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Buck Rogers, played by Buster Crabbe, who also played Flash Gordon in that series of serials, as well as Tarzan the Fearless. He even went on to play a part in the updated Buck Rogers TV show, Buck Rogers in the Twenty Fifth Century as a grizzled war vet who resembled an awful lot the part of Flash Gordon.
Buster Crabbe had a fresh air about him. He was light hearted, able to portray an earnestness and vitality that only such as the late Erroyl Flynn and others like him could do.
Film and television adaptationsWorld's FairA ten-minute Buck Rogers film premiered at the 1933–1934 World's Fair in Chicago. John Dille Jr. (son of strip baron John F. Dille) starred in the film, which was called Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars. A 35mm print of the film was discovered by the filmmaker's granddaughter, donated to UCLA's film and television archive, restruck and subsequently posted to the web. It is now available on the VCI Entertainment DVD 70th Anniversary release.
Department store promotion movieA live-action short film was produced in 1936, designed to be shown in department stores to promote Buck Rogers merchandise. It was shot in the Action Film Company studio in Chicago,Illinois, directed by Dr. Harlan Tarbell. The characters included Buck Rogers, Wilma Deering, Dr. Huer, Killer Kane, Ardala, King Grallo of the Martian Tiger Men, and robots.
Movie serialMain article: Buck Rogers (serial)A 12-part Buck Rogers serial film was produced in 1939 by Universal Pictures Company. Buck Rogers and his young friend Buddy Wade get caught in a blizzard and are forced to crash their dirigible in the Arctic wastes. In order to survive until they can be rescued, they inhale their supply of Nirvano gas which puts them in a state of suspended animation. When they are eventually rescued by scientists, they learn that 500 years have passed. It is now 2440. A tyrannical dictator named Killer Kane and his henchmen now run the world. Buck and Buddy must now save the world, and they do so with the help of Lieutenant Wilma Deering and Prince Tallen of Saturn.
The serial had a small budget and saved money on special effects by re-using material from other stories: background shots from the futuristic musical Just Imagine (1930), as the city of the future, the garishly stenciled walls from the Azura palace set in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, as Kane's penthouse suite, and even the studded leather belt that Crabbe wore in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars turned up as part of Buck's uniform. Between 1953 and the mid-1970s, this film serial was edited into three distinct feature film versions.
1950–1951 ABC television seriesThe first version of Buck Rogers to appear on television debuted on ABC on April 15, 1950 and ran until January 30, 1951. Its time slot initially was on Saturdays at 6 p.m., and each episode was 30 minutes. Later, the program was rescheduled to Tuesday at 7 p.m., where it ran against the popular Texaco Star Theater hosted by Milton Berle.
Buck Rogers finds himself in the year 2430. Based in a secret lab in a cave behind Niagara Falls (the city of Niagara was now the capital of the world), Buck battles intergalactic troublemakers.
There were a number of changes to the cast during the show's short duration. Three actors played Buck Rogers in the series: Earl Hammond, Kem Dibbs and Robert Pastene. Two actresses portrayed Wilma Deering: Eva Marie Saint and Lou Prentis. Two actors would also play Dr. Huer: Harry Southern and Sanford Bickart.
The series was directed by Babette Henry, written by Gene Wyckoff and produced by Joe Cates and Henry. The series was broadcast live from station WENR-TV, the ABC affiliate inChicago. There are no known surviving kinescopes of the first Buck Rogers television series.