Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween, Hollywood Style

I love Halloween. The time of year when the seasons change, the leaves change colors and an excuse to watch the good ol' horror films with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. My favorite are the Universal monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, The Invisible Man... well, you get the idea. And of course, I like to browse through my collection of photographs (and photographs people sent me) of gorgeous Hollywood starlets who also love to celebrate Halloween. Here are a few of them!

Adele Jergens

Clara Bow

Dusty Anderson

Grace Bradley

Martha Vickers

Yvonne De Carlo

Ann Miller

And my favorite, Veronica Lake
Special thanks to David Tribble for a few of these photos.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Science Fiction of the Fifties

Earlier this year, 20th Century Fox theatrically released a magnificent movie titled, Prometheus. Fans of the Alien movies obviously spotted the landmarks that presented a unique perspective from Ridley Scott: the prequel to Alien (1979). Keeping far enough away from a franchise that went haywire with the Alien vs. Predator flicks, the motion-picture barely touches on the Alien mythos and instead offers another science-fiction premise that human beings originated from DNA outsourced from the cosmos. Rod Serling explored this theory in a Twilight Zone episode, “Probe 7 -- Over and Out,” which told the tale of two people (a man and a woman) who separately crash on an uncharted planet and are forced to make do with what they have. His home planet has faced Armageddon with a nuclear holocaust the likes his kind have never seen. And as they walk away, hand in hand, Adam and Eve share an apple.

What made Prometheous one of the four or five best films of the year was the fact that it avoided every cliché in the book: most science-fiction films try to be science-fiction without actually understanding the concept. The result was, visually, eye candy. It was hypnotic space exploration that avoided futuristic pink hairdos, lava lamps, cheesy robots that obey human commands, bug eyed monsters, giant arachnids and ridiculous, unintelligent one-liners. There is even a nod to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in the musical soundtrack.

It’s been a few years since science-fiction movies actually offered something intelligent. Science-fiction became popular in post-WWII as a result of technological advancements (televisions, automobiles, telephones, etc.) and the pulps and digests that began offering stories of science fantasy without the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon juvenile fare that dominated the thirties. Motion-picture producers did not help support the genre with such ridiculous pictures as It Conquered the World (1956, a guilty pleasure of mine) and Beginning of the End (1957). Films like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Thing from Another World (1951) both offered promise. But it would ultimately be the magazines that proved science-fiction was something to take serious.
Beginning in 1937, three remarkable editors helped the shape of things to come: John W. Campbell (Astounding, later renamed Analog), Anthony Boucher (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), and H.L. Gold (Galaxy). As a result of their work, the commercial science fiction field began groping its way back to the literary standards it had abandoned in the 1920s under Hugo Gernsback and others. It’s interesting to note that for years science-fiction anthologies drew very largely on material published outside the magazines. By the mid-fifties, that material became popular again. Most science-fiction anthologies of the late fifties and early sixties contained mostly stories from the magazines -- not originals.

The subject matter consisted of a variety of science probables, including, but not limited to: scientific inventions, threats from outer space, adventures in another dimension, interplanetary travels, space exploration and the world of tomorrow. What Jules Verne and H.G. Wells established in the literary field, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Frederic Brown perfected. Rarely has transmutation fascinated a reader. Rarely has the age-old theme of “great and small” been substantiated.

Mack Reynold’s debut story, The Isolationist, injects considerable political thought into his story of a patriotic farmer and the outer space visitors he confronts. Frederic Brown’s Arena was adapted into an episode of Star Trek in the late sixties, but the original story (without Captain James T. Kirk or the Starfleet) relates the story of a galactic war that must be settled in single combat between a human and an alien.

One classic novel worthy of reading, should you chose to take a couple days and enjoy a classic, is Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (1951). The Puppet Masters are invaders from another world who bring with them parasitic slugs which can dominate man’s physical and mental being. They come hideously close to controlling all of mankind, except that “The Old Man” and his super-secret security organization consider death a small price to pay to save the world from a mass hypnosis of the most diabolical sort. The book evokes a sense of paranoia that would come from the Red Scare of the fifties, best captured later in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). A variation-on-a-theme concept for The Brain Eaters (1958) and The Faculty (1998) remind us how good the original novel still is… regardless of the artistic changes. (The Outer Limits had an episode titled, “The Invisibles,” one of my favorites in the series, which was essentially using this same concept.)
If you are ever going to read one novel, my personal selection is The Day of the Triffids (1951) by John Wyndham. It tells the story of Bill Masen, who wakes up in the hospital one morning to discover that a spectacular light show (meteor shower) from outer space the night before blinded everyone who saw it. Most of the world’s population is now dinner for the “triffids,” tall plants capable of aggressive behavior -- and devouring humans. Bill remains optimistic -- yet realistic -- when he theorizes how mankind (what remains of it, anyway), has to start anew in the dark ages without modern conveniences. Along the way, he finds love, witnesses civilization collapsing around him, and a subsequent plague. How man is able to cope with his surroundings is more terrifying than the man-eating plants which keep multiplying by the week. The novel was adapted for a BBC reading in 1953. All other versions both radio and motion-pictures, I have watched but this one is on my “want list.” Ignore the 1962 motion-picture. It is not only the worst adaptation, but an additional subplot added to the movie (the initial filming totaled 55 minutes and producers needed more to extend the running time) doesn’t even have anything to do with the novel. Again, if you are ever going to read one fifties science-fiction novel, I recommend John Wyndam’s The Day of the Triffids. One of the ten best reads -- and you can quote me on it.

Thankfully, we have the science-fiction magazines and digests of the fifties to enjoy. They cost very little (usually about $2 or $3 a piece and you can usually talk dealers who specialize in these magazines down to a buck a piece). Avoid Star magazine. In 1953, the first volumes of Star Science Fiction Stories appeared. It was a curious, hybrid publishing format, not quite a magazine and yet not very like the ordinary varieties of book. Its plan was simply to find enough of the best science fiction stories that could be had and to print them; and the one editorial rule established was that they must never have been published before. The editor, however, knew nothing about science fiction and must have taken everything submitted to his office. There has been eight volumes or one sort or another in the Star series. Of the 75 stories published, very few are noteworthy and those have been reprinted in paperback and hardcover anthologies over time, such as Jerome Bixby’s “It’s A Good Life” and Alfred Bester’s “Disappearing Act.” Stick with the three magazines I named above and you won‘t go wrong.

In 1950, NBC Radio premiered a radio program, Dimension X. The adaptations are extremely faithful to the printed page and the acting is top notch. The stories selected were chosen with care. Many are now considered classics in the field of science-fiction. Everyone talks about “Mars in Heaven” (July 7, 1950), “The Parade” (August 25, 1950) and “There Shall Come Soft Rains/Zero Hour” (June 17, 1950). While they are certainly among the top ten episodes to listen to, I recommend two that people rarely talk about. “Universe” (November 26, 1950) and “The Martian Death March” (January 14, 1951). The former written by Robert A. Heinlein, tells the tale of a doomed society that doesn’t believe the universe exists beyond the hulls of their space ship. The ending is human morality at its best. The latter is scripted by Ernest Kinoy and warrants comparison with the prose of Ray Bradbury. The story is simply as the title suggests and I honestly thought it was a Bradbury story the first time I heard it. Only during the closing credits did my jaw drop.
Dimension X ran a full year (50 episodes) from 1950 to 1951. Perhaps it was a bit too early for serious science-fiction on network radio, especially an anthology. But in 1955, NBC resurrected the series under a different title: X Minus One. This series lasted three years. Again dramatizing stories from Galaxy science-fiction magazine, the early broadcasts featured repeat dramas from Dimension X stories, but I recommend you avoid those and focus solely on the scripts written exclusively for X Minus One. “Tunnel Under the World” (March 14, 1956) is perhaps one of the best productions. If you wanted to expose our youth to a radio broadcast that is “cool” and just might hook them into wanting more, this is the best introductory. There are a couple clever tales that most people don’t consider when asked, “What are your favorite X Minus One episodes?” and for that reason, I list them now. If you haven’t heard the series in a long while, or want to start with recommendations, try these out.

“The Discovery of Morneal Matheway” (April 17, 1957) concerns a Nobel prize winner who travels back in time to visit the artist who inspired him. But the artist is not creating the same paintings he saw in the museums and the time traveler wonders if he made a mistake. A time travel twist you won’t see coming.

“Shock Troop” (November 28, 1957) involves a war between two armies for control of a creature. If you do not figure this one out before the surprise ending is given, you need to brush up more on your science-fiction.

“Open Warfare” (January 23, 1957) concerns a professional golfer -- the best there is -- who goes up against a newly-created robot golfer that is supposedly perfect. The prize is the hand of the millionaire’s daughter and the pro accepts the challenge.

As a fan of radio drama from the “Golden Age of Radio,” the above recommendations, along with The Day of the Triffids, should give you a deeper understanding of science-fiction is -- and should be. Serious morality plays with a bit of wisdom fiction and a wee bit of goose bumps to keep you up at night.

Friday, October 19, 2012

G-MEN: The Radio Program

In 1935, sensation surrounded the opening of Warner Bros’ newest film, G-Men. In the film, James Cagney did not play the “tough guy gangster” for which he was known, but rather a federal lawman. A press release for the event read: “Hollywood’s Most Famous ‘Mad Man’ Joins the ‘G-Men’ and Halts the March of Crime!” When Phillips H. Lord returned to New York that same year, he was flat broke. He had no idea what to do next. He was also heavily in debt. Walking up Broadway he happened to notice a big sign on a theater advertising the Warner Bros. movie

1943 movie poster
The gangster-hero of early Depression films – the self-made individual who defied an apathetic government and inept police in his quest for success – had previously enjoyed immense popularity in such films as The Public Enemy (1931) and the F.B.I.-endorsed movie You Can’t Get Away With It (1936). The latter film was a documentary-style short showing the inner workings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with permission from the Honorable Homer S. Cummings, Attorney General of the U.S., and with the cooperation of J. Edgar Hoover, appearing as himself, giving his G-Men orders to apprehend the criminals at large.

Puzzled, Lord asked, “What are G-Men?” Lord had been away for two years and the name G-Men was practically unknown when he left the U.S. After an explanation, he said, “what a great radio show that would make!” He walked up the street thinking it over. Cagney’s new role as a “government man” was a sign of the overall shift taking place in the minds of the public about law enforcement as well as the efficiency of the entire democratic system itself. Hundreds of thousands of others had seen that name, just passing by, and it took Lord who was broke and out of broadcasting to recognize the possibilities and do something about it. The next morning he called the Chevrolet/General Motors Company and went to see one of their officials. The outcome was that after three days of negotiations, he walked out of the National Broadcasting Company with a personal contract in his hands.

MUSIC: (Orchestral Chord Sustained) 
ANNOUNCER: Presenting the first of a new series of programs … G-Men! 
MUSIC: (Orchestra Plays … 15 seconds … music softens)
SOUND: (Woman’s Shriek)
MAN’S VOICE: Stop her!
SOUND: (Two quick shots)
SOUND: (Door Slams)
MUSIC: (Orchestra up full … 15 seconds … stops)
SOUND: (Two sirens fade in and out in succession)
SOUND: (Hollow-voiced police calls)
POLICE: Calling cars 42, 23, 56 report immediately – Police Headquarters. Calling all cars…cover all roads leading from the city for two black sedans. Calling (fade) all cars … cover roads from city.
THREE NEWSBOYS: Extra … Extra … All about the Dillinger gang … Read about Dillinger shooting way to freedom … Extra … Dillinger and Baby-Face Nelson!
SOUND: (Calling of newsboys fades)
ANNOUNCER: Chevrolet presents tonight the first program in its new series – G-Men – Every fact is taken from the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation United States Department of Justice, at Washington. Tonight’s program is not a story. It is an accurate account of the hunt for John Dillinger by our G-Men. And now I present Phillips Lord, the creator and director of this series.
LORD: Good evening. This series of G-Men programs is presented with the approval of the Attorney General of the United States and J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice. Every fact in tonight’s program is based upon information in the files of the department. I went to Washington, was graciously received by Mr. Hoover, and all of these scripts are written in the department building. Tonight’s program was submitted to Mr. Hoover, who checked every statement and made some very valuable suggestions.

Phillips H. Lord
The photo above is courtesy of the Phillips H. Lord family. This same photo has been adjusted and color tinted (a.k.a. altered) on a number of web-sites. The photo above is offered in its purity, with no alterations performed except for a clean tiff and jpg scan. 

In a press release dated July 14, 1935, it was clear that the G-Men were now a viable property appropriate for dramatic exploits: “A new weekly dramatic serial, G-Men, based on actual cases from the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, opens coast-to-coast Saturday night at 8 o’clock, EST. The continuity will be prepared by Phillips H. Lord, known on the air as Seth Parker. ‘If there are some who are still dazzled by the false glamour of the gangster,’ said a representative of the sponsor, ‘we hope these radio programs will show little glamour is left to the criminal, when he comes to the end of the road.’ The purpose of the broadcasts, it is pointed out, is to ‘holdup a clear mirror to the “G” man and his activities, and let the true reflection, as contained in the official records, speak for itself.’ By extending accurate workings of the department it is hoped, through these broadcasts, to ‘double the effectiveness of this arm of the government by increasing public cooperation in the war on crime’.”

G-Men premiered on July 20, 1935, with a crime dramatization about former “Public Enemy Number One,” John Dillinger. His daring escapades in crime, his brush with the law, and total disregard for society were highlighted on the program. A recreation of his death on the streets outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago was also dramatized, the climax of the premiere broadcast, emphasizing that “crime does not pay,” a moral that radio listeners would be reminded of for the next twenty years.

For the second broadcast, “The Case of ‘Baby-Face’ Nelson,” the needless killing of Special Agent G-Man Carter Baum was dramatized, revealing just how cold-blooded and heartless the week’s top villain was to the American public. Radio listeners paid careful attention to the Department’s methods of investigation, and its pursuit of Nelson toward Lake Geneva, where G-Men attempted to apprehend “Baby-Face.” Towards the finale, G-Men took a stand and shot it out with Nelson, who collapsed, having been shot 17 times.
Gang Busters comic book

The broadcast was as authentic and true to the facts as it could possibly be. Inspector Samuel Cowley, who was the chief investigator during the two broadcasts, was accurately depicted as the man responsible for the death of the two notorious figures. Although Purvis spent a lifetime claiming he killed Dillinger, the shots were fired by Cowley and other F.B.I. Agents. Cowley and another Agent, Herman Hollis, four after the death of Dillinger, shot it out with Nelson and a confederate, John Paul Chase. Bother agents were killed but had managed to wound nelson seriously and he died within days. Hoover himself (appearing by proxy) praised the fictitious Cowley for his bravery after the “Baby-Face” Nelson drama. “There’s your two kinds of men,” Hoover told the radio audience. “Cowley gave his life to protect others; he’s loved, honored, respected. Nelson hated, despised; even his body discarded into the mud of the gutter.”

Hoover’s actual involvement with the scripts was minimal, but it appears not a single script didn’t receive some change or suggestion, even if it was a  couple words. Case in point, “The Fleagle Fingerprint Case,” where on page 24 (second line of the teaser for next week’s program) read: “which will include the spectacular escape,” Hoover added “and eventual death.” These three words were inserted between the words “escape” and “of.” Hoover’s endorsement of the G-Men program was another example of how he loved publicity, and seeing his name in the papers.

G-Men receiving the distinction of having Hoover endorse the program was more or less a privilege. During the months G-Men gained popularity, Hoover returned a check for $1,500 to the American Magazine, which had sent him an article he had apparently allowed a writer to prepare and publish under his name. Having reviewed the article, he turned the offer down.

In late September of 1935, Dick Tenelly, radio columnist for the Washington Daily News, a local writer having no connection with the Associated Press, attempted to make a name for himself by the cynical “slamming” of new radio programs. His opinion was thought of very lightly by other critics as well as radio people. The article caught the eye of J. Edgar Hoover, who checked on Tenelly’s comment that the National Women’s Radio Committee thought of the series as “sissy,” and immediately composed a letter suggesting he withdraw all cooperation of the Department regarding the program.

On September 14, 1935, Phillips H. Lord wrote the following reply: “This series, Mr. Hoover, means more to me than anything else in the world. My whole future will be based on the success of this program, and there isn’t a stone I’ll leave unturned toward making it the finest thing in radio. If you can spare a few minutes next week to talk with me, I feel that I can save you the greater part of this worrying you have been through. Thus far, everything has been done through a third party and I have only gotten part of an idea of what you had in mind. Almost every radio program that goes on the air is severely criticized by the newspapers. The newspapers resent radio taking advertising from them, and, three years ago, there was quite a stiff battle between these two mediums. That has practically blown over, but the radio editors do pick on opening series. The reason for this is that, if they criticize programs which have been running for a long time too harshly, the fans of the program become incensed and make it very unpleasant for the radio editor. The result is that most of the severe criticizing is done of the new programs until the program gains its following; thereby establishing itself, as it were. In spite of this situation, however, we have had many times as many favorable comments as we have unfavorable.”

Phillips H. Lord. Photo courtesy of Joel Walsh.
Phillips H. Lord found little cooperation from employees of the radio broadcasters because of his association with the Seth Parker incident, until the success of G-Men, claiming that “important people always had to put up with adverse notoriety from envious or otherwise disgruntled people.”

In the third broadcast of the series, the famed Osage Indian Murders were presented with a certain stark realism. Between 1921-23, several members of the Osage Indian Reservation died under suspicious circumstances. William “King of Osage” Hale was suspected of being involved in the deaths, and agents posing as medicine men, cattlemen and salesmen infiltrated the reservation and eventually solved the murders. Hale had committed the murders in an attempt to collect insurance money and gain control of valuable oil properties owned by the deceased, a true narrative that had the sound and fury of a wholly dramatized script for a competing radio detective series.

One script written about “Shoe Box” Sal was not approved by the Department. Their reason was because nothing in the script tied in any way to the Federal Agents. Scripts written to dramatize the exploits of Dutch Schultz and Ma Barker and her boys were composed, but neither of them were dramatized on the G-Men series. For the broadcast of October 12, 1935, G-Men presented “The Case of Eddie Doll.” Originally this was going to be a script about the O’Malley bank robbers and the August Luer Kidnapping, but when the facts of the case revealed that O’Malley had nothing to do with the Million Dollar Robbery, the notion to script the daring exploits of O’Malley got shelved. Besides, the trial for the double bank robbery was scheduled for the very day this broadcast took place, and it might have hurt the prosecution if too many facts were divulged prior to the trial. Instead, a script about Eddie Doll, who committed three daring bank robberies, a sensational mail robbery and a kidnapping, was dramatized.

“I’ll never forget the first broadcast I ever took part in one of Mr. Lord’s scripts,” recalled Helen Sioussat, Lord's secretary. “I was so careful about preparing, that every word was written and counted and rehearsed. We had been told that because an important sports broadcast had run over its time, our talk would be postponed half an hour, and we were sitting chatting happily – when all of a sudden someone told us that instead we were going on immediately. We rushed to the table mike and spread out our manuscript. As we went on the air, the production man whispered to me that we would have to cut two and a half minutes out of our talk! So there we were on the air, and I had to actually ad lib. This was my first broadcast and at the same time I had to reach over and cross out whatever M. de Chatillon had that I thought might be dispensed with, to keep continuity of thought and yet end on time. All I could do was hope he could follow my pointing. Somehow he did – somehow we finished – and I actually got my first fan mail, from a rather helter-skelter few minutes!”

On September 21, 1935, Dr. Tyler, Executive Secretary of the National Committee on Education by Radio, paid a visit to Lord’s office. Although he had never heard a broadcast of G-Men, he had received numerous complaints about the program, most of which he attributed as cranks, as they objected to the programs for the reason that they brought the subject of “crime” before the youth of the country. After an hour-long conversation regarding the purpose of the programs, how they were designed to supply an antidote, in order that they be given the right conception of which civil authority outweighed the pattern of crime, with the moral that “crime does not pay,” Dr. Tyler left the office satisfied as to the sincerity of the purpose of the G-Men programs. Mr. Linthecum, Fraternal Editor and Assistant Sunday Editor of the Star, simply raved about the realistic, thrilling programs of G-Men. He said he wouldn’t miss one for the world. Mr. Collier received several complimentary remarks made to him about the series by newspapermen, who, as a rule, were rather noted for their severe criticism. A brief in a September 1935 issue of the Sunday New York Mirror claimed that G-Men outranked The March of Time, in their estimation. 

During that same month, Braddock, the heavyweight champion, met with J. Edgar Hoover personally in Washington. As soon as Hoover met them, he brought up the subject of G-Men and how splendid were the last two programs. He even preferred the Kelly case. Dr. James A. Bell, President of the South Eastern University Law School, listened to the program for the first time, hearing the Kelly Case, and expressed his opinion to the folks at Lord’s office that he thought it was the best thing on the air. “My wife and I got so thrilled and excited,” he told them, “that we will never miss another program, and we are both sick to think that we have missed the preceding ones.”

On September 9, 1935, Sioussat wrote to John O. Ives from Washington, D.C.: “Just at this time the Department would start waking up to the fact that G-Men is a wonderful series and especially for them. It’s too bad they didn’t realize it before and save us all the headaches we’ve had since they started ‘cooperating’ with us.”

Early production notes suggest that Lord adhered to strict policies when it came to the content of the programs. “Every criminal mentioned must be killed or corrected,” was one of the rules. Agents of the Department, it was explained during one of the broadcasts, had no pension rights because they were not under civil service; hence when a G-Man was badly wounded, killed or retired because of age, his family must get along as best it could (remember, this was 1935). The program also reported that widows of men killed in the line of duty were offered employment at the Bureau to help aid in financial support and according to one report, there were at least four of them in 1934.

Phillips H. Lord owned a directory (issued February 1, 1935) of the Division of Investigation U.S. Department of Justice, Washington D.C. with all room numbers and telephone numbers and extensions of personnel involved (which included Tax and Penalties Unit, the Crime Laboratory, Training Schools, Mail Room, Personnel Files, Field Administration, Chief Clerk, Messengers, Notary Public, Rifle Range, Switchboard, Department Officials, and so on). This directory came in handy when, during the final stages of scriptwriting, technical details could be made accurate with the ease of a phone call. 

The following is an episode guide for all 13 "lost" radio broadcasts, the precursor to the famed Gang Busters radio program. According to Jay Hickerson's Ultimate Guide, none of the 13 radio broadcasts are known to exist.

Broadcast on July 20, 1935

Script written and completed on July 13, 1935.
Plot: John Dillinger was known as Public Enemy Number One. Although he committed the most serious crimes, they were all state offenses and the Department of Justice did not have the authority to go to work until March 3, 1954 when Dillinger escaped from jail at Crown Point, Indiana, and stole an automobile at the prison gates, in which to make his escape. The stealing of that automobile and driving it across the state line was a Federal Crime and the G-Men went into action.

Broadcast on July 27, 1935

Plot: With the killing of John Dillinger, “Baby-Face” Nelson became Public Enemy Number One. “Baby-Face” killed a Special Agent, G-Man Barter Baum. Following Dillinger’s death, Inspector Cowley directed the hunt for Nelson, a former member of the Dillinger gang. On February 17, 1932, Nelson escaped custody of a guard on his way to the Illinois State Penitentiary. Inspectors Crowley and Hollis raced toward Lake Geneva, hoping to meet up with other Special Agents, in an attempt to apprehend “Baby-Face” Nelson. The police took a stand and the body of Nelson was identified, having been shot seventeen times. Cowley took his own life to protect innocent Americans.

Broadcast on August 3, 1935
Plot: During the roaring twenties, the northeast Oklahoma town of Pawhuska was known as “Osage Monte Carlo.” Oil tycoons were common visitors to the Osage Indian Agency in Pawhuska. They came to bid for oil and gas leases on land owned by the Osage Indians. As a result, ten members of the extended family of Lizzie Q. Kyle were murdered between 1921 and 1923 for their headrights to oil royalties. A headright provided each Osage landowner an equal share of all mineral income, and could be inherited but not sold. In all, 20 killings occurred during what has become known as a “reign of terror: among the Osages. In 1929, three non-Indians were charged in some of the murders, including William K. Hale, a cattleman who had gained the trust of Osages and this is his life of crime.

Broadcast on August 10, 1935
Plot: F.B.I. man Edward B. Shanahan had been assigned by J. Edgar Hoover to break up a stolen auto racket run by Martin Burkin, a well-known Midwestern operator. Durkin had a quick trigger finger, having wounded three policemen in Chicago, and one in California. Durkin, however, had worn his bulletproof vest, and the shots did him no harm. On January 20, 1926, a group of heavily armed agents in civilian clothing met at the train station before St. Louis. A G-Man knocked on the door and Durkin answered. They grappled with him, preventing him from reaching his gun. Thanks to the efforts of the G-Men on duty, Martin Durkin was finally captured.

Broadcast on August 17, 1935
Plot: This broadcast features the true events leading up to the F.B.I.’s investigation on known criminal Red Boyles, and his illegal activities. Thanks to cooperative citizens, agents of the Bureau were able to apprehend Boyles and have him sent to trial where he was found guilty and sentenced.

Broadcast on August 24, 1935 
Plot: Edward Bremmer, a banker, was kidnapped by the Ma Barker – Alvin Karpis Gang, who demanded a $200,000 ransom. The father of the kidnap victim, Edward Bremmer, Sr., was a friend and political donor to President Franklin Roosevelt, who mentioned the kidnapping in one of his radio fireside chats. Within a few months of the kidnapping, agents of the Federal Bureau shattered and destroyed the Barker-Karpis Gang.

Broadcast on August 31, 1935
Plot: Charles Urschel was an oil tycoon of the “Black Gold” era. Two armed men, Machine Gun Kelly and Albert Bates (who was already wanted by the F.B.I.), had broke in on the card playing couples at the Urschel home in Oklahoma City and kidnapped the wealthy host. As soon as word reached the Bureau that Urschel was being held hostage in Missouri, the F.B.I. joined the search. Agent Gus Jones (former Texas Ranger) had been pulled from a lead role investigating the Kansas City Massacre, to head-up the agency in this case. 

Trivia: The characters of Machine Gun Kelly and Albert Bates were not credited for the accomplished kidnapping during this broadcast. Instead, Harvey Bailey, commonly known as the “Dean of American Bank Robbers,” was dramatized as the guilty figure. Over the years, it has been discovered that Bailey was not involved with the Urschel kidnapping, making this broadcast historically inaccurate to date.

Broadcast on September 7, 1935
Plot: George “Machine Gun” Kelly was the bank robber and kidnapping desperado who gave the federal agents their colorful nickname, “GMen.” Kelly’s crime sprees would launch him to the prestigious status of “Public Enemy Number One.” In July of 1933, Kelly plotted the scheme to kidnap wealthy oil tycoon & businessman Charles Urschel for a large ransom. He became known as the mastermind behind several of the successful small bank robberies Kelly pulled off throughout Texas and Mississippi.

Broadcast on September 14, 1935
Plot: On September 29, 1934, Tri-State gang members Walter Legenza and Robert Mais shot their way to freedom from the Richmond City, Virginia Jail while being accompanied to see their attorney. They shot two guards and mortally wounded a police officer. Police were ordered “shoot to kill.” On December 20, Mais, along with a band of robbers, held up a branch of the Philadelphia Electric Company and took $48,000 in cash. Federal agents caught up with the two gangsters and captured them in New York. They were returned to Richmond, Virginia on January 22, 1935 and their executions were scheduled for February.

Broadcast on September 21, 1935
Plot: Brothers Ralph and Jake Fleagle were constantly coming and going to the family farm, convincing their family that they had done well in the stock market. What no one knew was they were really a gang of gunmen who were terrorizing the western states. Historians estimate that the Fleagles and their gangs were responsible for 60% of the heists in and around Kansas and California during the 1920s. Jake Fleagle made one fatal mistake. He left a single fingerprint on the car of Dr. Wineinger, one of their victims, and the print was identified as belonging to Jake, who had served time in the Oklahoma Penitentiary.

Broadcast on September 28, 1935
Script written and completed on September 16, 1935.
Plot: Special Agent Raymond Caffrey, Detectives Hermanson and Grooms, Police Chief Reed, and their prisoner, Nash, lay dead. It was the bloodiest massacre of officers of the law in the history of American crime. Director Hoover mobilized a special squad to devote all of its time to bringing the murderers to justice. Attorney General Cummings announced that the atrocious challenge to law was accepted by the government – that Uncle Sam would not rest until the slayers were punished. Richetti and Floyd were the triggermen. Floyd was killed by the G-Men, Richetti was tried by court, sentenced and hanged.

Trivia: The Pretty Boy Floyd script was originally scheduled for broadcast on October 5. The reason being, Adam Richetti, one of its main characters, was scheduled to be hung on Ocober 4.

Broadcast on October 5, 1935

Plot: One evening in 1933, as Charles and Anna Lou Boettcher returned home from a dinner party, they were accosted in their garage. Charles was held at gunpoint while another man passed a ransom note to Mrs. Boettcher. The kidnappers then sped away with Charles. The kidnapping was widely publicized locally and nationally. Charles was held for two weeks till the $60,000 ransom was paid. The tracing of the kidnappers through the underworld to a barber shop, and Mr. Boettcher’s extensive knowledge of flight patterns helped police locate the house in rural South Dakota where they were able to apprehend the kidnappers (Sankey and Banghart).

Broadcast on October 12, 1935

Plot: Orphaned as a boy, Eddie Doll grew up in a Chicago slum and started his criminal career as a car thief, before he went on to bootlegging, bank robbing and kidnapping. Doll was in company with “Machine Gun” Kelly on two crimes, the first was the kidnapping of Howard Woolverton, a South Bend, Indiana banker on January 27, 1932. Later, on November 30, 1932 Eddie Doll, along with a few other Chicago hoodlums (including Kelly), robbed the Citizen’s State Bank of Tupelo, Mississippi of $38,000.

Trivia: Knowing he had something special soon after the premiere of G-Men, Lord enjoyed the fame his program received. “The tables were turned all right,” Lord publicly explained. “For the first time the public was seeing gangsters as they really are – drab cowards! The color and dash now had been usurped by the daring government men. The G-Men were giving all the thrills now.” The G-Men series rescued Lord from the plight in which he found himself after the failure of his world cruise on the “Seth Parker.”

In Closing
The series, however, lasted only 13 episodes before going off the air. Although the program went up to a Crossley rating of 22.5 at the end of ten weeks, Chevrolet optioned to discontinue the program because William S. Knudsen, President of General Motors, insisted on sponsoring a musical program. As a result, G-Men was replaced by The Chevrolet Show, featuring Dave Rubinoff and his Orchestra. Hoover, however, was in favor of continuing with the series and a promise was made that there would be enough cases to satisfy the Lord office, even if they were closed case files rather than active ones. Lord could see that participation for the G-Men series was thinning out. Hoover couldn’t let well enough alone. He wanted to control the story lines. The only problem was that Hoover had no dramatic sense and substituted scientific sleuthing for action and adventure. 

Among Hoover’s suggestions for future programs was one about “A day or week in the life of an Agent.” For this parts of three or four good cases that have interesting sequences in them could be used and have the same Agent fictionalized as participating in all of them, thereby showing the diversity of crimes he is called upon to solve. Another suggestion Hoover made was “A Day in the Training of an Agent.” In the classroom, the training school, gymnasium, rifle range, crime-scene room (in which there is a body on the floor, for agents to examine, take fingerprints, etc.), and exposition of a fake kidnap raid. 

According to Helen J. Sioussat, “They are certainly liberalizing a lot, aren’t they?” Hoover wanted to leave an image of the all-powerful “G-man” who hunted criminals and sleuthed with the latest technology which obviously appealed to the nation’s need for a strong, active government during the Depression. Hollywood, radio, the press, and comic strips played on this new image of the government agent.

“During the last few weeks of the G-Men series,” recalled Lord, “I became aware there were not sufficient F.B.I. cases and so I decided to change the title of the program and alter its form sufficiently to include police cases, district attorney cases, postal cases and all cases of law enforcement officers. As soon as I decided to make this change, I went to Washington and explained to Mr. Hoover why I wanted to make it. He was friendly about it, discussed it with me and suggested I concentrate on police cases, bringing in the F.B.I. only indirectly.”

This article features excerpts from Gang Busters: The Crime Fighters of American Broadcasting, by Martin Grams Jr. 

For more information about the book, visit www.MartinGrams.com

Friday, October 12, 2012


Photo courtesy of Roy Bright
The “Stairway to the Sun,” is considered by many I Love A Mystery fans as one of the best adventures of the series. With the exception of “Temple of Vampires,” most of the adventures Morse presented on Mystery were straight-forward situations set along the California Coast, tropical islands and desert locales. With this adventure, Morse gave the detectives a larger task: to venture through the undiscovered, ancient ruins deep within the middle of a jungle, rumored to be a myth, and save the lives of the expedition.

Doc Long and Jack Packard are hired to pilot and service an expedition into the South American jungle, headed by Dr. Karl Haugemann, scientist, and his two daughters, Frieda and Gretchen. The initial object of the adventure was a safe landing atop the great, four-hundred-square-mile, pre-historic plateau rising straight up out of the Venezuela jungle a mile high. After making a successful landing with the first load of food and equipment, Jack learns that Dr. Haugemann is not capable of leading such an expedition. With the plane undamaged, the crew could fly out of the jungles (if it were not for the fact there is no room for a successful take off.)

Forced to trek back to civilization by hacking their way through the savage tangle of jungle and floating down the river, the expedition encounters numerous obstacles including a mile-high waterfall, deep caverns and underground chambers.

GRETCHEN: It’s too bad we can’t see more too, because this must be really tremendous cavern.
FRIEDA: That is obvious by the manner in which our footsteps and voices echo . . .
DOC: Yeah, listen to this fer instance . . . (back off) . . . Yoooweeeeee . . . Ride ‘em cowboy . . .
JACK: Heeey, Doc, cut that out . . . 

Most important is the discovery of a stairway cut out of the living rock that climbs higher and higher until it vanishes in the haze and clouds above. Doc takes one look and dubs it the “Stairway to the Sun.” It served undoubtedly as one way to reach the great plateau above. The continual drag upward (while not beyond the endurance of the two girls) creates a pull on muscles and delicate organs, which leaves them in an agony of stitches and cramps after every twenty or thirty steps. After the long climb upwards, which takes two days and one night (a total of four episodes), the party reaches the top to discover evidence of natives whose intelligence is limited to Pagan taboos and poison darts and blow guns. A virtual city of cliff dwellers.

Third of three ILAM movies
Prehistoric monkey men invade the cliff dwellers and jungle natives in search of the men and two girls. Jack arranges for the short-wave set in working order and contacts the Venezuela Government station and the Caracas police. Shortly after, a mass of ape men start to invade and Jack shoots over their heads with a machine gun. This only makes them angry and more ready for a fight. Dr. Haugemann insists on staying behind to explore the lost civilization, shooting his daughter Gretchen when she won’t agree to stay behind. The rescue plane arrives. The expedition members are picked up and dropped off at the Caracas municipal airport. Gretchen’s wounds are given a thorough examination and she is given the promise of quick recovery.

“Stairway to the Sun” was the second-longest serial in the I Love A Mystery series, lasting a whole thirty chapters, twice the normal length of the serials Morse wrote for the program. The idea for the “Stairway to the Sun” originated in Morse’s second NBC Mystery Serial in 1930, The Dragon in the Sun (which also makes a brief appearance in episode forty-four of the Adventures By Morse serial, “Land of the Living Dead”).

Small footnote for nit-pickers: This serial was entitled “Stairway to the Sun,” not “The Stairway to the Sun” like some reference books have claimed over the last few decades. My source are the covers of the original scripts.

No doubt originating from one of Morse’s encyclopedias, “Stairway to the Sun” was based on real Mayan history. The Egyptian kings maintained the cult of the sun over the centuries. Building pyramids (symbols of the stairway to the sun or angled rays of the sun) and later solar temples in honor of the sun gods, the Egyptians believed these stairways also led to the afterlife. When a king or Pharaoh died, his actions were judged in the afterworld by Osiris, a form of sun god and ruler of the underworld. If they were considered “just” during their lifetime, the king would be transformed into a form of the sun god. In Palenque, Mexico, at one of the most beautiful of the Classical Mayan sites, are large stone steps described as the “Stairway to the Sun.” The civilization became prominent in perhaps 700 A.D. and flourished for a few hundred years. This large area of ruins lies in the Chiapas state of Mexico, near the Guatemala border.

Carlton E. Morse
“I had on my shelf a British Great Encyclopedia,” recalled Morse, “and I used it in every I Love A Mystery story that took place out of the country. I used that Encyclopedia to find out what kind of forest they had, what kind of people they had, and it was all written reasonably and responsible. For example, ‘The Twenty Traitors of Timbuktu’ was laid in Africa way back there when Africa was a different place than it is now. I couldn’t possibly do that show today unless I said it happened back in the 1930s. I even found out how big the little towns were, whether they had a railway through there, and what kind of trains they had. In great detail and it was in the Great Encyclopedia, letting the dialog take up the action.”

With “The Stairway to the Sun” being as descriptive as it was, there can be no doubt that Morse used entries from the Encyclopedia for the foundation of this serial. As described by the announcer:

"As they watch Jack and Haugemann approach the falls, they see the flash of lightning and hear the crash and roll of thunder caused by the friction of the great body of falling water! The falls is completely surrounded by ring after ring of rainbows until it looks like a highly decorated may-pole reaching up into the clouds, and every few minutes the electrified air in the vicinity of the water explodes with the flash and crack of canon fire."

During another time the announcer also got descriptive, before the approach of flying reptiles:

“They look down on giant rocky prominence and cliffs of unbelievable proportions and of every color and hue; all the colors of the painted desert are splashed over the age-old peaks and declivities. The greens of emerald; the lustrous sheen and shine of exposed ledges of gold; the orange and browns of sandstone and the purples of amethyst . . . A whole glittering peak of amethyst banked by ledge shining with unlimited out-crossings of gold, so that it shone in the tropical brilliance like a captive sun. And then into the blistering sky swarmed a flock of creatures with wings; creatures as ancient as creation itself; great monsters with teeth, bat-like wings and with snouts and jaws like alligators . . . Doc called them Flying Crocodiles at first and then he called them a lot of other things as they turned toward the airplane intent on destruction . . .”

DOC: (excited) They’re a comin’ Jack . . . four, six, seven nine of ‘em and they ain’t foolin’ . . .
JACK: Well get up here in front along side of me. Gretchen, you’d better go back in the cabin with your father . . . You got both of those automatic rifles?
DOC: I got ‘em, Jack . . . ‘Scues me Baby . . .
GRETCHEN: I’m pretty good with a rifle . .. If I can be any help . . .
JACK: You can use an automatic rifle?
GRETCHEN: Yes, I’ve never shot from an airplane.
DOC: Well, we’ve never shot crocodiles from an airplane either, sister . . . Here, take this rifle and git over there on the other side of Jack . . .

It might also be noted that Venezuela, the vast setting for this serial, was the inspiration behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912), and actually contains the world’s highest waterfall, flooded plains, and Andean peaks. Known as Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world plunges down from the western flank of a gorge in the middle of the Auyan-tepui. With a total height of 979 meters, and free fall of 807 meters, the water that leaves the summit takes fourteen seconds to reach the bottom, although in the dry season much of that water is blown away in a fine mist.

This also marked the first serial in which Morse began incorporating Christianity among the pages of scripts. Many references, descriptions and dialogue began to filter through the I Love A Mystery serials, hoping to remind the audience that horror was only fiction, not something to take seriously especially in cult fashion. The Stairway was described as a veritable “Jacob’s Ladder to Heaven.” Later in the serial, the Island in the Sky was described as a “Garden of Eden” when the descriptions of the flora and fauna still left in half-finished stages were represented.

Small footnote: During the spring of 1930, NBC was broadcasting a series of Biblical dramas scripted by Carlton E. Morse, entitled Bible Stories. George Rand was the producer and director. Paul Carson supplied the music. The hour-long dramas were broadcast on Sunday mornings from 11 a.m. to 12 noon on the West Coast.

Reprinted w/ permission from Don Sherwood
The initial working title was “The Island in the Sky,” but Morse changed the title to “Stairway to the Sun” before he completed the serial. Also of interest is the character of Dr. Karl Haugemann, described as a German scientist. At the time this serial was being broadcast, the United States was still at war with Japan and their allies including Germany. So why have a German scientist leading an expedition? (If nit-pickers really wanted, they could ask themselves how the opening gong in each broadcast setting the time of events, came into the picture. Are there any hidden natives with a gong at every corner?) Due to the popularity of the favorable fan mail, Morse would write a sequel to this thriller five serials later entitled “The Hermit of San Felipe Atabapo.”

Storrs Haynes of Compton (the Agency representing the sponsor) wrote to Morse on July 23, 1943, days after “Stairway to the Sun” ended: “What the hell happened to ‘Stairway to the Sun?’ “ Haynes expressed his opinion that the story started nicely, then frazzled. He wondered if Morse was having trouble with CBS. The loose ends of the story worried him, and he wondered if Morse shouldn’t work these stories out more completely before starting to write them. “They have to add up as a whole . . . this would also protect you from Columbia.”

On August 16, 1943, Morse wrote to Haynes: “CBS did not give me trouble . . .” and continued to explain his thinking on “Stairway” basically defending the story. Morse said he hadn’t received any negative feedback. (He also mentioned that he recently received a letter from John Gordon about a Street and Smith I Love A Mystery comic book. Morse was very opposed to this, “it’s cheap and childish, and it would harm the program.”)

On September 13, 1943, Haynes wrote back to Morse. “OK, you win, it seems listeners don’t agree with me on ‘Stairway.’ “ This just goes to show that the radio listeners still have the final say regarding the quality of an audio performance. Fans of I Love A Mystery to this day still consider “Stairway to the Sun” one of the best serials ever broadcast on network radio.

U.S. Copyright Registration: “Stairway to the Sun” (Reg. # PA-582-677). I Love a Mystery series; story no.34, episodes no. 1-30. Published December 31, 1986, registered December 30, 1991. Claimant: Richard A. Ferguson, trustee, Morse Family Trust. Author on © Application: Carlton E. Morse.

Excerpt above taken from the I Love A Mystery Companion by Martin Grams, Jr. 

© 2003, OTR Publishing, Martin Grams, Jr. 
For more info, visit www.MartinGrams.com

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.