Saturday, March 03, 2007

Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers

Then at 11:30: "CBS Television presents--- Rooodddd Brrrroooowwwn of the Rooocket Raaaangers! Surging with the power of the atom, gleaming like great silver bullets, the mighty Rocket Rangers space ships stand by for blast off! [Roar of ignition.] Up, up, rockets blazing with white-hot fury, the man-made meteors ride through the atmosphere, breaking the gravity barrier, pushing up and out, faster and faster, and then... outer space and high adventure for the Roooocket Raaaaangers!"

I don't actually remember much about this show, and according to the Space Hero files that's not unusual. It was broadcast only for about a year (April 1953 to May 1954), and for part of its run was on opposite both Tom Corbett and "The Secret Files of Captain Video" (more on Captain Video soon.) It was done live from New York, never rerun and apparently no kinescopes survived. But it was a top drawer production for this kind of program, having stolen some seasoned pros from the original Tom Corbett team, and using young talent that later went places, like director John (The Manchurian Candidate ) Frankenheimer, and most conspicuously the actor who played Rod Brown: Cliff Robertson.

Robertson was then a student at the "method" acting Actors' Studio, and was acting in the New York theatre, sometimes doing two shows after his Rod Brown live broadcast on Saturday morning. Robertson of course had a long and distinguished movie career. I suppose some of his futuristic image may have rubbed off when he played JFK in P-T 109, but today's sci-fi and superhero fans will know him as the revered uncle in Spider-Man who tells Peter Parker that " with great power comes great responsibility" (itself a kind of JFK line-- he quoted the adage, "To whom much is given, much is required.")

Rod Brown made first contact with the winged girl of Venus, battled a bank-robbing robot on Mars, and discovered earth's twin planet on the other side of the sun (a sci-fi idea used more than once before and since.) There was also a Venusian ocean octopus, the tiny inhabitants of Mercury, stickmen from Neptune, and shadow creatures from the 5th dimension (forerunners perhaps of the Lectoids from the eighth dimension Buckaroo Banzai encountered.) The globe men of Oma! The phantom birds of Beloro! The Colossus of Centauri! Pretty busy for a series that lasted 13 months!

The serious mid-50s theme of radioactivity was tackled at least three times, including one about the spread of radiation sickness called "The Apples of Eden." And they built stories around at least a couple of pretty advanced sci-fi ideas: aliens without form or mass (Star Trek's "energy beings" perhaps) and a radioactive meteor that converts energy into matter.

So by the time Rod Brown signed off, after two and a half hours of space adventures and all the cinnamon toast, peanut butter and saltines, , jelly on white bread, peanut butter on celery, etc. , we would blast off outdoors to play--using the adventures we'd just seen as our imaginative springboard. And then maybe a double feature at the movies on Saturday afternoon!

Still to come: Captain Video, Johnny Jupiter and Captain Midnight!

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