ADVENTURES OF THE GALAXY RANGERS
Sometime in the mid-1980s, my good friend Chris Rowley (we’d met in the late 70s as staff writers for the infamous and short-lived magazine Violent World* ) landed the job as script editor for an animated cartoon series then in development called The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. I’m not sure how Chris got hooked up with Robert Mandel, the creator and producer of the show, but I’m pretty certain he was hired because he was (and is) a superb science-fiction and fantasy novelist, and because he knew a lot of talented writers from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. His job primarily was to gather a group of writers and–with one eye always on the series bible–divvy up assignments. The production office, where all of the storyboarding was done, was located in New York City; the actual animation was done in Japan.
Chris generously suggested to Robert Mandel that I be one of the dozen or so script writers (the money wasn’t great, but it was very good), and when Robert subsequently phoned me to ask if I’d be interested, I said of course; at the time I had two little girls, around 5 and 7, to support, and my only can-count-upon income came from adjunct-teaching at Hofstra University. Robert asked me if I was familiar with “script formatting,” and I instantly lied and said yes. In truth, I’d never, to my recollection, laid eyes on either a film or a television script. When you’re desperate for work, lying and bluffing come very easily, and besides it was no problem finding out what scripts looked like. I simply went to the Jersey City Public Library and checked out whatever published scripts they had–and, as I recall, what they had was Citizen Kane, Dinner at Eight, and North by Northwest, as well as a collection of 1950s teleplays by Reginald Rose, Paddy Chayefsky, Gore Vidal, and the pre-Twilight Zone Rod Serling. Dated as they all were, they gave me a general idea of how to format a script, and the confidence to give it a try.
I ended up proposing and writing only three scripts, out of 65 ultimately produced. I wish I’d done more–it was a fun gig all around. The premise of the series–a western in space–is totally goofy, but the show was smart and delightful. At the time Galaxy Rangers was extraordinarily “mature” for a kid’s show, and over the decades since has become something of a cult classic. The entire series, remastered, is currently available on video. I’ve watched about a dozen episodes over the past several months–they hold up, they really do. Check it out.
Of the three scripts I wrote, Eight Million Emotions is by far the best; its premise springs from one of the very few really good and original ideas I’ve ever had in my career (life?). And it was animated by the A-team in Japan. (There was the A-team, the B-team, and the C-team; A consisted of super-pros, B of solid professionals, and C of relative newbies.)
Rainmaker came out okay, although it was a great disappointment when it was first broadcast: I’d named the little girl in the story after my daughters (Jessie-Kate), and made the mistake of telling them both that I had; when we all finally saw the show, we all gasped: somebody somewhere along the line had changed the girl’s name. They were crushed and so was I. (Also, at the time I did the script, my daughters were enthralled by My Little Pony; they must’ve collected well over 100 of them. So I gave the girl in Rainmaker an alien pet, a pink dragonfly, as a kind of nod to My Little Pony, and named it Pinkwing, which sounded like a MLP sort of name; the animators saw “dragonfly” in the script, took it, um, literally, and made the girl’s pet an actual flying dragon! Which kind of broke the charm of what I’d been trying to do.)
Galaxy Stranger–well, it’s been a long time, and while I know that I wrote the original script, watching it again recently I didn’t recognize it as my work, except in spots. Either this was rewritten or, (entirely possible), merged with another script. It’s still a good episode, though.
I’m kind of surprised that nobody has made a live-action, 200 million dollar summer action movie based on the Galaxy Rangers. Why not? Cowboys in space? I’d go.
* Violent World, which featured copiously illustrated stories about brutal murders, plane crashes, assassinations, cannibalism, kidnappings, and genocide, was banned in Canada–not surprisingly. But it was also banned in Texas! Which struck then, and strikes me now, as ludicrous. Texas? Really? Oh please.
SEASON ONE, EPISODE 9: “ONE MILLION EMOTIONS”
SEASON TWO, EPISODE 48: “GALAXY STRANGER”
SEASON 2, EPISODE 53: “RAINMAKER”
NOVEL SCRIPTS: FREAKS’ AMOUR & JERSEY LUCK
Only three works of mine, alas, have ever been optioned for the movies: “He’s All Mine” (one of the novellas in Sunburn Lake) was optioned in the late 1980s by the actress and director Anne DeSalvo; Jersey Luck was optioned, also in the late 1980s, by producer Jonathan Brett and director Susan Seidelman; in the early 2000s, it was briefly optioned by a small New York-based production company whose name escapes me (and I can’t find the contracts: no matter). Freaks’ Amour was optioned half a dozen times since its publication in 1979, most seriously–meaning there was more to it than just a check involved, there was at least some development–by Ray Stark Productions at Columbia Pictures in the early 1980s, and, in the early 90s, by the director Alex Proyas and the producer Andrew Mason for Mystery Clock, an Australian film company (Alex and Andrew are both Australian). The actor Ed Asner once tried to option Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies, but his best offer was $1000 for an 18-month option, and despite my fondness for the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I turned it down.
Don’t bother running to IMDB: no movies were ever made. Nevertheless, the two times I was actually hired to write film scripts based on my novels were some of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a writer; hell, as a person. For over a year, I worked with Susan Seidelman on Jersey Luck, and for over two years I worked with Alex Proyas on Freaks’ Amour. Wonderful, delightful, super-smart people, and a joy to be around. (Plus the money was really good!) Both Alex and Susan taught me how to think in pictures, in short, dynamic, uncluttered scenes, and I’m very grateful to both of them for that; my prose fiction was forever changed–for the better, I think; I hope–by having written film scripts under the tutelage of such talented people.