Back in the early days of television, not much could distract a kid from watching Sky King on Saturday afternoons, except maybe another Oreo cookie, made, naturally, by Nabisco, the show's sponsor.
About an Arizona pilot/rancher who chased bad guys across the plains in his four-seater Cessna, "Sky King" ran on NBC in the early '50s and on CBS from 1955 to 1967. At the heart of it all was Kirby Grant, playing Sky King and guiding the "Songbird" through the heavens with help of his niece and nephew, Penny and Clipper.
"We had to move fast then. We shot two episodes a week," remembers Grant, who'll be the featured guest at this weekend's open house at College Park Airport. The series' outdoor scenes were shot in the San Fernando Valley near Edwards Air Force Base.
"We waited for sunrise on Monday morning each week and shot there udnesday, when we'd go back to the old Charlie Chaplin studio on Sunset Boulevard and shoot the rest on Thursday, Friday and most of Saturday."
Grant, 73, is retired from acting and now lives in Winter Springs, Florida, where he does public relations work for Sea World and its most recent acquisition, Cypress Gardens. He gave up his pilot's license after heart bypass surgery seven years ago but still makes appearances before aviation groups around the country. He says he's frequently told by young military and commercial pilots that much of their early fascination with flying came from his episodes.
"It's very gratifying that we had such a constructive effect," says Grant. Yet, he acknowledges that the question he fields most often is "What happened to Penny?"
Grant says actress Gloria Winters married one of the program's sound men. The couple live in the San Fernando Valley where they operate their own sound company and are responsible for the audio portion of the hit television series "St. Elsewhere."
Grant reports that Ron Hagerthy, who played Clipper, is an executive with a California construction company.
Unlike today's successful television actors who can pull in $50,000 per episode, Grant was paid $2,500 per week and was out of work at least 13 weeks a year.