RIP Heather Menzies-Urich, 1949-2017

We’re sorry to learn that actress Heather Menzies-Urich passed away this week. She played Jessica in the TV series version of Logan’s Run, but might be remembered best as one of the Von Trapp family in the classic The Sound of Music. She largely retired from acting in the 1980s, and, in the years since her husband passed away, she was the public face of the Robert Urich Foundation, raising funds for cancer research and patient care. Our condolences to her friends and family.

Logan’s Run 1.14 – Stargate

It’s always a pleasure to see a story by Dennis O’Neil, who wrote many comic books that I enjoyed as a kid, and other good ones that I came to later, like the labored but incredibly influential Green Lantern/Green Arrow series. He got to write what turned out to be the final episode of the series, about some aliens from a very hot world who have landed on Earth and, finding it suitable if uncomfortably cold, plan to colonize the planet via a matter transporter since their own is threatened by an exploding sun.

Once again, our kid got really frightened by this story, particularly a sequence where the aliens dump our heroes in a swamp and leave them for dead among the mutants and creatures, just like a fifties monster movie. Fortunately, he shouldn’t have anything too scary for the next couple of evenings.

The show had started on Friday nights, following Wonder Woman, but the network decided to rearrange its schedule just one month later, in October 1977. Madly, CBS had decided to counterprogram a show called Young Dan’l Boone opposite the established NBC hit Little House on the Prairie. It sure sounds like both programs were trying to capture the same audience. CBS canceled Boone after four bottom-of-the-ratings weeks and moved Logan’s Run against it. I don’t believe that it fared all that much better – Little House was a ratings monster – and its fate was sealed.

But there’s some dispute over when it was axed. There’s an urban legend that says that the final three episodes were not shown on the West Coast, which seems incredibly strange. I can certainly believe that some CBS stations got sick of Logan‘s ratings and axed it in favor of something else, but did CBS actually broadcast the last three episodes of this series in the east and something different in the west? If so, what? Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh’s argument-settling The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present says that the last episode aired on January 16, 1978, which seems to be the date that “Carousel” was shown. Wikipedia and IMDB, neither of which are foolproof, have later dates (1/23, 1/30, and 2/6) for the next three installments. Perhaps these were shown in New York but not Los Angeles, and surrounding markets followed suit? I’d sure like to know what CBS showed instead of this series if this is true.

Logan’s Run 1.13 – Turnabout

Our son enjoyed this much, much more than the previous episode of Logan’s Run. It’s got some good action scenes, including Francis having a desert canyon shootout with a pursuing posse, and later having a darn good swordfight with guest star Gerald McRaney. He was a few years away from his co-starring role in Simon & Simon. This was just one of more than a dozen times in the seventies where he played some villain’s main muscle.

This was, however, perhaps the only time in the seventies that McRaney played a baddie in quasi-middle Eastern garb. This society is interesting in that they’d met some runners from the City of Domes before. The runners stayed a couple of nights on their way to Sanctuary, and caused such a ruckus of wild, free ideas among these uptight turban-and-veil types that they closed their borders. The word Islam isn’t mentioned, but it’s pretty clear.

Logan’s Run 1.12 – Night Visitors

I honestly wasn’t expecting a haunted house story in this show, but here it is. George Maharis, Barbara Babcock, and Paul Mantee play “Satanic ghosts,” I guess you’d call them, who sold their souls to the “Prince of Darkness,” probably because you couldn’t say “Satan” at 8 pm on CBS in the seventies, and now want Jessica to join their coven.

Fortunately, Logan doesn’t have to get into a fistfight with Maharis’s character, because I’ve seen all the fights that Maharis had in the first season of Route 66, and I don’t care that he was fifteen years older when this episode was made; I wouldn’t be able to believe Gregory Harrison would win any such scrap with him.

Our son did not enjoy this one even a little bit. All the ghost and haunted house imagery scared him senseless and he watched most of the episode from behind the safety of his security blanket.

Most of the episode was filmed in this house, which is full of antique furniture. It seems to be one of those historic homes in California that are open for tours. If anybody can identify the house, leave us a comment!

Logan’s Run 1.11 – Carousel

Rosanne Katon and the Man With the Hairiest Chest guest star in tonight’s episode, in which, inevitably, our heroes go back to the City of Domes. Oh, all right, it’s Ross Bickell. It’s a good installment, even if the logic necessary to temporarily wipe Logan’s memory is pretty tortuous. The appearance of the most technologically advanced people we’ve met so far is glossed over to get to the events in the city.

Our son didn’t remember Katon, whom we saw in a few episodes of Jason of Star Command that originally aired a little later in 1978. Tonight, I got a good demonstration of just how six year-olds aren’t very good with faces. The plot this time requires Jessica to change her hair and clothes and see whether Logan’s memory might have returned a little after he’d been shot with an amnesia dart a little earlier. In the next scene, Logan meets up with an old girlfriend named Sheila, played by Melody Anderson. “Wow, Jessica looks different with her hair combed,” he said, as the dialogue went completely over his head. When Jessica does show up with a new ‘do and a green-blue dress, I made sure to point out it was really her. “Yeah, she combed her hair,” he said.

Some of the elements of this show really do frustrate me. We’ve frequently rolled our eyes whenever Logan zaps a sandman with his freeze ray and doesn’t take the man’s gun. Even if Jessica is reluctant to use one herself, any gun and any car that they destroy is one that can’t be used against them in the future. Their refusal to stray any farther than a day’s drive from the City of Domes is maddening. Even if Rem doesn’t have a 24th Century road map on him, surely he knows how huge the continent is and can advise them to go to the other side of it, where Francis is far less likely to follow. Now we’ve got these “higher power” dudes in the forest, who sort of feel like the spiritual TV descendants of the sort of aliens who’d routinely freeze the USS Enterprise in space and yell at Kirk in a booming voice. I think the next thing I’d do if I escaped from the city this time is head straight back to those guys and ask for some more information I can use. Surely some of this occurred to the writer, D.C. Fontana?

Logan’s Run 1.10 – Futurepast

As clip shows go, this is a really good one. There aren’t very many clips, for starters, mainly from episodes one and two (including the repurposed footage of Carousel from the movie, without the explosions on the people flying to their deaths), and they’ve been reassembled and remixed to form new scenes along with other psychedelic imagery as Logan and Jessica have nightmares in a dream research lab. The lab is run by an android played by Mariette Hartley, and she and Rem are delightfully cute together in some of those common-to-the-genre scenes in which androids or robots ask “could these be the emotions that humans call… love?”

Central to Logan and Jessica’s shared nightmare is a skull-masked figure that urges Jessica to join him in Carousel, with his red chest unit blinking. There’s one repeated scene in which he walks down a stairway, vanishes, and reappears closer to the camera, while Jessica turns and flees. This really got under our son’s skin and he retreated behind the sofa because it was “super creepy.”

“Futurepast” is the only episode of the series written by Katharyn Powers, who’d been writing for television for about four years, starting with some work on ABC’s 1974 flop frontier drama The New Land. The season before this, she had worked with this show’s script editor, D.C. Fontana, on the Bermuda Triangle series The Fantastic Journey, where she wrote a third of the episodes. In all, she seems to have contributed to about two dozen series and seems to have retired after writing thirteen episodes of Stargate SG-1 in the late 1990s.

Logan’s Run 1.9 – The Judas Goat

I wasn’t very interested in the previous episode of Logan’s Run while our son enjoyed it, and tonight’s was one that I quite liked while he grumbled “This is the wrong episode for me.” He wasn’t interested in this at all. In it, the Sandmen use that face-change machine shown in the movie to give a Sandman the face of Hal 14, a dissident that Jessica knows, hoping that he can find Logan outside and persuade our heroes to return and become the figureheads of a (non-existent) rebellion.

But things get complicated in a very unexpected way. Logan, Jessica, and Rem are considering returning to the City of Domes when they get captured by the very first known runner to escape, a guy named Matthew. He has enslaved a small group of simple farmers who see him as their provider, and guard his complex in exchange for a daily hour of computer-controlled “joy.” It’s a complex and clever story with a couple of satisfying twists by John Meredyth Lucas, who had written a few episodes of Star Trek, Mannix, and The Six Million Dollar Man.

The most interesting bit for me, however, was the casting. The Sandman wearing Hal 14’s face is Nicholas Hammond, who was occasionally appearing in CBS’s Amazing Spider-Man specials at this time, and the lead slave, Garth, is played by Spencer Milligan, who had left Land of the Lost a couple of years before. So here’s a rare picture of three seventies sci-fi leading men all in the same TV episode!

Logan’s Run 1.8 – Fear Factor

Most of these episodes have been a very pleasant surprise, with even the weaker episodes better than I’d figured they would be. “Fear Factor” is a pretty weak one, though. Jared Martin plays our heroes’ ally in a weird community where a so-called doctor is trying to neutralize all the compassion of the people in his clinic and turn everyone into perfectly reasonable worker drones who don’t question anything. Not a bad premise, I guess, but it isn’t explored or developed. He’s trying to build an army, but he doesn’t know who they’re meant to fight. The most memorable scenes are set in some underground red hallways where the doctor is testing Logan’s bravery, precisely the same sort of test that Lex Luthor tried on Superman in the 1978 movie.

Our son really enjoyed it, however. At one point, Rem and one of the doctors get into a mental tug-of-war while wearing sci-fi headbands and he was hopping in his seat while drumming his legs he was so excited. Nice to have one of us be so excited by the experience.

The episode was written by John Sherlock, which certainly sounds like a pseudonym, and this seems to be his only screen credit, he is probably better remembered for his novels, which include 1964’s The Ordeal of Major Grigsby and 1986’s Golden Mile. A 1997 report in The Irish Times suggests that he credited himself as a “creative consultant” on several other movies and TV shows even if the Writer’s Guild doesn’t seem to have done that.

Logan’s Run 1.7 – Crypt

The grown-ups in the room sat up straight when we saw Harlan Ellison’s name in the credits. He wrote the original story of “Crypt,” with Al Hayes finishing the teleplay, and Ellison can typically be relied upon for something very interesting. He contributed a story with six scientists, frozen in cryogenic sleep for two hundred years and all suffering from an ancient plague, awakened today with only enough anti-toxin for three of them. Complications ensue when one of the six might be an impostor. One of the six is definitely a murderer, and then there were five.

I think the grown-ups might have been more entertained than our six year-old critic. The moral dilemma surrounding who will live was a bit over his head, and he also immediately identified the impostor. I’m not sure how he was able to nail his guess so accurately, but whodunits often lose their luster once you figure ’em out.

Of minor note: one of the six scientists is an engineer played by Christopher Stone, who was apparently contractually bound to appear as a guest star on every single prime-time drama made for American TV in the seventies. You know that guy with a mustache who was always being aggressive and rude? That guy. I believe we’ll see him again once or twice down the line.

Logan’s Run 1.6 – Half Life

This is a pretty good episode. It was written by Shimon Wincelberg, toward the end of his very long writing career – he’s probably best known today for his scripts for Star Trek and Have Gun, Will Travel – and guest-starred Kim Cattrall, toward the beginning of her very long acting career. It’s clumsy and simplistic, and the idea of a machine that splits people into “good” and “evil” versions while simultaneously copying their clothes is pretty darn silly, but it was entertaining enough. I really enjoyed the goofy disco lava light special effects generated by the machine, and the crazy kaleidoscope of Heather Menzies’ face, which looked like a bad acid trip, man.

As nice as it always is to look at Kim Cattrall, the really interesting guest star is William Smith, who was between recurring parts on several episodes each of Rich Man, Poor Man and Hawaii Five-O at the time this was made. Smith gets to play the leader of the ostensibly “good” community and the leader of the outcast “evil” community, but of course it’s the good guy who’s the villain and the cast-out who’s trying to do the right thing. It’s a great pair of performances, and, sensibly, the script may be about a silly machine, but Wincelberg was an intelligent enough writer to not hammer that point home.

We joked about the likelihood of splitting our son into two people. In a weird little coincidence, we watched this the same day that he saw an episode of the Teen Titans Go! cartoon in which Cyborg and Beast Boy start making magic duplicates of themselves so they could be lazy. We concluded that just one version of our son will do.

Logan’s Run 1.5 – Man Out of Time

Holy anna! Knock me over with a feather, because this episode of Logan’s Run is no-kidding terrific. We’ve been watching this show with slightly raised eyebrows, trying to enjoy it on its own humble terms, but this one’s fabulous. It’s about a guy from the 22nd Century who travels two hundred years into the future and meets up with our heroes, looking for his own version of Sanctuary.

It turns out that he’s one of a group of scientists who have been predicting the forthcoming nuclear war – remember, if you can, that in 1977, we were all pretty preoccupied with the likelihood that such a war wasn’t going to wait until 2118 to erupt – and have locked away a computer to process everything up until the inevitable bombs shut off the power. So he pops to the 24th Century to get the tapes, running afoul of the people in a well-meaning but illiterate farming community, led by Mel Ferrer, who worship the dormant computers.

It’s mainly only dated by the design. I kind of doubt that people in 2118 will still be using reel-to-reel magnetic tape, and I absolutely don’t believe that the tapes will still be in one piece in 2318. Otherwise, this really does a great job addressing the moral dilemma at the core and questioning whether the scientist could possibly prevent anything. I was loving this, beyond any notion that I might, even before the final twist, which is a downright delicious little humdinger.

I hopped on IMDB to find out what else for television this show’s writer, Noah Ward, had done. Turned out it was a pseudonym for David Gerrold, who’d spent 1974 screwing with kids’ heads by way of the time paradoxes in the first season of Land of the Lost. (In point of fact, I’d been drawing specific comparisons to the episode “The Stranger,” which Walter Koenig had written for Gerrold, already.) Man alive. If I’d seen his actual name in the credits, I’d have sat up straight and expected greatness. As it was, the quality of the story got my attention just fine with a false credit. What a fun hour!

Our son thought it was sad and weird, and then Mommy started confusing him with paradoxes with a twinkle in her eye.