It's Hard to Lose a Hero
By Dr. Warren Chaney

Heroes 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.

I got 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.

When Space 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 premature demise.

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.

Ed 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?" I questioned.

"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.

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