Don Hastings Before And After Captain Video
Don Hastings was born on April 1, 1934, which seems to be the month for 1950s space travellers, since Jan Merlin was born on April 3, 1924 and Frankie Thomas on April 9, 1921, while Al Hodge himself was born on April 8, 1912. What might the so-called astrologers have to say about that?!?
Don’s older brother Bob was singing on the radio regularly in 1940, when Don accompanied him to the studio, came to the attention of producers, and wound up singing and acting on a variety of radio programs. This radio exposure earned him a part with the national touring company of the play LIFE WITH FATHER, and he toured with the players during the seasons of 1941-43.
In the interval from 1944 to 1948, he appeared on Broadway in four plays, as various as I Remember Mama, and On Whitman Avenue (both 1946), A Young Man’s Fancy (1947) and Tennessee Williams’s Summer And Smoke (1948), while continuing to take radio (and later, TV) roles as time permitted.
In the spring of 1949, at the tender age of 15, he was hired to play Captain Video’s juvenile sidekick, the otherwise nameless Video Ranger. Watching the few kinescopes that survive from these days, it is impressive to see how professional, calm and adaptive Hastings is, especially in comparison to Richard Coogan, the first Captain Video, who tended to float or blow his lines regularly. [When one actor “floats” his lines— does not deliver the lines as scripted— it can really shake up the other actors in the scene, who may even panic when they don’t hear their cues. As the usual recipient of the floated lines, Hastings always seems to take it in stride.] It is Hastings who seems to be the veteran, Coogan the relative newcomer.
During the first year or so of Captain Video , the scripts tended to be “written short,” and it was usually necessary to kill some time during the broadcast with unscripted sequences. One or two actors were hired who could ad-lib in some presumably comical dialect, usually Cockney. It was usually Don, rather than the inflexible Richard Coogan, who had the task of interacting with the wildly improvising performers for the time needed to get back on schedule.
In one episode, as related in Jeff Kisseloff in his fine book The Box, Coogan and Hastings were crawling across the desolate landscape of an alien planet Unknown to them, a circus set complete with elephant was being set up in an adjoining studio. The elephant trumpeted loudly, causing Coogan to drop out of character and gasp, “What the hell was that?!” Hastings, remaining completely in character, ad libbed, “I don’t know, Captain, but it sounds big and angry. Let’s keep away from it!”
When Al Hodge took over the role of Captain Video, he brought to the show a long experience in radio and early TV, and could cope fairly smoothly with nearly any emergency. As a result, Don Hastings tended to depend upon and to take his cue from Hodge, rather than having to step in himself to save the scene. It gave a nice added, unscripted resonance to the relationship between the two characters.
In a 1994 interview, Hastings was asked if his role as the Ranger made him into a teenage heart-throb. He replied, “Well, I don’t know about that, but it was great. Well, I was 15 when it went on and 21 when I went off, and I think [that show] was probably the reason I’m still in the business. That’s kind of an awkward age. I had been a kid actor and done some plays and stuff on Broadway… but growing up from 15 to 21 is usually when kid actors drop out. [But Captain Video] kept me employed, and I had really one of the best times in my life, working with an awful lot of good actors who are all over the place now. It was just great. It was like my college education.”
The purpose of Hastings on the program was of course not to serve as a teenage heart-throb, but rather to be a stand-in for the kids watching, who could fantasize that they were riding along with Captain Video on his adventures, in place of the Ranger— this being the main reason the character was never given a name. If the female teenagers who viewed the program liked Don’s clean-cut good looks, that was fine too!
After the collapse of DuMont and Captain Video in April 1955, the now adult Don Hastings was seen mainly in soap operas such as A Date With Life , Modern Romances , Guiding Light and eventually Edge Of Night, as “Jack Lane,” where he stayed from April 1956 to early 1960. In late 1960 he got the role of “Dr. Bob Hughes” on As The World Turns, and at least according to the official ATWT website, viewed in October 2001, he is still in the role more than 40 years later. [We here at Roaring Rockets must confess that we have never seen even a minute of any daytime TV series, and if life is kind, we hope to maintain that claim indefinitely.]
Don’s singing career was not confined just to his childhood. He appeared off-Broadway with Kathryn Hays in ALGONQUIN SAMPLER, and they later toured the US with an evening of two-person musical theater called HASTINGS AND HAYS ON LOVE. A number of readers of Roaring Rockets have mentioned seeing Hastings, and even chatting with him backstage, during one of these tours.
Like fellow spacemen Frankie Thomas and Jan Merlin, who wrote for soap operas in the 1960s and 1970s, Don wrote scripts for As The World Turns during 1971 and 1972, and also wrote for Guiding Light. He says in an interview that As The World Turns was “the last live dramatic show on television.” It finally switched to “live-on-tape,” when the program went from 30 to 60 minutes, no date given.
As near as we can figure out, from garbled Internet sources, he has been married twice; Since 1981, he has been happily wed to actress Leslie Denniston, whom he met on ATWT. [It helps to have a job where you are surrounded all day long by extremely beautiful women, I guess!] He has three daughters and one son from his two marriages… Katharine, Jennifer, Julie and Matthew Hastings.
Like two other Golden Age TV spacemen, Ed Bryce and Ed Kemmer, who also chalked-up decades-long careers in the soaps, Don apparently made an ideal soap-opera hero. As Dr. Bob Hughes, he is described by the offical ATWT website as having “a perfect bedside manner” (apparently no pun intended), as well as being “the man most men want to be like,” and “a good doctor, a good friend and a good man!” By the way, the character Dr. Bob has been married 5 times, and has two sons, two daughters, two stepsons, and two stepdaughters, not to mention two or three grandchildren. He has also had seven passionate romances that did not lead to marriage. I mention this because many Internet biographies of Don Hastings that I have seen are unable to distinguish between the marriages of Hastings himself, and the marriages of his character Dr. Bob. If an Internet source mentions that Don was married to “Lisa Miller, Sandy Wilson, Jennifer Ryan, Miranda Marlowe and now Kim Hughes” [as many do!], note that these are in fact the fictious characters that the character Don plays on TV was married to over the years from 1960 to the present. As mentioned above, his character was also depicted as having affairs with seven other women, during or between his various marriages. This seems a lot of action to us here at Roaring Rockets, but it is probably very close to hermit-like behavior for soap opera characters! We are, in fact, assured by the official site that “throughout his failed marriages and many women who didn’t measure up, Bob has always been the man of honor,” in case you were beginning to wonder.
We haven’t heard of any other regular cast member from a pre-1950 TV show who has had continuous and regular employment in starring TV roles ever since. Apparently when Don laid aside his Ranger uniform, blue and white plastic space helmet and Sonic Ray blaster forever, his career as a TV hero was just beginning. And may it continue for a long time to come!