Sky King: Bullet Bait
When Sky has a wedding at his Ranch, two criminals kidnap the groom.
Sky King is an American radio and television adventure series. The title character is Arizona rancher and aircraft pilot Schuyler “Sky” King. The series is likely based on a true-life personality of the 1930s, Jack Cones, the “Flying Constable” of Twentynine Palms in San Bernardino County, California, although this claim is unverified.
Although the series has strong western elements, King mostly captures criminals and spies and finds lost hikers with the use of his airplane, the Songbird. Although the airplanes that were used were changed during the course of the series, the later model was not given a number, but was still known as the Songbird.
King and his niece, Penny (and sometimes Clipper, his nephew), live on the Flying Crown Ranch, near the (fictitious) town of Grover, Arizona. Penny and Clipper are also pilots, although they are inexperienced and look to their uncle for guidance. Penny is an accomplished air racer and rates as a multi-engine pilot, whom Sky trusts to fly theSongbird. In the third TV episode, Penny refers to Clipper as “my brother.”
The musical score is largely the work of composer Herschel Burke Gilbert.
The radio show, which began in 1946 and is based on a story by Roy Winsor, is the brainchild of Robert Morris Burtt and Wilfred Gibbs Moore, who also created Captain Midnight. Several actors play the part of Sky, including Earl Nightingale and John Reed King.
As is the case with regard to many radio shows of the day, “radio premiums” were offered to listeners. On November 2, 1947, in the episode “Mountain Detour,” the Sky King Secret Signalscope is used. Listeners are advised to get their own for only 15 cents and the inner seal from a jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter, which was produced by the sponsor, Derby Foods. The Signalscope included a glow-in-the-dark signaling device, whistle, magnifying glass and Sky King’s private code. With the Signalscope, one could also see around corners and trees. The premiums were innovative, such as the Sky King Spy-Detecto Writer, which had a “decoder” (cipher disk), magnifying glass, measuring scale, and printing mechanism in a single package slightly over 2 inches long. Other notable premiums were the Magni-Glo Writing Ring, which had a luminous element, a secret compartment, a magnifier, and a ballpoint pen all in the crownpiece of a “fits any finger” ring.
The radio show ran until 1954, having been aired simultaneously with the first portion of the television version.
The television version stars Kirby Grant as Sky King and Gloria Winters as Penny. Other regular characters included his nephew Clipper, played by Ron Hagerthy, and Mitch the sheriff, portrayed by Ewing Mitchell. Mitch, a competent and intelligent law enforcement officer, depended on his friend Sky’s flying skills to solve the harder cases. Other recurring characters included Jim Bell, the ranch foreman, played in four episodes by Chubby Johnson, as well as Sheriff Hollister portrayed by Monte Blue in five episodes, and Bob Carey, portrayed in ten episodes by Norman Ollestad.
Many of the storylines would parallel those used in such dramatic potboilers as Adventures of Superman with the supporting cast repeatedly finding themselves in near-death situations and the hero rescuing them with seconds to spare. Penny was particularly adroit at falling into the hands of spies, bank robbers (the best place to hide stolen loot was apparently in the Arizona desert) and other ne’er-do-wells.
Like most television cowboy heroes of the time, Sky never killed the villains, even though one episode had him shooting a machine gun into his own stolen plane.
Largely a show for children, although it sometimes aired in prime time, Sky King became an icon in the aviation community. Many pilots, including American astronauts, who grew up watching Sky King name him as an influence.
Though plot lines were often simplistic, Grant was able to bring a casual, natural treatment of technical details which led to a level of believability not found in other TV series involving aviation or life in the American West. Likewise, villains and other characters were usually depicted as intelligent and believable, rather than as two-dimensional. The writing was generally above the standard for contemporary half-hour programs, though sometimes the acting was not.
The later episodes of the television show were notable for the dramatic opening with an air-to-air shot of the sleek, second Songbirdbanking sharply away from the camera and its engines roaring, while the announcer proclaimed “Out of the blue of the Western sky comes — Sky King!” The short credit roll which followed was equally dramatic, with the Songbird swooping at the camera across El Mirage Lake, California, then pulling up into a steep climb as it departed. The end title featured a musical theme, with the credits superimposed over an air-to-air shot of the Songbird, cruising at altitude for several moments then banking away to the left.
The show also featured low-level flying, especially with the later Songbird. Many shots showed the Cessna “down amongst the rocks and the trees,” to show the speed of the plane as the desert flashed by in the background.
- Kirby Grant as Schuyler “Sky” King
- Gloria Winters as Penny King
- Ewing Mitchell as Sheriff Mitch Hargrove
- Ron Hagerthy as Clipper King