High Strangeness

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dr. J. Allen Giraffe and The Blue Book Blues

Major Hector Quintanilla was the project chief of the U.S. Air Force's "Project Blue Book" UFO investigation program from 1963 to 1969, when it was disbanded. Quintanilla was a thoroughly disagreeable chap. He hated UFO's with a passion, and at every opportunity he knee-capped Blue Book's longtime scientific advisor, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, as I've chronicled in some detail in my Hynek bio, The Close Encounters Man: How One Man Made the World Believe in UFOs. In fact, second only to Dr. Carl Sagan, Major Quintanilla was the biggest, baddest bad guy in my book.
Project Blue Book chief Major Hector Quintanilla

Why do I bring this up so randomly? Why, it's because I checked in this morning on imdbpro.com to get the latest production update on the upcoming History Channel TV series about Dr. Hynek and Project Blue book, entitled Blue Book, and came across an odd connection to Quintanilla. Because this TV show appears to be so remarkably similar to my book, I've made it a habit to check in on its progress, and lately there always seems to be a surprise or two in the latest update.

For example, I recently noticed that the producers had cast an actor in the role of "General Hoyt S. Vandenberg," and I called attention to it here in my blog. I thought it odd that the producers would made a big deal about this casting news, since Vandenberg is at best a minor footnote in UFO history, and in fact was never involved in Project Blue Book at all. So, I took a poke at the producers over that, and then today when I checked, I found that Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg is no longer listed on imdb in the credits of the show.

Months earlier, I had pointed out that the History Channel's original press release for the show erroneously claimed that Dr. Hynek "spearheaded" project Blue Book, when in fact he was merely a hired consultant. The current PR material from History Channel acknowledges that Hynek was only a hired consultant.

Suddenly things are even weirder in Blue Book-world. The cast list on imdb is now greatly expanded, but with the exceptions of Dr. Hynek and his wife Miriam, not one of the characters is an actual person. The new cast members include such colorful characters as "Susie Miller," "General Hugh Valentine," Mandy," "Donnie," "Toby McManus," and "Local."  None of these people is real (Wait a minute! "Gen. Hugh Valentine?" "HV??" Could that be a new version of "Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg?" He hasn't been eliminated; he's been altered!).

They are now blatantly making shit up. Case in point: Deadline.com now reports that an actor named Michael Malarkey (no, I did not make that up!) has been cast not as Major Hector Quintanilla, but as, and I quote,
"Captain Michael Quinn. A decorated WWII hero, Captain Michael Quinn is selected to run Project Blue Book, a new Air Force division investigating UFO phenomena. A charming Air Force pilot, he clashes with his Blue Book partner, Dr. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen), challenging Hynek’s scientific mind with his raw emotional gut instincts."
I'm not joking: here's the link.

I don't know whether I should laugh or cry. As Ira Steven Behr, my old boss on Star Trek, loved to say with a resigned shrug, "Hey, Mark, it's Hollyweird." That's what they do: they make shit up. But, this is the so-called "History Channel." Forgive me for thinking that might actually mean something...

So anyway, according to Deadline.com, the irritating Major Quintanilla is now the "charming" "Captain Quinn." He apparently was the first Blue Book project chief, not the last, and his conflict with Dr. Hynek, himself newly promoted from "consultant" to "partner," was simply a battle between logic and emotion, with Hynek taking on the Spock role and "Quinn" standing in for Dr. McCoy.

Huh. News to me.

I would not be at all surprised if they create another character named Captain Tanilla." After all, "Quintanilla" is such a great name, and as it stands they're only using the first half of it. Why let the rest go to waste?

I'll take that a step even further. I also wouldn't be at all surprised if, the next time I check, Dr. Hynek himself has a new name and identity. I hereby make a suggestion to the Blue Book producers: Dr. Hynek was known to start the first day of his astronomy classes by writing his name on the blackboard and introducing himself as "Dr. Hynek. as in 'giraffe.'" Why not play it safe and call Hynek "Dr. J. Allen Giraffe" in your show?

It's almost as if they're saying that the real story of Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Project Blue Book isn't interesting enough as it is, and that it needs to be enhanced. That's crazy.

Who here agrees with me?

Monday, January 15, 2018

UFO Secrets in Rubbermaid Bins -- Part II

Well, this didn't go as expected.

In my last post, I described how, in the course of researching my book I had discovered the true identity of the person who inspired "Lacombe," the French UFOlogist character in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but I didn't drop any names, in the hopes of building up some suspense. Well, that's all moot now, so here are the names:

The guy we all thought inspired Lacombe: real-life French UFOlogist Dr. Jacques Vallee
The guy Dr. Hynek said inspired Lacombe: real-life French UFOlogist Dr. Claude Poher

The story I thought I was going to tell in this follow-up post was about how Dr. Vallee contacted me last summer to tell me how upset he was that I put that quote in my book, and I was going to tell how he had just contacted me over the holidays, just as upset, and that he had cc'd a prominent journalist both times which made me wonder whether this whole thing was going to end up in print somewhere.
Drs. Hynek (left) and Vallee

That's the story I thought I was going to tell. But then something else happened. What happened was, when Dr. Vallee wrote to me over the holidays, I started reading between the lines. And when I did that I sensed that Dr. Vallee may have been upset because he thought that my book was officially sponsored by Dr. J. Allen Hynek's Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). While it's true that Dr. Mark Rodeghier, the scientific director of he Center, gave me the opportunity to write the book, the book itself is not a CUFOS product. So, I wrote back to Dr. Vallee and explained this to him.

I knew that there had been some bad blood between Dr. Vallee and CUFOS some time ago, so it suddenly made sense to me that I should assure Dr. Vallee about the independent nature of my work.

Well, a couple weeks went by with me not knowing what might be happening, and then just yesterday I got the nicest letter from Dr. Vallee. Turned out he really was concerned that my book was being used as a vehicle for CUFOS to take pot-shots at him, and he seemed very grateful that I had cleared that up.

I wrote back to him today and we now have a very nice dialog going... No mention of the "Lacombe" affair at all! In fact, in his letters today he was complimenting my book and telling me about Volume 4 of his published personal journals, "Forbidden Science," hinting at some of the stories he'll be telling. I can't wait to read it, and I hope you all will, too!


Saturday, January 13, 2018

UFO Secrets in Rubbermaid Bins

It will probably come as no surprise to my readers that I have stored in my basement great quantities of old science-fiction fan magazines from the 1970s, '80s and '90s. They are stacked in huge Rubbermaid storage bins, and include such titles as Starlog, FilmFax, Cinefantastique, Science Fantasy Film Classics, Cinemagic, Fangoria, Cinefex, and even a few issues of American Cinematographer for good measure.

What can I say? Some people can't bear to throw out old copies of National Geographic; I get the same way with old Starlogs.
This is the magazine that started it all...

The thing is, they're not just dead weight. This became evident to me when I was writing my J. Allen Hynek bio, The Close Encounters Man, and I found myself looking for information on Hynek's role in the production of Steven Speilberg's movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As with all my research for my book, I was always on the lookout for new and different voices I could include in my narrative. Very often, when I had a choice between quoting someone who would be familiar to readers (and, thus, seemingly authoritative) or quoting someone who had rarely if ever spoken about Hynek and his work, I would choose the lesser-known source. I didn't want to tell the same old story as remembered by the same old people, and giving voice to forgotten and overlooked characters kept it interesting.

So, I started on the Close Encounters chapter in my book, and it occurred to me that I had a treasure trove of material in those Rubbermaid containers in my basement! I dug through my old fanzines and came across quite a few gems, but the biggest prize by far was the Spring 1978 Close Encounters "Collector's Edition" issue of Science Fantasy Film Classics, with an exclusive interview with the big man himself, Dr. Hynek! What's more, the CE3K coverage had been written by science fiction authors David Gerrold and Algis Budrys. I was in heaven!

I tore into that Hynek interview with glee, feeling certain that I was about to discover pure UFO gold. I was not disappointed.

On the second page of the interview, writer Scott Becker asked Hynek, "I want to know if in some ways you identified with the character Lacombe. Isn't Lacombe similar to one of the officers of French NASA?"

Of course I already knew the answer to that question. We all do. Of course, the Lacombe character was based on Dr. Hynek's longtime friend and colleague, Dr.---

Wait a minute... The next sentence in the interview did not say what I thought it was going to say. The person I thought had inspired the Lacombe character was not mentioned at all. Instead, Dr. Hynek named someone completely different!

WTF? How could I have been wrong about that? I went through as many of my other sources as I could lay my hands on, and they all agreed that the person I had expected Hynek to name was the guy who had inspired the Lacombe character. I mean, how many French guys could be associated with this movie? But here was Hynek, in a direct quote, naming a completely unexpected Frenchman!

I was in shock (still am, to be honest). How could so many people be so wrong about this detail?

Well, there was no hesitation on my part. If Hynek told this interviewer that Lacombe was inspired by this other guy, then that's what would go in the book. It's a flipping direct quote by the man I'm writing my book about--of course I go with his quote and not conventional wisdom!

Would you believe this has opened up a can of worms that I am now having a hard time getting the lid back on?

I'm still sorting out how to address this, so it may take me a while to post a continuation of the story, but I will write more when I can...

Friday, December 29, 2017

The UFO Story That Can't Be Killed

Have you been having fun watching the current UFO news blitz since it was kicked off by the now-famous New York Times article co-written by Leslie Kean? I know I have!

Half the fun for me has come from monitoring the chatter between UFO people, following along with their thoughts on the news and trying to square the flood of information with what they (we) think or thought we knew not just about UFOs but about our government's response to the phenomenon.
One of the two "Nimitz videos"

I'm in the middle of a great correspondence with UFO scholar and blogger at https://ufopast.com/ Professor Greg Eghigian about the UFO story that won't die, and I thought I'd share some of our talk here on High Strangeness.

Greg directed me to a story he just penned for the Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine that you can read here, and he told me that he is, like many of us I think, approaching the news cautiously... In other words, he finds it interesting but he has a lot of questions.

Greg then asked for my take on the story, and here's what I wrote to him:
hi Greg,
I'm having a hard time sorting it all out. On the one hand, I'm happy that UFOs are now headline news in the mainstream media, and that the story does not seem to be dying out. Hell, even Neil deGrasse Tyson is sounding a little on guard and off balance these days. On the other hand, I'm disappointed that most "experts" and commentators have had the classic knee-jerk reaction of going directly to the extraterrestrial alien spacecraft hypothesis to explain what's going on. That's not the only possible explanation, simply the easiest and most acceptable (relatively speaking).
This doesn't really seem to be a case of the Pentagon discovering incontrovertible proof that we are being visited by aliens from other worlds. Rather, it seems more like a somewhat deniable admission that the military has been keeping its eyes open, and has seen some inexplicable things as a result, which is hardly "Disclosure," and hardly shocking. I find the Nimitz videos more confusing than confirming. Why does one pilot say, "There's a whole fleet of them" when only one object is visible? Why does the object shake and wobble in unison with the body of the camera, as if locked to the camera? Why does it never grow closer, or recede?

And the list of people involved is insane.... Robert Bigelow? Tom DeLonge? Harry Reid? Leslie Kean? How do we make sense of that list of players?? I made the point on tv last week that Bigelow had a similar partnership with MUFON around the same time frame as the Pentagon study, and that in his deal with MUFON he would get to keep any artifacts or technologies recovered from their UFO investigations. Did he have the same deal with Reid? (and did he use some of Reid's $22 earmark to pay off MUFON?) Again, this approach to the story presupposes that they're dealing with "nuts-and-bolts" technology, and that the UFOs are manufactured objects. Where's the proof of that?

It also seems to me that the story in its entirety is being very carefully and very professionally managed. I have no idea who might be doing this or why, but my gut tells me that this may the most important aspect of the story, as we know it thus far.

Maybe it's Fox's way of publicizing the upcoming return of The X-Files! Could it all be smoke and mirrors??
 Now, readers, what's your take?

Monday, December 18, 2017

UFOs and the Secret Pentagon Study

By now most of the world has heard of the top secret $22 million Pentagon UFO study revealed in the December 16 New York Times, and I'm sure a lot of us are scratching our heads over the article and asking a lot of questions about this so-called "Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program," or AATIP.

Here are some of my questions:

  1. If, as the report states, the bulk of the $22 million AATIP budget went to billionaire aerospace entrepreneur Robert Bigelow to construct buildings in which to store captured alien technology, does that mean that Bigelow retained the right to keep whatever technologies or artifacts might be discovered/recovered by the program? Remember that when Bigelow struck a deal with MUFON around this same timeframe, he insisted that any physical evidence of a "nuts and bolts" object recovered by the MUFON STAR Team would belong to him.
  2. Was the supposed shutdown of AATIP in 2012 due to a lack of results, a lack of money, or both? 
  3. If the mission of AATIP was/is to determine whether UFOs pose an "Advanced Aviation Threat," doesn't that presuppose that UFOs are real and are intelligently controlled physical objects? On what basis would AATIP have decided this?
  4. What has this "whistleblower" Luiz Elizondo, who claims to have been in charge of AATIP from 2007 to 2012, been doing for the past five years? Why release this bombshell news now when he could have done it in, say, 2012, when the project was defunded?
  5. U.S. Senator Harry Reid claims that AATIP is one of his proudest accomplishments, which implies that the program produced results, so exactly what results does he think it produced?
  6. If you listen to today's Times podcast about this story, reporter Helene Cooper says at about the 11:35 mark that "...the people who operate (AATIP) tend to be true believers," but we know from the fate of the Air Force's Project Sign in the late 1940s that when "true believers" are running a UFO research program the results and conclusions are going to be skewed towards the extraterrestrial hypothesis and ultimately rejected by the Pentagon brass. Did the AATIP meet this same fate? And if so, can its conclusions be trusted?

I'm not dissing the reporting at all. There could very well be something very big and exciting going on here. But I think it behooves us to keep asking questions and demanding answers.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I Worry About UFOs

Regular readers of High Strangeness may have noticed that my blogging has been sparse of late. There are several reasons for that.

Even six months after the release of my book, The Close Encounters Man: How One Man Made the World Believe in UFOs, I still often find myself needing to just take a step back from UFO world and decompress. It's hard to explain how focusing on one singular topic for five + years can affect your feelings about that topic. Not that I've lost interest at all, I just need to limit my exposure to it sometimes, for my own mental health.
The book is only the beginning...

And although this may sound contradictory, I'm more inclined these days to put my UFO energy into other media projects building off the success of my book. I've been working with a new manager, and I'm loving the energy she's bringing to my writing career. The projects themselves are pretty top secret, so I can't say anything more about them, but they are sure to be entertaining -- at least to me!

Another thing: for the past 2 years I've been teaching screenwriting as an adjunct professor at DePaul University and I really love it. My students are so talented and so positive, and I'm privileged and honored to help them find their voices and become better writers -- which I'd like to I think I've become fairly good at. So, this fall I've also been devoting a lot of energy to applying for full-time teaching posts. I don't have a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) or a Ph.D., which puts me out of the running for many faculty positions, but every now and then a college is willing to waive that requirement if you have what they call "equivalent professional experience." Fortunately for me, my Star Trek writing experience and the publication of my book qualify, so when I find one of those opportunities I have to pounce on it.

Then there's the continuing craziness everywhere I look in UFO world:
  • I keep getting emails from Tom Delong's insipid "To the Stars Institute" or whatever the hell it's called, urging me to do my Christmas shopping at his website. So apparently his UFO Institute is just an e-commerce operation, nothing more. No, he is not getting a penny of my Christmas $$, and neither is MUFON, come to think of it.
  • Someone on Facebook recently pointed out that the upcoming International UFO Congress is featuring a talk by Don Schmitt on whether Dr. J. Allen Hynek had "discovered the truth about UFOs." Anybody who knows anything about Dr. Hynek knows that Hynek would have despised any suggestion that he might know the "truth" about UFOs. All I ask is that, if you plan to go to this lecture, please read my book first and then make up your own mind. And if you don't want to buy my book, for God's sake check it out of the library!
  • I recently saw on IMDB that the producers of the History Channel's "Blue Book" TV series have cast someone to play "General Hoyt S. Vandenberg." This made me chuckle and roll my eyes. Why they think this is worth noting is beyond me. Vandenberg's involvement with the Air Force's UFO study lasted about three seconds -- just long enough for him to reject Project Sign's extraterrestrial hypothesis-friendly "Estimate of the Situation," all (or perhaps almost all?) copies of which ended up being destroyed as a result. Does this casting notice indicate that General Vandenberg has been posthumously promoted?
So, yeah, I worry.

On the other hand, I am psyched about the return of The X-Files, and I did do a very fun interview last weekend with Howard Hughes, the UK's answer to Art Bell! As soon as Howard posts the conversation at The Unexplained with Howard Hughes, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, you can listen to my archived previous interview with Howard here

Monday, November 20, 2017

UFO Casting Call

Now, who could this guy play in a UFO show?
So it's old news now that the History Channel has announced the first casting selections for its planned TV series based on Project Blue Book. Dr. J. Allen Hynek will be portrayed by Aidan Gillen, that guy from Game of Thrones who played Littlefinger, and his wife Miriam will be played by an actress named Laura Mennell, from The Man in the High Castle.

Leaving aside for the moment the very excellent suggestion I made in my Rolling Stone interview that the great Martin Freeman should be playing Dr. Hynek, I thought it might be fun to make a few casting predictions/suggestions for the show... These are just off the top of my head, so don't judge, but I think they'd make for a pretty unique viewing experience:

Capt. Edward Ruppelt................Steve Carrell
Betty Hill....................................Wynona Ryder
Barney Hill.................................Idris Elba
Betty Hill's alien "leader"...........Emma Stone
William T. Powers......................Daniel Craig
Lonnie Zamora...........................Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Dr. Carl Sagan............................Christian Slater
Frank Mannor.............................Tommy Lee Jones
Philip Klass................................John Ratzenberger
Dr. Jacques Vallee......................Jean Reno
Jennie Zeidman...........................Parker Posey
"Lucky" Sutton............................Jim Parsons
Dr. Donald Menzel.....................Max von Sydow
Father William Gill....................Anthony Hopkins
Father Gill's "waving" alien.......Samuel L. Jackson
Donald Keyhoe...........................Mark Hamill
Joe Simonton...............................Anthony Bourdain
Major Hector Quintanilla...........Larry David

Some of these choices may strike you as weird but let me remind you that when the alien abduction book Communion was made into a movie, they cast Christopher Walken as Whitley Strieber. Christopher freaking Walken...

What say you? Who would you cast in these pivotal parts? And what other characters should be added to this list? (Remember, this deals only with the Project Blue Book years of 1952-1969, otherwise I would have had a field day casting Charles Hickson, Calvin Parker, Lawrence Coyne, Val Johnson, Travis Walton, etc. etc.).