Friday, October 5, 2012

The Lone Ranger Movies: Behind the Scenes, 1941

After Republic finished producing and releasing the two cliffhanger serials based on The Lone Ranger, George W. Trendle made it publicly known that he was finishing for a Hollywood producer who could produce a series of motion-pictures based on his Western radio program. Trendle turned to Freddie Fralick of the Freddie Fralick Agency, his authorized Hollywood agent and conduit to Republic Pictures during the 1937 production of The Lone Ranger serials. Freddie Fralick acted as a broker in the matter of surrounding a license to produce, distribute and release motion-pictures for Trendle and throughout the entire calendar year of 1941, the two exchanged a large number of letters and telegrams verifying Trendle's attempt to revive The Lone Ranger for the cinema.

Fralick started his career in stock company as an actor in 1898 before joining Biograph in 1912. By 1916, he decided to start looking for ventures other than being an actor. He became a talent casting agent who worked for producer Thomas Ince and in 1923 started his own agency. Fralick's major accomplishment is credited with identifying and finding actor Lloyd Hughes (with no leads, in a city of 600,000), when Ince wanted to hire him after seeing him appear briefly in a crowd scene of a movie.

Many fans of The Lone Ranger question why it took almost ten years for Trendle to license the screen rights after Republic completed the second of two cliffhanger serials, The Lone Ranger Rides Again. Trendle was certainly making attempts to do so. What might be found in the following correspondence you might find amusing. Among them are the opinions of movie producers at major film studios regarding The Lone Ranger and the numerous studios that sought interest. (I spent the good part of two hours reading about 60 or 70 of these letters so I'm selecting the ones that best tell the story.)

Fran Striker's costume suggestions for Trendle's new proposed movies.


Small footnotes to add:
In February of 1941, Raymond Meurer at radio station WXYZ drafted a one-page contract for Edward Gross to sign, covering the production of "four or six" motion pictures based on The Lone Ranger and a sum equal to five percent of the gross was to be paid to The Lone Ranger, Inc. (Trendle's company). The contract was obviously never signed.

One of the last letters scanned and posted above mentioned Ricardo Cortez, who signed an exclusive option on The Lone Ranger lasting a total of six months. Cortez wanted to create an "epic feature" that would cost $500,000. His plans fell through and at the conclusion of the six months, Cortez did not renew his option for an additional six months. In June of 1942, Ted Lloyd of Sunshine Productions, approached Trendle with making six pictures. This too, fell through.

Letters like the ones reprinted above total a stack of three inches tall so you can get an idea of how much correspondence was involved for the years 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946 and 1947. In 1948, talk switched from movies to television. But just reading the 1941 highlights is amusing enough.

Compare the art with these two posters.
Freddie Fralick wasn't officially fired from his post. He continued to lobby Lone Ranger movies with motion-picture producers for George W. Trendle. In September of 1942, Fralick talked with Charlie Kohner at RKO, who was apparently in the process of securing Buck Jones for a series of screen Westerns. Kohner had intentions of spending $150,000 per picture and produce a minimum of two pictures per year. Kohner also sought The Lone Ranger property for his proposal. Trendle rejected the offer because he had sued Buck Jones (and Jones' wife, his then business manager) for using the name "Silver" as his horse. Trendle still held a grudge against Jones.

In the summer of 1942, Trendle sued Republic Pictures because he discovered the studio began re-releasing the 1938 cliffhanger serial in theaters. Republic told Trendle that they would not cease theatrical distribution unless restrained by the courts, believing they had a right to rerun the serial in the theaters. Trendle had a court order issued and Republic withdrew the serial and ultimately was instructed to destroy all prints of both the 1938 and 1939 serials. In 1942, Lee Powell was on tour with the Barnett Bros. Circus and Wallace Bros. Circus, posing as The Lone Ranger, signing autographs and performing for the kids. Trendle promptly had a court order prevent Powell from continuing his ventures as the Masked Man.

In May of 1945, Fralick discussed a third Ranger series with Bill Saal at Republic. Trendle rejected the idea and said he would seek interest if Republic wanted to produce movies, not a serial. Nothing ever came of this and Republic never went into production on a Lone Ranger film.

In May and June of 1947, I.E. Chadwick of Chadwick Productions sought interest by contacting Freddie Fralick. His plan was to produce Lone Ranger movies and have PRC Studios distribute, on a basis of three pictures a year, to be done in cinecolor, costing approximately $200,000 each. Chadwick wanted to pay Trendle $10,000 plus ten percent of the gross, for every three movies he produced. When this deal fell through, Harry Thomas at PRC sent Trendle a contract in September of 1947. Trendle wanted more money so the deal fell through.

In 1948, Fralick ended up working for George W. Trendle as a combination supervisor/coordinator for both the Sgt. Preston of the Yukon and The Lone Ranger television programs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Martin,

Most interesting. It appears Trendle chose to do nothing rather than take less than what he thought his property was worth. Too bad. We are thus deprived of what might have been.

Frank

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