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Great heroes ruled the airwaves in 1940s and 1950s radio. Whether bringing bad guys to justice in the Old West or exploring outer space, these fearless and resourceful men always kept their wits about them as they made life safe for everyday folk like ourselves.

Yes, many a box of cereal I downed and many a plastic artifact I sent away for to show my solidarity with these titans of manliness whose exploits rang out from our Silvertone and Zenith weekly.

But, at this distance of more than half a century, and fully aware that I run the risk of shocking my fellow hero worshippers, I have a confession to make.

I thought some of the sidekicks were more interesting figures than the larger-than-life men whom my favorite shows were built around.

Don't get me wrong, now. I was as devoted as anyone else to Wild Bill Hickok when with blazing guns or flying fists he would smoke the bad guys. Of course I ate my share of Kellogg's Sugar Corn Pops in tribute to his heroism.

But, I have to admit, the rather bland voice of Guy Madison as Hickok never really burrowed into my youthful brain as much as the cackly laugh of that wonderful actor Andy Devine as his sidekick Jingles. In fact, it's Jingles' voice I remember today.

I felt for Jingles when, in the opening of the show he would call to Hickok on a dash across the plains "Hey, Wild Bill, wait for me." Even then I sensed that Jingles was far closer to real life – and to what I would likely be — than the intrepid and just-too-perfect U.S. Marshal who could tame the whole west with a steely gaze.

I liked the way Jingles, though slow on the draw and out-of-shape, never got excited and always radiated confidence that right would win out in the end if only you showed up and did your share, small though it might be.

That's probably why I had a sneaking admiration for the other radio sidekicks of the time, even though I genuinely respected their bosses.

Hey, here's a mini-quiz (answers below). No, I'm not including the Lone Ranger and Tonto. They're too famous.

• But does anybody remember the name of Straight Arrow's sidekick? Straight Arrow was a Native American frontier crime fighter who used the wisdom of two worlds to keep good people safe. There was a totally unprepossessing older guy who helped him along.

• How about Commander Buzz Corry of the Space Patrol, that Saturday morning staple? A young fellow on loan from the space academy accompanied him as he rocketed countless parsecs across the universe.

• I never missed the exploits of the Silver Eagle, an intrepid Northwest Mountie who carried the crown's justice to the frozen wilds. His sidekick was sort of a Jingles with a French Canadian accent.

• The Cisco Kid? Who was his loyal buddy in the old Southwest?

Ah, sidekicks. I liked them one and all, and because they were so much more real than their bosses, they have remained in my memory to this day.

Here's what I've learned: Never scorn a sidekick. In their own ways, these guys were heroes too.

Got 'em all? OK, here they are. Packy (Straight Arrow); Cadet Happy (Buzz Corry); Joe Bideaux (the Silver Eagle); Pancho (the Cisco Kid).

I could think of more but, please excuse me; I suddenly have this craving for a big bowl of cereal.

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader columnist. Reach him at tmooney2@ptd.net.

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