Light-hearted stuff below. But first.




The great Basilica at the end of downtown, sullied by a nearby overpass and freeway. This part of downtown was worse when I came here - vacant lots that once held dance halls and car dealerships. Now it’s come back, with a college campus and housing, but there will always be something about the majesty of the Basilica and the insouciant road and the street that dips under the highway, like one of those passages to hell the ancients thought existed in the countryside.

i walked inside to a full house. It takes a good man to fill up a Basilica. Standing room only; I stood in the back soaking in the monochromatic grandeur. (It could be three hundred years old. It was built between 1907 and 1913.) When they brought in the box the music came up: the middle portion of Holst’s “Jupiter” movement from “The Planets,” that great broad theme of England.

And there was the widow and there were the kids.

After: Walked back to the car, past the Dandelion Fountain. One of the few modern fountains around town everyone likes - partly for its whimsical shape, and partly because it mists everything around. It soothes the fevered brow, you think, having just been churchified by some full-strength Catholic mass. Sit a while and listen to the water.

Look around; the oldest park on a day of summer’s waning. Three friends dancing. Municipal worker fixing a fire hydrant. Students from the college heading to their apartments, if they live around the park; surely some of the flats are still affordable. The Eitel hospital is an apartment building now, and next to it is an old medical building where you can’t imagine they did much that worked for long. Listen to the old radio shows about doctors, and they’re full of brilliant doctors who have invented a new technique or perfected a serum or just cure people by being Gifted Surgeons who bend over the patient and do something, much like modern movie hackers do something by scowling and typing.

Used to live around here. My agent used to have an office over there. Mary Tyler Moore fed the ducks over there in the closing credits. Had a hot date with a tall blonde who was in that building, over there. Went to some event at the Women’s Club, up there. The characters in my novel just drove up that street in a sequence I wrote a night ago, except there was a hotel in the middle of the street. The Plaza. J. Paul Getty grew up around here. A dear old friend who cut me out after 9/11 when we differed on the reasons and responses lived up there, on a street whose name was the same as the last name of the guy with whom she was having a difficult relationship. Shot a video at the Walker two years ago, over there.

All that from sitting in the mist and looking around. It’s why you stay in a place. And it’s why you know the next time you do the roll call you’ll look up at the Basilica and hear Holst.




Full stop. Deep breath. Walk on.




As much as I love midcentury culture, I’m glad to be around today. As much as I love old movies, nothing beats an enormous Star Trek IMAX movie. Especially when the alternative is . . .

Yes, it's a new below-the-fold feature! What I have here for you is a tall cheap pile of crap. I’m hesitant to look around the web for recollections of “Captain Video,” because I’m sure people have warm memories from what I’ve called the Footie-Jammie era of aesthetic-preference formation. There’s nothing wrong with amused, indulgent appreciation of the things one loved in childhood - as long as it’s not elevated too far above the truth.

Truth is, this was horrible. Our heroes:




Let us begin with the name. Captain Video. And his Video Rangers. The sidekick’s name was . . . the Ranger. As for being a master of the stratosphere, that’s nice, but since his job takes him into space, you’d think you’d want a guy with better credentials. Wikipedia:

Set in the distant future, the series followed the adventures of a group of fighters for truth and justice, the Video Rangers, led by Captain Video.

In the distant future tehy all drive 1950 cars, so apparently they're in a steampunk phase.

Wikipedia says it was quite popular with kids and adults. I’m not sure what they mean by adults; grown men who had no interest in sci-fi would find nothing of interest here. Young men who grew up on pulps full of rocketships and BEMs would find it . . . acceptable, I guess. It was the first of its kind, so there was nothing with which to compare it, until more sophisticated show came along later on the radio.

I love this:

Until 1953, Captain Video's live adventures occupied 20 minutes of each day's 30-minute program time. About 10 minutes into each episode, a Video Ranger communications officer showed about 7 minutes of old cowboy movies. These were described by the communications officer, Ranger Rogers, as the adventures of Captain Video's "undercover agents" on Earth.

Variety at the time said:

Every five minutes or so the good Captain seems to grow weary of all this, and to relieve his mounting ennui called upon the Video Ranger to tune in the doings of Lightning Bill Carson. This enabled DuMont to offer another hunk of an ancient Tim McCoy film titled SIX-GUN TRAIL. What kid could ask for more? In addition, the show is imaginatively mounted, cannily directed and makes full use of visual possibilities.

Lest all this sound like a hasheesh smoker's dream, it must be added that it is genuine, and likely will draw more than a small portion of adults. It's video's answer to Buck and Roy Rogers. It's not bad television, and it should sell.


Am I being too rough? Of course. They had no money. It would be a few years before they got better writers. It was seat-of-the-pants live TV. But this is a serial made by a major studio years after they’d ironed out the links. The first chapter shows you how much thought and money went into it:



Oh, the gadgets! A room full of dials!



The villain, who also has his superlair full of dials:



To show you what a dodgy enterprise this was, the villain was named TOBOR, so they could tell kids that the show featured TOBOR. Of course TOBOR, backwards, is ROBOT, and the kids loved that robot, but this guy wasn’t a robot. Just a supervillain who happened to have the name of the creature all the kids really wanted to see.

At least they could afford a spaceship:



Okay, now let’s go to the lab that has the spaceship. You there, boy, put that pole in front of the camera. You there, swap the fin! C’mon, we have a week to shoot 15 episodes!



When the rocket goes off, by the way, it shoots fire and cinders all over the laboratory.



The villain is in league with one of those Genghis-Khan types who’s enslaved many planets. You can tell we’re on another planet because they’ve tinted everything red.



The interplanetary villain - who has an offhanded-yet-forthright manner that’s rather unbecoming an alien genius - has a secret weapon he will soon unleash on the rebels, and of course on Captain Video.

Behold the Robot Army.





In the Captain Video teleseries, "Tobor" is the name of a large robot, who was one of the series' most popular characters. Calling a villain "Dr. Tobor" may have been intended to fool young theater-goers into thinking they would see the robot in the serial. In fact, the only robots on view are the ludicrous cardboard, fedora-wearing robots seen in the 1935 Gene Autry serial The Phantom Empire. (These were originally built as dancing robots, for the 1933 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical Dancing Lady).

Yes, the robots from the musical that were re-used in the cowboy / sci-fi serial. It’s a miracle the costumes were still usable.

But that’s not what threatens our heroes; their spaceship, enroute to the planet with a sciencey name, is hit by comets. Will they survive?



We'll find out next week, in episode two! Warning: I suspect you've seen every set the show has to offer.






blog comments powered by Disqus