Friday, July 09, 2010

Secret Star Trek: Susan Oliver, Sex on Wings

The Outer Limits would inspire - and lend creative personnel -- to two other landmark sci-fi series of the 1960s, series whose numinous power continues to overshadow any of the formulaic bilge that has passed itself off as science fiction in recent years. 

Both series were Gnostic to their cores; Astro-Gnostic, to be precise. Perhaps all good sci-fi must be.

The Outer Limits had a brief and troubled life in its 1960s run. In hindsight it's amazing that the show got on the air at all, never mind lasted for 49 episodes. Executive producer Leslie Stevens and showrunner Joseph Stefano were constantly at odds with the network, who replaced them with company man Ben Brady for the second season. 

 One of Brady's priorities was enlisting established sci-fi writers to script new episodes. But with per-episodes budgets slashed to the bone the best he could do was enlist an ambitious up-and-comer by the name of Harlan Ellison to pen "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand," both of which were cited as primary influences for The Terminator  by James Cameron.

Crossing dimensions in "The Borderland"

But the insane, psychedelic energy of the first season (Stevens openly stated he wanted to replicate an hallucinogenic trip for his dimension-crossing episode, "The Borderland") would be long gone, even if a second-season episode ("Expanding Human") was inspired by the Harvard Psychedelic Club (and in turn inspired Altered States). 

 You can't help but wonder if Stevens turned on his employees at some point, since so much of the first season features tripped-out optical effects, as well as tripped-out storylines. And that heapin' helpin' of Space Gnosis.

A case in point is "The Children of Spider County," which aired February 17, 1964 (a week after The Beatles premiered on Ed Sullivan). The story presented a spate of alien abductions of gifted young men whose only connection is having been born in the same rural county. Ethan, a young "witch boy" (played by Lee Kinsolving, who played an alien biker on The Twilight Zone), is busted out of jail by a strange man, who tells him he is his father. 

His true identity is yet another Grey-variant alien who also has the power to instill illusions in the human mind. The alien came to Earth from the planet "Eros" to create human hybrids to repopulate his dying planet. His offspring are naturally superhuman, which in this case manifests itself as intelligence. 

Ethan is an outsider among normal humans and becomes a natural suspect for a disappearance treated as a murder. He is a superior being persecuted for his superiority, a fallen angel slumming among mere mortals. 

A figure straight out of doctrinaire Gnosticism, in other words. There were more to come. 


The first and most direct descendant of The Outer Limits was Star Trek. As the show was in development while TOL was on the air, the connections would be strongest between these two. Several key behind-the-scenes personnel- including Harlan Ellison-- would switch over to Star Trek shortly after TOL was axed. 

 What's more, ST stars William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan and Grace Lee Whitney-- as well as key guests such as Malachi Throne and Sally Kellerman-- all had pivotal lead roles on TOL. Several storylines and even costumes from TOL were recycled for ST (click here to read more on the TOL/ST connection).

Jeffrey Hunter aka Fleet Captain Christopher Pike behind bars in Brainstorm (1965)

The Outer Limits presented alien contact as a quiet, intimate and life-changing event, usually experienced by driven loners and mad visionaries, where Star Trek presented it as a matter of fact. 

But both series would weave in and out of published UFOlogy, especially that of the most esoteric variety. Frail aliens with large, bald heads were seen in episodes in both series that dealt with abduction phenomena.

The TOL episode "Nightmare"-- which saw prisoners in an interstellar war experimented on aliens who had the power to implant illusions in the minds of its subjects-- seems to have been a pivotal influence on the first Star Trek pilot, "The Cage" (the second ST pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before" picks up on themes explored in TOL's The Man with the Power") as well as the third season episode, "The Empath." 

 "The Cage" featured the doomed Jeffrey Hunter (best known at the time for playing Jesus Christ in King of Kings) as Christopher Pike, commander of the USS Enterprise. Responding to a distress signal on Talos IV, Pike leads an away team to rescue a band of scientists, stranded on the dead planet. 

There Pike meets Vina, a tousle-haired wild child with piercing blue eyes played by the spunky, spirited enchantress Susan Oliver. Oh, I forgot to mention- the name of the crashed ship was the SS Columbia

 Vina takes Pike to a cave entrance where he is abducted by frail, androgynous Grey-type aliens. The scientists and their camp turn out to be an illusion and the crew scramble to deal with their captain's kidnapping. 

Pike is put in a cell with Vina (knowing the priapic Roddenberry, her name is almost certainly "Vagina" with the A and G dropped, though her name is also roughly homophonic with venere, the Latin term for sexual love derived from "Venus").


The Talosians plan to use Vina and Pike as Adam and Eve for a slave race to rebuild their planet (dying planet tropes were common in sci-fi to explain why aliens would travel all the way to Earth as we saw in "The Children of Spider County"). 

Seeking to put some lead in Pike's pencil, the Talosians concoct a number of scenarios in which Vina plays the woman of Pike's dreams, most famously as a Orion slave girl, feral sex-machines notorious across the galaxy. 

 Note the conflation of Orion and green skin, both linking us to Osiris, which Pike himself becomes an analog of. Not to mention the music, costumes and settings on loan from a contemporaneous pagan peplum

As we've seen, Star Trek is ripe to bursting with ancient symbolism, especially with Gnostic themes it has no business knowing about. This is just the start of a daisy-chain of incongruous synchronicities, many of which revolve around the irresistible Miss Oliver. "The Cage" failed to sell, but Roddenberry pulled it out of the vault when Star Trek was picked up in 1966. 

In "The Menagerie" two-parter we see Spock mutiny in order to take Pike back to Talos IV. Pike sacrificed himself to save a group of cadets during a training mission and is now a badly-disfigured quadriplegic (and played by another actor).

During his court-martial, Spock airs a transmission from the omniscient Talosians, which replays most of "The Cage," and ends with the revelation that Vina was the only survivor from the crashed spaceship and was so badly mangled that the Talosians were unsure how to put her back together again. 

At the end, Pike and Vina are restored by the Talosians and live in the stars like Osiris and Isis, presumably no longer as prisoners. In a similar but somewhat different manner to "Spider County," 

"The Cage" is pure, unadulterated Gnostic creation myth. 

The Talosians are Archons who pluck Adam and Eve from the Heavens and force them into captivity as breeding stock for a slave race. 

They create a literal prison planet, similar to another Outer Limits episode "A Feasibility Study," as well as Dark City and The Matrix sometime later. (There are also echoes of TOL episode "The Guests" in "The Cage" as well).

"The Cage/The Menagerie" would be Susan Oliver's only apearance on Star Trek, but it sealed her name in the annals of pop culture forever. She never appeared on The Outer Limits, but would appear in two crucial episodes of The Invaders, the seminal UFO invasion series which would have a major influence on The X-Files

One episode would feature some crucial Outer Limits figures, and another would feature yet another bizarre foreshadowing of the seminal event of this miserable era.


Susan Oliver was never a feature star but worked constantly from the late 50s to the late 80s, mostly on TV. She exuded a strangely post-modern type of energy in many of the roles she took on, coming across as a spunky yet vulnerable pixie with a ferocious erotic allure that made people nervous, particularly men's wives. 

Needless to say, she played a lot of misunderstood bad girls in her early days. 

 Today she'd be cast as the punky, eccentric sidekick to the glamorous female lead. But even then she exhibited a proto-punk sensibility, favoring bright colors, short bobbed hair and cutesy accessories which did nothing to diminish the effect of her piercing blue eyes, sculpted cheekbones and pouty lips. 

Sex on wheels, in other words. Which may be we saw her behind bars so often.

Her biography is likewise illuminating. Her father worked for the USIA so Susan attended college in Japan. Her mother, Ruth Hale Oliver, was a top Hollywood astrologer and Susan herself was an accomplished pilot, and flew solo across the Atlantic in 1967.

Her breakthrough role was playing the title role in The Green-Eyed Blonde, one of the many teenage delinquent potboilers of the late 50s. Caged heat, yet again.

This led to a string of roles but her next big impression on the collective consciousness was on The Twilight Zone in the episode "People are Alike All Over," a direct descendant of "The Cage", in which astronaut Roddy McDowall is lured into a zoo exhibit on Mars (note that McDowall would work with Serling again on Planet of the Apes).

The same year preproduction began on "The Cage," Oliver appeared on The Andy Griffith Show on the episode "Prisoner of Love." 

The elemental sexuality she exudes is shocking for such a mild-mannered series. It's a good bet the appearance caught the eye of Roddenberry, who gave satyriasis a bad name.

Behind bars again, in The Love-In's trailer


More importantly, the same year Star Trek premiered (1966), Oliver narrowly escaped death in a plane crash. Shades of Vina. 

The following year after that she'd repeat the Orion slave girl dance, only this time on LSD in The Love-Ins, a (very) thinly-veiled parody of Timothy Leary that also featured Lost in Space's Mark Goddard. The trailer has to be seen to be believed. 

In fact, I need to get this movie on DVD. Like, now. Hold on a few minutes... OK, I'm back. 

The same year she'd also appear on The Invaders, the first of two appearances (like The Outer Limits, alien contact on this landmark series was a quiet, intimate affair). Let's look at her second appearance first, as it was on the last episode of the series.

Oliver co-starred in the episode with not one, not two, but five Outer Limits veterans, including Mark Richman ("The Borderlands"), Mary Gregory ("Expanding Human") and Burt Douglas, John Milford and Kent Smith from-- you guessed it-- "The Children of Spider County." 

You can be excused for mistaking the picture on the left for a younger John and Cindy McCain- perhaps from the 2000 primaries? The episode ends with a crash, only this time it's in a car and ends in her death.

Her first appearance on The Invaders also features airports, as Oliver played the oversexed wife of an underachieving pilot played by Jack Warden (prisons, again). The scenes where she hits on Roy Thinnes are something to see.

Warden's been duped by the aliens to shuttle newcomers to Midlands Academy, where they'll be trained to fit in as normal humans. And, of course, we see her "caged." Just in case the "warden" connection wasn't enough.

The episode climaxes with Warden committing suicide by flying his plane into the Midlands building (why does that name seem so familiar?) and destroying the alien's compound.

As if all of this weren't enough, Oliver also starred in The Monitors, a 1969 satire in which aliens take over the world to save humanity from itself. 

The Monitors-- or "Watchers" if you prefer-- look like nothing less than the Men in Black. Needless to say all of this is more unalloyed AstroGnosticism, a comedic antecedent to Dark City and The Matrix. And certainly in The Outer Limits' ballpark, to say the very least.

 But wait- there's more.

Just as we saw Jack Warden's anti-alien suicide run, so we see it repeated in 1969's The Monitors when the hero (Guy Stockwell) and Oliver fly to Chicago to blow up the Monitors' HQ.

On the way they pass over this Chicago landmark. Click to enlarge and tell me if the timecode doesn't catch your eye in any particular way. Oliver died in 1990 of smoking-related lung cancer. Her last appearance was on Freddie's Nightmares, an anthology series based on the Nightmare on Elm Street villain. 

 Illusions, yet again.

 UPDATE: Speaking of telling tales out of school, I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that "The Cage" was eerily similar to a famous abduction account from the late 50's. Read this and tell me if the description of the being this Brazilian farmer encountered isn't strangely familiar. 

From The Night Sky:
Antonio Villas Boas was a 23-year-old Brazilian farmer at the time of his abduction, who was working at night to avoid the hot temperatures of the day. On October 16, 1957, he was plowing fields near São Francisco de Sales when he saw what he described as a "red star" in the night sky.... 
The craft began descending to land in the field, extending three legs as it did so. According to Boas, he first attempted to leave the scene on his tractor... However, he was seized by a five-foot tall humanoid, who was wearing grey coveralls and a helmet...

 Three similar beings then joined the first in subduing Boas, and they dragged him inside their craft. Once inside the craft, Boas said that he was stripped of his clothes and covered from head-to-toe with a strange gel...Shortly after, Boas claimed that he was joined in the room by another humanoid.

This one, however, was female, very attractive, and naked. She was the same height as the other beings he had encountered, with a small, pointed chin and large, blue catlike eyes. 
The hair on her head was long and white (platinum blonde? ) but her underarm and pubic hair were bright red. Boas said he was strongly attracted to the woman, and the two had sexual intercourse. When it was over, the female smiled at Boas, rubbing her belly and gestured upwards. 
Boas took this to mean that she was going to raise their child in space...
We looked at how 2001: A Space Odyssey seemed to coincide with my suspicion that abduction phenomena may well be a non-physical reality being implanted in the mind through methods as yet unknown.

 I came to this realization after researching abduction reports from the 1950s, many of which were unpublished-- or classified-- until the late 1960s. And yet, here they are showing up in these pop-culture landmarks. 

How about that?