Eighty-one years after his creation in the pages of Amazing Stories Magazine, space hero Buck Rogers is back.
Ticonderoga resident James Cawley acquired the rights to do "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" as a series of Internet video shows, and part of the 40-minute pilot was shot at the Penfield Homestead in Ironville recently.
Playing Buck's parents were Gil Gerard and Erin Gray, who starred as Buck Rogers and Wilma Deering on the 1979-81 ABC-TV series.
Gray's daughter, Samantha Gray Hissong, is also in the production, playing Buck's girlfriend, Maddy.
Cawley, who also produces the "Star Trek: New Voyages" Internet shows shot at his Retro Film Studios in Port Henry, acquired the video rights from Flint Dille, whose grandfather, John, drew the Buck Rogers newspaper comic strip from 1929 to 1967.
The Dille Family Trust is allowing Cawley to create and distribute a 20-episode Web series based on the "Generation One" Buck Rogers franchise. Unlike Cawley's "Star Trek" productions, viewers will have to pay to watch the new Buck.
The programs are expected to air sometime in mid-2010.
THE ORIGINAL BUCK
Buck Rogers first appeared in a novel by pulp writer Philip Francis Nowlan in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories.
"We're going back to the original novels and newspaper strips," Cawley said. "Previous filmed incarnations never really captured the original Buck. Buck is a World War I aviator. He's trapped in a cave. A gas in the cave puts him in suspended animation. He wakes up in the 25th century."
Understandably, things have changed a lot in 500 years, and Buck's 20th-century moxie puts him in demand as Earth fights some fierce 25th-century villains.
The Buck Rogers character spawned two network TV series, a 1979 feature film, a 1939 film serial, 12,061 daily comic strips and 1,839 Sunday strips in 400 newspapers, and a radio show from 1932 to 1947.
Part of the lasting appeal of Buck Rogers is that he awakes to find himself in a strange new world filled with rockets, robots and ray guns.
The pilot is called "Armageddon 2419," the title of Nowlan's first Buck Rogers novel. Fred Olen Ray is directing, and Deniz Cordell and Patty Wright have written the screenplay.
The first half of the script is set in 1918, and the historic buildings at Penfield Homestead served as a backdrop to the Model-T Fords and costumes of the period used for the shooting.
Gerard and Gray have worked together a couple of times since the original series ended and were on a Buck Rogers panel together at the San Diego ComiCon earlier this year.
"Erin and I have stayed close for 30 years," Gerard said. "She was a pleasure to work with on Buck Rogers. We wouldn't have been friends all these years if that wasn't so."
He said they worked 12-hour days on the original series, sometimes shooting several episodes at one time.
"The set was wonderful. We had a good time. But we worked very hard. It was exhausting."
A CAPABLE PILOT
Gray, who is now Gerard's agent, is having fun working with him on the new production.
"On the old show, he'd play tricks right up to the second we started filming. Sometimes, it was with a stitch in my side that I told Gil to shut up. He can keep you laughing."
They shot one of the old episodes in Death Valley.
"It was so hot, way over 100 (degrees), and I was in a plastic suit," Gerard said. "Sweat poured out of the bottom of my pants."
When he first showed up for work, he found a full-size starfighter had been built that his character was supposed to pilot.
"The only problem was they hadn't cut holes for my legs. I couldn't actually get in it."
Part of the appeal of the original show is that it didn't take itself too seriously, Gray said.
"It told a good story. So much science-fiction now is dark and hard to watch."
L.A.-based actor Bobby Quinn Rice plays Buck Rogers in the new version.
"I'm having a lot of fun," Rice said. "It's World War I, and as an eager young kid, Buck wants to prove himself. He's a very capable pilot. That era was a time of respect and nobility."
Dille is acting as consultant and co-executive producer on the new series. He said Nowlan's version of Buck wasn't as adventure-oriented as his grandfather's.
"My grandfather said let's make him an action hero. It took off from there. Buck Rogers turned into one of the most popular fictional characters ever."
E-mail Lohr McKinstry at: email@example.com