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 (1949-1950)
Al Hodge (1950-1955)
Don Hastings as the Video Ranger
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 24 mins. (1949-53)
15 mins. (1953-55)
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)
Related shows The Secret Files of Captain Video

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

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

All told, researcher Alan Morton estimates there were a total of 1,537 episodes (counting the 20 Saturday morning episodes), although only 4 or 5 of them still exist. Sponsors included Post Cereals, Skippy Peanut Butter, DuMont TV 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 space men.


Don Hastings (left) and Al Hodge (right)

Set in the distant future, the series followed the adventures of a group of fighters for truth and justice, the Video Rangers, led by Captain Video. The Rangers operated from a secret base on a mountain top. Their uniforms resembled United States Army surplus with lightning bolts sewn on.

The Captain had a teen-age companion who was known only as the Video Ranger. Captain Video received his orders from the Commissioner of Public Safety, 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. "I TOBOR" the robot was an important, semi-regular character on the program, and represents the first appearance of a robot in live televised science fiction; the character's name was actually supposed to be "ROBOT I", but the stencil with its name was applied to its costume backwards. Tobor was played by Dave Ballard.

Other villains (other than Dr. Pauli) included Hing Foo Sung (the "wily Oriental"), and Nargola (played by Ernest Borgnine). Researcher Don Glut estimated that in all, about 300 different villains appeared on the show at one time or another.

The show was broadcast live five to six days a week and was popular with both children and adults. Because of the large adult audience, the usual network broadcast time of the daily series was 7 to 7:30 p.m. EST, leading off the "prime evening" time-block. For the last two seasons the show still aired at 7 p.m. ET, but was 15 minutes long. The production was hampered by a very low budget, and the Captain did not originally have a space ship of his own.

Until 1953, Captain Video's live adventures occupied 20 minutes of each day's 30-minute program time. About 10 minutes into each episode, a Video Ranger communications officer showed about 7 minutes of old cowboy movies. These were described by the communications officer, Ranger Rogers, as the adventures of Captain Video's "undercover agents" on Earth. The westerns had been purchased by DuMont to be shown originally in their entirety, hosted by Capt. Video, but later the format was changed to a show about Capt. Video occasionally interrupted by clips from the old western movies, just so they wouldn't waste the money they had spent acquiring the broadcast rights to the westerns.

A spinoff series, The Secret Files of Captain Video, ran from September 5, 1953 to May 29, 1954 on alternate Saturdays with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Each of these 20 30-minute broadcasts told a complete story.[1]

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

Captain Video's early opponent was Dr. Pauli, played by Hal Conklin, an inventor who wore gangster-style pinstripe suits, but 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, Dr. Pauli, but obviously made from hardware store odds and ends, with much double-talk regarding their fantastic properties. The series was originally broadcast from a studio in the building occupied by Wanamaker's department store, and the production crew would simply go downstairs for props, often just a few minutes before air-time. Originally, only three Rangers were seen on camera: The Video Ranger; Ranger Rogers, the communications officer; and Ranger Gallagher. (These were also the only Rangers seen in the 1951 film serial version of the series.) As the budget increased, a larger roster of Rangers was briefly seen on TV. According to Variety, the female lead was played by Norma Lee Clark.[2]

Captain Video eventually had the use of three different space ships. 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 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 suspicious plot similarities between the three — at times, 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). However, the original Captain Video was Richard Coogan, who played the role for 17 months. The Video Ranger was played during the entire run by teen-aged Don Hastings, who later became a soap opera star.

During commercial breaks, DuMont aired special "Video Ranger messages". These ranged from public service spots on morality and civics to advertisements for Video Ranger merchandise.[3] Many premiums were offered by sponsors of the show, including space helmets, 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.[4]


Even for its time, the quality of the show is often considered crude or low-budget,[5] owing much to the fact that the show was done live and DuMont had a meager budget to work with. A laudatory review by Dave Barry referenced the Captain Video Rocket Ring, a promotional tie-in piece of merchandise that was distributed via Power House candy bars, saying that the ring "seemed to have a higher production value than the actual TV show."[6]

In the early days of the series, the show featured often incoherent and nonsensical scripts, along with jarring plot shifts to old cowboy movies. This led to derision of the show by the critics of the day.[7] This improved after 1952 when scripts were written by major science fiction writers active at the time, including 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 Dr. 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.

Few special effects were seen on the series until the team of Russell and Haberstroh was hired in September 1952. For the rest of the program's episodes, they provided surprisingly 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". Capt. Video's "mountaintop headquarters" was a drawing on a 4 X 4' piece of cardboard on an easel. The show's "prop budget" was $25.00 per week.The "Opticon Scillometer" gadget was made out of a car muffler, a mirror, a spark plug and an ashtray. The interior of Capt. Video's spaceship, the Galaxy, was made entirely of cardboard, with the instruments and dials painted onto the cardboard.

The actors on the show were paid so little, they actually made more money from appearing at supermarket openings and county fairs than from their actual salaries. Richard Coogan left the show in 1950 partially because the show's producers refused to even cut the cast members in for a percentage of the licensing dollars from the sale of Capt. Video merchandise. Bram Nossen (who played Dr. Pauli) dropped out in 1950, after suffering a nervous breakdown from having to appear on TV 6 days a week, and had to be replaced by Hal Conklin, and later Stephen Elliott (in 1954). (The jarring change in actors was explained by saying that the villainous Dr. Pauli had undergone plastic surgery to outwit Capt. Video.)

The television series is mentioned in the first of the 39 independent episodes of The Honeymooners, "TV or Not TV". Honeymooners character Ed Norton was a fan of the show. To show how popular the program was, Adlai Stevenson once delayed a TV announcement he was going to make until after Capt. Video had aired that night, because he feared everyone would be watching that show at 7 PM.

The TV 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.[8] 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,[9] 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.


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.[10][11] 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. The Captain Video character was a major plot point in one of the Honeymooners episodes as well (Ed Norton demanding to watch one of the broadcasts while wearing his official Capt. Video helmet).

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.

Mentioned in Stephen King's novel "IT" 1986. During Eddie Kaspbrak's memory interlude of the Shoe Store in Chapter 3.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Episode list for The Secret Files of Captain Video". Retrieved 2016-06-06. 
  2. ^ Hofler, Robert (11 November 2002). "Norma Lee Clark (obit)". Variety. Retrieved 6 June 2016. 
  3. ^ Weinstein, David (2004). The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 75. ISBN 1-59213-245-6. 
  4. ^ "YouTube". Retrieved 6 June 2016. 
  5. ^ Cassutt, Michael (2006-12-18). "The Cassutt Files: The Canon". Archived from the original on 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  6. ^ "Gemstone Publishing Toy Guide". Gemstone Publishing. 2003. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  7. ^ Hamburger, Philip (1951-12-21). "Captain Video". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  8. ^ "Alpha Video - Captain Video and His Video Rangers". Retrieved 2015-03-15. 
  9. ^ "The DuMont Television Network Historical Website: Appendix Five". Retrieved 2016-06-06. 
  10. ^ Adams, Edie (March 1996). "Television/Video Preservation Study: Los Angeles Public Hearing". National Film Preservation Board. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2007-09-24. 
  11. ^ 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. 


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