Captain Video and His Video Rangers

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Captain Video and His Video Rangers
Captain Video title card.JPG
Genre Science fiction
Created by Lawrence Menkin
James Caddigan
Written by Damon Knight
James Blish
Jack Vance
Arthur C. Clarke
Isaac Asimov
Cyril M. Kornbluth
Milt Lesser
Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Robert Sheckley
J. T. McIntosh
Robert S. Richardson
Maurice C. Brachhausen (M. C. Brock)
Starring

Richard Coogan
Al Hodge


Don Hastings
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Production
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 24 mins. (1949-53)
15 mins. (1953-55)
Release
Original network DuMont
Picture format Black-and-white
Audio format Monaural
Original release June 27, 1949 (1949-06-27) – April 1, 1955 (1955-04-01)
Chronology
Related shows The Secret Files of Captain Video

Captain Video and His Video Rangers was an American science fiction television series aired on the DuMont Television Network, and was the first series of its genre on American television.

The series aired between June 27, 1949, and April 1, 1955, originally on Monday through Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, and then Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET. A separate 30-minute spinoff series called The Secret Files of Captain Video, aired Saturday mornings, alternating with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, from September 5, 1953, to May 29, 1954, a total of 20 episodes.

Researcher Alan Morton estimates there was a total of 1,537 episodes (counting the 20 Saturday morning episodes), although only several of them exist after the destruction of the original broadcasts, which was commonplace at that time. Sponsors included Post Cereals, Skippy Peanut Butter, DuMont-brand television sets and Power House candy bars. Premiums sold via the show included a flying saucer ring, a "secret seal" ring, cast photos, electronic goggles, a "secret ray gun," a rocket ship key chain, decoders, membership cards, and a set of 12 plastic spacemen.

Overview[edit]

Don Hastings (left) and Al Hodge (right)

The long-running series, set in Earth's distant future, tracked the adventures of a group of fighters for truth and justice, known as The Video Rangers. They were led by Captain Video (no first name ever was mentioned). The Video Rangers operated from a secret base on a mountaintop whose location was unspecified. Their uniforms resembled U.S. Army surplus with lightning bolts sewn on. Captain Video had a teenage companion known only as The Video Ranger. The Captain received his orders from "The Commissioner of Public Safety," (surname Carey) whose responsibilities took in the entire solar system as well as human colonies on planets around other stars.

Captain Video was the first adventure hero explicitly designed by DuMont's "idea man" Larry Menkin for early live television. One of its most iconic episodes, widely written about in metropolitan New York newspapers, was titled "I TOBOR." The robot was an important recurring character, and represented the first appearance of a robot in live televised science fiction. Its original manufacturer's name was "ROBOT I," but the stencil with its name inadvertently was applied backward to create the enigmatic name. The robot was played by actor David Ballard, who stood 7-feet, 6-inches tall.

Other villains included Doctor Pauli, the "wily Oriental" Hing Foo Sung, and Nargola, played by neophyte actor Ernest Borgnine before he went on to become an iconic stage and Oscar-winning ("Marty") film actor. Researcher Don Glut estimated that, in all, about 300 different villains appeared on the show at one time or another.

"Captain Video" was broadcast live five to six days a week, and was popular with children and adults. It even earned a special mention in an episode of the phenomenally popular Jackie Gleason sitcom series "The Honeymooners" in which the character Ed Norton wore a space helmet while watching the show.[1]

Because of the large adult audience, the usual network broadcast time of the daily "Captain Video" series was 7 to 7:30 p.m. EST, leading off the "prime evening" time block and giving parents a chance to get home from work before the show began. For its last two seasons the show still aired at 7 p.m. ET, but was reduced to 15-minute segments.

Despite its popularity, throughout its run the production was hampered by a very low budget. Until 1953, Captain Video's live adventures occupied only 20 minutes of each day's 30-minute program time. To fill out the rest and save money, about 10 minutes into each episode a "Video Ranger communications officer" popped in to show about seven minutes of old cowboy movies described by the otherwise-extraneous officer "Ranger Rogers" as the adventures of Captain Video's "undercover agents" on Earth. No explanation ever was offered to viewers as to why these paddings were used.

In reality, the reason was that the Westerns originally had been purchased by the DuMont channel/network to be shown in their entirety, and hosted by Captain Video, but the format was flip-flopped to become a show about Captain Video occasionally interrupted by clips from the old Westerns. Despite the incongruity of mixing the two genres, it was done so the cash-strapped channel would not waste the money spent acquiring the broadcast rights to the Westerns.

A spinoff series, "The Secret Files of Captain Video," aired on Saturdays from September 5, 1953, to May 29, 1954, alternating with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Each of the 20 half-hour episodes told a complete story.[2]

Jim Caddigan, DuMont program director, reportedly came up with the series after watching the Captain Marvel movie serial, and told his writers to come up with a Captain Video-type character of their own. The stories originally were Earth-bound. mostly taking place in Captain Video's headquarters due to budgetary restrictions. However, when the "Buck Rogers" TV show was announced by ABC, DuMont moved Captain Video's adventures out into space to compete. Little did they know the "Buck Rogers" show would be cancelled within a few months.

In early episodes, Captain Video's opponent was Doctor Pauli (played by Hal Conklin, a writer-actor best known for making dozens of short films in the 1920s and '30s). The Doctor Pauli character was an inventor who wore gangster-style pinstriped suits, and spoke with the snarl of a movie Nazi or Soviet. Like the last few theatrical serials, the television series' plots often involved inventions created by Captain Video or the evil genius, but obviously made from hardware store odds-and-ends with much double-talk regarding their fantastic properties.

The series originally was broadcast from a studio in the building occupied by the famous Philadelphia department store Wanamaker's, and the production crew simply would go downstairs for props, often just a few minutes before airtime. Originally, only three Rangers were seen on camera -- The Video Ranger, Ranger Rogers the communications officer;\, and Ranger Gallagher. (They also were the only Rangers seen in the 1951 film serial version of the series.) As the budget increased, a larger roster of Rangers briefly was seen on TV. According to Variety, the female lead was played by Norma Lee Clark.[3]

Captain Video eventually had the use of three different spaceships. In the first ship, the X-9 (later replaced briefly by the X-10), the crew at takeoff lay upon tilted bunk beds on their elbows, a posture based upon space travel theories of the time. Later, the V-2 rocket-like ship named "Galaxy" had an aircraft-style cockpit with reclining seats. The Captain's final spacecraft, after early 1953, was the "Galaxy II."

The other space adventure series of the period were "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet," (DuMont), also broadcast live from New York City, and Space Patrol (ABC), broadcast live from Los Angeles. There were some plot similarities among the three. At times, for example, Space Patrol seemed to be doing a West Coast recreation of Captain Video's latest adventure.

Al Hodge, who had portrayed the role of Britt Reid, "The Green Hornet" on radio, is the Captain Video most original viewers of the series remember (1950–1955) even though the original Captain Video was played by Richard Coogan, who played the role for 17 months. Conversely, The Video Ranger was played during the entire run of then show by teenaged Don Hastings, who later became a longtime soap opera star on "As the World Turns."

During commercial breaks, DuMont aired special "Video Ranger messages." They ranged from public service spots on morality and civics to advertisements for Video Ranger merchandise.[4]

Many premiums were offered by sponsors of the show, including space helmets -- which received a boost when, as aforementioned, actor Art Carney's Ed Norton character wore one on an episode of The Honeymooners, secret code guns, flying saucer rings, decoder badges, photo-printing rings, and Viking rockets complete with launchers. A clip of in-show advertising can be seen on YouTube.[5]

Production[edit]

Even for its time, when early television productions often were thrown-together affairs, the quality of the show often is considered crude or low-budget,[6] owing much to the fact that the show was done live and DuMont had a meager budget to work with. A laudatory review by comic author Dave Barry referenced the "Captain Video Rocket Ring," a promotional tie-in piece of merchandise distributed via Power House candy bars, saying that the ring "seemed to have a higher production value than the actual TV show."[7]

In the early days of the series, the show featured often incoherent scripts, along with jarring plot shifts to old cowboy movies. This led to derision of the show by the critics of the day, although it always was wildly popular with kids and many adults.[8] This improved after 1952 when scripts began being written by such major science fiction writers active at the time as Damon Knight, James Blish, Jack Vance and Arthur C. Clarke. These late scripts displayed more intelligence, discipline and imagination than most of the other children's sci-fi series scripts of the era. Other well-known authors who occasionally wrote for the program included Isaac Asimov, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Milt Lesser, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Robert Sheckley, J. T. McIntosh and Robert S. Richardson. One of the more prolific writers for the show was Maurice C. Brachhausen—who wrote under the name M.C. Brock, and later had his own production company, Brock Video Productions.

Throughout the run of the series, it had a meager budget despite its success with the general public. in fact, according to most records, T=the show's "prop budget" was a miserly $25 per week.

Few special effects were evident until the team of Russell and Haberstroh was hired in September 1952. For the rest of the program's episodes, they provided effective model and effects work, prefilmed in 16 mm format and cut into the live broadcast as needed.

The show's theme song was Richard Wagner's "Overture to The Flying Dutchman". Captain Video's "mountaintop headquarters" was a drawing on a 4 X 4' piece of cardboard on an easel. The "Opticon Scillometer" gadget was made out of a car muffler, a mirror, a spark plug and an ashtray. The interior of Captain Video's spaceship, the Galaxy, was made entirely of cardboard with the instruments and dials painted onto the cardboard.

The actors were paid so little they actually made more money from appearing in character at supermarket openings, county fairs and the like than they did from their salaries. The original star Richard Coogan left the show in 1950 partially because the show's producers refused to cut in the cast members for a percentage of the licensing dollars from the sale of Captain Video merchandise. Bram Nossen, who played Dr. Pauli, dropped out in 195, after suffering a nervous breakdown from having to appear on TV six days a week, was replaced by Hal Conklin, and in 1954 Stephen Elliott assumed the role. The jarring change in actors who looked nothing like each other was explained by saying that the villainous Dr. Pauli had undergone plastic surgery to outwit Captain Video.

The series is mentioned in the first of the 39 standalone episodes of The Honeymooners, "TV or Not TV." As noted, "Honeymooners" character Ed Norton was a fan of the show. Prominent U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson once delayed a scheduled TV announcement until after Captain Video had aired because he feared everyone would be watching that show.

The series is also prominently mentioned in Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Lacuna (2009). After the protagonist, author Harrison William Shepherd, is persecuted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, his stenographer and friend Violet Brown observes, "After the hearing he'd stopped writing, for good he said. Instead he bought a television set and let its nonsense rule his days. Mook the Moon Man comes on at four, and so on." She adds, "He was so changed by then, even his looks. Whatever used to show up for its workaday there inside him, it had shut off the lights and gone on home. He was fagged out in the chair as usual, in his old gray flannels, smoking, never taking his eyes off the set. 'Captain Video' was on, some underwater band of thieves fighting. They had Al Hodge by the neck, fixing to drown him." The scene Violet describes portends later developments in the novel.

DVD release[edit]

Four episodes of Captain Video and His Video Rangers were released on Region 0 DVD by Alpha Video on November 25, 2008.[9] It is thought that these are the last 4 remaining episodes in existence, except for 24 episodes owned by the UCLA Film and Television Archive,[10] only viewable as part of a showing within the archive building. Some of these prints also contain an episode of Marge and Jeff, a weekday sitcom which aired after Captain Video during the 1953-1954 TV season.

Other media[edit]

Columbia Pictures made a movie serial, starring Judd Holdren, under the name Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere (1951). However, it displayed only marginally better sets and props than its TV inspiration. Some special effects were accomplished with cel animation, inspired by earlier use in another, successful serial from the same studio, Superman (1948). Columbia's movie serial was the only time a serial was based on a television program. Tom Corbett and Space Patrol were also heard on the ABC Radio Network. However, since DuMont had no affiliated radio network, DuMont never provided a radio version of Captain Video's adventures.

Six issues of a "Captain Video" comic book were published by Fawcett Comics in 1951. The rival space adventure programs Tom Corbett and Space Patrol shortly thereafter had their own comic books as well. Some of these comics were used as the basis for a British TV Annual, a hardcover collection produced in time for Christmas, which also made the claim that man would venture into space in 1970 and would reach the moon by 2000.

Legacy[edit]

A screen shot of Captain Video in progress

Captain Video comes close to being a lost series. Only five 30-minute episodes, three featuring Richard Coogan and two featuring Al Hodge, have been available to the public on home video.

DuMont's film archive, consisting of kinescope (16 mm) and Electronicam (35 mm), was destroyed in the 1970s by Metromedia, the broadcast conglomerate that was the successor company to DuMont, thus dooming nearly all of its pioneering TV series to oblivion.[11][12] To date, the person or persons responsible for ordering the destruction of the kinescopes and other recordings remains unknown.

As a result of there being so few surviving episodes, it is not clear what time period the series is set in. The Fawcett comic adventures are supposed to take place during the time of publication, in 1951. However, the stories in the surviving kinescopes could take place in 1950, as when Dr. Pauli plots to rob a bank in Shanghai, or centuries into the future, as when Captain Video seeks to establish a reliable mail service for far-flung interstellar (or at least interplanetary) colonies (depicted in a surviving episode generally called "Chauncey Everett") or struggles to prevent the many space stations circling Pluto from being destroyed by an approaching comet. Later episodes' television listings would seem to indicate that Captain Video and other characters on the show were indeed capable of routine interstellar travel.

References in other media[edit]

The series is briefly referenced in the 1955 movie The Seven Year Itch."

Humor columnist Dave Barry fondly reminisces about watching Captain Video's encounters with classically inept adversaries in the introduction to his tongue-in-cheek cultural study Dave Barry Does Japan.

The show was mentioned in Stephen King's 1986 novel It, during Eddie Kaspbrak's memory interlude of the Shoe Store in Chapter 3.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "TV or not TV". The Honeymooners. Season 1. Episode 1. October 1, 1955. CBS. 
  2. ^ "Episode list for The Secret Files of Captain Video". IMDB.com. Retrieved 2016-06-06. 
  3. ^ Hofler, Robert (11 November 2002). "Norma Lee Clark (obit)". Variety. Retrieved 6 June 2016. 
  4. ^ Weinstein, David (2004). The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 75. ISBN 1-59213-245-6. 
  5. ^ "YouTube". Youtube.com. Retrieved 6 June 2016. 
  6. ^ Cassutt, Michael (2006-12-18). "The Cassutt Files: The Canon". SciFi.com. Archived from the original on 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  7. ^ "Gemstone Publishing Toy Guide". Gemstone Publishing. 2003. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  8. ^ Hamburger, Philip (1951-12-21). "Captain Video". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  9. ^ "Alpha Video - Captain Video and His Video Rangers". Oldies.com. Retrieved 2015-03-15. 
  10. ^ "The DuMont Television Network Historical Website: Appendix Five". Dumonthistory.tv. Archived from the original on 2015-08-17. Retrieved 2016-06-06. 
  11. ^ Adams, Edie (March 1996). "Television/Video Preservation Study: Los Angeles Public Hearing". National Film Preservation Board. Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-09-24. 
  12. ^ GRACE, ROGER M. (May 29, 2003). "‘Day in Court’, ‘Winchell-Mahoney Time,’ Du Mont Shows: Not to Be Seen Again". Metropolitan News Enterprise. Los Angeles, CA: Metropolitan News Company: 15. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • David Weinstein, The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004) ISBN 1-59213-245-6
  • Alex McNeil, Total Television, Fourth edition (New York: Penguin Books, 1980) ISBN 0-14-024916-8
  • Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, Third edition (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964) ISBN 0-345-31864-1
  • Ted Bergmann and Ira Skutch, The DuMont Television Network: What Happened? (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002) ISBN 0-8108-4270-X
  • Jeff Kisseloff, The Box: An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961 (New York: Viking, 1995) ISBN 0-670-86470-6
  • Gary Newton Hess, An Historical Study of the DuMont Television Network (New York: Ayer Publishers, 1979) ISBN 0-405-11758-2
  • Don Glut and Jim Harmon, The Great Television Heroes (New York: Doubleday, 1975) ISBN 0-385-05167-0 Chapters 1 and 5

External links[edit]