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Page history last edited by Arthur Lortie 10 years, 5 months ago


Major Mars


Arthur Lortie





Kids in the 1950's were hooked on Popsicles -- multi-flavored frozen water on a stick! And the company employed true marketing geniuses as they even found myraid uses for the packaging.


The sticks were extremely useful in arts and crafts at school: glued together you could make Christmas ornaments, cup holders and most anything else you could dream up.


As for the little bags these came in? The company had lots and lots of promotions. You saved a certain number of bags, sent them in with a measley dime or quarter, and you received wonderful gifts. My favorite, of course, was the "real" rocket pistol for a quarter.




The most famous 'mascot' for this product was Popsicle Pete, beginning in the 1930s and lasting almost 60 years. Created and originally drawn by artist Woody Gelman, who also did artwork for Bazooka Joe, Pete took off as a comic book character in 1939-41 in the pages of All-American Comics #5-28.


Pete was occasionally replaced by other characters, perhaps the most popular being that spaceman of the future, Buck Rogers.





Buck, of course, had his own brief television show in 1950. But the real TV stars of that era were Cmdr. Buzz Corey of "Space Patrol" (1950-55) and "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" (1950-55), two interchangeable planet-hopping spacemen. Probably unable to land sponsorship on either of those shows in 1952, the Popsicle folk simply created one of their own for newspaper advertising: Major Mars, America's #1 Space Soldier!


Carried on the Sunday comic strip pages, it featured mini-adventures drawn by veteran Sam Glankoff [1894-1982], who had previously worked on Popsicle Pete.  



The mail-in promtion here was for the Major Mars Rocket Ring with brass chain, instruction sheet, and an order blank for additional rings. The hard plastic ring had a three-dimensional rocket with a "Crystal Clear Intensifier, Supersonic Whistle, Luminous Astro-Naviagion Map, and Secret Compartment". There was also a four-panel black and white negative strip with images titled Major Mars, The Venusians, F 80 Shooting Star, and the Flying Wing.



It was only natural that this campaign make it into comic books as well with a pair of unique full page ads:



1953 saw several more spacemen make it to the airwaves, including "Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers" (1953-54), "Space Command" (1953) and "Captain Video" (1953-55). So Popsicle expanded their comic book campaign, pushing their product with their own space ranger over the long, hot summer.


His interplanetary adventures expanded to a half page, sharing space with the latest promotional items on the other half. Glankoff produced 5 such adventures, pitting the intrepid space traveler against spies, Venusians, Plutonians and pesky Lilliputians.





And then America's #1 spaceman disappeared.


There were other Major Mars, of course. Although his name could also humorously describe large defects, it rolled off the tongue better than Major Mercury, and sounded more heroic than Private Pluto [which was the title of a 1943 Walt Disney short featuring Mickey Mouse's favorite dog]. Eventual Superman head honcho Mort Weisinger had already cornered the market on Sergeant Saturn, using it as his pseudonym in the pulp letter columns in the late 1930's and into the 40's.


The first Major Mars likely appeared in Exciting Comics #1, 04/1940, from Better Publications, which was also Weisinger's pulp home. Drawn by Max Plaisted, fresh from drawing Sally Sleuth in the Spicy pulp line, the Major faced The Space Emperor and "The Beast Plague From Jupiter" in 12 exciting pages. This, however, was an adaptation of the first adventure of Better's pulp space hero Captain Future, likely rewritten by Ed Hamilton from his own magazine script. The Major and Captain were both assisted by a robot named Grag and a buxom beauty named Joan [Mars' was surnamed Jilson, Future's main squeeze was Randal].





The 1970's brought us the best and worst of all the Major Mars.


The worst was an incredibly stupid looking toy from Tootsie, looking even more awkward in full space regalia than the later Buzz Lightyear ever would.


The best was an amateur short film by superfan Bob Burns in the titular role. "The Further Adventures of Major Mars" was a brilliant send-up of 1940s Republic movie serials, featuring a new Major Mars, stalwart hero-scientist-adventurer donning a rocket-suit jet-pack with helmet to fly and save both people and pets from danger. Modeled closely after the serial hero Commando Cody, King of the Rocketmen, but unfortunately saddled with a bumbling sidekick named Sparky, who is never around when needed. It premiered at the 1976 Star Trek Equicon Convention, projected in 16mm, and continued to appear at subsequent sci-fi film cons for several years after.


The Tootsie toy is shown below. Since I haven't heard back from Bob Burns yet for permission, see his version at his website at http://bobburns.mycottage.com/album/MARS1.htm


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