Space Patrol Memories Pt. 1
By Tom Mason
HIGH ADVENTURE IN THE WILD REACHES OF SPACE
MISSIONS OF DARING IN THE NAME OF INTERPLANETARY JUSTICE!
TRAVEL INTO THE FUTURE WITH BUZZ CORRY
THE SPACE PATROL!
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 its 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
actors 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 Dennings 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 of 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 actually 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 shows 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 Robbies 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
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 Nestles 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
premiums 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 collectors item in itself by todays standards.
Space Patrol merchandise was not just offered over the radio and TV.
There were 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
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. They are rare collectors 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 Patrols 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 anybodys 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 cameras 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 Tylers Republic serial The Adventures of Captain
Marvel. Both Tom Tylers 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
Mings royal guard uniforms from the serial Flash Gordon in another
early episode. The evil Prince Baccaratti sported a familiar black
leather aviators 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
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