Friday, July 10, 2020

The 1943 INFORMATION PLEASE War Bond Tour

In November of 1942, it was publicly reported that Information, Please was going on tour for the War Savings Staff of the Treasury Department. Never seen outside New York except for the movie versions, the program visited cities along the eastern seaboard in an ambitious attempt by its creator and owner, Dan Golenpaul, to raise several million dollars for the war effort. The first stop was Symphony Hall, Boston, on December 4, 1942, where it was hoped that at least $1,500,000 would be realized.

The three regulars, Levant, Adams and Kieran, and their presiding officer Fadiman, participated on the tour, which for starters was limited to one out-of-town appearance a month. According to a press release, a visit to Philadelphia was scheduled in January of 1943 and, if all went well, future visits in Baltimore, Washington, Hartford and perhaps Rochester or Buffalo.

Dan Golenpaul, who was meeting the expenses of the tour, said that tickets would be priced from a $25 Bond for balcony seats to perhaps as high as $50,000 for an aisle chair in Row A. In Boston, the ticket distribution would be handled by the local War Savings Staff. The day before the Friday broadcast, Adams, Kieran and Levant were on hand for a little personal bond selling at strategic points in Boston.

Aside from the regular broadcast, bond buyers would see the usual “warm-up” period of questions before the formal program and, in addition, Adams and Kieran, who were considered “wonderful material for vaudeville” by Golenpaul, would do a little extra business. Levant also addressed himself at the piano. Golenpaul was not inclined to reveal the names of guest experts far enough in advance for local areas to advertise, pending their acceptance of invitations to participate.

Golenpaul’s initial intention of selling $1,500,000 worth in bonds was realized by their second visit. The January 9, 1943 issue of the New York Times reported: “Philadelphia, Jan. 8 – Thirty-four hundred persons who crowded the Academy of Music tonight to hear the Information, Please radio program, now on tour, bought a total of $6,314,123 in war savings bonds. The experts of the show were joined by Representative Will Rogers, Jr. of California, son of the humorist.” Evidently the war bond drive was extremely successful, and Golenpaul extended his tour along the East Coast for the rest of the 1943 calendar year.

For the broadcast of June 28, 1943, Chicago got its first look at Information, Please in action. The 3,500 or so people who filled all but a couple of the seats in the giant Civic Opera House enjoyed the radio experts’ performance to the maximum, and went home feeling that the price of admission—a war bond from $50 to $5,000 in denomination—had been well-spent in more ways than one. The total war bond “take” for this trip was $6,818,107.

Richard K. Bellamy, radio editor of the Milwaukee Journal, was in the audience to get a first look and report on the visual aspect – the part a radio audience could not get at home. “As a radio show this one is very smartly staged,” Bellamy wrote. “Even to the lone feminine aspect, a lovely, anonymous girl with a rose in her hair who sang several snatches to illustrate a song question on the broadcast. First Levant played some Gershwin on the piano with professional skill. Then Kieran arose, strapped on an accordion and slaughtered ‘I’m Just Wild About Harry’ (we think that’s what it was) as cruelly as any tavern player has ever slaughtered it. He grinned from ear to ear all the while, and the crowd loved him. Adams put a pencil in his teeth and knocked off an unidentified melody on that crude instrument with his fingers. Kieran and [Walter] Yust closed the performance with a piano duet, ‘Chopsticks.’ It’s amazing how little it takes to win over 3,500 people. At 9:15 Fadiman started asking some preliminary questions to get the board into the swing of things. He warned the audience: ‘You, the cream of Chicago, will know the answers before these lugs up here on the stage. But please don’t coach them.’ Even during the broadcast Fadiman seemed perfectly relaxed, always waiting, like a cat, for an opening. He seizes openings lightning fast and without any visible effort.”

In Chicago, Golenpaul played the role of director with perfection. He often sat with Fadiman, whispering occasional comments, and once or twice he crossed to the other table and nudged Yust a little closer to the microphone. He had decreed, “No photographers at the broadcast.” Apparently his rule was law because no pictures were taken.

“We did a lot of travelling with Information, Please,” recalled Oscar Levant, “and we were celebrities wherever we went. In Hartford, we dined at the governor’s mansion. Fadiman sometimes wrote the speeches with which the dignitaries welcomed us. In Cleveland, Senator Lausche – the alleged Democrat who was to the right of Goldwater – was the mayor and greeted us. In Toronto, Lester Pearson made a speech, presented us with gifts, and thousands of crack troops paraded in front of us in tribute. It was mighty flattering but I was embarrassed. I didn’t think we rated that.” 

On September 27, 1943, Information, Please originated from the stage of the Mosque Theatre in Newark, New Jersey, with two very special guests: Vice President of the United States Henry A. Wallace and Representative James W. Fulbright of Arkansas. Exactly $277,398,975 in war bonds were sold that evening as a result. $275 million dollars of the total came from a group of local business concerns. V.P. Wallace said that the “common man” was buying 50 percent more bonds in 1943 compared to 1942.


Photo courtesy of Richard Glazier (www.richardglazier.com)

“And he is going to do still better,” he added. “He must do better so as to put our armies into Berlin and Tokyo as soon as possible. He must be better if we are to have a stable peace without inflation.” Asked by reporters after the broadcast what he had meant by his reference to a “partial alliance,” Henry A. Wallace laughed and said, “You’ll have to figure that one out for yourself.” The Vice President, incidentally, was to have appeared as a guest on the quiz program, but he shuddered at the prospect and took no part in it other than to give a brief talk during the opening minutes. Representative Fulbright substituted for him in the question-and-answer period. Clifton Fadiman announced that the war bond total had been contributed by 3,277 people for the broadcast, all of whom bought bonds ranging from $50 to $5,000 to gain audience admission to the broadcast.

For more information about the radio program, visit the Information, Please page on www.MartinGrams.com

Thursday, June 25, 2020

LAUREL & HARDY: THE DEFINITIVE RESTORATIONS

Fans of slapstick comedies need no introduction to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Prior to emerging as a team, both actors had well-established film careers. Laurel had appeared in over 50 films as an actor (while also working as a writer and director), while Hardy had been in more than 250 productions. The two comedians had previously worked together as cast members on the film "The Lucky Dog" in 1921. However, they were not a comedy team at that time and it was not until 1926 that they appeared in a short movie together, when both separately signed contracts with the Hal Roach film studio. From that day forward, the two comedians performed magic on the silver screen.

Over the years they worked as a team in 107 films, starring in 32 short silent films, 40 short sound films, and 23 full-length feature films. They also made 12 guest or cameo appearances, including the "Galaxy of Stars" promotional film of 1936, promotional film shorts and a number of radio and television appearances. It seems over the past decade there has been no shortage of archival discoveries regarding their career and Randy Skretvedt wrote what has become the Bible for all things Laurel and Hardy. (Click here for a review of his book.) Their films have been released (and re-released) under many labels on VHS and DVD, and on many occasions repetition was justified with improved print transfers. As a result, any die-hard of the comedians can easily spend hundreds of dollars and own at least one copy of every existing film short and motion-picture they boys appeared in. But now we have something awesome to look forward to.

Earlier this month the LAUREL & HARDY: THE DEFINITIVE RESTORATIONS was released on DVD and Bluray, with full restorations in 2K and 4K of two feature films and 17 film shorts. Stan and Ollie never looked or sounded better. Restoration projects from UCLA and the Library of Congress are included, from 35mm archival prints.

Among the highlights are more than 2,500 rare photographs, posters and scans of archival studio files. Commentaries from Randy Skretvedt and Richard W. Bannister's are included. Over eight hours of bonus extras, film and archival audio interviews with those who worked with Laurel and Hardy, isolated music tracks, alternate soundtracks, movie trailers and -- get this -- for the first time ever the video debut of the nearly complete "Battle of the Century," which was available on home video only as a three-minute excerpt. It is this film short that highlights this DVD/Bluray set and after watching the film it became apparent that the legendary pie-fight sequence was not three minutes in length, but five. I knew that pie fight sequence by heart and discovered that Robert Youngson trimmed a few seconds here and there to speed up the action of that pie fight. 

This review will not go into detail regarding comparison of the picture and sound quality to prior DVD releases. (There is no point.) The picture and sound in this set is far superior to prior releases and the term "definitive restorations" is understated. "Hog Wild," for example, was taken from a full-aperture source and provides less cropping and more screen image area than any prior release. "The Music Box," that classic film short with Laurel and Hardy attempting to deliver a piano up a lengthy flight of steps, was taken from first-generation "pre-mix" elements and the detail level is amazing.  "The Chimp" was almost in disrepair and for a while it appeared we would all have to live with an inferior print transfer from prior releases but a surprise discovery of a fine-grain master positive now provides a superior rendition.

"Sons of the Desert" was released at least a half dozen times but each release contained a slightly inferior rendition from severely cropped to added music and fade-ins/fade-outs for commercial breaks for a TV print. This new release is far superior. Not only is the classic full frame but there are extended scenes never seen since 1933. 

As with the best of DVD releases, there will always be critics. Some nit-pickers might even count the grains from the film reels and question whether this new release is worth the price.  With a film short not available anywhere else, superior quality not available in other DVD/Bluray releases and tons of extras, take my word for it. Buy this set. Your support will also cast a vote and send a message: we need a volume two. While fans might debate over the top ten Laurel and Hardy film shorts and movies, I would like to state that the best of their films are contained and they never looked better. If you do not have any Laurel and Hardy DVDs in your collection, this is the one you want to start with. 

You can purchased your copy direct here:

Friday, June 19, 2020

Gone With the Wind Returns to HBO Max

After a brief furlough, executives for HBO Max, the new streaming service designed to compete against the new Disney Plus streaming service, have announced that Gone with the Wind is returning to the lineup. More than a week ago an announcement was made that the 1939 blockbuster (considered one of the 100 greatest movies ever made) was under scrutiny by folks who felt the film was promoting the benefits of slavery. Sadly, social media blew up with comments from both sides (tho, to be fair, more than 90 percent of the comments were in defense of the movie) and what I was shocked about more than anything was the misinformation that was circulating like wildfire. 

Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind

It was apparent (from one perspective) that most of the complaints on social media from people complaining against the film never even saw it. Hattie McDaniel, a talented African American who played the role of "Mammy," ultimately became the first African-American to be nominated for, and win, an Academy Award. But, according to one comment on Facebook, "Hattie McDaniel was just interviewed last week and said she would like to fling the Oscar back," unaware that McDaniel passed away in 1952. Another comment on Facebook remarked: "Gone with the Wind features negative cartoon stereotypes that are insulting to black people, especially Brer Bear and Brer Fox." (Someone should have told that person that Gone with the Wind  has no cartoons and that Brer Bear and Brer Fox are animated characters of another motion-picture.)

I also found it alarming that most of the news reports got the facts incorrect. The majority headlined that Gone With the Wind was banned from HBO Max permanently, or that the movie was banned altogether from broadcasting. Amazon.com sold out of Gone With the Wind, in all formats, within 24 hours as if customers feared they would never have a copy to watch ever again.

First of all: Nobody "banned" the 1939 Hollywood landmark movie. You can still watch the movie on DVD and Bluray, it will continue to air annually on Turner Classic Movies, and continue to be screened over Google Play, Vudu, iTunes and Amazon Prime.

Second, what HBO Max clearly stated (and such factoid was overlooked) was that the company was temporarily removing it from streaming and would bring it back with a special filmed introduction explaining the film's historical significance. "These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible," a spokesperson said. "It will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions." This is not uncommon as many motion-pictures and vintage cartoons contain an on-screen disclaimer, or a disclaimer on the DVD packaging, reminding people that there might be some material offensive to others but for historical reasons the films remain intact and unaltered.

Jacqueline Stewart of Turner Classic Movies

So, for the record, the film was never banned on any permanent level. It was removed temporarily so that Jacqueline Stewart of the University of Chicago Turner Classic Movies could film a special introduction. Let us be honest: many of today's movies and TV shows have far worse material than Gone With the Wind, and frankly, anyone can find a reason to ban any movie (made yesterday or today) if it does not meet up to the Ozzie and Harriet standards. So if you meet someone who says that Gone With the Wind was banned altogether from all platforms, you can correct them and help stop the spread of misinformation.

Friday, June 12, 2020

ROD SERLING'S HOMETOWN OF BINGHAMTON

Rod Serling, award winning playwright and creator of The Twilight Zone, called Binghamton his hometown. Even after he and his family had relocated to California, he would return to Binghamton every summer to see the places of his youth - his boyhood home on Bennett Ave, his high school on Main Street, and his beloved Recreation Park. It was here that he turned for inspiration for one of the most beloved Twilight Zone episodes, "Walking Distance," about a middle-aged man who wants nothing more than to return to the parks and carousels of his youth. 


By signing this petition, we declare that Rod Serling's love for his hometown - and particularly for Recreation Park, be officially recognized by changing the park's name to Rod Serling's Recreation Park. They are attempting to get 1,000 signatures and with a little help from the fans, that can become a reality.

Link below.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Retro Fan Magazine is Available Now

Looking for something cool to read during this downtime? Look no further than Retro Fan magazine.

And boy do we have a surprise at the bottom of this blog entry for you!

In an era where digital newsletters and Internet websites have dominated the newsfeeds, there is cause to cheer with the report of a new print magazine available for fans of vintage pop culture. In June of 2018, TwoMorrows Publishing released the first issue of a new quarterly magazine titled Retro Fan. Its tagline — “The Crazy, Cool Stuff We Grew Up With” — defines its subject matter, but to fine-tune that into a more specific demographic, with primary focus to pop culture of the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties.

“I am also the editor-in-chief of TwoMorrows' long-running, award-nominated Back Issue magazine,” editor Michael Eury informed me, “which examines Bronze Age (1970s-1990s) comic-book history, and have written numerous books on comics and pop-culture history, the most recent being Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters, and Culture of the Swinging Sixties. Previously, I’ve been an editor at DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and the long-defunct Comico the Comic Company, and have written for a variety of publishers and clients including Marvel Comics, Nike, and Toys R Us.”

Retro Fan almost started back in 2012. Publisher John Morrow of TwoMorrows and Michael Eury were weighing options for a new project for in addition to Back Issue. “With Back IssueI was so enjoying exploring the behind-the-scenes aspects of the comic books from my youth that I realized another magazine that did the same type of thing for the other stuff I grew up with -- the cartoons, sitcoms, toys, fads, fashions, bubble gum pop music, monsters, trading cards, etc. -- would be a fun read that’s also historically significant.”

For the next few years, the "Retro Magazine" gnawed at the back of Eury’s head, especially when he was working on his Hero-A-Go-Go book and revisiting the camp craze of the Sixties (his elementary school years): Batmania, Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Captain Niceand Mr. Terrific, Metamorpho the Element Man, the Cowsills, The Monkees, Dell Comics' superhero Frankensteinand Dracula, and so on. The book designer, Scott Saavedra, who also grew up with the same and Eury developed a working relationship.

Soon after Hero-A-Go-Gowas published in 2017, Michael Eury proposed to John Morrow that they dust off the "Retro Magazine" concept and he agreed.

One of the toughest challenges we had was settling on a title. “Retro” websites, conventions, T-shirt companies, video game magazines, you name it, had locked in “Retro Magazine” and other similar names. “Then one day John suggested to me, with a ‘You’re not going to like this’ disclaimer, the name Retro Fan. I loved it! And it nailed the tone of the magazine.”

Having read the first three issues of Retro Fan magazine I have to say the contents contain well-researched, professionally written and smartly designed articles. But at its heart is fandom — a passion for a TV show, action figure, junk food, or singing group that made our childhoods special.

Much of the content is provided by regular columnists who have a reader following and keen knowledge about their subjects, starting with Martin Pasko, no stranger to DC Comics fans and genre-TV viewers. “Marty was actually part of this magazine before it was even officially launched,” Eury explained to me. “A few years back at a comic-con he mentioned to John Morrow his interest in writing about superhero cinema and related pop culture. John never forgot and I invited Marty to the mag. John and I talked about a number of other possibilities for columnists, and cartoonist/comics historian Scott Shaw and Hollywood-hero expert Andy Mangels were both on our lists. John was interested in Pete Von Sholly as a monster-column contributor. When I reached out to Pete, he was unavailable… but recommended Ernest Farino. And I’m glad he did. Ernie has an impressive background Hollywood visual effects—and like the other columnists started as a fan, most notably of monster and sci-fi cinema. We brought in Hero-A-Go-Go’s Scott Saavedra as designer, and off we went. Soon I brought in our designer Saavedra, a really funny writer, as a columnist, as well as pulp master Will Murray as a columnist.”

Retro Fan magazine is being distributed to comic shops and sold through the company website (either www.twomorrows.com or www.retrofan.org) as you’d expect of a TwoMorrows publication, but it is also available at Barnes & Noble. This is a risky venture, but a valuable one in an effort to attract a broader commercial audience than currently exists within TwoMorrows’ World. Articles include the 1960s TV series The Green Hornet, interviews with Lou Ferrigno and Mark Hamill, and much more.

For those who insist on digital PDF issues, you can buy back issues for a discount price in digital format through the TwoMorrows website, so the print magazine has evolved into both markets – including one saturated by instant demand as a result of Kindle and other eBook readers. Issue #9 comes out in June.

On June 2, 2020, the editors of the magazine went public by announcing that they took a hit in the past few months. Quoting them "Our distributors, comics shops and bookstores all shut down. We were left with huge losses from unsellable copies that had to be destroyed, printing bills to pay, and no idea when we'll start receiving payments again." This is the result of the closures from the Covid-19 outbreak. So they are now offering subscriptions at HALF price. No joke. Link below. Check them out. A bargain price and this is a great magazine.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Mel Blanc, the Man of a Thousand Voices

“Mel Blanc is without question the greatest voice-man of all time. I’m not talking about impersonations, I’m talking about voice.”
        --- Rich Little

The new Mel Blanc book.
Mel Blanc was internationally famous as the hardest-working voice in show business history. He was as prolific in old-time radio as he was in advertising, and he will never be forgotten for creating the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester & Tweety, and most of Warner Brothers’ classic cartoon characters.

After ten years of research, Ben Ohmart recently completed a 700 page book documenting the career of Mel Blanc in a way that has never been done before. With first hand materials and Noel Blanc’s partial biography on his father, Ohmart was able to create one of the two best biographies published in the past year. Not only was it an enjoyable read but I really wish most people took a page from tomes like this one and apply the same format for their own projects. 

If I can offer a bit of criticism: a rash of biographies have been published recently that don’t really qualify as biographies. After reading two chapters I discover that the author did nothing more than compile 200 to 400 magazine and newspaper articles, stack them in chronological order, and type the information into book form. Masquerading as a biography, these books could easily have started every paragraph with “On such and such date, the actor appeared on the stage in such and such drama…” and “On such and such date, the actor then moved on to such and such movie…” All it took was a bit of time to maneuver the words to avoid repetition. I consider these works more of a timeline than a biography and while there is always a need for those books, I really wish people would not use the word “biography” on the cover of the book.

Mel Blanc
Thankfully, Ben Ohmart did what most biographies should do. Memories, recollections and stories about Mel Blanc are told through the words of Vincent Price, Gary Owens, Noel Blanc, Stephen Cox and many others who worked with Blanc during his professional career and those close enough to call him their friend. 

This book is not an animation book. As Ohmart explained in the introduction, “There are plenty of books on the history of cartoons, especially Warner Bros. animation, so I’m not going to waste space here replicating cartoon information readily available elsewhere. Read Leonard Maltin, Jerry Beck and Mark Evanier for the full story on animation history.” For that reason, this book is about Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc’s earliest documented role as a radio announcer at KGW in 1927, his childhood life at school, his parents… all documented in the first chapter alone.

The book documents the true origin of Foghorn Legghorn, including Kenny Delmar’s Senator Claghorn character from The Fred Allen Show, clearing up misconceptions that have been reported incorrectly in reference guides. The famed Woody Woodpecker lawsuit is also documented. And Mel’s preference voicing cartoons, “Because I can actually see what happens later, as I watch the cartoon, and it’s a great satisfaction to me to be able to see these things that I do and then wonder when the heck did I do ‘em, you know.”

One of Mel Blanc’s favorite voice people, and the one he felt closest to in radio, was Bea Benaderet (the original Betty Rubble on The Flintstones). He called Verna Felton, with whom he worked on The Judy Canova Show, “one of the most versatile of all radio actresses.” His least favorite radio actor was the prolific Gale Gordon. Al Jolson came in a close second.

There’s an entire chapter devoted to The Mel Blanc Show, a radio program that lasted one season and provided the voice actor the spotlight to prove how talented he was. I recall the episode when Mel broke Mr. Colby’s radio and in desperation hid in the radio and played various roles as Mr. Colby continued to flip channels. Hilarious and worthy of seeking out. 

I always loved this poster since it came out in 1989.
All quotes in the book came from Mel Blanc’s own mouth unless otherwise noted, generously supplied by Noel Blanc. Some of Mel’s words also came from Walt Mitchell’s extensive interviews, which were generous donated to this book. Thanks to Mary Lou Wallace, Walt’s partner-in-Blanc, the discography in the back of the book is truly extensive. 

Full disclosure: I supplied a appendix for this book, but this is not the reason why I am writing this book review or praising the book. Six months ago I bought a copy of Michael Hayde and Chuck Harter’s Harry Langdon book, which I also praise as an excellent biography. Like I said, I read two superb biographies this year. Both a model of success.

Mel Blanc’s personal life is also documented from near-fatal illness to charitable contributions. Noel Blanc, who I have chatted with a few times and has a strong heart for preserving the legacy of his father, contributed much for this book and helps ensure a personal touch that you do not see in most biographies written today. Rather than a month-by-month account of Mel Blanc’s career, we get an entertaining story of a man who voiced the characters we love and if Mel Blanc was alive today… he would probably be pleased. If Mel Blanc wrote another autobiography, this might be that book -- word for word.

The first 230 pages is the biography. The remainder of the book is a massive catalog of Mel Blanc’s radio career, his LP discography, television, feature films, commercials and cartoon voice work. But when I buy a book about Mel Blanc, hoping to read a true biography, such reference lists are also welcome with open arms. Together with Blanc's autobiography, you have everything you need to know about the man of a thousand voices.

Friday, May 22, 2020

G-Men: The 1935 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. 

EPISODE #1  “THE CASE OF JOHN DILLINGER”
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.

EPISODE #2  “THE CASE OF ‘BABY-FACE’ NELSON”
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.


EPISODE #3  “THE OSAGE INDIAN MURDERS”
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.

EPISODE #4  “THE DURKIN CASE”
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.

EPISODE #5  “THE CANNON EXTORTION CASE”
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.

EPISODE #6  “THE BREMER KIDNAPPING CASE” 
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.

EPISODE #7  “THE URSCHEL KIDNAPPING CASE”
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.

EPISODE #8  “THE CASE OF ‘MACHINE GUN’ KELLY”
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.

EPISODE #9  “THE CASE OF THE TRI-STATE GANG”

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.

EPISODE #10  “THE FLEAGLE FINGERPRINT CASE”
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.

EPISODE #11  “THE CASE OF ‘PRETTY BOY” FLOYD” 
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.

EPISODE #12  “THE BOETTCHER KIDNAPPING CASE”
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).

EPISODE #13  “THE CASE OF EDDIE DOLL”
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