Frankie Thomas

Frank Marion Thomas Jr. (April 9, 1921 – May 11, 2006), was an American actor, author and bridge-strategy expert who played both lead and supporting roles on Broadway, in films, in post-World War II radio, and in early television. He was best known for his starring role in Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.[1][2]

Frankie Thomas
Frankie Thomas in On Dress Parade 1939.jpg
Thomas in On Dress Parade (1939)
Frank Marion Thomas Jr.

(1921-04-09)April 9, 1921
New York City, U.S.
DiedMay 11, 2006(2006-05-11) (aged 85)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills
Other namesFrankie Thomas Jr.
Frank M. Thomas Jr.
  • Actor
  • author
  • bridge-strategy expert
Years active1932–1955
Spouse(s)Virginia Thomas
(m. 19??; died 1997)

Early yearsEdit

Thomas was born in New York City to actors Frank M. Thomas and Mona Bruns. His uncle, Calvin Thomas, was also an actor.[3]

Thomas portrayed a Kiowan youth in the Broadway play Carry Nation (1932). He appeared in six other Broadway plays between 1932 and 1936, including Little Ol' Boy, Thunder on the Left, Wednesday's Child, The First Legion, Remember the Day, and Seen But Not Heard.[4]

In Wednesday's Child he played the role of Bobby Phillips, the longest stage part ever written for a child performer. Thomas also developed a lifelong fascination with the character of Sherlock Holmes during this period, when he saw William Gillette perform the part during his farewell tour.[citation needed]

When Wednesday's Child was filmed in 1934, Thomas and his family traveled to Hollywood. His parents found character parts in films, while Thomas played the role of Bobby Phillips for the cameras. The following year he played Nello Daas in the film adaptation of the novel, A Dog of Flanders, by Ouida.[citation needed]

In 1937 he appeared in the serial Tim Tyler's Luck, based on the comic strip by Lyman Young. Thomas often said that the serial was his equivalent of attending college, since he met so many notable silent-film stars who were in the cast. When not busy in Hollywood, Thomas would return to Broadway; however, after the serial, he was seen on Broadway only once more, briefly, after five years.[citation needed]

Thomas's last "A" film was Boys' Town (1938) with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. Thomas was Freddy Fuller, Boys' Town's mayor, and was not asked to appear in the sequel, Men of Boys' Town (1941). He then appeared in a string of "B" films such as Little Tough Guys in Society and Nancy Drew... Detective (both 1938), Nancy Drew... Reporter, Code of the Streets, Nancy Drew… Trouble Shooter, The Angels Wash Their Faces, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, On Dress Parade and Invisible Stripes (all 1939).[citation needed]

In the summer of 1940, Thomas acted with the Guy Palmerton Players.[5]

In 1941 he had small parts in Flying Cadets and One Foot in Heaven. His last film roles were small roles in Always in My Heart and The Major and the Minor (1942), where he played a military school cadet who flirted with Ginger Rogers' character. His last appearance on Broadway was in Your Loving Son, which closed after just two performances in April 1941.[citation needed]

Later yearsEdit

With the entry of the United States into World War II, Thomas joined the US Navy in 1942. He was commissioned and assigned to the United States Coast Guard. He served as third officer on patrols in the Atlantic, and was discharged in Philadelphia in 1944.

Following the war, Thomas and his parents lived in Manhattan and worked in the daily and weekly radio series originating in the studios of the four major networks. By 1948 all three Thomases had moved into television. In 1949 Frankie Thomas was a regular on two pioneering TV soap operas, A Woman to Remember and One Man's Family.

In the fall of 1950 he became the idol of millions of children when he played the starring role in Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, beginning on CBS and transferring to ABC in January 1951. Thomas had beaten out Jack Lemmon for the part.[citation needed] The series continued its three-a-week 15-minute broadcasts until the spring of 1952. Kinescopes were rebroadcast on NBC in the summer of 1951, with live introductions by Thomas as Tom Corbett. During the spring of 1952, the TV cast of Tom Corbett also performed a twice-a-week 30-minute broadcast on ABC radio.

The TV series reappeared on DuMont, alternating Saturdays with Secret Files of Captain Video for 30 minutes, before going off the air in May 1954. Thomas became a regular on the soap opera First Love, but in December 1954, Tom Corbett began on NBC, running until June 1955. By this time Tom Corbett's rivals Captain Video and Commander Buzz Corry of Space Patrol had been off the air for several months. None of the science fiction series was ever revived, though there was talk of doing so in 1957, in the aftermath of Sputnik.

Thomas as Tom Corbett and Margaret Garland as Dr. Joan Dale in Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (1951)

Tom Corbett had the distinction of appearing on all four Golden-Age TV networks, and during the summer of 1951 appeared on two different networks simultaneously. Like most child stars, Thomas never made the transition to adult roles. Despite the fact that he was 34 years old at the end, his Tom Corbett character was supposedly a teenager attending Space Academy to become an officer of the Solar Guard.

In 1956, Thomas and his now-retired parents returned to California, where he appeared in a few radio series such as Suspense and wrote soap-opera scripts. He turned his hobby of bridge into a career, becoming the editor of several bridge-related periodicals and president of the American Bridge Teachers' Association. He wrote several books on bridge. Thomas traveled the country to compete in bridge tournaments and to instruct in the game's strategies.

In 1957, Thomas was once again connected with Nancy Drew when he starred as Carson Drew in a pilot for CBS. He co-starred with Roberta Shore and Tim Considine. The series was to be based on the 1930s films he starred in as Ted. In the late 1970s he began writing and publishing novels and short-story collections featuring consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. During the last decade of his life Thomas appeared as a celebrity guest at conventions on old-time radio, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the Golden Age of Television. He often appeared wearing his original Tom Corbett uniform, which he still fit into.


Frankie Thomas died in 2006 at age 85 at a Sherman Oaks, California, hospital of respiratory failure, following a stroke. At his request, he was buried in his Space Cadet uniform. He rests beside his parents at Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills. His wife, Virginia, had preceded him in death in 1997.[6]

Partial filmographyEdit


Year Title Role Notes
1934 Wednesday's Child Bobby Phillips
1935 A Dog of Flanders Nello Daas
1937 Tim Tyler's Luck Tim Tyler Serial
1938 Boys' Town Freddie Fuller
1938 Little Tough Guys in Society Danny
1939 Nancy Drew... Detective Ted Nickerson
1939 Nancy Drew... Reporter
1939 Code of the Streets Bob Lewis
1939 Nancy Drew… Trouble Shooter Ted Nickerson
1939 The Angels Wash Their Faces Gabe Ryan
1939 Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase Ted Nickerson
1939 On Dress Parade Cadet Lt. Murphy
1939 Invisible Stripes Tommy
1941 One Foot in Heaven Hartzell Spence
1941 Flying Cadets Newton R. Adams / Ames
1942 Always in My Heart Martin Scott
1942 The Major and the Minor Cadet Osborne


  • Thomas, Frank (1973). Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective.
  • Thomas, Frank (1975). Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective Returns.
  • Thomas, Frank (1979). Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Bird.
  • Thomas, Frank (1980). Sherlock Holmes and the Sacred Sword.
  • Thomas, Frank (1984). Secret Cases of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Thomas, Frank (1985). Sherlock Holmes and the Treasure Train.
  • Thomas, Frank (1986). Sherlock Holmes and the Masquerade Murders.
  • Thomas, Frank (1989). Sherlock Holmes and the Bizarre Alibi.
  • Thomas, Frank (2000). Sherlock Holmes and the Panamanian Girls.
  • Thomas, Frank (2002). Sherlock Holmes Mystery Tales.
  • Thomas, Frank (2002). Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes.


  1. ^ Obituary Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2010.
  2. ^ Obituary The New York Times, May 18, 2010.
  3. ^ "Frankie Thomas". The Independent. London. May 16, 2006. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  4. ^ "Frankie Thomas". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on June 8, 2020. Retrieved June 8, 2020.
  5. ^ "Frankie Thomas, Young, Engaging, Delights Big Whalom Audience; Portland Stars Are Welcomed Back". Fitchburg Sentinel. Massachusetts, Fitchburg. August 13, 1940. p. 5. Retrieved June 8, 2020 – via
  6. ^ McLellan, Dennis. "Frankie Thomas, 85; actor starred as a TV space cadet". News. Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  • Anthony Hayward (May 16, 2006). "Frankie Thomas Star of 'Tom Corbett, Space Cadet'". The Independent. London. Retrieved June 14, 2008.
  • Goldrup, Tom and Jim (2002). Growing Up on the Set: Interviews with 39 Former Child Actors of Film and Television. McFarland & Co. pp. 277–285. ISBN 1476613702.
  • Holmstrom, John (1996). The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995. Norwich: Michael Russell, p. 103-104.
  • Willson, Dixie (1935). Little Hollywood Stars. Akron, OH, e New York: Saalfield Pub. Co.

External linksEdit