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Space Patrol Memories Pt. 1
By Tom Mason


    How many of us remember these words of introduction uttered by announcer Jack Narz, at the opening of each episode to prepare us for the exciting adventures ahead of us?

Part 1: The History
    I became an instant fan of Space Patrol (the space opera that was initially broadcast Mon-Fri locally on KECA-TV Channel 7 in Los Angeles) from the first night it aired on my 12-inch black and white Packard Bell television set. It was fascinating. It started out as a 15-minute daily serial in 1950. Within nine months it graduated to a weekend half-hour show on the full ABC Network. It also generated a radio show version, but television was it’s forte. Later, Space Patrol was the first regular live West Coast morning network program beamed to the East Coast. Today we take things like that for granted with the advent of satellites and cable, but at that time it took an intricate network of cable and relay stations.

    Space Patrol was the brainchild of creator Mike Moser, an ex-U.S. Navy Air force veteran in WW II. He conceived the program as a way to bring the same sort of vision he has experienced as a youth reading Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. His first choice for the lead in the show was Glen Denning, playing Kit Corry, and he did not work out well. He played Kit as a stern taskmaster to his new Cadet. He constantly flubbed his lines and according to Nina Bara (Tonga) he even fell asleep on camera one time. So a plot device was created where Kit called in his brother Buzz on the Space-O-Phone inviting him to come to Terra. (Terra was a man-made planet that was created as the capitol of the United Planets so no one world could claim an advantage of the capitol being situated on their planet. It also served as the headquarters for the Space Patrol.)
    Denning even flubbed this bit, calling himself Buzz and his brother Kit over the Space-O-Phone. Kit subsequently left on a mysterious mission, never to return. Space Patrol would be taken over by his brother Buzz Corry, but who to play the part? Moser called for auditions. One of the actorsEarly photo auditioned was Ed Kemmer who had flown over 48 missions over Germany during the war before being shot down. He was eminently qualified to play the part, a good actor and ruggedly handsome with just the right touch of humor to make the character work. Lynn Osborn, a former WW II radioman, was to play his Cadet Happy. Both Kemmer and Osborn had attended acting school at the famed Pasadena Playhouse and it is said that Osborn contacted Kemmer about the possibility of the part opening up due to Denning’s miscasting in the part of Kit. As soon as Kemmer read for the part, Moser and his staff knew they had the perfect lead for their Space Patrol series.

Premiums in outer space…
    Coming aboard, Ralston Purina got into the act as a sponsor and started offering mail-in premiums. They had been the most prolific purveyors ofAn ad for Space Patrol Premiums premiums on radio with Tom Mix and his Ralston Straight Shooters, and they made the crossover from radio to television in grand style. What you could do with a few small coins and a Chex box top! There were cardboard mock-ups of the spaceport Terra City, Rocket Ships, Toy Space- a-phones, Ray Guns, magnifying goggles, official belt buckles with decoders built in, and the belts to affix them to. On top of that there was an official Top Secret Space Patrol United Planets Treasury Dept. Diplomatic pouch filled with all kinds of paper goods, and my favorite: the Cosmic Smoke Gun. It was always the policy of Space Patrol to utilize the premiums as part of the storyline of the show. If the Space Patrol gang was using it, it just fueled the fire for all us Space Cadets out there to have ours too. We became participants.

    The “Cosmic Smoke Gun” supposedly shot a puff of sleep inducing “smoke” (actually talcum powder), and Commander Buzz Corry actuallyPhoto of a Cosmic Smoke Gun used it on the show. Everyone in the Space Patrol gang seemed to be using one. Major Robbie Robertson got into a fight with one of the show’s villains and lost his cosmic smoke gun to him. Poof! The villain fired at Robbie, who was supposed to be engulfed with the smoke that was emitted from the weapon. In actuality, someone must have loaded too much talcum into the magazine and out shot this big lump of white powder and affixed itself to Robbie’s cheek. But Major Robinson knew he had been gassed and coughed just as the script called for and passed out. No retakes here, it was live TV.
    I had to have one of these marvelous weapons. I sent in my money and box top and began my vigil at my mailbox daily. When I had waited the usual eternity for its arrival, it showed up in a cardboard box. It looked like it had been run over by a truck. My long awaited Cosmic Smoke Gun package made a suspicious rattling noise, and upon opening it, I discovered my gun was in two pieces: destroyed in transit. I immediately shot off a letter to the merchandisers and resigned myself for another long wait. The Ralston folks sent me a replacement in a few weeks. A few days after the gun arrived, another one showed up. This was pretty good, now I had two. In about another week another one arrived. A few days later, a new version showed up that had a longer, redesigned barrel. All in all, I ended up with about six of the darned things. I had them in their traditional red-orange coloring and there was even a green version. What could be better than this? I had an entire arsenal.

    In 1952, Ralston projected sales of Space Patrol merchandise at $40 million dollars. The youth of America was eating a lot of Ralston Cereal. Soon Nestle’s Quik and Nestle candy bars got into the act as an alternating sponsor. Announcer Roger Barclay appeared in full Space Patrol regalia and hawked the premiums. Sometimes he appeared solo and other times with a young boy or Buzz and Happy. The absolute capper of premiumsPhoto of the Terra V replica was a nationwide contest launched with one of the most unusual grand prizes ever awarded. The contest was dubbed “Name That Planet”. The winner received a 35 foot, 1 ton replica “playhouse” of the Terra V rocketship along with a motor truck to pull it and $1500 dollars in cash. I often wonder what the parents of the Grand Prizewinner thought when that Rocketship mounted on its carrier truck arrived at their home.

    After that, there were 250 “First Prizes” that consisted of all sorts of Space Patrol gear. The “Second Prize” group of 750 each got a Schwinn Varsity bicycle, a collector’s item in itself by today’s standards. Space Patrol merchandise was not just offered over the radio and TV. There werePhoto of a Space Patrol Ray Gun many Space Patrol items in stores. A great deal of the Ralston merchandise was sold in grocery stores for immediate purchase. Often times the plastic toys appeared in different color schemes or there might be a subtle design change. The official Space Patrol dart/ray-gun was molded in bright red plastic and looked so real, they even used it on the air with appropriate zapping sound effects added. Clothing items were widely sold in major department stores. This was significant as few radio or television shows managed to get beyond mail-in premiums.

    Ziff-Davis published full color Space Patrol comic books. No artist is credited, but Norman Saunders painted the covers and famed comic artist Kreigstein of EC fame did the interior artwork. Two issues were published.Cover to Space Patrol Issue 2 They are rare collector’s items and if you could find a mint copy of number one, it would be worth over $700 dollars now. Issue number two demands about $500 dollars. Somewhere, there was a free giveaway comic entitled Space Patrol’s Special Mission; it was black and white and is valued today at over $500 in mint condition. For a long time after her departure from the show, Nina Bara, “Tonga the Lady of Diamonds”, was advertising copies of the comic for sale in various film magazines and I regret not ever buying them, as her price was considerably lower than previously quoted. Alas, she has since passed on and where her stockpile of comics went is anybody’s guess.

    All in all, Space Patrol generated more mail in premiums than any other TV show I can remember and it certainly was my favorite even into my early years in college. Space Patrol was fun. Tom Corbett was too talky and did not do much moving from its basic sets. Live television had its limitations, but Space Patrol had use of the big stages at ABC Television Center and made good use of them.

    Space Patrol, at its height, was churning out over 82,000 words per week to feed the television and radio shows ABC had on the air. Cue card “cheat sheets” were taped on the walls out of the camera’s view to help the actors “remember” their lines.

    An interesting note to serial fans, in publicity photos from the earliest shows, you can still see Major Robbie Robertson wearing an old tunic from Tom Tyler’s Republic serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel. Both Tom Tyler’s tunic and the slightly smaller one that David Sharpe used while doubling Tyler showed up time and again on various characters. The Kryptonian fashions from the Columbia serial Superman were in evidence more than once. A female villain wore one of Emperor Ming’s royal guard uniforms from the serial Flash Gordon in another early episode. The evilPhoto of Prince Baccarrati Prince Baccaratti sported a familiar black leather aviator’s jacket with a falcon emblazoned on it and adopted the nickname of “The Black Falcon”. That leather jacket came from the 1939 serial Flying G-Men where it had been worn by a masked character who oddly was called “The Black Falcon”. Had the writers seen that serial? Other actors sported costumes from a wide variety of the old serials. This was due to the fact that Space Patrol did not have a large wardrobe budget in those early days so they went to the largest movie costume facility, Western Costume, and made do with what they could find. Space suits were “borrowed” from the movie Destination Moon. Later, when the show was a success, new fancy uniforms were designed for the leads and only occasionally did we see recycled movie costumes on the villains and extras.

    Coming up next, I go to work at ABC and search out bits of lore from the actual people who had helped make Space Patrol a reality on television. For that story, please go to Space Patrol Memories Pt. 2.

©2000 by Tom Mason

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