Star Blazers Chronicles: Westchester Films

Continuing our exploration of the little-known pockets of Star Blazers lore, we come back to where it all started, with the company that made it happen. Westchester Films was the production company run by Mr. Claude S. Hill, the organization that actually went to Japan in 1978 and actually negotiated with Office Academy to bring Space Battleship Yamato to America.

According to the increasingly valuable article in the June 1980 issue of Starlog, the specific meeting point was between Westchester’s Bob Marcella and Academy’s Ken Fujita. From there, other parties got involved, chiefly Claster Television who licensed the domestic syndication rights from Westchester and got production in gear in the fall of 1978.

Claude S. Hill and Westchester Films are regrettably no longer with us, so an interview is out of the question. But every company leaves a paper trail, and we’ve got two interesting documents that shed light on the thinking and operations at Westchester during their heyday.

The first is one that was freely distributed to whoever might benefit from it; the 1980 Star Blazers press kit. This was a no-frills package; the only artwork in it was the cover sheet shown at right. The interior was nothing more than 17 typewritten pages that summarized the characters and story of the 52-episode syndication package. It’s material we all know by heart after watching the series, but it does bring things to a certain level of closure when you can actually read the official inside word from a time when everything was new and untested.

Click here to read a PDF of the entire press kit.

The second document is far more unusual and interesting. Thus, it requires some background.

Back in the merry month of February, 1983, Star Blazers fandom was graced by Space Fanzine Yamato, the first publication of its kind: an info-zine devoted entirely to the series from a fan perspective. The brainchild of superfans Steve Harrison, Jerry Fellows, and Ardith Carlton, it was the first attempt to organize the multi-leveled world of Yamato into palatable information for English-speaking fans. Its 44 pages covered such wide-ranging topics as character guides, models, records, books, song lyrics, and more. Space Fanzine gave fandom an early reference point and (for many) a first look at how deep the phenomenon actually went.

If you’d care to learn more about Space Fanzine before moving on, you can read the story of its genesis here and browse the online version (Space Webzine Yamato) here.

Space Fanzine also included a single brief article that referenced Westchester Films as follows:

What’s happening with Star Blazers 3?

Is the third series of Star Blazers dead…?! Westchester Films, the company who has the syndication rights to Star Blazers and who has been advertising having a third series available for syndication to stations for more than a year now, apparently will not be translating the Yamato III series into English after all. There is no official word from Westchester on the subject, although they’ve reportedly been making comments about a lack of funds. Michael Pinto had reported in the Star Blazers Fandom Report that Westchester had promised an entire line of Star Blazers merchandising; none of this has come about. The third series had reportedly been targeted for delivery to stations at the end of October 1982. This was pushed back to December 1982, and now the project is apparently in limbo. In a discussion Pinto had with Claude S. Hill, the president of Westchester, Hill seemed to be excited about the series, and in fact had episodes of the Japanese Yamato III on videotape. Hope had been high among fans at the news, but now we can’t help but be impatient at the constant delays… or at least, if Westchester can’t help the delays, the lack of information on the status of the third series of Star Blazers. A copy of this premiere issue of Space Fanzine Yamato will be sent to Mr. Hill, and this is an open invitation for him or any other representatives of Westchester Films to contact us and clear the air about this subject of great importance to Star Blazers fans, either by way of an interview, a letter for publication, or any way most convenient to him.


Since nothing further was said publicly about this (at least until the third series quietly appeared on American TV in 1985), it’s natural to assume Space Fanzine did not receive an answer to its query. But, in fact, the opposite was true.

In an act of surprising openness, Westchester directly responded via their publicist, Arnold J. Friedman of Arcady Communications Inc., by personal letter to Steve Harrison. And it wasn’t just the usual single-paragraph ‘thanks for your interest’ sort of letter–it was a densely-worded, hand-typed, 8-page testimonial that overflowed with the thought process behind the scenes.

Dated June 15, 1983 (four months after Space Fanzine was published), the letter was revealing and engaging in the way one might have expected in an earlier, more genteel era of business. The thought and care put into it spoke volumes about the company’s devotion to Star Blazers and their desire to share it with others.

Here now, courtesy of Steve Harrison, is that entire letter. Of course, everything in it is an artifact of the time in which it was written, but it’s heartwarming to see proof that the caretakers of Star Blazers had just as much passion for it as the fans.

Click here to read a PDF of the entire letter.

Above: pages from a double-sided promotional flyer distributed by Westchester in 1981. See all four pages here. (Special thanks to superfan Brian Cirulnick.) The text on this flyer promotes a Star Blazers syndication package consisting of 102 episodes because Yamato III was in pre-production at the time (summer 1980) and still being planned as a 50-episode series. Later events reduced it to 25.

3 thoughts on “Star Blazers Chronicles: Westchester Films

  1. That letter is fascinating in a number of ways, but predominantly it’s because just how clearly it illustrates that the myth of Star Blazers’ overbearing censorship started at home. Arnold Friedman seems really interested in talking about and promoting the series, while simultaneously not seeming to know a great deal about it. Consider his statement, as he defends the editing of Star Blazers: “Classic line, I suppose, from the US script of one of the first episodes, is something like, “That’s the end of that space ship–and all the robots on it.” Should we have left all the real people on the doomed space ship? (“Well, we just wasted a couple hundred kids. Easy come, easy go, Chief!”)” It’s a head scratcher, because his “classic line” appears nowhere in the show, nor does any similar line. The spaceships were always, without exception, operated by living beings. It’s also weird that he seems to imply that the original show took an off-the-cuff, lackadaisical attitude towards loss of life, which was never the case, nor is the series about kids, a word he keeps using in order to make the prospect of onscreen violence sound worse. When he says he wouldn’t want to see “whole cities totaled,” I assume he never even watched the first episode, where many cities disappear in nuclear conflagrations (and not for the last time, either).

    For years, official publications parroted this sort of reporting on the series, constantly repeating the untruth that no one ever died on Star Blazers, and that robots were used to obscure deaths of the enemy soldiers on all occasions. In truth, robots were used for tank battles and pretty much nowhere else (at least in the first two series). I find it curious that even those who were involved with the series’ creation somehow missed this obvious fact.

  2. Xerxes something to understand is that Arnold Friedman wasn’t involved in the creation of the show, he was a copywriter who did work for Claude Hill. The main business goal of Westchester Films was to sell the series to local indie television stations — so Friedman’s audience wasn’t fanboys (they were already pre-sold on the show) but middle aged programming directors who looked at anything animated as a “kiddie cartoon”.

    So it was a very hard uphill battle to sell the series — the only thing on the market like it at the time was maybe Battle of the Planets. This was before the mid-80s when you had Robotech — so most of the TV stations didn’t get it. Hill’s primary focus was going to conventions like NAPTE and trying to get stations to carry the show (that or the other shows he had like the 60s Spider-Man, Rocket Robin Hood, Max the 2000 Year Old Mouse and Strange Paradise).

    But what was cool about Claude Hill and Arnold Friedman is that they were always friendly to the fans — and Hill actually visited Worldcon in ’83 and as I recall Arnold Friedman came to our event at the Creation Convention and even spoke for a few minutes. Claude Hill really loved the show, but more in the general sense than a hardcore fan that would know every detail of the series.

    Also keep in mind that Westchester Films wasn’t a big company — when I first visited them there were maybe three people, and by the later 80s it was just Hill and an assistant. And to keep things in a historic perspective when I visited Central Park Media in the early 90s it was a much bigger operation — but even then they were still fighting the battle that these “cartoons weren’t for kids” and it caused them endless amounts of grief. So that was one of the main struggles of the early anime industry.

    • Oh, I’m very familiar with the state of children’s programming in that era, but Friedman is selling an oddly mixed and mis-targeted message, its accuracy to the facts notwithstanding. He initially is enthusiastic about proclaiming to one in the know that indeed, Star Blazers is not a kids’ show. But later in the letter, he reverses this and makes over-exaggerated assertions that it is a kids’ show and must be “safe” for young viewers, knowing full well that his recipient will disagree, rather than being assuaged by such assurances. (He also incorrectly refers to alcohol as a narcotic, which most people seem to think is a synonym for “drug,” but that’s separate issue, along with his stated belief that Japan has a problem with violent youth culture, when they’ve got nothing on us in terms of violent crime.) I simply find it odd that someone in the position of promoting a series would, in absence of genuine knowledge, make up parameters and even supposedly infamous dialogue to someone who wouldn’t consider such things to be a selling point. It’s like a Democratic candidate writing to his constituents to overstate how conservative he is.

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