Tuesday, April 03, 2007

But some other things are very clear in my memory. I remember that the first Captain Midnight on Saturday morning TV was just a guy in a flight jacket who introduced old movies, mostly Zorro movie serials. I remember that this brief appearance (in which the Captain touted the health benefits of Ovaltine) whetted my appetite not for the drink (which was pretty foul in its original form) but for more Captain Midnight.

In 1953, the full half hour adventures began, starring Richard Webb as Captain Midnight. This show’s variation on the adventure series trio was the action hero Captain, the scientist Tut/aka Aristotle Jones (Olan Soule), and the comic relief sidekick mechanic, Ichabod Mudd (Sid Melton.) I remember the opening of the show, the dome of the Secret Squadron Headquarters, and especially the little radios/communicators they used to keep in touch, using the Secret Squadron code names: “SQ1 to SQ2, SQ1 to SQ2…”

Captain Video and Captain Midnight had a lot of similarities, and I’m not enough of a scholar of them to know which first had that secret mountain hq, or counted on the kids in the audience to be part of the Secret Squadron or the Video Rangers (though Captain Video was on TV first, Captain Midnight had been on the radio since 1938.)

But that sense of participation was real, not just as a marketing device, but as a way to identify with that world, and with Captain Midnight, his heroism and the ideals of the Secret Squadron (“Justice Through Strength and Courage.”—the motto the Captain often repeated, which was also on our ID cards.)

That identification extended to the actor playing Captain Midnight—a phenomenon that was strikingly common. “I believe in Captain Midnight,” Richard Webb would say years later, and he indicated that the Captain’s qualities of efficiency, bravery and patriotism would guide his own life during troubled times. It’s worth mentioning that Webb had been a real Captain in World War II.

He pointed out that Captain Midnight was a role model for young viewers in changing times, and he’s right, especially in combination with all the other Saturday Morning sci-fi heroes mentioned here.

After the episodes filmed in that 1.5 years had been used up, Ovaltine dropped Captain Midnight, but the series went into syndication with a different title: Jet Jackson. It just wasn’t the same.

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