|Network - Day - Time
|October 2, 1950 - December 29, 1950
|CBS, Mon/Wed/Fri 6:45 - 7:00 P.M
|January 1, 1951 - September 26, 1952
|ABC, Mon/Wed/Fri 6:30 - 6:45 P.M.
|July 1951 - September 1951
|NBC, Saturday, 7:00 - 7:30 P.M.
|August 29, 1953 - May 22, 1954.
|DuMont Network, Alternate Saturdays
|December 11, 1954 - June 25, 1955
|NBC, Saturday mornings
Tom Corbett: (Frankie Thomas) Stand by to raise ship! Blast off minus five
Announcer:As roaring rockets blast off to distant planets (Beck)
and far flung stars, we take you to the age of the conquest of
THE SHIP: The Polaris
There was probably no introduction more stirring than the one used to introduce the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet shows to its viewers and listeners in the early 1950's. The deep, thrilling tones of Jackson Beck, the catchy marching tune, the quick sharp harmonics of the organ that punctuated the countdown. Tom Corbett, through most of its TV career had it all; good writing, excellent costumes and sets, the best live visuals in television, and a superb cast. Even the original 15 minute format was a plus, building within its limited framework a brisk pace with many sustaining and suspenseful moments.
Corbett, of all the kids space exploration shows has the most unique broadcasting history. It may have been the only TV program to ever broadcast live over all four major networks (Dumont being the fourth). Twice the show went into a hiatus of eleven months and five months, only to come back as strong as ever. Even as late as 1957 the show was again being considered for revival after being off the air for more than 18 months.
The merchandising and ad agencies behind the show certainly were a factor in the success of the show, and indeed the success of the many items of merchandise gave us the pulse of the success of the show. Tom Corbett made inroads into every possible merchandising area imaginable: books, comics, comic strips, toys, premiums, records, games, and other items. Only Captain Video managed to monopolize one area that Tom Corbett didn't reach: the silver screen with the making of the Captain Video twelve chapter serial play.
Yet, strangely enough, the show was probably the most "earthbound" of all the kids space exploration programs. The story editors built the show around situations with which the audience was totally familiar, throwing them in the future and outer space. The crew of the Polaris seldom traveled outside the Solar System, and seldom encountered a true alien being during the five year history of the show. Much of the action centered around problems encountered at the Space Academy, or while in training aboard the Polaris. While in training manuevers the Polaris crew might encounter a meteor shower, an engine malfunction, a lost spaceman, a sick crew member, or a rescue mission. Once in a while the crew might struggle against space pirates, claim grabbers, killers, escaped convicts, colony upraisings, and mutinies in outer space. And on occassions the cadets where asked to become a courier service in delivering vaccines, emergency supplies or secret documents to one of the other planets or their sattelites.
Some of the best action centered around Space Week, used several times during the series, in which various crews of the Space Academy vied against each other for top honors, and the prestige of being acknowledged as the reigning winners as the best crew at the Academy. Highlighting the contests were races; in outer space, in space suits, or amongst the various vessels, including the Polaris, Vulcan, Ceres, and Pallas crews. The crew of the Vulcan, headed by Cadet Eric Raddison (Frank Sutton) was a primary advisary of the Polaris crew. Tensions were especially livid between Eric and Roger Manning. Coordinated Space manuevers were also an opportunity for new encounters in outer space between the Polaris and Vulcan crews, causing some volatile and classic conflicts during the programs too brief history.
The producers readily borrowed their themes from old westerns, and stories of the early pioneers, their subjects were culled from boy's books and magazines, and the movies that the young boys in their audience had favored for the past 50 years. The Space Academy was a school for young men at about highschool or early college level, a school of the future, and from this point the building of all their story themes were easy; the writers wrote about pioneers, rescue missions, and discovery, and about the problems of young men and their peers in this future world.
I must confess that I've always liked my science fiction full of robots and mutants and aliens of indescribable description, and that is why I enjoyed STAR TREK and STAR WARS, and why I'm enjoying DR. WHO now. And while Tom Corbett was striving away from the above, and toward beleivability, it still became my favorite show in the early 1950's, and I'm sure it was the characterization of the shows main actors that did it for me.
The portrayal of Roger Manning by Jan Merlin was powerful and important. When Merlin left the show I felt that it signaled the beginning of the end of the shows success. The schoolyard conflicts between Roger and Astro with Tom acting as mediator was classic, and the kids in the audience related to this more than anything. It was an important piece of today in tomorrow. The character of Roger was an easy referrant point for the viewers. He was not unlike the schoolyard bully, the loudmouth, the braggart. But Merlin's interpretation was deeper, for Roger, unlike most bullies and braggarts, was lovable. He was a rogue, always quick to boast of his accomplishments and downgrade those of Tom and Astro, but he was also hiding a soft heart, and a courage that he often tried to disguise with the hard callus of bravado.
As complicated as the Roger character was, the Astro character was deep. Born of terran parents on the planet Venus, Astro comes to earth almost like a stranger in a strange land. Quiet, sometimes brooding, Astro is the anticendant of Spock, lacking only the self-controlled, scientific mind of our halfVulcan friend. The AstTo character as portrayed by Al Markim is clearly that of an introvert, a person not always sure of his true worth and talents. Almost humorless, Astrols quick temper would often succumb to the jibes of Roger Manning. Astro was a born engineer, strong, good with his hands, and not always able to handle the harmless repartee of Roger, except with his fists. Except for Roger, Astro would have been the easy going frontiersman, an innocent, not aware of the bullies, tyrants, pranksters, and hoodlums. Astro may have been an alien of sorts, but he, most of all represented us. His role was the one that was easiest for us to associated with, and that was his strength.
And finally there was Tom Corbett as portrayed by Frankie Thomas, probably the most difficult roll of all, and played by a master. Frankie Thomas must have had all the qualities of Tom Corbett, and it was easy to see why he was the star, and why Tom Corbett was the focal point of the show. Corbett was a leader, full of ideas, easy going, smooth, happy, strong, cool, handsome and popular; the kid everyone looked up to. He exuded confidence and leadership. Corbett was the natural pilot of the Polaris, and when it came to book work and execution behind the controls, Corbett had no peers. But occasionally even Roger could get to him, and Tom would blow his stack -- er, jets.
Frankie Thomas possessed an extraordinary screen presence. He had all the poise and self confidence of a Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, or Clint Eastwood. He was born to be a leading man, and just as it seemed Basil Rathbone was born to play Sherlock Holmes, Thomas was born to play Corbett, and Corbett would be his most famous roll. Frankie Thomas was never adequately used in Hollywood, though his credentials as a stage star were superior to most who made the jump from the stage to the Hollywood film factories. Frankie Thomas's movie credits include Tim Tyler's Luck, and several Nancy Drew films. He also appeared in The Major and the Minor, and several "Little Tough Guys" films.
When the program moved over to NBC in December 1954 it was without Jan Merlin. He was replaced in the Polaris crew by T.J. Thistle, as portrayed by the talented Jackie Grimes, who had already had a journeyman career in radio and television playing in such shows as Henry Aldrich and Superman. But somehow the Thistle part did not come off as successfully. The basic idea seemed to be that Thistle bore a chip on his shoulder because of his size, and this story idea culminated in the episode entitled "A Mighty Mite", which was the first of the Tom Corbett episodes to become available on video tape.
The Kraft people clearly did not give Corbett the same budget priorities as it did its landmark KRAFT VIDEO THEATER. Use of sets were often minimal, and the series was hurt, I think by a watered down introduction without the use of the talents of Jackson Beck.
The last Tom Corbett show was broadcast on June 25, 1955, and the TV Guide listing for that date indicates that the boys finally graduate from the Space Academy. As yet a kinney of this show is not available to confirm their graduation, and for all we know "the boys" may still be at the Space Academy struggling through the trials and tribulations of all boys; growing up, becoming men in the last and greatest frontier of all. Frankie Thomas does recall the last line used on the show. When asked by his fellow cadets where they're headed as he rev's up the motors of the Polaris, Tom Answers ..... further than we've ever gone before".
The following show summaries were "gleaned " from several of Joe Sarno's Space Academy Newsletters. As research continues, more summaries with dates will be added. Thanks again to Joe Sarno, Wade Williams and Terry Harms.
|NBC-Summer Re-runs July 7, 1951 to September 1, 1951
|DuMont Network: August 29,1953 - May 22, 1954
|NBC Network: December 11, 1954 to June 25, 1955
|THE FINAL TEST- Script of last TC television show
Tom Corbett Home Page