Sunday, October 18, 2009

Captain Video

Set in a very unclear time period
high up in a secret mountaintop
retreat somewhere on Planet Earth,
Captain Video & His Video Rangers
were live broadcasts of the adventures
of this brave group of space police.
Their uniforms were generally suit &
tie with a football helmet, insignia
glued on rather clumsily. The total
budget per show ranged somewhere around
$25- $100.

Captain Video's sidekick was a youngish
fellow known only as The Video Ranger.
Captain Video's boss was the Commissioner
of Public Safety, whose jurisdiction
involved the western sector of the Miky
Way Galaxy.

Captain Video was DuMont Television's
entry into video broadcasts, starting
in 1949, only two years after the first
public tv sets were offered on sale.
Television sets numbered in the hundreds
at this time.

Tobor -- robot backwards -- was a
featured character on the show, and
was definitely the first televised
robot on public channels anywhere.

The show was broadcast live from the
Dumont Studio in the Wanamaker Department
Store building which was on the way
home from school for me when we lived
in Stuyvesant Town, so naturally I stopped
in after school and sat in the kids'
section behind the enormous early tv

Captain Video was as popular with all
ages of viewers, as was I Spy, Get Smart,
Wild Wild West and Man From U.N.C.L.E
during the heyday of the spy shows in
the 1960s.

The show was so popular with adults
that it ran in Prime Time from 7:00
PM to 7:30PM on the Dumont Network,
at what is now news time.

The size of the budget is only apparent
when you note that the curtain separating
the cockpit from the rest of the ship was
at first only a shower curtain from the
housewares department in the Wanamaker
store; the football helmet space gear was
from the sporting goods department, and
many of the props were borrowed from
Wanamaker's and then returned at the end
of the show.

Captain Video's live adventures were
limited during the first three years
to about 20 minutes; Ranger Rogers would
introduce Captain Video's "undercover
agents" and then show a typical Republic
serial featuring cowboys and such.

Dr. Pauli was Captain Video's Moriarty --
he was an insane and malevolent evil
inventor whose inventions always resembled
something you might find in a large retail
department store such as Wanamaker's.
Sometimes they'd take suggestions from us
kids about what to use for Dr. Pauli's
latest invention. I saw several hundred
broadcasts and the prop director was
always appreciative of suggestions from
the Peanut Gallery (yes, I was present at
live broadcasts of Howdy Doody, also, as
well as Magic Cottage, Mr. I Magination,
Kukla Fran & Ollie and more).

The primary spaceship that the producer
settled on was a V-2 style ship called
The Galaxy, since most of the writers on
the show were also writers for my Dad's
science fiction magazine, Galaxy, which
was one of the Big 3 SF magazines of the

Richard Coogan created the role of Captain
Video, and did the broadcast for about a
year and a half. When he left the show to
try his hand at live theater on Broadway,
his replacement was Al Hodge, who continued
the role until the show's cancellation in
1955. Al was a good friend and he and his
wife, who I believe was his second marriage,
used to visit us for dinner with the kids,
who I think were his wife's by another
marriage. Another family friend, Don Hastings,
played the Special Ranger throughout the show's
relatively long life, six years, which was a
record for pioneer tv shows along with the
Milton Berle Show which aired during the
same years.

Ed Norton on the Honeymooners is a
character who is a big fan of Captain
Video, and the show is mentioned on the
Honeymooners in at least two episodes.

Station breaks were peppered with
exhortations toward honor, decency
and ethics, along with live commercials
for various Captain Video products --
the most memorable was the pitch for the
Captain Video Decoder Ring which had not
only a decoder and a signal mirror, but
a compass and a two way lens device that
was...well, I'll let the Video Ranger
tell it:

"...and hey, kids, look through this
end and it's a magnifier! Look through
the other end and it's a SMALLIFIER!"

I never forgot that, and we kids roared
with appreciative laughter as he said
that line!

Early on, there were no scripts --
everything was improvised from a general
story outline, but by the year 1952 scripts
were being written by my Dad's stable of
Galaxy SF writers Damon Knight, James Blish,
Jack Vance, Isaac Asimov, Cyril M. Kornbluth,
Milt Lesser, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Robert
Sheckley, M'Intosh, Evelyn E. Smith, Jerome
Bixby, and one script by my Dad,
Horace L. Gold, in collaboration with me,
at the age of 13, my first script and
collaboration with him, but not by any
means the last.

Russell and Haberstroh added special
effects for the show sometime in 1952
using models and 16mm film effect spots
made at the Bunin Studio uptown, inserted
as required by the script. Morey Bunin
was famous for stop-frame animation but
also did a lot of outside work. I worked
for Hope and Morey Bunin on their production
of Alice in Wonderland, and had the delight
of also working on the set of Foodini at
about that same time. Foodini was a
hand-puppet who performed magic tricks.

It was about this time that I met Senor
Wences, who taught me a few simple tricks
of ventriloquism and how to write a
ventriloquist act. He encouraged me to
make my own vent doll and I did. I made
a minor living at this later on in Los
Angeles on Sunset Strip in the 1960s.

Only seven of the many hundreds of Captin
Video shows are available today, along with
24 more in the UCLA film archives. They
alone survived the destruction of the
entire Dumont Film Archive in the mid-1970s,
in which almost all early television shows
were obliterated forever by MetroMedia,
the company that inherited the film archives.
I was working for MetroMedia at the time,
and quit my job in the mailroom in protest
to their stupid short- sighted action so
reminiscent of the destruction of the
Library of Alexandria but frankly, knowing
those cold-hearted bottom-line bastards,
I don't think they noticed a thing.

ej gold

1 comment:

bardos said...

as i kid i would not fail to watch captain video, one of my favourite shows.