The distant roar of the approach of an airplane
Louder and louder, stronger and stronger
The plane goes into a dive . . .
This was Captain Midnight!
CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT WAS A RADIO ADVENTURE SERIAL BROADCAST FROM 1938 to 1949 that was conceived by Robert M. Burtt and Willfred G. Moore, the creators of The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen. Both Burtt and Moore had been flying aces during World War I and wanted to bring the excitement and thrill of aviation to the radio audience that had captured them in their years before the Great War.
The title character, originally Captain Jim "Red" Albright and voiced by Ed Prentiss, was a World War I U. S. Army pilot. His Captain Midnight code name was given to him by a general who sent him on a high-risk mission. Nervously counting down the hours as he waited for his aviator's return, he finally heard the plane land as the clock struck twelve. Thus, Albright became Captain Midnight to everyone.
When the show began in 1938, Albright was a private aviator who helped people, but his situation changed in 1940 when the country seemed to be moving toward World War. The Wander Company, looking
|Jack Bivans (Chuck Ramsey),
Ed Prentiss (Captain Midnight), Marilou Neumayer (Joyce Ryan)
for a heroic figure to sponsor their product, Ovaltine, purchased the Captain Midnight show and took it to a national exposure.Continuing the tradition of their previous series, Radio Orphan Annie, the Secret Squadron was born; and Wander began to integrate coded messages and club identification into the episodes. Spokesman, Pierre Andre, urged the young, and sometimes older, listeners to join the Squadron in order to help Captain Midnight and the others.
Their origin story explained how Albright was recruited to head the Secret Squadron, an aviation-oriented paramilitary organization that would fight sabotage and espionage both within and outside the United States prior to our entry into World War II.
Captain Midnight was helped in his efforts by Chuck Ramsey, who was a member of his Secret Squadron and Patsy Donovan (later, Joyce Ryan under Ovaltine). Ichabod Mudd, Midnight's mechanic, played a greater role as the Ovaltine programs progressed. The series grew in popularity and was broadcast over the Mutual Network as the regional Captain Midnight series moved to a national audience.
Interestingly, the Captain Midnight scripts depicted women 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.
Click on the arrow (above) to hear the first two episodes of Captain Midnight
broadcast on September 30 and October 1, 1940.
When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, which was curiously foreshadowed in one of the programs, Captain Midnight was summoned by the President and given command of his own squadron of flying aces - "all the better to take the fight to the Axis hordes."
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 anti-aircraft guns, jet aircraft, and other weapons.
After the war, some of the newer villains used war surplus equipment to carry out their activities, and Secret Squadron duties shifted to contending with criminals as well as spies. The action mainly operated internationally but did fight within the United States when necessary.
Captain Midnight was also one of many series to offer exciting premiums usually marked with the Captain’s personal symbol of a winged clock with the hands pointing to midnight. Young listeners could be a part of the Flight Patrol by signing up usually via the premiums and then were allowed to receive additional premium items.
Despite being an adult sponsor, original backer Skelly advertised by telling the kids to be sure their dads went to the gasoline stations to obtain the premiums and, of course, Skelly products. When Ovaltine took over sponsorship a torrent of merchandising was organized, which included badges, T-shirts, posters, war paraphernalia, rings, and a fan club.
The radio show was abandoned in 1949, but Ovaltine soon switched its sponsorship to the new medium of television. A Captain Midnight half-hour television show ran from 1953 to 1957 on CBS and starred Richard Webb as a suitably jet-age Captain.
Happy Landings . . . Captain Midnight
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When looking at the history of premiums on the Captain Midnight radio series, one should understand that there were two separate periods that were determined by sponsor. The type of premiums they offered were very different. During the Skelly years, kids could join the Flight Patrol, an exclusive club for those who had the Flight Patrol Membership Card and the Membership Medal. Only some premiums were mail-ordered; most could be picked up at a nearby Skelly Gas Station. Because Skelly's products appealed to adults, the exclusivity concept of the club was mostly ignored. Anyone could join at anytime if the premiums were still available at the Skelly stations. You did not have to be a member to sign up for the premium. Some items required membership to get, but that was generally relaxed. Some Skelly dealers hated dealing with the premiums and would give them away to anyone who came in.
Premiums offered during the Ovaltine years were handled in the more traditional manner we came to know.
1. Flight Patrol Membership Card, (1938-39), Skelly Oil
This was a wallet-sized card that indicated the holder was a member in good standing as a "Junior Pilot in the Captain Midnight Flight Patrol." It entitled the member to wear the Flight Patrol Badge (next item). The card contained a sketch of Captain Midnight's plane rounding a clock tower at midnight. There was also a code of honor that read:
As a Junior Pilot of the Captain Midnight Flight Patrol, I pledge
myself to be Honest in all things, Fair to all others, Brave in the
face of danger, Courteous to my superiors and elders, and Alert at
all times to the fine principles of our Flight Patrol.
2. Flight Patrol Commander Brass Badge, (1938-39), Skelly Oil
This was a small solid brass badge that displayed a banner at the top entitled "Flight Patrol Commander" and displayed the Skelly Logo as well as the twin-engine plane of Captain Midnight. When the membership card (item 1) was picked up, kids could then sign up for the Skelly man to order the badge.
3. Possible Skelly Ring, 1939-1940
Skelley Oil may have brought out a Captain Midnight ring with what appears to be a red “V” or check mark on its crown. This ring is very rare and seldom seen. There are some premium photos showing the Captain brandishing a “secret ring.” Pictures of the ring are shown in various collector bibles, some do not identify it as being from Captain Midnight; others do.
4. The Flight Patrol Reporter, (1938-39), Skelly Oil
A small newspaper which featured information on the cast of characters as well as clues to secret passwords were issued during the Skelly years.
5. Happy Landings Photos, (1938-39), Skelly Oil
Autographed pictures of Captain Midnight, Chuck, and Patsy
|6. Trick & Riddle Book, 1938-39, Skelly Oil||7. Air Heroes Stamp Album,|
|8. Treasure Map, 1938-39, Skelly Oil|
9 . Flight Patrol Membership Card1940, Skelly Oil
10. Captain Midnight Ring 1939-1940, Skelley Oil
11. Captain Midnight Medal of Membership, (1940), Skelly Oil
This premium was made of "burnished bronze medal" and was bigger than a quarter.
The front shows the Captain and his sidekicks, Patsy Donovan and Chuck Ramsay. Prominately displayed is the password COBRALHOFA* for decoding those all-important secret messages contained in each show.
On the back is a clock face pointing to midnight, plus the logo of his show's sponsor, Skelly Oil, and the legend "Medal of Membership, Captain Midnight Flight Patrol, 1940."
In addition to decoding messages, the Captain Midnight medal could be used as a decision-maker. The center of the propeller is raised, so if you spin the medal face-down, the clock hands on the back whirl around and eventually point in a particular direction. According to the radio ads, the decoder is an invaluable aid for those tough choices, like picking kids for your team.
Authorized reproductions were manufactured in the 1970s and have a little letter R inside the bottom of the Skelly logo.
* The not-so-secret word "COBRALHOFA" was regularly announced on the series. During the time that Chuck was captured in some 1940 episodes, he would send out coded messages to the Captain. By taking a message and selecting every tenth word, the messages could be translated. Why ten? Because the COBRALHOFA was equal to ten letters. For example, one message was:
|Hello, Captain Midnight and everybody. It sure seems a long time since I have seen you and the old home at Black Gulch. I am feeling fine. This is on my word of honor. Do as Ivan Shark asks, flying to any point he says as swiftly as an arrow. Ivan Shark is a snake, a Cobra but . . .|
The second message was almost the same as the first in that the code words were repeated. Captain Midnight discovered that every tenth word in both messages were the same. He also knew that the coded words corresponded to the last five letters of the secret password, COBRALHOFA and that it was intentional for Chuck to use the word Cobra:
Hello, Captain Midnight and everybody. Please do not delay long. Fly where Ivan Shark says. I will not be home again if you refuse. To do all these things on my account is a lot, I know. Remember that flying to Ivan Shark's direction as straight as an arrow is essential...
Captain Midnight figured that Chuck would send a third message using the first part of the secret password which he alluded to in the earliest message. And. a third arrived:
|Hello Captain Midnight. This is your last chance to come to an agreement with Ivan Shark. Please think it over. If you do not agree, this will be the bridge that will separate us forever. You should do the right thing. The thing that will surely bring us together at last . . .|
Once all the messages were placed in the order of the secret word, the message gave away Ivan Shark's hiding place:
Come Over Bridge Right At Long Home On Flying Arrow
(Got that? Me neither.)
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12. Ringo-Jumpo Game/Jumping Beans, (1939),Skelly Oil
During the "Perada Treasure" episodes the Skelly dealer offered Mexican "jumping beans" along with an 8 X 10 piece of paper with a game that would allow the beans to "jump" and score depending upon where the beans landed.
13. Mysto-Magic Weather Forecasting Flight Patrol Badge, 1939, Skelly Oil
This was a metal bronze-colored badge shaped like a propeller with the Skelly Logo. Behind the logo sat a piece of litmus paper that changed color as the weather conditions affected it.
14. Captain Midnight American Flag Loyalty Badge, (1940), Ovaltine
The first Captain Midnight Ovaltine radio premium was offered in the script from Friday, November 15, 1940. The opening of the script hinted that . . .
|Yes - tonight, right after our thrilling adventure with Captain Midnight, another thrill is waiting for you! It's a surprise announcement for every red-blooded young friend of Captain Midnight!|
In the story, Captain Midnight presents Chuck & Joyce with this premium & explains why it is so important.
The closing commercial goes like this . . .
But now - here's thrilling news for every loyal friend of Captain Midnight! So listen closely!
You - can . . . now . . . get . . . one of Captain Midnight's own American Flag Loyalty Badges - to keep for your very own! It's exactly like the ones he has just given to Chuck Ramsey and Joyce! A badge-pin so fascinating, so exciting and unusual that you'll be the center of all eyes every time you wear it! For this pin is the most amazing patriotic emblem you ever saw!
First, let me tell you about what it looks like to others when you pin it on your coat and wear it! Then I'll tell you the amazing things you can do with this badge! Secret things that nobody will know about except you!
You see - to any outsider who sees you wearing this pin, it just looks like a fine expensively - made American Flag Pin. It's larger than most flag emblems, though, measuring almost a full inch each way!
The broad stripes and bright stars of Old Glory are enameled across the front in full color! And - the entire badge is made of genuine Victory Bronze - the very same bright gold-colored metal used for officer's insignia in the United States Army and Navy! Believe me; you'll be proud to wear this beautiful patriotic emblem, to show that you're a real red-blooded American who believes in honoring the nation's flag!
But now - let me tell you the exciting secrets of this remarkable badge. First, turn it over! You'll find on the back, cut right into the metal, a little figure of the Statue of Liberty - America's most famous patriotic monument! Won't your friends be surprised to see that - for they won't know about it till you show them!
But that's just the beginning of the surprises! Look! Right beneath the Statue of Liberty - still on the back of your American Flag Loyalty emblem - you will find a secret compartment! A concealed hiding place that you can use to carry secret messages and plans and things! And right in that secret compartment, when you receive it, will be a special document, printed on extremely thin paper that folds up into an unbelievably small space - the way secret agents often conceal important papers!
This tiny little document contains over 230 words of printing, and ten fascinating miniature drawings that every American should be familiar with! And here's the most important thing of all! There's a copy of Captain Midnight's pledge to the flag, with a place for you to sign your name, right under Captain Midnight's - when you're ready to take his pledge of loyalty!
But I won't tell you any more of what is in that secret document now - because too many others may be listening. But, there's special information you'll want to know by heart - and you'll learn all those things, when you receive your own American Flag Loyalty badge with the thrilling secret compartment on the back!
And think how your friends will envy you when you wear it! How you can mystify them with the secrets that no one else will know except other pals of Captain Midnight like yourself! And how proud you'll be to wear the emblem that Captain Midnight himself awards to those he knows are loyal Americans!
But now listen very carefully! I'm going to tell you the only way you can get one of these marvelous American Flag Loyalty badges and emblems - of your very own! They're not for sale in any store - at any price!
But all you loyal friends of Captain Midnight who drink Ovaltine, can get one if you follow these easy directions! Here's all you do! Simply print your name and address and your age plainly on any piece of paper. Put it in an envelope together with the thin metal foil seal from under the lid of a can of Ovaltine, and only ten cents in coin! Then mail it to Captain Midnight, Chicago, Illinois.
Now I'll repeat that. Just print your name and address, and your age and send it in, with one Ovaltine seal and a ten cents piece, to Captain Midnight, Chicago, Illinois. That's all there is to it! But don't delay!
Put your order in the mail tonight! Be the first one in your crowd to get a genuine American Flag Loyalty emblem and badge to mystify your friends and proudly show everyone you're a real loyal American! Send in for yours tonight! For sure!
Be sure and tune in to Captain Midnight Monday! Until then, this is ___________, your Ovaltine Announcer, saying good-bye and Happy Landings!"
Love the hype!
16. Flight Commander Ring, (1940-41), Ovaltine
This premium was only available via the 1941 manual; it was not offered over the airwaves. Inside the ring, on the reverse side of the crown, in raised letters, it says, "Captain Midnight Super Code 3." As explained in the manual, a message might be sent to Flight Commanders without a "code" setting. They were to look inside their rings to get the setting for their special messages.
This scarce 1941 ring from Ovaltine has eagle and shield designs on each side. The top has his emblem between the words "Flight Commander."
17. Whirlwind Whistling Ring, (1940-41), Ovaltine
It was a brass fits-any-finger ring with a miniature siren on its crown. This one was used in the program by Chuck and Joyce to summon help from the drains under Hong Kong while being held prisoner by the Barracuda's Tiger Tong. The siren is very similar to others of its kind and they're not loud.
18. Aviation Wings, (1940-41), Ovaltine
These looked similar to those worn by pilots on their uniforms; it was made of brass. It has nothing to identify it as a Captain Midnight item except for a piece of paper that came with it.
19. Five-Way Detect-O-Scope, (1940-41), Ovaltine
A metal-and-cardboard device for sighting objects and estimating their distances.
20. Photomatic Code-O-Graph & Manual, 1942-1944, Ovaltine
So called because the owner was to insert a photo of him, or herself, into a small square area at the top of the badge, replacing the supplied photo of a pilot's face. The manual touted it as a personalized identification, like those used in defense plants. Actually, once the user removed the pilot's picture and substituted one of his or her own for it, the user was supposed to use a hammer and nail to fix the picture in permanently. This was shown pictorially, and consisted of pushing down the four metal tabs at the picture corners so that the picture couldn't be removed. There was enough of an overproduction of these so that they were issued throughout the war to new listeners.
21. Captain Midnight Flight Commander Flying Cross Brass Badge & Handbook, 1942, Ovaltine
This was another item orderable only from the catalog accompanying the Code-O-Graph. It was plated in 24 karat gold. The instructions that came with it told of how the inscription on the (back of the) medal had a secret setting for Flight Commanders. The inscription is: "Awarded for distinguished serviceand signed "Capt. Midnight" with the "SS-1" under the signature and in quotes.
It's hard to find since it is two pieces connected.
22. The 1942 Sliding Secret Compartment Ring,
A brass ring with a crown that slides off and is hollow. Suitable only to conceal a folded postage stamp or microfilm, if the kids could find any.
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23. Mystic Eye Detector Ring, (1942), Ovaltine
A "look around" ring. This had a tiny stainless steel mirror in the crown, situated so that if the wearer brought his or her fist up to an eye, the viewer could see almost directly behind. This was not used in the show.
24. MJC-10 Plane Detector, (1942), Ovaltine
A wartime premium consisting of a cardboard tube with "slides," inserts on onionskin paper framed by thin cardstock, which showed silhouettes of Allied and Axis aircraft. It came with an instruction sheet, also printed on onionskin that could be used to make more slides. A children's equivalent of the "aircraft recognition silhouettes" used by the Civilian Defense plane spotters.
25. Marine Corps Ring & booklet on "The Story
of the Marines," (1942), Ovaltine
A ring with the Marine Corps emblem plus a brief history of the United States Marine Corp written by Captain Midnight himself.
26. Magic Blackout Lite-Ups, (1942), Ovaltine
The premium was two sheets of paper impregnated with luminous chemicals. The accompanying folder suggested ways it could be used during blackouts, such as gluing a small strip of the material at light switches, on stair steps, on flashlights, etc. In the program, this was the fallout of Dr. Barbados' portable chemical lab in the Andes when they were investigating the Phantom City. Scraps of the material were used to help people find their way in a labyrinth under the city.
27. Official Secret Handbook for Flight Commanders,
28. Insignia Shoulder Patch, (1943-44), Ovaltine
This was the conventional winged-clockface-with-hands-at-twelve Secret Squadron symbol/logo. It was introduced in the story where Chuck was flying an experimental jet in England and had to land at a military field, without identification. After he was rescued by the intervention of Sir Allen Brundage, the Squadron decided on a patch ID. Ovaltine offered it as a shoulder patch.
29. Magni-Magic Code-O-Graph & Manual, 1943-44, Ovaltine
So called because the center of the rotor was a magnifying glass. This was the first of the dated Code-O-Graphs. The manual had "key messages" scattered throughout that were printed in a typeface so small that the owner needed to use the lens to read them. Brass was still a critical material, and the badge was actually stamped sheet steel, with a "gold" paint atop it.
The lens in the rotor was plastic, of course--indeed, all postwar Code-O-Graphs were at least partially plastic; one was completely plastic--and scratched easily. A Squadron member might pass a note to a friend who was also a Squadron member. The note might say, "KM-3," meaning "Expect important news soon."
30. Mirro-Flash Code-O-Graph & Manual, 1946, Ovaltine
Made from burnished bronze medal, the center of the rotor on this one was a mirror. The manual described the mirror as a "reducing" mirror, so that the user would be able to survey a room unobtrusively. The only weakness this unit had was that the pin on the back snapped off easily.
31. Mystic Aztec Sun God Ring, (1946), Ovaltine
This was a "souvenir" of a Mexican adventure by the Squadron. It looked good: it had a red-plastic "ruby" that slid off: it was hollow, and thus the ring had a secret compartment. The difficulty was that the stone slid off too easily. Most that survive intact today had something crammed into the secret compartment to make it harder for the ruby to slip off.
Photos by Leonard Zane
WRITER-PRODUCER, LEONARD ZANE created material produced in STAR TREK® III, IV, and TNG, and is screenwriter of CONCERTO (an epic on the life of composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff), BLACK PANTHER® of Marvel Comics (co-written with Donald Cook), THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, and INTRAVERSE (adapted from Zane's novel). In 2000, Zane adapted and produced Edmond Hamilton's classic, THE INN OUTSIDE THE WORLD, and currently produces and hosts three television programs (for example, KGEM'S ECONOMIC SOLUTIONS Program 7 on YouTube). He is represented by Character Talent & Associates.
Most recently and most importantly, he is a reader of our web site!
32. Whistling Code-O-Graph & Manual, (1947), Ovaltine
This was a plastic whistle with the cipher disk on its side. It was the first non-badge Code-O-Graph, and the first, and only, all-plastic one for the radio series. The rotor popped out of this one very easily; and the cipher alphabet was on it. Fortunately, it popped back in easily, too.
33. Spy Scope, (1947), Ovaltine
A miniature Galilean telescope. Extended, it was about the size of a mechanical pencil. It was black with red trim at the lenses. It worked pretty well for a Galilean. Regrettably, the red plastic rings holding the lenses were pretty fragile, so many broke.
34. Orange Shake-Up Mug, (1947-49), Ovaltine
This was an 8-ounce plastic container with a blue top that could be used in the manner of a cocktail shaker to mix up Ovaltine drinks. A bas-relief picture of Captain Midnight is on its outside.
35. Mirro-Flash Code-O-Graph & Manual, 1948, Ovaltine
This code-o-graph was a disaster in engineering. It had a removable red plastic back with a secret compartment. A large stainless steel mirror insert used the sun for signaling. The Code-o-graph, however, was unbelievably awkward. The cipher rotor and numbers were on two disks that held together for deciphering; only one number and one letter were visible through windows on the front. They were kept together with a ring of dimples to prevent slippage, which often didn't work. Also, the red back usually warped severely, both making it impossible to keep as a back for the unit and also causing the stainless steel mirror to pop off.
36. Initial Printing Ring, (1948), Ovaltine
The ring was a souvenir of the adventure of the "Jewels of the Queen of Sheba." The ring had a removable top with an inkpad, with an initial that could be stamped on any notes to "authenticate" them. The premium has wing designs on its adjustable brass base and the top has metal cap showing clock face logo with Midnight's initials, "CM."
37. Key-O-Matic Code-O-Graph & Manual, (1949), Ovaltine
This entry into the world of coding had a key to change cipher settings, which most people lost immediately. Some creative soles used a paper clip, or some such, to set the gears. It had no other features than enciphering and deciphering.
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