Given the improbably long list of obsessed cult audiences that Jack Parsons appealed to—space enthusiasts, sci-fi fans, Crowleyite occultists, Scientology-watchers, general weird Americana, and even libertarians thanks to his monograph Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword—it's surprising his story hasn't hit mass media yet.
At last, one of the two good books about the life of the early pioneer in rocket fuels (who blew himself up under either mysterious or completely explicable circumstances, depending on who you ask, in 1952) is slated to be an AMC TV limited series, reports Deadline Hollywood:
Screenwriter Mark Heyman (Skeleton Twins, Black Swan) is set to write Strange Angel, a drama project for AMC produced by Scott Free under the company's first-look deal with the network.
Based on George Pendle's book Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life Of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside, the drama tells the story of Jack Parsons, a brilliant rocket scientist and co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory…
Scott Free's Ridley Scott and David Zucker are executive produce the project, previously announced at AMC's upfront in March when the network had optioned the book.
I wrote about Strange Angel for Reason back in May 2005 in an article called "The Magical Father of American Rocketry." Excerpt:
While inventing the castable rocket fuel that made the space age possible, Parsons simultaneously explored the frontiers of inner space, building the other half of his weird reputation. He became enraptured with the writings of the British occultist Aleister Crowley and joined the L.A.-based Agape Lodge of Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis. Crowley's American lieutenants seized on the charismatic and successful scientist as a potential savior for their movement; he began donating almost all his salary to the upkeep of his lodge brethren. His Crowleyan adoration of the unfettered human will inspired a fierce political libertarianism as well, best expressed in his essay "Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword." (The other edge is responsibility.)….
As the '40s wound down Parsons was stripped of his security clearance and almost prosecuted for treason for slipping classified documents from his then-employer, Hughes Aircraft, to the nascent Israeli government, with whom he was negotiating for a rocket guru gig. During his last days Parsons was reduced to working for Hollywood movies, making tiny explosive squibs that mimicked a man being shot. This from a man who once dreamed of blasting man into outer space….
Parsons the science-fiction fan didn't live to see the children of his greatest fuel invention bring man to the moon and man's machinery to far planets. But some people remembered. A crater on the dark side of the Moon has been named after this man who believed he could summon spirits and who hoped to propel himself into space.
Parsons may not have had the discipline to get there. But the men and systems who did could never have done so without his reckless imagination–his belief that even the risk of blowing himself to pieces was worth it to propel humanity to what he saw as the next stage of its physical and spiritual evolution
Those interested in Parsons and how he he bound together weird mysticism and cutting edge rocket science should also read the earlier Feral House tome Sex and Rockets. And if you live in Los Angeles, you should check out the ongoing art exhibit dedicated to work of Parsons' witchy muse Marjorie Cameron at MOCA.