Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Memory Bank: The Bermuda Triangle Craze of the 1970s

I’ve written here before about some of the crazy (yet wonderful...) pop-culture trends or fads of the 1970s.  In particular, I’ve looked at Bigfoot and Killer Bees.  

Today, I want to remember another weird national moment from the disco-decade: the Bermuda Triangle Craze.

As you no doubt recall, the Bermuda Triangle is an area in the North Atlantic Ocean where -- across the long decades -- many ships and planes have allegedly disappeared without a trace.  Stories of such vanishings were being reported as early as 1950, but it was during President Carter's 1970s that America’s obsession with this “cursed” area of the sea really took hold on a colossal scale.

One of the most famous stories involving the Bermuda Triangle involves the disappearance of a training mission consisting of five Avenger fighter planes in December of 1945.  To this day, the planes have not been located, and there are reports that the pilots reported “green smoke” or mist before they literally went off the radar.  If you saw Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), you'll remember that film's explanation: alien abduction in the Bermuda Triangle!

As the 1960s became the 1970s, several authors began writing about the vanishing of Flight 19 and other strange incidents in The Bermuda Triangle (like the 1881 case of the Meta).  Interest began to rise. 

In 1969, author John Spencer published a book called Limbo of the Lost.  And in 1974, two additional texts on the subject were published Richard Winer’s The Devil’s Triangle and Charles Berlitz’s The Bermuda Triangle, the latter of which became a best-seller, moving over twenty-million copies world-wide.

After those successes in print, the floodgates opened in terms of visual media.  TV movies such as Satan’s Triangle (1974) starring Doug McClure and Kim Novak, and Beyond the Bermuda Triangle (1975) starring Sam Groom, Dana Plato and Fred MacMurray soon began terrifying at-home audiences.   

The most memorable and weirdest of these 1970s TV-movies, however, was likely Rankin-Bass’s The Bermuda Depths (1978), starring Connie Sellecca, Burl Ives, and Carl Weathers. The plot concerned a giant turtle, a mysterious woman from the sea named Jenny, and the Triangle itself.

Not to be outdone, several ambitious filmmakers began to produce documentaries on the subject of the Bermuda Triangle.  Sunn Classic Pictures -- the Utah outfit behind In Search of Noah's Ark (1977), The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977) and In Search of Historic Jesus (1979) -- released The Bermuda Triangle in 1979, but that was relatively late in the game, following efforts such as The Devil’s Triangle (1974), narrated by Vincent Price, and Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle (1978).

On television, the subject was all the rage as well.  An episode of the Saturday morning series Jabber Jaw -- basically Scooby Doo with a talking shark instead of a talking dog -- in 1976 aired a story called “The Bermuda Triangle Tangle.”  Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman got into the act as well with “The Bermuda Triangle Crisis.” 

Most notable of all, however, was The Fantastic Journey (1977), a short-lived sci-fi series about a group of students who plunge through a green cloud in the Bermuda Triangle and end up on an island that straddles all periods of time.  The series starred Jared Martin, Ike Eisenmann, Katie Saylor, Carl Franklin, and Roddy McDowall.

Even non-fiction programs such as Nova (“The Case of the Bermuda Triangle”) and the Leonard Nimoy-hosted In Search Of (“The Bermuda Triangle) in the 1970s featured stories about the mysterious realm where people and vehicles would disappear from the face of the Earth.

I remember from my childhood that tales of the Bermuda Triangle absolutely fascinated the hell out of me.  

It was a mystery that could have involved time travel, aliens, or even monsters.  It was a promise, implicitly, that we had not yet learned everything about the world, and that, in some dark, mysterious realms…the impossible could still exist.     I still love the idea that we haven't explored everything, and that great mysteries still require our attention.

Of course, there a million things that could explain the various Bermuda Triangle disappearances over the years in different, more science-based terms.  But isn’t the idea of a “Devil’s Triangle” a lot more fun, spooky…and downright imaginative?  

Readers, viewers and filmmakers in the 1970s certainly thought so... 


  1. Anonymous6:30 PM

    John we were lucky to be children in the '70s when the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle was among many things that made us wonder.


  2. I distinctly remember checking out that Berlitz book (along with a bunch of UFO stuff) from the local library as a wee lad in '79 or '80.

  3. Anonymous12:32 PM


  4. John Simpson5:31 PM

    Actually the NOVA episode served to debunk the existence of a "mysterious" Bermuda Triangle by presenting the facts that had been researched by Larry Kusche author of The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved and The Disappearance of Flight 19.

    Don't comparte the NOVA episode with "In Search Of...". The published plot for that "non-fiction" episode was "Probes a radio broadcast claim that the graveyard of ships and planes is actually a testing area for spacemen."

    Wonder is one thing but persistent ignorance in the face of facts is stupidity.


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