Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy
Charles Flynn as Jack Armstrong, 1943
|Genre||Juvenile adventure serial|
|Running time||15 minutes|
|Air dates||July 31, 1933 to June 1, 1950
(Armstrong of the SBI: September 5, 1950-June 28, 1951)
Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy was a radio adventure series which maintained its popularity from 1933 to 1951. The program originated at WBBM in Chicago on July 31, 1933, and was later carried on CBS, then NBC and finally ABC.
Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy was a creation of General Mills, a pioneer in the development of unique and compelling advertising under the stewardship of Vice-president of Advertising, Samuel Chester Gale. Gale later served as President of the Ad Council. Intending to promote breakfast cereal Wheaties, Gale developed the character of Jack Armstrong as a fictitious "everyboy" whom listeners would emulate: If Jack ate Wheaties, boys across the nation would, too. Early popularity led to commissioning of a radio serial broadcast.
Only the adventures were a product of Gale's imagination. There was a real Jack Armstrong, a member of Sam Gale's college fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa at the University of Minnesota. Gale met Jack while serving as a young advisor to the fraternity, and being impressed by both the red-blooded name and the "wholesome nature" of the young man, he incorporated it as the name of his new invented spokesman. The adventures which captivated listeners each week were entirely fictitious, and led to good-natured ribbing throughout Armstrong's life. Another creation of Sam Gale's fertile mind was the iconic Betty Crocker.
The radio serial maintained its popularity from 1933 to 1951. The storylines centered on the globe-trotting adventures of Armstrong (played by Jim Ameche until 1938 and later portrayed by Michael Rye), a popular athlete at Hudson High School, his friends Billy Fairfield and Billy's sister Betty, and their Uncle Jim, James Fairfield, an industrialist. Frequently, Uncle Jim Fairfield would have to visit an exotic part of the world in connection with his business, and he would take Jack Armstrong and the Fairfield siblings along with him. Many of the adventures provided listeners with the equivalent of a travelogue, providing facts about the lands they were visiting. The show was created by writer Robert Hardy Andrews. Sponsored throughout its long run by Wheaties, the program was renamed Armstrong of the SBI when Jack graduated from high school and became a government agent in the final season, when it shifted from a 15-minute serial to a half-hour complete story format. Throughout its broadcast span, the program offered radio premiums that usually related to the adventures in which Jack and his friends were involved.
In the Jack Armstrong movie serial of 1947, ace science whiz Armstrong (John Hart) must free his friend from an island fortress after he is kidnapped by a villain who wants his help in building a death ray.
That same year the Parents Institute began publishing their Jack Armstrong comic book which had a 13-issue run. Leslie N. Daniels, Jr. wrote the Big Little Book, Jack Armstrong and the Ivory Treasure (1937). Daniels' tale was based on a 1937 Talbot Mundy radio script which Mundy had first written as his novel The Ivory Trail (1919).
A short Jack Armstrong animated TV pilot was developed by Hanna-Barbera for a proposed television series. However, when negotiations for rights to the characters collapsed, the planned series was reworked into what became the animated adventure Jonny Quest (1964). Some of the Jack Armstrong footage survived in the closing credits for Jonny Quest. Timothy Bottoms portrayed Jack Armstrong in the action-adventure film, American Hero (1997).
Jack Armstrong entered the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.
- Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Pp. 352-353.
- Rand, Frank Prentice; Ralph Watts; James E. Sefton (1993). All The Phi Sigs - A History. Self-published, Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity. pp. 270–275.
- "Voiceover actor Michael Rye dies at 94, Bridged the generations from radio to videogame work". Variety Magazine. 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "Was that 'Jack Armstrong' film ever broadcast?", at Classic Jonny Quest FAQ, retrieved 2013-11-27.