Ed Kemmer, 84; Played Lead on ‘50s Sci-Fi TV Show ‘Space Patrol’
Ed Kemmer, who played the heroic, steel-jawed Cmdr. Buzz Corry on the popular 1950s children’s science-fiction television program “Space Patrol” and later was a regular on numerous TV soap operas, has died. He was 84.
Kemmer, who suffered a stroke Nov. 5, died Tuesday at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, said family friend Jean-Noel Bassior, author of an upcoming book about “Space Patrol.”
Television was still a novelty when “Space Patrol” debuted on March 9, 1950, as a 15-minute show that aired live five days a week on Channel 7 in Los Angeles. It was one of a trio of pre-Sputnik-era children’s “space operas” that included “Captain Video” and “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.”
By the summer of 1950, a radio version of “Space Patrol” was also airing on the ABC radio network. By the end of the year, a weekly half-hour “Space Patrol” was being broadcast live on the ABC television network, where it ran until 1955.
“Space Patrol!” the announcer dramatically intoned at the start of each episode. “High adventure in the wild reaches of space ... missions of daring in the name of interplanetary justice. Travel into the future with Buzz Corry ... commander in chief of ... the Space Patrol.”
Tall and handsome with wavy-brown hair, Kemmer was ideal for the heroic lead role of Corry, who policed the solar system as commander of the 30th century battle cruiser Terra V. A real-life hero, Kemmer had been a World War II fighter pilot who spent 11 months in a German prisoner of war camp. After the war, he studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse on the GI Bill.
“I didn’t know what the devil TV was all about, but I thought it looked fascinating,” Kemmer told Gary H. Grossman, author of the 1981 book “Saturday Morning TV.”
When Kemmer started on “Space Patrol,” he was paid $8 per 15-minute show. “We did the program on a shoestring, thinking, hoping, praying it would go network,” he said.
Although the budget -- and his pay -- increased substantially after “Space Patrol” hit the network, cast members still had to deal with acting on live TV.
One time, Kemmer told the Asbury Park Press in 2002, “we were shooting a scene in the cockpit of the spaceship. Everything outside of the cockpit was dark, of course, because it was supposed to be outer space. So we were doing our dialogue, and all of a sudden a stagehand walks by outside the cockpit carrying a 2-by-4!”
Kemmer ignored it, but co-star Lyn Osborn, who played his comic sidekick, Cadet Happy, was “a real jokester and did the biggest double take you ever saw.”
Osborn loved playing jokes, Kemmer said in another interview. “Sometimes, when he would forget a line, he would look at me and say, ‘Well, what do you say, Commander?’ and I would have to fill in until he could pick up his lines.”
Bassior, whose “Space Patrol: Missions of Daring in the Name of Early Television,” will be published by McFarland in December, told The Times this week that the series “gave the country a positive vision of a space-age future that seemed to be just around the corner, although nobody really knew how quickly it was going to come.”
Bassior, who grew up watching the show and interviewed Kemmer for her book, described Cmdr. Buzz Corry as “the quintessential compassionate hero.”
“ ‘Space Patrol’ modeled a kind of very human, caring behavior that’s gone from TV today,” she said, adding that the show appealed to children and adults.
“It started out as a kid show, but the unique thing about ‘Space Patrol’ was that the actors, writers and directors took it seriously,” she said. “None of the cast or crew thought of it as a kiddie show.”
As for his starring role, Kemmer told the Columbus Dispatch in 1994: “I played it as straight as I could. You don’t play down to children. A lot of shows make that mistake. Kids see through that right away.”
Born Edward Kemmerer in Reading, Pa., Kemmer was flying a P-51 in 1944 when he was shot down over German-occupied France on his 29th mission. Captured, he was placed among 2,500 British officers in a POW camp in Germany. He later managed an escape but was recaptured.
To keep active in the camp, some of the men staged plays, and Kemmer had his first acting experience playing the role of Hildy Johnson in “The Front Page.”
After “Space Patrol,” Kemmer broke the heroic mold by playing villains in episodes of “Perry Mason,” “Gunsmoke” and “Maverick.” In the early 1960s, he played a Cape Canaveral flight engineer on the live soap opera “Clear Horizons” on CBS.
After appearing on more prime-time series, he moved to New York in 1964 and spent the next 19 years as a regular on “The Edge of Night,” “As the World Turns,” “All My Children,” “Guiding Light” and other soaps.
Throughout his career, however, Kemmer viewed “Space Patrol” as the most important thing he ever did. “One engineer at NASA told me that he first got interested in space because of our show,” Kemmer once said. “So it had an importance that I never knew existed.”
Kemmer, who retired from acting in 1983, is survived by his wife of 35 years, former actress Fran Sharon; and three children: Jonathan, Todd and Kimberly.