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Saturday In the Actor’s Studio

by  in Comic News Comment
Saturday In the Actor’s Studio

Every so often a trivia question gets lodged in my brain and I can’t get it out. A couple of weeks ago I got to wondering about how the hell Superman changing in a phone booth got to be a thing. It annoyed me so much that I ended up emailing Brian about it, only to discover he’d done a Legends Revealed about it a few years ago.

This time it was prompted by this amazing book I stumbled across a few days ago.

The Man From Atlantis…

….a novel — not a tell-all biography or something, but a novel, a piece of fiction— by the star of the show, Patrick Duffy.

The blurb: When TV unveiled the series Man from Atlantis no one knew the how, where and why of Mark Harris. Over time the show’s star Patrick Duffy formulated his own version of the history of Mark and his people. Here at last is the book that gives every reader and fan of the show the life and mythology of Atlantis, who they were and where they came from. Patrick Duffy’s close connection to his fictional character gives us a special look “behind the scenes” of this amazing fantasy story. Mark Harris, the Man from Atlantis, has been quietly living under the protection of Dr. Elizabeth Merrill who saved his life in 1976. By studying his abilities the two have contributed countless advances for mankind’s development. Only a select few know his true identity: Jason the whiz kid of the science lab. Stacy the bright young intern–who is constantly flustered by Mark’s presence. Dr. Nagashima, a master of oceanic knowledge who Elizabeth lured from Japan to join her inner circle. Then their California ocean side laboratory is shaken when several attempts are made upon Mark’s life. He discovers the assailants have powers similar to his and he is led into the uncharted depths of the oceans. As he discovers his past Mark’s origins and genealogy finally come to the surface.

This knocked me back on my heels for a couple of reasons.

The first being that anyone cared about the original television program at all besides weirdos like me. For those of you reading this who are NOT in your mid-fifties, I should explain that Man from Atlantis was one of the many short-lived seventies superhero shows that blossomed in the wake of the success of The Six Million Dollar Man.

It fared a little better than compatriots like The Gemini Man or Exo-Man…. but not a lot better. A few years ago I wrote about the show, and its tie-in comics from Marvel, here. One of the things that annoyed me about it is that it was canceled so suddenly that none of the hanging plot points were ever resolved– like if the titular hero really WAS a man from sunken Atlantis. I have occasionally amused myself speculating about the story I’d write answering those questions, but it always gets filed under “useless stories.” Just daydreaming, really; I have never taken it even as far as some others I’ve thought about.

Well, apparently it stuck in star Patrick Duffy’s craw, too, because by God he’s written a book answering those questions. The book came out this year, 2016. Almost forty years later.

The book’s not bad but what endears the project to me so much is its sheer nerdiness. Man From Atlantis, no matter what your perspective on it, is a pretty damn deep dive into the Dork Side. (Yes, I saw the pun after I typed it and decided to let it stand.) If someone approached Duffy about writing a book almost certainly it would be an autobiography. If it was a novel they’d probably want one based on Dallas. But this was about his sci-fi flop from 1977, that even fans of the show cheerfully admit was a bit of a turkey.

So it has to be coming from him. I think that’s kind of awesome. The unresolved questions about this little TV show bothered Mr. Duffy as much as they bothered the other eighteen people that remember the thing, and he finally decided he would just take care of it for us. Bless his heart.

But that triggered the thought that has been bugging me. How many actors have done this? It seems like in comics it happens a lot.

Not celebrities just lending their names to the things, though that has been a staple of comic books practically since their inception.

Hell, the Grand Comics Database lists over a dozen titles just featuring Gene Autry. (I knew there were a lot, but… holy moley.)

And several actors have turned to writing in their later careers. Ron Ely writes detective novels, Lee Horsley writes westerns, and famously macho villain actor William Smith– I love this– writes poetry.

No, I’m talking about actors writing their own stories about the actual characters they play. It’s common in the industry itself, of course — both Christopher Reeve and Dean Cain wrote their own Superman scripts at some point during their time wearing the S. But I mean jumping media, writing stories for books or comics often after the actual property is defunct. Lara Parker writes her own Dark Shadows novels these days, decades after the show’s demise, to take one handy example.

And Van Williams co-wrote a Green Hornet two-parter back in the 1990s.

…though, to his credit, Mr. Williams is the first to admit that his co-writer Bob Ingersoll did the heavy lifting there. This is typical. Most of the time, when an actor decides to embark on this kind of thing, it’s a collaborative effort. I doubt William Shatner would get very far without his co-authors.

And the other Star Trek cast members are ALL OVER that action too, believe me. Not just William Shatner, but also George Takei, Aron Eisenberg, John deLancie, Andrew Robinson… all of them credited with authoring novels, comics, or both.

In fact, the phenomenon seems to owe its existence to Star Trek. Even if you don’t count Walter Koenig’s “Infinite Vulcan” script for the animated Trek, as far as I can tell it was George Takei that started the ball rolling in 1979. I confess to a sneaking fondness for this one– Mirror Friend Mirror Foe, a 1979 effort from Takei and Robert Asprin about galactic swordsman Hikaru Sulu…. sorry, I meant Hosato the ninja fencing master.

It’s such a hilariously Mary Sue effort that I never can look at it without getting the giggles. Clearly Takei was going to get his Captain Sulu gig by hook or by crook. I can imagine any number of pitch meetings trying to get this thing off the ground in Hollywood once it was in print. The hell of it is, it probably would have made a pretty good movie, but I still snicker a little at the sheer transparency of the ambition.

Same category: the Saturna books Nichelle Nichols did with Margaret Wander Bonnano and Jim Meechan.

And James Doohan’s Flight Engineer. Figure in Shatner’s dozen Kirk novels as well and it’s easier to ask which Trek cast member DIDN’T do a Mary Sue project.

Clearly it’s a genre thing. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer actors have gotten in on this too. Both Nicholas Brendon and James Marsters have co-scripted Buffy comics for Dark Horse.

And of course Amber Benson, herself a novelist these days, has written a few, both about her character Tara and others as well.

But this is all easy. The trivia question that was bugging me was how many of these actors did it SOLO? That is to say, without a professional ghostwriter type backing them up?

Of the books already mentioned, of course there is Patrick Duffy’s to start with, since that was the one that got me wondering. Lara Parker rolls her own. Amber Benson often works with Christopher Golden, but she does write on her own as well. Andrew Robinson did the Garak book solo. I think James Marsters did the Spike book on his own but it was derived from a collaborative movie project that was stillborn so I don’t know. Patton Oswalt wrote a Serenity one-shot for Dark Horse but he never was on the show itself so I don’t think it counts.

Usually it’s the actors who are have been writing for a while. Bill Mumy did quite a few comics on his own with no Lost In Space connection at all.

But he eventually caved and did a Lost In Space two-parter for Innovation.

That cover is without question the baddest Will Robinson has ever looked anywhere ever. I wonder if it was required as a provision of persuading Mumy to do it, or just a gift from the artist.

Likewise, Walter Koenig had been writing books, screenplays, and comics for a number of years before DC persuaded him to come do a Chekov story for them, and I am reasonably sure that was a solo effort as well.

I am no slouch when it comes to Star Trek lore, but there were a few that surprised me. For example, Wil Wheaton did a Trek story– for Tokyopop. Not Star Trek: the Next Generation, either, but the original crew.

Hands down, though, the one that shocked me the most was seeing that Mark Lenard had witten a Sarek story, solo, for Malibu’s Deep Space Nine books.

I had no idea that even existed, but now I’m really curious.

Anyway, that’s what I came up with. But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing someone. The phenomenon really exploded in the late 1990s but it seems like there must have been something earlier. Comics examples are all solidly in the genre of fantasy or science fiction, but novels… I keep thinking there is a non-SF person I’ve forgotten. A cast member from a Western or a cop show or something. Seems like one of those actors might have tried his or her hand at a book at some point BEFORE George Takei gave us his super ninja swordsman. Somebody out there must know… let’s hear it.

Because it really is annoying me. So now I’m going to annoy all of you with it too.

See you next week.

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