Captain Midnight (1942) was the 17th serial released by Columbia Pictures. It was based upon the radio adventure serial of the same name broadcast from 1938 to 1949.
Captain Midnight was only one of the many aviation serials released in wartime whose leading characters were derived from early pulp magazines and radio favorites. In this serial, Captain Albright is an extremely skilled aviator better known as Captain Midnight, who is assigned to neutralize the sinister Ivan Shark, an evil enemy scientist who is bombing major American cities. Our hero leads the Secret Squadron, whose staff includes Chuck Ramsay who is Midnight's ward and Ichabod 'Icky' Mudd, the Squadron's chief mechanic. Shark has developed a highly efficient mercenary organization, being aided by his daughter Fury who is highly intelligent and second in command, Gardo the henchman and Fang, an Oriental ally. Unfortunately, Shark is after a new range finder invented by the altruistic scientist, John Edwards, whose beautiful daughter, Joyce, the villains attempt to capture to blackmail the inventor.
Radio originsSponsored by the Skelly Oil Company, the Captain Midnight radio program was the creation of radio scripters Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M. Burtt, who had previously scored a success for Skelly with their boy pilot adventure serial The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen.
Developed at the Blackett, Sample and Hummert advertising agency in Chicago, Captain Midnight began as a syndicated show in 1938, airing through the spring of 1940 on a few Midwest stations, including Chicago's WGN. In 1940, Ovaltine, a product of The Wander Company, took over sponsorship. With Pierre Andre as announcer, the series was then heard nationally on the Mutual Radio Network where it remained until 1942. It moved to the Merchandise Mart and the NBC Blue Network in September 1942. When the U.S. Government broke up the NBC Red and Blue Networks, Ovaltine moved the series back to Mutual, beginning September 1945, and it remained there until December, 1949.
PremiseThe title character, originally Captain Jim "Red" Albright, was a World War I U. S. Army pilot. His Captain Midnight code name was given by a general who sent him on a high-risk mission from which he returned at the stroke of 12. When the show began in 1938, Albright was a private aviator who helped people, but his situation changed in 1940. When the show was taken over by Ovaltine, the origin story explained how Albright was recruited to head the Secret Squadron, an aviation-oriented paramilitary organization fighting sabotage and espionage during the period prior to the United States' entry into World War II. The Secret Squadron acted both within and outside the United States.
When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, which curiously was foreshadowed in the program, the show shifted the Secret Squadron's duties to fight the more unconventional aspects of the war. Besides the stock villain, Ivan Shark, the war years introduced Axis villains, Baron von Karp, Admiral Himakito and von Schrecker. The Secret Squadron wartime activities were usually outside the continental United States, with adventures in Europe, South America, the Pacific, and continental Asia. War related subject matter included the theft of an experimental Flying Wing aircraft, radar coupled antiaircraft guns, jet aircraft and other weapons.
After the war, some of the newer villains used war surplus equipment to carry out their activities. Secret Squadron activities shifted to contending with criminals as well as spies. The action continued to operate internationally, with adventures in South America and Africa as well as within the United States.
The show was extremely popular, with an audience in the millions. Just under half the listeners were adult, and it was a favorite of WWII U.S Army Air Corps (U.S. Air Force) crews when they were stationed in the U.S. Radio premiums offered by the series (usually marked with his personal symbol of a winged clock with the hands pointing to midnight) included decoders, and these Code-O-Graphs were used by listeners to decipher encrypted messages previewing the next day's episode, usually broadcast once a week. Other premiums included rings, telescopes, and WWII items. (The broadcast messages were encrypted with relatively trivial monoalphabetic substitution ciphers with word division.)
The scripts depicted women who were treated as equals, not just characters waiting to be rescued. Both Joyce Ryan of the Secret Squadron and Fury Shark, daughter of villain Ivan Shark, pulled their own weight in the adventures. Joyce went on commando raids and became involved in aerial dogfights during World War II.
TelevisionRichard Webb as Captain Midnight, 1954.The Captain Midnight TV series, produced by Screen Gems and starring Richard Webb, began September 9, 1954, on CBS, continuing for 39 episodes until January 21, 1956. In the television program, Captain Midnight (now a veteran of the Korean War) heads the Secret Squadron as a private organization, in contrast to the radio show. As with the Fawcett comic, the only other character of the radio show held over was Ichabod Mudd (played by Sid Melton), who was used for comic relief. Another regular character was Dr. Aristotle "Tut" Jones, Midnight's resident scientist, played by character actor Olan Soule. (Soule was the only actor to perform in both the radio program and the television program. In the radio program, he played Agent Kelly, SS-11.)
The aircraft featured in the series is the Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, named the Silver Dart, and was based on using both models and occasionally stock footage. The series filmed at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, California. When the TV series went into syndication in 1958, Ovaltine was no longer the sponsor. However, The Wander Company owned the rights to the character's name "Captain Midnight", forcing a title change by Screen Gems fromCaptain Midnight to Jet Jackson, Flying Commando, and all references in the episodes to Captain Midnight were redubbed (rather poorly) "Jet Jackson".
Comic stripA newspaper comic strip, based closely on the radio program, made its debut in 1942. The strip, bylined by "Jonwan" (Erwin L. Hess) was drawn in a style similar to that of Milton Caniff. As with the radio show, the major characters were retained, including Joyce Ryan, Chuck Ramsay, Ichabod Mudd and Major Barry Steele. The strip was released by the Chicago Sun Syndicate on June 29, 1942, and ran until the late 1940s. The strip had some differences from the radio show and did not reprise the radio adventures. In the strip, Captain Midnight was referred to as "an unofficial fighter for freedom," which is at variance from the radio show, where the Secret Squadron was set up by a high governmental official ("Mr. Jones"), which the hero was recruited to head (unless, of course, "unofficial" meant, in the modern pop-culture sense, "subject to official disavowal if caught or killed on a politically sensitive mission"). Even with the variants, it was far closer to the radio show than any of the other spinoffs.
Comic bookCover for Captain Midnight comic book #1 (September, 1942). Art byJack Binder.After Dell in 1941, Fawcett published Captain Midnight from June 1942 to Sept 1948. The Fawcett character bore little resemblance to the radio character, and only the character Ichabod Mudd appeared regularly in the comic as the sidekick Sgt. Twilight.
Captain Midnight in the comic had a skintight scarlet suit and an array of gizmos like Dr. Mid-Nite which released clouds of blinding darkness, the infra-red "Doom-Beam Torch" which he used to burn his emblem into walls and unlucky villains, and a "Gliderchute" (similar to the flying Wingsuit) attached to the sides of his costume.
In his Captain Albright secret identity he was a genius-level inventor like Edison. He had a secret laboratory in the desert. Otto Binder was one of the writers on the comic book.
In 2010, Moonstone Publishing's revival of the 1940s title "Air Fighters Comics" published its issue #1, which included a new Captain Midnight story.
In 2012, Dark Horse reintroduced the character, with a 3-part story written by Joshua Williamson with art by Victor Ibañez and Pere Pérez. In June 2013,Captain Midnight #1 was released by the same publisher as an ongoing series.
BooksIn 2010, Moonstone Books published a collection of new Captain Midnight short stories entitled Captain Midnight Chronicles. The book's stories reflect an amalgamated version of the Captain Midnight character and his supporting cast, and incorporate elements from the various media incarnations of the character, including the radio and television series, the Columbia movie serial and Fawcett comic book.
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