Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Captain Video

To the stirring strains of Wagner's Overture to "The Flying Dutchman," the announcer intoned: "POST--the cereals you like the most...take you to the secret mountain retreat of Captain Video! Master of Space! Hero of Science! Captain of the Video Rangers! Operating from his secret mountain headquarters on the planet Earth, Captain Video rallies men of good will and leads them against the forces of evil everywhere! As he rockets from planet to planet, let us follow the champion of justice, truth and freedom throughout the universe! Stand by for...Captain Video...and his Video Rangers!

But these words weren't first heard on Saturday morning. Most of Captain Video's best adventures were seen on weekday evenings, years before the height of Saturday morning sci-fi. In fact, Captain Video was one of the first television heroes, and the first that--true to his name--started in television.

And I was one of the first kids in America to see him. Captain Video went on the air in 1949, on the Dumont network, which never had more than a half dozen stations. But its flagship station was WDTV, Channel 3 in Pittsburgh ---for years, the only commercial station in the city capable of reaching much beyond it. So every night, Monday through Friday (and sometimes on Saturday) at 7 pm, I watched Captain Video. And so did just about everyone else.

I can't say for sure when I started watching it, although I remember when WDTV switched to Channel 2, and that was 1952, when I was 6. I can also remember a day in school--probably when I was in second grade--that a teacher we didn't know (probably a young nun working on her teaching certificate or advanced degree research) came to our class and told us she would play some music, and even though it didn't have any words, we were to draw whatever the music made us think of. She put a record on a phonograph--and as we heard the strains of "The Flying Dutchman," a titter went through the class. She just smiled at us, and didn't understand what was going on until she got a surprising number of drawings of space ships and robots.

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