Captain Midnight

Captain Midnight

Captain Midnight was a U.S. radio adventure serial broadcast from 1938 to 1949. Sponsored by the Skelly Oil Company, the 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 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 took over sponsorship, and 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 the Mutual Radio Network beginning September 1945. It remained there until December, 1949.

The title character, originally Captain 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, when the aviator 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 was curiously 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 crews (U.S. Air Force) when they were stationed in the U.S. Radio premiums offered by the series 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.)

1949 Key-O-Matic Code-O-Graph

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.

Major Characters

Captain Midnight -- World War I aviator who leads the Secret Squadron, though he spends much time in the field actively contending with crime, espionage, and sabotage. Extremely skilled aviator with an ability to fly almost any aircraft superlatively. He is usually accompanied by a team consisting of three Secret Squadron members.

Chuck Ramsay -- Captain Midnight's ward, a young man in his late teens or early twenties who is a Secret Squadron agent. Prior to the formation of the Secret Squadron, he shared adventures with his guardian. A member of Captain Midnight's usual team.

Ichabod "Ikky" Mudd -- The Secret Squadron's Chief Mechanic. Mudd knew Captain Midnight briefly before the Secret Squadron was formed, and joined the Squadron shortly after it was formed. A mamber of Captain Midnight's usual team, he was responsible for the development of the Code-O-Graph, and also developed some weapons before and during World war II.

Joyce Ryan -- A young woman in her late teens or early twenties who is a Secret Squadron agent. She was originally discovered as an amnesiac by Captain Midnight and Chuck Ramsay during a 1941 skirmish with the forces of Ivan Shark. She became a Secret Squadron member after several adventures with Captain Midnight, Chuck Ramsay, and Ichabod Mudd. Prior to World War II, she regained her memory and elected to remain in the Secret Squadron. A member of Captain Midnight's usual team.

Agent Kelly, SS-11 -- Lyle William Kelly, a Secret Squadron agent who frequently accompanied Captain Midnight's usual team on their adventures. Kelly was Captain Midnight's usual contact to his superior, Major Barry Steele.

Major Barry Steele -- U. S. Atrmy Intelligence officer who was recalled from inactive duty as Captain Midnight's superior officer. Steele usually worked in the background, but often provided the Secret Squadron with data and equipment. He often provided assignments for the Secret Squadron, but left its administration to Captain Midnight.

Ivan Shark -- Criminal mastermind who developed a highly efficient mercenary organization. Shark often sold services of his organization to agents of foreign governments. He was the default villain on the radio program.

Fury Shark -- Ivan Shark's daughter, and second in command in his organization. She frequently took command when Ivan Shark was unable to function (e.g., in prison). Highly intelligent, she always proved herself capable.

Gardo -- One of Ivan Shark's principal aides. Gardo was portrayed as being loyal, but relatively slow witted, and frequently the butt of Shark's wrath. Occasionally acted as Ivan Shark's pilot.

Fang -- One of Ivan Shark's pre-war aides, Fang was an Oriental, who always addressed Shark as "Master." His presence vanished after World War II.

The Barracuda -- Head of an extensive criminal organization similar to Ivan Shark's, but headquartered in the Orient. The Barracuda headed the Tiger Tong, a Chinese gang, and had his own private air force. Killed in 1942.

Baron von Karp -- Nazi World War II villain with whom the Secret Squadron contended, first in the United States, then in occupied Europe.

Admiral Himakito -- Japanese officer with whom the Secret Squadron contended in the Pacific theater during World War II.

Other media

After Dell introduced the character to comic books in 1941, Fawcett Publications stepped in to publish "Captain Midnight" as a successful long-run comic book from June 1942 until September 1948. The Fawcett character bore little relation to the radio character, and only one other character from the radio show, Ichabod Mudd, appeared regularly in the comic. Captain Midnight in the comic had a superhero costume and gadgetry, and was described, in his Captain Albright persona, as an inventor. Otto Binder was one of the writers on the comic book, and the illustrators for this Fawcett title included Leonard Frank, Clem Weis-Becker, Lincoln Cross and Al Bare. Popular actor-stunt man Dave O'Brien had the title role in the Columbia Pictures 15-episode serial "Captain Midnight" (1942), and the "Captain Midnight" newspaper strip that same year was credited to Jonwan. The newspaper strip was closest to the radio program in portrayal of the supporting characters.

The "Captain Midnight" TV series, starring Richard Webb, began September 9, 1954, on CBS, continuing for 39 episodes until January 21, 1956. In the TV series, Captain Midnight headed 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 Archimedes "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, named the Silver Dart, was based on the Douglas D-558 Phase II "Skyrocket," using both models and occasionally stock footage. The Skyrocket was a research aircraft having both a turbojet and rocket engine, and was the first aircraft to exceed twice the speed of sound. The series filmed at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, California. When the TV series went into syndication, Ovaltine was no longer the sponsor. However, Ovaltine owned the character name, forcing a title change from "Captain Midnight" to "Jet Jackson, Flying Commando".

Listen to

* [ "Captain Midnight" (60 episodes)]

Further reading

*Ohmart, Ben. "It's That Time Again." (2002) (Albany: BearManor Media) ISBN 0-9714570-2-6
*Kallis, Stephen A. Jr. "Radio's Captain Midnight: The Wartime Biography" (2004) (Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishers) ISBN 978-0-7864-2176-3

External links

* [ "Captain Midnight" decoder]
* [ Jim Widner's "Captain Midnight" history]
* [ Richard Webb in Captain Midnight] Information and memorabilia illustrations, on the Collecting Books and Magazines website

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