If not for the internet I would
probably think back twenty-some years and wonder
if it was just a dream…
Hollywood in the 1980’s, led by Steven Spielberg
and George Lucas, rediscovered the fun of movies
from the 1930’s. I was young and wide-eyed
at the time and at the movies every weekend eating
up these films with an appetite impossible to
satiate. And then all of a sudden there it was
on my TV screen. An unshaven hero in worn leather
jacket. At his side was a dog with an eye-patch.
The dog’s name was Jack and the hero’s
name was Jake. Jake Cutter. Jake flew flying tigers
defending the Chinese from their neighbors but
as this story began, he was flying a seaplane
called Cutter’s Goose. Jake was a noble
adventurer, pilot for hire and friend to the decent
wherever danger lurked.
& Jake Cutter.
I also remember a singer named Sarah
White, dispatched to the South Seas as a spy for
the American government. The 1930’s were
ending with the world at war and the South Pacific
was a volatile region. Sidekick to Jake was a
comical airplane mechanic who had the suitable
name of Corky and there was a French Magistrate
with the name of Bon Chance Louie; he was given
the name Bon Chance because he had earlier survived
a beheading by guillotine. There was a German
priest, strangely attentive to the beautiful female
islanders, and a manipulative Eurasian Princess
who openly lusted after Jake. This colorful cast
of characters as well as other inhabitants of
Boragora would spend their time at a cozy place
of wicker peacock chairs and ceiling fans called
the Monkey Bar.
the Gold Monkey was a brilliantly conceived
television series and tribute to many of Hollywood’s
best works from its golden years. Sadly, the series
was short-lived but thanks to the dedication of
fans, a couple clicks on Google
and it all comes back. It was not a dream, I am
certain. But in the context of modern sensibilities
and tastes, and as so much time has gone by, it
now seems a very rare bird, its breed extinct
from studio backlots and writer’s conference
Reportedly, Donald P. Bellisario
approached networks with his Tales
of the Gold Monkey concept in the very
late 1970’s. He had a hit series called
Magnum P.I. starring
Tom Selleck but still the networks rejected his
Gold Monkey project,
believing there would be no public interest, and
then Raiders of the Lost
Ark changed their minds. To many, Gold
Monkey seemed a shrewd rip-off of Indiana
Jones. However, Raiders
did not inspire Gold
Monkey. The films and literary works that
inspired Lucas and Spielberg are the same films
and literary works that inspired Bellisario.
Pulp authors, serial stars and classic
adventure films of the 30’ and 40’s,
combined with an open cash box for anything Indiana
Jones-ish, gave Tales
of the Gold Monkey its foundation and chance
in the competitive world of prime time television.
The year was 1982 and it lasted one season only.
And yet, evidence of the concept’s strength
could be found in the way it threaded references
throughout to such classics as Tarzan,
Lost Horizon, King
Solomon’s Mines, Casablanca
and Only Angels Have
Wings. All the while tributes were called
out to these giants of adventure, Gold
Monkey never lost a lasting identity of
its own. References to the show today call it
a cult classic and in 1997 there was a fifteenth
year anniversary celebration, which reunited cast
members and allowed fans to reminisce.
Corky & Sarah.
Hopes are slim for Hollywood to
once again return to the product of its
much-celebrated past. Executives are forward-minded
folks desperate to cater to a hip and hyper-critical
crowd. One recent example of old fashioned fare,
Sky Captain and the
World of Tomorrow, seemed so self-conscious
of it’s geekiness that attempts at humor
had to be hammered over anything resembling a
heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping or poignant
moment, effectively killing off any possibility
to register on an emotional level with audiences.
It seemed the filmmakers were geeky enough to
like the look of old fashioned adventure films
but not geeky enough to like the sentiments expressed.
Public tastes and the industry’s
fervent desire to follow them are not all that
have changed. The demand for sensitivity when
writing and casting bad guys has dramatically
altered the look of Hollywood product over the
years. It is unfortunate Hollywood has decided
that the majority of the population can not distinguish
between national and moral identity because fear
of offending a few – and offense has rarely
been meant – has trumped the limitless boundaries
of storytelling for the masses.
Tales of the Gold Monkey could not possibly
exist in today’s television world of homogenized
possibly the greatest movie ever made, would face
harsh criticism if released today for its stereotypes.
Painfully aware of that, Hollywood simply would
not produce it.
All leads together.
The best of adventure films and
literary works serve to remind us of the extraordinary
wonders present and potential in all our lives.
One episode of Gold Monkey
involved an old friend of Jake who spent his life
pursuing myths he believed were real. He became
convinced that he knew the path to King Solomon’s
Mines and Jake was skeptical but moved by the
possibility of ancient discovery. Toward the end,
Jake’s friend lay poisoned and Jake embellished
their unremarkable journey in his final words
to his dying friend, convincing him they had in
fact found the mines and extraordinary treasure.
The courageous and noble Cutter, with a cheroot
clamped tightly between his teeth, clearly identified
with his friend’s allure to mysterious and
enchanting lands. He identified with the promise
of romance, the promise of fortune and glory,
the promise of good’s great triumph over
evil and the promise of unending adventures. Jake
didn’t find the treasure but then at the
very end there was an indication to the audience
that Jake may have found it without realizing
it. Hardly the contrived ending typical of Hollywood
product of this sort; here it served to remind
viewers again that anything is possible.
of the Gold Monkey did more than pay homage
to Hollywood’s classic adventures. In drawing
inspiration from the sentiments expressed in those
stories it replicated the values of those times.
1930’s America needed heroes with amazing
courage to face the world’s darkest days.
Popular pulp hero, Doc
Savage, swashbuckled through story after
story of high adventure with exotic enemies, faithful
sidekicks and unusual locales. Jake Cutter, like
Doc Savage and Rick Blaine and Indiana Jones and
so many others, was a hero advocating self-sacrifice
and bonding with other cultures to achieve a greater
good. Perhaps these values are the secret strength
to Gold Monkey’s
lasting legacy. (Stephen