Friday, June 24, 2011

The Outer Limits: Was "Wolf 359" Stolen From Sci-Fi?

Reading a book the other day, I observed the author's take on an episode of The Outer Limits, "Wolf 359" (original telecast November 7, 1964), claiming it featured a premise stolen from a 1956 television episode of Science Fiction Theatre, titled "Living Lights." While I agree that years after this episode aired, The Outer Limits would feature a premise not too different from the 1956 production., I would like to clarify what is an apparent mis-conception: they were two separate original stories that (by coincidence) happened to contain a similar premise.

"Wolf 359" on The Outer Limits
The Outer Limits episode concerned a scientist’s efforts to speed the evolution of an alien culture under glass. Working on behalf of corporate interests, scientist Jonathan Meridith creates a miniature version of a remote planet in his laboratory. When a mysterious life form evolves along with the developing experiment, Meridith must weigh the value of his experiment versus the possible dangers. The Outer Limits version was based on an original story treatment by Richard Landau titled “Greenhouse.” I would also like to add that this same idea had been explored through numerous other science-fiction stories, including Theodore Sturgeon’s “Microcosmic God,” originally published in the April 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.

Since fans of The Outer Limits are no doubt familiar with "Wolf 359," it seems fitting that we explore the Science Fiction Theatre episode, "Living Lights," with more clarity. The plot concerns young college instructor Bob Lurie and his wife Grace, who steal a number of supplies from the college laboratories to create a synthesized atmosphere of the planet Venus in a bell jar. Their homemade science project was designed in the hopes of proving that living organisms can adapt themselves to such a hostile environment, as he grows a small crop of lichens in the bell jar. To his surprise late one evening, a ball of light appears in the jar. It moves about, consumes the lichen as though feeding on them, causing chemical changes in the atmosphere of the jar which seems to help the lichens grow. When the living light leaves the bell jar and travels around the lab, Bob realizes it is alive. This theory is confirmed with surprising repercussions in which mankind and all living inhabitants of the Earth are endangered. Bob and Grace call for the assistance of friends to help. Soon after the threat is discovered, the living lights decide to eliminate their existence before they can be studied. 

Science Fiction Theatre, for the benefit of those who never saw an episode of the television program, was produced by Ivan Tors, the same man responsible for such classics as Riders to the Stars (1954) and television's Sea Hunt. ZIV-TV, the same company responsible for Highway Patrol, Bat Masterson and Meet Corliss Archer, syndicated the program across the country from 1955 to 1959, on various stations coast-to-coast. The series placed a strong emphasis on science and little emphasis on fiction. This might be the reason why the series is considered by fans as one of the top ten science-fiction series ever produced for the boob tube. Today, the series is best remembered among fans of trivial pursuit as being referenced by Marty McFly's father in the 1985 classic, Back to the Future

Joan Sinclair panics in "The Living Lights"
“The stories retain an appealing human touch,” reviewed a critic for TV Guide. “For example, when a ship from outer space, trying to visit the Earth, is destroyed just short of its goal, is our Army elated at thus escaping a potential menace? Not at all. The authorities regret losing an opportunity to learn from an obviously superior species of life. This particular story dealt with extra-sensory perception. Others have told of a search for a new artificial foodstuff, a visit by residents of a future world, mankind’s first flight into outer space. The films, featuring well-known Hollywood actors, are well acted, directed and produced.” 


Further details about this particular Science Fiction Theatre episode are contained below for your amusement.

Episode #56 “LIVING LIGHTS”
Production #1056 / 56B
Dates of Production: May 25 and 28, 1956
Directed by Herbert L. Strock

SCRIPT & STORY
First draft by Ellis Marcus, circa April 25, 1956
Final draft by Ellis Marcus, May 14, 1956
Teleplay by Ellis Marcus, based on separate short stories by Ellis Marcus and Ivan Tors.

CAST
Darlene Albert (Elaine Foster, $200); Michael Garth (Charles Irwin, $80); Skip Homeier (Bob Lurie, $1,000); Jason Johnson (Prof. Adams, $200); Joan Sinclair (Grace Lurie, $200); and Robert Weston (Doctor Bane, $80). The talent fees (what the actors were paid) are listed respectfully for each actor.

PRODUCTION CREDITS
1ST ASST. CAMERAMAN: Jim Bell (un-credited)
1ST CO. GRIP: Carl Miksch (un-credited)
2ND ASST. DIRECTOR: Jay Sandrich (un-credited)
2ND CO. GRIP: Mel Bledsoe (un-credited)
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Donald Verk
ASST. PROP MAN: Ygnacio Speulveda (un-credited)
AUDIO SUPERVISOR: Quinn Martin (yes, that's the Quinn Martin!)
BEST BOY: Charles Stockwell (un-credited)
BOOM MAN: Elmer Haglund (un-credited)
CAMERA OPERATOR: Dick Rawlings
CONSTRUCTION CHIEF: Archie Hall (un-credited)
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Monroe Askins and Curt Fetters
ELECTRICIANS: Charles Hanger, Mike Hudson and Glen Knight (all un-credited)
FILM COORDINATOR: Donald Tait
FILM EDITOR: Duncan Mansfield, a.c.e.
GAFFER: Al Ronso (un-credited)
MAKE-UP ARTIST: George Gray (un-credited)
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR: Joe Wonder
PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR: Barry Cohon
PROPERTY MASTER: Max Pittman
RECORDER: Lloyd Hanks (un-credited)
SCIENTIFIC ADVISOR ON ELECTRONICS AND RADIATION: Maxwell Smith
SCRIPT SUPERVISOR: Jeanne Lippman (MAY 28) and Larry Lund (MAY 25)
SET DECORATOR: Bruce MacDonald
SET DESIGNER: Robert Kinoshita
SET LABOR: Bill Bentham (un-credited)
SOUND EDITOR: Sidney Sutherland
SOUND MIXER: Garry Harris
SPECIAL EFFECTS: Harry Redmond, Jr.
STILL MAN: Charles Rhodes (MAY 28, un-credited)
WARDROBE: Alfred Berke (un-credited)

NOTES
-- The stock footage of the college is the same featured in the episode “Who is This Man?”
-- The entire episode was filmed on Stage 5 at the studio.
-- On the afternoon of April 6, 1956, Ellis Marcus had a story conference with Ivan Tors and after working out the details of the story, agreed to change the title to “The Living Lights” and Marcus was assigned to do the teleplay based on the two original story outlines.
-- The female assisting Truman Bradley in the beginning of this episode is actress Bek Nelson, making her screen debut. Her credits immediately following this production included television commercials and background walk-ins until she appeared in an acting role in 1957 on Tales of the Texas Rangers. Afterwards, she appeared in supporting roles for dozens of television programs and would later play the recurring role of Dru Lemp on Lawman and Phyllis Sloan on television’s Peyton Place.

Herbert L. Strock directs an episode.
The August 8, 1956 issue of Variety reviewed this episode:
         “In the vicinity of Cal Tech this series must be avidly devoured. Surely where more beer is sold, on the East Side (not the brand of the sponsoring brew), they’d flee these excursions into biochemistry like a fallen meteor. Patently inspired by what narrator Truman Bradley called the ‘Lubbock Lights,’ which apparently created some stir among Texans and headline writers, this episode concerns a ball of light which breaks out of its glassed-in-confinement to befuddle the scientists and almost blind a girl student with its ultra violet intensity. What it proved is for more scholarly minds than those unscientifically inclined. Bradley did open his thesis on some such explanatory note as ‘The earth is the only place suitable for life’ and epilogged that ‘it’s a step forward into the unknown.’ The atmosphere of Venus is more like our own, the viewer is told, so it must be assumed that planet will receive the first caller from this could sod of ours. Skip Homeier, for a change, is cast in a sympathetic role and plays the experimenting young scientist as if he had come out of MIT. Joan Sinclair and Darlene Albert act their way through the esoteric fog with agreeable pretense, and the male supporters snap to their assigned auxiliaries. Ivan Tors and Herbert Strock knew what they were doing as producer-director team or so the impression prevailed. Narrator Bradley’s voice sounds much like that of KRCA’s top newscaster, Jack Latham.”

Reprinted below, for your review, are the two plot summaries that formed the basis of this Science Fiction Theatre episode. They are reprinted word for word, including any errors in grammar and typos you might observe.

“LIFE FORMS FROM VENUS”
DATED: APRIL 6, 1956
BY ELLIS MARCUS
Professor Arthur B. Lurie, astrophysics department of State University, has been devoting every moment of his spare time to his pet side interest . . . forms of life which exist on Earth without oxygen, light, etc. These include sea creatures which exist in the depths of the oceans. It has occurred to Lurie that these crystalline forms of life exist under conditions of temperature, pressure and lack of breathable atmosphere similar to those found on other planets. He compares their chemical components with chemical data obtained by spectroscope from Venus and discovers marked similarities. In a large bell jar he synthesizes the atmosphere of Venus complete with temperature and pressure conditions and introduces the deep-sea crystalline forms of primitive life into the bell jar. After a time he observes a strange glow in the bell jar. This glow behaves in a very odd way—it moves out of the bell jar, consumes leaves from a planet, floats around the lab. It generates a small amount of heat, which fluctuates arbitrarily from ten to ninety degrees centigrade. Periodically it returns to the ball jar and seems to “feed” on the atmosphere and chemicals there.

POSSIBLE PLOT LINE: Lurie calls in a colleague to show this Venusian beast, but the beast has disappeared. Later it returns to the lab and the bell jar to “feed” but to Lurie’s astonishment it brings three other fellow light blobs with it. Investigation reveals these light blobs came from the sea. Lurie’s original beast somehow propagated them there. There is a threat that these beasts will multiply uncontrolled on Earth.

Danger — they create a gas which is part of Venus’s atmosphere and which is poisonous to animal life on Earth. Lurie and colleague are in a sweat. They finally trap all beasts by placing the bell jar in a large, light absorbent box. The beasts go in there to feed and Lurie closes the box on them. Days later when the box is opened the beasts are gone. The atmosphere in the bell jar has been consumed and the black velvet lining of the box is encrusted with chemical deposits which turn out to be the “remains” of the beasts. Their light energy was “sucked” out of them. Now that he is able to control the light blobs, Lurie sets out to create and study more of them. He has proved that forms of life, not dependant on oxygen, can exist on other planets.

“LIFE FORM”
DATED: APRIL 2, 1956
BY IVAN TORS

         A young scientist refuses to believe that life can exist only in the presence of oxygen. He observes how life can exist under the most difficult conditions, like 30,000 feet under the sea. Crystals are life forms which do not require oxygen.
         He creates, in a bell jar, conditions which are identical to the surface of the planet Venus, by filling the jar with gases exactly like those which compose the atmosphere of that planet. After a period of waiting, new life forms appear. These are globes of light. Whether they can think is the question our story will tell.


Excerpts and material above was reprinted from the Science Fiction Theatre book, due for publication this November from Bear Manor Media.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jean Harlow in the Tabloids

After moving to Los Angeles, a few of Jean Harlow's friends wagered that she would not have the nerve to try out for a role in the motion-picture business. She took that dare and ultimately accepted a few minor roles. When eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes signed her up for the female lead in his latest, lavish and most expensive Hollywood picture to date, the groundbreaking aviation drama Hell's Angels (1930), her role in cinematic history was cemented in stone.

The premiere of her first feature film, Hell's Angels, drew an estimated crowd of 50,000 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The film also boasts an expensive eight-minute, two-color Technicolor sequence. To date, this is the only color footage of Harlow known to exist.

Her first role was as an extra in Honor Bound (1928), which she worked for only seven dollars a day. After her claim to fame from Hell's Angels, Howard Hughes sold her contract to MGM for $60,000. She spent much of her money supporting her mother, and ignorant step-father who was notoriously known for failed get-rich-quick schemes. 

The makers of the 1933 classic, King Kong, wanted Jean Harlow for the lead role. She turned them down, ultimately paving the way to Fay Wray's immortality. Just one year prior, Harlow turned down the lead in Tod Browning's Freaks (1932). Can you imagine Harlow as the duck woman? It certainly would have been a shock to the audience that Browning was looking for.

Harlow was considered the first "platinum blonde" of the silver screen. She was the first actress to be referred to as a "slut" in a talking picture. Her screen career was almost ruined when her husband, Paul Bern, committed suicide under mysterious circumstances (it was later revealed that he had been confronted by his common-law wife and wanted to avoid a scandal of his own). 

Harlow spent her Sundays having her ash-blonde hair bleached platinum with a mixture of peroxide, ammonia, Clorox and Lux flakes. The painful procedure wrecked such havoc on her hair that she was eventually forced to don a wig. After the Production Code was enforced in the summer of 1934, Harlow agreed to have her hair dyed brown and proved that it wasn't her hair color that attracted sexism. Heck, watch the scene in Hell's Angels where she starts taking her clothes off as she enters the bedroom, revealing her bare back... a scene that would never have been done on the screen after the Code.

As a sex symbol, Harlow was known to put ice on her nipples right before shooting a scene, in order to appear sexier. Along with Hedy Lamarr, Harlow's titular figure was the primary inspiration for Batman creator Bob Kane's Catwoman character.

MGM certainly knew how to capitalize on her "goods" by awarding her with scene-stealing roles in Dinner at Eight (1933) and Libeled Lady (1936). The latter of which she got to work with her dream man, William Powell, and confessed to her close friends that he had intentions of marrying him. They shared a romantic relationship lasting two years. It was while shooting Saratoga (1937) that she fell ill and died ten days later of uremic poisoning. She was twenty-six. Turns out she was suffering from kidney disease since she was in her teens and the alcohol at Hollywood parties helped contribute to her death.

For many years, it was a widely-believed that Harlow died because her mother, a member of Christian Science, refused to allow doctors operate on her. And that she allowed only the church nurse to assist with the ease of bed-side pain. This story was even reprinted in David Shipman's book, The Great Movie Stars. This has since been disproven, and nothing more than a popular myth.

Saratoga became the highest-grossing film of 1937 and set an all-time record for MGM, due almost entirely to her untimely death. History repeats itself every few years, with similar box office statistics in light of the recent Batman movie with Heath Ledger as the Joker. 

William Powell, who became a close friend and lover for two years, gave Jean Harlow an 85-carat star sapphire ring, which she hoped signified their engagement. However, he said nothing to confirm this, so she wore it on her right hand and rarely took it off -- even wearing it in her 1937 comedy, Personal Property. Don't you love Hollywood trivia? 

Assorted Trivia
Her career cut short, Jean Harlow set the standard for numerous other screen blondes including Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors, Mamie Van Doren and many others. Days before her untimely passing, Marilyn Monroe scheduled a time to meet with producers on the possibility of playing Jean Harlow in a movie about her.

Jean Harlow was the very first film actress to grace the cover of Life magazine. She appears on the cover of the May 3, 1937 issue.

Jean Harlow has to leave her prints in cement outside of Grauman's Theatre not once, but twice. The first time was done inside in front of a paying audience. The slab accidentally broke before making its way to the front of the theatre. Harlow returned four days later, this time doing it outside. 

When she passed away in 1937, Harlow's estate was valued at over one million, left entirely to her mother. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM Studios, paid in full for Harlow's funeral and burial. William Powell supposedly paid $25,000 for her private crypt. Mayer had Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy sing his favorite song, "Oh, Sweet Mystery of Life," in the church chapel, followed by a huge banquet with an orchestra. It was a Hollywood funeral fit for an actress of Harlow's stature.

Many Hollywood celebrities were treated to gossip columns dedicated to their personal eating habits, off-screen romances, and anything else the tabloids could dish up to sell copies of their magazines. While most of the stories were provided by the movie studios to help publicize their latest picture, others were the fairytale kind of gossip that American movie goers could never get enough of. You can get many of these vintage magazines for a variety of prices (depending on the condition of the magazine), with the cost ranging as high as a few hundred dollars. Featured below for your amusement are a number of direct scans from said magazines, devoted to Jean Harlow.









 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Lone Ranger and The Mystery Ranch

In 1936, three years after The Lone Ranger made his debut on radio, the publishing company of Grosset & Dunlap contracted with George W. Trendle to produce a series of books based on characters of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. It can be assumed that the books sold very well because a total of 18 were published from 1936 to 1956.

The first was penned by Gaylord Du Bois, and titled simply: The Lone Ranger. After reading the novel, both Trendle and Striker were disappointed. This was not at all the character portrayed on the radio program. Striker edited (and slightly re-wrote) the novel for a second edition, hence why there are two versions of the novel, each one credited to a different author. From that day forward, Striker began writing The Lone Ranger novels. (The later ones did not originate from Striker's typewriter.)

I haven't read all of the novels but having read more than half of them I can attest that two of them are must-reads. I'll focus on one of them, the second novel (and the first written by Striker following his disapproval of the way Du Bois handled the first novel): The Lone Ranger and The Mystery Ranch (1938), because it's one of the renditions of the Texas Ranger massacre, without the later creation of Butch Cavendish.

In the novel, The Lone Ranger and Tonto are on the trail of the Night Legion, the notorious, ruthless gang of criminals responsible for an untold number of crimes across the States and territories, and responsible for the Texas Ranger massacre that forced the sole survivor to don a mask and set out to seek justice. The Lone Ranger and Tonto stumble on the dying testimony of Joe Frisby, overhearing a plot complicated by two halves of a treasure map. After rescuing two young women arriving from the East, Sally and Marge Whitcomb, from an ambush plotted by members of the Night Legion, The Lone Ranger deposits the girls at the ranch owned by their uncle, a known reclusive, whom they haven't seen in more than a decade. After discovering that Uncle Whitcomb’s place is also nicknamed The Hoodoo Ranch, and someone there leaked information to the leader of the notorious gang, the hooded leader, The Lone Ranger and Tonto agree to keep an eye on the ranch for the girls’ safety.

Fran Striker
Meanwhile, a council of war is gathered in the office of Sheriff Cook, who recruits a number of deputies to help purge the town of Sundown of the notorious gang. The horrors of the Night Legion have swept across the countryside but with The Lone Ranger in the area, the Sheriff is certain the gang will be apprehended. When Sally finds a blue vest worn by one of the men who killed Joe Frisby, she sneaks off the ranch to alert the Sheriff. Marge, attempting to cover for her sister, is escorted off the ranch by her uncle and soon learns that he is the hooded leader that has masterminded the numerous crimes across the plains. He plans to eliminate the girl after he discovers where she and her sister hid the remaining half of the map. Without possession of her piece, Joe Frisby’s half of the map is worthless. Upon learning where she hid it in the house, he returns to the ranch.

The Lone Ranger, meanwhile, has discovered a cellar underneath the house where an old man is being starved to death. He is the real uncle and the leader of the notorious gang has been masquerading as the girls' uncle. During their confrontation, The Lone Ranger shoots the killer’s gun out of his hand and beats a confession out of the criminal as to the whereabouts of Marge. The much-feared boss becomes a sniveling coward, begging and pleading for mercy. After learning that she was being kept against her will in Flynn’s Cave, the law races out to apprehend the gang members and rescue the girl.

While the plot is simple enough, the back story is more complex: this novel was loosely based on the radio broadcast of November 2, 1933. (more about this in a few moments and I promise you, it'll be a corker...)

The novel helps describe the characters not as they are seen in the Clayton Moore television program, but as Striker envisioned them when he wrote the novel, and the radio dramas. In chapter one, Tonto was described as smaller than The Lone Ranger, with a bronzed, high-cheek boned face. His long, black hair was parted in the center of his head and drawn back tightly to be fashioned in a war-knot at the back of the neck. As for The Lone Ranger, Striker described him not physically, but as others saw him in the West in the following narrative:

"His daring acts of courage in the name of Justice made him known throughout the West. To many of the pioneers he existed as an almost legendary character. Only a small portion of those who knew of him had seen him, and none of these had ever seen his face unmasked. Many times, his safety had depended upon his knowledge of a cave or other place of hiding. Many outlaws had sworn to kill the masked rider for his work in bringing countless desperadoes to justice and breaking up untold rustling gangs and outlaw bands. Even lawmen wanted The Lone Ranger. Only a few had been convinced that this strange figure was not an outlaw, and those few thanked God for the man who had no thought of personal glory or reward… for the man whose only purpose in life seemed to be to help the deserving and punish the lawless in a region where laws were few and those few, seldom enforced."

One of the most fascinating benefits from reading the Striker novels are the trivial matters which geeks like myself find amusing. Examples? After burying a dead man, whom Tonto and The Lone Ranger found hanging from a tree, the masked man pays his respects in an unusual way.  

"The shallow grave was finally prepared, and the body, wrapped in one of The Lone Ranger’s blankets, was gently lowered to its final resting place. Then, hat in hand, The Lone Ranger did a rare thing. In the darkness, he removed his mask. For an instant, while his clean-cut face was lifted toward the sky in silent prayer for the departed soul, and while Tonto’s head was bowed, the moon again broke through the clouds. Tonto echoed the white man’s 'Amen.'"

Chapter two offers a description of The Lone Ranger’s guns, including the fact that it had ivory butts. The same chapter revealed the notorious outlaw gang, The Night Legion, and how Tonto used miraculous cures to save The Lone Ranger (pp. 12-13) and Chapter 13 (pp. 113-114). Chapter five revealed Tonto’s friendship with The Lone Ranger.  

"Tonto’s hand showed white across the knuckles from the way he’d gripped the branch in tension! Though the Indian had yet to kill his first man, and though he knew it was against the principals of The Lone Ranger, his companion, to shoot to kill even the most evil of outlaws, he had been ready to shoot the Boss, if his masked friend has been killed."

Chapter 13 reveals that The Lone Ranger and Tonto rarely woke after the sunrise. The Lone Ranger’s cry of "Heigh-Yo Silver!" was explained at the end of the same chapter, as he shouted loudly to his great white horse when escaping custody of the Sheriff and his deputies, who temporarily assumed he was a bandit until his cry of escape gave the Sheriff cause to tell his men to hold back their fire.  

"His modesty made The Lone Ranger totally unaware of the way his ringing cry had spread throughout the region. He had no way of knowing Sheriff Cook’s new attitude toward him. As far as The Lone Ranger knew, his sudden burst for freedom had made both him and Tonto outlaws, sought by the men of Showdown for the murder of Joe Frisby. Now, he must be more careful than ever as he tracked down the Boss of the Night Legion."
Chapter 17 revealed the color of The Lone Ranger’s eyes: grey. Chapter 19 revealed The Lone Ranger was right handed. The final chapter in the book revealed The Lone Ranger’s anger towards the man responsible for the massacre of his close friends. After beating the Boss into a corner and revealing the criminal as a sniveling coward, begging and pleading for mercy…  

"The Lone Ranger had no place in his heart for mercy of sympathy. Hanging would follow in due course, but first, there was an unholy satisfaction in feeling his fists punish the hateful creature whose sadistic nature brought torture and death to so many fine men of the West."

The closing chapter reveals The Lone Ranger’s intent to continue the good work they accomplished from this adventure.
    “We have the Night Legion,” the masked man told his Indian companion, “but there are so many countless other outlaws to be run down and there are so many people who need Justice, that… well, good friend, I think as long as we’ve made the name Lone Ranger mean something, we can continue to help people!”
    Tonto nodded, agreeable to anything his tall white friend suggested.
    “I’ll not unmask just yet! I want to carry on, just as the Texas Rangers would, if the Night Legion hadn’t wiped them out.”

Earle Graser, radio's The Lone Ranger
Remember I mentioned this novel was adapted from the November 2, 1933 radio broadcast with Earle Graser playing the role? (The early radio broadcasts were never titled.) Well, check this out for similarity. 

Plot: Molly and Madge Stebbins arrive in Texas from Louisiana to manage their Uncle’s Bar Square Ranch, only to discover their uncle had recently died and suspicion mounts that he was stealing and re-branding other ranchers’ cattle. Tonto keeps tabs on Senor Pablo Casabo, whom The Lone Ranger suspects kidnapped and hid Uncle Dan and is keeping him captive till he can secure the ranch for himself through a signed deed. The Masked Man, meanwhile, rides to Mexico to fetch evidence against Casabo and returns to find the girls have been evicted against their will. Angry, The Lone Ranger barges into the house and against eight men, the Masked Man sought deadly vengeance with his guns and made arrangements for the girls to return home… thanks to the arrival of Uncle Dan, who confesses that he was kept prisoner and forced to sign the land over.

Keeping in mind that phraseology from the past can often be interpreted as "politically incorrect" by today's standards, I'd like to think that we're mature enough today to understand that slang from the thirties was the norm at the time. For historical purposes, I am reprinting a few script pages below without any form of editing. Here, you'll see what might be the only time The Lone Ranger took the law into his own hands with his ivory-handled guns. And a side of The Lone Ranger that has rarely been explored anywhere else.

ANNOUNCER:   And so the two girls are forcibly taken from the house and the ruthless, unscrupulous Pablo Casabo moves in.  The Lone Ranger is returning from his trip into the Mexican territory and has finally reached Tonto, who is filled with news..

TONTO:    They take gals from house.

RANGER:    Who did.  Casabo?

TONTO:    Ugh.  Tonto, me watch, me no can do help.

RANGER:    Where are the girls now?

TONTO:    They go, widdow Taylor... they stay there.

RANGER:    ARE THEY INJURED AT ALL?

TONTO:    Nope.  Not hurt, but mad.

RANGER:    They refused to go back east eh/

TONTO:    Ugh.  Young un, she say her cowboy him come back mebbe some day.

RANGER:    Um, Tonto, I would not want a finer girl than Madge Stebbins.

TONTO:    Ugh.  But what you do?

RANGER:    Who is in the ranch house now?  Casabo?

TONTO:    Ugh!  Him an’ Greasers, mebbe eight, mebbe nine.

RANGER:    All of them living there?

TONTO:    Ugh.

RANGER:    Alright!  Tonto, I’ll want BOTH guns now.

TONTO:    UGH.  YOU GO FAST ACTION AGAIN!  EH?

RANGER:    LOADED FULL!

TONTO:    UGH.  TONTO HAVE ‘EM READY.

RANGER:    SILVER BULLETS!  IT IS TIME THAT THESE MEXICANS WERE SHOWN ANOTHER LESSON IN JUSTICE!

TONTO:    UGH.  THERE GUNS!  ME STRAPPUM ON TIGHT!

RANGER:    And LOW, Tonto, so they’ll draw fast!  I seldom go out, Tonto, with INTENTIONS to kill men, BUT WHEN LYING GREASERS LAY HANDS ON YANKEE GIRLS THAT ARE BRAVE ENOUGH TO COME OUT TO THIS COUNTRY...

TONTO:    (CHUCKLE)

RANGER:    Is the mask snug and tight?

TONTO:    HEAP SNUG !  Silver, him see you.  Look him ears!

RANGER:    (WHISTLE)

SOUND    Distant whinny.

TONTO:    Silver, him know him ride to action.

RANGER:    HERE SILVER..

SOUND    Hoofs approach.

RANGER:    THERE WE’RE OLD BOY...  HI YO SILVER... AWAY-Y-Y-Y

SOUND    Start hoofs fast, and fade.
 
MUSIC    Interlude.

ANNOUNCER:    Casabo sits in his newly acquired home with a great sense of satisfaction at the ease with in which his plot has carried thru.  His safety is assured by the eight men that live in the house with him, all of them handy with knife orgun.  Whena single man with a masked face brust open the door, Casabo felt perfectly sure of the fact that his own life was safe..

RANGER:    CASABO!

PABLO:    Ah, you come to see me senot?

RANGER:    Casabo, you’re going to be KILLED!  Draw your gun, so I wont have to shoot you without giving you a chance to defend yourself.  You’ve robbed, lied, cheated swindled, stolen and killed and you’ve been warned by me before.

PABLO:    But I do not know you senor..

RANGER:    These guns, will send a silver bullet into that vile heart of yours!

PABLO:    SILVER.. YOU... YOU ARE THE LONE RANGER?  (SHOUT)  AMIGOS!  HELP!

RANGER:    (LAUGH)  CALL YOUR ARMY...  WE’LL FIGHT IT OUT!

SOUND    Distant shot.

RANGER:    YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE MISSED YOUR FIRST SHOT JUAN.

SOUND    Shot.

PABLO:    MANUEL, SHOOT HEEM!

SOUND    Shots ad libbed to fade out!
 
MUSIC    Interlude.

ANNOUNCER:    One after another of the henchman of the Mexican leader draw aim at The Lone Ranger, the heavy guns with their bullets of Silver were unerring and when the both guns held nothing but empty chambers The Lone Ranger, strode from the house, the victor, due to the uncanny speed of his fire and the deadly accuracy of his aim.  In the home of the widow, the girls are approached by a white haried man, who walks with a limp.  It is a full week after the shooting affair---

DAN:    Aint yew the Stebbins gals?

MADGE:    Yes, I’m Madge and this is Molly.

DAN:    Wal bless my soul Molly, yore the image o’ yore Maw...

MOLLY:    ARE.. ARE YOU.. UNCLE DAN?

DAN:    Yup.  That’s me gals!

BOTH GIRLS:    (AD LIB JOYOUS GREETINGS)

DAN:    That thar now, I know what’s happened tuh ye, an’ what yuh been told, I was took prisoner by that thar crook an’ he tried tuh make me sign away what I was aimin’ tuh give yew gals, but I wouldn’t do it, an’ whilst his men was tryin’ tew force me tuh sign papers an’ things, this yere Pablo, he FORGED my name tuh show yew gals, an’ then a feller wearin’ a mask, an’ ridin’ a white hoss...

MADGE:    THAT’S MY COWBOY!

The reason I reprinted the script was because the recording is not known to exist in recorded form. The radio drama, however, was recreated on stage at the 2010 Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. Leah Biel played the role of Madge and Roy Thinnes from TV's The Invaders played the role of Tonto. The convention policy is to do recreations of "lost" radio programs, as a necessary part of historical preservation.

In closing, if you ever find a copy of The Lone Ranger and The Mystery Ranch (1938), I recommend you buy it and read it. Grosset & Dunlap books vary in price. Finding one with the original dust jacket will cause the price to go up. However, if you prefer to find one without the original dust jacket (and yes, that's easy to do), you can easily find a copy for $10 or less, which is a great price. (Avoid the 1980s paperback reprint. It's briefly edited and costs about the same as the G&D original anyway.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tex Fletcher, The Lonesome Cowboy

WOR Publicity Photo
While he may not have received the honor of gracing a U.S. postage stamp like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, William S. Hart and Tom Mix, Tex Fletcher deserves recognition for his efforts to entertain theater and radio audiences. There are hundreds of screen cowboy stars that never became iconic simply because the movie studios never gave them the opportunity. For Fletcher, that opportunity came in late 1938 when the Arcadia Pictures Corporation approached the singing cowboy about the potential of doing his own series of cowboy movies -- six, to be exact. Released through Grand National Pictures, the advertisements hailed “Radio’s Number One Singer of Western Songs is Now The Screen’s Latest Gun-Throwin’, Fist-Slingin’ Star!” The movie was Six-Gun Rhythm and was designed to capitalize on the growing popularity of the WOR radio personality.

Six-Gun Rhythm was released theatrically in the summer of 1939 (some theaters offered the movie as early as May) and was often paired up with Republic Pictures’ cliffhanger serial chapter plays such as Dick Tracy Returns, which is a bit of a rarity at that time because it wasn’t often that studios were offering two films in one showing, from separate studios. In the movie, Fletcher plays the role of a professional football player who deserts his post and returns to his Texas home, after learning that his father was murdered. After a few encounters with outlaws whom the law cannot seem to control, Fletcher temporarily substitutes his guitar for a six-shooter and rounds the baddies up. 

Fletcher’s opportunity was short-lived. Weeks after the movie’s release, Grand National filed bankruptcy and Fletcher’s screen career was pre-maturely cut. The singing cowboy did what any enterprising young man would do: he snatched up a couple prints of the movie and went on a personal tour across the country in his car. Screening the movie, performing on stage and signing autographs for fans, he made a nice living during his brief tour, before making a comeback to radio. 

I guess this is a great time to point out that there are generally two kinds of cowboy westerns. Those like Six-Gun Rhythm feature contemporary American settings, utilizing Old West themes and motifs. For the most part, they still take place in the American West and reveal the progression of the Old West into the 20th Century. The other type of western is that which takes place during the latter half of the 19th century, often revealing ranchers and farmers trying to settle down in a desolate and hard life, also set in American Old West.

Depending on what press releases you read (and many of them were pure hokum), Fletcher was born Geremino “Jerry” Bisceglia in Harrison, New York, who worked as a ranch hand and devoted much of his time playing the guitar. Known as a left-handed cowboy, his singing career did not go unnoticed. Fletcher made the transition from stage to radio in the summer of 1930, as a member of the Rex Cole Mountaineers. Thanks to the assistance of Jack French, an undisclosed source places Tex in the hillbilly band of the Rex Cole Mountaineers who performed over WMCA in New York City in 1932. After checking this venue for a brief spell, it was discovered that Fletcher was not only in the band, but additional (and exact) dates for other radio broadcasts, pin-pointing his possible appearance as early as 1930. The following are confirmed radio broadcasts of the Rex Cole Mountaineers:

July 29, 1930 to December 4, 1931, NBC, Monday through Friday, 5:45 to 6:05 p.m.
(occasionally broadcast on Saturday)

December 7, 1931 to June 17, 1932, NBC, Monday through Friday, 6:30 to 6:45 p.m.
(occasionally broadcast on Saturday)

It should also be noted, according to Tex Fletcher's son, George, that Tex Fletcher may have been a member of Tom Emerson's Mountaineers, based on photos in his private collection. So if the above is incorrect, referring to the Rex Cole Mountaineers, then the info above is subject to correction.

Sometime around 1932, hired by station WFAS in White Plains, New York, singing cowboy songs before the microphone. This comes as no surprise when you consider that young children flocked to the screen every weekend to watch Bob Steele, Buck Jones, Hoot Gibson and others wrestle cattle rustlers, and radio stations across the country knew that cowboy songs were popular. Often used as fillers for time slots that could not be sold to local advertisers, Fletcher’s time slot bounced back and forth throughout the months he worked at WFAS.

One of a few Tex Fletcher Song Books
The B Western Actors Encyclopedia by Ted Holland claims Fletcher’s singing landed him his own radio program in Yankton, South Dakota, but no date is cited and nothing has been found to verify this statement. This is not to say that Holland is incorrect, just that at present we’re still digging into more information about this at present.

In late 1932 or early 1933, Fletcher went solo and made the move to New Jersey and became the “Cowboy Answer Man” over WWOR for a short period. Executives at the Mutual Broadcasting Company, offered Fletcher better prospects, and shortly before the Christmas holiday in 1933, the cowboy began what would become a lucrative and profitable career at WOR, the New York City flagship station for Mutual. In the same manner as White Plains, Fletcher’s time slot jumped around and recent findings have unearthed a number of weekly time slots for which Fletcher performed behind the microphone. 

For the convenience and ease of documentation, his appearances over WOR have been listed below under each respective day of the week. 

Monday 
June 11, 1934 to July 30, 1934, 9:30 to 9:45 p.m.
April 27, 1936 to June 8, 1936, 9:00 to 9:15 a.m.
June 15, 1936 to July 13, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
September 7, 1936 and September 14, 1936, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
August 23, 1937 to September 27, 1937, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
November 22, 1937 to December 27, 1937, 8:20 to 8:30 a.m.
January 3, 1938 to February 7, 1938, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
February 14, 1938 to June 6, 1938, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m.
June 13, 1938, 11:45 a.m. to 12 noon
June 20, 1938 and June 27, 1938, 10:15 to 10:30 a.m.
July 4, 1938 to September 5, 1938, 10:30 to 10:45 a.m.
September 19, 1938 to December 5, 1938, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
December 26, 1938 to January 2, 1939, 11:00 to 11:15 a.m.

Tuesday 
February 27, 1934 to March 27, 1934, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
April 3, 1934 to July 24, 1934, 5:45 to 6:00 p.m.
April 9, 1935 to May 21, 1935, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
June 4, 1935 and June 11, 1935, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
June 18, 1935 to September 3, 1935, 10:00 to 10:15 a.m.
September 10, 1935 to October 15, 1935, 11:30 to 11:45 a.m.
July 14, 1936 to September 1, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
September 15, 1936 and September 22, 1936, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
March 2, 1937 to March 9, 1937, 9:00 to 9:15 a.m.
March 16, 1937 to July 20, 1937, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
July 27, 1937 to August 10, 1937, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
September 21, 1937 to October 5, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
October 26, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
November 2, 1937, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
November 9, 1937 to December 28, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
January 4, 1938 to November 29, 1938, 8:05 to 8:20 a.m.

Wednesday 
March 20, 1935 and March 27, 1935, 12:15 to 12:30 p.m.
December 4, 1935 to December 18, 1935, 11:45 a.m. to 12 noon
January 8, 1936 to March 11, 1936, 11:45 a.m. to 12 noon
April 29, 1936 to June 3, 1936, 9:00 to 9:15 a.m.
June 17, 1936 to July 15, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
January 5, 1938 to February 2, 1938, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
February 9, 1938, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m.
March 2, 1938 to July 27, 1938, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m.
August 3, 1837 to September 7, 1938, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
September 21, 1938 to November 2, 1938, 9:00 to 9:15 a.m.

Thursday 
November 23, 1933 to January 18, 1934, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
April 11, 1935 to August 1, 1935, 9:15 to 9:30 a.m.
November 7, 1935 to March 5, 1936, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
June 4, 1936, 12:45 to 1:00 p.m.
July 23, 1936 to December 24, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
May 6, 1937 and May 13, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
May 20, 1937 to July 22, 1937, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
July 29, 1937 to August 12, 1937, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
November 11, 1937 to December 30, 1937, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
January 6, 1938 to September 28, 1939, 8:05 to 8:20 a.m.
October 5, 1939, 8:05 to 8:15 a.m.

Friday 
December 1, 1933, 10:15 to 10:30 a.m.
September 13, 1935 to October 18, 1935, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
October 2, 1936 to December 25, 1936, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
July 17, 1936 to September 4, 1936, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
September 25, 1936, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
March 19, 1937 to April 23, 1937, 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.
December 3, 1937 to January 7, 1938, 8:20 to 8:30 a.m.
January 14, 1938 to February 4, 1938, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
January 11, 1938 to March 4, 1938, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m.
March 11, 1938 to March 25, 1938, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
April 1, 1938 to May 20, 1938, 10:15 to 10:30 a.m.
May 27, 1938, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
June 3, 1938 and June 10, 1938, 10:30 to 10:45 a.m.
October 14, 1938 to December 9, 1938, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.

Saturday 
January 13, 1934 to April 20, 1935, 9:45 to 10:00 a.m.
April 27, 1935, 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. (originally scheduled for 9:45, but changed days before broadcast)
June 29, 1935 to August 31, 1935, 12:30 to 12:45 p.m.
September 7, 1935 and September 14, 1935, 12:15 to 12:30 p.m.
September 21, 1935 to September 28, 1935, 12 noon to 12:15 p.m.
December 7, 1935 to December 21, 1935, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
January 4, 1936 to January 18, 1936, 1:00 to 1:15 p.m.
January 25, 1936, 1:05 to 1:30 p.m.
February 1, 1936 to March 7, 1936, 1:15 to 1:30 p.m.
March 14, 1936 to March 21, 1936, 1:00 to 1:15 p.m.
March 28, 1936 to April 4, 1936, 1:45 to 2:00 p.m.
April 18, 1936, 1:15 to 1:30 p.m.
May 9, 1936 to May 16, 1936, 1:15 to 1:30 p.m.
May 30, 1936, 11:30 to 11:45 a.m.
June 13, 1936, 10:00 to 10:15 a.m.
June 20, 1936 and June 27, 1936, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
September 12, 1936 to July 10, 1937, 10:00 to 10:15 a.m.
July 24, 1937 to December 25, 1937, 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
January 8, 1938 to January 21, 1939, 8:05 to 8:20 a.m.
December 22, 1945 to March 30, 1946, 11:15 to 11:30 a.m.

Sunday 
June 1, 1941, 8:15 to 8:30 a.m.
May 5, 1946 to February 23, 1947, 8:15 to 8:30 a.m.

Tex Fletcher’s radio career was abruptly put on hold during WWII, as evidenced with the Sunday entry above. He was drafted in the U.S. Army and served a number of years before he returned to the radio microphone. It should also be mentioned, courtesy of my good friend (and baseball aficionado) Ken Stockinger, that there is a strong “possibility” that Tex Fletcher also supplied unscheduled filler for WOR when Brooklyn Dodgers games were temporarily pre-empted due to rain and other factors.

Newspaper clipping of Private Tex Fletcher.

Other Radio Broadcasts 
All radio appearances listed below were broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System, except for the “Air-Brakes” special, which aired on the National Broadcasting Company.

October 20, 1945, 2:00 to 2:45 p.m.
Air-Breaks: Welcome Home Auditions Anniversary
December 22, 1947, 3:45 to 4:05 p.m.
Special Christmas Fund Party 
For the benefit of hospitalized children. Broadcast via pre-recorded transcription, this special featured such guests as New York Mayor William O’Dwyer, Robin Morgan, Don Carney, Commissioner Edward Bernecker (Commissioner of Hospitals of New York City) and Tex Fletcher.

September 3, 1951 to December 28, 1951, 5:55 to 6:00 p.m.
Songs of the B-Bar-B 
A series of five-minute musical entertainment was broadcast three or four times a week (varied week by week), Monday through Friday, as fillers between programming. Sponsored by Cliclets Gum. The format is Tex of Bobby Benson singing a song, then actor Don Knotts (as Windy Wales) tells a funny tale, followed by Tex or Bobby singing the last song and then “fade to commercial.”

November 11, 1951 to August 3, 1952, 4:55 to 5:00 p.m.
Songs of the B-Bar-B 
Same as the above, this five-minute musical entertainment was broadcast once-a-week on Sunday afternoon, as fillers between scheduled programming. Five episodes dated February 3, March 23, May 25, June 1 and June 22, 1952 exist in recorded form.

Note about the two entries above: Herb Rice (owner of the Bobby Benson character and V.P. of Operations at Mutual at that time) sent Tex Fletcher on the road several times for personal appearances with actors Clive Rice and Don Knotts. Knotts mentioned these personal appearance tours in his autobiography, and it was apparent that he hated them. This included the 1953 and 1954 national championship rodeos in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Possible date: December 14, 1951
Bands for Bonds 
Tex Fletcher made an appearance on more than one episode of this radio program, syndicated by the Treasury Department. The series was heard as late as 1956 over specific stations.

September 22, 1951
Heroes of the West 
Documentary series produced by Mutual. This particular episode, the fourth and final episode of the series, was titled “Old Timer” and Jim Boles was featured in the title role. Bobby Benson and Tex Fletcher were heard on the program. This series was also syndicated across the country on various stations affiliated with Mutual, so the broadcast dates vary depending on what part of the country you lived in.

Tex Fletcher serenades actress Joan Barclay.
Six-Gun Rhythm, like hundreds of obscure motion pictures during that decade, has the distinction of a strong radio connection. During the opening credits, Fletcher sings “Lonesome Cowboy,” the trademarked song featured prominently on his radio broadcasts. I’d also like to take the time to point out something that could later become a small mis-conception. There was another singer who billed himself as “The Lonesome Cowboy,” John I. White, on the NBC series, Death Valley Days, from 1929 to 1936. White underwent a number of pseudonyms including “The Lone Star Cowboy,” “The Old Sexton,” “Whitey Johns,” “Jimmie Price” and “Frank Ranger.” If you come across information about “The Lonesome Cowboy,” please make sure you clarify which singer is specifically being referenced.