It has often been said by Director George Lucas that his little space opera back in 1977 was inspired by the likes of the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Those wonderful serials that were produced by Universal Pictures in the mid to late ’30s – which starred the late and great Buster Crabbe. I grew up knowing all about those serials thanks to my Father, telling me about the cliffhangers that would have him chomping at the bit to return to the theater the next week to see how Flash or Buck escaped certain doom. While I do enjoy both characters, for my money I prefer Flash – although having said that the first time I saw Buster Crabbe was courtesy of his guest appearance in the second portion of a 2 hour 1979 episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century!
Buster Crabbe played Brigadier Gordon – nice little nod there – in the September 27th episode entitled “Planet of the Slave Girls”. A pretty remarkable episode as it not only stars Jack Palance and Buster Crabbe but Roddy McDowall and Karen Carlson too. Obviously the fact that Buster Crabbe was appearing on the show was kind of a big deal and while it was basically a cameo, I can tell you that the exchange between Buck (Gil Gerard) and Crabbe made my Father clap his hands in appreciation. The moment occurs after Brigadier Gordon swoops in to lend aid to Buck Rogers – taking out some bad guys on our hero’s tail.
“Buck Rogers: Gordon, where did you learn to shoot like that?
Brigadier Gordon: I’ve been doing this since long before you were born, Captain.
Buck Rogers: You think so?
Brigadier Gordon: Young man, I know so.”
I would become quite familiar with the serials that Buster Crabbe starred in when I was a little bit older, thanks to some VHS tape collections sold at a local store. My Father who has always been rather… let us say frugal? He splurged and paid a whopping $20 for each of the three collections and he practically wore those tapes out – watching them almost every night when he got home from work. Which I totally understand because that is very much the way I watched Star Wars when it was released on video back in 1982. Which brings us back around to the point of this article which is when Mark Hamill introduced Buster Crabbe as his co-presenter for the 1978 Saturn Awards. It is a pretty awesome moment to say the least, especially when we get to see some of the the audience rise up and give Crabbe a much deserved standing ovation.
That was Karen Black of Five Easy Pieces and Burnt Offerings fame at the beginning of the video. The Saturn Awards were started in 1972, to shine a light on those who worked in the horror, fantasy and sci-fi genre – started by Dr. Donald A. Reed. That video clip was taken from the 1978 Saturn Awards so I’m assuming it was the 5th year – which means the following films were up for the Best Special Effects award:
Ray Harryhausen – Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
Albert Whitlock and Chuck Gaspar – Exorcist II: The Heretic
Douglas Trumbull – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
John Dykstra and John Sears – Star Wars
The award went to the two Johns for their effects work for Star Wars – which even though I do love Trumbull and Harryhausen’s work on those films… it’s hard to deny that the effects crew on Star Wars didn’t raise the bar on special effects in films. In closing, I am very grateful that the Saturn Awards were kind enough to upload that video clip – perhaps in the future they will upload the entire show?