Friday, March 13, 2009

Sky King (1952-1959)

Sky King (1952-1959)

Sky King was a 1940s and 1950s American radio and television adventure series. The title character was Arizona rancher and aircraft pilot Skyler "Sky" King. The series was likely based on a true-life person, Jack Cones, the Flying Constable of Twentynine Palms during the 1930s.

Although it had strong cowboy show elements, King always captured criminals and even spies and found lost hikers using his plane.

King's personal plane was called the Songbird. Though he changed from one plane to another over the course of the show, the later plane was not given a number (i.e., "Songbird II"), but was simply known as Songbird.

He and his niece, Penny (and sometimes Clipper, his nephew) lived on the Flying Crown Ranch, near the (fictitious) town of Grover City, Arizona. Penny and Clipper were also pilots, though still relatively inexperienced and looking to their uncle for guidance and mentoring. Penny was an accomplished air racer and rated multiengine pilot, who Sky trusted to fly the Songbird.

The musical score was largely the work of Herschel Burke Gilbert.

The television version starred Kirby Grant as Sky King and Gloria Winters as his teen-aged niece Penny. Other regular characters included his nephew Clipper, played by Ron Hagerthy, and Mitch the sheriff, played by Ewing Mitchell. Unlike many "lawman-acquaintance" characters on other shows, Mitch was competent, intelligent and skilled. He was always coming to Sky for help, due to friendship and recognizing the utility of Sky's flying skills. Other recurring characters included Jim Bell, the ranch foreman, played by Chubby Johnson as well as Sheriff Hollister played by Monte Blue and Bob Carey played by Norman Ollestad.

Many of the storylines would parallel those used in such dramatic potboilers as Adventures of Superman with the supporting cast repeatedly finding themselves in near death situations and the hero rescuing them with seconds to spare. Penny was particularly adroit at falling into the hands of spies, bank robbers (the best place to hide stolen loot was apparently in the Arizona desert) and other n'er-do-wells. After taunting the doomed Penny and mocking her uncle, they would invariably leave her tied up at the bottom of an abandoned mine with (take your pick) a ticking timebomb, rapidly rising water, collapsing ceilings, or crackling flames licking at her chair. Inexplicably, the bad guys would leave Penny in easy reach of a radio transmitter that would not only be turned on but switched to the frequency used by Uncle Sky who at that very moment would be circling above in the Songbird with an anxious Clipper at his side. Working the device with her shoulders and tongue, Penny would shout out "Help, Uncle Sky, Help Help!" Sky would shoot a quizzical look to Clipper and proclaim, "That's Penny!! And it sounds like she's in trouble!" Uncle Sky would make a steep bank and fly over the bad guys who would be instantly thrown into a state of complete confusion. All looking upward in complete anguish and fear, they would fire up at the Songbird in vain before losing control of their escape vehicle and plowing into a culvert where, through another set of incredible circumstances, Sheriff Mitch would be waiting for them after being alerted by Uncle Sky. The action would then cut back to the ranch where the happy throng is reunited without any explanation about how they found Penny and got down the mine without all of them getting killed. It was never explained why anyone would have an FAA spec radio transmitter at the bottom of an abandoned mine or how it would work 300 feet underground but such was the glory of imagination in the mid fifties!

Like most TV cowboy heroes of the time, Sky never killed the bad guys, even though one episode had him shooting a machinegun into his own stolen plane.

Largely a show for kids, although it sometimes aired in primetime, Sky King became an icon in the aviation community. Many pilots (including American astronauts) who grew up watching Sky King name him as an influence.

The television show began airing on Sunday afternoons on NBC between September 16, 1951 and October 26, 1952. These episodes were rebroadcast on ABC's Saturday morning lineup the following year November 8, 1952 until September 21, 1953, when it made its prime-time debut on ABC's Monday night lineup. It then aired twice-a-week in August and September of 1954, before ABC pulled the plug on it. New episodes were produced when the show went into syndication in 1955. The last episode, Mickey's Birthday, aired March 8, 1959. CBS began airing reruns of the show on early Saturday afternoons (at 12 pm Eastern/Pacific times; late Saturday mornings at 11 am Central/Mountain times) on October 3, 1959 and continued to do so until September 3, 1966.