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12.17.04

"Pinto Likes Bobby! Does Bobby Like Pinto?"

3. Bobby's Comet

The hell if I remember the name of it: probably Outer Space Theater or something like that. It came out of KRLD Channel 4 in Dallas at 3:30 in the afternoon. There was a back-projected spaceport set with a rocket ready for takeoff in the background. I don't remember what the host character's name was — maybe Captain Astro or something similar — but it was Bill Mercer, KRLD sports guy, who would grow up to be the Voice Of The Dallas Cowboys up in his future, for the first fifteen years or so...

He was dressed in one of those ersatz Destination Moon/Abbott and Costello Go To Mars floppy spacesuits and he always carried his helmet under his arm. He introduced the shows — which were, in reverse order, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, either chapters from the three Flash Gordon serials — 1936, 1938, 1940 — or the Buck Rogers serial (1939) — all starring Buster Crabbe — or episodes of the horrible 1953 Flash Gordon TV show, made in West Germany for what looked like a budget of 321DM, starring Steve Holland. Even the 8-year-old me knew those weren't very good...

But Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, no homework got done in my house between 3:30 and 4 pm, because that's when they ran episodes of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

This was a filmed syndicated series, originating from Hollywood. Each episode (lasting 76 or 78 minutes) was broken into ten or twelve minute intervals — for commercials I'm assuming — so it could be shown in a 15, a 30, a 45, a 60, or 90 minute time slot. The usual was 15 or 30 — like Outer Space Theater was — two episodes at 24 minutes + blather + commercial equals 30 minutes, which meant each story took three shows, or one week (MWF). There were at least six of them: at one point later on, the RJ,SR shows were released to TV as movies.

They — or at least two of them — are available on DVD from Alpha Video, Box 101, Narberth, PA 19072, or at www.Oldies.com. (They also have the Steve Holland Flash Gordons, but You've Been Warned...)

The two I have here are "Menace from Outer Space" and "Crash of the Moons" (the DVD case gets the plot wrong on that one...) which I have used to refresh my doddering 50-year-old memories of Outer Space Theater. Most of what I'll be telling you will be spelled phonetically, as there's only two paragraphs of written material on each box. There's credits and a cast list at the start of each episode, but not character-name correlation.

The series was produced by Roland Reed. There are common production credits for the two episodes — they were written by Warren Wilson — who may be a blacklist front for all I know — and directed by Hollingsworth Morse. Richard Crane is RJ,SR: Sally Mansfield is Vena Ray — the love interest, and I think, the daughter of the Secretary of the Planets. Scotty Beckett (Scotty, Spanky's pal in the Our Gang comedies of 20 years before) is Winky, the co-pilot/comedy relief of Rocky's ship, the Orbit Jet (XV-1). There's a kid called Bobby, who's either an orphan adopted by the Space Rangers, or Vena's kid brother, I forget which, and these episodes are no help. There's the Secretary of the Planets, and old guy of the Honeywell & Todd type — but it's not Clarence Kolb. There's Professor Newton, an absentminded Einstein type, who works out of Griffith Observatory (the observatory in Phantom from Space and Tobor the Great and Rebel Without a Cause, and the nightclub in Earth Girls Are Easy (1989).) The villain in "Menace from Outer Space" looks like Nestor Paiva but isn't. The actress who plays Cleolanta, Queen of what sounds like Officia or Ofeeshah, sometimes talks with a Jean Hagen/Lena Lamont-type voice and the character seems to have the brains of a meadow vole. Harry Lauter is one of her subordinates ("Yes, My Suzerain!") The biggest surprise is John Banner (Sgt. Schultz on Hogan's Heroes ten years later) who plays the king of one of the gypsy moons (see below). Griff — who's run into Rocky before and is a sort of space privateer and mercenary — is a Stephen McNally/Dan McGowan type but isn't either (big, dark, scowly).

One of the boxes says RJ,SR ran on NBC for a season before it was syndicated. I don't remember that, and I should know. It sprang full-blown onto the likes of Outer Space Theater and its equivalents, first in the US and then all over the world.

Let's get the plots out of the way first:

"Menace from Outer Space": What looks like a meteor comes from the planet Fornax. (When they show it later on a chart, it's somewhere just past Saturn...) It crashes near the spaceport by Prof. Newton's observatory. He investigates and finds it was a missile fired at Earth. (There's not supposed to be life on Fornax.) Rocky, Winky, Newton, Vena, and Bobby set out to investigate. They land and find Prof. Cardos — the Nestor Paiva lookalike — who escaped Earth years ago, helping the Fornaxians mine their crystal rocket materials and fuels and telling them lies about the United Planets. The Fornaxians dress somewhat like Seljuk Turks of the 12th C. AD with a little 18th-Dynasty Egypt thrown in. Then lots of stuff happens; Griff gets involved and joins with the bad guys to claim the planet and use its weapons to blackmail Earth. It ends with us and the Fornaxians being friends, Cardos in the hoosegow, and Griff thwarted.

"Crash of the Moons": By the internal chronology, this comes after Menace and its prequel was called "Gypsy Moons". Rocky and Winky are in the Orbit Jet coming back to a space station where Bobby, Vena, and Prof. Newton are awaiting the arrival of "their friends from the Gypsy Moons," and here they come — two planetoids (Posita or Pozeetah and Negato — get it? — ) locked together like chain-shot from a cannon with what looks like 10,000 miles of "atmosphere belt" between them — and in this belt are 10,000-mile-long lightning bolts and roiling storm clouds (more later). It turns out Prof. Newton forgot the space station can't withstand the pressure of an atmosphere. Rocky and Winky stick the Orbit Jet into the docking module of the space station — already in the atmosphere — everyone's falling around inside like on the deck of the Enterprise or inside the Seaview — and turn on full power and push the station out of the way. Then they go land on Posita and re-meet John Banner who's just had a new baby. Then it's realized that Posita will crash into Cleolanta's planet — Officia — next month, and that everybody on both the planetoid and the planet will have to be evacuated. Rocky and Winky — who have already been there with Mr. Secretary on an unsuccessful trade mission — Cleolanta said the equivalent of "Amscray!" — have to go back to convince her to start the evacuations. She (meadow vole that she is) instead sends a ship with trillium torpedoes (flown by her and Harry Lauter) to blow up Posita before those people can be evacuated to Negato. Rocky and Winky, who've been sleep-gassed until freed by Lauter's wife (she's been condemned by Cleolanta for the outer-space equivalent of listening to the Voice of America on the radio) get in lots of fistfights and beat it to the Orbit Jet and take off. They cripple the Offician ship and stop the bombardment of Posita. There are scenes after the evacuation of Posita (They fly in what looks like jets to Negato — of course, there's an atmosphere.) when Rocky tries to blow up Posita from the Offician ship. That doesn't work. The United Planets send every available ship to Officia to carry people away. The Orbit Jet's the last to leave, with Cleolanta aboard. They watch as Posita and Officia collide and explode. Cleolanta realizes that "a planet is its people, not its world." Everybody's happy the end.

Whew. Lots of stuff happens in both, and they're only 76 and 78 minutes each.

Next time: What Rocky Jones means to me.

 


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Howard Waldrop is a legend in his own time. He writes, he fishes, he builds bookcases. He does not have a cellphone, a computer, or an email account.

For someone who is about as wired as an echidna, Howard has a pretty substantial online career. He has had a website since 1997. You can read The Ugly Chickens, The Other Real World, Winter Quarters, D = R x T, and his collaboration with Leigh Kennedy, One Horse Town, on SciFiction. Mary Margaret Roadgrader is available on the excellent Strange Horizons. He has an occasional column, Crimea River, on Electric Story. And now he has a blog. Go figure.

For additional embellishments of the Waldrop legend, see Who Is Howard Waldrop, Anyway? For extravagant lies about Howard, see Alternate Waldrops, on Strange Horizons. Howard's most recent books are Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations and Dream Factories and Radio Pictures. Buy 'em.

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