Thursday, August 31, 2006

JOE STEFANO: Passes at 84

Joe Stefano, one of Dick Destiny's inspirations, has died at the age of 84.

Stefano, creator of the screenplay for Psycho, was -- in this scribe's opinion -- far more influential for the Gothic sci-fi tv series, The Outer Limits.

As a kid, Dick Destiny was genuinely frightened by many episodes of The Outer Limits, a series that captured an early cold and clammy doom in black and white Cold War television.

Stefano was heavily involved in the creation of Please Stand By, the pitched series which became The Outer Limits.

"Stefano's education in the tasks of producership was furious and rapid," relates the book, "The Outer Limits: The Official Companion." "From the day 'Outer Limits' commenced, it absorbed all his time. When he wasn't writing or rewriting, he was meeting with writers, screening actors or holed up in editing rooms . . . "

Tremendous Stefano-pennded episodes included "A Feasibility Study," in which inhabitants from the ruined planet, Luminos, kidnap an American neighborhood as breeding stock, and "Nightmare," in which a future American world federation enlists the help of an alien race to perpetrate the sham of an interplanetary war. "Feasibility Study" was so effective, it was recreated for the much less successful resurrection of the series in the 90's.

Other Stefano episodes included "The Zanti Misfits," a story in which palm-sized ants, criminals from the planet of the same name, land in the southwestern desert and are exterminated by a regiment of the army, "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork," a dark study of an energy being made from a mote of dust and the corporate weapons lab trying to control it, and "The Invisibles," a claustrophobic and paranoid tale of trilobite-like aliens, the size of pumpkins, parasitizing leaders in US government. All were variable allegories on the modern American belief, and the costs associated with it, that evil forces from outside are always on the attack.

A special Dick Destiny favorite was the sombre and rainy, "The Forms of Thing Unknown," starring David McCallum, "Ilya Kuryakin" from "The Man from U.N.C.L.E," as the inventor of a time machine beset by unscrupulous women.

"[T]he scheming Kassios and the meek Lennora," who have just killed their vile boyfriend, Andre Pavan, are befriended by the lonely and naive McCallum, a scientist called "Mr. Tone." Tone is the creator of a "time-tilter" -- and uses it to bring Pavan back to life during a thunderstorm. It ends very badly.

The dramatic atmosphere and morality of the Outer Limits has never been duplicated in modern television science-fiction. (Although the new Battlestar Galactica comes close.)

At its best, it was black and unrelenting, but always with a strong moral thread, exotically capturing the Zeitgeist of the American military industrial complex and the Cold War. Joseph Stefano was the show's beating heart.


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