Thursday, May 13, 2021

The 1933 Premiere of THE LONE RANGER

Believe it or not, the premiere broadcast date for The Lone Ranger radio program has been a subject of controversy over the decades. The exact broadcast date varies depending on what book or magazine article you read. The reasons for the discrepancy also vary depending on the authors. Some claim the premiere broadcast date was January 30, 1933. Others claim January 31. And yet others claim February 2, 1933. What I personally find amazing is the fact that the correct answer can be found when consulting archival documents but since the primary reason for the discrepancy is because the majority of authors chose to reprint what they find in other prior published reference guides, magazine articles and websites. Preferring to go directly to the source, the answer is, of course, January 31, 1933. The remainder of this article will now go into detail how January 31 was determined, and the origin of those two mistakes that continue to pop up on multiple websites, magazine articles and published reference guides. (So if you want to save yourself five minutes of reading and avoid the nitty-gritty, accept January 31, 1933 and move on. Else, enjoy reading the next few paragraphs...)  

To understand the origin of The Lone Ranger one must take into account how most radio programs originated during the 1930s. A sponsor would commission an advertising agency to create a number of proposals and during a meeting between sponsor and account executives, listen to the pitches (often incorporated with artistic interpretations through a slide show on an art easel which today we would refer digitally to as a power point presentation). The pitches would examine how the program would interconnect with the radio listeners, and the sponsor's product. As an example, an ad agency representing General Mills would have proposed half a dozen children's serial adventures and one of those proposals would have been Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, which promoted the hero's athletic prowess and abilities, combatting villains of all sorts, including the harsh elements of Mother Nature, and thus the commercials would have emphasized how Wheaties was essential to grow strong muscles and bones like their hero, Jack Armstrong.

When James Jewell, director of dramatic programs over radio station WXYZ in Detroit, contacted Fran Striker to write up a series of dramatic westerns, little did he know how historically valuable those letters of communication would become. Striker lived in Buffalo, New York. With respect to the U.S. Post Office, the postal system was more efficient back in the 1930s than it is today. If Jewell mailed a letter to Striker on Wednesday, Striker received the letter on Thursday. If Striker mailed a reply on Friday, Jewell received the letter on Saturday. Because The Lone Ranger radio program was conceived through drafts of multiple radio scripts, and Jewell's input and Striker's output was documented through suggestions in the form of letters, the correspondence exchanged between the two have become historical documentation that cannot be refuted.

Advertising agencies often created multiple proposals, large companies would agree to sponsor said program, and it was the duty of the ad agencies to hire producers, directors, script writers, and actors, and lease airtime from the networks. Therefore networks like NBC and CBS would leave airtime to the ad agencies, who were also responsible for writing "copy," i.e. the commercial breaks pitching the product. In short, the networks provided the studio and the microphones. The advertising agencies assembled the rest. The sponsors were billed once a month for the coverage spanning multiple radio stations coast-to-coast. 

Fran Striker
Advertising agencies, like major companies, were bought and sold over the years so much of their historical documentation has been tossed into the dumpster. Worse, little exists from radio proposals during sponsor-agency conferences, especially since inter-office memos rarely exist even if corporation paperwork survives. So the fact that Jewell and Striker corresponded back and forth is extremely rare in the history of radio broadcasting and we are extremely lucky to have those historical documents to consult. 

Amongst the multiple letters  exchanged between Jewell and Striker beginning in late December 1932 was a letter dated January 21, 1933, in which Striker was advised that the new show would start the following Monday, January 30, 1933. The same letter made a few suggestions with the following notations: “I am going to start The Lone Ranger series Monday, the 30th and I am herein including the few suggestions I spoke of in my last letter. If it is humanly possible, I would like to have six more of these scripts by that time. I am going to use script No. 2 as the opening bill because I feel that it is more characteristic of the type of story we will want to use… I hope the above suggestions won’t cramp your style. I realize they have changed the character you have created… but only in a minor way… We’ll keep you posted on the listeners’ interest created by the new series so you can use same for publicity.”

Jewell’s reference to an “opening bill” was the broadcast of February 2, 1933, promoted in the Detroit Evening Times on the same morning: “Out in the wide-open spaces, where men are not crooners and women are radio actresses, where fast riding and quick shooting are the best arguments. Yes sir, that’s the location of the operations of the unique character ‘The Lone Ranger’ who makes his bow in a new dramatization series to be heard three times weekly on WXYZ starting at 9:00 p.m. today. Through his daring, his riding and his shooting, this mystery rider won the respect of the entire West – the west of the Old Days, where every man carried his heart on his sleeve and only the fittest remained to make history for the Golden States. Though The Lone Ranger was known in seven states, he earned his greatest reputation in Texas. None know from where he came and none knew where he went. A fiery horse, with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, a hearty laugh – mystery, suspense, drama, and above all, Mr. Dennis, purity and no naughty words.”


While the premiere was planned for Monday, January 30, the program would be pushed forward to Tuesday, January 31, as part of the station’s 90-minute dedicatory program. A letter dated January 26 from Jewell, informing Striker of the new date, confirms this. Newspaper listings verify the station’s dedicatory program for the evening of January 31. Even a photo and caption in a Detroit newspaper remarked, “Listen for the Lone Ranger on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights.”



So, with January 31 proven conclusively to be the premiere date, the question remains: why do some people continue to claim the premiere was January 30, while others claim February 2? Over the years, George W. Trendle, Raymond Meurer, newspapers and magazine articles and even the 20th anniversary broadcast of The Lone Ranger (January 30, 1953) made reference to the January 30 date. The Michigan Radio Network was launched on January 30, but the dedicatory program aired on the evening of January 31. Fixation on the date of the network’s official founding is the reason why such a major blunder over the years can be explained. 


The dedicatory program on the evening of January 31, 1933, was promoted to potential sponsors through the mail, in the hope that a number of regional companies would bankroll some of the proposed programs... including The Lone Ranger. “There had been no publicity preceding the first broadcast,” Meurer wrote, referring to the dry run. The first mention of the new program appeared in the Detroit Evening Times on February 2, 1933. It was this advertisement, proudly hailing the program’s premiere, that caused some historians to mistake the premiere date of The Lone Ranger as February 2, 1933. Conspiracy theorists might want to debate that February 2 should be considered the premiere of The Lone Ranger, and dismiss any on-air dry run, but the radio scripts were officially numbered and the February 2 radio script is labeled “Script #2.” Succeeding radio scripts featured consecutive sequential numbering.


In December 1938, when the radio program featured a week-long celebration for the radio program's fifth anniversary, the cast and crew dramatized the very first Lone Ranger radio adventure, harkening back not to the February 2 radio script, but the January 31... the script labeled "Script #1."


To add more conclusive evidence, court documents between The Lone Ranger, Inc. vd. Earl W. Curry and "Jack" Smith, dated October 2, 1947, attested the January 31, 1933, premiere date.


So there you have it. January 31, 1933 was the premiere broadcast date of radio's The Lone Ranger. Scans of the documents referenced above, among other historical documents, can be found in the book The Lone Ranger: The Early Years, 1933-1937, available at www.martingrams.biz


And if someone on social media or another website cites the incorrect date, point them directly to this blogpost. And if they still insist their mis-information is fact, assume they are merely trolling to deliberately irritate fans of The Lone Ranger much like a child who shakes a jar of beetles and then sits back to watch them fight. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Friday, April 23, 2021

It's A Wonderful Life Museum

Did you know there is a museum dedicated to the movie It's A Wonderful Life? Neither did I. But this year my wife and I are making the effort to travel to Seneca Falls, New York, where the fictional story took place. 2021 marks the 75th anniversary of the motion-picture and the town has plans for a weekend celebration. (Donna Reed would have turned 100 this year, incidentally.) I discovered the museum when browsing the Internet last year but with the worldwide pandemic, we did not make the trip. With the anniversary this year, it seemed logical to make the travel in a couple weeks.

At least four cast members from the motion-picture will be there to meet and greet fans, sign autographs and pose for photos. There will even be a "preview dinner" on the Friday evening where the menu replicates the Los Angeles 1946 preview dinner.

The committee is planning to have a complete schedule of events on their website in mid-June so bookmark the website and check it out on a regular basis. Some events may require tickets. Hope to to see you there!

https://www.wonderfullifemuseum.com




Thursday, April 15, 2021

THE LONE RANGER: The Early Years, 1933 - 1937

As a friend of mine would say, "You have a blog and have tons of followers so you would be foolish not to use it to promote your next book." So here it goes...

THE LONE RANGER: THE EARLY YEARS, 1933 - 1937 is a book that has been two decades in the making. Add another two decades from research by my co-author and you can be certain how valuable this tome will be for generations to come.

THE LONE RANGER premiered in January 1933 but it was not until five years later, February 1938, that the radio program was recorded on a regular basis. Back in the 1930s, radio was considered a throw-away medium. No sooner did the radio broadcast conclude, the actors tossed their scripts into the box as they went out the door and returned two days later to rehearse for the next broadcast. It was not until 1938 that the radio broadcasts were recorded and this was solely for business reasons. Yes, that means only about 75 percent of the radio broadcasts are known to exist. This also means the first five years have, with but minor exceptions, gone undocumented by fans and historians. This 800-page book documents the first five years of the radio program, including a thorough and accurate history regarding the origin of the program, with scans of archival documents to back up the facts and age-old myths debunked. 

It will not come as a surprise to fans of the program that the character we know as The Lone Ranger was different in the earliest of years than the persona we came to know by 1938. In those early years, The Lone Ranger was depicted more like Zorro and Robin Hood, laughing at danger, gunning down Mexicans and Gypsies, and sought justice in a manner outside the law. 

The authors read almost every radio script from those first five years to provide us with a unique perspective of a darker rendition, the various masks The Lone Ranger wore before settling down with the accepted black domino mask, Tonto's blood-thirsty acts of murder and revenge, Tonto's silver-tipped arrows, the dog that ran alongside as a sidekick to the masked man, recurring villains and The Lone Ranger's musical obsession to sing by the campfire and play a guitar. 

A plot summary for each radio broadcast is documented in the episode guide.

The tentative release date is June 1, 2021, but you can pre-order your copy now at www.martingrams.biz and pay no postage.