Commander 5

One of the first Chicago children's shows produced in color and aired on WNBQ Channel 5.


The program was broadcast live, in "living color" from Channel 5,
WMAQ-TV's studios, then in the Chicago Merchandise Mart.  It aired from
noon to 12:30, Monday through Friday, part of a 1-hour block of live
programming, and was followed by a program called BINGO AT HOME done in
the adjacent studio.  BINGO AT HOME was hosted by television personality
Mike Douglas -- yes, THAT Mike Douglas.  The BINGO AT HOME show had a
studio audience made up of the moms who brought their kids to COMMANDER 5!
(The reason was that the COMMANDER 5 studio was so small, it could not
seat parents, so they sat in the BINGO AT HOME studio and watched
our show on the color monitors.)  In fact, since the same 2 color cameras
were shared by both shows, during the final COMMANDER 5 commercial break,
the cameras were rolled into the BINGO AT HOME studio and the final short
segment of COMMANDER 5 was done with Commander and Billy against a studio
flat.  [Then, during the first commercial of BINGO AT HOME, all the kids
joined their moms, leaving the COMMANDER 5 set and sitting in the BINGO AT
HOME studio audience.]

Anyway, the COMMANDER 5 show started with an announcer: "Stand by!  Stand
by for Commander 5!  With Spaceman 3rd Class Stubby!  And their adventures
aboard the ISS-5!"  (I am virtually sure this is the exact phrasing, as it
was repeated each day.)  By the way, "ISS-5" stood for Interplanetary
Space Station 5", no doubt designated "5" because of Channel 5, ergo
Commander 5.

There were two other regular members of the cast, but they were puppets.
One was Max the Martian, a very limited-motion stiff puppet about 16
inches high.  He lived in what was called on the show an "Ethos
Energizer."  The idea was that, being from Mars, Max had to continually
get a breath of Mars atmosphere and couldn't last very long in the
ordinary studio air.  Max spoke in English, in a high falsetto, sounding
not unlike Mickey Mouse, and was voiced by Billy Gibbons (when he was
offstage, not on the set proper) and alternatively voiced by the actor who
played Commander 5 (ditto, when that actor was offstage.)  Because of
that, Max did not make appearances when both Stubby and the Commander were
in the ISS-5 control room.  Max functioned a little like the character of
Froggy the Gremlin did on the ANDY'S GANG show, really being the
trouble-maker who seemed to always talk Stubby into doing something bad.
The other puppet character was Max's "son" Eggbert.  Eggbert was an egg(!)
and never did hatch during the run of the show.  Eggbert also lived in the
Ethos Engerizer device, and made most of his appearances sans Max.  By the
way, the Ethos Energizer was oval in shape, about 2 feet high by 1 foot
wide, was mounted on the wall on the right side of the set at eye level.
It had a blue glitter curtain that opened from the center whenever Max or
Eggbert made an appearance.  Prior to the curtain opening (or closing)
a CO2 fire extinguisher gave off a blast of white smoke and noise.  The
extinguisher was not seen, of course, being mounted inside the Energizer,
so only the smoke was visible.

Mounted right in the center of the control room set was a TV-like device,
a large blue screen that resembled one of our modern-day large-screen TVs.
It was called the Cosmipanascope.  With this device, Commander or Stubby
could tune in and view whatever they wanted.  Usually, they used it to see
what was happening in space, outside of the space station, through a
blue-screen "chroma-key" special effect.

Regarding the actor who portrayed Commander 5, I remember him wearing that
mask, and I always thought the show was striving for some sort of mystery
identity ala THE LONE RANGER or (TV's version of) COMMANDO CODY.
Actually, I always thought that Commander 5 somewhat resembled Judd
Holdren, who portrayed COMMANDO CODY in the TV filmed adventures from the
early 1950's.  I don't think the actor WAS Holdren, but I will tell you
about a joke that popped up a couple of times during the run of COMMANDER
5. Occasionally Stubby would call the Commander "Commando" and the Commander
would smile and say, "Oh, no, Stubby, I'm a COMMANDER, not a COMMANDO."
But Commander 5 had brown hair and my understanding is that Judd Holdren
had black hair, so I can't imagine the two were the same.

A note from The Video Veteran...

The above description comes from the fond memories of one Andy Bendel, who graciously shared those memories with me.  Thanks Andy!