Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Lost TV Classic: The Flying Saucers


This article, like many at The Saucers That Time Forgot, started with a question.  Finding a listing from a television anthology series from 1950, one of the first dramas written about UFOs, we asked: What was "The Flying Saucers?"

The plot almost sounds like it could have been an episode of a later show, Rod Serling's The Twilight ZonePeaceful extraterrestrials in saucer-shaped spaceships contact a prominent scientist on earth via telepathy. They are in search of a new home for their people. The scientist carries the news to the world, but he’s thought to be mad. Then comes the twist ending.

What makes this story important was when it was told. Only a few months earlier, Donald Keyhoe’s article in True magazine had been released, “The Flying Saucers are Real,” which got the public seriously considering that maybe aliens from space were here. It was before any science fiction television anthology shows or any major motion picture featuring aliens in flying saucers. It may have been the first serious treatment of contact with aliens on television, and it’s notable that instead of invading space monsters, the extraterrestrials were depicted as intelligent and peaceful.


The Hands of Destiny

Hands of Murder was a crime and suspense half-hour dramatic anthology television series from the DuMont Television Network. It aired from 1949 to 1952, later retitled Hands of Destiny. Created by Lawrence Menkin and written by him in partnership with Charles Speer, the series was performed and broadcast live. Unfortunately, no known recordings of episodes survive.

1950 Radio Annual

The series was described at The Retro Set, “Monstravaganza:Classic TV Horror!” by Terence Towles Canote: 

Hands of Murder debuted on 7 October 1949 on the DuMont Television Network… [It] was produced on a shoestring budget and aired live. In fact, according to Tim Brooks and Earle F. Marsh in The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable Shows: 1945-Present, Hands of Destiny was notable for its lack of sets and props. Lighting and camera angles were used to suggest the setting. Despite the low budget, Hands of Destiny received sterling reviews from critics, with even Walter Winchell praising its camera work.”

The show’s co-creator Lawrence Menkin is more well-known for his role in launching the DuMont program, Captain Video and His VideoRangers, the first science fiction television series on American television. It ran from 1949-1955.

Hands of Destiny departed radically from its standard format of depicting crime stories in an episode by Menkin and Speer concerning contact with UFOs.


The Flying Saucers

The Hands of Destiny episode, “The Flying Saucers” was originally broadcast on April 28, 1950, and it was shown again or rerun in some areas in June. The episode listing as presented in the Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA) Wednesday, June 7, 1950:

9:30 - KTLS - Viewer imagination will determine whether the drama, “The Flying Saucers” is fact or fiction in tonight’s edition of "The Hands of Destiny." A man is thought to be a lunatic when he claims to be contacted by visitors from outer space, but a surprise ending clears him of the charges.”

It wasn’t just any man. He was a scientist, one that closely resembled Albert Einstein.

Bruno Wick starred as the scientist.

Below is a clipping of the review of “The Flying Saucers” by June Bundy from Billboard, May 20, 1950, followed by the complete text.

Billboard, May 20, 1950

Hands of Destiny

Reviewed Friday (28), 8-8:30 p.m. Sponsored by New York Chevrolet Dealers' Association thru Campbell-Ewald via WABD, New York. Director, Frank Bunetta. Writers, Lawrence Menkin and Charles Speer. Music, Lew White. Cast: Bruno Wick, Ruth White, James Maloney, Richard Sanders, Ray Mulderick, Frederick Draper.

Hands of Destiny is the new monicker for the Charles Speer-Larry Menkin Hands of Murder program, and the title switch, which considerably broadens the show's script scope, coincides with the series' bow as a co-op show under local sponsorship of the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut Chevrolet Dealers' Association.

In line with the public's current fetish for science fiction, last Friday's drama centered around flying saucers. The space yarn provided a natural showcase for the series' unique camera technique, which integrates lengthy line-up of short terse scenes into a smooth whole, via multi close-ups and unusual technical effects.

It seemed that the whirling disks represented an attempt by visitors from space to contact earth's most intelligent inhabitant, a thinly disguised version of Dr. Einstein. Utilizing mental telepathy (the saucer face was literally made of light and invisible to human eyes), the disks told the professor they were looking for a world to call home, and earth was being screened for the honor. In spite of their lack of substance, tho, the saucer set was darned choosy and ultimately decided to by-pass war-torn earth in favor of another planet location. By that time Joe Public had labeled the professor a crackpot, so he and his wife joined the saucer safari into space.

Ingenious Production

Production-wise the airer was easily one of the most ingenious dramas ever staged on video. Parts of the script were unnecessarily padded with trite melodrama, but the story struck sparks with its opening shot of shimmering space, a pulsating "talking" light ray effect and a powerful close-up of the professor's distorted face at the climactic point of "brain contact" with the light men. Unfortunately, tho, with the exception of Bruno Wick as the professor and Richard Sanders as the "voice of a flying saucer," all acting wasn't on a par with the production.

The Chevrolet commercials followed a varied pattern, including a conventional-type film clip of new models and an imaginative animated take-off on the headless horseman. The latter was positively pun-happy. (i.e. "I lost my head over Chevrolet… I flipped my lid over the service…. and you get a head with Chevrolet.")

June Bundy. 

Based on the review, we can see that the script by Menkin and Speer had some interesting concepts percolating about flying saucers. The next year, we’d see similar ideas explored in Hollywood movies. Among them was the notion that aliens were peaceful while our world was far from it. Such an idea was at the heart of the classic 1951 film Day the Earth Stood Still, where a flying saucer landed with a warning from space. Klaatu sought the help of “the smartest man on earth,” physicist Dr. Jacob Barnhardt, played by Sam Jaffe, whom reviewers noted was “obviously based on Prof.  Albert Einstein.”

The Day the Earth Stood Still - Sam Jaffe as Prof. Jacob Barnhardt

The UFO episode of Hands of Destiny was a bold departure from the series usual storylines and the favorable review from Billboard may have proved to the television industry that the public had an appetite for flying saucer programming.

. . .

For more on Albert Einstein and UFOs in fact and fiction, see:

Einstein, the Evangelist and UFOs

Thursday, January 11, 2024

UFOs and Autos

Over the years, cars encountering saucers on lonely roads has become something of a UFO cliché, but it's good to examine how things started. We’ll open our Autos and Saucers scrapbook with what may be the first documented such encounter.

Art from Fate magazine, Aug. 1957

The Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico was established in 1941 for the development and testing of missiles by the U.S. military. Atomic bombs were later detonated there at the Trinity test site. The Range was renamed the White Sands Proving Ground in July of 1945, and in 1947 it became part of UFO history.

On the afternoon of June 29, 1947, three naval research scientists had a sighting, 15-20 miles ENE of Las Cruces near White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico.

From the files of Project Blue Book 

Associated Press clipping, July 7, 1947

Around 1:30 p.m., three White Sands scientists, Dr. C. J. Zohn, Curtis C. Rockwood, and John R. Kauke, were driving near the grounds when they observed a bright flash of light from above. Dr.Zohn said, “We noticed a glare in the sky. We looked up and saw a silvery disc whirling along. We watched the thing for nearly sixty seconds and then it simply disappeared. It didn’t go behind the mountain range. At one time it was clearly visible, and then it just wasn’t there.”

Clipping from Nevada State Journal, July 9, 1947

The (Washington, D.C.) Evening Star, July 8, 1947

Since then, m
any famous cases involving autos followed, the 1957 Levelland vehicle interference case, the 1958 Loch Raven Reservoir case, the 1961 Betty and Barney Hill abduction story to name a few. There were also many minor incidents where flying saucers were part of some unfortunate encounters with automobiles.

UFO Flying Saucers #1, 1968

Here’s a few sample cases from our files:

1947: The first speeding incident blamed on a UFO.

Muncie Evening Press, July 7, 1947

1950: The first car crash blamed on a UFO.

Mexico Ledger, Jan. 6, 1950

1953: “Saucer” Wrecks Truck

Galesburg Register Mail, June 6, 1953

1953: Trucker spots “flying wedge” triangular UFO.

Freeport Daily Facts-Review, Sept. 11, 1953

1967: Saucer causes car wreck in Portland.

The Tribune, Jan. 18, 1967

Legions of Legends

Chris Lambright's depiction of the 1980 Cash-Landrum UFO

That concludes this collection, but there are hundreds of other incidents, from fly-by encounters to tales of alien abduction. Looking back to understand how legends were born, that's our job here at The Saucers that Time Forgot.

. . .

Thursday, November 23, 2023

UFO Information and Research - Sources & Sites

Illustration from "The Strange Shapes Seen in the Sky," Life magazine Dec. 5, 1955

Sturgeon's Law is the adage stating, "ninety percent of everything is crap." It’s based on author Theodore Sturgeon responding to an insult of science fiction, emphasizing that we should focus on the positive and seek out the exceptional 10%.

There is an overwhelming amount of material on UFOs, from books to television shows, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, etc., and 90% of it is inaccurate or sensationalized. The good news is that there are reliable sources of information, archives of original case documents and classic UFO literature. Here are a few I personally recommend, the majority of which can be found online.


Documents, Chronologies, and Literature

Isaac Koi: UFOs and Rationality contains many valuable features:

Additionally, see his blog, Isaac Koi - New Uploads for details on new additions to the digital collection housed by the AFU. 

AFU: Archives for the Unexplained was founded in Sweden and has become an international repository for collections related to all phenomena studies, not only experiences of unidentified flying objects. In addition to their physical collection, there’s a vast digital collection of UFO literature and documents curated by Isaac Koi, see the AFU Digital Directory for the ever-expanding selection.

The J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) recently announced their website has been updated and expanded:
"The site now contains a complete set of issues of the International UFO Reporter, the Journal of UFO Studies, the CUFOS Associate Newsletter, and the CUFOS Bulletin, as well as NICAP’s UFO Investigator. It also features a UFO sighting report form, a comprehensive and updated UFO timeline, and basic information on the UFO phenomenon."


NICAP, the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena was a premier UFO organization from the mid-1950s into the early 1970s. It lives on today as the official NICAP website curated by Fran Ridge, supported by an international team of UFO experts. The site features many resources, perhaps the most valuable is the UFO Sighting Chronologies. Another great feature is the collection of twenty credible classic books on unidentified aerial phenomena. NICAP Online Books.

Expanding Frontiers Research was primarily born out of the ongoing research collaborations of Erica Lukes and Jack Brewer, and is "committed to collecting, preserving, and archiving historical information to share with the public. Our organization houses one of the most critical and unique UFO archives in the United States."

The Black Vault by John Greenewald, Jr. is “the largest privately run online repository of declassified government documents anywhere in the world.” For ease of navigation, here are some direct links to UFO-related departments of interest:

Project Blue Book - UFO Investigations, 1947-1969 is the collection of US government files on aerial phenomena from the Air Force. The National Archives houses the originals and were scanned by Fold3 and are available for public viewing.


UFO Books 101: Required Reading by Paul Dean was prepared by Australian researcher Paul Dean, his list of about twenty solid books on the phenomena.


Discussion Groups, Social Media, Blogs… 

For those looking for a sincere attempt to present information via video, see the YouTube UFO Case Review channel and also the UFO Case Review playlist from Think Anomalous.

The UFO Updates List was curated by Errol Bruce-Knapp through the 1990s into 2013, a top resource for current information, ideas, and discussions on the phenomena available anywhere, and it’s preserved at the UFO UpDates Archives. After closing the list in 2013, Errol launched UFO UpDates Facebook Group. Errol passed away in 2016, but UFO Updates goes on. As with the original, it’s a curated forum, and while anyone may read the discussions, participation is by invitation only.

Håkan Blomqvist (co-founder, archivist and vice chairman of the AFU) has an excellent blog with a wealth of information for those interested in the more metaphysical side of things. Håkan Blomqvist´s Blog also includes a link to a free PDF of his book, Esotericism and UFO Research.

Ufology Research is the blog by veteran Canadian UFO researcher Chris Rutkowski. It provides a balanced look at the topic, and among the many excellent articles, he takes on the question, Where do I report my UFO sighting? and provides a look at the choices available.

There’s a virtual universe of UFO material out there, but also a lot of dead space. Investigate these sites to help you on your journey.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Gremlins in the Flying Saucer Era

(For Part I, see: Before UFOlogy: Gremlinology)

Gremlins and Gremlinology, Part II:

Into the Flying Saucer Era

Little Green Men from Invasion of the Saucer Men, 1957

Before flying saucers, Gremlins dominated the talk of aerial phenomena. After the end of World War II, Gremlins were less often discussed but not completely forgotten. Thereafter, the term was most often used to describe an unexplained or mysterious problem or annoyance. One of the last contemporary references to Gremlins proper was in All Hands, June, 1947, a cheeky piece about which apparently was intended to be illustrated. It claimed a new sub-species of Gremlin had been discovered, one targeting experimental high-speed aircraft:

“One school of thought has suggested that these gremlins are some who, dismayed by human activities during World War II, donned space suits and helmets, left their former homes, and settled in the transonic regions to avoid all humanity. If this hypothesis is true, it assures that their battle against human interference in the transonic speeds will be bitter in the extreme.”

The Shaver Mystery had been introduced in 1945 in the pages of the fantasy and science fiction magazine Amazing Stories edited by Ray Palmer. The series by Richard Shaver purported to be non-fiction, with the premise that the ancient spacefaring Titans and Atlans abandoned earth, leaving behind their underground cities and machinery, also their rejected citizens, the “dero,” who took pleasure in destruction. Weeks before the flying saucers debuted, in the issue of Amazing Stories dated June 1947, Palmer disclosed that Gremlins were real:

“With the aid of such machines as the telaug (telepathic augmentor) and disintegrating rays…these dero took to tormenting surface people and thereby being the basis for all of our legends of cavern wights, little people, demons, ghosts and — during the war — gremlins. They cause many unexplained accidents, such as those train wrecks, plane crashes, cerebral hemmorhages, etc. which are otherwise unexplainable.”

1947 A.A. (After Arnold). When flying saucer fever hit, some newspaper stories discussed earlier phenomena, Forteana, 1890s airships, foo fighters, and ghost rockets. Where were the Gremlins? They were seldom mentioned at all. 

The Press Democrat, July 9, 1947, Santa Rosa, California, featured a satirical piece on UFOs, an interview with Honest John, “the only man who hasn't seen a ‘flying disc.’" Asked about his technique he said, “Why, I opened my eyes and looked at the skies." "Old-fashioned," one of the reporters murmured to the gremlin sitting on his shoulder. "He should have kept them shut."

Metropolitan Pasadena Star-News (Pasadena, CA), July 9, 1947, noted, “Now they claim that Saucers have been flying for years. Older than Gremlins, eh?”

The Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1947, featured a verse:

Silly Season Sophistries
Twinkle, twinkle, little disk!
Merrily you skim and frisk.
Be watchful, Gremlin crew,
Or the movies will shoot you.

“Gremlins in July” in the Holyoke Mass. Transcript-Telegram, July 7, 1947, speculated that flying saucers and Gremlins might have something in common:

“Early in the war the pilots and crews of the high-flying bombers up where it was cold could have their nerves assaulted by all sorts of atmospheric pranks, such as miniature lightnings and thunders. They would hear them tapping at their windows, or flashing by. They called the spirits they had drawn from the upper air ‘gremlins.’ Perhaps these luminous discs [flying saucers] are freaks of the air where man has been bothering things a good while now.”

"Flying Saucers Join the Flying Dutchman in Lore” by Nick Carter in The Buffalo News, July 19, 1947, dismissed saucers as nonsense along the lines of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio play. It closed by asking:

 “And did you hear a flying saucer manned by six gremlins was carrying the Loch Ness Monster to meet the Cardiff Giant and the Silver Lake Serpent so that they can wait together for the end of the world?”

The Ottawa Citizen, April 11, 1950, editorial

“One Royal Air Force veteran has suggested that the explanation for flying saucers lies in the gremlins. These were little men who upset pilots and made things go wrong with aircraft during the war. Sometimes they sat on the plane’s wing, where they wrought havoc. The bolder snuggled in right beside the pilot to distract him from his work. It is suggested that these gremlins have now learned to fly themselves. Hence the flying saucers.”

Little Men in Flying Saucers

After flying saucers became a sensation in 1947 Gremlins were seldom connected, but when Aztec-related crash-retrieval stories started circulating in 1950, “the little men” in the saucers were described in some newspaper accounts as “a gremlin type gent only 23 inches tall.”
The St. Petersburg Times, April 2, 1950, men "three feet tall, beardless with perfect teeth.

Aug. 21, 1955: Space goblins come to Christian County, Kentucky?

Space Ship's Little Men” was an editorial in The Lexington Herald, Aug. 25, 1955, which discussed how the little Kelly-Hopkinsville invaders were thought not to be "gremlins from the Kremlin," but “critters’ from another world.”

Foo Fighter Foolishness

In his Feb 21, 1952, letter to Air Force Intelligence, Albert Rosenthal, former fighter controller (USAAF 64th Fighter Wing) said:

“During the winter of 1944-45 I was a fighter controller with the 64th Fighter Wing supporting the 7th Army in France and Germany.  …We repeatedly received reports from the Beaufighter crews of similar phenomena, which they named 'foo-fighters.'  …We never did solve the problem of what they were.  Theories propounded included 'St Elmo's Fire' (a form of static electricity); German barrage balloons; meteors; and gremlins from the Black Forest nearby.  And of course we suspected the possibility of some new secret weapon."

This letter may have resulted in boneheaded confusion by Project Blue Book that Gremlins were another name for foo-fighters. Flying Saucers and the U. S. Air Force by Lawrence J Tacker, USAF, 1960:

“World War II and the Korean War gave us a few sightings of strange phenomena or unidentified objects in the sky from pilots flying at higher altitudes and speeds than man had attained up to that time. Our flying personnel jokingly referred to these strange objects or sightings as “foo fighters” or “gremlins.” The St. Elmo’s fire phenomena, or static electricity, was blamed at the time for most of these sightings.”

Decades later, Col. Robert Friend, Project Blue Book head from 1958 to 1963, repeated this view on the 1988 TV special, UFO Cover Up? Live. Discussing historical sightings, Col. Friend said, “During World War II our pilots saw what were called gremlins and foo fighters. These were fireballs that appeared to fly along with our aircraft.”

Gremlins as a Border to Reason

Confused by the conflicting claims of the Contactees, John Lythee, had a letter in the Summer 1955 issue of the UK magazine, Flying Saucer News. “If one accepts the Adamski story, shouldn’t one accept every saucer landing story? Giant men... green men... Monsters, gremlins - and probably even a few leprechauns... These things seem to be becoming a matter of faith.”

Flying Saucer News – Summer – 1955

Dr. Thornton Page (the astronomer most famous for his participation in the CIA’s Robertson Panel) criticized a report about a 1958 flying saucer sighting. (Quoted in The World of Flying Saucers, by Donald H. Menzel and Lyle G. Boyd, 1963.)

“As a scientist I am interested in unexplained phenomena… your fundamental error is in oversimplifying your explanations of complex natural phenomena by assuming a common cause without justification. If you say that everything you cannot understand is caused by gremlins, then gremlins are everywhere!"

Retconning Gremlins into Little Green Men

Lionel Beer gave a lecture for BUFORA on Feb. 27, 1965, on the topic of the Little Green Men from flying saucer reports. Saucer Forum vol. 3 no. 2, 1965 reported he discussed:

“…how in the folklore of many countries there were accounts very similar to the modern day ‘little men’ stories... He mentioned that RAF pilots in World War II would say that ‘the gremlins’ had been at their aircraft if anything went wrong with them, and wondered how the expression had originated. …could ‘gremlin’ be a corruption of ‘green thing’?”

Flying Saucer Review, July-Aug. 1970, contained “A Weird Case from the Past,” by Gordon Creighton, who suggested that creatures like Gremlins were a clue to understanding the phenomena, “reports about them must be collected and studied.”

John Keel also attempted to recast Gremlins into saucer-type Little Green Men. In Our Haunted Planet (Fawcett, 1971, p. 208) he presented an imaginative reinterpretation of World War II encounters.

“The press labeled them gremlins and the popular conclusion was that the crews were merely hallucinating because of the high altitude and thin atmosphere. Since then there have been thousands of little green men reports from all over the world. They are now an integral part of flying saucer lore.”

Ufology’s Lessons from the Gremlins

Here at STTF, we’ve run numerous articles on how the news industry exploited the topic of flying saucers and playfully spread almost any rumor to capitalize on the public’s interest. Seeing the headlines, it was a matter of days before businesses began offering saucer-themed products to cash in. But by looking at the treatment of the Gremlin story just a few years earlier, we see it had played out before, and perhaps it explains the whimsical, cynical, or dismissive tone taken by some of the reporters covering the topic. Self-appointed experts popped up and were featured in the press, telling all they knew and more to an eager public. It resulted in a teasing believe-it-or-not presentation that they were real, leading to their status as quasi-mythology. Before ufology, Gremlinology.

. . .


Thanks to Martin Kottmyer, author of the article “ETs With Teeth: The Gremlin Theory of UFOs” from UFO’s Alien Encounters, 2, #1 1995, pp. 28-34.

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...