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He was only 11 when he accompanied his mother to a casting office, where he stood in the background while his mother asked about possible openings in new Broadway shows. The agent replied, "I have nothing that suits you, Mona, but I can use the boy." Thomas wound up in a small part in Carry Nation (1932), where Jimmy Stewart was cast as a constable. Thomas appeared in six other Broadway plays between 1932 and 1936, including Little Ol' Boy with Burgess Meredith, Thunder on the Left, Wednesday's Child, The First Legion, Remember the Day, in which he appeared with his father, and Seen But Not Heard.
In Wednesday's Child he played the role of Bobby Phillips, the longest stage part ever written for a child performer. Thomas also developed a life long fascination with the character of Sherlock Holmes during this period, when he saw William Gillette perform the part during his farewell tour.
When Wednesday's Child was filmed in 1934, Thomas and his family traveled to Hollywood. His parents found character parts in films, while Thomas played the role of Bobby Phillips for the cameras. The following year he played Nello Daas in the film adaptation of the novel, A Dog of Flanders, by Ouida. In 1937 he appeared in the serial Tim Tyler's Luck, based on the comic strip by Lyman Young. Thomas often said that the serial was his equivalent of attending college, since he met so many notable silent-film stars who were in the cast. When not busy in Hollywood, Thomas would return to Broadway; however, the serial ended of his Broadway appearances for five years.
Tim Tyler's Luck (Universal, 1937). One Sheet (27" X
Did you know that the creators
of Tim Tyler's Luck and Blondie were brothers? Though Blondie
creator, Chic Young, remains the more famous of the two, his elder sibling,
Lyman, should share in some of his brother's prolonged success, as he must have
been his inspiration to pursue work in the comics industry.
Used by permission. ©2011 Gemstone Publishing, Inc. and/or Diamond International Galleries except where noted.
All other material ©2010 respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.
Tim Tyler stowsaway on a ship bound for Africa to find his father, Professor James Tyler. He meets, and is joined by, Lora Lacey, who is chasing the criminal "Spider" Webb, the man responsible for framing her brother.
Tim Tyler's Luck was an adventure comic strip created by Lyman Young, elder brother of Blondie creator Chic Young. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, the strip ran from August 13, 1928 until August 1996.
Lyman Young studied at the Chicago Art Institute and served in World War I before beginning his career as a cartoonist in 1924, taking over C.W. Kahles' strip The Kelly Kids. In 1927 he created The Kid Sister, a spin-off of The Kelly Kids.
When Tim Tyler's Luck started in 1928, Tyler was living in an orphanage. However, he soon left the orphanage for the outside world. When he teamed with an older sidekick, Spud, they began globe-trotting for a series of international adventures. Many tales took place in Africa, as noted by comic strip historian Don Markstein:
“Duped again!” Poor “Ted” Nickerson [Frankie Thomas] was always at the mercy of scheming Nancy Drew in the Nancy Drew movies. The basic premise of each movie was that something mysterious happened and Nancy got involved. Nancy drug Ted into her sleuthing schemes–often bribing or manipulating him.
Thomas's last "A" film was Boys' Town (1938) with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. Thomas was Freddy Fuller, Boys' Town's mayor, and was not asked to appear in the sequel, Men of Boys' Town (1941). Thomas thereafter appeared in "B" films such as Little Tough Guys in Society and Nancy Drew, Detective (both 1938), Nancy Drew, Reporter, Code of the Streets, Nancy Drew, Troubleshooter, The Angels Wash Their Faces, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, On Dress Parade and Invisible Stripes (all 1939). In 1941 he had small parts in Flying Cadets and One Foot in Heaven. His last film roles were small roles in Always in My Heart and The Major and the Minor (1942), where he played a military school cadet who flirted with the character played by Ginger Rogers.
His last appearance on Broadway was in Your Loving Son, which closed after just two performances in April 1941.
During World War II, he volunteered for service and spent five years in the Navy. Returning to New York after his tour of duty, he found himself working steadily in radio, doing over 1500 shows. As dramatic radio fell before television, Frankie switched channels and moved into the world of television. Liking actors with a background in live theater - after all, television of the time was live and anything could happen -- he did guest appearances on all the shows of the period including "Studio One" and the first five-days-a-week soap opera "A Woman to Remember". It was his stage work and his experience in a daily show that Frankie believed helped him get the lead in "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" in 1950.
Not long after the end of the "Tom Corbett" series, Frankie left the world of acting.
After that he took up teaching bridge, something he called "a good way for a former actor to find an audience". He became president of the American Bridge Teachers' Association, editor and publisher of "The Quarterly" bridge magazine, and associate editor of "Popular Bridge" magazine. And he also joined the ranks of professional writers. Surprisingly perhaps, his writings weren't in the universe of science fiction. Under the name of Frank Thomas, he wrote a dozen Sherlock Holmes novels, including "Sherlock Holmes and the Sacred Sword", "Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Bird", "Sherlock Holmes and the Masquerade Murders" and, combining two of his passions, "Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective".
But, of course, he'll most be remembered for bringing "Blast Off!" into the English language on "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet".
JAN MERLIN LOOKS BACK
THREE… TWO… ONE… ZERO!
Sixty years ago, we launched the Polaris for a five-year run on television, using all of the networks in turn. Most of us are gone now… and only our shadows remain to show what was seen in the first half of the nineteen-fifties. The sets were primitive; the effects were just being born then. But the stories tried to bring everyone into the future, with guidance from rocket expert Willy Ley and inventive direction by George Gould and Ib Melchior. We are fortunate to be able to see tapes and DVDs of some of the episodes and share laughs we had about them; a space pirate dying with a comic book tucked into the top of his boot, a “heavy” desperately searching for his script lines, hidden by himself all over the set for his use but cleared away by a meticulous stage crew, actors forgetting their words and being saved by those of us who improvised the missing parts for them… some of those moments are to be detected in these collections… many slip by unnoticed.
Reluctant to give up an era we loved, Frank and I tried to recreate our radio shows for film festivals and Solar Guard reunions we attended, often using fans as performers to fill out each cast. The final time the entire cast acted together took place at the Old Time Radio Convention in Newark, New Jersey, in 1993… George Gould directing, Jackson Beck announcing, Frankie Thomas, Al Markim, Ed Bryce, and myself, each sounding and acting as if no time had passed. Frankie and I remained close friends until his untimely death in 1986, ending our many reminiscent dinners. He’d have enjoyed being revived by the new BLUEWATER comic book series of Tom Corbett Space Cadet, for I know he was delighted about these rare SWAPSALE copies of our TV program episodes which have been made available to the public so long after the series ended.
Roger…and out… Jan Merlin
Jan Merlin and Frankie Thomas
Jan Merlin and Frankie Thomas speak about Tom Corbett, Space Cadet
After the performance of the radio play Tom Corbett, Space Cadet: Project Enigma, Jan Merlin and Frankie Thomas gave a talk, moderated by Bill Ruehlmann. They talked about how they had acquired their roles and their future careers.
Ruehlmann: Frankie, you came to performing through a distinguished theatrical family.
Frankie: Yes, I was very lucky. My father and mother were both in the business, my uncle and aunt too. But dad, you probably don?t recognize the name but you?d recognize the face. Among other things he was a star on Broadway. But in the latter part of his career he did 134 major motion pictures, and that sure beat me.
My parents, I might as well get this one in quick, did not believe in teaching actors. They did not believe in actors going to school. All they ever told me was: ?make it real.? And that?s been my little thing I?ve tried to do ever since. Which was a little hard, when you?ve got this fella on my right, you know, [Jan Merlin] but what the hell.
Ruehlmann: Was having professional parents a boon to you or an extra source of pressure because you had to live up to their expectations.
Frankie: It was a definite boon. They never expected me...they didn?t push me into the business. My mother got a call, a casting call in New York. And she went to this studio, and the director of this play, Blanche Yurka, she was the most famous female star of Ibsen plays, and she said, Mona (that was my mother?s name), all of the characters in this play are much older than you, (now, I had gone with mother because she picked me up from school), and I was standing in the door, and Blanche looked up and said, ?But I can use the kid.? And that was my first job.?
In 1933, I did a play called Wednesday?s Child, [at the age of 12] which is the longest and they say the most difficult juvenile part ever written for a child, and that record still stands. And it was just a great part, I mean it was hard to miss. So right after we opened, to rather good notices I?m glad to say, RKO bought the play and they took me out to the coast to make the picture, and that was the beginning of...
Jan: I?ll interject here that when he did the picture, if you see the picture, you?ll see Frankie Thomas nestled in his screen father?s lap, who had a great big tummy [Edward Arnold], and he had a hearty laugh that he used in every movie he ever made, and little Frankie, scene stealer as he was, was patting him on the stomach and using the same laugh, and he was a very uncomfortable leading actor.
Frankie Thomas WAS Tom Corbett. After a long and successful career in the theatre, movies, radio and television he was still a real person who treated his fans and friends with respect and grace.
He was born to a family of entertainers making his Broadway stage debut in the arms of his mother at the young age of 8 months. His parents were successful actor Frank M. Thomas and actress Mona Bruns who, along with Frankie, became known as the First Family of Television.
Frankie's movie career included his juvenile role in Wednesday’s Child and the Dog of Flanders. He danced with Ginger Rogers in the Major and The Minor, worked with Jimmy Stewart, Mickey Rooney and Ronald Regan. He starred with Bonita Granville in the Nancy Drew Mysteries and did radio work on hit 1940’s shows such as Our Gal Sunday, Armstrong Circle Theater and The FBI.
However, it is the Tom Corbett Space Cadet radio and television show that he felt he was at the top of his professional career. He said it many times in interviews and to his fans “… after Tom Corbett… what else could I do?” Always with a smile and a chuckle.
TOM CORBETT SPACE CADET
Space Academy USA--in the world beyond tomorrow! 2350 AD! Here Space Cadets train for duty on distant planets... in roaring rockets, they blast through the millions of miles from earth to far-flung stars, and brave the dangers of cosmic frontiers! Protecting the liberty of the planets, safeguarding the cause of Universal Peace, in the Age of the Conquest of Space!
There was probably no introduction more stirring than the one used to introduce the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet shows to its viewers and listeners in the early 1950's. The deep, thrilling tones of Jackson Beck, the catchy marching tune, the quick sharp harmonics of the organ that punctuated the countdown. Tom Corbett, through most of its TV career had it all; good writing, excellent costumes and sets, the best live visuals in television, and a superb cast. Even the original 15 minute format was a plus, building within its limited framework a brisk pace with many sustaining and suspenseful moments.
Corbett, of all the kids space exploration shows has the most unique broadcasting history. It may have been the only TV program to ever broadcast live over all four major networks (Dumont being the fourth). Twice the show went into a hiatus of eleven months and five months, only to come back as strong as ever. Even as late as 1957 the show was again being considered for revival after being off the air for more than 18 months.
The merchandising and ad agencies behind the show certainly were a factor in the success of the show, and indeed the success of the many items of merchandise gave us the pulse of the success of the show. Tom Corbett made inroads into every possible merchandising area imaginable: books, comics, comic strips, toys, premiums, records, games, and other items. Only Captain Video managed to monopolize one area that Tom Corbett didn't reach: the silver screen with the making of the Captain Video twelve chapter serial play.
Yet, strangely enough, the show was probably the most "earthbound" of all the kids space exploration programs. The story editors built the show around situations with which the audience was totally familiar, throwing them in the future and outer space. The crew of the Polaris seldom traveled outside the Solar System, and seldom encountered a true alien being during the five year history of the show. Much of the action centered around problems encountered at the Space Academy, or while in training aboard the Polaris. While in training manuevers the Polaris crew might encounter a meteor shower, an engine malfunction, a lost spaceman, a sick crew member, or a rescue mission. Once in a while the crew might struggle against space pirates, claim grabbers, killers, escaped convicts, colony upraisings, and mutinies in outer space. And on occassions the cadets where asked to become a courier service in delivering vaccines, emergency supplies or secret documents to one of the other planets or their sattelites.
Some of the best action centered around Space Week, used several times during the series, in which various crews of the Space Academy vied against each other for top honors, and the prestige of being acknowledged as the reigning winners as the best crew at the Academy. Highlighting the contests were races; in outer space, in space suits, or amongst the various vessels, including the Polaris, Vulcan, Ceres, and Pallas crews. The crew of the Vulcan, headed by Cadet Eric Raddison (Frank Sutton) was a primary advisary of the Polaris crew. Tensions were especially livid between Eric and Roger Manning. Coordinated Space manuevers were also an opportunity for new encounters in outer space between the Polaris and Vulcan crews, causing some volatile and classic conflicts during the programs too brief history.
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Space adventurer Tom Corbett blasts off again in new series
LONG BEFORE before Kirk and Spock were schooled at Starfleet, Tom Corbett: Space Cadet trained at the Space Academy.
Now, Washington-based publisher Bluewater Productions is set to revive the iconic 1950s space adventurer in a new comic book mini-series.
Jan Merlin, Bruce David (Swapsale) and Frankie Thomas in 2005
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