Nichelle Nichols Birthday

Hello again, it’s Jeff here to talk about Nichelle Nichols, who was born on December 28, 1932.  I, like most people, knew Nichelle from her role as Uhura in Star Trek and didn’t think much beyond that.  When Barbara asked me to write a post about Gene Roddenberry I found out through my research that after the network refused to give Nichelle a contract he kept her on at a week to week basis.  In trying to confirm this I ended up doing further research on Nichelle and became fascinated by her life story.  

Nichelle, who’s birth name is Grace Dell Nichols, was born in Robbins Illinois, originally a small town south of Chicago, but now part of the greater Chicago metro area.  The area was first proposed as a suburb of Chicago in the early 1890s and lots were sold to whites at exorbitant prices with the expectation that Chicago would grow that way after the World’s Columbian Exposition, but the city did not grow as anticipated and most of the speculators lost their investments.  In the early 1900s Henry Robbins acquired the land and began marketing it to African Americans.  The town grew and had a population of 300 by 1917 when it was officially incorporated, one of the first towns to be incorporated by African Americans and one of the few towns.  The town supported one of the few airports that allowed African American pilots.  This airport, which was destroyed by a tornado in 1933, was the model for the Tuskegee Airmen.  The town was also a hotspot for African Americans from Chicago supporting green spaces for picnics and an active nightclub scene. By 2010 the population was 5,337 with 96% of the inhabitants African American and it is one of the poorer Chicago suburbs.  This being said, for so small a town, it has produced a number of notable celebrities, including Nichelle, Dwyane Wade, Joe Montgomery, James Loving and Shaun Wiggins.

Nichelle’s was a gifted dancer who started ballet when she was 7.  When she was 14 she auditioned for the Chicago Ballet Academy.  At first the instructor refused to let her audition because “Black people can’t dance ballet.”  After her father insisted that she would be able to audition, she did and was admitted to the dance school.  During this time she also took Afro-Cuban dance lessons and started getting jobs in hotels.  She was discovered by Duke Ellington and started touring with him.  By the end of the tour she was the lead singer and her career kept growing from there.  In the mid 50’s she had earned enough money to move her extended family to Los Angeles where she could focus on her career in television, which lead to Star Trek role and her current fame.

Her role in Star Trek wasn’t what I found so interesting though.  Instead it was her commitment to being a role model that caught my eye.  After the first year of Star Trek she was ready to quit.  The network was treating her as a second class citizen and constantly downgrading her role.  The same week that she told Gene of her intentions she also attended a NAACP fund raiser.  There she met Dr. Martin Luther King who told her:

You have opened a door that must not be allowed to close. I’m sure you have taken a lot of grief, but you changed the face of television forever. You have created a character of dignity and grace and beauty and intelligence. Don’t you see that you’re not just a role model for little black children? You’re more important for people who don’t look like us. For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people–as we should be…Remember, you are not important there in spite of your color. You are important there because of your color.

This changed her mind about quitting and she stayed on the show until it was cancelled, but never stopped being an inspiration to the black community.  In the 70’s she gave a speech criticizing NASA for not selecting women and people of color to the astronaut programs.  NASA challenged her to help with the recruitment effort.  In response she created Women in Motion, a company dedicated to attracting minority candidates to the space program.  While it is hard to say the direct impact she had, the number of applicants jumped from 1,500 to 8,000 during this time and we do know she directly inspired Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, as well as Col. Guion Bluford, Dr. Ronald McNair and Dr. Sally Ride.  She also inspired Charles Bolden who is now the Administrator of  NASA.

Finally, she is a member of the board of Governors of the National Space Society and actively works to get kids interested in Science and Technology, something I really support!  It has been a lot of fun researching Nichelle.  If you have a minute take a look at these short interview clips or check out her autobiography Beyond Uhura – Star Trek and Other Memories.  Maybe some day I will be lucky enough to meet her in person!

Here are some of her works if you don’t already have them:

Jeff Jones

War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast 1938

OrWOTW Recording

The date was October 10, 1938, Halloween Eve and the United States was beginning to celebrate the holiday. Things were not going so great in the world as the country was in the fifth year of one of the worst depressions it had ever seen and unemployment in the US was estimated at 15%. The world was very unsettled politically, Japan was at war with China and Korea, Germany was building a large military force, had just annexed Austria and planning to take over Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union was looking for allies to assist them against Hitler, but the US and Great Britain refused.  Closer to home in the United States a hurricane killed 600 people on the east coast and a huge meteor exploded over Pennsylvania.

It was against this backdrop of anxiety and tension that people turned to radio programs to escape the reality their lives and Orson Welles was getting ready to air his adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel the “War of the Worlds” (Original Audio Broadcast).  The radio drama that night started as a series of news stories interspersed with music.  While there was an announcement at the beginning and the end of the program informing listeners that the events were not real, many people did not hear that part of the program.  Newspapers reported widespread panic and hundreds if not thousands of people called their local radio stations, fire and police departments.

The plot of the story is told mostly from the viewpoint of a dedicated radio reporter (played by Orson Welles) who follows a space alien invasion from start to finish.  The radio program starts with various radio reports about the initial appearance of the Martians in a field in New Jersey, to a scene where a brash army colonel gets melted by the Martian heat wave, to a scene where bomber pilots are incinerated.  During the attack the Martians use poisonous black smoke to subdue the defenders.  At the beginning the music is interspersed between the reports, but as the situation becomes more dire the reporter records his tale for posterity, if they survive.  The story ends with the Martians being killed, not by the best of human military might, but by germs they picked up from the humans.

The adaptation is very good.  Welles transferred the location from outside of London to New Jersey and updated the weapons used to damage the alien ships.  He kept the same tone and narrative style and captured all the plot points extremely well.  The production quality was top notch for the time as well.

In addition to the excellent staging of the show, Orson Welles was very clever about it’s production.  Wells had worked for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in its early days and it had only about 1/6th the number of listeners of its main competitor, the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).  The Mercury Theater on the Air, Orson’s program, was in a time slot up against NBC’s much more popular “The Chase and Sanborn Hour”.  He had one key advantage in that his program was a “sustaining program”, which means they didn’t have a sponsor and had no advertising.  Orson knew the listening habits of listeners at the time and the timing of his competitor’s show.  He timed his “news” broadcasts to coincide with the commercial breaks when many radio listeners would change to other channels, these people had missed the introduction and were fooled into thinking the reports were real.

NYT Headline

The reports of panic that were published in the newspapers the next day were most likely exaggerated.  This was the time that radio was starting to pull ad revenues away from the print publications.  In addition to the fact that big headlines sell papers better, it didn’t hurt the publisher’s feelings any to make radio look bad.

Correa-Martians_vs._Thunder_Child    391px-War_of_the_worlds_illustration_pearson

Before closing I think it is appropriate to talk a bit about the original work by H.G. Wells.  “The War of the Worlds” .  It was one of the first stories about wars with aliens.  The first person style where you never even know the names of the key characters makes it feel extremely personal.  His first book, which was a non-fiction biology textbook, provided a surprising twist to musings he and his brother had one day about what it would be like if aliens descended on the earth and declared war.

The “War of the Worlds” has been in continuous print since it was published in 1898.  It has been made into numerous movies, radio dramas,  various comic book adaptations, a television series and spin off stories by other authors.

In closing I want to thank Barbara again for letting me write another post.  Not only did I learn a lot researching this stuff, but I got to listen to the original broadcast again.  Quite fun and I would recommend it to all!


Jeff Jones

Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

J.R.R. TolkienIt’s Jeff again, here to talk about the Lord of the Rings.  The final volume of the three volume set was published, surprise, surprise, on October 20, 1955.   I read these books for the first time a long, long time ago when I was about 12.  Yes, first time.  I own and have re-read them countless times, mostly in English but several times in German.  Of course I have seen the absolutely spectacular movies and really enjoy the BBC radio dramas.

The Lord of the Rings is the sequel to The Hobbit.  It was written between 1937 and 1949 in stages by J. R. R. Tolkien.  When the publishers first approached him to write a sequel he proposed the book The Silmarillion, which was an early history of Middle Earth (the land where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are set), but it was rejected. I have never been able to get through it, so I think that was a good choice!  Tolkien was a full time professor at Oxford so his writing progressed slowly.  The Lord of the Rings was originally supposed to be a children’s story, similar to The Hobbit, but it evolved into a much more serious and darker tale before it was completed.  The original manuscript was 9,250 pages long.  It has been officially translated into 38 languages.

Tolkien’s wish was for The Lord of the Rings to be published with the Silmarillion as a two volume set.  Post war paper shortages and the high cost of printing caused the publisher to balk at this.  They chose to split the Lord of the Rings into three books and the Silmarillion wasn’t published until after Tolkien’s death in 1973.  Each book is divided into two parts.  My favorite books are the Fellowship of the Ring (part 1) and the Return of the King (part 3).  The Two Towers, particularly where Frodo and Sam are working their way to Mordor is extremely dark and tends to drag on a bit.  It is still good, but the other parts are better.

The Lord of the Rings is an phenomenon.  It is the second best selling book of all times (excluding religious works) having sold over 150 Million copies. (Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities” is the first with over 200 Million copies. Check out Wikipedia’s list of best-selling books – very interesting.)  The work has spawned multiple live action and animated movie series with action figures and all the marketing materials which is not so uncommon, but also board games, online role playing games, comic books, radio dramas, artwork and music.  Led Zeppelin songs “Misty Mountain Top”, “Ramble On”, “The Battle of Evermore” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” are all supposedly inspired by Tolkien’s works. National Geographic did a special which is currently available on Netflix or you can stream for almost nothing here: National Geographic Beyond the Movie – The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring.

There are many groups that were built around Tolkien, but he most prominent is the Tolkien Society.  There are university courses taught on Tolkien and his works.  Being a linguist, the languages he created for the different races in the books were “real” and there are societies devoted to their research and propagation.

This post is a little short and a little light on facts, but there are literally thousands of web pages, classes and programs devoted to the subject.  The best I can do here is guide you to some of them and tell you they are really, really good books.  They are exceptionally well written, fun to read and full of meaning that relate even to today’s society.  While I strongly recommend you read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I suggest you read The Hobbit first.  It is lighter and sets the stage.  Don’t get lazy and just watch the (admittedly very good) movies.  You will miss a lot!

Writing this post reminds me I haven’t re-read these books in a while.  I think I’ll go pull out my copies and take another pass at them! If you don’t have a copy you can find a wide assortment at Amazon – Tolkien Books.

Jeff Jones

H. G. Wells’ Birthday


You may be noticing a theme here.  Barbara is letting me write another post about another science fiction author.  I think she will be surprised at some of the colorful aspects of H.G. Wells’ life I uncovered in my research on him!

Herbert George Wells (Born: September 21, 1866 – Died: August 13, 1946) was an English author known for his prophetic science fiction novels and in later life his comic portrayals of lower class society.  His parents were servants who had turned shopkeepers when they purchased a small store with an inheritance.   The shop was not particularly successful and his father supplemented their income as a professional cricket player.  When the shop failed and his father broke his thigh ending his career as a cricketer, his mother went back to work as a lady’s maid.  As part of the employment agreement the father and children were not allowed to live with her.  Herbert was placed as an apprentice to a draper.  Long days and poor working conditions made this one of the worst periods of his life, but provided experiences he later wrote about in The Wheels of Chance and Kipps.

Herbert’s education was erratic and broad.  He attended Thomas Morley’s Commercial Academy and then taught at the National School as a pupil-teacher (an advanced student who taught the younger children).  When his sponsor was dismissed he had a short, unsuccessful apprenticeship as a chemist and eventually wound up as a pupil-teacher at the Midhurst Grammar school where his Latin proficiency and science had been remembered from a short stay a few years earlier.  In 1884 he won a scholarship from the Normal School of Science (now part of the Imperial College London) where he studied biology and physics.  He studied teaching at the College of Preceptors (teachers) and eventually earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of London External Programme.

In 1891 Herbert married his cousin Isabel Mary Wells.  The marriage only lasted three years  and they separated when he fell in love with one of his students Amy Catherine Robbins (Jane) who he married in 1895.  He had two children with Jane, but with the full consent of Jane he preached and practiced a version of free love and fathered several other children with other women.  H. G. Wells in Love: Postscript to An Experiment in Autobiography chronicles this portion of his life.  At his request it was published 50 years after his death to protect the women in his life.

Politically Herbert was a socialist and who envisioned a classless world where everyone was judged by their merits, not their lineage.  Many of his writings, especially later in life, were devoted to political themes.  He was a strong proponent of the League of Nations (later the United Nations).  His impact on politics was marginal but he did co-found Diabetes UK which is now the leading diabetes charity in the UK.

H. G. Wells was a prolific writer publishing both fiction and non-fiction.  Few people know he wrote a biology textbook and eventually abandoned science fiction later in life for comic novels with discussions of social or political themes.  What he is primarily know for are his science fiction works which have landed him firmly in contention as the “Father of Science Fiction”.  He wrote many of these is a burst of energy between 1895 and 1904.  These works include one of my all-time favorites “The Time Machine” along with “The Invisible Man”, “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, the “First Men on the Moon” and “The War of The Worlds”.

One of his short stories, “The Country of the Blind” is a tale of a man who is stranded in a valley where everyone is blind.  Being able to see, he remembers the old adage “in the land of the blind the one eyed man will be king” and figures he has it made.  Eventually he falls in love with one of the locals, but his petition to marry her is denied because of his obsession with “sight” that the residents of the valley cannot understand or grasp.  They recommend having his eyes removed so he can become “normal”, but on the day of the operation he flees thinking it will be easy to avoid blind searchers, but it is not as easy as he thought.  He sees that the valley is about to be destroyed by a rock slide, but they do not believe him.  In the final version of the story rewritten in 1939 he escapes with the rock slide with his love.  This is a short read and is really worth the time!

H. G. Wells’ works have been made into many blockbuster movies and other productions, but the most memorable of them was the October 30, 1938 radio production of “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles.  This was written as a newscast interrupting the regularly scheduled broadcast.  It caused widespread panic among listeners and mass hysteria.  You can see Herbert’s biology training showing through in that the world is saved not by military might, but by germs the Martians bodies cannot cope with.

I hope you have enjoyed this post.  It barely scratches the surface of H. G. Wells’ life.  Please comment if you would like to know more about this great science fiction author!

Jeff Jones

Ray Bradbury’s Birthday


Hello everyone!  Barbara has graciously allowed me to write another guest post, this time about one of my favorite science fiction writers, Ray Bradbury.

Ray Douglas Bradbury (Born: August 20, 1920 – Died: June 5, 2012) was an American writer.  Born Waukegan, Illinois Ray’s father struggled to find work in the depression era and the family moved between Tucson Arizona and Waukegan until 1934 when they moved to Los Angeles.

Ray was an avid reader and started writing his own stories when he was 11 and established a discipline of writing every day when he was 12.  He soon discovered magic and would have become a magician but he loved writing more.  When the family moved to Los Angeles, Ray attended Los Angeles High School where he participated in the Drama Club.  He would roller-skate all over Hollywood in hopes of meeting such greats as Ray Harryhausen (eventually best man at his wedding), master of stop motion animation and George Burns who gave him his first paying job writing for the Burns and Allen show at the age of 14.

During his early career he wrote short stories for various magazines.  In 1938, at 18 years old he was invited to join the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society where he met Robert A Heinlein and Fredric Brown.  He also wrote plays for Laraine Day’s Wilshire Players Guild.  He became a close friend of Charles Addams who illustrated Bradbury’s stories about the Elliotts, a family who resembled the Addams Family.  Another friend was Gene Roddenberry who asked him to write for Star Trek, which he never did stating “he never had the ability to adapt other people’s ideas into any sensible form.” (Playboy Interview 1996)

Over his career Ray Bradbury wrote over 500 literary works in many genres including science fiction, horror, psychological realism.  There are many novels, but in my mind he is the master of short stories.  The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Dandelion Wine, some of Bradbury’s greatest works are sets of packaged short stories.  One of his few full length novels is Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Many of his stories were made into movies and he hosted the Ray Bradbury Theater which performed theatrical adaptions of 65 of his short stories.  He also co-founded the Pandemonium Theatre Company which produced a number of his works.  He received many awards over his life including an Emmy for “The Halloween Tree”, a special citation from the Pulitzer Board, the National Medal of Arts Award and many Lifetime Achievement awards.  He was honored in the 85th Academy Awards in the “In Memoriam” section after his death in 2013..

Ray lived at home until he married Marguerite McClure in 1947, the only woman he ever dated.  They had four children and remained together until her death in 2003.  It is interesting that although Ray Bradbury was a science fiction writer and foresaw the future he was also a noted technophobe. He never drove a car and distrusted the internet, computers, and ATM machines.

My favorite work of his is Fahrenheit 451 which was first published in 1953.  It started as a short story called “The Fireman” published in 1951.  Ray weaves the story of the human condition where we are bombarded by senseless television, drive so fast on the freeway that signs need to be 200 feet long and there is no respect for life.  The government wages a propaganda war banning all books that are considered “disruptive” and firemen burn unauthorized books along with any building they are found in and sometimes the occupants.  Guy Montag, a fireman, meets an “odd” girl who likes looking at the stars and actually holding conversations and he starts feeling there is something wrong with the system.  In the book’s climax he is chased through the streets by a mechanical hound while the city watches on TV.    He escapes across a river, but in order to save face the government kills an innocent man who is walking (not an approved activity).  Across the river Guy meets a band of “hobos”, the intellectuals of the country who fled to avoid persecution and are waiting for the population to realize their mistakes and embrace the old ways.

The first of two interesting facts about Fahrenheit 451 is that 451 degrees is the temperature that paper burns at.  The second is that when Ray was negotiating the licensing rights to Fahrenheit 451 to be produced as an audio book he insisted on a clause that any library could have a free copy of the audiobook for distribution to it’s customers.

I hope you enjoyed this guest post.  I look forward to any questions or comments!

Jeff Jones