Monday, February 12, 2007

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet

The golden age of Saturday morning sci-fi had to be around 1954, when there was one outer space adventure after another, from 9:30 a.m. with Tom Corbett to 11:30 with Rod Brown, Rocket Ranger.

And it all started like this:

The announcer: "Tom Corbett...Space Cadet!"

Tom: "Stand by to raise ship! Blast-off minus!"

Announcer: "As roaring rockets blast off to distant planets and far-flung stars, we take you to the age of the conquest of space...with Tom Corbett--Space Cadet!"

"Tom Corbett, Space Cadet," went on the air in 1950, and had the distinction of appearing on all four broadcast TV networks (including the defunct Dumont) at one time or another, and for awhile appeared simultaneously on two. It also tried to create a self-consistent universe, with the help of a science advisor, the eminent rocket expert Willy Ley. The series pioneered special effects techniques, despite the fact that like most of these early sci fi shows, it was done live.

Tom Corbett was a graduate of the "best school in the universe--Space Academy," who took an oath to "safeguard the freedom of space, protect the liberties of the planets and defend the cause of peace throughout the universe." (It sounds a lot like Star Trek's Starfleet Academy.) Corbett served aboard the spaceship Polaris with a crew that---like the first crew of the Enterprise to hit the screen-- included a woman and an alien (the Venusian cadet, Astro).

It was the 24th century, when all nations formed the Commonwealth of Earth, which had eliminated warfare and banned deadly weapons. Then at the end of the last episode aired, the Polaris was ready to head off into space. "Where are we going?" a crewman asked. "Out," Tom Corbett replied. "Further than we've ever gone before!"

The series was based on Robert Heinlein's novel for young readers, Space Cadet. This was a very lucrative genre--Heinlein once said he made more money on these books than any others. I was a big fan of those novels a little later, but at 8 years old or so, I was mostly devoted to these TV adventures.

Frankie Thomas played Tom Corbett, Jan Merlin was cadet Roger Manning, and the alien Astro was played by Al Markim. Margaret Garland played Dr. Joan Dale. Other actors who played smaller parts in the series included Jack Lord, Jack Klugman and William Windom. One of the writers was Alfred Bester, author of some classic adult sci-fi novels and stories.The stories were often about exploration, and rarely featured space monsters. As in the Heinlein novel, the Academy stressed ethical responsibility, and their commander, Captain Strong, often warned them against using weapons or excessive violence...One of the show's principal sponsors was Kellogg's cereal.

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