Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A Tribute to Marshall Thompson

(November 27, 1925 – May 18, 1992) 

Avid photographer, horseman, guitarist and film and television actor: a true multi-talented individual 

American film and television actor, Marshall Thompson was born James Marshall Thompson in Peoria, Illinois. He was an only child and was named James Marshall Thompson after an ancestor, a famed Supreme Court justice. At the age of five, he and his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Laurence B. Thompson, moved to California.

His father set up a successful Westwood dentistry practice. His mother even once took to the stage as a concert singer and musician. Marshall was their only child.

Thompson enrolled at Occidental College intending to become a dentist.

While in high school, Thompson appeared in a number of school productions and was spotted by a local talent agent, but this didn’t lead anywhere. At University High School he was a classmate of Norma Jean Baker, who we know by the name of Marilyn Monroe.

As far as acting went, Marshall Thompson was “re-discovered” while performing as one of the Occidental Players. 

In 1943, Thompson was signed up by Universal Pictures where he went on to play quiet, thoughtful teen roles in feature films. He even scored a lead role playing opposite singing star Gloria Jean in Reckless Age for which he earned $350 per week.

In 1946 after being discharged from Universal, Thompson moved to MGM and had more frequent and superior roles in films such as The Clock and the lead in Gallant Bess, MGM's first Cinecolor film.

While with MGM, Marshall Thompson also appeared films such as Blonde Fever (1944), They Were Expendable (1945) and Bad Bascomb (1946). In addition, there were the war dramas, Homecoming (1948), Command Decision (1948) and Battleground (1949). In Dial 1119 (1950) he appeared as a cold-hearted, baby-faced killer, and wound up his MGM contract with The Tall Target (1951) in which he played a potential assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

In the 1950s, Marshall Thompson became a freelance actor working for various studios. It was during this period that he appeared in science fiction films and TV series. 

From 1955-6, Thompson appeared in seven episodes of “Science Fiction Theatre” on TV. The episodes include;

The Human Circuit: A nightclub dancer claims that she saw a nuclear blast during a seizure she suffered. It seems she had witnessed a top-secret bomb explosion in the Pacific. How to explain her clairvoyant talent scientifically?

Three Minute Mile: Dr. Kendall’s assistant, college student Britt has somehow acquired incredible strength and speed. Is this the result of experiments the doctor is conducting?

The Human Experiment: An enzyme from bees intended to help the mentally ill function in society has had some strange effects on a house full of patients.

Bullet Proof: A bank robber uses a piece of metal salvaged from an alien spacecraft to aid his thefts.

Target: Hurricane: A killer storm mysteriously appears offshore.

The Frozen Sound: Government agents attempt to rescue a kidnapped research scientist.

Stranger In The Desert: Two uranium prospectors locate a rich deposit along with a botanist who seems to have a strange motive. 

In 1955 Marshall Thompson starred with Faith Domergue, in Universal's Cult of the Cobra in which American G.I.s trespass on a Hindu ceremony and are hunted down by a beautiful woman who has the power to transform herself into a cobra! Thompson also appeared in this film with his brother-in-law, Richard Long. 


In 1958 Thompson starred in the sci-fi thriller, Fiend Without a Face in which a scientist experiments with telekinetic powers that are enhanced by a nearby nuclear power plant and succeeds in creating a new form of life. This new creature manages to escape his laboratory and multiplies the closer it gets to its nuclear power source. 


In It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), Thompson plays Colonel Carruthers, the sole survivor of the first mission to Mars who is falsely accused of killing his fellow crew members on Mars. Carruthers claims that his crew were killed by a hostile Martian life form. While returning to Earth, the real monster behind the murders has stowed away aboard the rescue ship and begins hunting the crew as they return to Earth! The film's premise would inspire the plot for director Ridley Scott's sci-fi film, Alien (1979).


Then in 1959, Thompson starred as Commander Prescott in the sci-fi / horror film, First Man into Space in which his character’s brother, hotshot Navy test pilot, Dan Prescott takes the new rocket powered Y-13 plane up on its maiden test flight. Once he reaches the upper atmosphere, Dan disobeys orders and takes the plane further up into space where he encounters a strange cloud of meteor dust with terrible consequences for himself and many others.

Thompson also starred in the 1959 13-episodes syndicated science fiction TV series World of Giants in which the character Mel Hunter, a U. S. counter-espionage agent, is accidentally miniaturized to just six inches in height.

Apart from his appearances at that time in sci-fi and horror B-movies, Marshall Thompson had a couple of notable roles in To Hell and Back (1955) and East of Kilimanjaro (1957), in which he performed his own dangerous stunts and developed a lifelong passion for Africa and wildlife.

In 1960, Thompson guest starred as Arthur Poe in the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Wayward Wife.". He also co-starred with the Belgian-born Annie Fargé in the 33-episode CBS sitcom Angel and later went on to star in two Vietnam War films: A Yank in Viet-Nam (1964) (directed by Thompson) and To the Shores of Hell (1965). 

In 1965 he returned to MGM to play the lead for which he is probably best remembered in the film Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion (1965). Thomson played the character, Dr. Marsh Tracy, a veterinarian and single father, raising his daughter by himself in Kenya. The film led to a TV series spin-off called Daktari (1966–1969), in which Thompson played the same role opposite a lion and chimpanzee which served to make him a genuine household name. 

Marshall Thompson died in 1992 from congestive heart failure at age 66 in Royal Oak, Michigan and was survived by his wife Barbara Long whom he married in 1949, his daughter Janet, and grandson Jackson.

©Chris Christopoulos 2018

Saturday, 22 December 2018

First Man into Space (1959)

A sci-fi story containing both charm and corny dialogue, told on a modest budget. 

Directed by Robert Day
Produced by John Croydon, Charles F. Vetter, Richard Gordon
Written by Wyott Ordung, John Croydon, Charles F. Vetter
Music by Buxton Orr
Cinematography: Geoffrey Faithfull
Edited by Peter Mayhew
Production company: Amalgamated Productions
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Running time: 78 min.
Budget: $131,000
Box office: $635,000


Marshall Thompson: Cmdr. Charles Ernest Prescott
Marla Landi: Tia Francesca
Bill Edwards: Lt. Dan Milton Prescott
Robert Ayres: Capt. Ben Richards
Bill Nagy: Police Chief Wilson
Carl Jaffe: Dr. Paul von Essen
Roger Delgado: Mexican Consul
John McLaren: State Dept. Official, Harold Atkins
Spencer Teakle: Ratings Control Room
Chuck Keyser: Ratings Control Room
John Fabian : Ratings Control Room
Richard Shaw: Witney
Bill Nick: Clancy
Helen Forrest: Secretary
Roland Brand: Truck Driver


What if?..........

(Spoilers Follow Below……)

Good evening. I’m your host, Bill Bannerman and welcome to tonight’s program, Probing the Past where we will be revealing to you exclusively shocking revelations that cast doubt on the widely held assumption that the Russians were the first to launch a human being into space and return him safely to earth.

Read on for more.......

Friday, 7 December 2018

Sci-Fi Future is Here & Now (Part 4)

Gene Editing

National Human Genome Research Institute

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) 
Blade Runner (1982) 
Jurassic Park (1993) 
Mimic (1997) 
Gattaca (1997) 
X-Men (2000) 
Dark Angel (2000-2002) 
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) 
Resident Evil (2002) 
Andromeda (2000-2005) 
Splice (2009) 
Heroes (2006-2010) 
Elysium (2013) 
Jurassic World (2015) 
Orphan Black (2013-2017) 

The issue of genetic engineering, gene editing or genetic manipulation has been a staple of science fiction films and series as can be gauged from the above sample of films and TV series which have explored this theme from various standpoints. 

As we journey further into a new century, what was once considered to be an interesting part of speculative fiction and philosophical and ethical debate, has now become a disturbing reality confronting us all. 

We begin this segment of our journey from the realm of science fiction to the cusp of science fact with The International Summit on Human Genome Editing held recently in Hong Kong. 

Researchers, ethicists, and policymakers attending the meeting learned of a Chinese researcher’s astounding claim through media reports. The Chinese researcher, Dr He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China claimed that he had altered the genomes of twin baby girls, named Lula and Nana and that this modification would be passed onto future generations. In other words, the researcher claimed to have created gene-edited twins. 

According to He Jiankui, he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments. One pregnancy had so far been achieved. In each case, the father was infected with HIV while the mothers were HIV-negative. Dr He’s intention was to introduce a rare, natural genetic variation that makes it more difficult for HIV to infect its preferred target, white blood cells. He deleted a region of a receptor on the surface of white blood cells known as CCR5 using the revolutionary genome-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9. The goal was to protect the babies from HIV infection later in life by making the children’s cells resistant to infection by HIV. 


CRISPR-Cas9: a customizable tool allowing scientists to cut and insert small pieces of DNA at precise areas along a DNA strand. The tool consists of; 

1. the Cas9 protein, (the wrench) 
2. the CRISPRs or specific RNA guides (the set of different socket heads) which direct the Cas9 protein to the correct gene, or area on the DNA strand, that controls a particular trait.


It must be noted that the claim has yet to be reported in a scientific paper and has therefore not undergone the expected peer review process.

The sensitivity of the issue of gene editing of human beings can be seen from the reaction the scientist’s claim has generated. Comments such as “premature,” “ethically problematic,” “a serious violation of the Chinese government’s laws and regulations and the consensus of the Chinese scientific community” and “monstrous” have been hurled about to describe the possible scientific development. It is certainly light years away from being viewed as a ‘revolutionary advance’ or ‘breakthrough.’ The question is, why? 

If Dr He’s claims prove to be correct, there are many in the scientific community who would view his actions as having “seriously violate(d) academic ethics and academic norms.” 

At present, the use of CRISPR-Cas9 as a treatment for many genetic diseases, such as muscular dystrophy and sickle cell anaemia is being investigated. Incidents of gene editing have involved the use of so-called somatic cells that are not passed on to the patient’s children. Dr He Jiankui has appeared to have gone further by altering the genome in early stage embryos thereby affecting sperm and eggs (the germ line) and making the change heritable. Such procedures are barred in the United States and many other countries. 

Many would view the gene editing work as being nothing more than an experiment just to see if gene editing on an embryo could be done – the old answer to the question of, why do it? Because we can! The real question ought to be “should we do it?” and “What might the consequences be?” After all, there are many ways to effectively protect oneself against HIV without the need or the potential and unforeseen risks of editing the genes of an embryo to achieve the same result. 

The experimental nature of gene editing would suggest that caution needs to be exercised since no guarantee can be given that mutations and genetic problems would not occur later in life for those undergoing such a process. An important ethical consideration is raised with the possibility of exposing healthy normal children to the potential risks of gene editing for no real benefit. And what of the potential and unforeseen consequences to the entire human species!? For instance, if genes that are crucial to the human immune system are removed, could this then increase the risk of susceptibility to other diseases? 

If Dr He’s claims prove to be valid, I’m afraid that this is yet another case of scientific advancement in which the once closed and locked door has been opened just a crack. Whether we like it or not, having once been unlocked and opened, it is likely that the door will swing open wider letting in God knows what! 

No matter what checks and balances are put in place, someone somewhere will work secretly and under the radar on experiments such as gene editing. Take for instance, the reports of a team of biologists at the Oregon Health and Science University in the US who used CRISPR to genetically edit more than 100 human embryos. Most people in the scientific community were unaware of this until a paper was published! 

An understandable fear many people may have is that the Pandora's box of genetic enhancements and designer babies will be unleashed. Will we usher in a world in which qualities such as height and intelligence can be pre-determined by editing or manipulating our genes? Unlikely perhaps, but if it can be conceived or imagined…..well…..??? 

Apart from the very laudable desire to treat currently untreatable diseases, which germ-line genetic engineering may allow us to do, we are now faced with the ultimate irresistible possibility of possessing power over our own biology and evolutionary direction as a species. 

The most we might hope for is that gene-editing will first be required to go through a process of serious informed public debate, including the necessary input and guidance of doctors, scientists, ethicists and religious authorities. If it is proved to be feasible, the process must be stringently governed and regulated. Its use ought to be restricted to dealing with medical needs where no other medical approach is a viable option. A medical approach should not be employed as a solution to a perceived social problem as appears to be the case with Dr He’s reported experiment. 

Perhaps the nuclear arms race of the Cold War era may offer us some salutary lessons. As a first step, we may need to acknowledge that we are entering a new kind of race: a genetic arms race. Left to their own devices, national governments and their scientific bodies will most likely rush to adopt the new technology before their adversaries and counterparts do. Funding will flow, advantage will be sought and the arsenal will grow!

Whatever rules, regulations or ethical codes of conduct  are put in place to control this technology will likely be vague, loosely worded and unenforceable. Don’t forget that Dr He’s reported experiment involved him defying the unofficial international moratorium on editing human embryos intended for a pregnancy! 

It may take the realization that direct experimentation on human beings is as MAD as the Cold War era policy of mutually assured destruction in order for us to achieve global consensus on what to do to avoid endangering the survival of our species. 

A decision will soon – very soon - have to be made involving a choice between going down the path of global governance and regulation or opting for self-regulation by the scientific community. Which will stand the most chance of preventing our species rushing headlong into potential disaster or indeed a brave new world of genetic inequality? Whether or not Dr He’s work proves to be valid, at least it may achieve this kind of much needed debate and thoughtful consideration - and that would be a good thing. 

©Chris Christopoulos 2018