Friday, July 15, 2011

Spaceman's Luck


Before I go any further, my sister has admonished me to mention the other TV shows of the period which may have had a significant impact on not only my decline into idiocy, but hers as well.  I distinctly remember her wearing a pink Davy Crockett hat around the house as a kid, so it's apparent that I'm not the only idiot in this generation of Bergins.

OK, so here's the deal.  TV was the focal point of everything in those days.  Most of the afternoon programming, and ALL of the Saturday programming was aimed at the kiddies.   First there were the cowboy shows, “Hopalong Cassidy, ” Roy and Dale, “The Cisco Kid” etc.  It didn't take long before some enterprising TV execs discovered they could trade the wild west for outer space, and simply transpose the plot lines of the shows . I assume that, by so doing, they saved money on horse feed.  Ergo we began to see reruns of the old Flash Gordon serials, and even some new space themed shows such as “Captain Video,” “Space Patrol” and our all time fave “Tom Corbett Space Cadet”

Based on a series of books written by Robert A. Heinlein of Stranger in a Strange Land fame, the series took place in the year 2351 and followed the adventures of three Solar Guard officer candidates, Tom Corbett, Astro and Roger Manning, as they faced interstellar and personal challenges while attending The Space Academy.

Tom was the de-facto leader of the crew and was played by Frankie Thomas, a show business veteran who'd previously starred in the old movie serial “Tim Tyler's Luck” as well as numerous Broadway shows.  His parents were major acting talents as well. Together they were the known as “the first family of acting.”

Astro was an Earthling who'd grown up on Venus.  He was a particularly talented engineer, but had a great deal of difficulty with the theoretical side of his courses.

Roger Manning was cock-sure and somewhat arrogant.  He was a rogue, always quick to boast of his accomplishments and denigrate those of Tom and Astro, but he was also hiding a soft heart.

Many of the plot lines revolved around Roger who would offhandedly and carelessly create some kind of chaos, and how the crew managed to work it all out.  Like Star Trek, which was loosely based on the show, when sinister characters were introduced they were always dealt with in a non-violent manner.  When absolutely necessary Tom would pull out his trusty paralo gun which would paralyze the bad guy long enough for the cadets to tie him up.

The show was a huge success and, like the other kid's shows of the day, was sponsored by cereal manufacturers.  Special K in particular was a regular sponsor.   Naturally, they tied in their marketing heavily offering everything from official Tom Corbett Space Goggles, Tom Corbett Rocket Rings, Tom Corbett Space Guns, and a really nifty miniature gun mounted on a ring.  It was spring loaded, and I could load a stone in it and plink my sister on the head from 4 feet out.  COOL!!   Most important of all was the Tom Corbett Space Cadet Lunch Box with matching thermos bottle.  They put out a different one every year, and I got 'em ALL!  I was a collector, a connoisseur!

The show had a catchy theme song, I can still remember how it went:
From the rocket fields of the academy, to the far flung stars of outer space, we are space cadets training to be, ready for dangers we may face...”

Stirring stuff.

Although they tried to keep the show within some rational constraints, the science sometimes alluded them.  I recall one show where the cadets were “a million light years away” but were expected home in time for dinner. Uuuuuummmmm... I'm thinkin' that dinner will be AWFULLY cold by the time they actually get back.  On another they were walking with magnetic shoes on the hull of the Polaris, CLUNK, CLUNK, CLUNK.  Did no one tell the writers that there's no air in space, hence no sound?  But even given the show's occasional plot issues, it was always clean cut and uplifting for the little Space Cadets.

Some years ago Jan Merlin, who played Roger Manning, Al Markim who played Astro, and Ed Bryce who played Capt. Strong got together in Williamsburg at an old time radio convention, and recreated a Tom Corbett radio episode.  I loved it, and hoped to return the following year when Frankie Thomas was expected to attend.  Frankie had become a world renown Bridge expert and had written several books on the game.  He was shocked to find that people remembered him.  He showed up wearing his original Space cadet uniform and, I'm told, thrilled the crowd.   I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to see him.  I had hoped to attend the following one, but Frankie passed away.  I always regret not having had the chance to tell him how much his show had meant to my sister and me.  I understand that he was buried in his uniform.

The show had it's own, unique kind of slang.  When Roger would get angry at someone (which was most of the time) he'd yell “Aw, go blow your jets!”   When a character was going away someone would wish him “spaceman's luck.”

Spaceman's luck Tom.

1 comment:

  1. was a red POLLY Crockett genuine imitation coonskin cap. The times being the 1950's, when sexism was overt and proud of it, girls weren't supposed to have Davy Crockett caps, just stinky faux plastic ones reeking with genuine imitation frontier wife glamor. You got all the cool stuff--electric trains, steam engines, tinker toys--which was patently unfair!