Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From Out Of The Clear Blue Of The Western Sky Comes . . .






It’s okay to admit it.   Sky King was cool.


Sure, Sky King was a kids show.  But we were all kids once.  Some of us, deep down inside, still are . . .  and so Sky King holds a special place in our hearts.


Sky (Skyler or Schuyler) King was a flying cowboy, the two-fisted owner of the Flying Crown Ranch in Arizona, and every week he would round up rustlers, spies, or bank robbers while saving his niece from certain death.


How much cooler could you get in the 1940’s and 1950’s?


Created by Robert Morris Burtt and Wilfred Gibbs Moore, who also created Captain Midnight,  Sky king debuted on radio in 1946. 


Many believe that Sky King was loosely based on a real character - Jack Cones, the Flying Constable of Twenty-nine Palms during the 1930s.


Private aviation was still a bit of a novelty in the 1940’s, although its popularity soared (sorry . . .) after the end of WWII.   Radio shows and movie serials about daring pilots were therefore very popular in the 1940’s offering such fare as Terry and the Pirates, and Captain Midnight.


Sky King was played on the radio by two different actors; Earl Nightingale (yes, the motivational speaker!), and John Reed King – a well known radio actor/announcer (Duffy’s Tavern, What’s My Line) who would go on to host several television game shows in the 1950’s (Chance of a Lifetime, Beat the Clock).


The radio show ran until 1954, running concurrently with the later television show starring Kirby Grant.


We’ve 8 episodes of the radio show for your listening pleasure, all from the Internet Archive.



SKY_K_1947.06.30_Prince_Aron_Zibi.mp3                      7.13 MB

SKY_K_1947.07.14_Army_of_Blue_Men.mp3                   6.90 MB

SKY_K_1947.07.23_The_Stolen_Pearls.mp3                    7.11 MB

SKY_K_1947.07.31_Capture_of_the_Pearl_Thief.mp3    6.90 MB

SKY_K_1947.12.04_A_Message_in_Code.mp3                 14 MB

SKY_K_1951.04.12_The_Lady_Sheriff.mp3                     12 MB

SKY_K_1951.04.17_The_Mark_of_El_Diablo.mp3            12 MB

SKY_K_19xx.xx.xx_The_Black_Circle.mp3                      9.31 MB


Of course, most of us remember Sky King – the television show.


Beginning in 1951, and flying a Cessna T-50 `Bamboo Bomber’,  Sky King flew into the world of early TV first on the NBC network.  Reruns of that first year’s show ended up on ABC’s Saturday morning lineup.


The show would run briefly during primetime on ABC in 1954, before going into syndication.  Episodes would be produced until 1959. 


The T-50 was replaced with as Cessna 310-B midway through the series when the producers began to worry that the ageing Bamboo Bomber was no longer safe to fly.  


All of Sky King’s aircrafts were called the `Songbird’.


Kirby Grant (born Kirby Grant Hoon Jr in 1911), who is best remembered today for his role as Sky King, had been a `B’ movie actor for many years. 


A musician (violin) and singer, Grant won a “Gateway to Hollywood" talent contest in 1939, which gave him a movie contract – and a new name -  Robert Stanton.   


Grant would alternate between his stage name and his given name in the 1940’s, but ultimately went back to using his first and middle name. 


During the early 1940’s he appeared in a number of movies, often as a singer, including:


  • Rosie the Riveter (1944) (uncredited) .... 'Rosie the Riveter' singer at Award Presentation
  • Hi, Good Lookin'! (1944) .... King Castle
  • Chip Off the Old Block (1944) (uncredited) .... Member, Jivin' Jacks
  • Destination Tokyo (1943) (uncredited) .... Hornet's Captain
  • The Stranger from Pecos (1943) .... Tom Barstow
  • Bombardier (1943) (uncredited) .... Pilot
  • Hello Frisco, Hello (1943) .... Specialty singer
  • My Favorite Blonde (1942) (uncredited) .... Pilot

    In 1945, Grant was picked by Universal to replace Rod Cameron in a series of `B’ Westerns, and after that, Monogram Pictures put him in a series of series of mounted-police adventures, featuring "Chinook the Wonder Dog."


    While not exactly prime roles, it did establish Grant as an action star.


    So when television needed a two-fisted cowboy to play Sky King, Grant got the call.


    There has always been a bit of skepticism over whether Kirby Grant was a real pilot.   The flying on the show was done by (according to the Wikipedia):


    Paul Mantz Air Services and flown by several pilots, and the Cessna 310B used in later episodes was provided at no cost by Cessna and flown by Cessna employee Bill Fergusson


    Grant, however, was a pilot, and did fly the Songbird.  


    At least according to anecdotal reports from friends and co-workers.   Grant pretty much gave up acting after Sky King, although he did make numerous personal appearances int he 1960’s, 1970’s, and early 1980’s as `Sky King’.


    Grant was killed in 1985 in a car accident near Titusville Florida, as he was enroute to Cape Kennedy to watch the Challenger Liftoff.


    Gloria Winters, who played Sky’s niece Penny, had first appeared as Babs, Chester Riley’s daughter in the first (Jackie Gleason) incarnation of the Life of Riley on Television.   She retired from acting in 1960.


    Ron Hagerthy played Sky’s nephew Clipper, but didn’t appear in all of the episodes.



    In all, 72 episodes of Sky King were produced over the years.   We have 17 available for your nostalgic viewing pleasure.


    Sky Robbers
    destruction from the sky
    Bullet Bait
    A Dog Named Barney
    Ring Of Fire
    The Wild Man
    dust of distruction
    the silver grave
    rodeo round up
    double trouble
    sleight of hand
    the runaway
    designing woman
    carrier pigeon
    fish out of water
    note for a dam


    While yes, this was a kids show, many pilots (and a few astronauts) credit Sky King as having sparked their desire to learn to fly as a youth.  


    And let’s face it . . .  nearly 60 years after it was filmed, it is wonderful to see that old Bamboo Bomber slicing through the Arizona Skies once again.

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