The show was based on the exploits of clean-cut, square-jawed Rocky Jones, the best known of the Space Rangers. These were Earth-based space policemen who patrolled the United Worlds of the Solar System in the not-too-distant future. Rocky and his crew would routinely blast-off in a V-2-like chemically-fueled, upright rocketship, the Orbit Jet XV-2, or later the nearly identical Silver Moon XV-3, on missions to moons and planetoids where the odds of success seemed remote yet they would always prevail. Although they might destroy a rocketship full of unseen bad guys, their space pistols were never fired at people, and conflicts were always resolved with fistfights.
Although many strange worlds were visited, the alien characters usually spoke English and always appeared as normal humans, albeit in bizarre costumes and environments. The script-writers did not appear to know the difference between planets, moons, stars and constellations, so that the specific locations Rocky and his sidekicks visited are generally unknown to astronomers.
Half-hour episodes were usually grouped into stories that consisted of three 'chapters' that were broadcast on successive weeks. A few of the stories were complete in one episode.
Rocky Jones was the creation of Roland D. Reed, a Hollywood producer best known for his successful My Little Margie series. Roland Reed Productions was founded in 1950 and in 1951 Warren Wilson penned the screenplay for the Rocky Jones pilot. By the end of 1951 a cast had been selected, headed by Richard Crane as Rocky Jones and one-time Our Gang member Scotty Beckett as Rocky’s co-pilot and comic relief, Winky. The pilot was shot between January and April 1952 with the titles and effects shots being prepared in March of that year. The outdoor scenes were shot at Palomar Mountain Observatory. Post-production was completed in May.
The pilot was screened on September 29, 1952. Although the premise showed potential, several characters were recast, including Vena Ray and Secretary Drake. With the new cast finally in place and screenplays prepared for the first 26 episodes, filming began in October 1953 and continued until April 1954. A merchandising blitz began during this time. Wristwatches, wallets complete with space dollars, badges, buttons, records and clothing were produced to promote the show. A Rocky Jones, Space Ranger comic book was issued by Charlton. Issues 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the ongoing title Space Adventures are devoted to Rocky's adventures. Rocky, Winky, Vena, Bobby and Cleolanta appear prominently. The largest sponsor was the Gordon Baking Company, makers of Silvercup Bread, the original sponsor of the Lone Ranger radio and television series.
The series finally premiered the week of Monday, February 22, 1954 at various days and times on stations across the United States. Off-screen issues began almost immediately. In February 1954, Scotty Beckett was arrested for possessing a weapon after being implicated in an armed robbery at the Cavalier Hotel in Hollywood. After posting bail, he fled to Mexico where he encountered more problems for writing bad checks and more weapons charges. After a gun battle with local police, he was incarcerated for four months, and did not return to the United States until September 1954. By then the character of Winky had been written out of the show, replaced by Biffen Cardoza (James Lydon).
After filming of the initial 26 episodes ended, Maurice Cass (Professor Newton) died of a heart attack on June 8, 1954. An additional 13 episodes were ordered, and filming took place between August and October 1954. Lydon continued to play Biffen Cardoza, and Professor Newton was replaced by Professor Mayberry (Reginald Sheffield), while regular villainess Cleolanta, Suzerain of Ophiucius (Patsy Parsons) was replaced by Juliandra, Suzerain of Herculon (Ann Robinson). No further episodes were ordered, and the series ended after 39 episodes. (Several researchers have stated that this may have been due to the high cost of the special effects, which apparently made the series unprofitable, especially since the show was syndicated, rather than being broadcast on a major network.) Today, many if not most episodes of the series are available for viewing on YouTube.Rocky Jones (Richard Crane) is the quintessential action hero – brave, strong, handsome, highly moral, and always ready to defend his beliefs with action. To the women of the stories he is irresistible – even to arch villainess Cleolanta.
Winky: Rocky's faithful co-pilot and sidekick, Winky was the upbeat comic relief to balance the always serious Rocky. Winky was played by Scotty Beckett, one of the original Our Gang comedy kids. The Winky character was replaced by Biffen Cardoza (James Lydon) after 26 episodes when Beckett was unavailable as he was serving time in jail for carrying a concealed weapon.
Vena Ray: Vena served as Rocky's navigator and translator and was a strong female role model in some episodes. She was played by character actress Sally Mansfield.
Bobby: Bobby was the ward of Professor Newton, and no mention was ever made of his parents or origins. He is portrayed by Robert Lyden.
Professor Newton: Played by Maurice Cass. Professor Newton could always be counted on to provide the scientific explanation for the fantastic events that unfolded, and although elderly, he would often accompany the spaceship crew on their adventures. The character of Professor Newton was replaced by Professor Mayberry upon Cass' death in 1954.
Secretary Drake: As the head of the Office of Space Affairs and the Space Rangers, Secretary Drake was a father figure to Rocky and his crew, and to him Rocky was like his own son. Secretary Drake was played by Charles Meredith.
Cleolanta: Played by Patsy Parsons. Cleolanta is the Suzerain of the planet Ophecius. She was usually the force behind the troubles that befell the United Worlds, but secretly had a crush on Rocky. She often berated her henchmen for not measuring up to him.
Juliandra/Noviandra: Played by Ann Robinson. Juliandra is the Suzerain of the planet Herculon and friendly to the United Worlds. She has an imprisoned mad twin sister, Noviandra, who hates the United Worlds and everything it stands for.
Pinto Vortando: Pinto was a seedy, unshaven space rogue whose presence usually meant trouble for Rocky. He was portrayed by Ted Hecht.
Bovarro: Lived with his wife and young son on the moon Posita which was one of the two "gypsy moons" (the surviving moon was called Negato) due to crash into Opheucius in the three episode adventure: Crash of the Moons. Played by John Banner.
Ranger Clark: One of Rocky's fellow Rangers. Ranger Clark operated the refueling space station O.W.9. Ranger Clark was played by William Hudson.
Thirty-nine 30-minute episodes were filmed and shown over the period starting in February, 1954 into January, 1955, depending on the local market schedule. Thirty-six of these were grouped into 12 three-chapter 30-minute stories, and three were complete in one 30-minute episode each. Most of the three-chapter stories were edited into feature-length films for television and of those some were renamed as shown below.
Two of the edited movies, Manhunt in Space and Crash of the Moons, were lampooned on the cult hit comedy show Mystery Science Theater 3000. All of the episodes are available on DVD and VHS.