September 15, 2013

Leahy’s widow donates Major Astro items to Kansas Museum of History

“Happy Orbits, boys and girls ... Everything will be A-OK and all systems will be go.”

“Happy Orbits, boys and girls ... Everything will be A-OK and all systems will be go.”

— Tom Leahy Jr. as Major Astro at the end of each show

Major Astro is now part of Kansas history.

Last week, four boxes of personal items and a painting from Wichitan Tom Leahy Jr. were donated to the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka. Leahy was the man who generations of Kansas children knew either as Major Astro or the weekend movie comic host with a mute sidekick in the show “The Host and Rodney.”

Leahy died in June 2010 at age 87.

Blair Tarr, museum curator at the Kansas museum, said items included the NASA-style jumpsuit Leahy worn in the final years of Major Astro and the jacket he wore as “The Host.” There is also a bumper sticker and a certificate for the Space Patrol.

The spacesuit, Tarr said, had a name patch that said “Astro.” And the jacket still had makeup on it from the show.

“He either did that deliberately or after awhile, just didn’t worry about it,” Tarr said, chuckling.

For many Kansas baby boomers, Major Astro was an exciting TV character they watched daily after rushing home from school. He interspersed his show with cartoons, right before reruns of “The Rifleman” and “Bonanza.”

The afternoon show first ran from 1962 to 1973 on KARD, now KSN. Leahy reprised the character for a short time in 1985 for KSAS.

Leahy created Major Astro in large part because of America’s focus at the time on outer space and astronauts. In the late 1940s, Leahy was a booth announcer at KAKE and that’s when he created the character and show “The Host and Rodney” to introduce movies.

Among the donated items is a painting Leahy did of the moonscape.

“It’s quite good, actually,” Tarr said.

The donations were made by Leahy’s wife, Wilma.

“I feel my late husband deserves recognition for all he did for television and radio,” she said last week of Leahy, who had a six-decade career in local radio and television.

“You could have everything in boxes and hang onto it forever. This is something that needs to be shared with everyone who knew his accomplishments.”

Tarr said radio and television historical artifacts are sometimes hard to come by.

“One of the things I’m most interested in is recent history,” Tarr said. “This is a good illustration in the sense that history isn’t always ancient. We often have to remind people of that.

“We know whole generations in Kansas grew up watching Tom Leahy Jr. as Major Astro and The Host. We would like to receive more items regarding the history of broadcasting — of radio and TV. Newspapers have always had a connection to the state historical society. But radio and TV also shapes our lives.”

The donated items, Tarr said, will be used in the Kansas State Historical Society’s museum and research division. The jumpsuit will eventually be placed on display and an essay about Leahy will be placed on the society’s website.

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