Friday, February 15, 2019

The 1947 ET Hypothesis of John P. Bessor



The saucer project attracted screwballs in droves... there were letters.  They went into a special file with the cryptic notation "C.P." – for crackpot.  We got them by the hundreds.
- Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, in True magazine, May 1954,
“What Our Air Force Found Out About Flying Saucers"


A search for the identity of the author of a particularly interesting letter to Project Blue Book led to the article by Joshua B Buhs at From an Oblique Angle, “John Philip Bessor as a Fortean.

It’s an excellent biographical piece with insight into Bessor, but there’s even more to his contribution to UFO history that’s worth further exploration. Bessor described himself as “a psychical researcher and student of the mysterious,” but he was also an outspoken prodigious writer, chiefly of letters to newspapers, magazines, Forteans, UFO researchers, and the US Air Force.

John Philip Bessor (1914 - 1989)

Today, Bessor is little more than a footnote in UFO history, and few people realize that he presented the first extraterrestrial hypothesis to Air Force UFO investigators back in July 1947. Richard Toronto interviewed Trevor James Constable in in July 1978, the author of They Live in the Sky, the best-known proponent of the notion that at least some UFOs are biological in nature, "space animals" or "critters." However, Constable was careful to point out he was not the first to do so, and said that honor went to John Philip Bessor, whom Constable described as the "grand daddy of the critter theory." Toronto noted that Bessor emphatically insisted, "I am not the grand daddy of the idea, simply the originator!"

Bessor’s concept could be called the ETAH, for the Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis. Further research found revealed that Bessor had written to the Air Force several times, the first to Project Sign in 1947, a letter that became famous. In it, Bessor debuted his controversial hypothesis as to the nature and origin of UFOs, but it was later used by a debunking article in a national magazine to ridicule the public’s interest in flying saucers.

1947: Bessor’s Letter to the Air Force

John Bessor was interested in paranormal matters at least as early as 1945, as shown by his correspondence with famous UK ghost hunter and psychic researcher Harry Price. He was also a reader of Charles Fort’s books and Round Robin magazine published published by Meade Layne’s mystic Borderland Science Research Associates, both of which discussed concepts of unidentified flying objects and the possibility of life beyond the earth.

When Bessor heard about Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of nine flying saucers, it caught his interest. Studying it along with the other earliest UFO reports, combined with what he’d learned reading Fort, led him to conclude that what people were reporting was unearthly - and alive. He shared his conclusions with the Air Force in a letter in early July of 1947. No copy of the original has been located, but portions of the letter were quoted in the magazine, Saturday Evening Post May 7, 1949, “What You Can Believe About Flying Saucers” (Conclusion) by Sidney Shalett.

Another wide area through which Project Saucer investigators have had to plow is the rich, intangible field of hallucinations, hoaxes and mass hysteria. For example, a man from Zelienople, Pennsylvania — who said he was “strictly scientific” in his thinking — wrote to the Air Force: “I am prepared to state that careful study and research has absolutely CONVINCED me that these 'Objects X' are creations of realms above or beyond our sphere; are, if you please, GHOST objects or craft, propelled by paranormal tele-portion (the telekinesis of the poltergeist manifestation). . . . They are controlled by intelligent, ghostlike, invisible beings or animals bearing, I believe, very little likeness to human beings.”
John P. Bessor was not named, but he proudly took credit for it in a letter printed in the Post’s July 2, 1949 issue.
He Believes in Saucers
I appreciate Sidney Shalett quoting my "disc" theory in What You Can Believe About Flying Saucers, May 7. . . . (Article quote deleted)
The Command has recently assured me that Mr. Shalett's appraisal of it was his own. . . . The only mass hysteria in evidence was manifested by those (since proven in error) who insisted that the "saucers" had no basis in fact. I found, to my satisfaction, by the process of correlation and elimination, that the "discs" are, apparently, extra-terrestrial objects, intelligently controlled by entities more like octopuses, in mentality, than humans. . . .[They] materialize into view more profusely during (cyclic?) recurrences of periods of climatic disturbances, and dovetailing with the meteorological. . . . The 1870s, ‘80s and '90's saw a rash of aerial phenomena. They portend no calamity, and the chatter of the cultists who talk of "masters" and "elder races" can be reasonably dismissed as abstract conjecture. . . . John P. Bessor, Zelienople, Pa.
The magazine replied,
We are glad to give Mr. Bessor his day in court, and we are even able to agree with him on one point: the flying saucers “portend no calamity.” —ED
Bessor then sent a letter to the Air Force’s “Project Saucer” dated July 13, 1949, to tell them about his disappointment and to reiterate his point of view. Interestingly, it contains the only instance of the word “paranormal” we could locate in PBB files.

John Philip Bessor
Zelienople Pa.
13 July 1949
Project Saucer Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio

Gentlemen: – I hope sincerely, you do not think I am boring you with my occasional and small contributions.

I felt very badly about Shallet’s mentioning my little theory regarding the “saucers”. He certainly had not asked my permission, and I really believe it gave the reader the impression that one takes his life and reputation in his hands to dare write you in confidence, lest he be held up in absolute public ridicule. My “reply“ to Shallet in the Saturday Evening Post’s “Letter” section was, due to deletion and butchering, made quite impotent, -- perhaps in keeping with the joking attitude that the Post writer Shallet inaugurated in his fiasco in titled “What You Can Believe About the Flying Saucers”. Paxton made my “dovetail” into “dovetailing” and made it appear that I had forgotten to begin one sentence with “Then--”. Actually, a sticker for accuracy, I had checked and rechecked my letter before I submitted it to the Post.
As things now stand, I am a martyr to my convictions, and only time may vindicate me. Believe you me, I as firmly hold today as I did when I first wrote you in July 11, 1947, that the “saucers” are extra-terrestrial “ghost-objects” propelled by telekinetic energy and caused to remain stationary in mid-air by levitation. Excuse the title of the magazine (I hate the esoteric) but FATE, 139 N, Clark Street, Chicago 2, Illinois, will print my article “The Mystery of Borley Rectory” tentatively scheduled to appear in the November 1949 issue. I have, in that article, summarized Harry Price’s findings to the paranormal influence manifested in the Borley Rectory’s hauntings, and you will see why I believe absolutely in the etheric.

You may keep the enclosed material.
Sincerely, 
John Philip Bessor

(Note: The letter was filed in the case, “Des Moines, Iowa (#317) 7 April 1949,” but no connection is apparent, and the enclosure is separated or missing. The article Bessor mentioned was published in the Jan. 1950 Fate as "The Ghosts of Borley Rectory.")

Bessor’s letter original letter had been used by Shallet in the Saturday Evening Post to provide an example of crackpot saucer theories, but maybe someone in the Air Force was taking Bessor seriously, though. In Project Sign's report from April 27, 1949, it examined various ideas for the origin of the saucers:

"the possible existence of some sort of strange extraterrestrial animals has been remotely considered, as many of the objects described acted more like animals than anything else."

The Project Sign report,
Medicine Hat News (Alberta, Canada) May 2, 1949
When Bessor saw an article discuss saucers as living things, it prompted him to write a letter published in Fate May-June 1951, where he staked his claim as originator of the concept:
Saucer Animals?
Your Flying Saucer theory was interesting but not new. I evolved it in 1946, after studying Fort's books. Presented it to the USAF July 7, 1947. Haberer of their press and radio section wrote me that it was "one of the most intelligent theories we have received." Briefly, the saucers represent a form of supernormal phenomena - are a sort of "poltergeist-animal'' capable of materialization. Possible propellant: teleportation. I believe they normally inhabit the stratosphere and are forced to fly lower due, possibly, to some cosmic disturbance in space. Not human-form; not people. The official release of April, 1949 quoted part of my theory.
J. P. Bessor St. Thomas, Pa.
(Harry Haberer, was civilian head press information for the Air Force at Dayton, Ohio, and responsible for providing Sidney Shallet with information for his 1949 Saturday Evening Post article.)

LIFE April 28, 1952 contained Bessor’s letter responding to their famous UFO article, “Have We Visitors from Space?”
Sirs...For five years I have held the theory that these aerial objects represent a highly attenuated form of intelligent “animal” life of extra-terrestrial origin—possibly stratospheric or ionospheric; propulsion apparently akin to teleportation, possibly flight by sheer will or thought. The frequent undulating motion in flight is analogous to the weaving trajectory of observed poltergeist-projected objects. Strange, luminous creatures inhabit the depths of our seas, why not similar creatures of highly rarefied matter in the heights of our heavens, and as diverse in size and shape as living things on earth?
John Philip Bessor
Fort London, Pa.
Kenneth Arnold, the original flying saucer witness, came to believe saucers were alive about this same time, and we have to wonder if Bessor’s letter in Life played a role in that. In an Aug. 1952, newspaper article, it quoted Arnold as saying he was convinced that they UFOs are a type of "living, thinking creature" that inhabits the stratosphere but they are no "menace." (Further details follow in our companion article, Kenneth Arnold and the ETAH.)


Civilian names are typically redacted in PBB, files, but they missed one reference to Bessor, a listing of the 1950 Philadelphia UFO mentioned in his letter. There’s no case file on the incident, however, just his letter, found in file, “Sandia Base, NM. 29 Sept 50.” True magazine, May 1954 featured, “What Our Air Force Found Out About Flying Saucers,” by Project Blue Book’s former head, Captain Edward J. Ruppelt. It prompted Bessor to write the Air Force with comments, criticism, and a case tip.
According to that excellent commentator, Frank Edwards, you have been withholding some “saucer” facts from the public. I plead with you to withhold nothing. You must admit that the Air Force’s contradictions in the past, it’s acknowledgments and it denials, have done it no credit, and have made the thinking public completely suspicious of it.
John Philip Bessor 
[Redacted], 
Pennsylvania 
May 2nd, 1954
Gentlemen:-

I have just finished reading Ruppelt‘s excellent summation in TRUE magazine. I completely agree with all his statements except that the Air Force has no knowledge of the “landing” of a U.F.O..

I think it most odd that the Air Force spent thousands on tracking down patently fictitious accounts of “little men”, and sublimely ignored the factual accounts of landings of U.F.Os. such as the six foot, purple-glowing sphere which gently alighted onto a Philadelphia field, September 30, 1950 (which, when touched by one of the policemen who saw it fall, dematerialized into a sticky film). It appears to me that such accounts smack too much of a supernormal (preternatural) and are hence conveniently excluded from A.T.I.C. files.

I note with some interest that you maintain a file initialed “C.P.” into which you dump any and all letters written by those interested in the “flying saucers”. I have received some very “odd “letters in reply to my “saucer” pieces in the Saturday Evening Post and Life magazines, and I can well sympathize with you on this point, but I certainly trust you the good sense to discriminate, and not throw out the weed with the chaff, simply because it is in letter form.

Relative to the West Palm Beach fiasco and the Adamski bid for publicity, you should read a 1953 copy (of excuse the stupid title) FATE magazine, you will see where I strongly question the authenticity of both the scoutmaster’s and “Professor” Adamski’s encounters. I can smell a fraud ten miles off. To think that the Air Force spent a fair sum to investigate the West Palm Beach tale. Seems incredible. The West Virginia “monster” appeared to be well worth looking into, but appears to have been shrugged off by Intelligence with a cute remark.

Incidentally, Adamski is booked in London halls for his lecture tour this summer. I understand that a fellow SOUTHERN CALIFORNIAN -- is touring the United States describing his trip in a “saucer”. His name: Orefeo Angelucci, -- a little fellow I’ll swear is trying to compensate for a feeling of gloomy inadequacy and boredom in the plastics division of Lockheed Aircraft.

Sincerely, J. P. Bessor
It’s easy to see why Bessor took an interest in the Philadelphia UFO, since the peculiar nature of the object fit well with his notions of organic and ethereal flying saucers. However, in repeating the story, Bessor bestowed even more unearthly qualities to the object than found in the witness’ report. The news was carried on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer as  "Flying 'Saucer' Just Dissolves,” on Sept. 27, 1950, then picked up and syndicated nationally by the Associated Press.


Bessor wrote about the dissolving saucer part of his article, “Some Strange Meteors" in Fate magazine July 1954. Bessor somehow got the date wrong and exaggerated the details, changing the object from parachute-like into a globe, and changing “dissolved” into “dematerialize.” As “a sticker for accuracy,” Bessor should have checked and rechecked his article before he submitted it to Fate. He mentioned the story several other times with the correct date given, but kept the globe shape.

John Bessor, the Author

Bessor was a prolific letter writer and corresponded with many Forteans, UFO researchers including: Eric Frank Russell, Vincent H. Gaddis, Harold T. Wilkins, Frank Scully, Leonard Stringfield. It was Bessor who put two of famous friends in touch with one another; Gray Barker wrote to Morris K Jessup in November 1954, “I heard about you from John P. Bessor of Pittsburgh, who said you are writing a book about saucers.” Bessor was also very active in letters of comment to saucer and paranormal publications such as Saucer News, The Saucerian, Flying Saucer Review and Fate magazine.

Harold T. Wilkins, Flying Saucer Uncensored, 1955:
Mr. John (P.) Bessor, of Pittsburgh, has asked me to note that he is the originator of the term aeroform. I have pleasure in doing so, since Mr. Bessor is a pioneer worker who originated the materialization and de-materialization theory in connection with certain types of saucers. Of course, as this book has stated, there are other types of saucers of matter akin to our own.
Bessor briefly had a column in BSRA’s Round Robin, and corresponded with Leonard Stringfield, contributing this cartoon to the Sept. 3, 1954 issue of CRIFO Newsletter (Civilian Research, Interplanetary Flying Objects).

Bessor also sent the cartoon to Project Blue Book, and their version includes one of his ghostly UFOs passing overhead. PBB added the notation: 
"Comment: When was the Air Force ever able to muzzle the Press?"
Bessor’s letter to Len Stringfield’s CRIFO Orbit, Aug. 5, 1955, gives us some of the best insight into his views on how the fringe claims of saucer extremists were damaging the credibility of the UFO topic:
I have long been under the impression that the vocal group of the Air Force is perfectly satisfied to see the subject of flying saucers hang itself with the rope of prophesy, carelessly edited periodicals, and science-fiction yarns of "meetings" with etheric guardians, mystical masters, and sultry maids from exotic. planets! This hanging would make it unnecessary for the Air Force to (1) painfully admit the reality of the flying saucers to the public, or to (2) again commit itself foolishly by denying their reality.
John Philip Bessor, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Bessor was a regular contributor to the early issues of Jim Moseley’s Saucer News (Nexus) and he was briefly listed as a contributing editor. "Flying Saucers Fact and Fiction" was published in Nexus #5, Nov. 1954.

The ETAH in Print

John P. Bessor is perhaps best remembered in ufology for his articles in Fate magazine on the Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis. The Dec. 1955 issue featured his “Are the Saucers Space Animals?” as the cover story. He wrote:

Whatever they are, I suspect they just come down to look us over. I believe they are harmless or we would have had trouble with them long ago... I contend that the 'flying discs' (as they were first called) are a form of space animal, or creature, of a highly attenuated substance, capable of materialization and dematerialization, whose whose propellant is a form of telekinetic energy...
There is a saying that Nature abhors a vacuum. If the seas of our earth are swarming with varieties of living things, both great and small, is it not logical to assume that the 'sea' of our sky abounds with sundry forms of living things, likewise both great and small, of varied shapes, but adaptable to their celestial environment? Some may be quite invisible, others translucent, others opaque, still others capable of changing, chameleon-like, from one color to another, from one form to another, from visibility to complete invisibility, all in a moment.
Before alien abductions became a popular topic, Bessor speculated that people vanishing could be connected to UFOs.
We read of the weird disappearance of the occupants of sailing ships, of the strange disappearance into thin air... we wonder if they were... abducted by carnivorous species of flying saucer...
Bessor’s most longest relationship was with the magazine whose name he disliked, Fate. There he wrote over eighteen articles and had about half as many letter published over the years, more often than not on ghostly, not UFO matters. Two of his articles appear in book collections of the best of Fate magazine. (See the Bibliography section.)

The Fortean Society under Tiffany Thayer had a conspiratorial bent, distrusting authority, government, newspapers and the scientific establishment. some of that rubbed off on the UFO community, and a lot seems to have rubbed off on Bessor. In 1962, Bessor was concerned enough about an issue that he wrote to the Detroit Free Press and Fate magazine about how NASA’s space exploration could destroy souls in Heaven.



1967 was a very good year for Bessor, the 20th anniversary of flying saucers and of his Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis, which was being discussed in magazines, books and newspapers.

Mysterious Fires and Lights by Fortean author, Vincent H. Gaddis:
One of the advocates of our animal theory is John P. Bessor, of St. Thomas, Pennsylvania, with whom I once corresponded. He states that he evolved the theory in 1946 and presented it to the Air Force in July, 1947. An officer in the Press and Radio Section, in acknowledging the submission, said it was "one of the most intelligent theories we have received."
Gaddis’ section on Bessor was quoted the paperback book, What We Really Know About Flying Saucers by Otto Binder, 1967, and the ETAH was featured as a “new theory” in The Sydney Morning Herald July 23, 1967.


With the renewed attention Bessor wrote about the ETAH topic again for a feature article in Fate magazine Nov. 1967 “UFOs, Animal or Mineral?” He wrote:

... various species of extraterrestrial, highly attenuated life-forms or craft propelled by telekinetic energy or by sheer will or thought, Possibly originating in the ionosphere, they have been forced to ‘migrate’ to denser atmospheres periodically because of solar or cosmic disturbances. They are capable of changing shape in flight and possess the intelligence of the octopus, porpoise or chimpanzee.
In the foreword to his best-selling book, Flying Saucers, Here and Now, Frank Edwards gave special thanks to several individuals, including “John P. Bessor, of Pittsburgh.”

Bessor was primarily a psychic and ghost investigator, but in 1970, he had his own UFO sighting in Gulfport, Mississippi. He wrote to the police there to report what he’d seen, and to find if there had been other reports of it, or information related to it. Much like had happened in 1947, the authorities released his letter, to the press.


The ETAH was featured in the comic book, UFO Flying Saucers #3, Gold Key, 1972 as the cover story, “Are the UFOs Living Beings?”, but John Bessor was not cited as the originator of the concept.
Bessor's purple "dematerializing" UFO from Philadelphia, 
September 30, 1950 was also included.

Bessor's last known writing related on the UFO topic was a 1981 newspaper letter to the editor.
He didn't mention space animals, but was still fuming about a UFO cover-up by the US government.
The Pittsburgh Press Feb. 11, 1981

The Unique Bessor Point of View

What’s a bit odd with John Bessor’s outlook is that he embraced the idea of the supernatural, and wrote many articles on ghosts, yet he had a negative opinion of the “esoteric” and “of the cultists who talk of "masters... elder races." In later correspondence and articles he seems very skeptical and pragmatic, condemning the Contactees, and crashed saucer stories, but throughout his life held on to the conviction that UFOs were really ghostly space animals. Bessor subscribed to Psychic News, “the spiritual newspaper” from the UK, and contributed at least one article to them. He’d also written for Meade Layne’s Borderland Science Research Associates, but while Bessor embraced the paranormal, but rejected occult notions of Theosophy about extraterrestrials entrusting knowledge to a chosen few. Maybe he thought it smacked of clubhouse and fraternity ethos and elitism.

Bessor was more aligned with the brand of paranormal promoted by Frank Edwards and Harold T. Wilkins, who both wrote about general mysterious happenings and not just UFOs. Bessor was a fan of Frank Edwards’ syndicated radio show, “Stranger than Science, ” and of Edwards books that followed covering the same type of material, ghosts, phenomenon and UFOs. That was more Bessor’s style, that the world was full of strange and unknown things, but we were our own masters.

The ETAH or Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis never caught on the way the notions of interplanetary or interdimensional origin for UFOs did. It’s no more outlandish, but perhaps it was a bit too alien a concept, more disturbing than the notion we are being visited by humanoids who are much like us.


Fate Dec. 1955
John Keel in Operation Trojan Horse, 1996, wrote:
There are countless sightings of objects that changed size and shape... Over and over again, witnesses have told me in hushed tones, "You know, I don't think that thing I saw was mechanical at all. I got the distinct impression that it was alive."

Researchers such as John Bessor and Ivan T. Sanderson have openly discussed the possibility that some UFOs may, indeed, be living creatures. It's a mixed bag. You can take your choice. Every belief can supported to some degree, but in the final analysis, when you review all of the evidence, none of them can completely proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
John Bessor’s hypothesis may seem ridiculous to people today, but remember he grew up with a belief in the supernatural, just as many of us now have grown up believing in extraterrestrial spaceships. Bessor was also working with limitations of information and the reach of science at the time. We’re not much better off seventy years later, and there’s still far more that remains unknown than known. In time, our present-day notions of what is behind UFOs may turn out to be no more accurate than the 1947 Extraterrestrial Animal Hypothesis by John P. Bessor.
. . .

The John Bessor story concludes in the next STTF installment, 
Charles Fort, Kenneth Arnold and Space Animal UFOs
which features: 
ETAH: Fiction and Fort got there First
Kenneth Arnold, ETAH Proponent
The John P. Bessor Bibliography 
Bessor’s Controversial Correspondence
. . .

For Further Reading

“John Philip Bessor as a Fortean: by Joshua B. Buhs.
https://www.joshuablubuhs.com/blog/john-philip-bessor-as-a-fortean

“Who ‘Discovered Space Animals’?” by Civilian Saucer Intelligence of New York
CSI News Letter December 15, 1957
http://www.cufos.org/CSI_NY/CSI_NY_%2322.pdf

“On the Track of the Gelatinous Meteor” by Richard Toronto, 2000
https://archive.li/DrW86#selection-335.0-355.18

“1950, September 26: The Purple Mass” by Garth Haslam
http://anomalyinfo.com/Stories/1950-september-26-purple-mass

Friday, February 1, 2019

Discs in the Sky: Flying Saucer Commercialism


1947: Within days of the first flying saucer sightings, hoaxers, hucksters - even capitalists rushed to cash in.

The Film Daily, July 9, 1947 (page 3) featured some saucer news in the column,"Along the Rialto" by Phil M. Daly, Mid-Week Memos (tid-bits of movie news and gossip), asking the question:

Has anyone filed a title registration with the MPAA like "The Flying Saucer?"
...... Or "Discs in the Sky?"


Across the USA, flying saucers were becoming big business, at least as an advertising gimmick.


The Rain of the Flying Discs


Ringing Down the Week’s Curtain• • • WELL SIR, it didn't lake the boys long to cash in on those flying saucers...... First to crash thru locally were the fast-thinking lads at Metro with display copy in yesterday's dailies slyly intimating that the saucers were a collective plug for "The Hucksters" which is Capitol-bound...... Down in Oklahoma City, on Tuesday the smart Allied Artists lads took to the air and from a plane showered down thousands of flying black and gold discs on noonday shopping throngs to call attention to the coming world premiere there of "Black Gold"......And the postman deposited on Phil M/s desk yesterday a memo from Charles Reed Jones assuring that the flying saucers are really Louis Armstrong records of "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" It seems, sez CRJ, RCA- Victor couldn't contrive any other distribution to supply the demand since Jules Levey's "New Orleans" has been opening in the keys ......NEXT!!!!...... "The line forms at the right"......
The Film Daily, July 11, 1947 (page 4)
Other radio stations were also in on the saucer act:

Broadcasting magazine, July 14, 1947 (PDF link)

Radio station saucer drops continued as an advertising stunt throughout the 1940s into the 1950s.

Billboard, July 26, 1947
The Telegraph-Herald, Dubuque, Iowa, Sunday, April 08, 1951, page 17.
1951 Saucer Drop. Click for larger version

Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft

In 1950, California radio station KFXM had another approach to attract customers: establishing extraterrestrial contact. From Broadcasting, April 3, 1950:
NEW angle on promotional possibilities of flying saucers hit upon by Lowell Smith, time salesman for KFXM San Bernardino, Calif. Mr. Smith has sold half-hour interview with pilot of any flying saucer to come down in a two-county area of station's coverage. Show, if and when it is aired, will take top-priority over any program on air, with Newsmen Jim O’Leary and Dave Hubbard set to parachute tape recorder and portable radio into position to "contact and interview occupant or occupants of any flying saucer" within area. Wilson & Fields, San Bernardino furniture and appliance firm will sponsor the show.
There were no takers, but we have to wonder if Professor George Adamski of Mt. Palomar, CA, might have been listening.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The UFO Message of Science Fiction Theatre



This article is was prompted by a suggestion from Graham, a STTF reader who pointed out that the 1955 television series Science Fiction Theatre produced several episodes with UFO concepts, many of which never before seen on screen.

Bringing UFOs to TV

Ziv Television Programs was a pioneer in syndicated TV series, chiefly producing crime dramas, westerns and adventure shows. The company was founded by Frederick Ziv, and his brother Maurice Ziv co-produced two shows that featured UFO episodes, Science Fiction Theatre, 1955 - 57, and Men into Space, 1959-60. Both shows were co-produced with Ivan Tors.


Ivan Tors is better known today for his later adventure and family television shows such as Sea Hunt, Flipper and Daktari. Earlier in his career he had had made several science fiction feature films, Magnetic Monster, 1953, Riders to the Stars and Gog in 1954. (Tors has also erroneously been credited for producing Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers, see endnotes in this STTF article.) 

While Tors produced science fiction, he avoided fantasy, and had a reputation for insisting in scientific accuracy in his screenplays. Tors described his outlook in the essay, “Science Fiction” to the 1958 book, TV and Screen Writing, edited by Lola Goelet Yoakem.

TV and Screen Writing, 1958

In 1955, Tors debuted a science fiction anthology program unlike anything else on the air.

Amarillo Globe-Times April 29, 1955

Science Fiction Theatre

Science Fiction Theatre debuted in April 1955, with the goal of presenting scientifically plausible stories in an unsensational manner, not the kid stuff Buck Rogers SF with BEMs (bug-eyed monsters). 

The program ran seventy-eight episodes from 1955 to 1957, and was hosted by veteran announcer Truman Bradley. Each episode opened with Bradley on a laboratory set, sometimes quoting from a recent Scientific American article, and he’d discuss and demonstrate a scientific principle that would play a role in the story he was introducing. There were some big ideas featured, but sometime s the scripts and performances didn’t live up to them. A negative review by John Brosnan in Science Fiction Monthly vol. 2, no. 01, 1975, “SF on TV.”
Each half-hour episode was introduced by a grey-haired distinguished looking gentleman seated at a desk that was covered with peculiar objects that looked vaguely scientific. The stories that followed were so tedious and uninteresting (apparently because the makers' aim was to demonstrate that science fiction could be serious) that the series must have discouraged many a potential science fiction fan during the short time it ran.
A bit harsh. The production values of Science Fiction Theatre were very good, and it’s notable for its first season of it being filmed in color. With its half-hour format and the opening and closing remarks by the host, there wasn’t much time left for the story. That’s  possibly why some concepts were featured in more than one episode, almost as if the same story was being told from another point of view. With the limited time and television budget, some of the episodes almost seem if they could have been radio plays since so much happens offscreen, and some stories would have worked as well or better as radio dramas.

What really important to us though, is that the series frequently dealt with the topic of alien contact and flying saucers. Luckily, these shows have been preserved and can still be watched today. Science Fiction Theatre is available in a DVD set, and can sometimes also be found online (usually at far lower video resolution).

SFT DVD, and Martin Grams' 2011 book, Science Fiction Theatre: A History of the Television Program, 1955-57

Flying saucers had been in the public eye for less than ten years when the series began, and it’s interesting to see how ideas about them were being digested and circulated to the public. Graham, in his letter about the series said, “ if nothing else they show just how quickly UFO lore developed after the Arnold sighting.” Tors took pains to bring credibility to Science Fiction Theatre, so it’s very interesting that he’d risk losing it all by addressing the highly controversial topic of UFOs.

Science Fiction and Flying Saucers

Science Fiction Theatre aired in the years between two major news-making UFO events, the 1952 Washington, DC sightings and the 1957 Levelland, Texas case which overlapped with the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite. Flying saucers were not widely embraced by most science fiction authors. While most supported the possibility of life throughout the universe, they didn’t see the reports of UFOs as any evidence of that. Hollywood’s version of science fiction was another matter, and when adapting tales of extraterrestrial visitors, they swapped the alien spaceships for flying saucers. This was done for two overlapping reasons: 1. It capitalized on the popularity of the UFO mystery. 2. It was simple, an expedient shortcut in storytelling. Since everyone had heard of flying saucers, lengthy exposition about spaceships, interstellar travel and extraterrestrial life could be virtually eliminated. 

Nevertheless, most printed straight science fiction kept saucers on the sidelines. In the movies, on radio and television, only occasionally did extraterrestrial stories feature flying saucers and their related lore. Science Fiction Theatre took a different approach, and their default position from the first episode was that flying saucers are real.

The SFT UFO-related Episodes

Here’s a look at some of the most notable UFO-related episodes of Science Fiction Theatre:


Beyond - screenplay by Robert Smith and George Van Marter from a story by Ivan Tors.
Season 1, episode 1, April 5, 1955
This story is reminiscent of the Captain Thomas F. Mantell crash story. A test pilot bails out when he thinks he’s going to crash into a UFO. His expensive test plane is lost, and there’s an inquiry as to whether he’s fit to fly. Since the object was not seen on radar, the brass thinks he hallucinated. The UFO was a long gray metallic cylinder, and there is speculation that the saucer was powered by magnetic force (as in Frank Scully’s Behind the Flying Saucers).

Jefferson City News and Tribune Jan. 15, 1956


Y-O-R-D  - screenplay by Leon Benson and George Van Marter, story by Ivan Tors.
Season 1, episode 4, April 30, 1955
The world's leading expert on telepathy, Dr. Lawton, is sent to a military weather station at the North Pole, where the crew there have suddenly become psychic. The mysterious code they're mentally receiving, Y-O-R-D, turns out to be an emergency call from an extraterrestrial source. This episode features Kenneth Tobey, back in familiar territory from The Thing from Another World.


Hour of Nightmare screenplay by Lou Huston
Season 1, episode 12, June 25, 1955
A husband and wife team are assigned to travel to Mexico and take photographs of the UFOs being reported there. They stumble upon the body of a dead alien, find ET technology and cope with radiation exposure.


The Strange People at Pecos - screenplay by Doris Gilbert.
Season 1, episode 23, Oct. 1, 1955
The Kerns, the new family in town, display strange behavior, leading a boy and his father to suspect that they could be spies from flying saucers. The new girl seems to feel no pain, her father is heard sending a message to aliens, and he has model saucer that defies gravity. When confronted, Mr. Kern has an explanation, but is it just a cover story?

Postcard from Barcelona - screenplay by Sloan Nibley, story by Tom Gries and Ivan Tors.
Season 1, episode 30, Nov. 19, 1955
After the sudden death of a brilliant scientist, his unfinished work is examined and it’s revealed that his technological advances were due to information fed to him by extraterrestrials. Parts of this story are reminiscent of the later UMMO story (a hoax).


Are We Invaded? - screenplay by Norman Jolley.
Season 1, episode 36, Dec. 31, 1955
A couple witness a UFO, but when they report it to the the woman’s father a prominent  astronomer, he dismisses their sighting as an optical illusion. The man, a reporter, goes on a quest to film a documentary of witnesses and prove the reality of UFOs. He winds up looking foolish when the astronomer is able to explain each of the sightings. There’s a “snapper,” however, the mysterious Mr. Galleon has given him a photograph that could not have been taken on Earth, and leaves behind an exotic forwarding address.


The Other Side of the Moon - screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Richard Joseph Tuber.
Season 1, episode 39, Jan, 27, 1956
New astronomical photographic equipment reveals evidence of advanced alien technology on the moon. When an unmanned photographic mission is launched to explore, it crashes on the far side of the moon, but the photos it sent back confirm that aliens had come and gone – without bothering to contact the Earth.  Scientists conclude that we aren’t ready, still too primitive.


Season Two (episodes were filmed in black and white.)

Bullet Proof - screenplay by Lee Hewitt.
Season 2, episode 6, May 11, 1956
An escaped convict tries to cash in on debris recovered from a UFO landing. Long before the Roswell incident was reinvented as an ET story in the late 1970s, this story features a strange, near-indestructible foil-like metal from a damaged UFO. 

Shades of Roswell! UFO mystery metal. 
The scientist first thinks it aluminum foil, but when the convict strikes it with a hammer, or shoots it with a pistol, the sheet is undamaged. The con meets a buyer and takes him to the UFO landing site, where sand was found to be fused into glass. The examining scientist speculates that aliens deliberately left their technology behind for us to find.



The Missing Waveband - screenplay by Lou Huston, story by Ivan Tors.
Season 2, episode 10, June 16, 1956
Dr. Vincent Milhurst makes radio contact with a mysterious stranger, a distant unknown scientist who provides him with knowledge of technology that will prevent nuclear war, ensuring peace on Earth. When Milhurst uses the same technology to trace the location of the stranger’s signal, it’s determined to be from far, far away.

Beam of Fire - screenplay by Stuart Jerome, story by Ivan Tors.
Season 2, episode 15, July 28, 1956
A mysterious beam is destroying the development of rocket fuel, apparently in an attempt by extraterrestrials to postpone Man’s space exploration.

The Legend of Crater Mountain - screenplay by Bill Buchanan and Lue Hall.
Season 2, episode 16, Aug. 3, 1956
A teacher is tormented by three siblings that possess psychic powers. Local legend has it that their family arrived 200 years earlier in a UFO crash. The plot is similar  to Zenna Henderson's “The People” series about alien refugees living among us which had debuted in the story "Ararat" in the Oct, 1952 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine.


Jupitron - screenplay by Arthur Weiss.
Season 2, episode 18, Aug. 17, 1956
Alien abduction: A couple are taken to one of Jupiter’s moons where they encounter a long-missing scientist who shares the secret of a substance that will solve the Earth's hunger problem.


The Last Barrier - screenplay by Hendrik Vollaerts (as Rik Vollaerts).
Season 2, episode 27, Nov. 24, 1956
While an experimental rocket travels to the Moon, there are saucer sightings on Earth, and radar shows the rocket is followed by UFOs. The ship mysteriously crashes on return, apparently in an attempt by extraterrestrials to postpone Man’s space exploration.


Sun Gold - screenplay by Peter R. Brooke.
Season 2, episode 32, Dec. 14, 1956
Ancient Aliens: Four years before The Morning of the Magicians and twelve years before Chariots of the Gods, scientists discover that the Incans had been given technology by a “visitor from the sky.”

Bolt of Lightning - screenplay by Meyer Dolinsky. 
Season 2, episode 38, Feb. 1, 1957
The government investigates after a scientist dies in an unexplained laboratory explosion, but his daughter tries to keep his secrets, in the face of rumors that he was doing something connected with flying saucers. Screenwriter Meyer Dolinsky wrote quite a bit of screen science fiction, and went on to write several classic episodes of The Outer Limits, such as “The Architects of Fear.”

The Strange Lodger - screenplay by Arthur Weiss.
Season 2, episode 39, Feb. 18, 1957
While testing a device for TV ratings that can detect what channel viewers are watching, it’s discovered that a strange old man is tuned into the unknown channel 84. More puzzling, he’s not receiving, but sending messages about Earth to a ship orbiting the planet.

The Influence and Impact of SF Theatre

Science Fiction Theatre continued in reruns through the end of the 1950s and was broadcast again in syndication the early 1960s under the title Beyond the Limits.

There were a few mentions of the show in period UFO literature.

The APRO Bulletin, Aug. 1955


UFO Newsletter # 6, 20 October 1956, North Jersey U.F.O. Group  
SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE, WRCA-TV, Fridays at 7 p.m., has a story based on saucers every once in a while. Most recent was 5 October. TRUMAN BRADLEY, host... said that the flying saucers constitute one of the greatest puzzles put before man. 

UFO Newsletter # 13, May 1960, edited by Lee R. Munsick
“TV Shows Push UFO's, E.S.P.”
"'Science Fiction Theatre'... A discussion with producer Ivan Tors of Ziv disclosed at least six episodes dealing with flying saucers:
1. BEYOND (saucer sighting by jet pilot)
2. YORD (communication from a space-ship)
3. AN HOUR OF NIGHTMARE (saucers and little men in Mexico)
4. POSTCARD FROM BARCELONA (space-station)
5. ARE WE INVADED? (saucer investigation)
6. BREAKTHROUGH (first moon-rocket followed by saucer)
(Note: actual title: The Last Barrier)
While actually science fiction presented as such, much of the material incorporated into these stories comes from actual UFO cases, easily recognizable by well-versed Ufologists.”
Ivan Tors' Science Fiction Theatre only lasted two seasons, but delivered a phenomenal 78 episodes. The series should be remembered for reflecting the public's interest in flying saucers, and for possibly helping shape public opinion towards the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs. 
. . .



Epilogue and Endnotes


Men into Space

Ivan Tors was part of another Ziv Television space-themed series, Men into Space, an attempt at a realistic show about space exploration starring William Lundigan as astronaut Col. Edward McCauley. Executive Producers were Maurice Ziv and Ivan Tors, and it ran one season, from 1959-60. Most episodes were straight astronaut adventures, but in a few stories they encountered UFO-type situations and indications of alien civilizations.

Hard evidence vs. hearsay.
“Is There Another Civilization?” - screenplay by Jerome Bixby, episode 24, March 23, 1960. During a routine flight, the astronaut’s ship is struck by a meteor, but when analyzed the metal appears to be manufactured, and unlike anything on Earth.

“From Another World” - screenplay by Beirne Lay Jr., episode 29, April 27, 1960.
Colonel McCauley spotted an alien fossil on Asteroid 78-1, but the mission was cut short by the failure of his suit oxygen supply, so the authorities suspect it was lack of air or stress causing him to hallucinate

“Beyond the Stars” - screenplay by David Duncan, episode 31, May 11, 1960.
A signal from distant space is revealed to a communication from a deep space.

“Mystery Satellite” - screenplay by Jerome Bixby, episode episode 37, Sept. 7, 1960.
A “meteor” appears to be following the astronaut’s ship, matching their maneuvers, indicating it is under intelligent control.

Men into Space was not renewed after the first season.


For further reading on Science Fiction Theatre

For more details on Ivan Tor and his science fiction work, see Gary Westfahl’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Film, 1901-2016.

Ivan Tors’ obituary at The New York Times.

Martin Grams wrote the 2011 book, Science Fiction Theatre: A History of the Television Program, 1955-57. His blog article describes the making of the pilot episodes, “Beyond” and “Y.O.R.D.,” both of which featured UFO-related stories: Science Fiction Theatre: The Pilot

The 1947 ET Hypothesis of John P. Bessor

The saucer project attracted screwballs in droves... there were letters.  They went into a special file with the cryptic notation ...