocents searching for a place they can belong and experiencing true freedom — not the false freedom of consumerism and hedonism in exchange for giving up their personal power to a faceless authority — for the first time in their lives.

Logan and Jessica in the film (
I didn’t see the movie in theaters (I was 12 when it was in theaters), catching it only after it had been “Edited for Television” in advance of the series premiere.  And somehow, I rarely caught an episode of this series all the way through in its original run, and never at my own home.  The night of the premiere (Sept. 16, 1977) I was at Grandma and Pawpaw Massey’s house.  The grownups were playing canasta in the dining room, and about the time the pilot got to its secondary story, they took a break to come into the family room to talk; they started making jokes about the show, and I came to realize it was not as good as I was willing to believe.  It was like the Penguin running for Mayor, all over again — though it didn’t stop me from drawing pictures of Logan’s Sandman gun and trying to make a wooden version in my shop class.

Screen capture from 'Captured' (
I was at my friend Troy Gandy’s home for the third episode (“Capture,” broadcast Sept. 30, 1977), in which our heroes (and Francis) are hunted by the guy who was the young hot-head gunslinger wannabe from the original Magnificent Seven feature, (Horst Buchholz, bringing some presence to the screen).  Troy was eight months older than me, born in December 1963.  His brother, Robert, was a couple of years older than the both of us.  Troy and Robert fought constantly, either mouthing off at each other, or literally fist-fighting, which was a family dynamic I was not familiar with.  The night of this episode, Robert had picked at Troy until he lost his temper and lunged at his older brother.  They threw each other around the living room, overturning tables and chairs, scattering snacks on the floor.  I just stayed out of the way.

Looking back, I wonder how much of that activity was play-acting, like a TV wrestling match.  I couldn’t tell.  I also wonder how much of it was prompted by sheer boredom after the brothers discovered this was what I wanted to watch on TV.  When we all saw headlights on the driveway, a sudden calm hit the room.  The boys separated, a whirlwind of cleaning occurred, and by the time their mother came in the door, the place was back in the shape it had been in before the fight.  The three of us, sitting on the couch together, eating potato chips and watching Logan’s Run.

I thought about this and other times at the Gandy home a few years ago, when I learned that Troy had taken his own life.

And I realized that Troy and Robert, in their sibling conflict, had mirrored the dynamic of Logan and Francis in that very episode:  One former friend — a brother in almost every way — hunting and fighting the other until a common enemy appeared to force them to work together, at least until their next opportunity to struggle for dominance.  In the theater of my memory, I would have to cast Troy as Logan, as he was only trying to maintain his freedom and his sense of self that night.

I guess that makes me either Rem or Jessica in that scenario; I’ll go with the dispassionate and pacifistic Rem, if it’s all the same to you.  I don’t look that good in short skirts.

On Halloween of that year, I was again at the Gandy house for the only boy-girl party I was ever invited to during my middle- and high school years.  A game of spin-the-bottle was happening on the back porch, and the girl I liked (one of Troy’s cousins) didn’t want to participate.  Moreover, when the bottle pointed at me early in the game, the girl who should have kissed me begged off, lying to the crowd that we were cousins and it wouldn’t be right; I didn’t dispute her.

Screen grab from 'Half Life' (
Instead I went inside to get some snacks, and discovered the TV was on in the living room.  No one was watching it.  Logan’s Run was playing (“Half Life” written by Shimon Wincelberg, broadcast Oct. 31, 1977).  I just stood there, watching Jessica 6 being duplicated, which is a familiar enough idea in sci-fi TV.  Except her personality was being split between the two bodies, so that one Jessica was good and the other evil.  Anyone who had seen Star Trek (specifically “The Enemy Within” episode) knew that we need both expressions of our personality to make us whole, and that people can’t go on as half-people.  (This episode also features a very young Kim Cattrall.)

I heard laughter outside and somewhat reluctantly left Jessica to seek out the party again.  This might have been when I began to recognize that real people didn’t hold as much allure to me as the ones on TV, or maybe I just told myself that because no one wanted to play spin the bottle with me.  Strangely, my situation again mirrored the very episode that was broadcast that night, except that I was the outcast whose personality didn’t conform to the accepted group, and no amount of video effects would make me right for them.

Screen grab of 'The Crypt' (
A week later, I saw the next episode from start to finish at my friend Chuck’s house.  Chuck and I had known each other since before we were born.  That is, our fathers and mothers had been in school together and were close friends; our mothers were pregnant within a couple months of each other, and we had playdates from a very early age.  The only real fist fight I ever had in middle school was against Chuck, and we both ended up getting paddled by the principal.  (I remember sitting in the office and Chuck telling me, "You were punching and crying at the same time. That scared the crap out of me.")  Probably one of the first times I ever slept over at a friend’s house, it was at Chuck’s.  He never had quite the same fascination with scifi that I did, though, so it wasn’t surprising that I sat and watched “The Crypt” episode (Nov. 7, 1977) more or less on my own.

Taken from a story by Harlan Ellison, who would later be one of my favorite authors, “The Crypt” concerned a group of people in suspended animation, endangered by earthquakes and stalked by one of their own.  I watched it while sitting on the wood floor in the living room.  Chuck was off somewhere else.  His mother, Elizabeth, was sitting on a chair drawing; later, she showed me the sketch she had done of me as I concentrated on the show.  It embarrassed me to know she had been watching me, but also made me feel special.  She was an English and Literature teacher, and as I grew up and started trying to write fiction, she would be one of my first readers and encouragers.

DVD box set (
Recently, I purchased the box set of Logan’s Run from the Warner Archive Collection ( and enjoyed seeing the 14 episode series from the beginning.  Watching the fourth outing, “The Innocent,” I turned to my wife and muttered, “This show did not deserve to live.”  However, there were many bright moments:  “The Crypt” holds up, as does “Man Out of Time,” written by scifi author David Gerrold (most famous in the genre for writing the Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”), who was unhappy with changes to the script and used a pseudonym, “Noah Ward” (as in “no award”) in the credits.  The latter concerned a time traveler who is trying to forestall a nuclear war, but learns that his success at jaunting into the future precipitated the first strike; Logan and his friends have to decide if the traveler should be allowed to return to his own time, even if his success means that their world — and by extension, each of them — might be wiped from history.

I appreciated, even in ’77,  the bravery and earnestness of Logan, the optimism and innocence (girl-next-door and yet Farrah Fawcett-like hotness) of Jessica.  And the lead actors (particularly Donald Moffat) are always fun to watch; you can see they recognized the limitations they were faced with each week and were determined to rise above.

The show was often preempted by the network (only 11 episodes were ever shown on the West Coast during the initial broadcast, according to Internet sources), and it ended its run on Feb. 6, 1978, with “Stargate,” a story written by comic book legend Dennis O’Neil, that failed to bring a conclusion to Logan’s search for Sanctuary.

Thirty-odd years later, I have a daughter named Jessica Heather (and it wasn’t until I began writing this segment that I realized she shares names with the character and the actress); our family lives in a gated community called Sanctuary Beach, where I have taken issue with the runners (at least the ones who trespass into the neighborhood and let their dogs run off-leash).

I have become a Sandman, but I still don’t have a working pistol.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Every story paints a picture, don't it

PANAMA CITY — About 60 people attended the Bay Storytellers’ inaugural Story Slam last Friday at Gulf Coast Community College, with eight of them dropping their names in a hat to stand and deliver for the crowd.

I shared judging duties with GCSC associate professor Jason Hedden and Judy Cooley, a member of the Bay Storytellers. The event was supported by the GCSC Student Government Association and was open to all ages — “the young, the old, and in-between,” said Pat Nease, a member of the Bay Storytellers.

“In a nutshell, a story slam offers anyone with a 5-minute story a chance to tell it and wow the judges,” she said. “There's usually a theme — something that must be included in the story — and you take your chances on being one of the lucky ones whose name is drawn to tell.”

Prize money was donated by the Gulf Coast Woman’s Club and writer (and storyteller) Carole Bailey, with first, second and third places receiving cash prizes of $100, $50 and $25, respectively.

The theme on Friday was “odd,” and the word had to be used in the story. The winner, Mike Russell, engaged the audience with his light-hearted tale of a carpenter bee that became his helper guiding cars through the car wash where he works.

Second and third places went to Mary Washborn and Lina Crowe, respectively. Washborn told of becoming a peace officer and then returning to college after being shot on the job; Crowe read a scary story about a mad artist. Tammy Hess, who talked about training her dancing horse and then sang an original song a capella, received honorable mention.

Members of Bay Storytellers have been sharing stories in and around Bay County for nearly 20 years, according to information on the group’s Facebook page (, telling at senior centers, schools, festivals, civic organizations and seasonal events. The group currently has four seasonal events: Winter Tales, A Sprinkle of Stories, Ghost Story Concert, and Tellabration.

Last Halloween, the group had a “tell” at Roberts Hall in Lynn Haven, raising $250 towards the hall’s renovations. The date for the next Story Slam hasn’t been set yet, Pat said.

However, storylovers and storytellers are welcome at the group’s monthly meeting, held at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the Bay County Public Library, 898 W. 11th St., Panama City.

I’ve known Pat about as long as I’ve lived in this county; she was the librarian at a district school when I was the education reporter for the News Herald, starting in 1994 — the same year Bay Storytellers formed.

She describes storytellers as “folks well-versed in the cadence and rhythm and wonder of language, folks who relish traveling with their listeners and bringing them safely home, folks who communicate eyeball-to-eyeball and heart to heart.”


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Apalach daytrip never disappoints

APALACHICOLA — Driving into Apalach, we were greeted by a bald eagle that floated on still wings above the roadway, finally canting to one side and disappearing behind the pines. We’d been watching for him, as we had seen him in the same stretch of road on our last day trip here.

It’s nice not to be disappointed, and Apalach rarely does.

My daughter’s boyfriend had never been to the Franklin County town, so we decided to make a day of it last weekend. I confess to some worry that he wouldn’t enjoy walking through the downtown area and browsing the shops as much as we do, but our first stop settled that: At Apalachicola Sponge Co. & Smokehouse Antiques, he found a corner dedicated to vintage electric guitars and tried one out while the ladies picked out handmade soaps.

We visited shops including Market Street Antiques, Sirens, the Grady Market, the outdoor menagerie of Peddler’s Alley, and the Tin Shed, where we posed for photos with life-size pirates and pirate wenches. We also got a photo with the life-size Elvis on Commerce Street.

We saw a man building a wooden boat outside the Maritime Museum, just down from the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and Art, where a 52-foot dugout canoe dominates the open gallery space.

I spoke with Port St. Joe author Linda Heavner Gerald in the back of Downtown Books and Purl, where she was selling and signing copies of her novels, including “Rosemary Beach.” (Here's a featurearticle about her.)

We stopped in to enjoy the scent and bare brick interior at Apalachicola Chocolate Co., and watched the chocolatiers at work. Then we walked through the arch connecting the chop to the gallery of Robert Lindsley Studio, where the artist’s canine mascot happily welcomes visitors.

Having roamed a few blocks under the springtime sun, we took a break in the Old Time Soda Fountain, where we had waffle cones filled with Blue Bell ice cream. Somehow it was a further decompression on a day of relaxation.

We circled through the dock, watching the sun on the water and absorbing the scene of boats rusting and decaying, some actually having sunk or still hanging among the trees after a long-ago storm.

At Lafayette Park, my daughter played on the swing set. I blew apart a dandelion while taking photos. We walked down the slope of the boardwalk to the pier, where a young man worked a cast net, meticulously throwing and retrieving, gathering and throwing again. We looked down on the brown bay water, saw how the afternoon sun filtered through and moved among the bottom grasses, and spotted a large snapping turtle.

And finally, on the drive home, I listened to the soft breathing sounds of a car full of sleeping passengers. The eagle didn’t appear to see us off, but that’s all right. We were not disappointed.

Peace .

If You Go:
  • The annual Apalachicola Art Walk is 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, with a wine tasting from 3 to 5 p.m., and the songwriter festival at The Dixie Theatre at 8 p.m.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's What Lately

It has been a busy time in the life of the Simmons family. A new home still being moved into/fixed up/maintained, a new job for Debra, school for Jess and work/band responsibilities for Nathan, trying to fit a new church home into that, and still trying to make room for creative endeavors and friends and maybe meeting my obligations with a group of local writers (i.e., reading and commenting on their work as conscientiously as they are on mine).

I've taken to having lunch at least once a week at St. Andrews Coffee House, often with friends like Lou Columbus, Mark Boss, and/or Jayson Kretzer. Yesterday, shared a table and sandwiches with Lou and Michael Lister, and we talked about Michael's new novel, "The Big Beyond," which has one of the best first sentences I've seen; I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it.

Meanwhile, I also have several books, magazines, and/or comics I'm reading at the same time. Right now, besides trying to make my subscription to WIRED worthwhile by actually reading some of it, I'm partway through these: "The Long Man" by Steve Englehart (sequel to his excellent "The Point Man"), "Bicycle Diaries" by David Byrne (essays on the personality of cities observed from bike seats), "Warp" (a comic series from the 80s that I found all the issues to in a discount bin), and "Cthulu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors" by Robert E. Howard.

Also, writing proceeds on my long-gestating "Caliban" series, with a focus on a rewrite of Book 1, now titled "Giants in the Earth." I have written my way to the end with a leap over the "muddle" chapters in the middle. Now, I'm back in the difficult part of making the beginning line up with the ending.

And in my free time (hyuk-yuk) I've begun serious writing alongside that of a memoir that explores the impact and weird parallels with my life of 1970s TV scifi. Yep, chew on that one a while. You would not believe the craziness my brain gets up to when I'm not paying attention (which seems to happen a lot), and then it demands that I do something about it.

Listening to: "The Next Day" by David Bowie.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The State of the Art

Meet the Artists
What: Reception for the Panama City Artists Association show and sale
Where: CityArts Cooperative, 318 Luverne Ave., Panama City
When: 4-6 p.m. Saturday
More information: Here or here

PANAMA CITY — The art community in Panama City is “very healthy,” according to members of the Panama City Artists association, who are celebrating their creative vitality in a members’ show on display through April 27 at CityArts Cooperative.

“There are lots of active professional artists and a fair amount of opportunities for shows and workshops,” said Marie Brusher, chairwoman for the current exhibit. “We’ve grown so much since I moved here (in the 1970s). It’s amazing.”

She listed PCA as an active group, as well as CityArts, the Visual Arts Center and Marina Civic Center as supportive venues, and gave a shout out to the Beach Art Group and its programs and exhibits at the Palms Conference Center.

The public is invited to meet the PCA artists during a reception 4-6 p.m. Saturday at CityArts (a second reception will be 4-6 p.m. April 20). The show, exhibiting the work of 21 local artists, opened March 6.

“It’s not a large show, but some very exciting work, I think,” Marie said, adding the mediums explored include collage, water color, acrylic, oil and jewelry.

The Panama City Artists Association is open to artists based in the Panama City/Bay County area, providing a place to pool their talents and resources, and an opportunity to enrich themselves and the community, according to information on the group’s website,

“Not being a native Floridian, I see that for a small town, we have a large arts community, which is highly diverse,” said Roxanne Lourcey, PCA president. “Our arts community ranges from the emerging to the professional artist, and then there are those who simply need an outlet, of which I believe art is the best one there is, and the outcome is based on personal value and enrichment.”

Roxanne came from a business background and uses art as therapy. She believes PCA is a springboard that helps emerging artists learn from the more seasoned ones (and sometimes vice versa). Founded in 2002, the organization has about 100 members, including professional artists, teachers, hobbyists, enthusiasts and patrons. Monthly meetings are at 6:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at CityArts, and guests are welcome.

Both women encouraged visitors at the reception to take the time to view all of the fine art on display at the Co-op, and to support other artistic endeavors in the community.

“There are many other artists and arts groups in the area that PCA doesn’t encompass but is highly supportive of, such as the performing, literary artists and digital artists, and other visual arts groups,” Roxanne said. “We should all support each other in whatever our artistic endeavor is and see not only the piece in front of you, the one you listen to or read, but should have complete admiration and appreciation for what it took for that artist to give it to us to enjoy.

“They are giving us a piece of them, of their soul.”


Monday, March 11, 2013

Artists up to Monkey Business

PANAMA CITY — I was people-watching in the lobby of the Panama City Library last Sunday when artist Heather Parker sidled up to let me know about some “public art” projects she’s trying to set in motion.

We were at the library for the opening of her CityArts Cooperative cohort Heather Clements’ exhibit on cut paper art, which drew a good-sized crowd to hear Heather C discuss her evolution as an artist, view her work, and buy her new art book.

Heather P indicated the downtown area would soon be the scene of some monkeyshines: She and other artists have already begun cutting out the shapes of apes like those you’d find in the classic children’s toy, “Barrel of Monkeys” — only closer to life size — with an eye toward setting them loose in the wilds of Panama City.

“Size can vary,” she said. “Right now I’m using scrap foam I have around. Eight decent sized ones can be cut from a full sheet.”

Allan Branch of Less Everything Inc. in PC is funding larger sheets for larger monkeys, she said. Like their tiny toy counterparts, the foam apes are shaped with hooked arms and tails so they can be linked together in chains and dangled from awnings, trees, lamp posts and buildings.

“Art is about more than murals and painting,” she said. “It’s about exploring, laughter, joy.”

The “monkey bombing” of downtown isn’t planned to happen until June, leaving a few months to amass at least a barrel full before the event. The effort is just one way Heather P’s trying to bring art to the public — and bring the public downtown this spring. She would like downtown Panama City (along with St. Andrews) to become a regional art hub.

“A side-car to my goal here is to expand the thinking of what downtown is,” she said. “Think of Paul Brent, CityArts, Ruby & Irena’s, and others (located off the main street of Harrison Avenue) and generally left out” when referring to what constitutes a “downtown” business.

It’s important to her to emphasize that these activities aren’t being done to downtown, but rather with downtown.

“Public art usually runs the risk of being tied in with litter, property damage, trespassing and the like,” she said. “With public art in Panama City, we are taking a very open approach … a community effort. Together, let’s make art part of downtown — a living, breathing way of life that embraces and enjoys our history, our local talents, our entrepreneurs and creative thinkers.”

Heather P and her cohorts have public events planned for the second Saturday of each month, to run in conjunction with “Art-tique,” downtown’s art and antique walking tour run by the Visual Arts Center. Coordination is done through a Facebook group, which includes downtown business owners and DIB officials. All are welcome to participate, even those who think, “I’m not an artist.”

“Come on, we want you too, we are all creative and everyone has something to offer,” Heather said. “We all live here and we can all contribute to making it a great fun place to live — a place that is rich in opportunity, spirit and laughter — with art as our springboard. … Art is not scary and it doesn’t need to be a big commitment — one step at a time is enough.”

She’s organizing a live painting event for May 11 that she calls “100 Artists+Easels.” She imagines it will bring “wanna-be, emerging, professional (and) pretend” artists into downtown PC “armed with easels, canvases and tools of their trade,” as she put it on a Facebook post.

“I have no plan yet for this, other than to talk to downtown and clue them in, harass artists, and wrangle up easels,” she said. “The date is also closing weekend of the Great Gulf Coast Plein Air Paint Out that spans from Alligator Point to Mexico Beach. I have high hopes that this event could be the one that triggers the Plein Air Paint Out to venture on into Panama City in coming years.”

(This was my Undercurrents column for and The News Herald last week.