Saturday, July 30, 2011

Isaac Asimov and "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?" (1974)

The cover of the November 23-29, 1974 issue of TV Guide declares "What A Week!", and lists a variety of upcoming programming for the week of Thanksgiving. Apparently that week was traditionally one filled with a lot of interesting shows, movies and sporting events. Of course it's still a big week for pro and college football, but I don't think it's really all that much of a standout week for general programming anymore as it was then.

While a lot of stuff was listed, one thing really stands out for me: the Smithsonian Special: "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?". I've been a big fan of Bigfoot and pretty much any other cryptozoological, paranormal or supernatural mystery since I was a little kid. I hadn't heard of the "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?" show before, but I learned quite a bit about it while preparing this blog. More on that later. First, let's see what TV Guide wrote about the show and the rest of it's "What A Week" coverage...

It's pretty impressive that the Smithsonian Institute would lend its name to the "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?" special. At least as impressive is the fact that TV Guide got none other than Isaac Asimov to write a little piece in honor of the occasion. Interestingly enough, this article is more of a look at how man has traditionally invented various "monsters" to deal with his strange world and to explain things that were hard to understand or comprehend. Instead of giving information on mysteries like Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster, Mr. Asimov pretty much tells about how the monsters invented by man over the centuries (sea monsters, the Hydra, dragons...) were in fact figments of his imagination or simply fabrications made up to explain things which were very much based in reality (snakes, octopus, squid...). While it's an interesting piece by a great writer, it is a bit of a disappointing thing to read while gearing up to watch "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?" that week. The article isn't specifically about the monsters featured in the special (Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Abominable Snowman). It only mentions them at the end. The gist of the article is that all of the so-called monsters from man's history were false, and the monsters featured in the Smithsonian Special are most likely false too. He ends the article with the statement:

"The giant snakes and dragons that once fought with the gods and terrorized mankind have shrunk to a possible sea serpent reported to be cowering at the bottom of Loch Ness. The giants, the ogres, the monstrous one-eyed cannibals that towered over our puny race of mortals have diminished to mysterious creatures that are said, by some, to leave footprints among the snows of the upper reaches of Mount Everest or show their misty, fugitive shapes in the depths of our Northwest forests. Even if these exist (which is doubtful), what a puny remnant they represent of the glorious horde man's mind and imagination have created."

Not only are the monsters in the special probably not real, even if they were real they'd be puny fugitives hiding from us and cowering in dark places rather than being true "monsters". Oh well. Here is Isaac Asimov's "They Don't Make Monsters Like They Used To":

Page 13

Pages 14-15

Here's the listing from the TV Guide for "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?" as it appeared on page A-51 of the November 23-29, 1974 TV Guide:

Page A-51

Now, as far as the special itself... I am a big fan of Bigfoot, The Abominable Snowman and The Loch Ness Monster, but I'm pretty sure I've never seen "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?". I would have been five years old when it first aired--probably a year or two before I really got into the subject matter. I've always considered the mid-1970s to be the "Golden Age" of Bigfoot, but have never really been able to pinpoint exactly why the creature suddenly became such a part of the world's interest and a mainstay of pop culture. One review of "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?" on indicates that it was this very special that propelled Bigfoot into the mainstream. It's only a review by one viewer, and I can't speak for its authority, but it does seem to make sense. Here's what this reviewer--"a l i e n"--wrote at IMDb:

"After CBS ran the prime time special 'Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?', Bigfoot, overnight, became a pop culture phenomenon. Reports of encounters (even one of an alleged kidnapping committed by the forest giant) increased receiving major media attention. Indeed, 'Monsters...' became the highest-rated television documentary ever broadcast (a record that was still intact as recently as the early 1990's and may possibly even hold to this day)."

All of this made me even more disappointed to think I had never seen this special and might never be able to. But, of course, we're living in the age of the internet--where it seems like pretty much anything you can think of is online somewhere. Turns out that the entire show can be found pretty easily. Here it is (in five parts) on YouTube:

Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

In addition, I also found out that the special was so popular that it was later re-edited for theatrical release and re-named "The Mysterious Monsters" (1976). This is a movie I had seen as a kid on TV. Not only that, I was able to pick it up on DVD in recent years (I actually have about three copies of it from different sources). Not only that, I even have a full-sized movie poster of the film which I picked up from eBay pretty cheaply a couple years back.

My "less-than-official" DVD of "The Mysterious Monsters"
And here's the back of the DVD cover
My original movie poster for the film
The movie version added Peter Graves as the host, replacing Rod Serling's narration from the original special (probably due at least in part to Rod's death in 1975). Serling had also narrated a couple other specials on paranormal phenomena and ancient astronauts that became the basis for the classic TV show "In Search of..."--which premiered in 1976. Apparently Rod was supposed to have been the host of that show, but was replaced by Leonard Nimoy after his passing. "Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?" also would seem to have been an influence on "In Search of...".

Times have changed in the past few decades, but reports of Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, UFOs and other unexplained mysteries still pop up in the mainstream media every once in a while. The general consensus is that Bigfoot, The Abominable Snowman and Nessie don't exist. After all this time no definitive evidence has ever been presented. But, while none of these monsters have ever been proven true, none of them have ever been proven false either. Until someone manages to do that I will always hold a place in my imagination for these shadowy, mysterious creatures--regardless of how puny and insignificant Isaac Asimov may have considered them in 1974...

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