Friday, June 29, 2012

Pop Twenty: A New Nostalgia Magazine

The premiere issue of Pop Twenty.
Could it be possible for too many magazines to be published about nostalgia pop culture? The answer is obvious: there can never be enough. At the recent Williamsburg Film Festival, I purchased a copy of Pop Twenty, a new magazine covering 20th Century Pop Culture including movies, TV, radio and music. The premiere issue is slick and glossy, and I for one am thankful that someone made it easy to decipher which issue it was with the number on the bottom right in simplistic fashion. (I hate squinting my eyes trying to see what issue number a comic book is -- those were always printed too small.)

As editor Robert S. Birchard explained in his introduction, "the lofty goal is to explore the edifying, enlightening and enriching aspects of trends, fashions and fads in these diverse media during what has been called 'the American century'...we wanted to create a place where we could write about stuff that fascinates us and share what we and other writers know about same. In other words, our aim is to have fun, and maybe offer some insights into how a favorite movie or show came to be and why it turned out the way it did."

After browsing the first issue, which creates the mold for which future issues will be shaped, I can certainly say this will become a guilty favorite. The first issues takes a look at the convoluted production history of Footlight Parade (Warner Bros, 1933), the Keystone Kosp origins of the CBS Radio Network (by Elizabeth McLeod), how James Dean came to be synonymous with Rock 'n' Roll even though he had no affinity for the music, an interview with Fred Waring known as "the man who taught America how to sing," a speculation that Howard Hughes might have lived many months beyond his reported demise, a profile of some of the better-known early memorabilia collectors, a behind-the-scenes glimpse at TV's I Married Joan, a reflection on why screen comic Charley Chase never lingered in the popular imagination the way Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields or Buster Keaton did, and to not divulge all the surprises, a few archival eye poppers.

Claudette Colbert and Warren William in Cleopatra.

I asked Mike Bifulco how the magazine came about. "It was while in SoCal last October for the Lone Pine Film Festival that I had initial conversations with Robert Birchard (an exceptional and widely published author) on his idea for a project that eventually became Pop Twenty," Mike explained. "Although it was my title idea (crazy as it is) and I provide the mechanical skills to put it together, Bob Birchard is really the driving force behind the concept and deserves credit for most of the writing as well as soliciting other fine writers to participate. We are presently wrapping up issue #2 that  will include articles on early television, an extensive interview with Steve Allen from the 1970s, a piece on Dorothy Lee, the silent version of The Ten Commandments, Tin Pan Alley's activities for the 1st World War effort, and a virtually unknown history of a lost silent film studio, all generously illustrated with rare and mostly unpublished photographs. Then, issue #3 will start coming together wrapped in a cover featuring Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra and promises to be even more exciting."

More than once I considered editing a magazine of my own but both time and money (mostly time) kept me from starting up such a project. And in a world where everything is going digital, I contemplated whether any success in the way of a large circulation could be accomplished. Personally, I prefer the hard copy edition of any magazine simply because I can store them in boxes or, in the case of this magazine which is in book form (112 pages thick), I can store it on my bookshelf. Besides, I wouldn't want to read the latest issues of Nostalgia Digest, America in WWII, Blood n' Thunder, Filmfax or Classic Images on a Kindle, iPad or laptop. It's just not the same... And since I spend over $400 in subscriptions for multiple magazines and fanzines every year, I prefer to have the hard copy format.

Over the years, many magazines revise the format, style, graphic layout and even the subject matter, deviating from what the initial intention was... always making me disappointed. Filmfax, for example, used to be a great magazine but is now considered a video catalog with a few magazine articles thrown in between. At one point in time, the editors of Filmfax began publishing mostly Bettie Page and Bela Lugosi articles and after a year's worth of Bettie and Bela, I decided not to renew my subscription. I eventually renewed when someone assured me that they stopped publishing mostly stage striptease and movie bloodsuckers, but it's still a video catalog in my opinion. (About a year ago the editors decided to cut a book review in half and even featured half of the book cover (not the entire front cover as scanned) solely to make more room for a half-page advertisement for a DVD they sell. Shame.) My only hope is that Michael BiFulco retains the already superb craftsmanship of his magazine throughout the next decade. I understand advertising is essential and I expect ads. Please don't make fifty percent of the magazine a video catalog! Seriously, this will be a superb magazine that you won't want to miss.

Small note: I would recommend you purchase your first issue today. Don't wait until "tomorrow." Reason being, the value and price of premiere issues often go up as the demand grows and the quantity of copies printed becomes scarce. I purchased a number of Monster Bash magazines (issue #1) at $3 a pop when they first became available. Last I saw it was going for $10 and it's only been three years. Ten years from now it will probably go for a lot more money. 

Pop Twenty is being offered for $12.99 retail (plus $3 shipping). You can buy your copy for less at www.coverout.com. Michael Bifulco, 1708 Simmons NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505. Send your check to Michael today or place your order online. Issue number two is now available as of the time this blog post goes virtual.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Superman: Collectible Premiums


Action Comics Number 1
 A CGC-certified 9.0 copy of Action Comics #1, which featured the first appearance of Superman (before he was the star of his own comic book), was sold a few months ago by ComicConnect.com on November 30, 2011 for (get this) a total of $2,161,000, the highest price ever paid for a comic book. It became the fifth comic book to sell for more than $1 million, with two of the others being 8.0 and 8.5 copies of Action Comics #1.

In the pulp collector world, no pulp is more prized or expensive than the October 1912 issue of All-Story magazine, which features the premiere of Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan. In the comic world, nothing is more valuable or sought after than the premiere issue of Action Comics. The mainstream press has been fascinated by the record-breaking prices and I read somewhere that no more than 250 copies of Action Comics #1 are known to exist. Their value is all dependent on the condition of the comic.

Although ComicConnect did not publicize actor Nicholas Cage as the collector from whom the highly prized copy was stolen in January 2000, it has been widely reported as being the one he acquired from the company’s sister firm, Metropolis Collectibles. It was recovered earlier this year among the belongings inside an abandoned storage unit in California, then graded and placed in the auction.

Sparkle City Comics recently wrapped up its showing of rare, vintage high grade Golden Age comic books with the sale of a CGC 7.0 EP copy of Action Comics #1, for $120,100.

"As always, everything was offered with no reserve on the most fair playing field available, eBay,” said Sparkle City’s Brian Schutzer. Schutzer said he had been traveling non-stop to acquire collections the past few months and that the company would be offering more original owner Golden Age and Silver Age collections in the coming days.
Action Comics Number 1

On a happy note, a struggling family facing foreclosure stumbled upon what is considered to be the Holy Grail of comic books in their basement – a fortuitous find that could fetch upwards of a quarter million dollars at auction. A copy of Action Comics # 1 was discovered as they went about the painful task of packing up a home that had been in the family since at least the 1950s. The couple, who live in the South with their children, asked to remain anonymous. "The bank was about ready to foreclose," said Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of ComicConnect.com and Metropolis Comics and Collectibles in New York. "Literally, this family was in tears. The family home was going to be lost and they're devastated. They can't figure out a way out of this. They start packing things up. They go into the basement and start sifting through boxes – trying to find packing boxes – and they stumble on eight or nine comic books."

The couple learned online that ComicConnect.com had brokered the record-breaking sales of Action Comics # 1 copies for $1 million in February and then $1.5 million one month later. They immediately texted a cell phone picture to the firm's co-owner, Stephen Fishler. "You couldn't have asked for a happier ending," Zurzolo said. "Superman saved the day."

Among the most amusing news item came about last month when Metropolis Collectibles and ComicConnect.com announced they would offer “The Check That Bought Superman.” Many were at a loss as to what to expect. The check was written from Detective Comics, Inc. to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for $412, $130 of which went to acquire the rights to one of the two most famous characters of all time. Compelling arguments could be made for what its value should be. Even Stan Lee got into the act, saying anything under $100,000 would be “a steal.”

The Check That Bought Superman
The check sold for $160,000, making news all over again.

One of the questions that still does pop up, though, is where did this check come from?

“While I was building for our Winter 2011 Event Auction I received a call from someone who wouldn't tell me his name, wouldn't tell me what he had but told me he had something very special. It was a very intriguing way to start a conversation and I must admit, my Spidey senses were tingling. We talked in vague generalities for about five minutes and finally he hinted as to what he had. My jaw dropped,” said Vincent Zurzolo, Chief Operating Officer of Metropolis and ComicConnect.com.

“There was an immediately clear picture of how important this item was. I had the Action Comics #1 CGC 9.0 and a bunch of great Superman material in my auction and I wanted "The Check" as well. The consignor was a bit reluctant and instead of selling immediately we put a one page advertisement in our catalog about the piece. Needless to say there was a lot of interest. The consignor was very impressed with the $2,161,000 sale of the CGC 9.0 Action #1 and decided to put his check into our next auction with no reserve,” he said.

I received a large response from a Superman posting I made a few weeks ago. So... here's some more Superman fun for you.

In a separate press release issued by ComicConnect, the company said, “The check—thought to have been lost over time or thrown away— was recently consigned to ComicConnect.com by the heirs of a DC Comics employee who had the foresight to save the check. In fact, the story goes that in the early 1970s, after DC Comics had won one of its many legal battles against Shuster and Siegel, the owner told employees to throw out a box of old court documents. But one of the employees found the check and decided to keep it. For 38 years, the check sat in the employee’s dresser drawer.”

“My consignor was extremely pleased with the results. To my knowledge we hit another world record for the most expensive check ever sold. Remember, this is the check that started it all. Without that check being written there is no Superman and consequently no Batman, no Spider-Man etc.,” Zurzolo said.
In closing...
Now that Superman's no longer wearing his trademark red undershorts, in either the comics or movie versions, you might have wondered what's become of them. And apparently, they're in Malaysia, where they're a hot-selling item. According to the New Straits Times, residential neighborhoods in Tampoi have been plastered with ads for "Superman's Underpants," which are supposed to be able to cure sexual problems. The special undergarments, which come equipped with magnets, are supposed to be able to cure impotence and increase penis size. A photo of the advertisement is included for your amusement. Anyone who says Superman isn't generating buzz or saving the day, even in down times like this, needs to reconsider the value of the Man of Steel.


Friday, June 15, 2012

The Cavalcade of America Television Series

The Cavalcade of America was one of the most prestigious dramatic radio programs on the network (1935-1954). Sponsored by DuPont as a means of enhancing the company's image, it featured dramas of American History (or stories of true Americans who pioneered the advancement of something that we, today, take for granted). Major Hollywood celebrities made guest appearances.

So it was no surprise that when television came into being, DuPont wanted to jump in on the bandwagon. Broadcasting on both mediums was very expensive, but unsure which would be more successful, DuPont decided in late 1952 and early 1953, to be on both radio and television and judge the response. Television apparently won out and the radio program went off the air in March of 1953. The earliest episodes of the television series presented dramas of American history, from George Washington to Benjamin Franklin, and some of the most meticulously accurate stories of American heroes both famous and obscure were highlighted.
Vintage Advertisement
New to the television medium, DuPont feared putting all their eggs in one basket, and hired five different companies to produce a number of episodes. This led to productions of variety (meaning they didn't look like the product of the same studio, using the same sets and costumes). Among them was Screen Gems (Columbia Pictures) and Jack Chertok, the man responsible for bringing The Lone Ranger to television. Over the next four years, other companies were contracted to produce a number of episodes, and that same tradition continued until the series went off the air in 1957.

Very few of the episodes are available commercially on DVD. It has been a misconception that all of the episodes fell into the public domain. Truth be known, most of them are protected under copyright. The copyrights were not only renewed (verified by the Library of Congress copyright office) but reference books specializing in listing copyright registrations for television programs inadvertently overlooked the renewal registrations and this may have caused some of the confusion. The commercials promoting DuPont, produced separately, were individually copyrighted and those copyrights were also renewed. The theme music is also copyrighted.

Vintage Advertisement
DuPont actually made plans to bring Cavalcade to television in the fall of 1949, but quickly discovered they had a number of obstacles to overcome before it could get its show before the cameras. DuPont was in talks with advertising executives at BBD&O, the advertising agency, discussing the possibilities of simulcasting the show, with audio from the television series being used for the radio program, but BBD&O, could not figure out how to televise at the same time, especially since the same TV period was then occupied by Milton Berle.

DuPont had initially objected to the idea of separate radio and video shows, desiring to get all the talent costs onto a single ledger sheet. The closest they came was the proposal to broadcast the series on television, at a different time slot, and would then make a tape recording of the sound from the TV show, then rebroadcast it with some editing as the radio offering. Of course, this flopped.

For anyone who hasn't seen any of the television productions, I recommend you seek them out. Among the highlights and notables are "New Salem Story," the story of Abraham Lincoln’s arrival in New Salem, his early career there, his first two political campaigns, and his romance with Nancy Rutledge. When Nancy is broken-hearted because she’s been jilted by another, Lincoln offers to date her, to help her save face before the townspeople, and in once moment her weepiness gives way to the height of gaiety. As a result, there is an insincere quality to the entire affair.

This episode was broadcast in February 1953, in recognition of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Two years later in February of 1955, this episode would be rebroadcast in recognition of the same holiday. All of the episodes from the first season were adaptations from the radio scripts. The only flaw is the laughable portrayal of Honest Abe Lincoln who acts like a young school boy in love and not the man we came to know as the President of the U.S. A few mediocre lines in two campaign speeches are all that’s offered the viewer.

Cavalcade of America TV Episode
In "The Stolen General," a second season effort, the Gil Ralston-Arthur Ripley production was a departure from the customary vein of the series, and the announcer carefully explained in the beginning that DuPont wanted to show one of the more amusing incidents of American history. The Revolutionary War period story was smoothly unfolded except for one dream sequence, which had not yet been done on the series before.

"The Skipper's Lady" told the story of a mutinous crew on the high seas that discovered terror for the lady on the bridge, who was determined to see the ship through to its port of call. Paul Langton, skipper of the Neptune, 52 days out of Frisco, fell ill of brain fever and the command passed on to Lee Van Cleef, loaded with rum and belligerently zealous of the responsibility he is to inherit. Sally Brophy, the skipper’s wife, fears for the safety of the craft and its crew and he’s put away in irons. She mounts the bridge with the aid of loyal crewmen who scorn the mutineers and brings the ship through safe waters. With the exception of the mutineers, this story was not told through Hollywood fashion, but the story was more fictional than documentary, something different from most of the usual Cavalcade productions of the time. Most of the crew understood the situation and did not make a big scene out of it, acting as calm and sincere as a real crew would under the circumstances. The men act like real salts and pound the deck with the fury of the angry sea around them. Stock footage of the seascape was incorporated into the picture to add a sense of high production values but today, viewers can notice the stock shots because they are more grainy than footage of the original production.

Vintage Advertisement
"Moonlight Witness," a third season Flying A production, was produced by Gene Autry. Yes, the cowboy star Gene Autry. Not wanting to see his television debut in the form of old cowboy movies he made ten or fifteen years prior, Autry formed Flying A Pictures to produce a series of half-hour westerns for CBS-TV, starring Autry himself. Wrigley paid 30 to 50 percent of the production costs and obtained first transmission rights in return. Subsequent rights were retained by Autry's Flying A Pictures. Producer Armand Schaefer and Autry’s business agent, Mitchell Hamilburg, were in on the project. This opened the door for a number of other television series, produced by Gene Autry, who now profited as a television producer. Range Rider, The Adventures of Champion and Annie Oakley were among the more popular programs of the 1950s. Sponsors such as DuPont took it upon themselves to hire Flying A Pictures to produce their television episodes such as "Moonlight Witness." Seized with compassion for an old friend, whose son is charged with being a killer, Lincoln takes time away from his epic debates with Stephen Douglas to defend the youth. When a witness testified he saw the crime in full moon, Lincoln sent for the Farmer’s Almanac, which proved his contention there was no moon out that night. This freed the lad. Earlier Lincoln was fined $5 for making jokes in the courtroom.

"Saturday Story" told of a small town football coach who becomes a big success. He imbues his “boys” with good sportsmanship, so that they learn how to lose as well as win. Eventually the coach is forced to quit because of ill health. But he’s rich in memories, and his prize pupil, Otto Graham, is the personification of the fundamentals drilled into him by his high school coach. Otto Graham plays himself, and the Northwestern-Cleveland Browns’ back turns in a competent performance. Even more fun was the fact that John Garberry was the sports consultant for this episode. After the story concludes, the real-life Mark Wilson and his wife are briefly interviewed by Frank Leahy, who, incidentally, shows up well as host-narrator. This episode also served as a proposed Four Star Productions television pilot for a Frank Leahy series, that never sold. (Leahy was the former head football coach for the University of Notre Dame.)

Vintage Advertisement
In season four's "Toward Tomorrow," also a Four Star Production, centered on the early life of Dr. Ralph Bunche rather than the United Nations official’s achievements in his adult career. The story centers on the guidance of his grandmother, and closes with a quick summation of Dr. Bunche’s achievements. James Edwards, who plays the adult Bunche, stepped out of character to read a wire from Bunche in which he gives full credit for his success to the dignity and nobility of his grandmother. Both DuPont and Four Star chose to avoid any racial discriminations the young Negro encountered, and there was only one slight reference to it; this showing his suspicion of discrimination was a figment of his own imagination. It’s doubtful that was the case in real life. One has to wonder if the film could have been shown abroad as U.S. propaganda to offset the Russian charges that the Negro is oppressed and had no future here.

Beginning with Season Four, DuPont initiated a new policy featuring more modern stories, instead of historical, as part of the “new” Cavalcade policy of intermingling modern tales with those of yesterday. Most of the modern-day stories dealt with Americans who fought against Communist infiltrations, escape from behind the Iron Curtain, the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents, and other factors with the current newspaper headlines. The title of the program changed to the DuPont Cavalcade, and later the DuPont Theater.

"Who Is Byington?" starred the late Harry Morgan, and told the story of was correspondents during Civil War days who were a hardy lot, who fought for news beats like the troops fought for high ground. When the only telegraph line was shattered by shot and shell, the newsmen were put to their own devices to get the news through. Harry Morgan’s rivals on the New York Times and Herald used horse relay, while he had them believe he was poking along on shanks mare, the phrase then for just plain footwork. All the while Morgan was having the broken lines repaired and got through his big scoop. Humanity has its place, too, and when dying soldiers were brought into their quarters, Morgan disclosed that the wire was working again, so he could put through a call for medical help. When the message was signed by a name unknown to President Lincoln, he asked, “Who’s Byington?” Historically, the narrative was so well documented it has been postponed for a year after its initial filming to get legal clearances from descendants of some of the historical figures.

The final season contained all modern day stories, dramatized from some basis of fact (sometimes a simple newspaper clipping). Future celebrities such as Patty McCormack and Michael Landon are seen in those episodes, and the majority of the films in collector hands originate, sadly, from the final season. Variety, which raved favorably during the first two seasons, was by this time being harshly critical. Some of the stories during the final season was meant to pluck a heart-string, the paper reported. "Instead of attacking the tear ducts, some of the stories affected the eyelids."

The final episode of the series, "Chicago 2-1-2," was a pilot for a proposed series. (There had been at least four of them during the series' run, and not uncommon for a dramatic television anthology.) On the trail of a firebug, in the hire of an insurance bilker, Frank Lovejoy cornered his quarry through the device of a camera and the weakness of the blaze-setter, who liked to stand around and watch his destructive work. Once the reel was run off, Lovejoy pin-pointed the hired assistant, and on his next job was nabbed after a long chase and confessed. Appearing in the cast was Roy Thinnes, making his TV film debut. When I talked to Roy Thinnes at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in 2010, he recalled fondly how Frank Lovejoy left a big impression on him.

A misconception of the television series is the statement that the series was syndicated. It truly was a weekly network program. However, there is evidence to support the claim of syndication. In June of 1953, Broadcasting reported that Cavalcade was also sponsored in multiple markets even though it was essentially network, “but because of lack of station clearances, the sponsors have booked time in local outlets.” In March of 1955, DuPont had a temporary falling out with ABC-TV, and negotiated the program with NBC for a new fall lineup. NBC, however, could not find a reasonable time slot, so DuPont continued at a later time slot in September of 1955 on ABC, and Billboard reported, "DuPont uses many local stations of its own choosing and has for several years, because it is able to get better time on them."

In the fall of 1956, DuPont licensed 39 episodes to Official Films, who edited the earliest episodes of the series for a proposed syndicated anthology, titled The American Story. The new series was quickly sold to a dozen markets before it was decided to change the title to The American Legend. It seems the original title, The American Story, had to be changed because it conflicted with a radio property owned by Broadcast Music, Inc. The series was a success (even though it's considered a rerun since people saw the same films, even with different commercials and different opening and closing credits). In March of 1957, Official licensed an additional 41 episodes, making a total of 80 for syndication.

Martin Grams Jr. is the author of The History of the Cavalcade of America (1999, Morris Publishing).

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Shadow: The 1939-1940 Cliffhanger Serial

The Shadow (1940 cliffhanger serial) with Victor Jory.
In late 1939, one of the major film studios, Columbia Pictures, produced a 15-chapter cliffhanger serial, which premiered in theaters as a weekly chapter play days after Americans rang in the New Year. The Shadow featured Victor Jory (Bret Morrison’s former roommate at the Pasadena Playhouse) in the role of Lamont Cranston and the shadowy alias. Harry Vincent, Commissioner Weston, Margot Lane and Detective Cardona were also featured among the chapters, which thrilled audiences throughout the early months of 1940. This Shadow, however, does not possess the power to cloud men’s minds. That role was bestowed on the villain known as The Black Tiger, who, while using scientific apparatus, had the power to make himself invisible. His ultimate goal was to take over the world with his newly constructed death ray. Radio connections are evident as the first chapter relies heavily on the radio episode “Prelude to Terror” (January 29, 1939), which concerned a mastermind who filled light bulbs with explosive gas, rendering the city helpless as the explosions rocked the night scene. 

In the serial version, The Shadow goes into action after an attack on a radio station to save the lives of dozens attending a new television exhibit, almost becoming a victim himself from the exploding light bulbs. With The Shadow cloaked in black and the villain cloaked with invisibility, the scenario was certainly mystifying to an audience trying to associate the differences they heard each week on the program. According to the contract agreement between Street & Smith Publications and Columbia Pictures dated July 19, 1939, Columbia was granted permission to create the 15-chapter play based on the radio episode “Prelude to Terror” and a trio of Gibson’s Shadow novels, The Green Hoods (August 15, 1938), The Lone Tiger (February 15, 1939) and Silver Skull (January 1, 1939). Under the terms of the contract, the two stories adapted previously for the two movies produced by Grand National Pictures, Inc. were avoided. A release from Max Alexander, the producer of the two pictures, was sent to Columbia, surrendering his option to produce the additional Shadow pictures. Clause No.12 in the contract made it understood to both parties that during the life of the cliffhanger serial, should the Goodrich Tire Co. or D.L.&W. Coal Co., for any reason whatsoever, desire to discontinue the use of the character “The Shadow” for radio broadcasting purposes, Street & Smith was free to dispose of the radio broadcast rights of The Shadow character to any sponsor who in their opinion was satisfactory. The studio had no control over the radio program. This meant if a new sponsor took over the program and it was a competitor of Columbia, the movie studio was powerless against the decision.

John Nanovic and Walter Gibson both reviewed the screenplay for the entire serial and submitted a list of corrections and suggestions, which the studio promptly applied between the first and final draft (letter of confirmation from the studio dated July 21, 1939). The Shadow’s guns, as instructed, were two .45 automatics at Gibson’s request. (On the radio program, it was revealed that Lamont Cranston had two trusty automatic pistols, both Colt .45s, Model 1911A.)

Columbia assured Gibson that the character of Moe Schrevnitz would not be used, and an added line spoken by Harry Vincent in the first chapter stated he was filling in for Schrevnitz due to his illness. The name of the Metropolitan Club was changed to the Cobalt Club, so that it would match the same club mentioned in the pulps and the radio program. Early negotiations for the cliffhanger film almost were held up because of S. Heagan Bayles of Ruthrauff & Ryan when, on April 14, 1939, he wrote to Floyd L. Weber of Columbia Pictures stating that William J. de Grouchy of Street & Smith had mentioned to the agency the studio’s desire to make use of the radio scripts in writing the scenarios for The Shadow serial. “We have had to hold up writing to you about this until we could clearly establish our rights to these scripts. Our attorneys tell us that we clearly have the radio rights and we believe, further, all the rights, including motion pictures because our release does not cover any limitation of rights. However, to be on the safe side, we suggest that you contact us further before using any of this material, in whole or in part, as written.”

But three days later Bayles backtracked from Ruthrauff & Ryan’s claim of “all the rights” to The Shadow character, and he writes de Grouchy at Street & Smith, “In behalf of our client, Blue Coal, we control only the radio rights, for which we pay Street & Smith a royalty. All other rights to the ‘Shadow’ including motion picture, syndication, publishing, novelty, and so forth, are retained by Street & Smith. We shall be glad to cooperate with Columbia Pictures in allowing their writers to use the ‘Shadow’ scripts in developing the scenarios for the ‘Shadow’ motion picture serial.” 

On April 19, Floyd Weber of Columbia Pictures wrote to H.W. Ralston: “Before executing the contract our attorneys advise me that they would like to examine two documents; one, a specimen copy of the contract that exists between Ruthrauff & Ryan, Inc. and the writer or writers of the radio script; two, a copy of the agreement that exists between Street & Smith Publications, Inc. and Ruthrauff & Ryan, Inc. relative to the radio rights in and to the material. The reason we are only asking for copies of the contract is because we are not interested in any money figures that might appear in these documents requested but merely interested in determining who owns the motion picture rights to the radio scripts.”

Publicity photo for The Shadow (1940 cliffhanger serial).
Clarification of the ownership rights was affirmed when the July 30, 1942, issue of Radio Daily reported: “Dramatic rights to The Shadow, MBS program sponsored by D.L.&W. Coal Co., have been acquired from Street & Smith, publishers, by Lew Cantor and Hugh Skelley, who plan to produce the vehicle as a stage play.” 

The August 29, 1942, edition of The New York Times reported: “Lew Cantor and Hugh Skelley, who plan to produce a dramatization of the radio serial, The Shadow, have asked the authors to write the play so that all the scenery will be drapes that can be shipped in trunks. This will solve transportation problems for the producers, baggage cars being hard to find these days.” Apparently, the play was never produced, but Brian J. Byrne adapted his “Mansion of Madness” (November 5, 1939) into an un-produced three-act stage play in April of 1941. The script opens exactly like the radio program, complete with The Shadow’s signature opening, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” and a narrator reciting the same lines delivered at the beginning of every radio broadcast, including Margot’s awareness of Lamont’s secret. The curtain rises after the opening and the stage play commences. The Shadow is never seen on the stage cloaked in black like his silver screen counterparts. Instead, the voice of The Shadow originates off stage through a filter mike. Could this have been the same stage play Cantor and Skelley planned on producing?

Radio Advertisement
The September 1, 1940, issue of The Shadow Magazine featured a list of the numerous movie houses and locations where The Shadow cliffhanger serial could be seen. This comes as no surprise since similar cross-promotion had been done for the radio program. The serial was a financial success for Columbia, and a second script for another 15 chapters was commissioned, tentatively titled "The Shadow Returns." Business matters caused plans for the sequel to cease. Rather than waste the script, the scenario was produced as a sequel to an earlier Columbia cliffhanger, The Spider’s Web (1938), the sequel now referred to as The Spider Returns. The Spider was a brazen imitation of The Shadow Magazine, and Popular Publications competed against The Shadow character with a fictional vigilante who also wore a signet ring, black cloak and floppy hat. At one time The Spider was practicing his own version of a creepy laugh designed to strike fear in evildoers. Theater patrons who saw the Spider sequel were probably unaware what they were watching was intended to a Shadow sequel.

The press book issued to theater managers suggested a radio tie-in with an insert of all the radio stations (complete up to press time) over which The Shadow program was broadcast. In the event that no local radio station offered the radio chiller, it was suggested the theater manager contact his local radio station. “Impress the local director with enormous listener appeal,” it suggested, revealing detailed promotional information could be obtained direct from Mr. William J. de Grouchy, c/o Street & Smith Publications, Inc., New York. Theater managers were also instructed to dress a street bally man in the eerie and mysterious outfit of The Shadow. The same press book offered theater managers a large number of Shadow merchandise, including masks, makeup kits, costumes, stationery and toy gun holsters — all of which have been mistaken as promotional merchandise for the radio series.

In Republic Pictures’ Blackmail (1947), Dan Turner, a New York City private detective, is hired to investigate a case involving “Ziggy” Cranston, a rich California playboy and owner of a national radio network, who is being blackmailed for $50,000 by a gangster, he thinks, who claims he can prove Cranston murdered a nightclub singer. An odd radio connection to The Shadow radio program that can only be a coincidence?

The Shadow book
This article was compiled from excerpts from The Shadow: The History and Mystery of the Radio Program, 1930-1954, by Martin Grams. Reprinted with permission from the author and the publisher. For more information, visit www.MartinGrams.com.

For a recent review from Book Steve's Library, click here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

TELEVISION TRIVIA FROM 1959

Scott Brady stars in Shotgun Slade.
Browsing old periodicals like TV Guide allows me advance behind-the-scenes peaks at what was "planned." Hoping to have an edge over the competition, the magazine often featured snippets of news items that ran across their desk, hoping to inform their readers of television-yet-to-come. But many of those news items never came to be, or offers us a glimpse into some fascinating trivia. Here are a few from 1959. 

February 7, 1959
Producer Nat Holt’s planned new Western, Shotgun, will have Scott Brady as its star.
Note: It was later retitled Shotgun Slade before its premiere.

February 14, 1959
Lillian and Dorothy Gish may do a series test film for producer Henry Jaffe’s planned Larceny and Old Lace, based on a play of a slightly different name.
Note: never happened.

Lloyd Nolan wants out of the new syndicated series, Special Agent 7, but has agreed to make 13 more episodes for a total of 26. Another actor will play Nolan’s assistant in the 13 episodes and will eventually take over as the star if the series is successful and warrants further episodes beyond the initial 26.
Note: He starred in all 26 with no assistance. (Nolan never needed assistance as an actor.)

February 21, 1959
Warner Brothers wants New York Giants star halfback Frank Gifford to star in Public Enemy, a new half-hour series that ABC may pick up next fall.
Note: Obviously based on the James Cagney movie of the same name. Show never came to be.

Robert Taylor
Robert Taylor, long a TV holdout, has agreed to star in a new series for Four Star, Captain of Detectives, with shooting to start this summer. The series already has a network -- ABC.
Note: Later re-titled The Detectives before it premiered.

NBC has bought Jack Webb’s new series, The Black Cat, dealing with a San Francisco newspaperman. It will go on the network’s fall schedule.
Note: never happened.

March 7, 1959
The trend to hour-long film series continues with NBC’s announcement of its Riverboat series…it may be done in color.
Note: It was black and white throughout the entire run.

March 21, 1959
Barbara Bain is leaving CBS’s Richard Diamond, Private Detective series after only five episodes. She’ll take a Broadway role.
Note: I was always wondering why she played Karen Wells in five episodes and not more. I kind of got the impression she was going to continue in the recurring role.

Esther Williams
Esther Williams will not do her TV series at Fox. “The series is my own idea,” she says, “not theirs, and I want to be fully responsible for it, good or bad. I want a creative partnership, not another term contract with a major studio.” She will set up such a partnership, probably with either Four Star or CBS, fully intends to be on the air this fall.
Note: never happened.

March 28, 1959
Sid Caesar’s test film for his It’s a Living series will co-star Audrey Meadows and will be seen on the air as an episode of Alcoa-Goodyear Theatre.
Note: never happened.

The Man From Lloyds, new series designed for the late Tyrone Power, probably will go with Dewey Martin as the star.
Note: never happened.

April 25, 1959
The last episode of Lux Playhouse, June 26, will be the Jackie Cooper test film for his planned new Hennessey series.
Note: never happened. The series was a success even without an advance preview on Lux. I remember Cooper played the same role in a cross-over episode of The Gertrude Berg Show. (Now that qualifies me for being a geek, doesn’t it?)

With Desilu Playhouse moving to Friday nights at 9 on CBS next fall, replacing Phil Silvers (cancelled) and Lux Playhouse, the network tentatively plans to insert two half-hour mystery shows, Nero Wolfe and Suspense, in the old Monday night time.
Note: Nero Wolfe and Suspense never made a comeback that year, or the year after, or the year after... but the pilot films were shot and in the can.

May 2, 1959
A British-produced anthology series, Tales of Dickens, is now shooting in London. Fredric March, Florence Eldridge, Robert Morley and Basil Rathbone are among those set for individual episodes.
Note: It was eventually re-titled Fredric March Presents Tales of Dickens and Eldridge and Rathbone were never among the cast.

Victor Jory signed to star in Undercover Car, a new series.

Have Gun-Will Travel television advertisement.
June 1, 1959 
Have Gun-Will Travel will film four shows in Mexico this summer, another four or five in Hawaii.
Note: never happened. But Richard Boone did move to Hawaii and take up permanent residence, so this proposal might have been because of Boone's involvement.


July 4, 1959
All through with Richard Diamond, which may also be through, David Janssen now goes into the test film for a new ABC Films syndicated series, The Racers, about auto racing.
Note: never happened.

Jack Benny will appear in a Perry Mason episode next season and Raymond Burr in a Benny show.
Note: Burr did appear on The Jack Benny Program, but Jack Benny never made a guest appearance on Perry Mason.

July 11, 1959
Blake Edwards also doing a movie this summer based on Peter Gunn, to star the Gunn cast, excluding Hope Emerson who’s leaving the series for a role in the new Dennis O’Keefe Show.
Note: Wow. Movie was never shot until seven years later.


Jack Webb’s Johnny Guitar test film will be the July 31 Stripe Playhouse.
Note: Never heard of Stripe Playhouse, but the pilot film does circulate in collector hands with William Joyce and Fay Spain in the cast.

The planned Victor Jory-Patrick McVey series, Undercover Car, is now Manhunt.

Guy Williams as Zorro
July 18, 1959
The reason Zorro is not back on ABC is that each episode is priced at $45,000 (new) and $35,000 (repeat). Sponsors find the repeat price kinda heavy.

August 29, 1959
Broderick Crawford has come to the end of the Highway Patrol road after four years. He’ll do at least 39 episodes of a new series, a Western, which will probably go into production before the snow flies.
Note: No, he did not. Instead, he did a modern-day detective program for ZIV (where Highway Patrol was filmed) called King of Diamonds.

In what probably marks new highs for a single program, Desilu has assembled 30 sets and a cast of 39 actors for the “Ma Barker and Her Boys” episode of The Untouchables, new ABC series this fall.
Note: Thirty sets? I kind of doubt it. It's one of my favorite episodes of the series and I can only think of five or six sets used max.

Spencer Tracy willing to do one live TV show this year -- but only if he’s paid $350,000. So far, no takers.
Note: Which explains why he never acted on television throughout his career.

Andy Devine
September 26, 1959
Andy Devine, long-time Jingles in the Wild Bill Hickok series, has plans for a new show of his own, Big Jake.
Note: The pilot was filmed. It was broadcast as part of The Barbara Stanwyck Show. Just saw it last month as part of The Barbara Stanwyck Show Volume Two DVD release.

October 3, 1959
William Morris Agency planning a special based on the life of speakeasy-owner Texas Guinan. Kay Starr may play the title role.
Note: never happened, but would have been nice. I enjoyed watching Texas Guinan silent film shorts at a film festival last year.

October 10, 1959
After 30 years of acting, Joe Sawyer, sergeant of Rin-Tin-Tin, is retiring to devote full time to his California building business.
Note: Didn’t last long. He was still making TV and movie appearances in 1960 and 1961. He probably retired in late 1961 or early 1962.

October 17, 1959
Gore Vidal and Merle Miller signed to write scripts for NBC’s Five Fingers.
Note: Gore Vidal? Impressive. But sadly, neither men wrote a single script.