Monday, July 15, 2019

Flying Saucers In The Air, On The Air

George Apple and his family get away from the rat race by moving to a small town in Iowa. Everything is normal until one day George sees a UFO and reports it to the local newspaper. Soon he and his family became the target of ridicule.

But George is determined to prove he's not another flying saucer nut. He digs deep and discovers the strange object is part of a secret government project.

He learns the time and location of the next test of the futuristic vehicle. George invites along a skeptic who soon learns what George saw was no hallucination. George turns to the skeptic and says: "You're a down-to-earth man..."

(Insert gagging sound.)

Thus wrapped up the episode "The Witness" from the "Apple's Way" TV series (1974-1975.) Another example of how a mainstream series would introduce the flying saucer topic but then cop out with an earthly explanation. Fiction: OK. Science fiction: Nyet!

(Note: George Apple (portrayed by Ronnie Cox) earned a living as an architect. No evidence exists if he ever shared his UFO encounter with David Vincent.)

Back in the 1940s-1950s when radio was the popular medium three series -- mainstream ones, not SF anthologies -- would each dip for one show into the flying saucer controversy. The topic was leading news in the press and so it provided a different story background.

When the topic is introduced during each story it's scoffed at, embarrassing even to mention. Two separate action/adventure series had a tough guy hero who scorned investigating such nonsense.

"Dangerous Assignment" (1949-1953) followed the adventures of Steve Mitchell (portrayed by Brian Donlevy), a US special agent who travels around the world under the direction of his boss, "The Commissioner."

In the episode "Investigate Flying Saucers" [1] Steve Mitchell has to cut short a drive in the country with a hot redhead when The Commissioner calls him in. Steve is annoyed to hear the assignment involves flying saucers.

Steve: "Now don't tell me you're going to give me a Buck Rogers ray gun to shoot them down."

But Steve goes to South America to find out why private cargo planes are missing, the last report from each pilot mentioning a flying saucer before radio silence.

He takes a night ride in one of the cargo planes when a flying saucer appears. Suddenly the pilot is knocked out but Steve is able to land the plane. He suspects the saucers are coming from the ground, not outer space.

Following clues Steve learns the saucers are actually rockets with fireworks attached to the bottom of the cargo planes. Sorry, no gray aliens. As for the passed out pilot he was in on the scheme, faking his unconsciousness.

Apparently a revolutionary group is trying to scare off planes flying over its secret airstrip. And what better way to avoid attracting any attention than phony flying saucers and missing cargo planes?

And then there's another two-fisted American agent, David Harding, Counterspy, whose radio adventures included a flying saucer caper.

Counterspy was sponsored by the "energy drink" Pepsi-Cola, the announcer spelling out the product's name P-E-P-S-I-C-O-L-A. Not to be confused with another popular soft drink with a dubious original formula.

The program mentions Counterspy special reports to the American people. The announcer details another special report to the American people by United States Testing Company Incorporated, a glowing tribute to the benefits of Pepsi-Cola. No mention of the crash after the sugar high or cavities.

In the "The Case of the Soaring Saucer" [2] David Harding is conducting an operation against narcotics smugglers based in Mexico. One action stops two million dollars worth of the original Coca-Cola -- oops, I mean plain old snow-- and results in the deaths of two smugglers.

But the head of the smuggling operation isn't too upset about his bust. He has found a modern/futuristic way of getting the drugs across the border. Do I need to mention the method of transport?

Harding is contacted by an Army Air Corps officer who shows him what a pilot shot down: a man-made radio-controlled saucer with a concealed narcotics compartment filled with white stuff. Harding observes that the smugglers were using psychology, using the most publicized thing to cover up their illegal operation. Of course flying saucers, even phony ones, wouldn't attract any attention, especially to the Army Air Corps, right?

Besides the aforementioned action/adventure series the flying disc topic dropped during an episode of the comedy series "Fibber McGee and Molly" about a working class couple. The series starred real life couple Jim and Marian Jordan who also created the sit com. It was annoyingly sponsored by Johnson's Wax Company and its astounding "Glo-Coat" product for floors.

"A Flying Saucer Lands In McGee's Yard" [3] opens with the narrator talking about the discussion over flying saucers, the pro people swear they have seen them, the con thinking it's some sort of mass hypnosis. Then he introduces one of the con men, Fiber McGee, and his wife Molly.

Fibber and Molly are debating whether or not saucers are real. Molly says the objects have been seen by pilots who are trained observers. Malapropistic Fibber scoffs, says all sighting are a mere "pygmy" of imagination.

When Fibber and Molly are leaving their house with a friend a strange whirring sound is heard with accompanying metallic crash noises. All three are astounded to see a flying saucer in the front yard.

A crowd gathers. One visitor turns out to be a Johnson Floor Wax salesman who says the saucer proves their is interplanetary life. He dreams about expanding his territory to other planets like Mars. He goes into a pitch about Glo-Gloat. How's that for annoying product placement? At this point I was hoping the saucer would open up and a Martian heat ray struck down the salesman. So how protective is your Glo-Coat now, Mr. Carbon Stain On The Sidewalk?

A little girl shows up and once again an earthly but abysmally dubious explanation even for a comedy show is given for the saucer. She and her friends made the saucer with skyrocket fireworks and her mother's old roasting pan.

After the incident the mother might have punished her troublesome daughter by washing out the little girl's mouth with Glo-Coat. (Then again among all the other amazing claims Glo-Coat might prevent cavities.)