Hard to Lose a Hero
By Dr. Warren Chaney
are in short supply these days. The world lost one on November 9, 2004.
Edward Kemmer, known to millions of his fans as Commander Buzz Corry, passed away
in New York City. Ed starred in that role during the 50's run of the top rated
television series, Space Patrol. Most of time, heroes of the screen are celluloid
only. I've been a film and television director for 30 years and during that time
I've seldom seen any similarity between an actor's screen image and the actor.
This was not true with Ed Kemmer. Ed Kemmer and Commander Corry were so similar
that it often appeared that only the name changed.
In real life, Ed was
a hero. He was a fighter pilot during World War II and crash landed behind enemy
lines on his 48th combat mission. He escaped and was recaptured and remained a
POW until freed by General Patton's army at the end of the war.
to know Ed some 25 years ago when directing a television network Saturday morning
sci-fi movie. During the filming, the special effects team failed to deliver several
crucial rocket cockpit scenes.
The studio panicked when it learned the
"cockpit" special effects were unable to be filmed. Hearing of it, I
improvised. I had the "blue screen" cut from the cockpit and mounted
a camera on the outside looking in. Actors were put in place and the scenes filmed.
As the space craft veered this way and that, the camera mount tilted and turned,
matching the movement of the actors who were directed to do the same.
The results looked impressive.
"Brilliant," cried the studio
executives. "Impressive," said another, "And, all without the costs
of special effects."
Fortunately, the studio had never seen or didn't
remember, Space Patrol. I was merely duplicating the shots I remembered as a child.
As I drove home, I mused on the "effect" the series had upon my childhood
and adult life. My education, career, and avocations all owe their genesis to
the space opera of my childhood. You can imagine my delight when one of my cast
members informed me that she had worked with Ed Kemmer for several years in the
soap opera, The Guiding Light. She had Ed's address and phone number and soon
arranged for me to meet him.
Having the opportunity to know Ed Kemmer
over the past years has been one of the real delights of my life. Ed was Commander
Corry. He was very much the same person off the screen that he was on. Just as
he'd been a "leader" in the military, he fit the role of a leader of
the Space Patrol. When you work in a world of actors as I do, it's so refreshing
to find a non-actor, actor. If he had any pretense, I never picked up on it. If
there was an out of control ego, I never saw it.
Ed worked his entire
professional life which is no small feat in this business. After Space Patrol
he starred in a number of features and appeared in countless television productions.
He spent the later years of his career as a highly successful lead in the soaps.
Ed was successful because he was a very talented actor. His talent and military
leadership skills were obvious in the Space Patrol series. He easily moved from
television to radio and back to television again. Each media required different
acting skills and Kemmer mastered them all.
Generations later, young
people continue to watch and enjoy Space Patrol. Fifty years later, it can still
grip the imaginations of young people. Yes, the sets and production values are
crude by modern standards but so are most things. Yet, the characterization of
Kemmer's Commander Corry still commands the attention and respect of young people,
new to the show.
My 12 years old son Grayson, grew up on Space Patrol
as have many children of the series early fans. When he learned of Ed's death,
he cried. As I write, he sits on the stairs leading down to my office and is sobbing
quietly. He sits directly below a framed poster from the show.
Patrol suddenly went off the air, I was stunned. It came as a shock to the millions
of children and adults who tuned in every Saturday. The show's ratings had been
quite high for both the television and radio productions. As other sci-fi programs
had shrinking sets and diminished budgets, Space Patrol was just the opposite.
Unfortunately, irreconcilable conflict between ABC and Helen Mosher led to it's
Children saw Space Patrol as an integral part of their
life. Commander Corry was a family member. When the series ended, kids lost their
first important fraternity membership and a loved one. I once remarked to Ed that
when the series went off the air, I didn't think I would ever get over the loss.
As I sit here writing, I realize that I never have.
Kemmer was always kind, considerate, and generous to his legions of fans. He signed
autographs endlessly, answered the same questions over and over with remarkable
enthusiasm, and always posed for pictures whenever asked. His passing will forever
leave an empty space in the lives of the fans who knew him or just viewed him.
Other's will step in and fill his space
but, they will never fill his place.
My son just got up from the stairs and headed toward the kitchen.
"How are you, Grayson?" I asked.
"I'm okay Dad,"
he replied. "It's just hard."
"Getting something to drink?"
"No, Dad," he replied. "I'm gonna eat a
bowl of Wheat Chex."
I joined him and we ate in silence, staring
at a "collector's" box of Chex. For you see, it's hard to lose a hero.