Friday, November 18, 2011

Buck and Duck

Daffy-blogging, essay 3 of 15 blog entries on
Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½th Century

Part One, Rockets to the Moon

A three-man rocket that launches from Florida,
lands on the moon, and splashes into the ocean
on its return:  an illustration by Henri de
Montaut from the 1868 edition of Jules Verne's
From the Earth to the Moon.

In 1902, pioneer filmmaker Georges Melies created his most famous
movie, A Trip to the Moon, where a space capsule is launched
from a giant gun.

Rollo Treadway from the IMDb Classic Film message board shared
this image from the 1918 Danish movie Himmelskibet (A Trip to Mars).
Rollo thought their spaceship Excelsior looked "clunky" but I prefer
to think of it as a prototype space shuttle!

Fritz Lang's Woman in the Moon (1929) employed noted rocket
scientist Hermann Oberth as a consultant.  Among other innovations,
it featured the first rocket countdown.  In this still, the rocket is seen
on the launch pad, with most of the rocket submerged in a giant
container of water.

Filmed two years after Bugs Bunny's first trip to the moon in
Haredevil Hare, George Pal's Destination Moon (1950) set
new standards for scientific accuracy in cinematic science
fiction, thanks largely to the contributions of
co-screenwriter Robert Heinlein.
Part Two, Buck and Duck

With his 1948 Bugs Bunny cartoon Haredevil Hare, Chuck Jones leaped ahead of the curve.  The first Hollywood science fiction feature film based on the new rocket technology was still three years in the future (Destination Moon).  With Bugs Bunny’s trip to the moon in Haredevil Hare, Jones was already busy teasing the genre before its official birth!

The rocket that takes Bugs on his first trip to the moon
in Haredevil Hare (1948).
Haredevil Hare is comedy based on contemporary (1948) newspaper headlines.  By contrast, the science fiction world of Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½th Century (1953) has its roots elsewhere.  The origins of Duck Dodgers can be found in the space opera adventures of Buck Rogers, as well as the many fantastical intergalactic worlds that Buck Rogers inspired.

In the 1930s, Buck Rogers was a multimedia phenomenon, perhaps only second to Mickey Mouse in mass marketing appeal.  Here’s a fast chronology:

1926:  First pulp science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, published.

1928:  Amazing Stories published Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Frances Nowlan.  Its hero, Anthony Rogers, was a man who becomes exposed to a mysterious gas, slept for nearly 500 years, and awakened in the 25th century.

1929:  With Nowlan’s involvement, the National Newspaper Syndicate adapted Armageddon 2419 A.D. into the first science fiction comic strip, renaming the hero Buck Rogers and splashing his new name into the title: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D.

1932: A Buck Rogers radio program premiered.  It ran through the golden age of radio, with new episodes broadcast through 1947.

1933: Nowlan and comic strip artist Dick Calkins adapted the original stories into a novella, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

1934:  Buck Rogers comic books hit the stores.

1934:  Buck Rogers was a star at the Chicago World’s Fair through a ten-minute movie, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars, commissioned just for the World’s Fair.

Throughout the 1930s:  Big Little Books published Buck Rogers books.  Buck Rogers pop-up books were popular, too.  Buck Rogers toys hit the market with various models of ray guns and disintegrator pistols.

1939:  Buster Crabbe starred in the popular 12-part film serial Buck Rogers.

1950-51:  ABC Television produced a live broadcast of Buck Rogers adventures in prime time (unfortunately losing the ratings battle when the network placed it opposite the up-and-coming star
Milton Berle on Texaco Star Theatre).

The Duck Dodgers version of an Atomic Pistol.
1953:  Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½th Century was released to theaters (filmed in fall 1952 and released in summer 1953).

The Buck Rogers approach to space opera spawned other comic strip series.  Brick Bradford and Flash Gordon were the most successful, with Flash’s multi-media success comparable to Buck Rogers.  The space opera, as defined by Buck Rogers, was inescapable in the 1930s.

These were formative years for the budding artists who would eventually make up the Chuck Jones unit.  Born in 1912, Chuck Jones would have been 16 when that first Buck Rogers story was published in Amazing Stories.  Layout artist Maurice Noble (who did the incredible futuristic backgrounds) would have been 18.  Both voice artist Mel Blanc and writer Michael Maltese would have been 20.  By the time they formed a team at Warner Bros., these artists had Buck Rogers firmly imprinted in their minds, with the Buck Rogers name synonymous with science fiction.  It was as inescapable as Star Wars would be for generations just a couple of decades down the line.

Reference Sources
Chuck Amuck by Chuck Jones
Chuck Reducks by Chuck Jones
Hollywood Cartoons by Michael Barrier
Looney Tunes: The Ultimate Visual Guide by Jerry Beck
Warner Bros. Animation Art by Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald
7 Minutes by Norman M. Klein
That's All Folks by Steve Schneider
Science Fiction Comics by Mike Benton
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One DVD set, Duck Dodgers commentary by Michael Barrier
Friends at the IMDb Classic Film message board including Rollo Treadway, Chloe Joe Fassbender, Illtdesq, and Fish Beauty
... and an occasional sneak glance at Wikipedia entries (but always double-checking everything!)

Watch Duck Dodgers...
Purchase Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One DVD set at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Rent Disc Two of Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One DVD set at Netflix or other rental service.

© 2011 Lee Price

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