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This Photo Spoiled The Rocketman Magic Back in 1951

Illustration for article titled This Photo Spoiled The Rocketman Magic Back in 1951

Many American kids of the 1950s and 60s were absolutely obsessed with all things space. They were particularly enamored with the space action heroes that they saw on TV — in shows like Captain Video, Space Patrol, and Commando Cody.


One can't help but think that kids like Elroy Jetson (a mid-21st century stand-in for space-obsessed kids of the mid-20th) might be a little disappointed if they ever saw a photo like the one above. So much for movie magic.


That's George Wallace (aka Commando Cody, star of screens both silver and small) jumping ever so briefly to appear like he was using a jetpack. But that spotter is clearly just about to catch a man who's jumped maybe 18 inches into the air.

From the Associated Press in 1951:

Commando Cody, the Sky Marshal of the Universe," aka, George Wallace, appears to defy the laws of gravity, for a moment at least, as he lands in the arms of a prop man during production of the film " Radar Men from the Moon," at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, 80 miles northeast of Hollywood, Calif., Dec. 12, 1951. Gravity may be defied in some the new movie serials based on the fantasies science fiction, but what goes up still comes down, even if the film won't let you see it.

Poor Elroy. At least when he got to star in a TV show he was actually flying.

Image: Associated Press December 12, 1951


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I absolutely loved these, both Commando Cody (1952) and the earlier and identically similar King Of The Rocket Men (1949). They started as theatrical serials which ended up on TV. They also edited them together into feature-length films like Zombies of the Stratosphere, Radar Men From The Moon, and Lost Planet Airmen. I grew up watching them in the '50s and I still love them. One of Leonard Nimoy's earliest roles was Narab, a moon henchman in Zombies.

The flying scenes were done with a 3/4 scale dummy sliding down a wire; closeups were done in front of a rear-projection screen. Many have criticized the rocket pack on grounds of fuel capacity, mass ratio, and its tendency to burn the pilot's butt off. In their defense, early in the King series they explained that it wasn't a rocket at all; it worked on a new principle of "sonic propulsion". Hence the odd whine/whoosh sound it made.

You can watch Radar Men From The Moon in all its glory here: Radar Men from The Moon

That's Mr. Spock on the left: