Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. Richard Coogan, the original Captain Video

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. Richard Coogan, the original Captain Video

Richard Coogan, the original Captain Video, has died, three weeks shy of what would have been his 100th birthday. Coogan was appearing on Broadway in the Mae West vehicle Diamond Lil in 1949 when he was hired by the fledgling DuMont network to play its flagship hero, a heroic space adventurer with a 15-year-old kid sidekick, “the Ranger”, played by Don Hastings.


As TV historian Jeff Kisseloff recounts, “The original idea was that the pair would simply introduce some old westerns Dumont had bought, but kids found the live pair to be so much more fun than their celluloid counterparts that the network decided to build a show around them. DuMont was still obligated to show the old westerns, so after the Captain and the Ranger had spent 10 or 15 minutes hunting down the evil Dr. Pauli in the 22nd century, they would turn to their magic screen to see how their other rangers were doing—and, lo and behold, there was someone who looked suspiciously like John Wayne, leading a posse. Once the chase scene was over, the action returned to the 22nd century for the rest of the half hour. Nobody cared that the old westerns had no relation to the rest of the show.”

Captain Video And His Video Rangers was performed live, on a budget so small that the actors threw on fake beards to play multiple characters, and the director rifled through the wares of nearby toy stores to find props that could pass for ray guns and laser beams. Yet the show became hugely popular. Adlai Stevenson is said to have dickered over the scheduling of a live TV address so that he wouldn’t have to compete with the Captain. Coogan recalled the stage and movie star John Garfield begging him to sign an autograph for his kids. It lives on best in reruns of The Honeymooners, where Art Carney’s Ed Norton sometimes referred to Captain Video as his favorite show.

Coogan played Captain Video for a year and a half before he tired of racing between whatever Broadway theater he was working in and the studio where the live telecast took place. He passed the role to Al Hodge at the end of 1950. After leaving Captain Video And His Video Rangers, Coogan appeared in the movies Girl On The Run (1953), Three Hours To Kill (1954), and The Revolt Of Mamie Stover (1956). He also starred in the western TV series The Californians, had a role on the TV soap Love Of Life for eight years, and made guest appearances on such programs as Sugarfoot, Bonanza, Surfside 6, Perry Mason, and Gunsmoke. He retired from acting in 1963, becoming a professional golfer and golf instructor.