In the midst of World War II, US Naval aviator William “Mike” Moser escaped the brutality of war by dreaming of a future world of spaceships and heroes as he flew across the Pacific. On June 1, 1944, eleven days after the Invasion of Normandy, another pilot, Ed Kemmer, was shot down over Germany as he flew a combat mission. Wounded, Ed spent eleven months as a prisoner of war. He managed to escape once but was recaptured. Towards the end of World War II, yet another young man, Clois Lyn Osborn, joined the Navy and trained to become an aerial gunner and radio operator. Fortunately for Lyn Osborn, the war ended before he flew into combat. A few years after the war, all three of these young aviators would join forces to bring Mike Moser’s dream of a future world to life on the silver screen as the adventures of the Space Patrol.
Space Patrol was a science-fiction series set in the 30th century that followed the adventures of Commander-in-Chief Buzz Corry (Ed Kemmer) and his young sidekick Cadet Happy (Lyn Osborn) as they and other Space Patrol crewmen “faced interplanetary villains with diabolical schemes”. Mike Moser was determined to produce a series that was as imaginative and exciting to the children of the 1950s as earlier shows Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon had been for him when he was young. Fellow flyer, Ed Kemmer, was perfect as Space Patrol leader and hero Buzz Corry. Ed’s “seriousness and military bearing brought a maturity to the role” that provided realism and helped increase the show’s popularity. And Lyn Osborn was perfect as young Cadet Happy. Lyn had enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse on the G.I. Bill after WWII. He got his big break as Cadet Happy ten days before his graduation.
Space Patrol started out small. It did a live fifteen-minute broadcast five days a week at a local Los Angeles, California station. But Space Patrol did not stay small for long. It was an overnight sensation. In less than a year, ABC had added a thirty-minute version to its weekly Saturday schedule. Space Patrol made history by becoming the first live action West Coast show to be beamed to the East Coast through an enormous network of cable and relay stations. The two Space Patrol television shows were so popular that a radio program with the same cast and crew was broadcast at first twice a week and later once a week. This huge popularity put an enormous burden on the actors. They had to memorize and perform five fifteen-minute shows a week plus one thirty-minute show as well as radio shows (although at least they did not have to memorize the radio scripts). The cast was also called upon to do many of the live television commercials and promote the sponsor products as well as Space Patrol tie-in merchandise such as a Space Patrol club, special decoder belts, glowing space rings, magic pictures, Space Binoculars, and much more. Adding to the cast’s woes was that the show was lucky enough to get one of the largest television stages in Hollywood at the time. The stage has previously been used for Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera. It was a huge stage complete with high catwalks that allowed Space Patrol to create huge sets featuring castles or mountainous jungles and to suspend actors in spacesuits in “space” without cramping the scenes. But the stage size also meant that the actors, usually Ed Kemmer as Commander Corry, had to play a scene or engage a villain in fisticuffs then run madly from one set to another, sometimes while changing costume, to arrive in time for the next scene then turn around and run in another direction to make it to yet another set and do a commercial. In some episodes it is obvious that poor Commander Corry is trying to catch his breath and in at least one episode there are several seconds of the camera focused on a closed door because the Commander simply did not manage to get the door on time. The actors later joked that they were actually desperate for the thirty-minute Saturday show to be canceled because at least it would ease the burden. The cast did all this memorizing of scripts and running around sets for a mere eight dollars an episode, if they were in the episode. Success did bring rewards. As the show’s popularity increased so did the show’s budget and the actors’ salaries. By 1954 the budget has increased to $25,000 an episode and Lyn Osborn as Cadet Happy was making $45,000 a year.
Space Patrol had often elaborate sets and well-designed costumes and some clever miniature models but make-up and special effects still remained pretty basic by modern standards. Some of the most elaborate effects involved explosions. Because the show was live, all explosions from ray gun blasts or villainous sabotage had to be carefully pre-planned and pre-set. An actor had to memorize and recite his or her lines, pose in exactly the right spot, aim the gun in exactly the right direction, and a hidden effects technician would light the previously set explosive charge. If an accident happened or something went wrong the actors just recovered as quickly as possible and went on with the scene. Most of the various aliens that appeared in the show appeared human and were just labeled “alien” with sometimes only some small thing, like a hose, to identify their alien-ness. Even the few robots that appeared in the show had nothing about their appearance that obviously said “robot”. It is interesting to note that nowhere in the show are any computers. The show could not imagine a future with computers and we, today, cannot imagine a future without them.
Space Patrol did have something that was rather unique for the time: two women with brains. Many science fiction shows had a “hero’s girlfriend” or a “damsel in distress” but Space Patrol had two – count them – two non-girlfriend, non-damsel women. While the women and their short skirts were added to bring some sex appeal to the show and they were often kidnapped or imperiled by villains, the producers also allowed them to be full characters. One or the other (or sometimes both) of the women were sometimes the center of a particular episode. Nina Bara played Tonga. In early episodes she was actually a villain but she was rehabilitated and went on to become the Assistant Security Chief under Major Robertson (Ken Mayer). She also did counter espionage work and invented the Radurium Glove which helped to cure radiation burns. Virginia Hewitt played Carol Carlisle. Carol was the daughter of the Secretary General of the USA and worked in the administrations and scientific departments of the United Planets Headquarters. She also invented the Magnetic Force Control, the power drive of the galaxy, and the Agra Ray, a special food-growing plant. None of the show’s scripts ever specially depicted any romance between Commander Corry and Carol or Tonga and Major Robertson, but the actors did portray relationships of a sort. Carol would get very upset, sometimes almost hysterical when Commander Corry was in trouble or Major Robertson would become frantic when Tonga was missing.
By the end of its run, Space Patrol had produced an estimated 210 thirty-minute shows, 200 radio episodes, and at least 900 fifteen-minute shows. Ed Kemmer went on to have a long and flourishing career in television Soap Operas but Mike Moser and Lyn Osborn were not as lucky. Mike was killed in a tragic car accident in 1954 when he was only 37 years old. His wife Helen took his place as executive producer for the last sixteen Space Patrol episodes. Lyn developed a brain tumor and died during an operation in 1958. He was only 32.
The Internet Archive has five of the thirty-minute Space Patrol shows available to watch online or download FREE. From Season One is “The Space Patrol Code Belt”. Broadcast on October 20, 1951, this episode features criminals stealing payrolls off spaceships. The Space Patrol secret codes play an important role. Although it is rather hilarious to see that the 30th century needs chalk, a chalk board, and what is basically a big decoder ring to encrypt their messages. Cadet Happy is given a Space Patrol Code Belt and sent undercover to catch the crooks. And kids, you too, can have your own special Space Patrol Code Belt. Just buy the sponsor’s cereal and send in the box top along with twenty-five cents. There are two episodes from Season Two. First is “Threat of the Thormanoids” originally broadcast on May 24, 1952. Aliens who look just like normal humans are invading the United Planets. They only differ from humans in that they can walk through walls and must wear insulators to survive in a human climate. Also from Season Two is “Interplanetary Smugglers” broadcast on June 28, 1952. Criminals are smuggling in ray guns that have been specially modified to fire rockets. Carol and Tonga play important roles when Carol is attacked by a smuggler and Tonga bashes him over the head. Both women get captured and tossed in a refrigeration unit but so does Commander Corry and Cadet Happy. IA also has two episodes from Season Three. “Operation Rescue” was originally broadcast on February 21, 1953 features a ship trapped in an asteroid belt with Commander Corry and Cadet Happy rushing to the rescue. There is a great fun scene of the Commander going for a space-suited space walk while “asteroids” going whizzing by all around him. Finally, from March 28, 1953 is “The Laughing Alien”. Commander Corry keeps seeing strange visions of Cadet Happy in danger while Major Robertson worries that Corry has snapped under the strain of his Space Patrol duties. This episode features the Brainograph which can be used to interrogate or rehabilitate bad guys and to capture images from a vision. Corry’s walk down a long hallway and into a room gives a small sense of the size of the sound stage. Most of the episodes have decent audio and video although there were some problems. The first episode, “The Space Patrol Code Belt” has lots of damage in the first half of the show. The image is blurry with lots of scratches and scrapes and the audio is also fuzzy and tends to fade out a bit. The problems clear up in the last half of the episode. The Ogg Video for “Interplanetary Smugglers” has a sound track that is hugely out of sync with the video. However the MPEG4 is okay. And I completely lost the audio for “Operation Rescue” about halfway through. However, when I backtracked I got the audio back and the MPEG4 audio had no problem. Of course the best thing about Space Patrol is that it is FREE in the Public Domain, just click on the following IA links to watch or download to your heart’s content. IA also has the radio show available. I will give a listen to those episodes in a future post. Enjoy! And as Cadet Happy is wont to say: “Smokin’ Rockets!”
1.) “The Space Patrol Code Belt” – Broadcast Oct. 20, 1951.
2.) “Threat of the Thormanoids” – Broadcast May 25, 1952.
3.) “Interplanetary Smugglers” – Broadcast June 28, 1952.
4.) “Operation Rescue” – Broadcast Feb. 21, 1953.
5.) “The Laughing Alien” – Broadcast March 28, 1953.