Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Lone Ranger Fan Club

Did you know there is an official Lone Ranger fan club?

I did back in 1990 when I signed up and became member #10. Today the club has over 5,000 members and four times a year they mail out a newsletter concerning all things Lone Ranger. Past issues of The Silver Bullet are available to read online when you are a member of the club. They give you a Username and Password when you sign up to become a member.

The website is listed below.

www.thelonerangerfanclub.com


Friday, September 11, 2020

The Return of Renfrew of the Mounted

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Laurie York Erskine was in the forefront of living authors who reached a wide audience. He was also incredibly prolific: 20 full-length novels, over a hundred short stories in such magazines as Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post, articles in the New York Herald-Tribune and Life, eight motion pictures, major network radio broadcasts, a number of stage plays for boys, texts for United States Armed Forces Institute courses in citizenship for enlisted personnel, and a war memoir selected for the Library of the Imperial War Museum in London.

There can be no debate that his greatest success was Renfrew of the Mounted, the dramatic series of a Canadian Mountie who was more than a match for the wiliest and most hard-boiled of criminals. The cry known as the Renfrew call — which children all over America imitated, heard daily on the long-running radio program — echoed through city streets and alleys. In an era when brutality and bloodshed seemed to be exerting a baleful influence on young and old, Renfrew was unusual in that he dealt with his enemies without stooping to torture, dishonesty, and third-degree methods. In consequence, a greater strain was put on his courage and moral behavior, and he was respected, even revered, by the underworld. At the peak of his popularity, the followers of Erskine’s stories, books, and radio programs could be counted in the millions.


The Renfrew novels were written and published partly out of necessity; Erskine donated the profits from his handiwork to the funding of a private boys’ school. The school needed what money Erskine could chip in — far more than it needed his presence — which kept him busy at writing, and often took him away for prolonged absences. He always came back, and everyone on campus recalled his writing always played second fiddle to his interest in the educational influences of the school. It was this financial responsibility that sustained unceasing production of Renfrew of the Mounted adventures in both short story and novel form.

For a few short years Renfrew of the Royal Mounted reigned supreme as the top Canadian Mountie in both popularity polls and as a nationwide pop culture franchise. Such adventure stories of a frozen Northern territory in which Mounties replaced the heroic sheriffs and gunslingers of the American Western, exoticized locales such as the Yukon, offering the local color of dogsleds, fur thieves, trappers, drunk gamblers, and foolish gold prospectors. With the majority of the Canadian Mountie novels written prior to 1920, and the first Renfrew novel published in 1922, his stories were (historically speaking) belated entries in the sub-genre that proliferated in the early 20th century.

Although it has been said that Canada had no Wild West because the Mounties got there first, the truth is that before their heralded arrival Canada’s frontier was as wild as any Wild West dime novel. Native murders and whiskey traders were so common that such vandalism could never be depicted accurately on screen. Erskine made sure to apply a realistic approach with his Renfrew stories, choosing to incorporate romantic prose for the natural beauty of the Northern wilds, with nature a harsher enemy of the Canadian Mounties. Extremely well-written and highly treasured among aficionados of adventure fiction, the novels are still in demand among collectors — with greater demand for the fragile dust jackets that outlived the books themselves.

By the late 1930s, every movie studio in California attempted to cash in on the popularity of the Canadian Mounties. Cowboy stars Kirby Grant, Russell Hayden, and Charles Starrett swapped riding chaps and six-guns for scarlet coats with shiny brass buttons. As multiple film critics pointed out, Saskatchewan might as well have been in Texas. Laurie York Erskine, however, continued to write for the magazines, mapping out the plots for future Renfrew novels, and found continued success with Renfrew on radio for three separate incarnations over two different networks.

Soon after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Erskine found himself in the service of his country. Therein lies the sad countenance of this tale. Upon his return he discovered Renfrew of the Mounted was no longer sought after by the major radio networks. If anything, radio broadcasting made way for the growing trend of private detectives and children’s westerns. The sub-genre of the American Western, that of the Canadian Mountie, was passé. Worse, Mountie stories diminished throughout the 1940s as Canadian publishers lost interest with the country’s growing independence, and a hero who embodied a discarded myth of empire that was by then an embarrassment — a political hotbed of coals for some.

To add to Erskine’s troubles was Challenge of the Yukon (later re-titled Sergeant Preston of the Yukon) which was syndicated across all 48 states. There was room for only one Canadian Mountie in a market that was oversaturated with cowboys and private detectives. Summed up, Erskine’s contribution to the war cause resulted in the demise of Inspector Douglas Renfrew, as well as any and all future income from the franchise.

To add insult to injury, the fictional Mountie was left largely to Hollywood. By the late fifties, Mounties in Canada were rarely portrayed from historical studies but rather ironic or satiric sketches on radio and television. Today the Royal Canadian Mounted Police remains the federal and national police service of Canada, but not (in general) an active provincial or municipal police structure for local policing. Few today can tell you who Inspector Douglas Renfrew was, but many can instantly picture the comedic efforts of Dudley Do-Right.

Sadly, despite multiple attempts to revive the franchise from the 1950s through the 1980s, Renfrew of the Mounted fell victim to hard times. Fewer than a dozen of the almost 400 radio broadcasts are known to exist in recorded form. Erskine himself bequeathed the rights to his character to a university who chose not to renew the rights or trademarks, as did a defunct low-budget movie studio that (in the late 1930s) produced a series of eight Renfrew motion-pictures. As a result, the franchise fell into orphaned status and — until publication of this book — was bound for obsolescence.

It is my hope that this reference will rectify that oversight and, at the very least, preserve what remains of Renfrew of the Royal Mounted. After consulting a number of archives across the country, reading all of Erskine’s printed prose, and reading all of the radio scripts and thus documenting the plot summaries for your convenience, this book should plug in a gap that sorely needed to be filled. Look at it as an act of preservation, so to speak, which provides a major one-stop reference to all things related to Renfrew of the Royal Mounted, and to Laurie York Erskine.

I launched a Kickstarter to pre-sell copies of the book, with a special "thank you" gift for those to pledge to buy a book -- a CD with 13 "lost" episodes of the radio program (including two unaired audition recordings) that have never been heard since their initial broadcasts (from 1936 to 1957). 


You can click the link below to make a pledge. And in advance, I thank you.


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tallulahbankheadbook/renfrew-of-the-mounted-project


Friday, September 4, 2020

THE LONE INDIAN RADIO SHOW

Through the month of February 1953, someone named C.C. Cook of the Indian Theatre, at the Mission Village in Los Angeles, a four-acre resort with an American Indian theme, mailed two letters to George W. Trendle. Cook was supposedly representing Robert E. Callahan, author and showman. Having read an article in a magazine providing a brief background to the origin of The Lone Ranger radio program, Cook took it upon himself to accuse Trendle of plagiarism; promptly denied and dismissed by Trendle.

The first letter indicated no intention of a lawsuit, just a suggestion that Callahan himself should receive some financial due for injecting the germ of an idea into Trendle’s mind for a radio Western. The details behind the accusation, repeated in each of the two letters, were similarities between The Lone Indian and The Lone Ranger, varied enough to give historians today cause to suspect Callahan was writing the letters using the alias of C.C. Cook, with faded memory of the details from 1933, exercising professional jealousy for the financial success of The Lone Ranger.

July 1934

In 1926, advertising man Robert Callahan, an actor who appeared in numerous silent and early talkie pictures, was such a fanatic of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, Ramona (1884), that he wrote a sequel in 1930, Daughter of Ramona. Considered by many as a fanatic of the times, he built a theme park in Culver City called Ramona Village, where he was accused by one critic of creating a “jazz commercial version” of California’s past. The park was built in 1927 and was open for some time in the summer of 1929, but the idea did not go over, with the buildings and equipment only half finished. As a result of a court case questioning the sale and ownership of stock used to raise capital for construction, the four-acre parcel suffered economic setbacks before construction could be completed. It was supposedly reopened for a short time in 1930 to help promote the sale of his novel. The theme park was influenced by the popularity of Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel, Ramona, which spurred his fascination with Spanish mission and Native American life. Callahan, a self-proclaimed authority of authentic American Indian history, decided to construct a new park on the same site, rechristened Mission Village.

The story took a turn in 1930 when Callahan wrote and created The Lone Indian, a radio program broadcast six-times-a-week over the Warner Bros. radio station in Hollywood, for nearly four years (1930 to 1933). It was sponsored by Walker’s Department Store in Los Angeles, where an Indian Lodge was built on the fifth floor, and from which various prizes were given to children who listened to The Lone Indian broadcasts. It is estimated that half a million of the Lone Indian buttons were made and distributed throughout Los Angeles circa 1931, given to children who faithfully followed the radio broadcasts. During the Warner Bros. run, the program was serialized with Callahan ostensibly at a ranch telling an eastern visitor stories of Indian lore, backed by singing Indians. In 1937, Callahan recorded The Lone Indian for syndication, an Electro-Vox transcription, each with a self-contained story narrated by “The Old Trapper,” played by Callahan, possibly inspired by “The Old Ranger” from radio’s Death Valley Days.

KNOWN BROADCAST HISTORY
Indian Village (KTM in Santa Monica, 1930 to circa 1931); Indian Stories (KFWB, owned by Warner Brothers, three times a week, 1932 to November 1933); The Lone Indian (1932 to 1934); Lone Indian Theater, a.k.a. Indian Theater – Santa Fe Trail, a.k.a. Santa Fe Trail (KFAC, March to June 1935); and Indian Trails, retitled Indian Village most likely to promote his theme park (KMTR, circa December 31, 1936 to 1937, sponsored by The Forman Loan Company, and another run in 1939). 

KFAC Radio Premium from The Lone Indian program.

At the Mission Village, during The Lone Indian’s radio tenure through syndication, a staff member would dress up like the title character and attend evening campfire circles for children, telling stories and providing good morals for them to live by.

In late 1932, literature was composed to make The Lone Indian a nation-wide broadcast through syndication. Reportedly among the literature were selections from The Lone Indian book of short stories (published in 1933), all adapted from radio scripts. As producer, writer and director of the program, Callahan prepared three wax recordings for nationwide transcription release, made by Radio Recorders. According to Callahan, one of these audition records was mailed to George W. Trendle in 1932, answering an advertisement in a trade paper, asking for audition platters and details. Trendle kept them for several weeks; finally writing back saying the price was too high to consider purchase. No agreement was made at the time both men exchanged communication. 

1950

A few months (or a few years) later, a lawsuit was prepared against George W. Trendle for stealing the basic concept of The Lone Indian, but Callahan’s wife suddenly passed away (and Callahan himself went to South America for two months both for health and relaxation) causing him to think twice before filing the lawsuit, which he never did.

Callahan insisted the black horse was changed to a white horse, Callahan’s second lead – a Texas Ranger – was made into the hero instead of an Indian. “They carried out the entire program as sent in the literature and as contained in my book, a definite steal,” Callahan claimed. Actor Victor Daniels – whose Indian name was Chief Thundercloud – played the role of “Lone Indian” for two years on the air. Callahan claimed another common denominator between the two radio programs was Daniels playing the role of Tonto on The Lone Ranger for a short time, but Callahan was incorrect in his statement – Daniels played Tonto in the second of the two Republic Pictures cliffhanger serials, not the radio program.

Another of Callahan’s claims was that The Lone Indian also exemplified high morals by the title character. Callahan’s version introduced Indian philosophy and prayers, including a policy not to drink or smoke. Always appearing in time of need, The Lone Indian provided assistance for the meek through cunning and action.


Theme park post card from 1929.

As a lawyer who was with The Lone Ranger since the beginning and handled many Lone Ranger cases, particularly in the Federal Courts, this claim of plagiarism was not uncommon in the eyes of Raymond Meurer, who instructed Trendle to “just forget about this crackpot and not be drawn into a contest. I’d suggest we just drop the thing right here and, if anything happens, we’ll take care of it at that time.” Cook ceased sending letters after Meurer stopped responding. (There is nothing found to suggest Callahan sent more than two letters. Mission Village was destroyed in 1962 to make way for the Santa Monica Freeway.) *

* Besides The Lone Indian, Callahan produced a number of radio programs for syndication, all of the Western genre, including Wife WantedThe Santa Fe Trail, Tommy Gale of the Box-T Ranch, and The Singing Bandit – the latter of which aired on selected stations across the country and was certainly closer to The Lone Ranger than The Lone Indian, even though the hero was not masked and whose trademark was singing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

List of "Lost" LONE RANGER Radio Broadcasts (pre-1950)

Just as "Nitrate won't wait" became the rallying cry for film archivists, "Acetate won't wait" has become the mantra for collectors of old-time radio. Widely used for three decades (1930s through the 1950s), then slowly replaced with magnetic tape and other formats, radio broadcasts featuring comedy, music and drama were preserved for both commercial and historical purposes. Fans of old-time radio programs, and fans of The Lone Ranger in general, are fully aware of the 2,600+ radio broadcasts from 1938 to 1954 that were preserved thanks to this format. Over 2,000 of those radio episodes have been released commercially thanks to companies like Radio Spirits, which commercially releases CD sets periodically through the months through licensing agreements. For over almost two decades I have purchased those Lone Ranger sets from Radio Spirits and have built a large shrine in my house. 



Due to their rarity, some acetate discs can command high prices at auction but those "record prices" are often the exceptions to the rule. Brian Epstein's collection of Beatles acetates fetched between $1,000 and $10,000 per disc, and an acetate of Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" sold for $82,393. When it comes to The Lone Ranger radio program, the broadcasts were preserved on vinyl pressings for syndication purposes, not acetate discs, so they would never fetch those kind of prices. Yet, there are collectors who mistakenly believe what they have is worth thousands of dollars. The average sale price for a set of two Lone Ranger discs is about $35 on eBay, more depending on whether the recording is rare or not. And it seems no one ever bids on Lone Ranger vinyl pressings that ask for more than $60 as a starting bid. (AFRS renditions of The Lone Ranger, also on vinyl pressings, appear to go for about $5 to $10 each on eBay.)


All of which emphasizes the importance of supporting companies like Radio Spirits. Considering the price of a Radio Spirits box set (five of them pictured above) retails less than $40 each, and you receive 20 half-hour radio programs in a box set, which comes to less than $2 per recording, you can understand why people choose to purchase the CDs versus collecting the vinyl pressings. 


The following is an official list of "lost" radio programs from 1938 to 1949. This list was compiled from multiple box sets, CDs and audio cassette albums that I purchased over the past two decades -- in short, these are the only episodes I am missing in my personal collection and it appears no one has a copy of these. Without such a list, collectors would never know if what they have is truly rare or not. Lists like these were created for other programs and often resulted in a few episodes being discovered because a collector had one and never knew it was a rare or lost recording.


The episode numbers and broadcast dates are listed below. Take note: these are the episode numbers, not transcription disc numbers. To avoid confusion, please go by the broadcast date. For completists, this list will give collectors cause to seek out recordings they do not have. For those who want to know the value of extant Lone Ranger transcriptions, these are the episodes that would more than likely generate larger bids on auction. But if someone holds a "lost" show at ransom prices, consider walking away. And if someone claims to have a lost program but will not verify authenticity, also consider walking away. As shocking as this advice might sound to a few, in retrospect there are already over 2,000 radio broadcasts available to listen to.


In the process of reading all of the radio scripts for The Lone Ranger, and documenting the plot summaries (my episode guide is more than 1,000 pages and still under construction), I can easily verify a recording if someone claims to have one listed below. Verification is essential before removing an entry from the list. With unscrupulous mp3 vendors duplicating existing audio files and renaming them with fake broadcast dates and titles, I will not remove an episode from this list simply because someone claims to have it. If you send me a recording and it turns out not to be a "lost" episode on the list, as a courtesy I will provide you with the correct information so you can catalog your inventory appropriately.


A second list will be posted next week for the "lost" episodes from 1950 to 1954.

 

This list will be updated as recordings are discovered and verified. Do you have any of these?


Episode #                         Broadcast Date                       

793-18                               February 25, 1938                  

794-19                               February 28, 1938                  

796-21                               March 4, 1938                        

798-23                               March 9, 1938                        

802-27                               March 18, 1938                      

808-33                               April 1, 1938

809-34                               April 4, 1938

811-36                               April 8, 1938

814-39                               April 15, 1938                         

843-68                               June 22, 1938                          

849-74                               July 6, 1938                             

893-118                             October 17, 1938

900-125                             November 2, 1938

912-137                             November 30, 1938

913-138                              December 2, 1938

947-172                              February 20, 1939

950-175                              February 27, 1939

974-199                              April 24, 1939

975-200                              April 26, 1939

976-201                              April 28, 1939

977-202                              May 1, 1939

980-205                              May 8, 1939

1083-306                            January 3, 1940

1086-309                            January 10, 1940  (supposedly exists)

1137-360                            May 8, 1940  (supposedly exists)

1145-367                            May 27, 1940

1207-428                            October 18, 1940

1214-434                            November 4, 1940                  

1300-517                            May 23, 1941

1323-540                           July 16, 1941                           

1328-545                            July 28, 1941

1337-553                            August 18, 1941

1338-554                            August 20, 1941

1339-555                            August 22, 1941

1392-608                            December 24, 1941

1395-611                            December 31, 1941

1555-769                            January 8, 1943

1556-770                            January 11, 1943        

1652-865                            August 23, 1943  (supposedly exists)                      

1677-890                            October 20, 1943                    

1678-891                            October 22, 1943  (supposedly exists)

1679-892                            October 25, 1943  (supposedly exists)

1686-899                            November 10, 1943

1687-900                            November 12, 1943  

1689-902                            November 17, 1943

1701-914                            December 15, 1943

1710-923                            January 5, 1944                      

1712-925                            January 10, 1944                    

1714-928                            January 14, 1944                    

1715-929                            January 17, 1944                    

1716-930                            January 19, 1944                    

1718-932                            January 24, 1944                    

1719-933                            January 26, 1944

1721-935                            January 31, 1944

1730-944                            February 21, 1944

1733-947                            February 28, 1944

1741-961                            March 17, 1944

1750-970                            April 7, 1944

1762-982                            May 5, 1944

1765-985                            May 12, 1944

1766-986                            May 15, 1944

1771-991                            May 26, 1944                          

1772-992                            May 29, 1944                          

1773-993                            May 31, 1944                          

1774-994                            June 2, 1944                            

1775-995                            June 5, 1944                            

1776-996                            June 7, 1944

1789-1009                           July 7, 1944

1790-1010                           July 10, 1944

1791-1011                           July 12, 1944

1792-1012                           July 14, 1944

1798-1018                           July 28, 1944

1804-1024                           August 11, 1944

1806-1026                           August 16, 1944

1828-1048                           October 6, 1944

1829-1049                           October 9, 1944

1846-1066                           November 17, 1944

1853-1073                           December 4, 1944

1855-1075                           December 8, 1944

1857-1077                           December 13, 1944

1858-1078                           December 15, 1944

1865-1085                           December 29, 1944

1904-1130                           April 2, 1945               

1905-1131                           April 4, 1945

1923-1149                           May 18, 1945

1967-1193                           August 31, 1945                      

1968-1194                           September 3, 1945                 

1972-1198                           September 12, 1945

1975-1201                           September 19, 1945               

1976-1202                           September 21, 1945               

1981-1207                           October 3, 1945                      

1984-1209                           October 10, 1945                    

1985-1210                           October 12, 1945                    

1991-1216                           October 26, 1945                    

1992-1217                           October 29, 1945                    

1993-1218                           October 31, 1945                    

1994-1219                           November 2, 1945                  

1995-1220                           November 5, 1945                  

1996-1221                           November 7, 1945                  

1997-1222                           November 9, 1945                  

1998-1223                           November 12, 1945                

2006-1231                           November 30, 1945    

2116-1341                           August 14, 1946                      

2130-1355                           September 16, 1946

2166-1391                           December 9, 1946

2255-1480                           July 4, 1947

2263-1488                           July 23, 1947

2317-1542                           November 26, 1947

2325-1550                           December 15, 1947

2330-1555                           December 26, 1947

2600-1825                           September 16, 1949

2641-1866                           December 21, 1949

2642-1867                           December 23, 1949

2644-1869                           December 28, 1949

2645-1870                           December 30, 1949


There are two recordings that supposedly exist, verified through archival documents, but no one has yet turned up any of these.


A "Special Birthday Recording" copyrighted on May 17, 1940 (actual broadcast date remains unknown) was registered through the U.S. Copyright Office, but is not the same as the network's May 17, 1940 broadcast.


A special Lone Ranger anniversary program, with an incidental poem by Edgar A. Guest, was broadcast on Saturday, January 23, 1943. This, too, supposedly exists.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

FOUR STAR TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS

You may not be familiar with Four Star Productions but you more than likely saw their logo at the conclusion of numerous television programs including Honey West, Burke's Law, The Rifleman, Wanted; Dead or Alive, The Big Valley, and The Zane Grey Theatre, among others. The production company was co-owned by Dick Powell, David Niven and Charles Boyer. Joel McCrea, who was busy with Tales of the Texas Rangers on radio, backed out of the proposed project and was replaced by Ida Lupino. While she did not own stock in the company, she was considered the fourth star and the reason why the company was referred to as Four Star Productions. (For those who want to jump the gun and assume incorrectly, Lupino was not a stockholder because she was a woman. Being a stockholder meant buying into a percentage of the company as a financial investment and she did not invest money in the operation.)

Inspired by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's venture with Desilu Productions, the company was launched by Dick Powell who longed to produce and direct. He saw television as more of an open market for his ambitions than motion-pictures. Originally the concept began on radio with Four Star Playhouse on NBC in the summer of 1949, then ventured to television with the weekly anthology of the same name. While today many of us are familiar with the weekly dramas of The Detectives, The Rogues, The Law and Mr. Jones, and Richard Diamond, Private Detective, he called in favors and offered partial investments from Joan Fontaine and his wife, June Allyson, who of course starred in the The June Allyson Show.

Powell and company was shrewd enough to produce tons of pilots, including Bulldog Drummond, Claudia, The Stubby Kaye Show (a.k.a. Full Speed Ahead), The Judy Canova Show, The Searchers, The Bette Davis Show (a.k.a. The Decorator), Michael ShayneThe Dean Jones Show (a.k.a. Alec Tate), Ensign O'Toole, The Lloyd Bridges ShowThe King and Me and many others. Never wasting budget when pilots were unable to sell, or to exhibition the pilots to a large number of potential sponsors at the same time, Four Star aired those pilots on many of the anthology programs.

The Zane Grey Theater, for example, aired a number of "back door pilots" that ultimately sold to sponsors and became weekly programs of their own. Trackdown, The Rifleman, Black Saddle, Johnny Ringo, Law of the Plainsman, The Westerner, and Stagecoach West were a few that spun off from a one-shot episode on Zane Grey. (Many fans know Steve McQueen's Wanted: Dead or Alive spun off from an episode on Trackdown, and Honey West spun off from an episode of Burke's Law.)

On the Four Star Playhouse anthology, Dick Powell played the role of Willie Dante, owner of a nightclub who found himself caught up in trouble -- usually from shady characters from his past. Powell played the role in more than one episode, but eventually a weekly half-hour series came of those potential pilots. Dante lasted a mere 26 episodes, starring Howard Duff in the lead, and became one of my favorites. People rave about The Rogues but I always recommend Dante for those seeking crime dramas of the 1950s and 1960s that are both obscure and entertaining.

Frank Lovejoy starred in a wonderfully-written radio program, Night Beat, which aired for two years on radio. (Highly recommended, by the way.) Four Star Productions was responsible for a pilot that never sold, adapted from one of the radio scripts. A darn shame but thankfully a similar program came about with Frank Lovejoy on television... Meet McGraw.  

Thankfully, Richard Irvin wrote a fantastic book documenting the history of Four Star Productions, available from Bear Manor Media Publishing. Not only did he cover the formation of the company in exquisite detail, but he documented each and every one of the television programs and details regarding many of those unsold pilots. A few years ago I was going through some trade columns in Hollywood Reporter circa 1961 when I came across a news blurb that Four Star Productions had completed a pilot for The Adventures of Sam Spade, starring Peter Falk in the lead. Sincerely, that has been my "Holy Grail" of television pilots that I really, really want to see. Alas, it has not aired on television nor has it become a bonus extra for any commercial DVD release. Yes, Richard Irvin referenced that pilot. That should demonstrate how thorough the book is. Highly recommended.

Link enclosed for direct purchase.

https://bearmanor-digital.myshopify.com/products/four-star-television-productions-a-history-1952-1989-softcover-edition-by-richard-irvin?_pos=2&_sid=c30a49ee7&_ss=r

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

AL JENNINGS vs. THE LONE RANGER

Al Jennings
Beginning with the radio broadcast of February 14, 1944, a new schedule of Lone Ranger stories was initiated whereby Monday broadcasts were devoted to a historical character and The Lone Ranger’s brush with historical fame, Wednesday broadcasts featured Dan Reid, and Friday broadcasts were general western type of stories. Officially Dan Reid was brought back into the series permanently on Wednesday, February 9, and The Lone Ranger met the famous Wyatt Earp back on the broadcast of January 3, but the new format was made official with the broadcast of February 14. Fans today refer to those Monday broadcasts as part of the “biography” series, with stronger emphasis of The Lone Ranger wearing a mask to suggest he was merely concealing a famous face known to many. During those broadcasts, The Lone Ranger fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Buffalo Bill against renegade whites and Indians. For young listeners, it was The Lone Ranger who helped Wild Bill Hickok tame the town of Deadwood. It was The Lone Ranger who sent a warning to General Custer who led a foolhardy attack on Indian forces. It was these broadcasts more than any other that helped establish the program’s opening catchphrase: “Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice…” The Lone Ranger even persuaded Pat Garrett to become a special lawman, assigned to track down Billy the Kid. 

The Biography Series eventually came to a close before the end of August 1944, after one of the broadcasts created a legal stir with The Lone Ranger, Inc. Al Jennings, an 80-year-old reformed trainer robber and one-time Wild West bad man, glamorously portrayed in an episode of The Lone Ranger, filed a lawsuit against The Lone Ranger, Inc., seeking damages for the way he was portrayed on the radio broadcast. To everyone’s surprise, including the script writer, Al Jennings was still alive at the time they depicted his criminal exploits on The Lone Ranger.

In 1899, Jennings was sentenced to life in prison for train robbery. Due to the legal efforts of his brother John, his sentence was reduced to five years. He was freed on technicalities in 1902 and received a presidential pardon in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt. After writing a number of semi-autobiographical books and stories based on his criminal escapades, Jennings moved to California and worked in the motion picture industry making Westerns. Throughout 1919 and the surrounding months, Jennings took up a professional acting career often portraying himself on screen perpetuating the myth of a “good bandit.” Jennings became a popular speaker, evangelist and writer – his life being serialized in The Saturday Evening Post

Al Jennings starring in his own silent film shorts.
On the evening of August 7, 1944, The Lone Ranger broadcast presented one of the usual weekly biography sketches in which the masked man brushed along a legend from the by-gone era. The Lone Ranger shot a gun out of the hands of an Oklahoma bad man, Al Jennings, who at the time was not only ravaging the countryside with his depredations, but who was in the very act of persuading a teenage boy to join his notorious band of bank and train robbers. When The Lone Ranger appeared on the scene and promptly took over, he unbraided Jennings in a stirring speech in which virtue and morality were given high due, and in which he added the punctuation by shooting the iron out of Jennings’ hand with the characteristic aplomb which only he could muster. But this was almost a costly mistake against The Lone Ranger entity.

As soon as papers were served against The Lone Ranger, Inc., George W. Trendle handed down diction to director Charles Livingstone to cease dramatizing exploits of The Lone Ranger that involved his encounters of famous outlaws and heroic figures. Jennings was the star witness as the trial of his $100,000 defamation suit, which ran two days, in September of 1945. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that Jennings named the Don Lee Broadcasting Company and the Weber Baking Company (the local sponsor of The Lone Ranger in the area where Jennings lived), as defendants. 

“They made me mad,” said Jennings who, when he took the stand, appeared more like a cracker barrel philosopher than the terror of the West. “They had this Lone Ranger shootin’ a gun out of my hand – and me an expert! You can’t shoot a gun out of a man’s hand, anyway – except in the movies. Not without shooting his hand near off. Who is this Lone Ranger, anyway?” Jennings declared the program made him out like a bank robber, but confessed he never robbed one in his life. His complaint also alleged how the program called him a burglar, and depicted him as inducing a young boy to join his bandit gang, and let the masked Lone Ranger treat him like a common criminal. 

Eleven women and one man – a jury in Superior Judge Robert Scott’s court – sat for more than a week in fascinated silence as Jennings described how he became an evangelist for a time to “clear my conscience” and help others avoid a life of crime. “But I got a little tired of that,” he told Judge Scott, who was also a former minister. “Some of the preachers I found were worse than some of the outlaws, but some, of course, were marvelous.”

To clarify, the breath of the case was “defamation of character” and for Jennings to have won his case, he would have had to establish different rules for different citizens and to set the precedent for publicizing anyone’s life without his permission or consent. At least, this is what his lawyer, R. Ralston Jones, should have advised his client. Instead, Jennings chose to lodge his complaint against the defendants by emphasizing how the program damaged the reputation he built up since he was freed from prison and led a life of aspired morals.

The defendants contended Jennings had no right to damages because he was a real notorious train robber and once the head of a bandit gang. They contended he had publicized his life so fully that he had no privacy left regarding the matter. It was that very book that was consulted as reference for The Lone Ranger broadcast, in which the author described a similar episode in which a 17-year-old boy asked to join the gang and finally was admitted.

On the afternoon of October 2, 1945, a verdict was handed down and Al Jennings lost his suit. A jury in Superior Judge Robert H. Scott’s court returned a 10 to 2 verdict against the reformed train robber. The verdict upheld Defense Attorney Clarence B. Runkle’s contention that Jennings’ career was not private, because Jennings himself frequently wrote details of his deeds and glorified his crimes in a series of motion picture film shorts. 

The main reason for their decision, one jury member later explained to a newspaper reporter, was that Jennings wittingly or otherwise had spent the week on the stand convincing the jury that no one could defame his reputation. “Gentlemen,” he said on one occasion after describing a particularly violent gun battle in his hectic career. “I regret to say I had to kill three of those men!” The jurors gasped. “But would I encourage a boy to embark on a life of crime?” hastily countered the ex-bad man. “No!” The California court decided that Al Jennings was not entitled to his $100,000, and the jury’s esteem of Jennings had not suffered because of the disputed radio broadcast. 



Friday, July 31, 2020

A HISTORY OF RENFREW OF THE MOUNTED (PART TWO)

Radio premium with
Renfrew on the cover.
Renfrew of the Mounted premiered over CBS Radio on the evening of March 3, 1936, over CBS, the same network airing Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy earlier in the evening. Whether the ad agency wanted the program to air on the same network remains questionable based on inter-office communication, but such a game plan was short-lived. On the same day Renfrew made his radio debut, the trade papers reported General Mills announcing plans to move their program to NBC Red in early summer (which truly happened as of August 31), in an attempt for the company to diversify their ad programs on all of the stations.
Thus by late 1936 every network featured juvenile adventure programs during the evening hours. Mutual had Dick Tracy, NBC Blue had Little Orphan Annie, NBC Red had Jack Armstrong and the Tom Mix Ralston Straight-Shooters, and CBS had Popeye the Sailor, the Bobby Benson program, and Renfrew of the Mounted.
A total of 256 radio broadcasts aired from March 3, 1936, to March 5, 1937, consisting of five brief adventures, followed by four lengthy story arcs. These are broken down in detail below.

“Preview Special” (1 chapter, March 3, 1936)
“The Driverless Dog Sled” (2 chapters, March 6 and 7, 1936)
“The Man-Trap at Moosamin” (March 10 to 14, 1936)
“Wings Over Hudson’s Bay” (March 17 to 21, 1936)
[Title Temporarily Unknown] (March 24 to 28, 1936)
“The Wonder Valley of Gold” (77 chapters, March 30 to July 16, 1936)
“The Land of the Totems” (56 chapters, July 17 to October 2, 1936)
“The Sunken City of the Arctic” (85 chapters, October 5, 1936, to January 29, 1937)
“The Wilderness Trail” (26 chapters, February 1 to March 5, 1937)

The radio program was a tremendous success from multiple viewpoints. Radio premiums from pins to campfire booklets were given away during the program’s run. It was during “The Wonder Valley of Gold” story arc that motivated children to write in for a free map so they could follow Renfrew and his friends as they traveled the wilderness. Routinely on a number of radio broadcasts, the announcer would tell children where Renfrew and his companions were on the map. Throughout the 1930s, radio premiums often consisted of cast photographs, but by 1936 it was believed children would write in for something of substance — police badges, code books, and magic tricks among them. According to a report generated by the advertising agency, Renfrew of the Mounted acquired 1,700,000 requests for “giveaways,” including the map and later a pin.

1938 issue of American Boy with
Renfrew of the Mounted on the cover.
About two-thirds of the way through “The Sunken City of the Arctic,” Erskine felt the strain of turning out five episodes weekly, always with sound effects, which threatened the author’s sanity. Foreshadowed months prior in a press release: “Laurie Erskine, who writes Renfrew for CBS says after a long script session he relieves nervous tension by standing on his head.” When a sudden illness came on or other similar emergencies caused a cast member of Renfrew of the Mounted to miss a broadcast, Erskine would pinch-hit for the role. (Before becoming a noted writer, he was a stage actor.) When the Renfrew program featured Native Indians, Erskine often received several fan letters from red-skinned gentlemen, whom he met as a youngster in his teens — supposedly the characters on the program were named after them. For a few weeks a new script writer was brought in to write the scripts based on five-page plot synopses composed by Erskine, but the script writer never maintained pure continuity, leaning more toward science-fiction that surpassed the high adventure of Jack Armstrong. Erskine was frustrated over the developments so a second script writer was brought in — Grant Terry — but they never lasted more than a week in January 1937. (Terry co-wrote Justice of the Peace with Elwell Cobb in 1935, among other short-lived radio programs.) Erskine returned to close down the story arc and begin a new one: “The Wilderness Trail.”
            The contract between the network and the ad agency was drafted in cookie-cutter format, applying the usual terms of 13-week extensions. (13  4 = 52 weeks.) Arthur Pryor notified the network that after the remaining 13 week extension, the program would go off the air, giving the network plenty of time to find replacements for the time slot. There were three reasons for the program concluding after 52 weeks. According to his friend Robert Shaw, Erskine “disposed of his hero after a vain effort to sell a comic strip version for which Pete Keenan, New Hope artist, would do the drawings.” Erskine informed the agency that he would no longer write the scripts at the conclusion of the 52nd week.
The second reason — and the weightiest of the three — was that the company conducted an extensive study made in the market that revealed almost 90 percent of the bread purchased was purchased by adult females. The agency felt, and the sponsor agreed, that they would do a better job appealing to the adult females rather than the children. The third reason was because the Continental Baking dropped sponsorship because the company did not use premiums in their business and the agency representing Continental felt their client was not getting the fullest value of the program. (Ironic when you consider the fact that Douglas Storer was not only in favor of program premiums, but wrote an article focusing on radio premiums including dealer displays, photographic reproductions of the radio cast and clever sound gadgets, for the January 1934 issue of Broadcast Merchandising.)
Renfrew of the Mounted returned to the air as a weekly half-hour adventure program, launched on the evening of January 7, 1939. In late 1938, when NBC-Blue agreed to produce a 30-minute weekly program with the hope that a sponsor would be interested in signing on the bottom line, producer Phil Goldstone of Criterion Pictures, responsible for the big screen adventures of Renfrew, created a momentary stir when he consulted the network about a clause in his contract that stipulated his rights to have a market tie-in with the cast of the motion pictures. To avoid conflict of interest with the movie studio, executives at NBC-Blue agreed to allow James Newill, the screen Renfrew, to play the starring role if the program moved to the West Coast. In the meantime, the new half-hour format would originate from the studios in New York City, known to all interests as “a substitute cast,” although House Jameson and Brad Barker were merely reprising their roles from the 1936–37 series.
These thrillers included enticing titles such as “The Lost River Mine,” “Chief Calf Robe’s Hidden Treasure,” and “The Rainbow River Gang,” among others. This second incarnation ran a total of 89 episodes, now extended to a half-hour format and broadcast over the NBC Blue Network instead of CBS. George Ludlam was hired to write the scripts, based on 14-page plot summaries by Laurie York Erskine, who had no time to write two drafts of a weekly half-hour radio script. Ludlam, an experienced script writer with such credits as For Men Only and Spy at Large under his belt, would eventually go on to establish The Adventures of Superman for radio in early 1940. Without the continuation format of a daily serial, these half-hour stories were superior on many levels.
The adventures dramatized during the half-hour rendition of Renfrew of the Mounted consisted of both single-episode adventures and multi-episode story arcs. A number of recurring characters bridged continuity even when Renfrew was solving cases within one radio broadcast. Some of the half-hour adventures were adaptations of short stories written years prior by Erskine, others recycled material from short stories with revisions, and a number of them were originals. The episode “Redheads Won’t Stay Down,” broadcast February 18, 1939, was adapted from a story in Renfrew Rides North (1931). The episode “Signals in the Dark,” broadcast June 29, 1940, was inspired by the sea-faring stories of the ships that mysteriously wrecked in the fog at San Francisco Bay — one in particular that disappeared without a trace but today is assumed to have wrecked and sunk. The half-hour program would run until October 1940.

Later illustration from a 1948 magazine of Renfrew.

A third rendition of Renfrew returned to the airwaves beginning August 18, 1941, and would run a total of seven months. Passport to Adventure was a fifteen-minute program, broadcast five days a week, and featured no cast, script or sound effects. Instead, Laurie York Erskine would narrate stories as someone would tell campfire tales. Trading dramatic presentation with that of narrative, Erskine simply composed a 15-page story and told of Indian fights, ships that sailed the seven seas, adventures in the Arctic and below the Equator. Every two or three weeks one of those stories would feature either Renfrew in a thrilling adventure, or one of Renfrew’s Canadian Mountie friends.
Passport to Adventure came to an abrupt close when Erskine was recruited by the U.S. Army to help train fighter pilots. A pilot himself during the first World War, Erskine was more than willing to help aid his country in the fight against the Japanese. Sadly, after his return to the United States, he and Douglas Storer found it difficult to sell the program to any network or sponsor. 
By the late 1930s, every movie studio in California attempted to cash in on the popularity of the Canadian Mounties. Cowboy stars Kirby Grant, Russell Hayden, and Charles Starrett swapped riding chaps and six-guns for scarlet coats with shiny brass buttons. As multiple film critics pointed out, Saskatchewan might as well have been in Texas, a few movie critics remarked. Beginning January 1939, Challenge of the Yukon premiered over WXYZ in Detroit and would soon become syndicated across the country.
It would take seven years after the conclusion of Passport to Adventure before the character of Renfrew would return to radio — one last time. On the evening of Monday, March 15, 1948, from 6:30 to 6:45 p.m.(Eastern), WNBC in New York presented a one-time broadcast of Renfrew of the Mounted. Instead of audition by recording, the broadcast aired live and was intended to show prospective sponsors (all of whom received a letter dated March 11, requesting they listen to the broadcast), how the program could be handled in an inexpensive way, broadcast daily or weekly. The audition broadcast featured Laurie York Erskine as the narrator and was heard only within reception coverage of New York City. (The remainder of the NBC network presented musical offerings across the country during the same time slot.)
Through historical retrospect, the disadvantages waging against Erskine were many. Popularity polls confirmed children preferred cowboys over Canadian Mounties. Challenge of the Yukon (later re-titled Sergeant Preston of the Yukon) was so widely syndicated that most radio stations never sought interest in two Canadian Mountie programs. Storer’s cash cow was the Robert Ripley franchise and he devoted more time on the program than Erskine’s baby. Even a 1953 television pilot on the Schlitz Playhouse of Stars never garnered interest in potential sponsors following the initial telecast, serving as a backdoor pilot for a proposed weekly program. 
When Erskine passed away in 1976, he bequeathed his franchise to a University. Sadly, the property fell into orphaned status as copyrights to the ten Renfrew of the Mounted novels were never renewed, nor licensed for reprinting. At one time Douglas Storer took inventory to discover he had more than 100 transcription discs of the radio program from 1936 to 1937. Sadly, only one dozen recordings are known to exist today. 
Five years ago, author and historian Garyn Roberts (and his wife Virginia) gave me four of the Renfrew novels as a gift, and it was here that I was first exposed to the character. From their encouragement I was motivated to read the first of them, Renfrew of the Royal Mounted (1922); followed by Renfrew Rides the Sky(1928). These two books in particular are the best of the bunch and come highly recommended. As a result of this newfound interest, like many in the hobby of old-time radio who seek to further deeper insight into the recordings they listen to, family relatives and archives across the country were sought out. As of this year, every radio script had been found and scanned into pdf format for digital preservation, along with the discovery of half a dozen un-circulated Renfrew of the Mounted radio broadcasts, and a new 500-page book documenting the history of the program – due for publication in December. What little was documented prior about the radio program (brief entries in encyclopedias) has been extensively covered in book form to ensure the character of Renfrew of the Mounted does not fade away into obscurity.