Gene Autry and The Phantom Empire

By Lee Weinstein: One of the fond memories from my childhood is a movie serial I followed on a Saturday afternoon kiddie television show back in the late 1950’s.  Although I wasn’t to see it again until 1980, it made a lasting impression on me.  

The Phantom Empire, a twelve chapter Mascot serial, was originally released in February, 1935. A strange concoction for a serial, it is at once science fiction film, a Western, and strangely enough, a musical. It was the first real science fiction sound serial and its popularity soon inspired other serials about fantastic worlds.

The story revolves around the subterranean city of Murania, located 25,000 feet underground, beneath the ranch of radio’s singing cowboy, Gene Autry, who plays himself.  It is a city of futuristic spires, domes and bridges, featuring robot workers, wireless phones, televisors, and other technological marvels.  Some of it was filmed at the then newly completed Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, shortly before it opened to the public.

The convoluted plot required Autry to make a broadcast at two o’clock every afternoon to maintain his contract and avoid losing his ranch, Radio Ranch.  Professor Beetson (Frank Glendon), a villainous scientist, and his cohorts want to get rid of Autry so they can freely prospect for the radium deposits detected there, and also look for the entrance to “lost city of Mu” they believe is under the ranch. At the same time Tika, the queen of Murania (Dorothy Christy, who had previously played Mrs. Laurel in Sons of the Desert), also wants to get rid of Autry, to prevent the discovery of the secret entrance to her city.

Frankie and Betsy Baxter, teenage children of Autry’s business partner, have spied Tika’s Thunder Riders on the surface, and have assembled a large “Junior Thunder Riders” club, with capes and bucket helmets, in imitation of them. 

Gene Autry was an unusual choice to star in the film. It was originally to have been singing cowboy  Ken Maynard, who had starred in the previous Mascot serial Mystery Mountain (1934), but he was fired by the studio and replaced by Autry, who was a bit player in the previous serial.  The music over the opening credits is the same in both serials.  Whereas Maynard did not sing in Mystery Mountain, Autry’s singing is an important plot point in Phantom Empire, to help make up for his lack of acting experience. His singing is played up as much as his heroics, and he manages, amid the mayhem, to perform a number of his own songs.

 In addition, he is supported throughout by numerous helpers as he weaves his way through the various plotlines. Smiley Burnette (the train engineer in Petticoat Junction) and William Moore were his adult comic sidekicks, Oscar and Pete. Frankie Darro (of The Bowery Boys) and Betsy King Ross (billed as the World’s Champion Trick Rider), who lead the Junior Thunder Riders Club, enact their motto, “To the rescue” many times to save Autry.

But the real star of the film is the city of Murania, itself.  In the opening credits, following the cast, are the words “Featuring the Scientific City of Murania” superimposed over the futuristic cityscape.  In chapter one, we learn the Muranians have descended from the ”lost tribes of Mu” who were driven underground by the glaciers during the last ice age, 100,000 years earlier.

According to various sources, the idea for the serial was allegedly dreamed by head screenwriter Wallace MacDonald while under anesthesia for a tooth extraction, after he had read a magazine article about Carlsbad caverns. MacDonald was a Canadian silent film actor who went on to a brief stint as a screenwriter, starting with this film, and a much longer one as a film producer.  His co-writers were Gerald Geraghy, who scripted a large number of westerns, his brother Maurice (who was uncredited), and Hy Freeman who later joined the staff of the Groucho Marx show.

The screenplay, despite MacDonald’s hallucinatory dreams and minor borrowings from Mystery Mountain, shows evidence of literary influences.  In an early chapter, Frankie and Betsy actually mention having read books about scientifically advanced subterranean cities.  Indeed, there is a long tradition of subterranean civilizations in imaginative literature, if not in film.  The Coming Race (1871) by Edward Bulwer Lytton is one of the more influential. The Moon Pool (1919) by A. Merritt, with its subterranean world of “Muria,” was influenced by it and was also very popular. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggests the serial was influenced by The Coming Race.

In Coming Race, the locale of the entrance to the underground world is undisclosed, but in The Moon Pool, Muria, as it is called, is entered on a remote Pacific island. The subterranean people in it have descended from an unnamed Pacific continent which sank. Muria is obviously a shortened form of Lemuria. Could the name “Murania” have been suggested by “Muria?”

One wonders if MacDonald or one of his cohorts wasn’t also aware of the legends surrounding Mt. Shasta in Northern California, These legends, popularized by Harvey Spencer Lewis with his book Lemuria: the lost continent of the Pacific (1931), involve a race of people descended from the lost continent of Lemuria who somehow found their way into the depths of the mountain and built an advanced underground city called “Telos.”  Lemuria and Mu, both supposed to have been sunken Pacific continents, are often considered to be synonymous.  Mt. Shasta is certainly geographically closer to Autry’s ranch than a Pacific island.

But whereas the fictional subterranean utopias created by Bulwer Lytton, Merritt, and Lewis are mainly based on advanced mental powers, Murania is full of science fictional hardware, complete with robots, television, and death rays. Bulwer’s underground race derives its power from a hypothetical form of energy called “vril,” seemingly occult, although he had intended it to be something akin to electricity.  Murania, on the other hand, is powered by the radioactive element radium and Tika’s control room has impressive looking displays of scientific equipment with glowing tubes, televisor screens, and rows of levers and switches. The Coming Race does refer in a few places to mechanical automatons who do the menial labor of the inhabitants, but they are barely described. The film makes much more use of its somewhat comical-looking metal robots for the same purpose.

As the story progresses, Autry is framed by Professor Beetson for the murder of his partner and is helped to escape by his friends, who enable him to continue to make his broadcasts throughout the early chapters.

While we see a great deal of Murania throughout these chapters, it is not until the end of chapter five, halfway through the serial, that Autry, himself, finally enters the underground kingdom. Disguised as a Thunder Rider, he is taken down a tubular 25,000 foot elevator to Murania and then to the queen’s throne room. As a “surface man” he is immediately sentenced to death by the queen, but her traitorous chancellor, Lord Argo (Wheeler Oakman), allows him to escape as part of his own plan to stage a rebellion against her.

Queen Tika, tall and statuesque (perhaps an allusion to The Coming Race, where the women are larger and more powerful than the men, or to Yolara, the high priestess in The Moon Pool), is an unforgiving ruler who wants to prevent “surface people” from discovering her utopia. During the first half of the serial, Autry, like most serial heroes, has many close brushes with death, often being rescued by his friends.

Then, in chapter seven, still underground, he undergoes an experience that has never happened before or since in a movie serial. He actually dies. After he is fatally injured in an explosion, he is pronounced dead by Tika’s chief surgeon. The queen then emphatically tells him, “No one is dead in Murania, unless we do not wish to revive him.” And she wished him to be revived so she can discover the identity of the traitor who had saved him from her previous death sentence. The chief surgeon, at her command, brings him back to life by means of the “radium revival chamber.”  When Autry comes to, he is babbling nonsense syllables, which the chief surgeon explains is “the language of the dead.” 

Once Autry is brought back, he takes a noticeably more active role, and escapes from Murania without the help of his various sidekicks.  Once on the surface, he rescues Frankie and Betsy from the professor and his men and ultimately, several chapters later after re-entering Murania, he actually saves the queen from the rebels, becoming her ally.

As in the Moon Pool, there are two factions in Murania at odds with each other.  In The Moon Pool the high priestess, Yolara, who controls the evil faction, wants to invade the surface world using such weaponry as a death ray that can vibrate the atoms of matter apart. In Murania the division is between those loyal to the queen, and the rebel faction.  The rebels, interestingly, also have a “”disintegrating, atom-smashing machine” that can destroy matter.  Even as the secret gold mine is blown up at the end of Mystery Mountain, killing the villain in the process, the activated disintegrating machine goes out of control at the end and destroys Murania. The final scenes of Murania and Queen Tika, literally melting like wax, an effect achieved by melting the celluloid film frames, are unforgettable.

In the final scenes back on the surface, Beetson is exposed as the murderer of Autry’s partner, thanks to a bit of Muranian technology appropriated by Frankie.

The Phantom Empire has its share of faults.  The writing and acting often come across as wooden to amateurish.  Nonetheless, the sheer outrageousness of the mixture of genres somehow worked, and the unique serial was quite successful at the box office. It was so successful that Universal, the following year, adapted the Flash Gordon comic strip into a 13 chapter serial. This was followed by The Undersea Kingdom (1936) from Republic (the successor to Mascot) two more Flash Gordon serials in 1938 and 1940, and a Buck Rogers serial in 1939. But the influence of The Phantom Empire can be seen most clearly in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), in its costuming, futuristic sets, televisor screens, and electrical death chambers.  Both Tika, and Azura are haughty queens who undergo a character change for the better when facing death at the end.  Tika, with her final effort, opens the doorway for Gene and his friends to escape the destruction while refusing to leave the melting city, herself. Azura, with her dying breath, gives Flash the magic sapphire needed to free the Clay People.

The impact of Phantom Empire went further.  It launched the movie, and later television, career of Autry as a cowboy star and Smiley Burnette as his sidekick.

Ripples of the influence of the serial may have entered written science fiction in the once popular but controversial series of stories by Richard S. Shaver, which ran in Amazing Stories starting with “I Remember Lemuria” (1944). Shaver reportedly read and enjoyed The Moon Pool. It is not known if Shaver or his uncredited collaborator, editor Ray Palmer, ever saw the serial, but the protagonist describes a futuristic cityscape, and takes a high-tech elevator ride down to Mu, which is below Atlantis in the story. Later on, an underground race known as the “deros” attack humans on the surface with ray machines, bringing to mind Tika’s viewer which can tune in on anyone anywhere, and her interference ray which causes an airplane to crash in one episode.

In the spring of 1979, the short-lived TV series Cliffhangers ran on NBC. It featured three different movie serial-like segments, one of which was titled The Secret Empire. The storyline involved a US marshal in 19th century Wyoming who discovers the advanced underground civilization of Chimera, accessed via a cavern and a Muranian-like elevator.  Unlike the Muranians, the Chimerans are bent on attacking the surface world. The subterranean scenes were shot in color while those on the surface were in black and white. Despite this, the visuals were lackluster compared to those of the 1935 serial.

The following year, PBS ran the series Matinee at the Bijou which tried to give audiences a taste of the movie-going experience of earlier decades. The first season included weekly episodes of The Phantom Empire, edited down to ten chapters.  I enjoyed rewatching it after having seen NBC’s pale imitation.

In 1988, independent filmmaker Fred Olen Ray referenced it in his low-budget horror film also titled The Phantom Empire. Explorers enter a cave leading to an underground world complete with dinosaurs, robots, cannibalistic mutants, and a race of scantily clad women.  It was very poorly received by critics and audiences.  And in 2020, the newspaper comic strip Funky Winkerbean by Tom Batiuk had a short dream-like sequence referencing the serial. In this episode, characters visiting Bronson Canyon are saved from a fire by Muranian robots and are taken into Murania where they meet Queen Tika.

The original Phantom Empire, for all its faults in acting, scripting, and direction, does retain a charm lacking in the more modern remakes.  Somehow the melange of disparate elements blends together to make a film greater than the sum of its parts.

All twelve chapters are available on DVD, Blu-Ray and YouTube.

Read more articles by Lee Weinstein at his website.

Pixel Scroll 6/28/19 A Pixel’s A Pixel, No Matter How Scrolled

(1) LEADING EFFECTS ARTISTS GATHER. Last night in Beverly Hills, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted “Galactic Innovations: Star Wars and Rogue One”, with some people who have made special effects history.

Over the last 40 years, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. But the impetus to create and inspire remains the same. This event contrasted the analog technologies developed for the first STAR WARS released in 1977 with the all-digital toolsets used to create ROGUE ONE released in 2016.

Key contributors from both STAR WARS and ROGUE ONE shared the journey of creating the impossible with their breakthrough visual effects. Our list of stellar participants included: John Dykstra, Dennis Muren, John Knoll, Ben Burtt, Marcia Lucas, Bill George, Harrison Ellenshaw, Bruce Nicholson, Richard Edlund and Rachel Rose. Hosted by Kiri Hart, co-producer of ROGUE ONE.

A recording of the livestreamed video is available today:

I learned from Craig Miller, “Lucasfilm has donated the original Dykstraflex Camera – used to do the miniature photography for Star Wars – to the Academy Museum and the significance of the camera prompted them to put together this event.”

(2) CELEBRATE. FIYAH Literary Magazine is making headway to fund its staff Hugo Meetup in Atlanta. Any donation helps.

(3) NEXT YEAR’S HUGOS. Renay has kicked off what some admirers call 2020 Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom to collect recommendations of works published this year.

(4) THE FIFTH SEASON AUTHOR ON TV. See video of N.K. Jemisin’s appearance on the PBS News Hour in connection with her book being a selection for their #NowReadThis book club.

(5) ANTHOLOGY NEWS. Haka is an anthology of speculative / science fiction in Filipino by European authors, organized by Julie Novakova and Jaroslav Olsa Jr. that will include stories from 15 authors of different nationalities.

The publisher, Anvil Publishing, will announce the launching date soon.

Line Up:

  • Peter Schattschneider: Brief aud dem Jenseits (Austria)
  • Ian Watson: Walk of Solace with My Dead Baby (Britain)
  • Hanuš Seiner: Hexagrammaton (the Czech Rep.)
  • Richard Ipsen: The Null in the Nought (Denmark)
  • Johanna Sinisalo: Äänettömät Äänet (Finland)
  • Aliette de Bodard: Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight (France)
  • Michalis Manolios: Aethra (Greece)
  • Péter Lengyel: Napkelet Cím? (Hungary)
  • Francesco Verso and Francesco Mantovani: iMATE (Italy)
  • Tais Teng: Silicium Snelwegen (the Netherlands)
  • Stanislaw Lem: Podró? siódma (Poland)
  • Pedro Cipriano: Seeds of Hope (Portugal)
  • Zuzana Stožická: ?repiny z oblohy (Slovakia)
  • Bojan Ekselenski: ?asovni kredita (Slovenia)
  • Sofía Rhei: Secret Stories of Doors (Spain)
  • Bertil Falk: Gjort är gjort (Sweden)

(6) NEVER STEAL ANYTHING SMALL. Meanwhile, back at the slushpile, Neil Clarke thought he might have seen this one before:

(7) KEENE TELETHON CANCELLED. Brian Keene has announced they will not be holding the 3rd annual The Horror Show with Brian Keene telethon, which was scheduled to take place at Dark Delicacies in September. One of the hosts is medically not in a condition to do what needs to be done and the rest of the hosts are unwilling to proceed without him. Keene explained on Facebook:

It is with profound regret that I have to announce the cancellation of the 3rd annual The Horror Show with Brian Keene telethon, which was scheduled to take place at Dark Delicacies in September.

Listeners to the show know that co-host and engineer Dave Thomas has been experiencing some health problems. I am not going to share the private details of what has been occurring, but while Dave’s condition so far hasn’t greatly impacted his abilities to participate on the weekly program, his doctors this week have strongly advised against doing the telethon, given what is required for it. He can’t travel to California. And doing it here on the East Coast isn’t an option either because — to be blunt — staying awake and energized for 24 hours will kill him….

If Dave’s health fortunes change, I will absolutely reschedule this for early-2020. But as it stands right now, he simply can’t do it, and we simply won’t do it without him.

Keene hopes people will still find the cause worth supporting

If you’d still like to help, you can donate to Scares That Care by clicking here. And you can shop at Dark Delicacies from anywhere in the world by clicking here.

(8) ANIME MILWAUKEE BANS RYAN KOPF. Anime News Network reports “Convention Runner Ryan Kopf Banned from Anime Milwaukee Following Alleged Sexual Assault”, the consequences of a 2018 incident:

Anime Milwaukee (AMKE) staff confirmed with Anime News Network that Ryan Kopf, the chief executive officer of the convention organization, is banned from future Anime Milwaukee conventions following an incident that took place during the 2018 convention between February 16-18 at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee hotel. Police were called to the hotel to respond to an alleged sexual assault involving Kopf.

Anime Milwaukee made a statement (full text at the linked post) which begins:

As the leadership of Anime Milwaukee, we take safety standards seriously. That is why we, AMKE’s parent non-profit organization (the Entertainment and Culture Promotion Society, Inc.) are choosing to come forward about an incident that happened at our show, and the preventative action we have taken since.

Anime Milwaukee can confirm there was an incident involving Mr. Kopf, a representative of Anime Midwest, at AMKE 2018. In this case, per protocol, Milwaukee PD were called by Hyatt staff. Convention staff also responded to assist the attendee as needed, until we were dismissed by police upon their arrival. Our details are pretty sparse from there, since this became a matter for law enforcement personnel. For our part, Mr. Kopf was immediately banned from Anime Milwaukee for 2018 and all future years. He is not permitted to attend AMKE in any capacity. We were also informed that the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee banned him from their property.

Our convention chair at the time, Corey Wood, acted decisively to ensure Mr. Kopf, all associated events staff, and promotional materials were ejected fully from Anime Milwaukee events space….

ANN asked for Kopf’s side of things:

Anime News Network reached out to Kopf for comment on alleged incidents at Anime Milwaukee 2018 and Anime-zing! 2013. Kopf denied he was removed from the Anime Milwaukee 2018 event or that any incident took place. He also denied anything improper took place at Anime-zing 2013.

“When attending Anime Milwaukee in 2018, I was always in the company of at least one of my staff members. We were not approached by anyone and we were not asked to leave. The precise nature of these allegations remain [sic] unclear to me. I have not done anything improper at either of these events, and I fully intend to pursue holding accountable those who have continued to repeat defamatory statements about me,” Kopf wrote.

Kopf has been involved in a number of incidents, and some litigation against those who reported them, over the pat few years – see File 770’s 2016 post “Ryan Kopf Refiles Suit Against Nerd & Tie”.

(9) NASA MISSION TO TITAN. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced yesterday that “NASA’s Dragonfly Will Fly Around Titan Looking for Origins, Signs of Life”.

NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon.

Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth. Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet; it has eight rotors and flies like a large drone. It will take advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere – four times denser than Earth’s – to become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials.

Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet. During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. They also will investigate the moon’s atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life.

… Dragonfly took advantage of 13 years’ worth of Cassini data to choose a calm weather period to land, along with a safe initial landing site and scientifically interesting targets.

(10) MALTIN AND GRRM. Leonard Maltin interviewed George R.R. Martin for his podcast Maltin on the Movies.

The prolific author behind Game of Thrones is also a lifelong movie buff and invited us to interview him at his very own theater, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe, New Mexico. George and Leonard compared notes about starting out as a fan and contributing to fanzines, back in the pre-Internet era. (For more on this, go to George went on to teach writing and enjoyed success as a novelist before moving to Hollywood, where he spent a decade working in television. Ultimately he returned to his roots as an author, little dreaming that his novels would inspire one of the most elaborate and successful television shows ever produced. George is a great conversationalist and was a gracious host to Leonard and Jessie; you can join them vicariously by listening in.

Maltin also wrote a post about his fanpublishing roots: “My Link to Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin: Fanzines”. (Apropos to our current discussion of gatekeeping, Maltin put out a movie fanzine, and obviously would be shocked if anyone didn’t consider that a link to young GRRM’s fanac.)

We had a great conversation for our podcast, Maltin on Movies, which you can find HERE. In doing homework for that chat I discovered that Mr. Martin and I have at least one thing in common, other than growing up in New Jersey: we both got our start writing for fanzines….

It turned out that the school paper had no use for cocky freshmen, so another friend, Barry Gottlieb, and I launched a more ambitious publication we called Profile. It reflected my growing interest in film history and Barry’s love of magic and magicians. Profile was reproduced on a used mimeograph machine, which was given to me by my father’s cousin, who was in the printing business. It lacked an automatic paper feed, so it was truly labor-intensive—and messy, to boot. I still feel like I have black ink under my fingernails from that experience. Barry had artistic skills and graced our covers with lineoleum-block prints. When we felt flush we sprang for wraparound covers featuring photos and posters from a local job-printer. That spruced up our little magazine, which was starting to build a following outside of our schoolmates.

I was 13 years old when Forrest J. Ackerman’s popular newsstand magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland printed a survey of fanzines. That’s how I learned of The 8mm Collector, published by Samuel K. Rubin in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Film Fan Monthly, published by Daryl Davy in Vancouver, B.C. I submitted articles to them both and they were accepted. That’s when I saw my byline in print for the first time in a publication other than my own. Believe me, that was a heady experience. Only after they published my pieces did I tell them that I was 13. Sam Rubin said he didn’t care and Daryl Davy said the same, adding that he was 19 at the time. I became a regular contributor to both magazines.

(11) COWBOY V. ROBOTS. The Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles is running a “Weird West Film Series” and on July 13 will host a marathon screening of the cowboy star’s serial The Phantom Empire (1935)”

Join us for a marathon screening of all 12 chapters of the classic sci-fi Western serial The Phantom Empire! The underground empire of Murania threatens the world with robots, ray-guns, and Thunder Riders—and only Gene Autry, in his first starring role, can save the day! Watch for Griffith Observatory (the super-scientific, highly advanced kingdom of Murania 20,000 feet below Gene Autry’s Radio Ranch). Chapters are screened every half hour and introduced by Karla Buhlman, President of Gene Autry Entertainment. Drop in or stay for the whole show, cliffhangers and all.

For more details on the cast and songs in this film, visit the Official Gene Autry website page for The Phantom Empire.


  • June 28, 1957 Beginning of the End premiered. (Think giant grasshoppers)
  • June 28, 1957The Unearthly debuted in theaters.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born June 28, 1926 Mel Brooks, 92. Blazing Saddles I’ve watched, oh, at least two dozen times. Get Smart several times at least wholly or in part. Spaceballs, errr, once was enough. And let’s not mention Robin Hood: Men in Tights though The Producers (not genre I grant you) was brilliant. So what do you like or dislike by him? 
  • Born June 28, 1941 Martin Greenberg. Founder of Gnome Press who’s not to be confused with Martin H Greenberg. Not on Asimov’s list of favorite people despite being the first publisher of the Foundation series. Not paying authors is a bad idea. (Died 2011.)
  • Born June 28, 1944 Peggy Rae Sapienza. Anything I could possibly say, Mike has said of this fan of the first order far more eloquently here. (Died 2015.)
  • Born June 28, 1946 Robert Asprin. I first encountered him as one of the editors (along with Lynn Abbey) of the Thieves’ World Series for which he wrote the superb “The Price of Doing Business” for the first volume. I’m also fond of The Cold Cash War novel. His Griffen McCandles (Dragons) series is quite excellent. I’m please to say he’s well stocked on both Apple Books and Kindle. (Died 2008.)
  • Born June 28, 1948 Kathy Bates, 71. Her performance in Misery based on the King novel was her big Hollywood film. She was soon in Dolores Claiborne, another King-derived film. Other genre roles included Mrs. Green in Dick Tracy, Mrs. Miriam Belmont in Dragonfly, voice of the Sea Hag in Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy, voice of Bitsy the Cow in Charlotte’s Web and Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson in The Day the Earth Stood Still , a very loose adaption of the Fifties film of the same name.
  • Born June 28, 1951 Lalla Ward, 68. She is known for her role as Romana (or Romanadvoratrelundar in full) on Doctor Who during the time of the Fourth Doctor. She has reprised the character in Dimensions in Time, the webcast version of Shada, and in several Doctor Who Big Finish productions. In addition, she played Ophelia to Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet in the BBC television production.  And she was Helga in an early horror film called Vampire Circus.
  • Born June 28, 1954 Alice Krige, 65. I think her first genre role was in the full role of Eva Galli and Alma Mobley in Ghost Story. From there, she plays Mary Shelley (née Godwin) in Haunted Summer before going onto being Mary Brady in Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers. Now Star Trek: First Contact in which she first plays the Borg Queen, a role she’ll repeat in the 2001 finale of Star Trek: Voyager, “Endgame”. She’s had a number of other genre roles but I only note that she was Eir in Thor: The Dark World.
  • Born June 28, 1954 Deborah Grabien, 65. She makes the Birthday list for her most excellent Haunted Ballads series in which a folk musician and his lover tackle the matter of actual haunted spaces. It leads off with The Weaver and the Factory Maid. You can read the first chapter here. Oh, and she makes truly great dark chocolate fudge. 
  • Born June 28, 1954 Raffaella De Laurentiis, 65. Yes, she’s related to that De Laurentiis hence she was the producer of the Dune film. She also did Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer, both starting Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Kull the Conqueror. She also produced all films in the Dragonheart series.
  • Born June 28, 1957 Mark Helprin, 72. Author of three works of significance to the genre, Winter’s TaleA City in Winter which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella and The Veil of Snows. The latter two are tastefully illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. I know Winter’s Tale was turned into a film but color me very disinterested in seeing it.  
  • Born June 28, 1966 Sara Stewart, 53. Martha Wayne in Batman Begins, she played the Sheriff of Nottingham’s sister, Davina, in “Sister Hood”, the opening episode of Season 2 of Robin Hood, her voice appears in the Dr Who episode “The End of the World”, and a loa possess her in the London Voodoo film.
  • Born June 28, 1979 Felicia Day, 40. She was Vi in  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Holly Marten in Eureka, and had a recurring role as Charles Bradbury on Supernatural. She also appears as Kinga Forrester in Mystery Science Theater 3000.


  • The Flying McCoys shows somebody who’ll be surprised that Dracula doesn’t think this is good news.

(15) ST:P. Picard is slated to debut later this year, and famed genre figure Michael Chabon will be at the helm: “‘Star Trek: Picard’ Names Michael Chabon Showrunner”.

“‘Star Trek’ has been an important part of my way of thinking about the world, the future, human nature, storytelling and myself since I was ten years old,” said Chabon. “I come to work every day in a state of joy and awe at having been entrusted with the character and the world of Jean-Luc Picard, with this vibrant strand of the rich, intricate and complex tapestry that is ‘Trek.’”

(16) UP, PERISCOPE. The Cut brings its investigative powers to bear on “A Close Reading of the Most Deranged Sandwich Commercial Ever”.

Those of you who’ve spared yourselves of Twitter might have missed the absolute calamity that ensued when Simmons shared this example of advertising run wild. At the time of writing, it had been retweeted tens of thousands of times, received thrice as many faves, generated roughly 5,000 comments, and immediately cemented itself as a meme. It has also raised a lot of questions:

(17) FRANKENSTEINLY SPEAKING. Daniel Kimmel, a film critic and author of several humorous sf novels, is interviewed by the Jewish Journal: “In new book, Somerville author explores ‘What is it like to be Jewish in the 21st century?’” The accompanying photo shows Kimmel posed with his Skylark Award

…Kimmel’s earlier novels include “Jar Jar Binks Must Die … and Other Observation about Science Fiction Movies,” and “Time On My Hands: My Misadventures In Time Travel.” He’s the winner of the 2018 Skylark Award, given by the New England Science Fiction Association for lifetime contributions to the genre. It’s a distinction he shares with such notables as Isaac Asimov, Jane Yolen, and Bruce Coville.

…In a recent conversation, Kimmel said his new novel is a mashup of two classic films, “Father of the Bride” (1950, remade in 1991), and “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), an irresistible challenge for the 63-year-old who lives in Somerville.

It’s Kimmel’s first work of explicitly Jewish fiction, with memorable characters – including a rabbi – enlivened with Kimmel’s Jewish sensibilities from growing up in Queens, N.Y.

“Father of the Bride of Frankenstein” opens with a prologue from the father-narrator, a bank executive who sets the stage of the wildly imaginative tale of the unlikeliest Jewish wedding about to unfold: the marriage of his darling daughter Samantha, a college philosophy major, to Frank, the charismatic human who, only a few years earlier, was brought to life from tissues taken from a corpse in an (illegal) experiment by scientists (who are now behind bars).

With a witty pen, Kimmel manages to touch on issues of the day, from bioethics to politics and human rights, all wrapped up in hilarious family dynamics bursting with Borscht-Belt humor.

(18) LOVECRAFT BOBBLEHEAD. World Fantasy Award winners didn’t want little Lovecraft statuettes, but maybe you do. Especially if it’s a bobblehead. On sale at MVD Entertainment Group: “H.P. Lovecraft – Limited Edition Bobblehead By Rue Morgue Rippers”.

Rue Morgue Magazine’s next release in the Rue Morgue RIPpers line is the father of cosmic horror, H.P. Lovecraft. This 7-inch polyresin figure of Lovecraft is limited to 1500 numbered units. Sculpted with incredible accuracy, the H.P. Lovecraft Rue Morgue RIPper will surely please fans worldwide.

(19) DEAD CERT. There’s not a ghost of a chance that the lease will be renewed – details in The Brag: “Melbourne’s Haunted Bookshop lease denied on account of landlord’s ‘Spiritual Beliefs’”.

A Melbourne paranormal bookstore has had a lease application denied because of the potential landlord’s “spiritual beliefs.”

The Haunted Bookshop was established in 1997 but will be closing permanently this year. Any hope of remaining open at a new, nearby location seems to have been diminished with the establishment becoming the latest flashpoint to dominate national discourse in the debate around a perceived attack on religious expression.

… In the post, Sinton mentioned that the landlord is “a high-profile member of the Buddhist community” though The Brag is unable to confirm this at the time of publish. The Brag has also reached out to the agent representing the property for comment.

(20) ALL KNIGHT LONG. “Michael Palin to produce Radio 4 specials for Monty Python birthday” – BBC has the story. Chip Hitchcock comments, “A pity the world record attempt is too late for Worldcon-related tourism — I bet a lot of fans would have shown up.”

Sir Michael Palin is to serve as the executive producer on five new Radio 4 specials to mark the 50th anniversary of the Monty Python comedy troupe.

The shows, to air in September, will feature “never-before-released material from the Monty Python sound archives”.

The 50th anniversary of Monty Python’s Flying Circus first airing on BBC One will be marked as well by a month-long season at BFI Southbank in London.

The 5 October anniversary will also be marked by a world record attempt.

Organisers are hoping to encourage the largest gathering of people dressed as Gumbys – the spectacle-wearing, knotted handkerchief-sporting imbeciles who became part of Python lore.

[Thanks to Standback, John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Dann, Michael Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Rick Moen.]