January 25, 2020

CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT


CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT
(CBS, September 4, 1954-January 21, 1956)

Screen Gems





MAIN CAST:
Richard Webb – Captain Midnight
Sid Melton – Ichabod “Icky” Mudd
Olan Soule – Dr. Aristotle “Tut” Jones


            The Skelly Oil Company was looking for a follow-up to its successful radio adventure show, The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen, and turned to that show’s creators, Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M. Burtt, to duplicate that success.

Ad for the radio show.


            Captain Midnight debuted on October 7, 1938 as a syndicated radio show broadcast to a few Midwest stations. Captain Midnight was a former World War I U.S. Army pilot named Captain Jim “Red” Albright until a general who sent him on a dangerous mission gave him his codename when he returned at the stroke of 12. After the war, he became a private pilot that helped people in trouble. However, when Ovaltine took over sponsorship of the program in 1940, Albright became the head of the Secret Squadron: an air-based paramilitary organization battling sabotage and espionage against the country. When the United States entered World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Secret Squadron joined in the battle against the Axis Powers. Most notably, the female members of the Squadron were treated as equals and were often involved in heavy combat missions. Captain Midnight was portrayed by Ed Prentiss, Bill Bouchey and Paul Barnes over the course of the show.

Ad for the movie serial.

            With Ovaltine’s sponsorship came a move to the Mutual Radio Network, where Captain Midnight enjoyed a national audience and allowed it to gain a regular audience number in the millions. The show ran until December of 1949, and in that time inspired a newspaper comic strip, a book and comic books published by Dell Comics and Fawcett Comics. In 1942, Columbia Pictures produced a 15-chapter spin-off serial starring Dave O’Brien. While some of the characters from the radio show were used, the serial took some liberties with the source material. Captain Midnight became a masked secret identity for Albright and the Secret Squadron element was removed from the story. The serial was later brought to television in 1953 through early 1954 as Captain Midnight’s Adventure Theatre.

The Silver Dart takes flight.

            At the same time, Columbia’s television arm, Screen Gems, was working on adapting Captain Midnight for television as an ongoing show. Once again, some liberties were taken with the source material as Captain Midnight (Richard Webb, an actual veteran who got the role despite being older than what they were looking for) became a veteran of the Korean War. Although the Secret Squadron was in place this time, the only other established character was chief mechanic Ichabod “Icky” Mudd (Sid Melton), who served as the show’s comic relief. Joining them was scientist Dr. Aristotle “Tut” Jones (Olan Soule, who played Agent Kelly, SS-11 on the radio show). The Squadron was a private group often asked to deal with enemy agents, rogue scientists, investigate sabotage and, in general, protect the country from the forces of evil. Despite the science fiction elements present in the show such as robot bombs and space stations, Midnight was the only action hero on TV at the time to not venture out into space, sticking to the skies and the Earth’s orbit in his Silver Dart; the experimental Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket which had both a jet engine and a rocket engine.

Ikky, Captain Midnight and Tut in the middle of a mystery.

            Captain Midnight debuted on CBS on September 4, 1954, still sponsored by Ovaltine as well as Kix Cereal from General Mills. The series’ theme was composed by Don A. Ferris and Irving Friedman. Each episode was produced on a paltry budget of $2,100 so a lot of the special effects by the Dallons brothers (Franz, Oscar and Paul, who all also worked on Space Patrol) were more optical illusions. For instance, the Silver Dart was usually depicted via a model on a string filmed on an angle to make it look larger or stock footage of the actual ship. Wallace Bosco, Wells Root, Malcolm Stuart Boylan, DeVallon Scott, George Bricker, Anthony O. Scott, William Lively, Robert Leslie Bellem, Richard Morgan, Milton Raison, Dane Slade, Roy Erwin, Tom Kilpatrick, Ted Thomas, Peter Dixon, Lee Erwin, Roy Hamilton and John O’Dea served as the show’s writers. Although it began as a Saturday morning show, ABC took notice of its large adult audience and acquired it and ran it in prime time to compete against CBS’ Burns and Allen Show.



            Ovaltine included an offer in their products for a membership kit that included a decoder badge that would allow viewers to transcribe a secret message given to them each episode. However, they continually only saw a marginal and temporary increase in their sales as a lot of people would merely steal the wax seal from the Ovaltine jar that they needed to send in. At a public appearance, Webb asked those in attendance what their favorite breakfast drink was, and received the overwhelmingly resounding reply of “Bosco!” Since Ovaltine saw Captain Midnight as just a marketing tool to move their product, they pulled their sponsorship and ended production of the show after just two seasons, despite its popularity.

Original VHS release.

            When the show entered into syndicated reruns in 1958, a problem arose. The Wander Company, the parent company of Ovaltine, owned the rights to the Captain Midnight name. As a result, Screen Gems was forced to change the name of the series to Jet Jackson, Flying Commando for both the title and in every instance the name was said. Screen Gems to attempted to purchase the rights from The Wander Company using Webb as a mediator, but they wanted to hold onto the series for future use. Depending on the source, the original Captain Midnight is either still on a shelf somewhere, or the prints had long been destroyed. Parade Video released a VHS collection of two episodes, which Rhino Video later re-released as Captain Midnight Flies Again along with a second VHS collection containing two episodes. All four episodes were from the second season.



EPISODE GUIDE:
Season 1:
“Murder by Radiation” (9/4/54) – Captain Midnight has to recover a radioactive element from foreign agents.

“Electronic Killer” (9/11/54) – Enemy agents kidnap Captain Midnight’s friend in order to get the secrets of his new guided missile.

“Deadly Diamonds” (9/18/54) – The Secret Squadron is sent to track down a dangerous group of diamond smugglers with the help of one of Tut’s inventions.

“The Lost Moon” (9/25/54) – Captain Midnight has to discover the secret of a lost moon orbiting Earth before enemy agents get their first and take control of the planet.

“Death Below Zero” (10/2/54) – The investigation of the poisoning of a dog belonging to a member of the Squadron leads Captain Midnight to be locked into a cold storage locker.

“Operation Failure” (10/9/54) – Captain Midnight goes behind the Iron Curtain to rescue a freedom fighter.

“Trapped Behind Bars” (10/16/54) – An investigation into prison riots leads Captain Midnight and Ikky going undercover as prisoners.

“Counterfeit Millions” (10/23/54) – Captain Midnight discovers the method in which counterfeit money is entering the country.

“The Walking Ghost” (10/30/54) – A Squadron agent comes to Captain Midnight for help in exorcising a ghost from a Southern mansion.

“Secret of the Jungle” (11/6/54) – An African vacation becomes a mystery to find a stolen idol.

“Sabotage Under the Sea” (11/13/54) – Captain Midnight engages an enemy submarine to find an experimental missile that disappeared.

“Isle of Mystery” (11/20/54) – Captain Midnight and Ikky are sent to investigate why the small island of Luana withdraws permission for the US to conduct atomic tests in the area.

“The Curse of the Pharaohs” (11/27/54) – Captain Midnight is asked to investigate the disappearance of an archaeologist.

“The Deserters” (12/4/54) – While helping Squadron members evicted from their clubhouse by developers, Captain Midnight stumbles onto a bank robbery.

“The Electrified Man” (12/11/54) – A scientist working on a countermeasure for radioactive dust becomes incredibly dangerous after using too much energy.

“The Young Criminal” (12/18/54) – Captain Midnight sponsors a youth gym to battle juvenile delinquency, and one of the patrons becomes enamored with the lifestyle of a poolroom owner.

“The Deadly Project” (12/25/54) – A scientist working on a heat-resistant metal for the Air Force is targeted by a rival who developed a sonic gun.

“Touchdown Terror” (1/1/55) – Captain Midnight and a quarterback are kidnapped when the player refuses to throw an important game.

“Top Secret Weapons” (1/8/55) – Captain Midnight gives asylum to a young refugee who was hypnotized to spy on the secret weapon being developed at headquarters.

“The Human Bomb” (1/15/55) – A munitions genius is released from prison and plots revenge against those that put him there.

“The Mark of Death” (1/22/55) – Heading to deliver a goodwill message to India leads Captain Midnight and Ikky to have to rescue Bengra Tassi from The Executioner.

“Arctic Avalanche” (1/29/55) – Convinced to take a sick Eskimo to a hospital, Captain Midnight and Ikky end up walking into a trap.

“Mystery of the Forest” (2/5/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky pose as lumberjacks to investigate the largest non-nuclear explosion in history.

“The Invisible Terror” (2/12/55) – Captain Midnight has to find the formula for a retrovirus that can protect the country from a biological attack.

“Saboteurs of the Sky” (2/19/55) – Captain Midnight has to find a kidnapped Squadron member who developed a method of creating hurricanes.

“Peril from the Arctic” (2/26/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky investigate a renegade scientist experimenting with an anti-magnetic force to be used against the country.

Season 2:
“The Secret Room” (10/29/55) – Captain Midnight busts a phony séance racket designed to distract from the theft of an invention.

“Mission to Mexico” (11/5/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky go to Mexico to find a radio station that broadcasted a message referring to fissionable materials that might be used against the US.

“The Frozen Men” (11/12/55) – Captain Midnight braves a nuclear testing ground in order to free a scientist from suspended animation.

“Doctors of Doom” (11/19/55) – Investigating reports of a giant leads Captain Midnight to a sanitarium housing enslaved scientists.

“Sunken Sapphires” (11/26/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky help young siblings retrieve a cache of jewels.

“Master Criminal” (12/3/55) – A top criminal surrenders to the Squadron in order to get access to the new jet engine being developed at headquarters.

“Secret of Superstition Mountain” (12/10/55) – Ghostly apparitions harass Captain Midnight and Ikky when they find hidden treasure in Arizona.

“The Mountain of Fire” (12/17/55) – A volcanic eruption masks the sabotage of an experiment to turn volcanic heat into electricity.

“The Jungle Pit” (12/24/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky help a Japanese boy find his father on an island who doesn’t know World War II ended.

“Flight into the Unknown” (12/31/55) – Captain Midnight and Ikky track down a banker who disappeared with a large sum of money.

“The Runaway Suitcase” (1/7/56) – A police officer comes to Captain Midnight to help clear his name for a theft he didn’t commit.

“Million Dollar Diamond” (1/14/56) – A boy comes to Captain Midnight about his abusive father, leading him to discover the man has been replaced by a double to steal a valuable diamond.

“The Human Bullet” (1/21/56) – Captain Midnight volunteers to test a new rocket sled, discovering an attempt to sabotage it and discredit its inventor.

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