The early 1950s was the heyday of the live-action television space opera. Starting in the summer of 1949 with the premier of Captain Video and His Video Rangers on the DuMont Television Network, a number of science fiction series aimed at children were broadcast on all four American television networks: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; Space Patrol; Captain Z-Ro; and Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers. Like Captain Video, all of the subsequent series were broadcast live, and as a result, all that remains of them are some kinescopes of a few episodes. With one exception.
In 1951, Roland Reed, the head of Roland Reed Productions in Hollywood, decided to produce his own science fiction television series. He commissioned a script for a pilot episode of a series called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger from one of his writers, Warren Wilson. Unlike the other series appearing on the air at the time, Reed intended for his Rocky Jones series to be shot on film and syndicated to individual stations across the United States. The pilot was produced between January and May 1952, and finally screened for Reed in September. Reed green-lighted production, and over the course of the next year scripts for 26 episodes were written. Because of cast changes for some of the characters, the original pilot episode was never aired, except for some sequences that were re-used in the episode "Bobby's Comet".
The series began to air on various stations in February 1954, while filming of the episodes continued. Sudden cast changes were required when one actor was jailed in February 1954, and another died in June. An additional 13 episodes were filmed between August and October 1954, and the last of these aired in November. After that, Roland Reed Productions ended production of the Rocky Jones series.
The series quickly fell into obscurity, though it lived on in the memories of baby boomers who watched it as children (including science fiction writer John Varley, who named the heroine of his Titan trilogy, Cirocco "Rocky" Jones, after the series' lead character).
Because the series existed physically as a set of film canisters located in the vaults of various television stations, it did not remain in obscurity. Most of the half-hour episodes formed the segments of three-chapter serials, and after the series' original run ended, these serials were formed into 90-minute television movies and were broadcast from time to time, just like the Hollywood B-grade monster movies they superficially resembled.
In September 1992, one of these fix-up Rocky Jones movies, Manhunt in Space, was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, followed by a second, Crash of the Moons, in November. This led to a revival of interest in the series, helped along by the fact that the copyright on the episodes had lapsed. With the series in the public domain, cheaply-produced DVDs of the episodes began to appear for sale.
However, while the original episodes of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger have been preserved for posterity, there is one sense in which Tom Corbett, Space Cadet still has the advantage. From 1952 to 1956, a series of eight novelizations of Tom Corbett episodes were published, and seven of them can be found at Project Gutenberg. Unlike Corbett, and unlike his fellow Space Ranger Lucky Starr, Rocky Jones has never been immortalized in prose.
Well, that's no good, is it? Something has to be done for poor Rocky, and if you want something done right (or at all), you have to do it yourself. So it is that the sprawling Johnny Pez blog empire has spread to a new blog, http://rockyjonesspaceranger.blogspot.com/. Here you will find my ongoing project to novelize the Rocky Jones television series. I'm still working my way through the first serial, "Beyond the Curtain of Space", with the sixth chapter having just gone up yesterday, covering the first seven minutes or so of the second episode. I can't promise that the work will go quickly, since I have a lot of other tasks taking up my time (this blog not being the least of them), but if the internet and I both last long enough, Rocky Jones will see himself ensconced within the field of literature (if not necessarily of print).
UPDATE: 6 July 2014: Four years after this was first posted, I finally completed my novelization of "Beyond the Curtain of Space." Now that it's finished, I've decided to publish it as an ebook on Amazon.com. And since I'm trying to make money from it, I've removed all but three sample chapters of the novelization from the Rocky Jones blog.
If your hunger for a space opera media tie-in written by yours truly is great enough, you can buy your own Amazon Kindle version of "Beyond the Curtain of Space" for a very reasonable $2.99 by following the link over on the sidebar, or this link here. If you're a reviewer, I can email you a free review copy as a text file.
Can I actually make money from my quixotic hobby? We shall see. If by some miracle I actually do start selling dozens or even hundreds of copies of "Beyond the Curtain of Space," I'll naturally novelize more episodes, and maybe even write some original Rocky Jones novels.
Also, too, if you're a Hollywood movie studio looking for an established science fiction franchise to market, I'd like to point out that while the original Rocky Jones series is now in the public domain, my novelization is under copyright, and the exclusive film rights can be optioned for very reasonable terms. Have your people talk to my people.