Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Kinder, Gentler Space Man

It was brought to my attention Tom Leahy, Jr. died recently. I am sure a lot of people reading that sentence are not sure who Mr. Leahy was, but if you were a child living in central or western Kansas (or southwestern Nebraska) during the 1960s you would recognize his face immediately. Tom Leahy, Jr. was Major Astro.

Major Astro hosted an afterschool cartoon show on what was at the time KARD television. He introduced Yakky Doodle Duck, Snagglepuss and Astro Boy (no relation) from a set designed to look like a space station. Astronauts were the ultimate in cool during the Major’s heyday, the sixties into the early seventies. My memory isn’t what it used to be but I really think he also showed that truly odd marionette adventure series Thunderbirds. Now there was a meeting I wish I could have attended.

“Hello, Mr. Producer, we would like to have you bankroll a new show we are developing. It features a family, a former astronaut and his five sons, who are super smart scientists and adventurers. These guys have space ships and submarines to fight evil all over the planet and even beyond our atmosphere.”

“That sounds marvelous, but it also sounds very expensive. I mean six adventurous male leads and all the hardware you describe would require a lot of money.”

“Ahhh, but there is the brilliance of our plan. We don’t use people.”

“What do you use?”


“I get it! James Bond meets Pinocchio.”

I loved watching Major Astro’s show. I remember one of the few times I got in big trouble and was sent to my room I was OK with the punishment until I realized Major Astro was going to be on. I used every stealth tactic I knew (which at the age of seven probably was comprised entirely of being quiet and crawling on the floor) to position myself just outside of my room behind a living room chair so I had a mostly unobstructed view of the television. This is a testament to my love for cheesy cartoon TV anthologies and to the truly uncontentious childhood I led as this was probably the biggest act of rebellion I ever displayed toward my parents.

My family had a brush with Astro greatness. My dad was the city manager in McCook, Nebraska before moving to Hutchinson. We got Major Astro from the Oberlin, Kansas station. Well, the Major was coming to McCook as part of a promotion for the opening of a department store or some such festivity and for some reason passing understanding my dad was the guy picking him up at the airport. I was not very old so I have no memory of this, but my oldest brother was allowed to accompany my dad and even got to hold Major Astro’s space helmet, an unparalleled thrill for a pre-teenager during the height of the Space Age.

Really, think about it. A kid from a small town in Nebraska gets not only to meet a guy who is on television five days a week, making him a star of greater magnitude than even Adam West who only managed to be on two nights a week, but also gets to share a car ride and HOLD HIS SPACE HELMET! Talk about everything being “All systems go”! That had to totally rock.

Here is the real kicker to this whole story. While McCook was getting all stirred up because Major Astro was visiting, all its children abuzz with excitement and all sorts of pomp and circumstance planned for the day somebody else was arriving in that sleepy Nebraska town. Somebody who would go virtually unnoticed. Somebody who was just there to go pheasant hunting. Somebody whose name would go unrecognized by nearly the entire 4 to 12 year old demographic being catered to with the visit from the 40-something-year-old announcer turned kiddie show host.

Who was this stranger you ask? Only a real freaking astronaut. Only the first American to go into space. Only one of the original Mecury 7 astronauts. Only a man who would soon walk on the moon, actually walk on the moon, and return to Earth. Alan Shepard was in McCook and nobody paid any attention to him. We were all too busy with Major Astro.

I do not tell that story to denigrate Major Astro. He really was more important in the lives of thousands of children. His show was something we don’t see anymore. He was calm, polite and fatherly. Kids programming today seldom values such attributes. Thanks, Mr. Leahy.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Maybe not what, but rather who

There are days I am not terribly happy with all the circumstances of my existence. It’s human nature to look out into the world and think others have it better than I do. The conundrum is just who would l want to be.

People think being stinking rich would make life as good as it gets. If that’s the case I guess I want to be Bill Gates. It would mean I would never have to worry about anything, and I do mean anything, breaking ever again. You can accuse me of an epic lack of imagination but really that is all I wish for in regards to monetary wealth. I want everything I own to work and if it breaks I just want to be able to call “the guy” to fix it. Better yet, I could buy a new what ever it was without having to worry about getting to the end of the month and realizing fixing the air conditioner meant having Ramen noodles for breakfast and lunch and dinner. I make a decent living but I also have three children so poverty at a moment’s notice is not out of the question. Tapping into Mr. Gates’ savings account means if the power steering goes out I buy a new car. The computer the kids use goes belly up I buy them each iPads (which is rather sacrilegious if I am using Microsoft money to buy them). My refrigerator goes on the fritz I fly ice in from Finnish glaciers. Both legs break I just hire guys to carry me places.

I don’t think I want to be Bill Gates. Too much pressure having all that money. You’re always expected to do things with it…finance the solution to global warming…finance the re-design of the American education system…finance a series of plastic surgery improvements for our 45-year-old third cousin, Myrtle, who is convinced she could be a movie star if she looked a little more like Sandra Bullock as opposed to the movie star she is more frequently mistaken for, Ernest Borgnine.

Maybe I should take my cue from good old Myrtle. I’ll trade places with a big time movie star. Who? I could go young and heartthrob-like and be Ashton Kutcher. He is popular across multiple generations and that is just in his own bedroom. I am about the same age as George Clooney. He seems smart and comfortable in his own skin. I don’t think I’d be as comfortable. I’d spend all day looking in the mirror thinking, “dang, I’m good looking.” Why not make a much bigger leap and be a famous actress? I could be Julia Roberts. That wouldn’t work (see the statement about Mr. Clooney and multiple a hundred fold). How about Charlie Sheen? Excuse me, I think I need to go take about seven showers..ugh..icky.

I am not flamboyant enough to be an above-the-title movie star, but making a living working in the creative arts is attractive. Rather than aim into the Brad Pitt stratosphere I think I’ll trade places with Kevin Pollak.

I am sure there are many of you out there thinking, “Who is Kevin Pollak?” Mr. Pollak started his career as a stand-up comic which has always been a profession I admired. (I tried it once and since I stopped there you can make an assumption how it went.) He became an actor and was in some pretty big movies (Willow, A Few Good Men, The Usual Suspects). I recently rediscovered him on the internet. He hosts an interview show which is streamed live on the web and later available on iTunes. He interviews creative, funny people and he does so for well over an hour. These interviews are interesting and cause more than their fair share of giggles and laughs, but best of all they are not the four and half minutes of fluff we see on most every talk show. They are opportunities to understand how talented people became talented people and how talented people got others to see they had talent and get into the show biz world.

So, if I were am asked what I want to be when I grow up the answer would change from when I was nine-years-old (starting running back for the Kansas City Chiefs) to a mid-level actor, extremely able comedian, with his own talk show on the interweb (his phrase) who seems to be playing as much as working.

Christopher Pyle would like to say to Mr. Pollak if he happens to see this: If I cannot be you I am willing to work with you. Maybe if your legs break I can help carry you places. Kevin can contact him at