Frankie Thomas

Star of 'Tom Corbett, Space Cadet'


Frank Thomas, actor and writer: born New York 9 April 1921; died Sherman Oaks, California 11 May 2006.

Alongside the child star Bonita Granville as the feisty teenaged detective, Frankie Thomas became a favourite with B-movie audiences of the 1930s in film adaptations of the popular Nancy Drew novels. He played the young heroine's boyfriend, Ted Nickerson (Ned in the books), who was persuaded by Nancy to miss his lectures at Emerson University to go along with her sleuthing exploits.

Thomas was just 17 when he appeared in Nancy Drew, Detective (1938), the first of Warner Brothers' films based on the character created by Edward Stratemeyer. After Stratemeyer's death in 1930, his daughters had hired ghost writers to produce dozens more of the children's mysteries under the name Carolyn Keene.

That first film was so well received that another three were made over the next year, although only half of them - with John Litel as Nancy's widowed lawyer father, Carson - were based directly on the novels. The films, finishing with Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939), were fast-moving and even slightly subversive, portraying the local police as inept, in the manner of the Keystone Kops.

While Bonita Granville went on to become a producer of the Lassie television series, Thomas found his greatest fame in the United States in the title role of another long-running children's favourite, the futuristic television serial Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (1950-55), set in the 24th century.

Based on both Joseph Greene's unpublished newspaper comic strip Tom Ranger, Space Cadet and Robert A. Heinlein's novel Space Cadet, it followed Tom and his fellow Space Academy members, the wise-cracking Roger Manning (Jan Merlin) and the quieter Astro (Al Markim), aboard the rocket cruiser Polaris and in alien worlds as they trained to become members of the elite Solar Guard.

The programme had the distinction of airing on all four of the American television networks during its five-year run. The cast - who were in demand for personal appearances - also voiced a radio version in 1952 and the sci-fi serial's popularity spawned further comic strips and books. Thomas recalled:

The Tom Corbett role was certainly one of the highlights of my career. You don't often get a show that does that well commercially and lasts in people's minds . . . When I saw the astronauts take that giant step and walk out on the Moon [in 1969], their space regalia bore a remarkable resemblance to the outfits we wore on the show when operating in freefall and on strange planetary surfaces.

Born in New York in 1921, the son of an actor, Frank M. Thomas, and actress, Mona Bruns, Frankie Thomas became a child star, making his professional stage début at the age of 11 and, a year later, taking the lead role of Bobby Phillips in Leopold Atlas's Broadway comedy-drama Wednesday's Child (Longacre Theatre, 1934), which Thomas reprised in the film version (1934). This led to more pictures, including the title role in the 12-episode serial Tim Tyler's Luck (1937), then the Nancy Drew series.

Thomas also acted in two American daytime soap operas, playing Charley Anderson in A Woman To Remember (1949) and Cliff Barbour in One Man's Family (1949), before he was cast in Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

Retiring from acting in his mid-Thirties - "After Tom, where could I go?" he said - Thomas became an expert bridge player, instructor and commentator, and edited magazines about the game. He also wrote a dozen novels featuring Arthur Conan Doyle's famous Victorian sleuth in new settings, starting with Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective (1973).

In 1993, Thomas and his two co-stars from Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Merlin and Markim, were reunited in New Jersey to recreate one of the original radio broadcasts for a Friends of Old Time Radio convention.

Anthony Hayward

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

Year 3 Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering