David Houston’s “They Went to the Stars” (1980) remembered space-themed 1950s sci-fi TV shows

By on May 8, 2019

About thirty minutes into this vintage full episode of “Night Flight,” which originally aired on September 28, 1982, you’ll find producer Wade Williams’ 1980 documentary They Went to the Stars: Science Fiction When TV was Live!

Watch this unique twenty-minute documentary — which isn’t available on Youtube or anywhere else online as far as we can tell — on Night Flight Plus.

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At one point, host Frankie Thomas — who is wearing the same blue-grey flying suit (borrowed from the 1950 feature film Destination Moon) that he’d worn in his TV series “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” — brings on special guest star Ed Kemmer, who played “Commander Edward ‘Buzz’ Corry” on Space Patrol.”

Even though they were on competing TV shows, both actors appear to have put aside any rivalry they made have had with each other to reflect nostalgically on their careers during the golden age of ’50s space-themed TV shows.

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Back then, audiences were able to tune in regularly to see popular black & white TV shows like “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet,” “Commando Cody,” “Space Ranger,” “Captain Video & His Video Rangers” and “Space Patrol,” a few of which we’ve previously told you about before here and here.

During the documentary, we see color-tinted black & white archival footage from several of these aforementioned TV shows, as well as footage from “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” (1954) and “Flash Gordon” (1954).

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“Programs then offered something that just isn’t around anymore,” says Thomas at one point, “even though today’s programs are certainly more elaborately produced.”

Kemmer chimes in with a perspective uniquely his own: “We did shows that were completely devoid of pessimism. People today seem suspicious of heroics.”

(Well, maybe back in the Eighties they were…)

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Kemmer is also wearing the same scarlet and green tunic he wore decades earlier.

Read more about They Went to the Stars below.

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Thomas’s Corbett was TV’s first man in space, as his show “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” — based loosely on Robert Heinlein’s novel Space Cadet, and originally to be titled “Cris Colby, Space Cadet” — began airing on October 2, 1950.

True, “Captain Video” had begun airing on television just a bit earlier, in late ’49, but the title character wasn’t technically a “spaceman.”

In fact, Captain Video and his operatives were based out of secluded mountain hideaway, where they contacted agents in the field via a video linkage, and so the show was actually more like a traditional serialized TV western series, airing serialized episodes within the framework of being a “space” show.

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Jan Merlin (“Roger Manning”), Thomas (center) and Al Markim (“Astro”)

Our personal favorite, “Space Patrol,” was the third sci-fi space-themed TV show, first airing on December 30, 1950, although it did not go national until 1951.

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Actor Frank Sutton — best known as “Sgt. Vince Carter” on “Gomer Pyle: USMC” — appeared as “Cadet Eric Raddison” on “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” (1953-1955)

Towards the end of They Went to the Stars, Thomas (as Corbett) then salutes Commander Corry, saying “Space man’s luck, Commander,” to which Kemmer (as Corry) responds, turning to the camera to address the viewer: “So long, Space Patrollers!”

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Professional wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson (who appeared in Plan 9 from Outer Space) was “Naboro” on TV’s “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” (1954)

Who knows? Perhaps there were even some viewers watching this documentary who’d made their own space helmets when they were kids — or nagged their parents to purchase the show’s ray guns or at least  boxes of cereal containing pictures from “Space Patrol” — kids who were now grown-ups watching shows like “Star Trek” in vivid, living color.

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This was the same ’50s generation, after all, who in the late Sixties had grown up to see real astronauts — and not actors on a Hollywood soundstage! — walking on the real moon in August 1969, which happened nearly fifty years ago.

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They Went To the Stars was written, directed and narrated by David Houston.

Later that same decade, Houston would also be credited as one of screenwriters on the Wade Williams-produced  Midnight Movie Massacre, which was finished in 1984, but not released theatrically until 1988.

That feature film was set during the ’50s in a movie theater, which just happens to be showing a real episode (“Back to the Future”) of “Space Patrol,” and at first glance these two projects appear to be Houston’s only screen credits, according to IMDB.

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We actually dug a little more diggin’ and found his résumé online, and in addition to being the co-creator, Editor-in-Chief and a regular contributor to Starlog — the monthly science-fiction magazine created in 1976 and focused primarily on “Star Trek,” at least at its inception — Houston has many more credits we felt we should also pass along.

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Houston was not only also the author of fourteen published books (both fiction and non-fiction, including several movie novelizations), as well as being the co-writer and Assistant Director on a comedy feature Attack from Mars and writing another documentary, Eclipse Cruise’s Voyage to Darkness, but among his numerous additional credits we saw that he’s worked as a playwright, technical writer/editor, reporter, art director, theatrical set designer, and actor.

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This this vintage full episode from 1982 — it’s also one of the oldest episodes we’ve added to our collection on Night Flight Plus, so we hope you’ll check it out for shits and giggles — also features a 25-minute documentary about the making of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, as well as lots of other early ’80s goodies.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.