Friday, July 20, 2018

Lost Classic TV: "Operation Neptune", 50,000 Feet Under The Sea.

Operation Neptune 
(also known as "Captain Neptune" and "Operation: Neptune".
June 28, 1953 - August 16, 1953. NBC TV 
Sundays 7:00PM EST
Creator/writer: Maurice Brockhauser

Advertisement for "Operation Neptune", from the Star Gazette (Minneapolis, Minnesota), July 28, 1953.

Captain Video, Flash Gordon, Tom Corbett Space Cadet, nearly all the fantasy heroes of the Golden Age of Television took young viewers into the realms of outer space. In the summer of 1953 one program dared to be just as fantastic, but on Earth in the depths of the ocean, more in the territory of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or the 1936 movie serial Undersea Kingdom.

Photo of actors (left to right), Tod Griffin as Commander Hollister (Captain Neptune), Richard Holland as Dink Saunders, and Margaret Stewart as Thirza a native of Nadiria. From the Wilmington Sunday Star, August 3, 1953.
The series starred Tod Griffin (1919 - 2002) as Commander Bill Hollister, who was also referred to as "Captain Neptune", and Richard Holland as Dink Saunders his young second in command. The heroes discovered that the disappearance of U. S. Navy ships was due to the evil Trychus Maximus (Humphrey Davis), ruler of Madiria an underwater kingdom who wanted revenge against the surface world. The emperor of Nadiria gave orders to his sinister lieutenant Kebada (Harold Conklin), and his henchman Mersennus (Dehl Berti). Aiding Captain Neptune and Dink in their adventures were Admiral Bigelow (Rusty Lane), and Thirza (Margaret Stewart), a Nadirian who had allied herself with our heroes.

The series which was broadcast live from New York, was easily compared to Captain Video. It was a serialized television adventure of a captain and his young partner, against evils of another world, with a lackluster budget broadcast live from New York. An even stronger connection to Captain Video, was that Operation Neptune was created by Maurice Brockhauser, who been the lead writer of Captain Video during its first two years, from 1949 - 1951 under the pseudonym "M. C. Brock".  Many sources claim, that Brockhauser's writing on Capt. Video was so erroneous that he was fired from the show (even thought it was hit with kids), as was not known to write a TV program again, but that was not the case.

Reviews from the New York Times, Variety, and other periodicals weren't so harsh on the shows writing as it was its production. It was noted that the special effects were limited to toy submarines in an aquarium or a washtub, and the illusion of the Nadirians being underwater was created with the illusion of bubbles passing in front of the camera. Not very technical even for 1953. The idea of an underwater adventure show with such primitive effects make the show a bit intriguing, and it is unfortunate that no recordings of this series have survived.
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Underwater fantasy adventures would endure more with 1960s children with the successes of "Diver Dan" (1960), Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1964 - 1968). and Captain Fathom. 

Articles from various newspapers, articles, books were consulted for this article. Please comment or email for sources. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

"The Batman" Serial at 75, and other Matinee Classics of World War II

Newspaper ad for "The Batman" serial, clearly trying to pull in a young audience. From the Ogden Standard Examiner, (Ogden, Utah) Friday, July 30, 1943. Note that this ad announces the first chapter of the new serial and the final chapter of Columbia's "The Secret Code", another wartime serial that featured the original superhero, "The Black Commando". 

It was July 18, 1943, 75 years ago, that the famous (and controversial) serial "The Batman" was made widely available in theaters. The 15 episode chapter-play, which starred Lewis Wilson (1920 - 2000) and Douglas Croft (1926 - 1963) as the comic book characters Batman and Robin, was well received with its wartime audience, mocked as "camp" in the 1960s, and today is met with mixed views with audiences that have seen it restored for cable and DVD viewing. While well acted with a mood that reflected the earlier comics, most of the criticism of this serial comes from the wartime portrayal of the Japanese, especially with an Axis villain, Dr. Tito Daka, portrayed by Irish-American character actor J. Carroll Naish.

Ad for "The Batman" from the Showmen's Trade Review, July 31, 1943. From the Media History Digital Library. 

Wartime Serials

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the new World War impacted all forms of juvenile adventure mass media, including radio, comic books and on the big screen. The Batman was just one of the seven serials, out of nine, that were released in 1943 with a wartime theme. The others were:

From Republic Pictures
G-Men Vs. The Black Dragon
Secret Service in Darkest Africa
The Masked Marvel 

From Universal Pictures
Adventures of Smilin' Jack
Don Winslow of the Coast Guard
Adventures of the Flying Cadets

Ad for "Adventures of the Flying Cadets", from the Showmen's Trade Review, September 18, 1943. From the Media History Digital Library.

In each of these adventures, the heroes would face a villain of Japanese or Nazi German origin. Only two chapter plays released that year did not have a war time theme; Columbia's The Phantom (jungle adventure) and Republic Pictures' Daredevils of the West (a western).

Last year the best of all the wartime serials "Spy Smasher" turned 75, and it was one of six (out of 11) serials with a wartime plot. As we are in the midst of the centennial of World War I and the Semisesquicentennial (75th anniversary) of World War II, it is a great time to revisit matinee serials, radio programs, games, toys, cartoons, textbooks, and other media that was consumed by young Americans. This would give a new perspective of life on the American homefront and the role of mass media.

There will be more posts about "The Batman" serial and other films in what will hopefully be a reflective series on children's media in wartime.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

From The Archives: Based On The TV Program - 1950s Round Two

A popular post on this blog was the 1950s post from 2016. This is a long over due 2nd edition of 1950s items related to TV shows.

Schroeder, Doris. 1960. Walt Disney's Annette: Sierra summer. Racine, WI: Whitman.

This book, and others from Whitman Publishing, were published in the 1960s. The series "Annette" aired in the 1950s on the original Mickey Mouse Club.

Winky Dink and You (1953 - 1957) was one of the first commercially successful attempts at interactive television.

Every Baby Boomer could probably belt out this song.

Linkletter, Art, and Walt Disney. 1959. Kids say the darndest things!
If you find the videos funny, you should read the book! It is interesting to hear how Linkletter worked with the children, and how 1950s popular culture impacted kids responses to his questions.

Marshall, E. G., Leora Dana, Berverly Washburn, and Washington Irving. 1989. Rip Van Winkle. Los Angeles, CA: Distributed by Wood Knapp Video.
Episodes of the Shirley Temple Show (the second season that aired in color on ABC) were released on DVD by Legends Films in 2006. Episodes of the Shirley Temple Storybook (the first season on NBC, some color, most in black & white) remain out-of-print on VHS tapes only.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

"Kim's Kartoon Kapers" More Information?

Colorful image from pg. 126 of the RCA Broadcast News Vol. 136, October 1967. From
More info is wanted about a weekday afternoon program called Kim's Kartoon Kapers, that was hosted by a 12 year old girl named Kim Christie on WKTR-TV (now WPTD, the local PBS affliate) in the Dayton, Ohio area and licensed to Kettering, Ohio. It is always interesting to learn about local children's shows, but even more so when it is hosted by child. According to an article on WKTR in  RCA Broadcast News, Volume 136, October 1967, young Kim did the program ad-lib, with at least one puppet character. One viewer recollection claims that she hosted Batfink cartoons, which would fit for a local series on the air in 1967.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

From the Archives: 1970s Based on TV Books

Here is a random assortment of children's books based on TV programs and specials of the 1970s. All citations are in Chicago style.

Dinneen, Betty, Marlin Perkins, and James Seward. 1976. Wild kingdom a trip to a game park with Marlin Perkins. Racine, Wis: Western Pub. Co.
The original Wild Kingdom, also known as Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, is an American television show that featured wildlife and nature scenes. A new version airs on Animal Planet, but the first and most famous version ran from 1963 until 1988, with Marlin Perkins as host during the first 22 years.

      Schulz, Charles M. 1975. It's a mystery, Charlie Brown. New York: Scholastic Book Services.
In my opinion, this is one of the funniest of the Peanuts TV specials. I loved it after seeing it during "You're On Nickelodeon, Charlie Brown" around the late 1990s. It's a Mystery, Charlie Brown was the 11th prime-time TV special based upon the enduring comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. It was originally aired on February 1, 1974, on the CBS TV network.

Muller, Romeo, Fred Wolf, and Chuck Swenson. 1979. Puff the magic dragon. New York: Avon/Camelot.
Puff The Magic Dragon was a half-hour animated TV special based on the popular song by Peter, Paul and Mary. This special was produced by Fred Wolf Films and written by Romeo Mulller, more famous for his many stories for the Rankin/Bass holiday specials. Burgess Meredith played the title role with additional voices by Frank Nelson, Regis Cordic, Robert Ridgely and Charles Woolf. The special premiered October 30, 1978 on CBS. The book version was published in at least 3 different editions. 

Elias, Horace J. 1974. The Flintstones: Fred Flintstone and the very peculiar tree. New York: Modern Promotions.
By the time this book was published, the original "Flintstones" had an extended life with three successive Saturday Morning series: The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show (1971–72), The Flintstone Comedy Hour (1972–73), and The Flintstone Comedy Show (1973–74). 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Dr. Seuss on Radio: The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins

This Friday is National Reading Day, which coincides with Dr. Seuss' birthday. It was over 80 years ago that Theodore Geisel (1904 - 1991) took on the nom de plume "Dr. Seuss" and entered the children's book market. His greatest stories have been adapted into box office hits, TV specials, kiddies records, and even Broadway plays.

One of the earliest media adaptations of Dr. Seuss' works was a radio adaption of "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins" for The American School Of The Air on January 18, 1940. The program was directed by Nila Mack "the fairy godmother or radio" behind the children's classic Let's Pretend (1929 - 1954 CBS).

Actor Howard Lindsay and writer/director Nila Mack. From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 17, 1940 page 19.

While this broadcast does exist, what I have posted on YouTube is an adaptation by Mack that was broadcast August 18, 1940 for the Columbia Workshop. It is unknown if this is the same script that was used for the earlier broadcast. Heard in the cast is child actor Jack Grimes, a regular "Let's Pretender", best remembered today for being the second Jimmy Olsen on radio's Adventures of Superman.

Dr. Seuss was just on of many classic children's books authors to have their works adapted during that great period known as the "Golden Age of Radio". Following National Reading Day I will post more classic adaptations of children's literature. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

This Month in Children's Media: February 2018, Part I

80 Years Ago - For this edition I am sticking with 1938.

February 17, 1938 - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer directed by Norman Taurog and starring the late child actor Tommy Kelly premieres. Considered one of the best versions of Mark Twains' classic, it is strangely out of print with no official American DVD or streaming release to date.

Two page ad for "The Lone Ranger" serial. From Motion Picture Daily February 03, 1938.
Image from the Media History Digital Library

February 12, 1938 - The popular matinee serial "The Lone Ranger" is made available to theaters. Based on the radio drama that had been on the air since 1933, it is often regarded as the best western serial. It is notable for creating the masked man's origin as a survivor of a massacre of Texas Rangers, thus making him the "Lone Ranger".

Original review from the Motion Picture Daily, Wednesday, January 26, 1938.

"The Lone Ranger"

With "The Lone Ranger" the exhibitor has a 15-episode serial that will probably be a prominent factor when an accounting of profits is taken. The film, based on the popular radio serial, has been produced with an eye to providing thrills. If the initial installment gives an idea of what is to come, bookers should be busy.

The basic story deals with terrorism in Texas at the close of the Civil War which is spread by a self-constituted dictator. The Lone Ranger, so named because he is the sole survivor of a troop of his fellows who have been ambushed, vows to wipe out the murderer and his ilk.

With the aid of Tonto, an Indian friend, and the victimized settlers, he sets out to bring a close to the dark state of affairs. He is ruthless in his determination. The character who plays the Lone Ranger has been robed in mystery. There are five men who seem to take the part. This angle is part of the attraction.

The picture uses fine outdoor set- tings. William Nobles has done a handsome job with the photography. The well chosen cast includes Lynn Roberts, Hal Taliaferro, Herman Brix, Lee Powell, Lane Chandler, George Letz, Chief Thundercloud, Sammy McKim, Stanley Andrews and Tom London. Silver Chief, a splendid Arab horse, is a striking photographic subject as the hero's mount. William Witney and John English have done well with the direction.

The first chapter runs 26 minutes, the remaining 14 run 18 minutes each.


Full page ad for Republic Pictures' The Lone Ranger serial. From the Motion Picture Herald, October 02, 1937.
Image downloaded from the Media History Digital Library
February 04, 1938 
Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is released nationwide, over two months after its December 1937 premiere in California. An ABC-TV or Disney Channel special would have been nice, but at least FREEFROM aired a commemorative marathon.