When I was growing up, in 1954, we didn't have the internet, cell phones, cable tv, or video games. We did have one very important thing BLACK and WHITE Television! YEA! We had all of 3 channels and a 9 or 12 inch screen.
We had great shows for kids in those days; Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger, Captain Video and the greatest of them all "SPACE PATROL"
Once a week my brothers and I gathered around our amazing TV and watched Commander Corey and youthful Cadet Happy roam the 30th century universe in their ship "Terra" fighting super-villains Mr. Proteus and Prince Baccarratti and other bad guys. Captured bad guys get zapped with the Paralyzer, then get reprogrammed with the Brainograph.
What more could you ask for, but wait, there is more!!
The stories followed the 30th-century adventures of Commander-in-Chief Buzz Corry of the United Planets Space Patrol and his young sidekick Cadet Happy, as they faced interplanetary villains with diabolical schemes. As was common at the time, some of these villains had Russian- or German-sounding accents. Cmdr. Corry and his allies were aided by such sci-fi gadgets as ray guns, "miniature space-o-phones" and "atomolights". Most episodes carried such pulp-magazine titles as "Revolt of the Space Rats" and "The Menace of Planet X". Originally, the Space Patrol's purpose was that of "clearing the space lanes" but it evolved into an intergalactic space police and military force charged with keeping the peace. The show was originally pitched as a cop show in outer space.
The show was targeted to children, but attracted a sizable adult audience. Many episodes featured commercial tie-in merchandise, like toys and mail-order premiums, that were advertised during commercial breaks. Many of the ads for corporate sponsor Ralston Purina's Chex cereals used the show's space opera motif in their pitches. A unique feature of the TV and radio adventures was that the premium of the month was often worked into the story action. This permitted young viewers to feel that they were participating in the radio or televised adventures. Space Patrol's best known premium was a "Name the Planet" contest wherein the winner was awarded the program's Terra IV spaceship. The prize was a giant trailer in the shape of the series' space craft. One of the many "Name the Planet" commercials may be viewed online.
The "Name the Planet" contest is where I came in. What kid wouldn't want a real live space ship? Of course I was going to enter that contest, every kid in the entire world entered. But, first, I had to come up with a name that would be a winner.
The Phantom Empire is a 1935 American Western serial filmstarring Gene Autry. This 12-chapter serial combined the western, musical, and science fiction genres. The first episode is 30 minutes, the rest about 20 minutes. The serial film is about a singing cowboy who stumbles upon an ancient subterranean civilization living beneath his own ranch that becomes corrupted by unscrupulous greedy speculators from the surface. This was Gene Autry's first starring role, playing himself as a singing cowboy.[
Gene Autry is a singing cowboy (what a suprise) who runs Radio Ranch, a dude ranch from which he makes a daily live radio broadcast at 2:00 pm. Gene has two kid sidekicks, Frankie Baxter and Betsy Baxter, who lead a club, the Junior Thunder Riders, in which the kids play at being armored knights of an unknown civilization, the mysterious Thunder Riders who make a sound like thunder when they ride. The kids, dressing up in capes and water-bucket helmets, play at riding "To the rescue!" (their motto).
A chance to become real heroes occurs when Betsy, Frankie, and Gene are kidnapped by the real Thunder Riders (who spend a lot of time wearing buckets on their heads, sitting on wooden benches and watching TV) from the super-scientific underground empire of Murania (Note the name), complete with towering buildings, robots, ray-guns, advanced television, elevator tubes that extend miles from the surface, and the icy, blonde, evil Queen Tika. On the surface, criminals led by Professor Beetson plan to invade Murania and seize its radium wealth, while in Murania, a group of revolutionaries plots to overthrow Queen Tika.
The inhabitants of Murania are the lost tribe of Mu, who went underground in the last glacial period 100,000 years ago, and now live in a fantastically advanced city 25,000 feet below the surface. They cannot now breathe the air at ground level and must wear oxygen masks. (Surface dwellers have no trouble breathing Muranian air.) The Thunder Guard emerges to the surface world from a cave with a huge rock door that swings up like a garage door.
Professor Beetson hears of the huge deposits of radium which is below Radio Ranch. He convinces Gene to help him find the entrance to Murania. He conives with the Muranian Rebels to get the radium. Gene is in the way so both the Muranians and Professor Beetson want to get rid of Autry. They frame Gene for murder, so he loses his radio contract and Radio Ranch is vacated
Gene is not going to take this laying down, so he sets off to take on the Muranians. Frankie and Betsy escape from their cell in Murania and open the Garage Door for Gene. Gene tells the Queen that Argo, the rebel leader, is the traitor and learning of this, Argo starts the revolution. Argo takes over control of Murania and sentences the Queen to death. Gene saves the Queen and locks Argo and his men in the room with the death ray (really cool death ray) which gets out of control. With the end of Murania imminent the Queen refuses to leave. Gene and the others reach the surface where Gene must still face the murder charge. But he is cleared and all's well the ends well.
So now that you know the background, here is the rest of the story. Space Patrol was facing it's biggest danger with the notorious Planet X. All of the Space Cadets, myself included, are asked to name the planet. I guess this was so they would know what they were up against. The sponsor Ralston/Purina, makers of Wheat Chex & Corn Chex, had been going around the country, touring with their full sized replicas of the Space Patrol Rocket "Terra". They had 2 of them, so they decided that one of them should be given to the winner of the contest.
This was not a small replica, this was the real thing with a full size semi truck to haul it. What kid wouldn't love to get that? What parent wouldn't have nightmares about that?
So, not being very creative, I entered the contest and used the name "Murania"! Several Months go by and the contest ended. Then the mailman knocked on the door and said he had a registered letter. It was a letter from Space Patrol saying I had won a prize!!! It didn't say what I had won, just that I had won a prize.
To make a long story short, my parents didn't want me to accept the prize (they said that was because I cheated but I think they didn't want a semi in the front yard) but when I got the invitation to appear on the Wrangler Steve show, they gave in. Wangler Steve was a local Saturday morning western kids show. They were going to have all the local kids that had won a prize in the contest.
It turns out that I had won 2nd prize. The were several 2nd prizes, which was a Schwinn Varsity 3 Speed lightweight bicycle. This was really cool at the time, any bike that didn't have balloon tires was high tech and with 3 speeds at that.
In case you were wondering, when Wrangler Steve asked me how I came up with the name, I said I named it after my mother "Marian". It sounded good at the time and since one of the other kids used Mesabi for his name,(that's the iron range in northern Minnesota) I figured I was good.
Unfortunately this is a sad story, because I didn't win the rocket. I'm sure my parents wouldn't agree with this. The winner was a kid in Illinois. He named Planet X "Cesaria", which I think is a dumb name and mine was better. He kept it for a few years, sold it to a carnival and then it faded into oblivion. What a shame! I would have lived in it. OH WELL! At least I can say that I've been on TV!
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