My series features a bad-ass sociopathic villain. His name is Dunstan Fairfax. Readers occasionally ask me where his complex characterization came from. Ex-boyfriend, maybe? Former boss? Nope. Fairfax comes from a number of sources, and he’s evolved in my imagination over a lifetime.
Fodder for a Kid’s Imagination: the 1960s
September 1964. I was a second-grader in South Florida. Less than a year earlier, the president of the United States had been assassinated, and the space program had gone into full, frantic swing with his legacy: putting a man on the moon ahead of the Russians. President Lyndon Johnson was eyeing Vietnam. The Cold War was personified in movie theaters by James Bond and the denizens of SPECTRE. Such stuff primed the imaginations of a whole generation of kids.
On a more personal level, I’d just experienced the wrath of Hurricane Cleo. Still fresh in my memory were the terrible roar of tornadoes imbedded in the storm, and the remarkable calm of the hurricane’s eye, drenching my world with the smell of the ocean. Then I was exiled from class to get over a case of the mumps. How unfair! I didn’t feel bad. Okay, I looked a little weird, but man, was I bored. September wasn’t shaping up to be a good month for me.
Like most kids my age, I watched TV (ours was black-and-white) with my family after dinner at night. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who’d given us The Flintstones for primetime evening entertainment, offered a new primetime cartoon show in 1964. But this one wasn’t comedy. It was science saving the world, science threatening the world, spies, death, space-age gadgets, heart-pounding adventure, and the whole, exotic world. It jump-started my writing career, stuck at home as I was with the mumps, with nothing to do except write stories because I ran out of things to read.
My First Three Villains on TV
Dr. Zin, The Adventures of Jonny Quest.
Drawn by Doug Wildey and voiced by Vic Perrin, Dr. Zin possessed the heroic qualities of intelligence, sophistication, resourcefulness, focus, and good salesmanship. Unlike other villains in the original series, he was never completely defeated. Dr. Zin was also the nemesis of Jonny Quest’s father. In other words, a TV kid with whom I identified had an uber-baddie pitted against his dad. Peril, yes, and at the time, the only type of peril that seemed comparable was what I’d experienced during Hurricane Cleo.
Khan Noonien Singh, Star Trek.
Portrayed by Ricardo Montalban, Khan was all the things that Dr. Zin was, plus he possessed charm, physical and sexual prowess (more important when I grew up), and the skill to maintain leadership over a big group of baddies. Khan was by far the most interesting guy aboard the starship Enterprise during the episode “Space Seed.”
Angelique, Dark Shadows.
Kids of the 1960s were fascinated with Dark Shadows, due partially to the tragic, tormented character of Barnabas the vampire. What intrigued me far more than Barnabas himself was how he wound up being a vampire, and who was responsible for it. That who was a her, my first exposure to a worthy female villain — one who wasn’t merely the minion of a male villain. Angelique, portrayed by Lara Parker, had her own agenda.
A Villainous Pattern
In these first fictional villains, my subconscious recognized a pattern, something they had in common. The label hadn’t made it into the watercooler conversations of most Americans just yet, but the condition has dogged humanity from prehistory. Dr. Zin, Khan, and Angelique didn’t give a damn about people except to control them. Gaining control and manipulating others was what floated their boats. Dr. Zin, Khan, and Angelique were fictional examples of sociopaths. They were evil, evil, evil.
Ah, the sixties. What a great time to be a kid with an active imagination. Back then, I was blissfully unaware that sociopaths weren’t confined to fiction — but those are tales for Part 2 of this post. For now, tell me: who were your favorite TV villains from childhood?
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