The Ray Guns of 1950s Space Opera
Although the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon comic strips and radio shows of the 1930s and 1940s first created the market for space adventure, the development of television in the 1950s added a new dimension to this popular preoccupation. The first space TV series was "Captain Video," which began in 1949; then in the 1950s the television screen was virtually invaded by adventurous space heroes like Tom Corbett Space Cadet, Buzz Corry of the Space Patrol, and Rocky Jones Space Ranger. Part of the "cutting edge" of the new information and entertainment technology, these early science fiction television shows often utiilized live broadcasts and innovative special effects to reach audiences in a more immediate way than had radio and newspaper drama. Like the western "horse operas" that were also popular at this time, "space opera" offered visual models for children's action play as well as popularizing the props used by television adventurers.
Among the most popular props used in 1950s space opera were ray guns. At least twelve toy space guns were sold in association with television space adventure shows during this period. Merchandised as premiums or sold as toys in retail stores, these space guns,are among the most beautiful and intersting space toys produced at the time, and they encouraged children to "play along" and more completely identify with their favorite space heroes.
(The information on this page has been gathered from a number of sources. Most notable is the definitive study of Space Opera, the website Solarguard, designed and run by Cadet Ed Pippin. Ed has also contributed images of a number of his own toy guns to be illustrated here as has Cadet Chuck Lassen, who generously checked the text for errors. In addition I have relied on Hakes Price Guide to Character Toy Premiums (1st Edition, Gemstone Publishing, 1996) and Space Adventure Collectibles by T.N. Tumbusch (Tomart Publications, 1996.)
Captain Video, television's first space hero, premiered in June of 1949, beating Buck Rogers by a year. The show was featured on the now defunct Dumont network with Richard Coogan as the Captain, a role taken over in 1951 by Al Hodge, the radio voice of Green Hornet. Captain Video was a master scientist and inventor, and leader of an elite corps known as the Video Rangers. The series, one of the most popular children's shows of its time, was notoriously low-budget, with props made of cardboard or household items, but it featured many wonderful and imaginative futuristic devices like an Opticon Scillometer, a Radio Scillograph, a Cosmic Ray Vibrator and an Atomic Rifle. However, the most important device was a futuristic television called a "Remote Tele Carrier" which allowed the Captain to see anyone, anywhere. In the early days of the show, the Captain often used this device to give himself, and the other actors in the series, a break by switching on the Tele Carrier in order to look in on the "Video Rangers of the Wild West," reruns of old western footage. The series ended its network run in 1955 but was broadcast locally in New York for two years.Sponsors such as Post cereals and Power House candy bars offered many premiums like space vehicles, a helmet, a flashlight and goggles.
Captain Video Ray Guns
The exploration of the solar system was nearly complete by the thirtieth century, creating a need for a universal government system. The leaders of the variaous planets met on Earth and established the United Planets of the Universe.To prevent political conflicts, the United Planets government was located on a man-made planet. This world was known as Terra and contained soil from each of the nine planets in its core.
The Space Patrol was created as the military force for this new system, with Commander Buzz Corry, played by Ed Kemmer, as commander-in-chief. Corry was accompanied by Cadet Happy, girlfriend Carol Carlisle, second in command Major Robertson, and rehabilitated criminal Tonga. Together they confronted such villians as Mr. Proteus, Captain Dagger, the Space Spider, and the evil Black Falcon (Prince Baccarati) in never-ending battle to preserve "right, goodness and justice" in the solar system.
"Space Patrol" was launched on March 13, 1950 when it was broadcast locally on KECA-TV in Los Angeles. Six months later it went national on the ABC television and radio networks. It was one of the more enduring space exploration shows on televeision, and ran until February 26, 1955.
A remarkable array of products was sold under the "Space Patrol" name. Including space suits, helmets, communicators, flashlights, trading cards, comic books, and, of course, ray guns, these items were either offered as toys sold in retail stores or as premiums found in the cereal boxes of Ralston Purina Co., Space Patrol's primary sponsor.
Space Patrol Ray Guns
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet
"Tom Corbett," based on Robert Heinlein's novel Space Cadet , is a story of growing up in the Space Academy. Students in the Academy are separated into groups of three - a command, power, and radar cadet. Each member of the group has his own set of responsibilities. The series follows the adventures and trials of the Polaris Crew, the best unit in the academy. The group is led by command cadet Tom Corbett, a natural leader from New Chicago. Accompanying him on the crew are radar expert Roger Manning, and power cadet Astro.
"Tom Corbett" was first broadcast on television on October 2, 1950 by CBS. Like many shows in the early days of television, the cadets came into your living room for only 15 minutes, 3 days a week. Scheduling for the show was sporadic, and it appeared on four television networks during its five year span (DuMont was the fourth).
"Tom Corbett" became so popular that in addition to the television series the intrepid space cadet appeared in every media form except films during the 1950s. These included eight hard cover books, fourteen comics, a Sunday and daily newspaper strip, and a radio drama.
Merchandising of Tom Corbett material was extensive, including toys, a watch, lunch boxes, space goggles, rings, patches, and ray guns.
Tom Corbett Ray Guns
Blast Off to More Space Opera Adventure!
To discover more information about the classic television space shows of the 1950s, rev up your jets and blast off to the definitive source for the study of Space Opera, Cadet Ed Pippin's website Solar Guard. Here you can learn all that there is to know about Tom Corbett, Space Patrol, Captain Video, and the many other wonderful science fiction shows of the 1950s.
BACK TO GALLERY MAIN PAGE