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

Friday, January 4, 2019

Princeton University's Flying Saucers for the US Army

During the 1950s, there were numerous attempts to build aircraft that duplicated the reported performance of flying saucers. There were also experiments to build hovercraft to use as “flying jeeps,” and sometimes these projects intersected. 

Here's a DTIC document describing the saucer program AVRO. Apparently they had other plans...

A briefing by representatives of Aircraft Armaments, Inc., of Cockeysville, Md., on the flying combat vehicle was given to senior officers and representatives of the CONARC staff sections on 21 August 1957. As a result of this briefing, a letter was sent to the Chief of Research and Development, Department of the Army, on 22 October, stating CONARC interest in the flying saucer concept and requesting initiation of a feasibility study of a "manned flying saucer." The Chief of Research and Development replied on 21 November, advising that he had reviewed a current Air Force project with AVRO Aircraft, Ltd., of Canada, which was similar to the Aircrafts Armaments proposal and which appeared promising.
One of these studies was the Princeton Flying Saucer, a project by Princeton University's Department of Aero Engineering developed for the United States Army.
 Popular Science July 1959, Here Come Cars Without Wheels

As the work developed, the team readied a full-sized passenger model for test flights.

(UPI telephoto) 63-9/29-Princeton, N.J.: A US flying saucer as shown in Newsweek’s 10/5 issue, goes into final production stage (top photo) at Princeton University flight research lab. A canvas skin will be stretched over the steel and aluminum frame, which is scheduled to be launched over New Jersey within a month. The saucers 45-horsepower engine will provide lift and 25 m.p.h. forward speed by driving air through the vents around the saucer’s edge. A tail engine will give right-left control. Bottom photo Is a sketch of what the completed craft will look like in flight. 

A special thanks to 
Louis Taylor of Information Dispersal for the original UPI photo. 

Bedford County Press and Everett Press Jan. 28, 1960
A real flying saucer nears completion at Princeton University's flight research laboratory before air tests were scheduled over New Jersey. A 45-horsepower engine will provide lift and 25-mile-per-hour forward speed with a tail-propeller giving right-left control. At bottom is a drawing of the craft after a canvas skin was stretched over her steel and aluminum frame. These pictures from Newsweek Magazine give a preview of the ship.
The project was a success, and the saucer was capable of manned flight.
Science And Mechanics June, 1960, Analyzing Air Car Designs

There was another disc-like project from Princeton, the "Air Scooter," and it can be seen in flight along with the saucer and other hovercraft projects in the following video, "Early Hovercraft: Army 'Ground Effect Machine Program' from R&D Progress Report No 3 1961 US Army."

For some reason, the hovercraft never replaced the Army jeep - at least as far as we know.

For more information on the Princeton saucers, see the article, Flying Saucers at Forrestal, at the site of  Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Seventh-day Adventist Church's UFO Investigation

An unlikely source for UFO history that time forgot... a six-part series from 1961 in a religious magazine, the Seventh-day Adventist Church's Review and Herald. It was written by the editor, Francis David Nichol, in his attempt to find answers for his readers. 
In addition to the motley array of saucer club enthusiasts, mystics, and spiritists, there are other people, genuinely good people, sincere, hard-working citizens, some of them religious folks—a few even in the circle of our church—who are greatly impressed by the reports of UFO's and who think that they may be manifestations of evil spiritistic power, a proof of the nearness of the end of the world. For such people we have a sympathetic concern, and wish to make explicit that we consider them in an entirely different category from the run-of-the-mill flying saucer enthusiast. In fact, it is because of the letters of inquiry from some of our subscribers that I have made this investigation and here publish the report of my findings. 
Nichol's quest to get to the bottom of the flying saucer mystery caused him to to travel to interesting places and meet memorable people from UFO history. Nichol examined the Contactee tales, travelled to NICAP headquarters, the Pentagon, and in Ohio, dug through the filing cabinets of Project Blue Book. 

Bellow is a listing of the articles and links to PDFs of the Review and Herald issues where they are found. 

March 23, 1961 Part 1 
"What About Flying Saucers?"

March 30, 1961 Part 2 
"An Interview With a Flying Saucer 'Traveler'" 
Nichol interviewed Contactee, Dan Fry, and also discussed the "weird claims" of George Adamski. 

April 6, 1961 Part 3
"The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena"
Nichol traveled to the NICAP HQ and met Richard Hall. "I can frankly say, after visiting them in their office, that they seem like very normal people who are honestly seeking to do a job they think needs to be done. Unfortunately... very fine people can honestly proceed on mistaken premises, and this I think is the case with NICAP. "
April 13, 1961 Part 4 
"Air Force Intelligence and Flying Saucers"
Nichol visited the Pentagon, then Wright-Patterson AFB to meet with Major Robert Friend and examine Project Blue Book case files.

April 20, 1961 Part 5
"Air Force Explanations of Flying Saucers"

April 27, 1961 Part 6
"Some Flying Saucer Cases Examined" 
In the final installment, Nichol discusses some cases and end with his The present series of articles has sought to answer the one prime question:
"Are the UFO's supernatural, interplanetary entities? The answer I must give, in the light of present
knowledge, is that..." For the rest of that thought, you'll have to read the article.

Epilogue: 1966

May 26, 1966 
"From the Editor's Mailbag" 
Nichol returned to the UFO topic in reply to a reader's question about recent sightings.

Francis D. Nichol died in June 1966. 

There were no further Review and Herald articles on UFOs until 1969.

Epilogue: 1969

February 27, 1969
"UFO's - P.S." 
In an editorial following the conclusion of the UFO study led by Dr. Edward Condon, Review and Herald returned to Nichol's UFO study. Editor Kenneth H. Wood examined what relation UFOs have to Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy writings, but left us wondering saying, 

"Soon enough the mysteries that here perplex us shall be made plain." 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Astronomer Arthur L. Draper on The UFO Mystery

Arthur L. Draper (R) and two Buhl Planetarium visitors

Arthur L. Draper was an astronomer and the the director of the Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1940 until the time of his death in 1967. In that role, he was often asked to comment about UFOs, and was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 2, 1947. His professional opinion was that people were misidentifying things in the sky due to the contagion of excitement over flying saucers. 
"From our experience, we have found that one person can claim to have seen a phenomenon and countless other people will immediately 'see' it also. It is the power of suggestion."
Nevertheless, Draper  encouraged people to keep looking, and to be interested in what could be discovered in the night sky. In 1950, Draper put together a program put for the planetarium, "The Mystery of the Flying Saucers," and a short article appeared in The Pittsburgh Press accompanied by a stunning UFO illustration by Nat Youngblood.

The Pittsburgh Press July 2, 1950

Thanks to Luis Taylor the UFO researcher behind Information Dispersal, who sent of scans of the planetarium's flyer for Arthur Draper's presentation"The Mystery of the Flying Saucers."

Draper's program was a big success and ran weekly from July to September of 1950.

Frank Edwards: Making UFOs Newsworthy

Dr. J. Allen Hynek on UFO literature (in  The Edge of Reality , 1975): “If I were to recommend anything in the popular category, I would cho...