The Solar Guards website celebrates the science fiction programs of the 1950s. I checked them out this morning after watching a DVD of 'Rocky Jones, Space Ranger' and found the following notice:
May 12th, 2006:
Frankie Thomas, Jr., died this evening at the Sherman Oaks Hospital of respiratory failure while recovering from a stroke.
We've lost Tom Corbett...
Jan Merlin played Roger Manning on 'Tom Corbett, Space Cadet' and they were life-long friends.
If you visit the Solar Guards, you'll find that they have set up a memorial page for Frankie Thomas Jr. where you can add your thoughts and any pictures you might have.
An hour later, the New York Sun was delivered and the security chief pointed out a lengthy tribute/obituary which was published for Frankie Thomas, Jr.
Here's the relevant segment from the L.A. Times obituary written by Dennis McLellan:
(Frankie) Thomas moved back to New York and worked frequently in radio and early television, including the soap opera "A Woman to Remember." In 1950, he was cast in the title role of Tom Corbett, a Space Academy cadet in training to become a member of the elite Solar Guard, 400 years in the future.
In landing the title role in the children's adventure show, Thomas beat out a number of young actors, including Jack Lemmon.
"Frankie looked like the all-American boy," said Jan Merlin, who played the wisecracking cadet Roger Manning ("So what happens now, space heroes?").
"There was a style of acting that kids in those days had, particularly Hollywood kids," Merlin told The Times. "If you were playing the all-American boy, you talked a certain way, you tensed your jaw in a certain way, and he fitted it.
"Everyone in the room knew immediately this was the guy we were going to get."
"Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" debuted in October 1950 as a 15-minute, three-nights-a-week series on CBS. The show later expanded to 30 minutes and aired variously on ABC, NBC and the DuMont networks. There also was a radio version.
In that pre-Sputnik era, the adventures of Tom Corbett and his fellow space travelers quickly caught on with viewers, who included a surprising number of adults.
"The disc jockeys all picked up our lingo: 'Blast your jets,' 'Don't fuse your tubes, 'Spaceman's luck,' " Thomas recalled in a 2005 interview with Starlog magazine. "We were hearing all of this and we said, 'Hey, if they're saying it, they're watching it.' "
Eventually, Thomas told the Asbury Park Press in 2000, "there were 135 different products bearing the name of 'Tom Corbett.' Kellogg's, which was a wonderful sponsor, renamed their second-biggest seller, Kellogg's Pep, the 'Solar Cereal.' They had my picture on the box."
Because the show aired live, it was prone to occasional flubs.
"Frank had a wonderful retentive memory, and frequently if an actor went up with his lines, Frankie would pop in and say the guy's lines for him," Merlin said.
On one occasion, Merlin recalled, "a fella was so nervous he began with Frank's line. So Frank answered with his line, and they did that through the entire scene. At the end of the scene, the director came out of the booth and said how wonderful they were and didn't realize they had changed lines.
"Frank was delighted with that; he had a marvelous sense of humor."
After the TV series ended in 1955, Thomas gave up acting and wrote for television and radio for a time. He then played on the bridge circuit with master players and taught recreational bridge for many years. He also was the longtime editor of the American Bridge Teachers' Assn. Quarterly Magazine and served as president of the organization.
Thomas also wrote a string of mystery novels, including "Sherlock Holmes and the Masquerade Murders," featuring Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character.
At his request, Thomas was buried Tuesday in his "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" costume.
For Toobworld, Frankie Thomas Jr.'s most famous role figured prominently in one of my first attempts at cobbling together a theory of "relateeveety".
In it, Tom Corbett was descended from Eddie Corbett, whose father was also named Tom Corbett. That Tom Corbett was a magazine editor in the early 1970s and he instilled in his son Eddie the values that would be passed down through the generations until they helped mold the moral background of Space Cadet Tom Corbett 400 years later.
TV SERIES TIE-IN
The Mercurian Invasion (1998) (V) .... Cadet Tom Corbett
'First Love' (1954) TV Series... Chris'Tom Corbett, Space Cadet' (1950) TV Series .... Tom Corbett
'One Man's Family' (1949) TV Series (as Frank Thomas Jr.) .... Cliff Barbour #1 (1949)
'A Woman to Remember' (1949) TV Series .... Charley Anderson