Friday, November 7, 2008

Rocket Kid to the Moon

In 1949 Republic Pictures introduced Rocket Man to matinee audiences in a 12-chapter cliffhanging serial called King of the Rocket Men. Three years later, in 1952, Republic resurrected Rocket Man in the sequel serial: Radar Men from the Moon, this time out introducing him as a new atomic-age scientific superhero called “COMMANDO CODY, Sky Marshal of the Universe.”

Matinee at the Bijou associate producer and journalist Lance Pugh fondly remembers the impact and influence Rocket Man had on his imagination while growing up during the 1950s. Here Lance recalls one such flight of fancy.

To the moon and beyond...
By Lance K. Pugh

One late Saturday afternoon, decades ago, I returned home from a matinee at our local movie theater full of celestial inspiration, for I had just seen another episode of Commando Cody, who could zip about in his rocket jacket to save the world as I then knew it.

I parked my bike and headed into the garage, which was then filled with wood scraps from a remodeling project. I took some window trim and tacked it together in the shape of a small rocket ship, much like the one I had seen in the serial. I put two chairs in the front, filled up balloons with air, got my cub scout compass, then began experimenting with what I hoped would be a rocket fuel capable of propelling me and my dreams deep into outer space.

There was so much to do. I needed a radio that, in my mind, was capable of two way communication throughout the universe. Next I got a pasta strainer that doubled as a crash helmet, as well as a sash to keep my ray gun (water pistol) and sword in place as I made final preparations for my initial blast-off towards the stars. I put on some safety goggles and heavy-duty gloves, as I knew that there would be much work to do while keeping our galaxy safe from all manner of evil.

I brought aboard a bag of fire crackers, bottle rockets and cherry bombs in case trouble could not be avoided, as well as a bucket of water should a fire break out. A sack of candy, some soda pops, chewing gum and a handful of Oreo cookies were considered emergency rations and were treated accordingly.

My dog joined me as my co-pilot and companion as the countdown entered its final hour.

While the rocket fuel bubbled and brewed I put on some plastic roman battle armor and borrowed a map, phone book and tin foil, which would be needed if a beam weapon pierced the hull.

Well, there is nothing worse than shooting for the stars on an empty stomach, so I went into the kitchen and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to silence the grumblings in my gut. A tall glass of milk joined the mix and immediately my eyelids drooped while I pawed my way towards bed, realizing that a star trooper stung by lack of sleep was of little use in outer space.

In only little more than an hour later I was back in the game, ready to lope from comet to moon, Pluto to Pleiades to protect the Earth from maniacal machinations, claws, tentacles and death rays.

Back to my space ship I shuffled, wearing a belt ringed with a dozen boxes of Cracker Jacks as testimony to my resolve. I poured the rocket fuel into a stock pot, lit the fuse and sat back in my chair as my mind raced through the rings of Saturn.

What happened next was a matter of pure speculation. Some said that a flame longer than the tongue of the Devil lapped its way throughout the garage and around several of our avocado trees. Others swear that a sonic boom put the kibosh on their hearing aids, reducing them to mumbles and grunts. On the other hand I felt a surge of thrust and glee as I, at least metaphorically, bounded beyond the moon in a blink.

By the time my parents got home the fire trucks had departed, leaving me with much less to explain. My undoing was a note left on the door mat, which contained the following:

“Your 10 year-old son is truly out of this world. See that he gets terrestrial help.”

( was last seen trying to levitate the lawn mower using only kelp and diesel fuel.)


Republic Pictures actually produced four serials featuring the Rocket Man character. The third was Zombies of the Stratosphere and the fourth was Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe. There is some controversy surrounding the last Commando Cody serial as to whether it should be categorized as a theatrical serial or a television series. According to IMDB and Wikipedia, Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe was developed as a scientific superhero for television, but due to union contract requirements, had to have a limited theatrical release prior to debuting on TV in 1955. My Childhood Hero is a very informative online tribute to Commando Cody by Maryland artist and Rocket Man fan Dave Zippi.

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