An essay of the production
PATROL on the KECA / ABC NETWORK LOT with some background on the studio's
history and the Hollywood home of
By Tom (The Crimson Collector) Mason
Let’s begin with a little background on
the old stomping grounds of Space Patrol: KECA-TV
located at The ABC Television Center lot in Los Angeles, California.
Patrol’s KECA home was originally the old Vitagraph Studios lot (pictured at right circa 1928) that the American
Broadcasting Company had purchased in 1948 and would later dub The ABC Television Center.
It was one of the oldest movie lots in Los Angeles. It had first opened as a
movie studio in 1912. Its main gate entrance stood undisturbed until Warner
Brothers bought the site in 1925 and installed an archway framing that gate to
give it a different look. Through
the years many famous and historic films had been produced on the property,
including many William S. Hart films, Keystone films, Don Juan (1926), Public
Enemy, Svengali, Captain Blood, Noah’s Ark, parts of Phantom of the Opera
(with Lon Chaney), Jolson’s Jazz Singer, The Sea Beast (1926), Blue Skies
w/Bing Crosby, just to name a few. At one time there was a lake on the property
which the sea-going films used to great advantage. Years later when ABC went to build some
new buildings, they had to sink deep support pilings because of the water table
ABC turned Vitagraph Studio's old lot
into a combined television studio and West Coast headquarters; it housed both
the local station and network operations. (Pictured at
left ABC/KECA main gate circa 1950) New buildings to house the offices and
technical facilities were built in anticipation of future operations and
expansion. After all, they had
approximately 22 acres and they meant to use it.
ABC first renamed the “Phantom Stage”
where parts of Lon Chaney’s classic film had been filmed to STUDIO
"E". The newly named studio-E was renovated extensively, its proscenium arch and
opera house style balconies and boxes were taken down and the theater look was
reconfigured into a television stage.
I corresponded with a friend from ABC, a retired technical director, Bob
Kemp who started at KECA as a young man in the late 1950s. He had this to
say about the studio: “When the old opera stage, (E) was in its heyday (in the
1920's) and The Phantom was shooting. Stages A and B were just beginning to be
built. One day a fellow engineer and I were assigned to run some cables under
studios "A" and "B". We crawled through years of dust
to complete the task. Somewhere in the Northeast corner we found a
concrete pylon with the signature of: "Al Olson" written on it. I
went back a few times in later years with a camera (to take a picture) and never
found it again. Years later, of course, it was demolished. I surmised that
Al Olson visited the construction site and signed one of the pylons that
I saw many years later. It was known that Jolson had shot parts of the “Jazz Singer” on that very studio-E
|Studio-E as it appeared in the
late 50's and early 60's.
When I first came to ABC, there was a
large painting on the side of studio-E which was a backdrop for a western,
something about Gunsight Pass. This was for a western production called “The Marshal of Gunsight Pass” it
was done “live” on the lot in 1950. The show went through three different
Marshals in the approximately six months it was on the air. Russell Hayden was Marshal
#1, Eddie Dean was Marshal #2
and Riley Hill was Marshal
Inside of the Phantom's old opera house
studio (E) there was a great proscenium which I saw. The stage was raised and
boxes surrounded the stage that had an enormous drape that closed off the
Along with the removal of the opera stage
look, control rooms were added on a second floor adjacent to the stage from
which one could peer down on the stage from the audio booth through large
sound-proof glass windows. At that time, it was one of the largest TV stages in
Hollywood and would make a great home for the future SPACE PATROL. Years later it
became the studio used by The
Lawrence Welk Show as well as many music variety shows and
dramas. Studio-E had catwalks high above the stage that were utilized for many
scenes in SPACE PATROL, especially in the sequences that took place in Space
Patrol’s villainous Prince Baccarratti’s castle. Some of the old ABC crew
members recall shooting a SPACE PATROL episode by combining two stages at one
time that could be linked together by opening the connecting “elephant
doors” to make one huge stage. These
had to be studios A & B as they were the only stages on the lot constructed
in that manner. Comedian Ernie Kovacs (who's show The Ernie Kovacs Show shot on the
lot from 1952-56) had once similarly joined the two stages for a sequence
where he wandered through a museum’s halls. But it was studio E that was to be
the home-base for SPACE PATROL.
|The cast of Space Patrol
(circa 1951) in the KECA/ABC commissary.
Click for a larger view.
Now, let’s get a bit more specific
about SPACE PATROL…
Any fan of Space Patrol knows it was
created by Mike Moser, a former U.S. Navy Air Force Veteran who had been
in charge of training hurricane-hunter squadrons in World War II.
In an interview given to Time Magazine in
1952, Moser said that he conceived the idea for the series while flying across
the Pacific Ocean. He began to
think about the universe and its future. He
wanted to create a program for children that would bring an exciting future to
them just as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon had done to him in his
In 1950 he brought his concept for SPACE
PATROL to the American Broadcasting Company’s Los Angeles owned and operated
station, KECA-TV. They bought it and SPACE PATROL was ready to blast off.
In 1951 the show began to air nightly as
a fifteen minute series.
The original steel-jawed Commander-in-Chief of the
SPACE PATROL, which policed the United Planets, a central government of many
interstellar systems, was “Kit Corry” (Glen Denning). To say that he was not up to the task
would be an understatement. He was a masterpiece of bad casting. Denning often forgot his lines, and came
across as short-tempered with Cadet Happy (Lyn Osborn) during his cadet
training. Denning was even accused of falling asleep on the air. Moser soon realized that if his show was
to survive, it needed another lead actor. As Denning’s run on SPACE
PATROL began to run out, Kit Corry started getting “Space-O-Phone” messages
from his kid brother “Buzz Corry” and he even screwed up his lines there,
calling Buzz “Kit” and vice versa, confusing their names. Buzz had not yet
been cast and these space-a-phone conversations with him were voiced by Ken Mayer, who would soon
become Major Robbie Robertson.
Lyn Osborn, a former radioman in WWII, had
studied at the Pasadena Playhouse and knew Ed Kemmer as a fellow graduate and
told him the part of Buzz Corry was opening up.
Kemmer auditioned for the part on
Osborn’s tip and he was quickly hired to “take over” the duties as
Commander-in-Chief Buzz Corry from Denning’s botched casting as Kit Corry. Kemmer was an immediate hit as the lead.
Kemmer was a real-life war hero who had been shot down over Germany after
completing almost fifty missions. Many things were in his favor. Here was a
strong but benevolent mentor for cadet Happy. He was handsome, had a winning
smile, but was firm and ready to fight it out with all the space villains when
necessary. Kemmer and Osborn had
great chemistry together and it carried over to the television screen. All the
actor's hoped that the show would catch on and go network as their initial
paychecks for each 15 minute episode was approximately eight dollars. And
interesting contrast to the average per episode paycheck of $35,000-$50,000 that
a sit-com actor today may receive. There were
rumors that they took part time jobs parking cars to supplement their income.
Their perseverance paid off, as later on when the show did indeed go network,
their salaries escalated to $45,000.00 a year.
As soon as the show became popular, ABC
wasted no time in adding a radio show to the already heavy work-load of Kemmer
and company. At the end of each Saturday’s TV episode, the announcer would
remind us to listen to SPACE PATROL on radio each Saturday as well. Today, there
are about a hundred of these radio shows existing and readily available in MP3
disc format on the internet. Decca Records also got into the act and had the
cast record some SPACE PATROL audio adventures for a record album.
The work load of all those (combined)
shows put a strain on the memories of many of the actors. Many often forgot
their lines on camera and Buzz and Happy would sometimes have to prompt them,
working it into the dialog. The actor's often used “crib sheets” taped
up on the set, out of the range of the camera, so that they could “remind”
themselves of what lines they were to say next.
Sets built for the show were not all they appeared to be on camera. They were
flimsy and the actors had to be careful in fight scenes not to lean their full
body weight against them as they had a tendency to fall over. That did happen on camera a few times and in some cases you
could practically see them holding up the sets so they would not fall.
SPACE PATROL’S producer and writer
often did double duty… the man who was to become the head writer on the show, Norman Jolly, doubled as the
villainous “Agent X”. The
associate producer Bella Kovacs
created the role of Prince Baccarratti, and soon became the foremost nemesis to
Commander Corry and the United Planets. Donning
a black leather jacket rented from Western Costume from the 1939 Columbia serial
“Flying G-Men”, Kovacs even
became known by the serial character’s name of “The Black Falcon”.
On radio, he played many different characters and often doubled in other roles
on the TV series as well. No matter how they disguised him and made him up, his
thick accent always made him easy to identify.
It is interesting to note that in the
early days of the series, there was no major budget. Wardrobe had to be rented
from the famous Western
Costume Co. and uniforms and costumes were reused from many of the famous
serial cliffhangers. Time and again the Captain Marvel tunic (pictured at right) was used and
modified. Luckily there were different sizes as worn by Tom Tyler and his stuntman David Sharpe. In an early
SP episode, sniveling villain Don Gordon wore the Captain Marvel Tunic, and even
the father of Carol, the Secretary General of the United Planets wore the tunic
at one time with some added piping. Poor Carol, she acquired several
“fathers” as the part of the Secretary-General was cast with many different
actors at times.
Superman clothing from the
serial’s Krypton opener appeared as well as pieces from Flash Gordon, Buck
Rogers, Flying G-Men, and most any science-fiction serial that could be used for
futuristic garb. Nina Bara as
Tonga even had her original outfit custom-made for her by her mother. The
lightning bolt insignia on Buzz Corry’s uniform noticeably changed several
times during the run of the show. When the show went network, specially designed
custom uniforms were made for the cast and it gave them a whole new look, and would
become the "definitive" look we know today. Many franchised clothing
items were made available to the young fans at their local department stores,
and many items that had been premiums on the show appeared in stores as well.
Outer space garb was something else...
the spacesuits from George Pal’s
Paramount film release “Destination
Moon” were extensively used with the big plastic bubble helmets. You could
see where a section of the face plate had been cut away to make the actor's
faces more visible and to stop the bubbles from fogging up from the actor’s
breath. When donning the helmets, the actors just had to set them on their
shoulders and they were miraculously sealed to the suit. A spiffy Space Patrol-inspired bubble
space helmet with the logo and neat graphics could be purchased by youngsters in
their local department stores and many exist to this day and are sold and
collected at premium prices. To see many collectibles of Space Patrol items, you
only have to visit Ebay
where the roster of goodies changes daily.
Buzz’s famous Terra space cruisers may
have become slicker as the show went on, but the interiors stayed curiously
awkward. The controls and futuristic gear were strangely World War II-looking.
Early cockpit seats were nothing more than a bench then crude aluminum bucket
seats and only later on were they to be replaced by revolving upholstered seats
such as we might see in a living room at home.
Marvin Jacobs, an optical engineer, who developed the “Big Jake” lens for
the station and became its top optical engineer, told me of how he would comb
the war surplus stores on Hollywood Blvd. for old tech equipment and hardware
that he could trick up for the show. As the show matured, instruments with
blinking lights appeared on the side of the cockpit, and airplane type controls
made for a better appearance of piloting the ship through space. Viewing ports
similar to port-holes in sea-going vessels were installed in the ships. (Which
lead to unknowing crew-men walking behind and in front of these port holes "live-on-air')
A curious design oversight was that the sleek Terra V flagship had just two
seats in the cockpit and any extra passengers were obliged to stand, looking
over the shoulders of Buzz and Happy. Exiting
the space-ship was another oddity. In place of having an exit-way in the side of
the ship, everyone exited through a hatch in the topside of the rocket, climbing
up a mysterious ladder that would only appear out of nowhere for those exits. A
couple of the original camera men said it was always an interesting sight to see
the female leads scramble up those ladders in their abbreviated outfits.
Weapons on the show varied from homemade
hand-held ray guns to over-the-counter toys, all were put into service at one
time or another. Old publicity
photos clearly show Happy holding an old toy Smoke-Ring Gun (made by Nu-Age
Products Inc) which was sold with special rocket shaped matches that would fill
the chamber of the gun with smoke when the gun was cocked. An air bladder blew
perfect smoke rings out of the barrel. This could be purchased in most any
toy-store; it had no resemblance to the authorized Cosmic Smoke Gun offered as a
premium later in the series’ run. Even
the durable Marx Signal Ray Gun was used. Marx marketed it under the name of
their space hero, Rex Mars, then Tom Corbett, and even a Space Patrol version
was sold. Marx licensed it to anybody who would sign up. Eventually the Space
Patrol members were given their own specially designed side-arm. It was molded
in various colors by U.S. Plastics. In toy stores it came with assorted darts. A
deluxe version was marketed with a holster and belt. It was named the Rocket Dart Gun
and the TV cast usually carried the model molded in red plastic. Imagine that, the actual show used the very toy that any of
us could buy in our local stores. The
prop-man put aside the toy darts and settled for dubbed in sound effects. In
later years Dan Dare, an English space show had Merit Toys either beg, borrow or
steal the design from U.S. Plastics and released their Dan Dare Rocket gun
themselves in metallic colors.
Later on, U.S. Plastics created the
famous Cosmic Smoke Gun as a premium for the series and we all had the
opportunity to send in for our own gun. The
first version was in red and was approximately 4 ˝ inches long. Later on, another version was available
in stores in green with a slightly longer barrel. You loaded the funnel-like tip
of the gun with smoke powder, (actually talcum) and pulled the trigger and the
powder was propelled out of the interior rubber bladder with a puff of air and
if things worked well, it looked like smoke. A rifle dubbed the Auto-Sonic rifle
molded in red and yellow plastic was offered, but few of them survive to this
day. Sure enough, most all these items just “happened” to work their way
into the story lines of the show making them all the more desirable to viewers
who wanted to play along with Buzz & Happy on the show.
In all, there were five local 15 minute
episodes on local TV each week, a weekly radio show and a half hour Saturday
morning network show, not to mention personal appearances. Due to the time differences between the
East and West coasts, the show had to be shot at 8 A.M. at KECA to make the
scheduled 11 A.M. time in New York. It was the first regular live coast to coast
Saturday morning series. This was accomplished by utilizing cable and multiple
relay stations to send it live to New York. Today we use satellites, but those
were years off. Los Angeles saw it delayed via a “hot” kinescope
recording: a sort of “instant movie.” (kinescope
recording camera pictured at right) These “hot kines,” as they
were called, got their name because of the speed in which they had to be
processed in order to be shown in a few hours. At first they were shot on 16mm
film. Later, as the show’s budget
grew, they were shot on 35mm for added quality and resolution.
If you would like a more detailed summery of the types of
equipment used by ABC / KECA in the production of Space Patrol CLICK HERE.
Various historians put the number of the
fifteen minute local telecasts at approximately 900 shows, 210 Saturday morning
network shows, and over 200 radio performances. The dates given for the total
run of the show are from 1950 through 1955.
Ralph W. Emerson, a radio engineer for
ABC at the time recalls: “ I was still in radio when SPACE PATROL was done at
the main lot when creator Mike Moser was killed (April 23 1953) crossing Vine Street in front of
the ABC Theater" (where the radio show was done). Moser was struck and knocked some 85 feet, the
driver of the car did not see him. Moser’s untimely death helped
about the end eventual of the series. ABC
tried to negotiate the purchase of the rights to the show from Moser’s widow,
but she would not sell them to the network.
Unable to acquire the show, ABC cancelled it in 1955. Re-runs of old kinescopes were marketed in
syndication as “SATELLITE POLICE” for a time after the show left the
Eventually, Moser’s widow licensed SPACE PATROL to an entrepreneur, Wade
Williams, letting him market the video rights to such companies as the Nostalgia
Merchant and Rhino Video and eventually his own company Atomic Television.
Nostalgia Merchant and Rhino released some episodes in a few collections and
others are available as mentioned from Williams’ own company. Most of these
are the later half hour network episodes from the better 35MM kinescope
recordings. Since then numerous old
kinescopes of both the early 15 minute shows as well as the network half hours
shows have turned up from various vendors as being in the public domain, a fact
that Williams contests. Still, copies of the shows are available readily
on places like Ebay
and from websites like Swapsale (If you want the really old shows, starting
with Denning and moving along to Kemmer, then I recommend Bruce David’s
Swapsale: http://www.swapsale.com/) as
they have many hours of those early shows. Sure, the kinescopes they are mastered
from are old and tired, but all the excitement and fun is there. Swapsale also
has a quantity of the later half hour shows as well. I have purchased many
volumes of the old shows from him and they are still fun to watch.
In all the thirty-six years that I worked
at the ABC Television Center lot, construction never stopped, stages were
rebuilt and new ones were added. Today,
under Disney’s reign, (Leonard Goldenson & United Paramount Theaters
bought ABC in 1951 - Capital Cities Broadcasting bought ABC in 1986 - Disney
bought ABC from Capital Cities in August of 1995) many of
the TV studios have been stripped to be used as bare studio space for in-house
film productions or rented out to outside film companies. The only two network shows actively
produced on the lot now are General Hospital and it's spin-off Port Charles,
both daytime soap operas. Studio-E, SPACE PATROL'S home had become a storage facility for General Hospital’s
mobile sets. Just an empty stage devoid of cameras and activity, reduced to a
No longer do we hear the voices of Jack
Narz, Dick Tufeld or Roger Barkley inviting us to join them in adventures in the
vast reaches of outer space… the roar of the rockets has long been silenced.
Today, after Disney bought the network,
they have moved all of the local production of KABC-TV to new facilities in
Burbank, California. Only General Hospital & Port Charles are produced using
electronic cameras now, along with some news inserts from the west coast. Prime
time shows such as the Academy Awards are done outside the studio as outside
packages to be funded by the network. No "studio staff" people do these types of specials
anymore. Many engineers who have
retired or taken buy-out packages have returned to the lot or to location
sporting events as "daily hire" employees - hired as they are needed.
The days of taped dramas and variety/comedy shows are gone from the old lot. In May of 2002, Disney dropped the name
“ABC Television Center” and renamed it “The Prospect Studio.” The idea
is to make the studio facilities available to all ABC-Disney productions as well
as film, television, and commercial producers, independent of the mother
company. In the industry this is referred to as four-walling. The new Prospect
Studios Logo is based on the original 1915 entry gate to the Vitagraph Studios
with the later Warner Bros archway framing the main gate to the lot.
|KABC Studios on Prospect Ave.
KABC/Channel 7 moved to their new television studios and vacated the Vitagraph/ABC
lot in December 2000.
Demolition of 1960s-70s era buildings has
already begun. The original 1915 buildings and bungalows are considered historic
studio structures and will remain. The lot will be renovated, restored, and
upgraded for modern film and television production needs. Some original sound
stages will be renovated for rental along with other facilities nearby. As part
of a 24-month program, the building exteriors will be repainted and repaired
with a consistent color scheme that will emphasize the long history of the lot.
Stages and streets on the lot will be renamed to carry over the historic theme
of the entire studio. The vestiges of the old shows like Space Patrol are fast becoming only a fond memory.
Only through the magic of video tape,
which has preserved the old kinescope recordings can we relive the fun of SPACE
Television production in the fifties had
a real sense of excitement to it, mistakes were made on-air and that only
enhanced the enjoyment knowing it was “live.” Memories of these early days
remain vivid in my memory and it is sad to see that those days will never
So Space Cadets, get out those old tapes
and relive those high adventures in the vast reaches of outer space, missions of
daring in the name of interplanetary justice, and travel into the future with
Buzz Corry, commander in chief of the SPACE PATROL!
As Cadet Happy so aptly put it…