The original Thing: James Arness is gone

I know that my blog title is suggested by the great novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.  Sadly, I have yet to read the book, though it is on my short list.

The title of my blog also comes from a far earlier use of the phrase in science fiction … that being Howard Hanks’ 1951 cold war thriller The Thing From Another World.  Based on a Joseph Campbell short story (which I have read), it tells the story of an Arctic scientific expedition that defrosts an alien humanoid who is mostly plant, and needs human blood to survive.  Despite the fact that the Thing is systematically dragging off expedition members to a greenhouse where their blood is being used to grown an unholy extraterrestrial army, one scientists played by Robert O. Cornthwaite pleads with the military officers not to kill it, saying it is a stranger in a strange land … and that the expedition should die rather than kill it.  They did kill it.  The 1982 remake by John Carpenter, easily one of the greatest works of gothic horror ever filmed, is closer to the original source material.

Getting back to the point though, the monster in the film was played by James Arness, three years before he got his starring role on the TV series Gunsmoke.  That series would run from 1955 until 1975, giving Arness the undisputed title of playing a single character longer than any actor in television history … 635 appearances!  A few years ago, Kelsey Grammer tied him with his 20 year run as Frasier Crane, but he needed to stretch that over two series (but only appeared 466 times … once in a third series (thank you imdb …. I don’t really know this stuff).

Sadly, Arness passed away today.  Maybe it isn’t so sad.  He saw his wife anddaughter both die of drug overdoses.  Nonetheless, a scifi legend for bringing the tittle bad guy to life for the first time!


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