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Pine Bluff’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Connection

Pine Bluff, Arkansas has a rich science fiction and fantasy tradition. Countless science fiction and fantasy films, television shows, and books have been inspired by the Pine Bluff Arsenal. Pine Bluff natives have developed, written, and produced numerous projects adding to this rich history.

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At the beginning of World War II, the U.S. Army’s Chemical Warfare Service began constructing munitions plants in remote locations across the U.S. in preparation for America’s entry into the war. On November 2, 1941, with the support of Pine Bluff’s elected officials and the Arkansas Power and Light Company, the Army bought 14,944 acres of land eight miles northeast of Pine Bluff. There they began construction of the 60 million-dollar Chemical Warfare Arsenal facility, later renamed the Pine Bluff Arsenal. 

In 1942, the Pine Bluff Arsenal became one of the nation’s storage locations for its growing chemical munitions stockpile. In 1953, the Arsenal began producing lethal biological pathogens at its Production Development Laboratories under the direction of the Army’s chief microbiologist, William Capers Patrick, who had perfected the production of the dispersal of airborne anthrax spores. In 1969, President Richard Nixon banned the production of biological weapons following the public’s protest of the use of Agent Orange, a toxic, cancer-causing herbicide used in the Vietnam War. 

On November 16, 2010, the last chemical agents stored at the arsenal were destroyed. Nevertheless, by then, the American public had already developed a fascination with the Pine Bluff Arsenal’s status as one of the few places in the United States where biological weapons had been produced. Consequently, countless science fiction and fantasy films, television shows, and books have been inspired by the Arsenal. Several Pine Bluff natives were also inspired to develop, write, and produce science fiction and fantasy-themed works. 

In 1956, Pine Bluff native Kate Phillips and Theodore Simonson were hired to finish a monster movie script originally entitled “The Molten Meteor”. After the producers overheard Phillips refer to the giant jellylike monster as “the blob”, they changed the name of the film. In 1958, The Blob, featuring Steve McQueen in his first starring role, was released, becoming a cult classic horror film. In 2003, Phillips traveled to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where The Blob was filmed to celebrate the town’s annual Blob Fest. She watched as hundreds of movie fans raced out of the Colonial Theater, re-enacting the panic caused by “the blob” in a scene filmed there almost five decades earlier.

In 1975, Pine Bluff native Kenneth Culvey Johnson, wrote episodes for The Six Million Dollar Man, a long-running television series, about a severely injured test pilot who serves as an intelligence agent after he receives nuclear-powered bionic limbs and implants. Johnson wrote and produced The Bionic Woman, another successful primetime science-fiction television series. In 1978, Johnson brought The Incredible Hulk to television, starring Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as his green-clad alter-ego, The Incredible Hulk. The show ran for five seasons, and Johnson produced 81 episodes.

In 1983, he created V., a miniseries about an alien race that seeks to take over Earth under the guise of friendship. The two-part miniseries garnered more than 80 million viewers and was the number-one show in America for the two nights it was on the air. Johnson later produced five Alien Nation movies that ran on Fox from 1994 to 1997. Johnson also produced Bride of the Incredible Hulk (1978), Steel (1997), and Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999). Johnson won the prestigious Viewers for Quality Television Award, multiple Saturn Awards, and The Sci-Fi Universe Life Achievement Award. He was also nominated for Writers Guild and Mystery Writers of America awards after publishing three mystery books, beginning with V: The Second Generation in 2007. Johnson is also the only creator and producer with three shows on “TV Guide’s 25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends”: The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and V. Interestingly enough, Johnson’s father was an electrical engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and helped in the building of the Pine Bluff Arsenal.

In 1979, Pine Bluff native Beth Brickell appeared on Fantasy Island, an episodic television series that ran from 1977 to 1984 and starred Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize. In 2004, Brickell also wrote, directed, and produced three award-winning made-for-television movies, which included Mr. Christmas, a holiday classic about a young father during the Great Depression and the magic of Christmas. 

On May 3, 1998, the X-Files, a wildly popular science fiction television series, was inspired by the Pine Bluff Arsenal. In an episode entitled “The Pine Bluff Variant”, the main character, Fox Mulder, goes undercover, working as a mole to stop a terrorist organization from releasing a biological weapon that rapidly degenerates human flesh.

Also, among the Pine Bluff natives to work on science fiction and fantasy films was film editor Howard E. Wooley, known for Batman (1966), The Green Hornet (1966), Frankenstein's Daughter (1958), and Missile to the Moon (1958).

Even to this day, Pine Bluff’s lure is still inspiring authors like Aaron Steele, who in 2020 released Pine Bluff, his first full-length supernatural novel inspired by the city of Pine Bluff.


Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard

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