FADE IN ON the spinning disc of an echo locater and slowly pan across an incredibly equipped laboratory − a place packed with the paraphernalia of a dozen sciences, a room that would make Doc Savage green with envy − pausing to watch a grey-haired, stocky gentleman, peering into a viewer. He turns to the audience, smiling, and says, “How do you do, Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m your host, Truman Bradley.” He stands, walking toward frame left, continuing, “Let me show you something interesting…”
    And he did, each week for nearly two years on “Science Fiction Theatre”, a ZIV-TV production of the mid-1950s. Seventy-eight episodes were syndicated, principally over NBC stations, between April 1955 and February 1957, and then began making the rounds of local affiliates.
    Like the other ZIV shows (“Men Into Space”, “Highway Patrol” and the popular “Sea Hunt”), “SFT” had the level-headed approach, telling what Bradley referred to as “stories of fiction from the borderlands of science”. The producers of the series took a very broad view of what science fiction could be, not limiting themselves to space opera. Some of the episodes contained fantastic elements, others mere projections of what then-available technology might become a few years hence; a few didn’t even break the boundaries of science at all.
    The opening episode, “Beyond,” set the pace. After a variation of the standard opening as given above, Bradley gave a short lecture, demonstrating various pieces of scientific equipment. Each episode would feature a brief prologue of this type, spotlighting some law of science or technique important to that show’s story. (During the less sophisticated ‘50s, few people had the background in science that is so widespread today. And “Roddenberry’s Rule” − about people not caring how stuff worked − hadn’t been invented yet.) That first story had to do with an experimental-jet pilot who, at mach two-plus, sees a rocket ship obviously of unearthly abilities. His superiors eventually persuade him that he actually saw a silver pen floating inside the cockpit, and that stress factors caused him to imagine it otherwise. But, as the story concludes, we learn that it couldn’t have been his pen − it was something from… well, who knows where?

Arthur Franz with space station prop from “The Strange People at Pecos”.
    THE STORY, TOLD in a low-key, almost matter-of-fact way, was scripted by Robert Smith and George Van Marter (names that popped up numerous times in subsequent shows) from an original story credited to Ivan Tors, the producer of the series. The show premiered in 125 markets, including all of the top television stations in the US.
    The seventy-seven episodes that followed took off in almost as many directions. “Project 44” deals with a training program for spacemen; “Jupitron” features two people briefly captured by aliens to be given the secret of a super-growth substance; “The Magic Suitcase” is an alien power pack; “The Unexplored” involved clairvoyance; “Gravity Zero” uses magnetism to counteract gravity (what a give-away!)
    In “Human Circuit,” a showgirl receives “visions” of distant traumatic events; “The Three-minute Mile” features a sort of “man-amplifier” that increases heart action; “Brain, Unlimited” combines elements from both of these two stories.

Bill Williams and Barbara Hale eavesdrop on
termites in “The Hastings Secret”.
    “The Human Experiment” was an attempt by a lady scientist to adapt the (insect) hive mentality to people. But it goes awry when one of the subjects adopts the characteristics of the Queen, turning the scientist herself into one of the workers, carrying the experiment beyond its bounds.
    “Facsimile” featured Arthur Franz as a scientist whose research team-mates are being struck down by the symptoms of various ailments. When one develops symptoms of a brain tumor, the desperate hunt for the cause is on. In the nick of time, they discover that a machine at the local hospital is broadcasting the symptoms to a device in Franz’s lab, which transfers them to the nearest person!
    “The Killer Tree”, featured a “cursed” tree, which kills anyone who dares to sleep overnight beneath its boughs. Hero Bill Williams manages to determining that subterranean gas, rising through the rotted root-paths at dawn, is responsible for the deaths; a scientific explanation for an apparently supernatural effect. And the story had an extra twist − scientists who set up a laboratory on the site and use the hollow root-paths to send cameras into the bowels of the earth, this expanding mankind’s knowledge of geologic subterrania.
    In “Y.OR.D.”, men at a polar base receives a message from an alien spacecraft (by telepathy!), but are unable to decipher the call, the initials of the title, as an S O S until too late.
    “Out of Nowhere” explored the field of natural echo-location in the form of bats’ sonar. As the story begins, a flock of birds and bats crash into a skyscraper. Subsequent investigation into how the sonar of the bats could have failed ultimately leads the heroes to an undercover enemy short-wave radio sending station, the transmission from which had confused the poor animals − a very unexpected turn of events. (This episode is also unusual in that Truman Bradley received host credit in the closing titles; his only such credit in the entire series.)
    “When a Camera Fails” was ostensibly about finding “fossilized images captured on amber,” but its underlying theme really dealt with old age: When elderly Gene Lockhart discovers the images, and noöne else can see them, all his friends thing he’s gone senile. Soon even he begins to believe them. Fortunately, someone finds that the images are there after all − visible only with a polarized lens, like Lockhart’s glasses!
    An early show, “Time Is Just a Place,” treads a tricky line between drama and comedy, under the capable hand of veteran director Jack Arnold. Star Don DeFore (later of “Hazel”) has some very weird new next-door neighbors: they display all sorts of advanced scientific knowledge, but can’t figure out an automobile engine. Neighbor Barry Sullivan drops a clue when he discusses a “science-fiction novel” he’s “working on”. What if people in the future invented time-travel, and what if they preferred living in the past? And what if the future government made it illegal to move to a bygone era? And what if some people did it anyway? DeFore is a little dazzled by all these what-ifs, but wonders how the time travelers could hide out. Sullivan’s got an answer for that one, too: a protective electrical barrier, formed by powerful generators, like, say, the ones right near their neighborhood. DeFore isn’t sure what to make of this until one night, during a storm, the power goes out, and then they hear a great crashing noise from next door. There, they find no trace of the neighbors, gone as if they’d never existed – or at least, didn’t exist yet.

Barbara Hale (Della Street on TV’s “Perry Mason”) and her real-life husband Bill Williams (TV’s “Kit Carson”) puzzle out “The Hastings Secret”.
    “The Last Barrier” an unusual late entry, was basically a standard sending-a-ship-to-the-moon story. But it featured extensive footage from an unfinished German SF film from just before World War II, the title of which is translated as Rocket Flight to the Moon. Our natural satellite is also featured in “The Other Side of the Moon,” in which Skip Homeier discovers, via a revolutionary photographic technique, that − now get this − Gerry Anderson-type aliens are using the Moon as a dumping round for radioactive waste!
    A somewhat xenophobic and tragic view of ESP is taken in “Friend of a Raven” in which a little boy (Richard Eyer, the genie in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad)  cannot speak, but is adept at understanding body language, and enjoys a rapport with wild animals. The authorities frown on the boy’s absence from school and take steps to remedy the problem. Soon the boy can talk, but he’s lost the power to communicate with his animal friends. Was he so bad off before?
    “Living lights” was a puff piece (similar, in a general way, to the later “Wolf 359” episode of “The Outer Limits”) about the evolution of life in an artificially maintained alien atmosphere. And it was spy-time in “Frozen Sound”, where the SF gimmick was just a media McGuffin upon which to hang a foreign-agents story.
    “Science Fiction Theatre” rarely adapted widely published works, but a notable exception was “Beyond Return”, based on the short story “The Adaptive Ultimate” by John Jessel (pen name of Stanley Weinbaum). In the story, a young woman, dying of tuberculosis, is given a medicine (extracted from fruit flies!) that will strengthen her ability to adapt. She adapts to the TB, and recovers. But then she begins to use the adaptive powers for evil purposes, making herself beautiful, changing her hair color, things like that, to enable her to rob, then escape by changing her appearance. Happily, the scientists reverse the effects and save her. The most interesting thing about this is that the story was also adapted as a feature film, She Devil, less than a year-and-a-half later. The TV version featured Peter Hansen, Zachary Scott, and Joan Vohs in the roles portrayed, respectively, by Jack Kelly, Albert Dekker, and Mari Blanchard in the feature. (In the movie, the end is not so happy.)
    And the list goes on and on, as long you could want (or at least another forty-five titles or so). Many of them are not very science-fictiony; some were simply “what if?” stories within the framework of then-attainable science − stories of all conceivable (and, of course, inconceivable) types.

            Truman Bradley introduced “Time is
            Just a Place” with Garco, the Garrett
            Corp’s talking mechanical man.
But how had this impressive SF anthology series gotten to TV in the first place?

    UNFORTUNATELY, THAT’S NOT an easy question to answer: most of the principals are no longer around. Those who are − like actress Beverly Garland − worked on the show for only a few days, over forty years ago. And this period in the history of television, heavily involved in the syndication of filmed shows, has never received the same sort of reverential documentation bestowed upon the live TV of a few years earlier. But bits and pieces from the trade papers, personal reminiscences by those peripherally involved, and the well documented genre involvements of some of the “Science Fiction Theatre” people, allow one to construct a story that’s probably not too far off the mark: “speculative non-fiction”, as it were, from what the series might call the borderlands of television history.
    A few years earlier, series producer Ivan Tors had gotten involved in the SF genre, with director Andrew Marton, who had acquired a reel of effects footage from the 1934 Ufa picture, Gold. Marton introduced Tors to Curt Siodmak (author of Donovan’s Brain and scenarist of The Wolf Man and other films), whom Tors hired to write a new screenplay and to direct what became The Magnetic Monster, one of the neatest little SF films ever made. Tors and Siodmak then formed A-Men Productions (named for a then-recent pilot written by Siodmak). Soon after, Siodmak wrote Riders to the Stars, which starred and was directed by Richard Carlson. On the strength of these, and Gog, a color feature that was basically an SF-based spy drama that included a pair of non-anthropomorphic robots (Gog and Magog), Tors promoted himself into a producing job with ZIV-TV. (Neither Siodmak nor Carlson benefitted from Tors’ self-promotion, though they had done most of the work for which he took credit.) With this background, as well as Tors’ general grounding in the film business, ZIV was amenable to “Science Fiction Theatre”. (Suspiciously enough, another ZIV show, the popular “Sea Hunt”, bears a remarkable resemblance to “Captain Fathom,” an unsold pilot by Curt Siodmak, which Tors had seen.) Tors and Ziv elected to follow the “Dragnet”-ish format of The Magnetic Monster, the principal virtue of which is that it’s real cheap to shoot.
    Tors was given a million and a half dollars as his budget, and received the go-ahead for location work at universities, armed-forces bases, and private labs. George Van Marter, Tors’ Art Director, also worked on several scripts. Cinematographer Charles Van Enger supervised first-season photography, and director Herbert L. Strock (who had helmed Gog) assumed the role of Supervising Film Editor, as well as directing several episodes. Maxwell Smith was in charge of a half-dozen researchers who used a $75,000 budget slice to verify the scientific accuracy of plot devices. Major universities (including UCLA, USC, and Cal Tech), the Smithsonian Institution, and the Department of Defense were among the agencies that gladly cooperated with the show.
    When the show folded after seventy-eight weeks, Tors went on the other projects, and eventually formed New Venture Productions with Marton. Plans for a sequel to Gog fell through, and his “Office of Scientific Investigation” series of films ceased (through a suspiciously similar “Office of Scientific Security” turned up in several “SFT” episodes).
    With the coming the ‘60s, Tors hit a short run of hard luck. Ordered to “spice up” his “The Man and the Challenge” series (that is, to put in more sex and violence), Tors refused, and went so far as to testify before Senator Dodd’s committee investigating television. He was also charged by the Writers’ Guild with scripting during the 1961 Guild strike, starting a series of courtroom battles.
    Ultimately, Tors found every door in Hollywood closed to him. Undaunted, he decided to promote a studio of his own in Miami. Partnered with his long-time colleague Ben Chapman (one of the men inside The Creature from the Black Lagoon), Tors put together a project called Flipper, about a highly intelligent and compassionate porpoise, and were able to get MGM interested. The picture was a big hit with parents everywhere, and soon begat a sequel and a TV series. Back in television again, Tors, from his new Florida fiefdom, got himself in gear, and soon had a whole raft of new shows, including “Gentle Ben”, “Daktari” and “Cowboy in Africa” (this last a tele-version of his feature film, Africa − Texas Style). His studio garnered a well deserved reputation for top-quality underwater photography, and was hired to work on the finale of the fourth 007 film, Thunderball.
    Tors, who had always felt a love for animals (while in pre-med at the University of Hungary he had studied zoölogy), moved with wife Constance Dowling (co-star of Gog, whom he had married in 1953) and their three sons to establish a game farm in Africa, devoted to saving endangered species. Ivan Tors passed away in 1983, from a massive heart attack, while scouting locations in Brazil for a new series. During his life, Tors had realized three almost separate careers, and to a great extent “SFT” was the capper to his stint in the SF genre.
    THE PRODUCTION OF “Science Fiction Theatre” was sponsored by Pictsweet Foods, and later Thom McAn shoes, which meant that, theoretically, they had some say over program content, but there is no evidence that either was ever anything more than a rubber stamp for the people at ZIV.

Dane Clark in “The Negative Man”.
    ZIV-TV had been built up from the World Broadcast System, a transcription-company subsidiary of Decca Records. It was re-named by Frederick W. Ziv, and soon, in addition to providing rental studios to other production companies for series shooting (including “Adventures of Superman”), was the biggest and most important syndication company in Hollywood, turning out more shows than even some of the network suppliers. In 1960, during its twelfth year of business, the company was bought out by United Artists, becoming ZIV-UA, and later became part of the MGM/UA Corporation. During the 1950s, ZIV was responsible for “Boston Blackie”, “Sea Hunt”, “Highway Patrol”, and numerous other series, including Tors’ last show for them, “The Man and the Challenge”.
    Sadly, the shows have been all but abandoned by their current owners, hurting not only potential viewers who may not ever know about these fine old shows, but the owners themselves, who lose out on potential income with almost no out-go, because station programming directors are unaware that the shows − especially “Science Fiction Theatre” − are available. (Perhaps the series will turn up on DVD.)
    Shooting at ZIV had an interesting side effect. They had an extensive “stock music” library, much of which found its way into “SFT”. A lot of the music had originally been written for Republic’s Commando Cody Sky Marshal of the Universe non-cliffhanger serial, giving the series an extra dimension for some fans. Unfortunately, Ray Llewellyn, the composer of the excellent main theme, remained anonymous, never receiving screen credit for the stately fanfare that opened and closed each week’s show.
    A number of shows during the ‘50s were filmed in color, a hedge against that day when color TV would be an everyday item. Producers were concerned that black-and-white series would be considered old hat and left to rot on the warehouse shelves while color shows − no matter how puerile they might be − received seemingly constant airplay. And of course they were right. Unfortunately, the reverse is not necessarily true: The first season of “Science Fiction Theatre” was filmed in color (very similar to that in the final seasons of “Adventures of Superman”), but to no particular advantage. The color doesn’t really enhance anything; it’s just there. And the low-quality hues rather defeat the original purpose. It’s just as well that the second season was shot in black-and-white, a medium more in keeping with the mood set by the story and direction.
    Writers and directors, of course, came and went with each passing week (or, probably, each three or four days), but a few names tend to pop up again and again. Director Eddie Davis was a regular, contributing “The Killer Tree”, “A Bolt of Lightning”, “Three Minute Mile”, “Facsimile” and others. Paul Guilfoyle, another regular, lensed “Throwback”, “The Last Barrier”, and “Gravity Zero” as well as episodes of other ZIV shows. Guilfoyle was a Hollywood fixture for years, coming from his native Jersey City, first as an actor, in numerous films including Mighty Joe Young, and into the TV era, usually as a sneering gangster or a drunk, acting even after he had become a good workmanlike director.
    Feature director Jack Arnold contributed “Time is Just a Place,” based on a story by Jack Finney (who wrote the source story for Invasion of the Body Snatchers). The team of Smith and Van Marter, who wrote the pilot, also wrote “Y.O.R.D”, and others. Norman Jolley, who had been responsible for scripting the popular series “Space Patrol” a few years earlier, wrote “When a Camera Fails”, and others, including “The Human Equation”. Sloan Nibley, long-time Republic studios writer (and husband of serial queen Linda Stirling), scripted “Brain, Unlimited”.
    The final episode aired in February of 1957, only eight months before the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik. What might have been a spur for a third season instead became the trigger for two new shows, “Man and the Challenge” and “Men into Space”.
    Reaction to the series was always good − two months after its debut the trade paper Billboard reported a survey that ranked “SFT” the all-around best dramatic series, and the series never dropped below the number-two slot during its initial run − and those who later viewed individual episodes on video (and a brief run on the Sci-Fi Channel’s “Retro TV” block) found that it had stood the test of time quite well indeed − in fact, it often proves to be even better than we remembered. Trade Paper critics at the time reviewed it favorably, but fairly. Daily Variety’s “Daku”, who was clearly familiar with the genre, (as indicated by his frequent use of the term “scientifiction”, a term that goes back to the days of Hugo Gernsback) found it “ …well performed…”, “…well produced…”, and “…fanciful and flighty”. But he zeroed in one the show’s defects, too. He observed that the series was often prone to “…gobbledygook … reeled off like scientific lectures…” and, referring to “Jupitron”: “(the) yarn’s greatest oversight is its failure to explain the ‘how’ of it all.” And that “…skimpy production values (were the) real heavies in Ivan Tors’ scientifiction series.” Indeed, it does have that flat, almost documentary look, and some episodes are heavy on the narration. But these same cost-cutting measures often help make the preposterous ideas seem less unlikely.
    “Helm” (trade paper reviewers are almost always pseudonymous, principally to isolate them from the people whose work they are reviewing), found “The Other Side of the Moon” “…interesting to watch…” and “…well performed…”.
    THE PERFORMANCES WERE indeed good, not only from a handful of big names, but also from an army of young leads, character actors, and fading veterans. SF genre stars like Marshall Thompson, Arthur Franz, Otto Kruger, Skip Homeier, and Edmund Gwenn appeared regularly. Vincent Price, whom time and tide have made the Grand Old Man of Fantasy Films, starred in “Operation Flypaper” and “One Thousand Eyes”, the latter basically a murder mystery. Virginia Christine, who had been the Princess Ananka in Universal’s final “Kharis” picture The Mummy’s Curse (and who was also “Mrs. Olsen” to a generation of coffee-drinkers), appeared in “The Human Experiment” (as the lady scientist) and “The Throwback”. Dear old Gene Lockhart (grandfather of Anne of “Battlestar: Galactica”) was in “the Miracle of Doctor Dove” and “The Strange Doctor Lorenz”, playing basically the same sort of character in each. His daughter June appeared in “Death at My Fingertips”, a tale in which skin grafting is used to frame an innocent Dick Foran, one-time cowboy star who made a few “SFT” appearances himself. Another repeater was John Stephenson, a deep-voiced character actor whose main claim to fame is as the voice of Professor Benton Quest in Hanna-Barbera’s popular “Jonny Quest” series.

Adam Williams, Everett Glass, Arlene Whelan, Steve Brody stand by while pilot James Craig navigates without instruments in “Dead Reckoning”.
    Basil Rathbone lent his considerable talents to an early episode, “The Stones Began to Move”, which offered a new and outre theory of how the pyramids were erected: by beams of telekinetic force! Dane Clark did “Before the Beginning” and “The Negative Man”. The latter of these also starred fan fave Beverly Garland, who was unfortunately but surprisingly unable to recall any details of her work on the show. After so many years, it’s difficult to recall three day’s work, unless it was really great or hideously unpleasant. This probably means that the “SFT” was a smoothly run show, with no personality clashes or other time (read: money) wasting problems.
    Bruce Bennett, who, under his real name, Herman Brix, had appeared in genre serials like Shadow of Chinatown and Republic’s The Fighting Devil Dogs, and who’d been Edgar Rice Burroughs’ personal choice for Tarzan, played a USAF officer in “Beyond”, and appeared in other shows, usually as a military man or scientist.
    Also featured in various “SFT” episodes were other ex-Republic stars (early series TV was often little more than a continuations of the serials and westerns of the previous decades), including Phyllis Coates, Keith Richards, and sturdy Gene Roth. “Facsimile” starred Aline Towne, last of the “Queen of the Serials,” along with her own theme music: she had been Commando Cody’s assistant, and appeared in Zombies of the Stratosphere.
    One interesting casting note, comparable to the casting of Leonard Nimoy as an alien in that infamous aforementioned cliffhanger serial, involved DeForrest Kelley (Doctor McCoy from “Star Trek”), who appeared in two “SFT” episodes: “Y.O.R.D.” and “Survival in Box Canyon”, portraying a medical doctor in both shows!
    Of all the people who appeared in the stories, through, the one who starred most often was good-looking Peter Hanson, a likeable young man with a great voice, who had been discovered at the famous Pasadena Playhouse by Alan Ladd. Leaving his bread-and-butter job at a local Laundromat, he signed to appear in Ladd pictures like Hell on Frisco Bay and Deep Six, then eventually starred as the unsuccessful rival for the hand of Barbara Rush in George Pal’s When Worlds Collide.
    Hanson appeared in six “SFT” shows, including “Beyond Return”, “The Unguided Missile”, “The Throwback”, and the last show of the series, “The Strange Lodger”. After that he pursued a moderate career in features and television, appearing in “Men into Space” and “The Mad, Mad Tea Party Affair” an episode of the popular series “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, before putting in over seventeen years as a regular on the daytime soap, “General Hospital”. His voice graced many TV commercials over the years.
    But of course, the actor who appeared the most is the one who appeared in every show: your host, Truman Bradley. Bradley had a long career in radio, including the series “Easy Aces” and “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy”. He was the pitchman for Wrigley’s gum on “Lady Esther Serenade” with Wayne King (the Waltz King). He appeared on Red Skelton’s show and on “Suspense” after he came to California in the 1930s to do the “Burns and Allen Show”, then found work in feature pictures, including Northwest Passage for Cecil B. DeMille, Burma Convoy, Abbott and Costello’s Keep ‘Em Flying, and others. His only genre film role was as a commercial announcer in Jack Benny’s bizarre and (despite the counter-claims of Jack himself) funny picture, The Horn Blows at Midnight.
    Bradley seems to have led a rather interesting personal life. Daily Variety carried stories about not one but two divorces, from the same woman: twice in two years he was involved in proceedings. His marriage to actress Myra Bratton was apparently less than idyllic, but not without its moments. His life after “SFT” was quiet, though. He suffered a stroke in later years, and died of a heart attack at the Motion Picture Country Home in the summer of 1974. All of the many obituaries mentioned “Science Fiction Theatre” among his contributions to the art.

Your ”Science Fiction Theatre” host, Truman Bradley.
    And why not? After all, he was the man who got to utter one of television’s most deathless phrases, if that’s a possible superlative. After conning the audience into sitting through the last commercial by telling them he’d be right back, he’d look straight into the camera, and say:
“This is Truman Bradley, saying, “See you next week!”