In this age of CGI wonders blazing across the big screen and the small, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t all that many decades ago when “science fiction effects” meant a couple of miniature spaceships dangling in front of a black starscape curtain while fireworks sputtered out the backs of the models. It’s easy to laugh about the dated nature of shows like Captain Video and His Video Rangers, but for many of my dad’s generation, all it took to be transported into a far-flung world of space adventure was a shoestring budget, a little imagination, and an actor like Richard Coogan — who passed away yesterday at the age of 99 — selling it for all it was worth.
Coogan played the titular Captain Video from the show’s premiere on June 27, 1949 until December 1950. He thrilled his young audience as Captain Video and his Video Rangers defended the future against the sinister inventor Dr. Pauli and other threats. While the show’s low budget and often flimsy scripts earned the show some derision, the naysaying sure didn’t hurt Captain Video’s popularity. Broadcasting live five or six nights a week, the show’s ratings soon rivaled those of Milton Berle’s program. As Coogan told the Archive of American Television back in 2003, “He was at 37.6 [rating], and we got 37.4 or something … When word got back from the front office that Captain Video was even with Berle, it was unbelievable!”
While the show ran from 1949 – 1955, Coogan departed in December 1950, upset about the show’s continued paltry budget. He was replaced in the lead role by actor Al Hodge and the show soldiered on, even becoming a plot point in a 1955 episode of The Honeymooners. As for Coogan, he continued to appear in films, television, and stage productions, with his resume including appearances on Bonanza, Perry Mason, and Maverick, among many others.
Another interesting note about the show: as the show continued, the quality of its scripts increased significantly, with a who’s who of classic science fiction authors contributing to the series, including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Sheckley, Damon Knight, James Blish, and Jack Vance.
According to THR, Coogan passed away yesterday, March 12, of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He was a little less than a month shy of his 100th birthday.
You can watch an early episode of Captain Video below, followed by the first part of an extensive interview with Coogan. The rest can be found on the Archive of American Television’s website.