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Jonny Quest

Quest5 Jonny Quest was an animated action series focused on the globe-trotting adventures of US government scientist, Dr. Benton Quest; his 11-year-old son, Jonny; his adopted Indian son, Hadji; family bodyguard, Roger "Race" Bannon; and their pet, black-masked bulldog, Bandit. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and ran on ABC in primetime on Friday nights for one season, 1964-65.  

The Quests had a home compound on a remote island off the coast of Florida, but they spent most of their time flying around the world on various adventures, usually initiated by scientific mysteries that Dr. Quest pursued.  These mysteries often had science fiction elements, from espionage robots to Egyptian mummies to pterosaurs come to life.  They usually involved the work of various villains, like the evil recurring nemesis Dr. Zin, an Asian criminal mastermind.

One of the defining aspects of Jonny Quest was its use of limited animation.  Like the style used in the earlier animated series Clutch Cargo, Hanna-Barbera used this technique in order to cut corners and meet the tighter scheduling and budgetary demands of television. This meant that characters were usually drawn in static form, with just their moving parts, like legs, mouths, and eyes, re-drawn from frame to frame.  When characters had to move, they usually moved from side to side while the background behind them shifted.  Though the animation was relatively static and limited, the people and backgrounds were drawn in a realistic and detailed way, and a sophisticated palette of bright colors was used that made the show look lush and expensive, despite the limited animation.  The jazz music used in the show also added to its air of sophistication.

Jonny Quest was highly controversial because it featured much more realistic violence than other children's cartoons of its day. It became one of the main targets of parental watchdog groups such as Action for Children's Television.  The show was cancelled after only one season, but reruns were broadcast on various networks’ Saturday morning lineups from 1967 to 1972, and highly-edited versions appeared sporadically after that.   Hanna-Barbera later produced a revival called The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, which aired on the Cartoon Network in 1996-97.


You can watch Jonny Quest on DVD on Jonny Quest - The Complete First Season.   


This is the range country where the pounding hooves of untamed horses still thunder in mountains, meadows and canyons. Every herd has its own leader, but there is only one Fury - Fury, King of the Wild Stallions. And here in the wild west of today, hard-riding men still battle the open range for a living - men like Jim Newton, owner of the Broken Wheel Ranch and Pete, his top hand, who says he cut his teeth on a branding iron...  FURY!..The story of a horse..and a boy who loves him.

So began each episode of Fury, a weekly dramatic TV series set in the then contemporary American West, which aired on NBC from 1955-1966 and later in syndication through the 1970's (retitled as Brave Stallion).  Fury starred Peter Graves as Jim Newton, the recently-widowed owner of the Broken Wheel Ranch in California, Bobby Diamond as Jim's adopted son Joey Clark Newton, and William Fawcett as ranch hand Pete Wilkey.    

As depicted in the first episode of the series, Jim Newton first meets orphan Joey Clark when he sees a group of young boys playing baseball in the streets of a small town, and the boys wrongly blame Joey for an errant baseball that breaks a nearby shop window.  Jim attends the court hearing where Joey is to be held responsible for breaking the window and tells the judge, who happens to be a friend of his, that Joey is innocent.  Jim offers to take the orphan Joey home to live with him at the ranch, and the judge lets Joey go free. 

Once at the ranch, Jim introduces Joey to Fury, a captured wild stallion that no one seems able to tame.  Fury seems drawn to Joey as a kindred spirit and allows Joey to ride him.  From then on, Joey and Fury become fast friends.  Subsequent episodes of the show usually revolved around a guest star who would find him or herself in danger, usually due to their own reckless behavior, and Fury and Joey would ride to their rescue.  Jim would also usually play a part in helping to resolve the situation and set things right, even if it meant taking part in a fist fight or two.   

Fury was one of a number of dramatic series in the 1950's, like Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, My Friend Flicka, and Sky King, that were set in the West and involved kids and horses or dogs (or airplanes) rescuing people.  The children in these series were usually orphans or only distantly related to the adults they lived with.  These shows were aimed at a family audience, and they combined action and adventure with clear moral lessons about right and wrong.  The starring adults were depicted as kind and nurturing but also strong and fearless, and always ready to right a wrong, rescue a hapless victim (even if they had gotten themselves into trouble through their own bad judgment), and capture a bad guy.  The kids served as the adults' assistants and apprentices, learning important values and moral lessons along the way.  The horses and dogs in these shows were depicted as proud, innocent, wise, and brave creatures who had a natural bond with children who, unlike some adults, were inherently good and innocent themselves.

Peter Graves, the actor who played ranch owner Jim Newton, later went on to star in other TV series, most notably Mission Impossible.  Sadly, he passed away on March 15, 2010. 

You can watch Fury on DVD in the Fury 2-Pack (Vol. 1 and 2), which includes ten episodes from the original series.   


The Mickey Mouse Club

Who's the leader of the club
That's made for you and me?
M-I-C-K-E-Y   M-O-U-S-E!

In the 1950's, every child in America (and probably every adult as well) instantly recognized this refrain as the beginning of the theme song for The Mickey Mouse Club, another iconic hit show from Walt Disney Productions, which had already launched the popular Disneyland series.  With its debut in 1955, The Mickey Mouse Club, named for the Disney studio's best-known cartoon character, quickly became one of the defining children's TV shows of its day.  It had a variety show format that featured singing, dancing, guest stars, classic Disney cartoons, and continuing serials like The Hardy Boys and Spin and Marty. 

The series aired five days a week, and each day had its own theme:

Monday - Fun With Music Day
Tuesday - Guest Star Day
Wednesday - Anything Can Happen Day
Thursday - Circus Day
Friday - Talent Round-Up Day

The show's most distinctive element was its cast -- a group of wholesome, talented teenagers called the Mouseketeers, who wore mouse-ear hats and sang and danced their way into the hearts of the viewing public.  There were also two adult regulars, "head Mouseketeer" Jimmie Dodd, who had also composed the show's theme song, and "Big Mooseketeer" Roy Williams, a rather rotund staff artist at Disney.   Every episode of the show would start with the Mouseketeer Roll Call, a musical number in which each of the Mouseketeers would announce themselves by name. 

Though many of the Mouseketeers gained name recognition and loyal fans, the most popular Mouseketeer was Annette Funicello, a beautiful and talented teen who was given her own serial on the show and later went on to a successful movie career.  Annette was TV's first real child star.  Her dark Italian features gave her an "ethnic" look that was unusual for TV in those days, which largely favored blond, blue-eyed actors.  In fact, all the Mouseketeers on the original show were white. 

The Mickey Mouse Club ran on ABC from 1955-1959, but was cancelled when ABC and Disney couldn't come to terms for renewal.  Audience demand brought it back in 1962 as a syndicated series in the form of edited half-hour reruns that ran in various markets until 1968.  Disney revived the show in 1977 as The New Mickey Mouse Club, with a disco re-recording of the theme song and a new cast that now featured some minority Mouseketeers.  The new version of the show spawned such stars as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Keri Russell, Kenan and Kel, and Melissa Joan Hart.   

Among the many Mickey Mouse Club DVD collections currently available, I would recommend:

I would also recommend The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book (Paperback), which tells the story of the show from its beginning and traces the careers of some of the best-known Mouseketeers. 

The Wonderful World of Disney

From its debut on ABC in October 1954, through its final telecast on Christmas Eve 2008, the Walt Disney anthology television series commonly known as The Wonderful World of Disney (initiallycalled simply Disneyland) appeared on all three broadcast TV channels at various times under a variety of names, becoming the second-longest-running prime-time program on American television.   Watching the show with my family when I was growing up, I was of course oblivious to Disney's incredibly forward-thinking synergy strategy, with the TV show,  the Disney studio's theatrical films, and the new Disneyland theme park all designed to promote and market each other and strengthen the overall Disney brand.  All I knew was that the show was fun to watch and something that my mom and dad enjoyed watching with me. 

The format was a mixture of cartoons, live-action adventures, documentaries, and nature stories, all initially hosted by the affable Walt Disney himself.  Much of the material came from the Disney studio library, including one-hour edits or multi-part miniseries of recent Disney films.  Unlike the heads of the other major Hollywood movie studios at the time, Disney didn't worry that the new television medium would destroy his movie business.  On the contrary, he understood that he could use his TV show to promote and extend the life of his theatrical releases, and vice versa. 

A good example of this synergy was the huge success of the 3-part miniseries about the historical American frontiersman Davy Crockett that aired under the show's umbrella in 1955.  In the ensuing Davy Crockett craze, the show's theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," became a hit record, and Disney sold millions of dollars of Davy Crockett merchandise.  Every child I knew had a Davy Crockett lunch box, coonskin hat, fringed jacket or pants, or similar paraphernalia.  Then Disney edited the TV episodes into two theatrical films that were quickly released to benefit from and build upon the show's popularity. 

Walt Disney approached both NBC and CBS with his plans for producing a TV series, but he ultimately chose third-place network ABC for the debut of Disneyland, because ABC was willing to give him what he wanted in exchange -- a $500,000 investment in the amusement park he dreamed of opening in Anaheim, California.  ABC executives were desperate to obtain programming that would give them an edge against their two more established rivals, and they were also very interested in attracting the growing family market in those baby-boom years.  ABC's investment paid off quickly, as Disneyland became the network's first series to hit the top ten in ratings.

When the Disneyland theme park opened in July of 1955, ABC aired a live special honoring the new tourist mecca and its founder. Within a year, millions of Disneyland  viewers who had seen the park constantly promoted on the TV show poured into Disneyland.  In its first year, the theme park grossed $10 million.  Walt Disney and his company had shaped two new entertainment forms and interlinked them in a strategy that continued to generate millions of dollars in profits over the ensuing decades.

In this clip from the series' premiere episode, you can see how the show helped to promote both the Disney studio's movie line-up and the planned theme park:

In 1961, Disney moved the show to NBC to take advantage of the fact that it was the first network to broadcast in color.  In another prescient decision, Disney had filmed many of his earlier shows in color, even though they could only air in black and white at the time.  With the move to NBC, he could now repeat these shows in full color.  The series was renamed Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and aired under that name until 1969. 

Walt Disney, an inveterate cigarette smoker, died of lung cancer on December 15, 1966.  The intros he had filmed before he died remained a part of the show for the rest of that season, but the host segment was then dropped.  The series was retitled The Wonderful World of Disney in 1969 and remained popular through the mid-70's.  At that point, however, the show's audiences began to decline, as popular tastes changed and the public began to see the Disney brand as square, uptight, and unhip, qualities that America's youth were turning away from.  

In 1979, in an attempt to revive the series' fortunes, it was retitled Disney's Wonderful World and given a new opening sequence with a computer-generated logo and disco-flavored theme song. 

But growing competition from CBS's new 60 Minutes newsmagazine show combined with frequent preemptions and cancellations by NBC, led to further ratings declines, and NBC cancelled the show in 1981. 

CBS then picked up the program and retitled it simply Walt Disney.  It ran for another two years, until the debut of the Disney Channel on cable TV.  The Disney company then decided that the broadcast show and the fledgling cable channel would cannibalize each other, and production of the program was ended.  However, after a change in management at the Disney company, the series was revived in 1986 under the title The Disney Sunday Movie, with new Disney CEO Michael Eisner as host.  This version of the show had a movie-of-the-week format, featuring family-oriented TV movies produced by the Disney studio, as well as occasional theatrical films.   

The series moved back to NBC in 1988 as The Magical World of Disney, with its original anthology format.  But it did not do well and was cancelled in 1990.  The Disney Channel continued to use The Magical World of Disney as the umbrella title for its Sunday night movies and specials until 1996.  In 1997, after Disney purchased ABC, the series was revived again as The Wonderful World of Disney, airing on Saturday or Sunday evenings until its finale on December 24, 2008, with a telecast of the feature film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Walt Disney's endearing on-screen personality made him an icon of American popular culture.  His television series provided wholesome, high-quality, family-oriented entertainment for generations of viewers.  And his marketing acumen created a multi-media juggernaut that combined television, movies, theme parks, and licensed merchandise into one of the most successful and powerful brands in the world. 

Among the many books and DVD's about the Disney TV series, I suggest the following: 

Walt Disney Treasures - Disneyland USA (1955): A 2-disc DVD set of TV specials for the opening of the Disneyland amusement park, hosted by movie/TV historian Leonard Maltin

Walt Disney Treasures - Your Host, Walt Disney: A DVD compilation of several of the most memorable hours from the Disney TV show

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (Paperback):  An insightful biography of Walt Disney, by Neal Gabler

The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life (Paperback): Part biography and part cultural analysis, an anatomy of Disney's productions and their consumption, by Steven Watts.


The Collectionary is a great place to visit if you collect Disney objects. Link to the Collectionary here.

Clutch Cargo

Clutch Cargo
was an animated show produced by Cambria Productions that debuted on March 9, 1959, as a syndicated series available to local stations around the country.  It stayed on the air through the early 1970's, and could be seen on as many as 65 stations nationwide.

The stories centered around Clutch Cargo, a writer and airplane pilot with a muscular build, white hair and rugged good looks,  who traveled the world (and even outer space) on dangerous assignments.  Clutch was accompanied by his young ward Spinner and his pet dachsund, Paddlefoot, and sometimes by Clutch's grizzled, pith-helmeted friend Swampy.


What made Clutch Cargo special was its unique style of animation, if you could call it that.  In fact, the animation on this series was so limited that it looked more like a series of panels from a comic book.   To save money on production, Cambria developed some clever but cheesy-looking ways to simulate motion.  If there was an explosion, they would shake the camera or the drawing of the scene to make it look like the earth was trembling.  If there was a fire, they would blow real smoke across the drawing.  When characters had to walk or run, they would only be shown from the waist up, to save money and time that would have been spent on showing the character's legs moving. 

But the animation technique that Clutch Cargo is best-remembered for is the way that it showed characters talking.   Using a patented process called Synchro-Vox, the producers filmed the mouths of the live actors speaking the characters' lines and then superimposed the film of the actors' moving lips onto the motionless drawings of the characters' faces.  This resulted in a weird-looking and kind of creepy effect that, combined with the other forms of primitive animation in the series, gave it a truly unique look and feel.   You can still see the Synchro-Vox technique in use today, most notably in the opening to Spongebob Squarepants.  Conan O'Brien used the technique quite often in segments on his former late-night TV show.

Despite, or perhaps because of, its crude animation techniques, Clutch Cargo had a certain charm that helped make it a very successful series.  It was cleverly written and beautifully drawn.  Its musical soundtrack was as limited, and yet as inventive within those limitations, as the animation. Jazz musician Paul Horn provided the score using nothing more than bongo drums, a vibraphone, and a flute.

In all, 52 Clutch Cargo adventures were produced and then serialized in five five-minute chapters each. The first four chapters naturally ended in cliffhangers, with the fifth chapter concluding the adventure. This format allowed local stations to run one chapter a day on weekdays, then recap all five chapters in a half-hour Saturday show.  You can see all five chapters of one continuing episode below.





Clutch Cargo was a very popular show whose content and style influenced many animated series that came later.  It may have been the first television cartoon in the U.S. to emphasize adventure rather than humor.  Its emphasis on dramatic action in exotic locales and its low-budget animation style can be seen in such later series as Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, and the Mighty Mightor


There are some great Clutch Cargo compilations available on DVD, including Clutch Cargo - The Complete Series (Vol. 1),  Clutch Cargo - The Complete Series (Vol. 2), and the Clutch Cargo Cartoon Collection (Vol. 1).

Diver Dan


Debuting in 1960, Diver Dan was a strange and distinctive kids' show that featured two live-action characters and a large cast of fish marionettes.   The show was a continuing serial that was produced as a series of 7-minute shorts that aired in syndication on local stations, mostly NBC affiliates, around the country.  Some stations combined several shorts into half-hour programs.   In New York City, Diver Dan shorts ran as part of Felix & Diver Dan, a 30-minute children's show airing from 1960 to 1962, which also included Felix the Cat

The show looked as if it was taking place underwater by having the camera shoot through an actual aquarium with real live goldfish, which seemed to be mingling with the live actors and fish marionettes.  It featured the adventures of a deep-sea diver in an old-fashioned diving suit with a large bell helmet, who interacted with the passing fish.  There was also a beautiful blonde mermaid, Miss Minerva, a live-action character who spoke to the fish the way that Miss Francis talked to her child audience on Ding Dong School about manners and morals.   Diver Dan and Miss Minerva had a thing for each other, but their relationship didn't progress beyond the stage of mutual attraction.

The puppet cast consisted of a veritable school of fish marionettes with funny pun-like names, including the villainous Baron Barracuda, his dumb henchman Trigger Fish, Finley Haddock, Doc Sturgeon, Georgie Porgy, Gabby the Clam, Gill Espy, Glow Fish, Goldie the Goldfish, Hermit Crab, Sam the Sawfish, Scout Fish, Sea Biscuit the Seahorse, and Skipper Kipper.

The fish marionettes had human voices (all done by Allen Swift, who did the voices on the Howdy Doody Show) and the personalities of stock TV or movie characters.   Baron Barracuda wore a monocle in one eye and spoke in a Transylvanian accent. Trigger Fish, the Baron's accomplice, always had an unlit cigarette jutting from the side of his mouth.  Scout Fish was an ethnic stereotype who carried a tomahawk and spoke in pidgin American-Indian dialect.  Gill-Espy was a bongo-playing beatnik. 

The plot lines generally consisted of Baron Barracuda and Trigger Fish hatching various schemes to take over the bottom of the sea, and being foiled by Diver Dan, Miss Minerva, and the other fish.


Diver Dan was a strange and enchanting show, but because it aired only in syndication, it never got the national exposure that other puppet-based shows like The Howdy Doody Show or Kukla, Fran, and Ollie received.   Nevertheless, the show still has an enthusiastic and dedicated, if small, fan base among former viewers.  Watching videos of the show today, one can't help but see it as a precursor to Sponge Bob Square Pants, right down to its sweetly goofy atmosphere.  

Episodes of the original Diver Dan series are available on DVD in Diver Dan Classic TV Series Collection: Vol. 1 and 2 and Kids TV of the 50's and 60's

The Lone Ranger

"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty "Hi-yo, Silver!"

Who was that masked man?  Of course, it had to be The Lone Ranger, star of a TV series set in the Old West that aired in primetime on ABC from 1949 to 1957 and was hugely popular with both kids and adults.  The Lone Ranger, whose real name on the show was John Reid, was portrayed by actors Clayton Moore and, for a short time,  John Hart, while Jay Silverheels played Tonto, the Lone Ranger's loyal Native-American friend.   

Based on an earlier radio series, the show's premise, which was dramatized in the series' first few episodes, was that John Reid was the only one of six Texas Rangers to survive a canyon ambush  by a murderous gang of criminals.  Reid's childhood friend Tonto comes upon the massacre and discovers Reid is still alive, though just barely. Many years earlier, Reid had rescued Tonto after renegade Indians had murdered his mother and sister and left him for dead. At that time, Reid had given Tonto a horse, and Tonto had insisted that Reid accept a ring. Tonto recognizes Reid by this ring when he comes upon the scene of the ambush.

Tonto takes Reid to safety and nurses him back to health.  Reid vows to devote his life to bringing the killers and others like them to justice.  He decides this will be easier if his identity is hidden, so when Tonto buries the dead Rangers, Reid asks Tonto to dig a sixth grave so people will believe that he, too, died in the ambush.  Unfortunately, one of the gang members returns to the scene and tries to kill Reid and Tonto so he can take Tonto's horse, Scout.  But he falls to his death while trying to drop a rock on Reid, so now Tonto is the only person who knows that Reid is still alive.

Reid and Tonto come upon a magnificent white stallion that has been injured by a buffalo. They nurse the stallion back to health, and Reid adopts the stallion as his mount, calling him Silver. Whenever the Lone Ranger gets read to gallop away on Silver, he shouts, "Hi-yo, Silver! Away!"

Tonto makes Reid a mask out of material cut from the vest of Reid's brother, one of the murdered Texas Rangers, which allows him to create a new identity as the Lone Ranger. He decides to use only silver bullets in his gun, to constantly remind himself that life, like silver, is precious and valuable, and not to be wasted or thrown away.  From that day on, vowing to fight for justice and never to shoot to kill,  the Lone Ranger and Tonto wander the Old West helping people and fighting injustice. 

Like Superman and Batman, the premise of The Lone Ranger revolved around the main character's hidden identity, which meant that John Reid, like Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, didn't seek and never got the thanks he deserved for helping people.  At the end of each episode, the Lone Ranger and Tonto would ride away as one of the characters they had helped would lament the fact that they never learned the hero's name ("Who was that masked man?"), only to be told, "Why, he's the Lone Ranger!"

The show's signature theme music was the finale of Rossini's William Tell Overture, which became inseparably associated with the series.  Even now, I can't hear the Overture without picturing the Lone Ranger seated on Silver as the magnificent horse rears up and paws the air with his front hooves. 

Like other cowboy shows, The Lone Ranger was a family-oriented series designed to teach lessons about morals and values to its viewers.  It was the Lone Ranger's strict moral code that enabled him to prevail over the bad guys who preyed upon the good people of the Old West.  Though Native-Americans were the stereotypical enemy in many other Westerns, The Lone Ranger's partnership with Tonto showed that respecting the rights and beliefs of others was an important part of his moral code and one of the lessons that the show tried to teach. 

Much of The Lone Ranger TV series is available on DVD.   Some good collections are:

The Roy Rogers Show

Happy Trails to you, until we meet again...

If you watched The Roy Rogers Show as a child, you probably have the rest of the show's theme song running through your head now.  The Roy Rogers Show debuted on NBC on December 30, 1951, and ran there until 1957.  After that, it appeared in reruns on CBS for another four years.  Like Sky King, the show was a contemporary cowboy series set in the present day.  It starred Roy Rogers and country singer Dale Evans, who lived in the fictional town of Mineral City in Paradise Valley.

Rogers, dubbed the "King of the Cowboys," was a popular B-movie Western film star of the 1940's when he made the move to TV.   On the TV show, which Rogers produced, he played the owner of the Double R Bar Ranch, who continued the fight for law and order in the contemporary West that he had begun on the silver screen.  Rogers was assisted by his real-life wife Dale Evans, who played the owner of the Eureka Cafe in town and Rogers' love interest, and Pat Brady, Roy's comic sidekick who drove around in his cantankerous jeep, named Nellybelle.   

The show also featured several animal performers.  There was Trigger, Roy's faithful golden palomino stallion, who had made more than 80 movies with him, and who could be seen galloping along at breakneck speed in the show's opening.   Dale's horse was a beautiful buckskin named Buttermilk.  Last but not least came Bullet The Wonder Dog, Roy's German Shepherd, who was actually a Rogers family pet in real life.   

The plot lines of The Roy Rogers Show were simple and familiar: Roy or Dale would find out about someone who was in trouble and needed help, and they would help them. Roy's character was that of an easy-going singing cowboy who wasn't afraid to use his fists when necessary.  There were always bad guys to catch, lots of chase scenes with horses, and a good fist-fight or two.  Roy and Dale both packed six-shooters on their hips in order to be ready to shoot a gun out of a bad guy's hand (but never to kill or seriously wound anyone). 

Though Roy and Dale played sweethearts on the show, there was no mushy stuff between them.  Their relationship was one of mutual friendship, respect, and trust in one another.  They both played nice, smart, competent people who worked together to uphold the law and the moral order.  Each episode of the show closed with Roy and Dale singing the chorus to the couple's signature theme song, "Happy Trails," which was written by Dale.

In the 1950's, almost every kid in the country wanted to be like Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy or Davy Crockett, which fueled a marketing bonanza of lunch boxes, toys, games, and other licensed products.   I still have fond memories of the Dale Evans cowgirl outfit I wore one Halloween, with its fringed buckskin vest, felt circle skirt, white cowboy hat, white cowboy boots, and holster with toy six-shooter.   

Roy Rogers fans might consider buying The Roy Rogers Collection - Classic TV Shows, a set of 16 DVD's containing 64 episodes of the show, or Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys, Collector's Edition, a 2-disc set packaged in an embossed tin, featuring five of Rogers' movies and ten episodes of his TV show. Episodes of the TV show can also be seen on Roy Rogers with Dale Evans, Volumes 1-6 and Volumes 7-12

Sky King


"From out of the clear blue of the Western sky . . .comes Sky King!"

Sky King was a modern-day (at the time) cowboy show with a twist -- the cowboy was an airplane pilot living on a ranch in Arizona, who used his small plane to chase down the bad guys or rescue the good guys.  Based on an earlier radio series, the Sky King TV show debuted on NBC in 1951, later moved to ABC, and remained on the air in reruns until 1966. 

Schuyler (Skyler?) or "Sky" King, the show's starring character, lived on the Flying Crown Ranch with his teenage neice Penny and nephew Clipper, who were also licensed pilots.   Penny, who seemed a little older than Clipper, was an accomplished enough pilot that Sky King sometimes let her fly his plane, the Songbird.  

Another regular character on the show was Mitch the sheriff.  Mitch was a good friend of Sky's, and he was always coming to Sky for help in dealing with criminals.  

Sky King was designed for kids but also attracted a loyal adult audience.  As on other cowboy shows or family-oriented dramatic series of the day, like The Lone Ranger, Lassie, or The Adventures of Superman, the supporting cast on Sky King would often find themselves in danger, and the show's star would fly/run/ride to the rescue just in the nick of time to save them from imminent death.  Penny in particular seemed to be always falling into the hands of bank robbers, spies, or other bad guys. 

Like most TV cowboy heroes of the time, Sky never killed the bad guys, he just disarmed them and handed them over to the authorities.  But he didn't hesitate to punch them in the jaw if they gave him any trouble. 

Though plot lines on the show were often formulaic, the writing and acting was better than average.  In particular, actor Kirby Grant, who played Sky King, had a naturalistic and easy style that enhanced the show's dramatic appeal.  Even the villains were portrayed as intelligent and believable, rather than one-dimensional buffoons.  

The Songbird, Sky King's two-engine Cessna, was featured prominently on the show, appearing in both the opening and closing credits and figuring as an important element in every story.   Many episodes included shots of spectacular low-level flying as the desert flashed by in the background. 

In addition to its focus on aviation, the show also made use of other cutting-edge 1950's technological devices, like geiger counters, metal detectors, and tape recorders.  Looking back on Sky King now, the show seemed to be heralding the end of the cold war and the beginning of the "new frontier" of America's space age.

If you're a dedicated Sky King fan (or looking for the ultimate fan gift), consider buying the definitive Sky King DVD collection:  Sky King Official Box Set, All 72 Episodes with Book.  There are 4 episodes of the show on Sky King Vol. 1 TV Series.    If you're interested in reading about the show, Sky King is one of the TV series discussed in Hollywood's West:  The American Frontier in Film, Television, and History (Hardcover). 


Gumby & Pokey   One of my absolute favorite shows as a kid was Gumby, a trippy, somewhat surreal series filmed using stop motion clay animation.  There were 233 episodes of the show produced over the course of its 40-year history on TV, all featuring the green clay robot-like little boy with the big feet and slanted head, and his sidekick Pokey, a talking pony. 

Created by animator Art Clokey, who developed the unique style of claymation later used in the series while he was a student at the University of Southern California, Gumby made its debut as a short segment on the Howdy Doody Show in 1956 and became a series on NBC the following year.   Production on this version of the show continued through the late 60’s.  In the 1980’s, the original Gumby episodes enjoyed a revival on TV and home video, which led to production of a new version of the series for syndication.

Besides Pokey, other characters regularly featured in the series were the Blockheads, a duo of red humanoid figures with block-shaped heads, who always created mischief and mayhem; Gumby’s parents Gumba and Gumbo, and later his sister, Minga; Prickle, a yellow dragon; Goo, a flying blue mermaid; Tilly, a chicken; and Denali, a mastadon. 

What made the series visually unique was that Clokey didn’t disguise the fact that his characters were made out of clay or try too hard to make the characters and settings look realistic.  Instead, each episode highlighted how the characters could melt into various shapes and then reconfigure back to their original forms.  The settings for the show were little toy houses and villages, and Gumby and the other characters were like toy figures brought to life.  Many of the episodes included a sequence in which Gumby and Pokey would physically slip into a book and then have an adventure in the world of the book’s story. 

There was something about the primitive look of the animation and the way that Gumby and the other characters seemed like clay figures made by a child and brought to life to play out a child’s imaginary stories that delighted and entranced me as a young viewer.  Gumby’s personality seemed very much like that of a real child, but he existed in a surreal, magical world where anything could happen.  I think there is something about that combination that made Gumby so fascinating to so many generations of kids and adults.

There are several good Gumby DVD collections, including Gumby Vol. 1, Gumby Essentials Vol. 1Gumby's Greatest Adventures, and Christmas with Gumby