1 9 5 0 – 1 9 5 5 (USA)
89 x 15 minute episodes
“Kelloggs, the greatest name in cereals presents . . . Tom Corbett, Space Cadet! This is the age of the conquest of space, 2350 AD. The world beyond tomorrow. Here at Space Academy USA, the youth of the Universe trains for duty on distant planets. In roaring rockets, the Space Cadets blast through the millions of miles from Earth to far-flung stars; to protect the liberty of the planets, safeguard the freedom of space and uphold the cause of peace throughout the universe”.
Tom Corbett debuted on CBS on 2 October 1950 – based on the novel Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein – to cash in on the enormous popularity of DuMont’s Captain Video and His Video Rangers.
The two shows were not directly competitive – in fact, Tom Corbett (6:45 – 7:00 PM) led into Captain Video (7:00-7:30 PM) three nights a week – and they differed in substantial ways.
Tom Corbett had a much larger budget and more realistic special effects, such as blastoffs, weightlessness etc, all done live through various video techniques. The series was notable for its scientific authenticity. Willie Ley, a popular scientist of the day, was engaged as a technical adviser and suggested scientific subjects that could be explored within the framework of the episodes.
And the emphasis was less on futuristic hardware (though there was plenty) and more on the adventures of the young cast.
Tom Corbett (Frankie Thomas), a curly-headed teenage cadet at the Space Academy, four centuries hence, was a figure with whom youngsters could identify.
With him in training to become Solar Guards – agents of a celestial police force enjoined to protect Earth, Jupiter, Mars and Venus (known collectively as the Solar Alliance) – were wisecracking Cadet Roger Manning (Jan Merlin) -“Aw, go blow your jets!” – and the quieter Astro (Al Markim), a Venusian (planetary boundaries were rather less important in the 24th century).
Every week they blasted off in the spaceship Polaris to new adventures somewhere in space, usually against natural forces rather than the space villains who populated Captain Video.
Extremely popular, the show aired on each of the four networks and for much of 1951, it was carried by two of them simultaneously. The series was also heard on ABC radio during 1952, with the same cast as the TV version.
The Tom Corbett cast also made personal appearances to promote merchandise connected with the show.
Late in 1952, the series moved to Saturday daytime, where it continued, off and on, until the summer of 1955.
During its five-year run, many future stars made guest appearances, including Jack Lord, Jack Klugman and Jack Weston.
When Thomas Whiteside of the New Yorker magazine visited the set of Tom Corbett in 1951 he noted that star Frankie Thomas was wearing a wide leather belt over his light-grey Space Cadet fatigues to which were attached an oven thermometer, a five-inch long metal tube, an underwater swimming mask, and a soldering iron with a transparent lucite muzzle and with spiral springs decorating its barrel.
These accoutrements apparently represented, respectively, a Geiger counter, an electroscopic magnifier, an oxygen mask and a Paralo-Ray gun!
Captain Steve Strong
Michael Harvey (1950)
Edward Bryce (1951-1952)
Dr Joan Dale
Astro the Venusian
Commander TJ Fissell