Now, time warp with me forty years into the future, from 1965 to the year 2005. While surfing the ‘Net I discovered a charming web site about early TV programming in Indiana called What Columbus Watched On Television In Shades Of Black And White
, created by David Sechrest. There was no mention of the Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon shows I had loved so much, but I was pleased to see that the Booby-Trap game show was remembered. But then I saw the passage that said: “Sorry, but I can't remember who the host of this show was.”
This really bothered me. I made a pledge to find out who had hosted my beloved Buck Rogers and Booby-Trap TV shows, and I started searching. Unfortunately, as I soon discovered, there are scant records of those early days of locally-produced television programs. Commercial broadcasters have no business incentive to retain historical records. Many shows like WISH-TV's Buck Rogers and Booby-Trap were broadcast live in front of a studio audience, and if videotape was used, it was recycled, erased and re-used week after week. Very few locally-produced programs from that era still exist in any complete form.
I finally got a lead when I happened upon the When Movies Were Movies
web site, created by former WISH-TV producer Dave Smith, who had hosted a popular movie series
of the same name as the site. Dave remembered that the host of Booby-Trap was Don Abbott, who had also done radio work in Indianapolis during the early 1960s, but Dave had no recollection of the Buck Rogers series shown on Saturday mornings. He said he could verify this by contacting Don, now a producer of television programming living in Florida.
Emails were exchanged and, as I so fondly remembered, Don confirmed that he had been the one who donned an orange coverall and introduced the Buster Crabbe serials. I think, perhaps, Don was surprised and maybe a little touched that someone remembered his work in Indiana those many years ago.
Inspiration comes from many sources, and I was inspired to write a short story, a flash fiction, called Outer Space Theater
that was actually a tribute to Commander Don. I submitted the story and it won a Special Mention for Flash Fiction at Ray Gun Revival
, one of the best space opera ezines you can find online. I wanted to share my minor success, so I emailed a copy of the story to Commander Don, who received it with gracious praise for my efforts. In fact, Don suggested that we meet the next time he visited Indiana.
A few weeks later, I received an email saying that Don was headed to the Hoosier state to attend a wedding, and it would be a good opportunity to get together. We picked Franklin, Indiana, as our rendezvous point, so I began to prepare.
And what a meeting! Don arrived with his son-in-law, Greg, and we started sharing the stories of our lives along with many happy memories of the TV shows
Don had hosted. I learned that day that Don had tried to get the Parker Brothers game company to franchise his successful Booby-Trap game show. The execs turned down the franchise
sponsorship, but instead offered to buy the rights to manufacture the Booby-Trap game itself. I don’t know about elsewhere in the country, but every kid I knew had the Booby-Trap game. Its little round, wooden game pieces filled toy boxes and covered living room floors all across Indiana. I can’t remember how many times my finger got snapped by the game’s spring bar. That was half the fun, of course. Don’s deal with Parker Brothers earned him enough profits to later start his television productions in Florida.
I got an additional surprise that afternoon when we were joined by another Hoosier TV personality who is both well-remembered and dearly loved by his fans of all ages: Hal Fryar, known better as Harlow Hickenlooper
of WFBM Channel 6’s long-running Three Stooges Show. Both Don and Hal are members of the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers
, and it was just a great pleasure to hear their accounts, anecdotes, and lots and lots of jokes. Both Don and Hal are true entertainers, and they kept me and Greg laughing. My time with them passed all too quickly.
As we said our goodbyes, I presented Don with a copy of the recent Criterion Collection DVD release of Robinson Crusoe on Mars
, which, strangely enough, has a connection with both Don and Hal. In 1965 Hal and seven other Three Stooges show hosts participated in the making of The Outlaws Is Coming
movie, which starred Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe. Hal played outlaw Johnny Ringo, but the connection was that the leading man was played by a pre-Batman Adam West
, who also had a supporting role in Robinson Crusoe on Mars! RCOM
was released in 1964, just a few months before Commander Don started hosting the Buck Rogers shows.
But, stranger still, is a detail in the Outer Space Theater
story that I wrote. In it, the Commander Don character makes use of a piece of high-tech gear disguised as a Franklin half dollar which he keeps in his pocket until a crucial part of the story. Here’s where it gets weird: Don told me that he has always carried a lucky silver dollar in his pocket, even showed it to me during our meeting. I had no idea, no knowledge of this when I wrote the story. Coincidence? ESP? Who can say? The universe is a wonderfully strange place, isn’t it?