Thomas B. Leahy was born September 13, 1922, in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, to Thomas B. and Marcelle R. Leahy. Leahy is of American Indian descent. He moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 1941, and attended the University of Wichita, now Wichita State University, studying art and drama. He became involved in a weekly program on KFH Radio called This Week in History.
Leahy wrote and sold stories to science-fiction digest magazines in the mid-1950s. In the 1950s on KTVH, Channel 12, he played a cowboy during commercial breaks on The Hopalong Cassidy Show. Leahy went to Oklahoma where he worked for KBOO for a short time.
When he returned to Wichita, Leahy went to work for KAKE, Channel 10, as a booth announcer, doing live commercials. The station then asked Leahy to serve as a late night horror movie host. The live black-and-white program, called Nightmare, featured Leahy as “The Host” and Lee Parsons as “Rodney,” the mute sidekick, performing skits and introducing classic horror films.
The station created sets and props to depict a dungeon in a haunted house. The show premiered Friday, January 31, 1958. The show soon moved to Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. Leahy served as script writer and makeup artist. He created a special vocabulary for his character underscored with witty humor, which fans enjoyed. The station received cards and letters of support in response to the program. He became one of the most popular horror hosts in the region. The pair made appearances at theaters and other public venues.
In 1960 Leahy left KAKE to join KTVH, Channel 12, in Wichita. Parsons left to pursue other interests, and the late night horror program continued on KTVH with only Leahy. KIRL Radio in Oklahoma, formerly KFBI, was owned by Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Mary Pickford. They hired Leahy to do a three-hour afternoon record show. The station later became KFDI.
Then KARD, Channel 3, hired Leahy as the host of Major Astro, a children’s cartoon program, which premiered in September 1962. The concept of KARD's Elmer Childress, Major Astro served as the local vehicle to introduce cartoons, episodic television, and movies that appealed to children. Leahy's tagline was, “Join me next time when everything will be a-okay, and all systems will be go. Happy orbits, boys and girls. I'll see you tomorrow.” Leahy helped to make pods for the set out of balsa wood. He painted the set backgrounds and later bought an orbiter as a prop for the set. He also created a space painting that could have been the setting for Major Astro’s base camp. Major Astro went off the air on KARD on August 31, 1973. KSAS brought the program back, featuring Leahy in the title role in 1985.
Nightmare returned to the air, in color, on Friday, July 25, 1969. Jim Herring took on the role of Rodney. A talented artist, Leahy designed the title card for Nightmare. Leahy wrote a special two-part segment for the show’s return. Written as a screwball comedy, “Trip to the Moon” became a classic example of the series’ humor. Nightmare ended in September 1971 when Jim Herring moved west. Clips of Leahy's work are available online.
Leahy began to host a program on KFH Radio. His contract expired at KARD and he found work in advertising and commercial voiceovers, opening his own business in later years. He also starred in a localy movie, King Kung Foo, recreating one of his characters called Captain J. W. Duke.
Leahy died June 18, 2010, in Wichita, Kansas.
Entry: Leahy, Tom
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: September 2013
Date Modified: January 2016
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.