Friday, November 9, 2018

Thurston, the Magician: The 1932-1933 Radio Program

A 1916 three-sheet color litho featuring magician Howard Thurston, assisted by imps and shows his assistant levitating, sold for $22,800 at a Magic Memorabilia Sale held August 25th by Potter & Potter Auctions in Chicago, Illinois. The price includes a 20 percent buyer’s premium, proving that the popularity of stage illusionist Howard Thurston continues to this day. 

Even more fascinating was the recent discovery of 58 radio scripts for the 1932-1933 radio program, Thurston, the Magician. Broadcast twice weekly, the complete run of radio scripts includes such intriguing titles as “The Magic House,” “The Magic Carpet,” and “The Affair at Paint Rock Pass.” Among this recent discovery is a complete cast list for each and every broadcast, music cue sheets, dozens of newspaper clippings pertaining to the radio program and the revelation that the program aired from November 3, 1932 to May 19, 1933. Prior published reference guides claim the program went off the air on May 25, 1933, but careful scrutiny after this discovery verifies May 19 as the correct date.

Collectors of radio programs who are familiar with the Blackstone, the Magic Detective program may find these Thurston programs a change of pace. Thurston solves mysteries but a few of the stories provided social commentary such as the broadcast of February 3, 1933, which concerned a war hero in Walter Reed hospital who was stricken with shell shock. Also discovered through these radio scripts was the fact that the program originated out of Chicago and broadcast coast-to-coast.

To date not a single radio broadcast of Thurston, the Magician is known to exist in recorded form. By the time you read this article, all 58 radio scripts have been scanned into pdf and with today’s resources efforts are being made to unearth as much as we can about this program for future publication, complete with episode guide and plot summaries, further preserving the legacy of Thurston.

Friday, November 2, 2018

WEIRD TALES: The Radio Program

First published in March of 1923, Weird Tales magazine will soon be reaching a milestone: 100 years of publication. The horror magazine responsible for introducing hundreds of thousands of people to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Robert E. Howard (the latter of whom contributed a number of Conan the Barbarian stories). If you have a handful of horror/fantasy/science-fiction anthologies on your bookshelf, you can check out the copyright page and no doubt find a number of stories originated from the pages of Weird Tales.

The magazine is regarded by historians of fantasy and science-fiction as a legend in the field, with Robert Weinberg, author of a history of the magazine, considering it "the most important and influential of all fantasy magazine." Robert attended the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention for a number of years and one could easily ask him a question about the magazine and be certain for a prompt and accurate answer.

Tribute was paid to Weird Tales magazine at the 2015 Pulpiest Convention in Columbus, Ohio, and as an attendee at that event I found myself mesmerized by the history of the magazine as it was presented on stage during a slide show and a panel of authorities discussing the magazine's influence.

Both the publishing and editorial status has been a tad sketchy in the past two decades and the magazine's future remains uncertain. But there can be no doubt that in 2023 the Windy City Pulp and Paper Show will pay tribute to the magazine, including a special limited edition convention program guide with historical essays about the writers who contributed and the editors involved.

Practically every major writer in the literary field contributed some of their finest work including Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown and Theodore Sturgeon. Back issues today can fetch hundreds of dollars in the collecting market, depending on the condition, and an on-going effort to scan each and every issue into digital PDF files is nearing completion. 

What few are aware of is the short-lived radio program from the 1930s that, like The Shadow and Nick Carter, Master Detective, was dramatized from the pages of the magazine. Yes, there was a radio program titled Weird Tales and the program featured adaptations of short stories from the pages of the magazine. Until recently not a single recording was known to exist. Thanks to collector Randy Riddle, a disc was found and transferred to digital format.

Just in time for Halloween you can click the link below and enjoy his blog entry, the Weird Tales recording, and numerous other radio recordings available to listen to for free on his blog. 



Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween, Hollywood Style

Once again, it's time for our annual Halloween photo shoot!

Anita Page

Dusty Anderson

Gale Robbins

Janet Leigh

Ann Rutherford

Betty Grable

Nancy Carroll

Anne Gwynne

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre

Fans of The Outer Limits can rejoice -- the long-lost "Ghost of Sierra de Cobre" is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Joseph Stefano, the man responsible for television's The Outer Limits, was contracted to produce two spooky television pilots in early 1964; The Unknown and The Haunted. The Unknown was never sold but re-edited with a different ending and telecast as the final episode of the first season of The Outer Limits, titled "The Form of Things Unknown." The Haunted was never re-edited into an episode of The Outer Limits but a lengthier cut with a different ending was released theatrically as "The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre," only overseas in other countries. For the American television audience and theater goers, the pilot/movie was never seen for decades.

The story concerns a young woman, fearful of being buried alive, who installs a phone in her crypt. Should she be prematurely buried, she can phone for help. A few days after her untimely death (and as a result of her phobia her death was verified 110% before burial), the phone suddenly rings and paranormal investigator Nelson Orion (played by the late Martin Landau) is brought in to probe the case. Diane Baker and Judith Anderson play supporting roles. Robert Stevens started directing the pilot, but became ill and was replaced by producer Stefano. 

Hunt Stromberg at CBS previewed the pilot and reportedly cried. He said it was the most beautiful film he ever saw. The Haunted was slated to compete against NBC's Bonanza but Jim Aubrey was fired as head of CBS and his replacement wiped the slate of all shows originated by Aubrey and Stromberg except for The Wild, Wild West. As a result, The Haunted was shelved and never seen. (Numerous websites claim the film was too scary and the network scrapped the pilot as a result, which is inaccurate. The "too-scary-for-TV" theory has been credited towards other unaired pilots so this is not an uncommon myth.)

Other than a brief write-up in David J. Schow's magnificent Outer Limits Companion, I never knew this pilot existed until a few years ago when UCLA hosted a one-time screening from their archives. Supposedly a film festival in Japan screens the film annually due to popular demand. And here on the East Coast at the annual Cinevent Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio, someone promoted a late-night screening of this unaired television pilot. The festival, which draws in hundreds -- if not thousands -- of attendees, often screens rare films courtesy of 16mm collectors. Sadly, there were not many people in the audience by the witching hour and I was one of the few. I always felt there would have been more in the audience had the television pilot been promoted better. The collector who brought the 16mm print for screening was strangely insistent of not promoting in advance what the "unaired horror TV pilot" was, so many decided not to attend the screening and instead hit the pillow early. I cannot blame them -- at least half a dozen people knew I was going to stay up late and watch the mystery film and they asked me to brief them in the morning so they would know just exactly what it was being screened the night before. For myself, I was glad I took the shot in the dark and stayed up late to watch the film. (I suspect the collector was the same person who bought The Haunted 16mm print sold on eBay a few years ago for $90, but nothing to base this on except for the fact that the film is an extreme rarity.) 

The above story proves that some 16mm collectors can be a tad eccentric, but in this case the film is no longer a Holy Grail among collectors, thanks to Kino Lorber. With a street date of October 30, The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, thanks to a brand new 2K Restoration. The commercial release includes both the movie version and the television pilot (advertised as an "alternate cut"), with audio commentary by film historian Eric Grayson and the ultimate of Outer Limits authorities, David J. Schow.

Kino-Lorber's recent Outer Limits DVD releases are superior to
the prior DVD releases with new print transfers and bonus extras.
Also recommended.

There was a rumor circulating on the internet a few weeks ago that the DVD and Blu-Ray release was cancelled due to a behind-the-scenes rights dispute, but this is apparently inaccurate -- I received my copy in the mail yesterday. The film is worth all the hype and I can state for certain that this is indeed worth the price (which is less than $13 on DVD if you shop around or visit Kino-Lobber's website).

If you are curious to know which should be watched first, start with The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre first, then watch The HauntedGhost was the feature film version, 20 minutes longer in length and contains scenes and characters not found in The Haunted, and a completely different ending. 


Friday, October 19, 2018

Dark Fantasy: A Warning About OTR eBooks

They say if you do not have anything nice to say, don't say it at all. This is an idiom I have applied over the years for book reviews. If the book is terrible, I made it a policy not to do a book review. Regrettably, I find myself having to break my rule for the first time in a decade. With sincere respect for the author, this review is not targeted towards his book specifically, but rather books of similar nature that are becoming problematic... and it is my hope that this review will save you, the reader, money and disappointment in the near future.

eBooks are economical when it comes to purchasing the latest James Bond novel or Paul McCartney autobiography, but when it comes to reference books in an academic field… exercise caution.

To understand the trepidation one must understand how the publishing industry works. Over the past decade, Amazon.com has become the 400-pound gorilla in the industry. The company now dominates the distribution for print-on-demand, raising pricing structure and changing wholesale terms, forcing publishing companies to consider the digital market – all of which provides Amazon with a larger slice of the pie. Uploading a book to print-on-demand eliminates labor force; little to no up-front fees and no warehouse stock to contend with. Customers simply place an order for a book and the machines that are equipped with printing one book – not mass quantity – will print and ship automatically. 

For publishing companies, this minimizes labor costs and once a month they receive a statement of sales, along with a deposit in their bank account. A one-man operation could publish 800 books and never have to lift a finger to fulfill an order after the initial set-up.

All of which comes down to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other companies that provide eBooks such as Kindle and Nook. Any book submitted for print-on-demand can also be converted to Kindle format with a single push of a button. But here is where the problem lies: anyone can write a book in Microsoft Word, upload the file and voilĂ  – instant eBook. Sadly, a large number of people are simply cutting and pasting from Wikipedia and re-formatting their text files to produce fast books on the cheap. Others interject a deliberate product placement in their “how-to” books, every so many pages, providing links to their website where people can buy their products. 

Without literary representation, most of these books are referred to as “Indie titles.” For decades published indie titles were stocked side by side alongside books that were submitted by traditional publishers. You could always tell when the employees at a bookstore knew their product by shelving indie titles separately, with the shelves labeled respectfully. But in today’s market vetting out “books” written by indie authors implements a policy of segregation. Indie authors cry foul at this practice, claiming no one would browse or buy their books – and their admission is correct. But segregation in classifying any type of books is what we need and (not surprisingly) already established commonplace – after all, can you not search on Amazon by author name, publisher name, subject, fiction vs. non-fiction, reference vs. science-fiction?

Off the side I would like to state that just because a published book is an indie title does not indicate it is a bad book. I have seen indie titles, reference books, dominate over the same subject matter published by a University Press. 

Publishing companies today have no qualms about offering their best sellers in both paperback and eBook formats, the average price of traditionally published material ranging from $9.99 to $18.99. But there is a growing trend of eBooks produced by anyone with access to a computer and there lies the problem. Those books have no editorial curation or anyone vetting out books that have overt sexual themes, deliberate sales presentations or are rift with spelling mistakes. Unsuspecting customers are duped into purchasing them because they might have a similar name to a best-selling title, or because of the bargain level pricing. The average indie title for Kindle eBooks ranges from .99 to $3.99 and make no mistake – their goal is to make money. (The authors of those books set the price; notice they are not giving the book away for free.) Among the indie press who take it seriously, it is called "authorpreneurship" (a real industry term used today) and it is their hope that cheap prices will justify the quality and size of their books, minimizing complaints and returns. Some are published in this way with the authors taking full entrepreneurial risk because the titles are so small that no one publisher would ever be interested.

Last week I purchased an eBook for $3.99 titled Old-Time Radio Listener’s Guide to Dark Fantasy by Brian Schell. The description, as cited on Amazon, discloses: “This book is a listener’s guide to the series. It briefly covers the creation and format of the series then looks at each of the existing episodes individually, including a synopsis, cast list and commentary on each episode.” Expecting a brief history of the 1941-42 radio program, in what was described as 142 pages, I was disappointed to discover only two pages documenting the history and cast. The majority of the book features plot summaries for the 30+ extant recordings of vintage radio broadcasts, and author commentary for each and every episode. Worse, Brian Schell in his introduction claims historians and scholars of old-time radio “will argue to death that their trivia and history is the correct one, disparaging each other along the way.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Fact: The majority of OTR historians gather frequently at fan gatherings and nostalgia conventions, often going out to dinner to discuss their recent findings, even arranging to meet up and chat about the hobby in general whenever we travel out of state for research projects. Many of us even assist each other with research. On two separate occasions, when travel expenses or copy fees were too expensive, a bunch of us pitched in to offset the expenses.

There is only one OTR historian who does not make appearances at conventions, choosing to remain behind a computer screen operating a website about OTR – bad-mouthing other researchers in this academic field in an attempt to make himself appear authoritative – giving the false impression that there is animosity among historians and researchers of old-time radio. Author Schell cites two different websites as reference in his eBook, one from that same OTR historian, so it appears Mr. Schell temporarily forgot the idiom that you cannot believe everything you read on the internet. Worse, in printing his statement he now gives the false belief that OTR historians are "disparaging" each other.

While the book description on Amazon clearly discloses the fact that the book was meant for the reader to listen to the recordings “simultaneously as reading the book,” this truly is a listener’s guide. There is even a page devoted to the best and worst episodes of Dark Fantasy, which is getting into subjective territory. Make no mistake -- I am not complaining about the $3.99 I wasted in purchasing this book. But why would I want to buy an eBook that states "briefly covers the creation and format of the series" when the author (by admission) consulted two websites?

If you want to buy the paperback edition for $8.99, the enclosed link is provided for your convenience:

Regrettably, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are not relying on book reviews and search algorithms to vet out the indie books from the professionals. Most bookstores will not offer a refund for eBooks – who would ask for a refund for a $1.99 product they received and cannot return? As a result of this, the level of customer service in digital books is severely lacking. I provide my critical review of Brian Schell’s Old-Time Radio Listener’s Guide to Dark Fantasy solely as an example to warn people to be apprehensive when purchasing eBooks on Amazon -- whether the reference book be focused on old-time radio or other non-fiction.

Luckily, there are a few tips to apply when vetting independent books. Besides the obviously bargain-level pricing stated above, be cautious of page count such as books with 44 pages or 62 pages, etc. Check the reviews and while one negative review versus fifteen positive reviews is not indicative of a bad book, four bad reviews out of five suggests you will not get your money’s worth. Another tip is to browse books from the most expensive price to the least. 

Make no mistake: “indie books” such as these will continue to pop up on Amazon. There are lots of great eBooks available. Just do your research first before clicking “buy it now.”

As for Dark Fantasy, Karl Schadow spent years researching the subject and wrote what is clearly the definitive work on the subject. You can read it for free if you click on these links below:


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Debunking the Myths of Inner Sanctum Mystery

Inner Sanctum Mystery book
Inner Sanctum Mystery was not a great staple of American Broadcasting -- but the signature sound effect, that of the creaking door, was imprinted in the memories of radio listeners for generations. Himan Brown, the creator, producer and director of the 1941-52 radio program, would ultimately register the sound of the creaking door for Federal Copyright Protection on February 17, 1949, under the name "The Creaking Door," submitted in the form of a sample radio program -- marking one of two sounds ever copyrighted (the other was the three NBC chimes). Sounds cannot be copyrighted which is why, on a technical standpoint, the copyright on a creaking door stands to be challenged in court... but Brown did make much use with the sound effect by incorporating it as the signature opening for a later series, The CBS Radio Mystery Theater.

"The door told me to use it. The door spoke to me. 'Make me a star,' it said. It was a door that I used on the Dick Tracy series," Himan Brown later recalled. "I used all kinds of doors. When I did a sequence on Tracy with haunted houses or criminal background or some such thing, I used this door, and the door creaked. You didn't have to fake it; you didn't have to play with it. It was a door with rusty hinges that was badly sprung and it creaked."

Inner Sanctum Mystery advertisement
Simon & Schuster, publishers, was at that time publishing a monthly mystery novel under the byline of "An Inner Sanctum Mystery." The first was published in July 1930, I Am Jonathan Scrivener, written by Claude Houghton. The series initially took on a variety of genres, always indicated by the color of the book's binding: blue for serious drama, red for lighter fare (romance); and green for detective stories. Later, as a result of the radio program, the Inner Sanctum books contained solely mysteries. It was through Simon & Schuster that Himan Brown licensed the name for his radio program -- under one condition. At the conclusion of each broadcast the announcer revealed this month's Inner Sanctum mystery novel -- free publicity for the publisher.

If you can get your hands on a copy of The Lunatic Time, published in 1956 and written by John Roeburt, you will discover that the story is actually based on the Inner Sanctum radio broadcast, "The Unforgiving Corpse" from May 28, 1951. Roeburt, recycling his own stories, re-titled the same Inner Sanctum drama for the June 17, 1962 broadcast of Suspense, "The Lunatic Hour."

All this reminds me of the Warner Bros. cartoon, Racketeer Rabbit, from 1946. Bugs Bunny performs his usual antics against two caricatures of Peter Lorre and Edward G. Robinson. In one scene, a door opens with a long creak and Bugs Bunny makes a direct reference to Inner Sanctum Mystery.

For clarification, the exact name of the program is Inner Sanctum Mystery, not "Mysteries." Singular, not plural. A number of people have been challenging me on this, but I continue to ask them to listen to a recording of Inner Sanctum. While the earliest scripts of the series list "Inner Sanctum Mysteries," the announcer clearly refers to the program singular.

In 2002, I amateurishly put together a book about the radio program. (Yes, I titled the book Inner Sanctum Mysteries. That was done on purpose because most people incorrectly type the title wrong in search engines. And the book refers to the series as a whole plural so the title of the book was not meant to be the same as the program itself.) No one wanted to publish the book (probably my young age had something to do with it) so I self-published a compilation of assorted trivia and other pertinent information so fans of the program could learn more about the series beyond a brief entry in an encyclopedia. Since then, I finally acquired a complete run of each and every Inner Sanctum Mystery radio script, along with files of material from advertising agencies, library archives and other private collections.

One recording that circulates today is "The Amazing Death of Mrs. Putnam" and fans continue to debate whether or not the recording is the first broadcast of the series. I do not know the origin of the controversy, or why people insist it was never broadcast on the evening of January 7, 1941. Maybe it is because the announcer and host Raymond Edward Johnson never make reference to it being the premiere episode. Regardless, last week I received yet another e-mail telling me that my episode guide is inaccurate and "The Amazing Death of Mrs. Putnam" aired later in the series' run. So to close the file on this debate, enclosed is the NBC announcer sheet for that very broadcast, two production sheets verifying the cast, the announcer, the organist, the producer, and the title of the broadcast. Also enclosed are the first two pages of the radio script to verify the January 7, 1941 broadcast date.

An altered advertisement
For more information about existing Inner Sanctum Mystery radio broadcasts, CLICK HERE.

The advertisement featured to the right is "altered" and not original. Sadly, four different websites now reprint this ad and I do not believe the website owners are aware of this potential error. Take a closer look and you will see all reference to the name of the program, station call letters, broadcast time and celebrity has been superimposed in newer font. That means someone took the original advertisement and altered it. Not sure why -- there is a difference between an "alteration" and a "restoration" but whatever the reason, it's a darn shame that people are reproducing it on their websites. Altered advertisements have already begun creeping into published reference guides and that means whatever form of preservation and validity was attempted with those books... the authors failed. Reprinting an altered advertisement rather than the original is more terrifying than the creaking door.

Anyway, I am reprinting it for you to check out with your own eyes and verify. If someone wants to reprint an old newspaper advertisement for a radio program, all they have to do is simply visit newspapers on microfilm at their local library and print them out. You can go home and scan the advertisement and what little effort it takes to do so will be much more rewarding than high profile egg on face when the altered version appears in print and is pointed out in a book review. (My sole purpose of pointing this out is for others to reconsider if they gave any credence to plucking images off the web for illustration.)







Saturday, October 6, 2018

Lady Gaga Shines in A STAR IS BORN

Film buffs have seen this same story three times before in 1937, 1954 and 1976 -- A country singer at the top of his game has to contend with drugs, alcohol, the price of fame and a medical condition causing him to lose his hearing, but takes time out of his busy tour schedule to launch the career of a young woman with musical talent. She excels quickly, appearing on Saturday Night Live, receiving multiple Grammy nominations and financial freedom... all the while his condition continues to decline. You can surmise the conclusion before the curtain closes but for the younger generation who never saw the prior renditions, this might come as a surprise to them. 

Over the past few weeks there were people who told me they were dead set against this remake; perhaps they lovingly embraced the 1954 Judy Garland rendition or the 1976 Barbara Streisand version. My general rule of thumb with remakes is this -- good or bad, we will always have the original.  

Having watched the prior renditions over the past years I was eager to see an updated take -- and was pleased to see how this film excels on many levels. Bradley Cooper not only plays the male lead, but also directs from behind the camera. As expected, Lady Gaga shines with strong vocals but also with an acting assignment that will no doubt reward her with an Oscar nomination for "Best Actress." She went all-in on this role -- evident when she smashes a glass picture frame with her fist, which break into pieces and falls to the floor and you can tell that was real glass. The chemistry between the two, however, is so evident that it cannot be overlooked -- it has been years since I saw chemistry on the big screen. (For the record, that was four years ago when I watched To Have and Have Not with Bogart and Bacall and could feel the chemistry.) 

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A STAR IS BORN (2018)

Bradley Cooper gives what is clearly his best performance on the screen and proved that he can also direct as well. In most movies Bradley Cooper plays Bradley Cooper -- much like Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise in every movie he plays -- but in A Star is Born, Cooper plays a role that makes you forget he was Bradley Cooper. This is talent that awards Oscars. 

This may be October but the Oscar race launched this weekend with a film that will no doubt receive Oscar nominations for "Best Director," "Best Screenplay," "Best Actor," "Best Actress," "Best Song" and "Best Picture." I have only seen two movies this year that warrant inclusion on the 2018 "must see" list. Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers, was the first and A Star is Born is now the second.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Frances Langford Finally Receives Her Due

To date there has never been a biography about Frances Langford in print form, which makes Ben Ohmart's latest contribution to the reference library all the more valuable. She really was the Sweetheart of the Armed Forces, once quoted of saying "God knows I would gladly give my life to help end this terrible affair and send those boys home to their families and friends where they belong." With her vocal talents as both movie star and radio personality, her career has been immortalized in recorded form. Her personal life restricted to the tabloids and gossip columns of the times, she donated everything she owned -- including letters, scrapbooks and photographs to the Martin County Historical Society in Minnesota. Anyone can visit the Elliott Museum and browse through her collection, but Ben Ohmart saved us an expensive trip across the country with this 333-page book documenting her personal life, her radio career, her screen career and more than any other aspect of her career... what she devoted to troops overseas. 

"Frances cared a lot about her war work," Ohmart explains, "and more than anything, I wanted this book to showcase her amazing patriotism." Chapter three focuses on her tour with Bob Hope for the U.S.O. 

I could go on paragraph after paragraph of what this book contains but if you are seeking a biography that covers all aspects of her life and career, this is the book. The most impressive aspect is the fact that this book features hundreds of never-before-seen photographs from Langford's personal collection and are a rare treat. Most biographies have a handful of rare photographs, sometimes as a centerpiece in the middle of a book. Ben Ohmart gave us not just a slice of the pie, but multiple pies of various flavors. The photos alone are worth the price of this book.


Friday, September 7, 2018

Forever and a Day: The Origin of James Bond

"There is only one recipe for a best seller. You have to get the reader to turn over the page."
-- Ian Fleming

It is not every day that I receive an advance copy of a novel to be published months from now and I have to confess both my sincere appreciation and excitement when I discovered it was a James Bond novel. Not just any novel, but the official prequel to Casino Royale (1953), which provides an origin for James Bond.

Casino Royale was a magnificent read. The prose was fantastic and the story simplistic. Establishing the world of spies and international intrigue the novel described celebrated world cities, beautiful women and his motif for working with them, being captured by the villain, enjoying upscale brands, and a muted violent streak that verges on cruelty. Subsequent novels were enjoyable, but nowhere near the caliber of Casino Royale. In fact, if you are going to read any other Ian Fleming novels, I recommend his third, Moonraker (1955), simply because so many elements in that novel crept into the cinema formula of the Bond movies.

Other authors took over the mantle after the passing of Ian Fleming and dozens and dozens of Bond novels have been published over the past few decades. Of recent, Anthony Horowitz took on the task and with credits to his name (the Alex Rider novels and teleplays for Poirot, Midsomer Murders and Murder Most Horrid) it was a surefire success. His first, Trigger Mortis is enjoyable and one can hear the John Barry 007 theme numerous times during action sequences. His second, due for publication in November, is Forever and a Day.

In this new entry, James Bond has just been promoted to 00 status and is sent to the Riviera (and environs, particularly Marseille) to discover who killed his predecessor and why. There he meets with a woman who may or may not be on the side of the angels, an American industrialist making film stock for Hollywood and a grotesquely fat Corsican syndicate head who deals in drugs and could be straight out of Dick Tracy’s gallery of villains. He also encounters a CIA operative who appears to be a reliable good guy. Throw in some car chases, some great food and drink and you have a classic Bond thriller.

If you are seeking adventure and escapism this holiday season, treat yourself and order a copy of this book.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Russell Brothers Circus Scrapbook

With the American Circus a dying breed, it warms my heart to see that there are a number of good folks who are taking the time to dig into archives, newspaper files and track down family relatives to compile reference guides documenting and preserving the big top. Keith Webb and Joseph F. Laredo recently published The Russell Brothers Circus Scrapbook with dozens of rare and previously unpublished photographs. 

Little did I know that the circus was featured in the 1942 Alfred Hitchcock suspense classic, Saboteur, the great animal trainer Clyde Beatty would join forces with the Russell Brothers Circus, and that silver screen cowboys made professional appearances over the years: including Hoot Gibson, Reb Russel, and a brief appearance by Ken Maynard.

Hollywood celebrities were also part of the program from time to time, often to promote their motion-pictures. The circus sometimes crept into the participation of film production. The elephants in the circus were transported to the Iverson Movie Ranch for Tarzan's New York Adventure. Johnny Sheffield, known as "Bomba, the Jungle Boy," was among the endless parade of movie personalities dining in the Russell Brothers cook hour on tour, along with Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Betty Grable, Alice Faye, Gene Tierney, and others. Maureen O'Hara apparently possessed a tomboy streak so she took to the animals. There is a story about John Barrymore drinking too much at the circus, and how the circus helped with the war cause during the Second World War.

The book is available at www.russellbrotherscircus.com

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Lone Ranger and The Mystery Ranch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TONTO:    They take gals from house.

RANGER:    Who did.  Casabo?

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

RANGER:    Where are the girls now?

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

RANGER:    ARE THEY INJURED AT ALL?

TONTO:    Nope.  Not hurt, but mad.

RANGER:    They refused to go back east eh/

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

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

TONTO:    Ugh.  But what you do?

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

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

RANGER:    All of them living there?

TONTO:    Ugh.

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

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

RANGER:    LOADED FULL!

TONTO:    UGH.  TONTO HAVE ‘EM READY.

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

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

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

TONTO:    (CHUCKLE)

RANGER:    Is the mask snug and tight?

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

RANGER:    (WHISTLE)

SOUND    Distant whinny.

TONTO:    Silver, him know him ride to action.

RANGER:    HERE SILVER..

SOUND    Hoofs approach.

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

SOUND    Start hoofs fast, and fade.
 
MUSIC    Interlude.

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

RANGER:    CASABO!

PABLO:    Ah, you come to see me senot?

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

PABLO:    But I do not know you senor..

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

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

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

SOUND    Distant shot.

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

SOUND    Shot.

PABLO:    MANUEL, SHOOT HEEM!

SOUND    Shots ad libbed to fade out!
 
MUSIC    Interlude.

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

DAN:    Aint yew the Stebbins gals?

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

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

MOLLY:    ARE.. ARE YOU.. UNCLE DAN?

DAN:    Yup.  That’s me gals!

BOTH GIRLS:    (AD LIB JOYOUS GREETINGS)

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

MADGE:    THAT’S MY COWBOY!

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

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

Friday, August 17, 2018

Mae West: Between the Covers (Book Review)

"In my long and colorful career, one thing stands out: I have been misunderstood."
           -- Mae West

Mae West: Between the Covers, edited by Michael Gregg Michaud, is not a biography of Mae West though first impression from the outside was that this was a 540-page biography. I welcome a biography that can dig up more facts than the prior volumes but this is not that type of book.

The name Mae West conjures up a sex symbol whose status diminished as a result of the Hayes Code,  but few remember that she broke box office records, earned an Oscar nomination for "Best Picture" with She Done Him Wrong, and fought against William Randolph Hearst who insisted his editors avoid mention of her name in his newspapers. In private, she was different from her screen counterparts: he led a quiet, moral life. It was West herself who confessed, "I am a showman and I know that the public wants sex in their entertainment, and I give it to them." 

It is this last remark that makes up the majority of the book -- reprints of vintage magazine articles of the times, chronicling her career as it was documented on the newsstands beginning with an article from Liberty magazine, August 10, 1927. As most serious scholars and historians will attest, many articles in magazines and newspapers of the times were fluff pieces -- with quotes and information provided by the movie studios and their publicity departments. In short, we take what was on the printed page with a grain of salt. 

The earliest articles in this book provide interesting information on the stage plays she starred and co-starred, including one from 1929 that appeared in the International Police Bugle, printed and circulated in Detroit, Michigan. The year of 1933 featured numerous articles warning readers to be prepared for the Mae West that was coming to a theater near them, with such headlines as "Broadway's Most Daring Actress Drops Into Hollywood" and "Look Out! Here's Mae West!"

The supposed daring jewel heist from which Mae West was a victim is documented in the January 1933 issue of Movie Classic, Lew Garvey's fascinating article "I Fired Mae West for Doing the Shimmy," and "Mae West's Personal Maid Tells All" from January 1934 verified she was headline news of the time. Of amusement was a rash of articles from late 1933 and early 1934 suggesting sh knew more about sex than the average reader, with such articles as "Sex is Beautiful, Mae West Sex-plains It All," "Mae West Tells How to Handle Men," "Mae West Discusses Men and Sex Appeal" and "It's the Caveman Within Us Calling for Mae" that suggest she would say almost anything to hype her latest motion-picture.

For a fan of old-time radio, such as myself, the March 1934 issue of Radio Stars featured "Can Mae West Beat the Radio JINX?" The articles venture to May 1977 when After Dark printed an article about her personal and screen career.

The book is a fascinating and entertaining read. If you love reading those old magazine articles from the 1930s and 1940s, you will enjoy this book. If I had but one complaint... there is no index which would have been great when someone like me wants to look up Cary Grant or Edgar Bergen to see how her name was reported alongside those personalities.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Christopher Robin (2018): Pooh has Pathos

In an era where superheroes destroy half of Manhattan in an effort to save the human race from an alien invasion, and young children cheer on as Jedi knights duel lightsabers on the silver screen, Christopher Robinmay be Disney's attempt to close down the Winnie the Pooh franchise to make way for more promising marketing potential. Christopher Robinwill not even come close in box office dollars compared to Soloor The Avengers: Infinity War, and one has to wonder if this was the studio's attempt to reboot a franchise that was destined to make way for Intergalactic fisticuffs. 

There are numerous movies that fall into a genre that has yet to be defined: husbands and fathers who are too busy with work to focus on the real importance of living. An element of fantasy creates intervention with the curmudgeon, long enough for them to catch a glimpse in the mirror and make amends. James Caan in Elf, Robin Williams in Hookand even James Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life fall into this category. The latest entry in the Disney live-action film franchise based on lovable animated cartoon characters is Christopher Robin, and is not a motion-picture for children. The first third of the movie is so depressing that one almost wondered what type of storytelling was attempted. But a film addressing the psychological exploration of a man's mind during trial and tribulation would have been welcome had the film stayed on course.

The stories of Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Woods was clearly the imagination of a nine-year-old boy who, with no friends to play with, kept himself preoccupied with fairytale creatures that existed only as stuffed toys. As Robin grew up and forgot about his friends, they ceased to exist. After being reminded of Pooh through a cartoonish drawing he made as a child, Pooh wakes to find himself alone in the woods -- and sets out to find his friends. As Robin's boyhood memories come back to him, so do Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo. A number of quick cuts and questionable "displacement" of real-life artifacts establish that Pooh and friends are mere fantasy in the mind of Robin. One momentarily questions whether Christopher Robin (played by Ewan McGregor) is suffering from a breakdown as a result of a major deadline due Monday at work.

Over the years there have been motion-pictures centering on fantasy cartoon characters who get sucked into our world, defined as "the real world," establishing a difference between the two worlds, and vice versa. (Fat AlbertThe Smurfsand others come to mind.) They were dreadful because the suspension of disbelief is difficult to maintain with celluloid. Thankfully the computer graphics for Winnie the Pooh and friends is magnificent; acting by everyone in the cast is satisfactory under the circumstances. But asking people in the real world to interact with fictional characters during the final third of the movie is where the film, as depressing as it might have been up to that point, is flawed. Perhaps there had to be a Disney-esque ending to this movie... but I suspect the resolution, though somewhat expected in this genre, could have been applied without the whimsical humor.

Until the recent Star Wars and Marvel acquisitions, Winnie the Pooh was the second highest-grossing merchandise for the Walt Disney Company (with Mickey Mouse number one). As Winnie the Pooh himself says in the film, "I would have liked it to go on for a while longer." If this be Pooh's swan song, this would be a satisfactory final chapter.