Friday, December 27, 2013

DICK TRACY: A Review of 1937

When we last left off, Dick Tracy was on the trail of the Purple Cross Gang, whose members could be identified with a purple cross tattooed on their tongues. The mastermind in charge of the gang remains a mystery (ala Republic Pictures cliffhanger serials) and plans a multi-city bank robbery spree that will rival anything put in newsprint. After discovering one of the criminals, “Baldy” Stark has been furnishing a little girl, probably his daughter, Tracy decides to follow the trail…

After the master criminal and the gang discover what Baldy has been up to, they attempt to eliminate him from the equation. Meanwhile, at the police station, “Shirtsleeve” Kelton provides a number of tips for the police to follow, the information turns out to be a dud… even when he offers the police a chance to nab the whole gang.

When the mastermind decides it’s time to eliminate men from his own gang who thought it would be easier to divide the bank loot in larger portions, the master criminal lines the men up in the form of a St. Valentine’s Day massacre and guns them down. Visiting “Baldy” in his hotel room, hoping to wipe every member of the gang off the books, the master criminal pulls a gun. As the two maneuver in the hotel room, “Baldy” turns off the lights and uses the light from the refrigerator door to shoot his boss dead. Tracy and Pat arrive to find the master criminal dead on the floor. Unmasked, the criminal turns out to be “Shirtsleeve” Kelton, who hoped to lead the police on wild goose chases while his gang committed crimes elsewhere. The story concludes with “Baldy” going to jail for his crimes. Even after all that he did, crime does not pay.

In the courtroom of Baldy’s sentencing, Tracy meets the beautiful Madeline, who claims to be a courtroom fan and Tracy drives her to her apartment. Tess, who was waiting along the road for Tracy to pick her up, gets jealous and won’t speak to the detective. Madeline, however, is among a group of female criminals who, using a small vacuum bottle strapped to her waist, steals perfume from department stores. Junior tries to uncover the facts behind the case and is almost killed by one of the ruthless women. Thankfully, the police come to rescue him in time. When Tracy gets too close to the case, he finds himself knocked unconscious and tied to a cot. In order to escape, Tracy bites Madeline’s hair and won’t let go until she unties him.

The women are arrested and Dick Tracy meets Johnny Wintworth, one of their playboy boyfriends. Johnny, as it turns out, is a reckless playboy who won’t accept any responsibility for his actions. His mother, Mrs. Mintworth, offers Tracy $25,000 if he can devote one year to make a man out of her son. Tracy gives the offer serious thought. Johnny, meanwhile, gets caught up in a number of nefarious criminal gangs and ultimately flees the city, joining a gang that has a wicked sense of humor: he’s to become a victim of a number of “accidents” for which they collect the insurance money. This involves a broken arm and almost drowns in the ocean.

Meanwhile, back in the city, the body of Mrs. Mintworth is found and Tracy investigates the apparent murder. After discovering his mother was murdered, and his employer is the man responsible, Johnny sets out to find Tracy and report the name of Danny Supeena. Danny recovers from his wounds and agrees to masquerade as a woman in a movie theater in order to help the police find and arrest Danny Supeena. When the theater is tossed into darkness, Tracy uses a gun with a tracer bullet to find and shoot the criminal dead. 

Once again, Junior plays an important role in assisting Dick Tracy in the apprehension of another master criminal. And once again, a notorious gang puts a price on Junior’s head and the young boy soon finds himself kidnapped. Junior is tied and bound in a garage where an automobile is left running, while Supeena’s men leave, hoping the young man dies of carbon monoxide. What the criminals did not expect was a visit from “The Blank,” who rescues Junior and leaves the criminals behind to face the fumes.

This faceless figure has a strange sense of vendetta, devoting his life to catching crooks… but acting as judge and jury and sentences criminals to death. Dick Tracy follows the trail of dead bodies, left behind by The Blank, who later fakes his death so the police would stop trying to find him. Getting too close to the identity of The Blank, Dick Tracy follows the trail to a private boat on the waterfront where he apprehends “Stud” Bronzen, whom The Blank blows up with sticks of dynamite.

Tracy survives, forced at the point of The Blank’s gun, into a specially designed decompression chamber for divers. While suffering from the ill effects of the decompression chamber, Tracy waits for outside help. Pat boards the boat and knocks the criminal unconscious. Stud escapes overboard but Tracy and Pat have the criminal they were really seeking… and removes the flesh-colored cheese cloth to reveal the identity of the criminal known as “The Blank.” Frank Redrum in the flesh -- a man whose face was horribly disfigured that he wanted to seek revenge against old gang members for the crime. (Yes, Redrum is murder spelled backwards.)

“Stud” Bronzen, in the meantime, finds the second floor suite of a rambling frame building not far from the waterfront. He pleads for Lee Ting, a notorious smuggler of human cargo, to help hide him until the heat is off. Dick Tracy contacts the U.S. Coast Guard for assistance in apprehending the men responsible for human trafficking… unaware of where his next case will lead him in 1938.

By the way, I recommend the IDW Publishing reprints of the Dick Tracy comic strip, reprinted in chronological order. The first fourteen volumes are now available in hardcover format.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eye Candy

For those of you hoping I would continue with the annual tradition of featuring holiday glamour photos of Hollywood eye candy, you won't be disappointed. Randomly selected from the archive.... here you go!

Deanna Durbin

Carole Lombard

Another photo of Carole Lombard

Cyd Charisse

The beautiful Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds

Esther Williams

Hedy Lamarr

Janet Leigh

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Claudette Colbert at Christmas

Starting off the first of four consecutive photo postings between now and New Year's, we reveal a candid shot of Claudette Colbert... I love those early Paramount Pictures films she did in the thirties. Especially in those pre-codes. It might be because she was obsessed with how she was photographed. She even preferred to do her own hair and makeup. But these candid shots, sent to me by James Culpepper, are a fascinating tid-bit in the life of the actress. A Christmas wreath bearing her image was hung on a pole on Vine Street in California in November or December of 1932. This was the same year Cecil B. DeMille's Sign of the Cross was released and Colbert plays the cruel, seductive Empress Poppaea, and appeared topless in the notorious milk bath sequence.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Radio Rides the Range Book

Radio Rides the Range
One of Jim Cox's hobbies is authoring encyclopedias about old-time radio. In particular are subject-oriented topics such as The Great Radio Audience Participation Shows (2008), The Great Radio Sitcoms (2012) and The Great Radio Soap Operas (1999). Jim rarely attends old-time radio conventions and when he does, his appearance is usually brief. One year in Cincinnati I remember visiting Jim in his hotel room. He was trying to finish the index for his next book. "Why don't you come down to the show and chat with the attendees?" I asked. His response was that he already put in his appearance, chatted with folks who share a common interest, and his priority was finishing his latest project on the laptop.

To date, Jim has authored 18 books with a labor of love and so it was bound to happen eventually: a book devoted to the Westerns on old-time radio. Despite the historic popularity of Western drama, there has never been one volume to encompass them all. Good friends Jack French and David Siegel put this one together, saving Jim from another challenging project he might otherwise take on. Someone had to do it and I for one am glad Jack and Dave filled in the gap. My bookshelves at home contain a wealth of reference guides and with this addition, which just arrived in my mail box, I am not sure what there is left that could be written about that cries for desperation. I fear future books devoted to old-time radio will start duplicating past endeavors. This has happened three times in the past two years and I had no other choice but to resell the books that offered nothing more than the ones on my book shelf. Perhaps the only option left is for historians to focus on the really, really, really obscure. Murphy's Law dictates that if you take time to write a book that even the geeks will want to own and read... only the geeks will buy and read it. I guess time will tell.

Radio Rides the Range, available in paperback format, is a reference guide to Western drama on the air (1929 to 1967). More than 100 dramatic radio programs are documented, with careful selection of the programs. Jack and Dave chose to avoid programs designated as all-music (Grand Ol' Opry is one such example). Western frontiersman such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were dismissed. Programs such as Dakota Days and Chisholm Trail had insufficient data to be classified and included. What the authors/editors chose to do was include five basic types of Western dramas: anthology programs such as Empire Builders and Frontier Fighters; juvenile adventure dramas such as Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger; legend and lore such as Chief Grey Wolf and Red Goose Indian Tales; adult Westerns such as Gunsmoke and Frontier Gentlemen; and soap operas such as Lone Journey and Cactus Kate.

The book also clarifies the portrayal of Mexicans and American Indians, how stereotyping began to change during World War II, how children programs began painting a picture of racial intolerance, and the portrayal of American Indians from heavies to sidekicks. One program I was not familiar with was Light on the West, where a woman played the role of a law enforcement officer. Women played minor roles in radio Westerns, primarily as love interests, schoolmarms or victimized widows. The plight and progress of women in the West is chronicled throughout the book. 

A pleasant surprise: Will Hutchins, Tom Brewster of television's Sugarfoot, submitted a great foreword, both enthusiastic and praising of radio drama and the book.  

With over 100 entries, a tome of this scope is more difficult than a book focused on a single subject. Jack and Dave recognized that no one person can put together such a book without errors slipping, so they consulted historians (myself included, full disclosure) and researchers who would devote long hours of research and ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this book. A total of 36 submissions were received from 20 contributors, with Jack and Dave authoring about 60 entries. Some of the entries were obviously created with only one or two sources such as a Variety review or a newspaper clipping. Other entries were created by fans of the program who devoted considerable amount of their writeup citing the cast (probably because content and script information was not available). Among the impressive entries were J. David Goldin's Tales from the Diamond K (1951), Goldin's Hoofbeats (1936-37), Stan Claussen's Frontier Town (1949-53), Jack and Dave's Ranch House Jim (1943-44), and Ryan Ellett's Life on Red Horse Ranch (1935-36).

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of this book is the inclusion of radio programs where no surviving recordings exist, or which very few recordings are known to exist. Thankfully, with but one or two entries where the contributors chose to "speculate" rather than "verify" the contents of a radio program where recordings are sparse, the entire book stays focused on the facts. (It bugs me when I read books that mistake speculation for facts and mislead the readers.) For the rarities, print documentation was used to fill in a gap that was sorely needed. This reason, among all reasons, is why this book provides a major contribution to the preservation of old-time radio. "It will definitely be a strong asset in any reference repository, whether in a large public library or just the book shelf of a collector," Jack told me. That just about fits the bill. 

Thank you, Jack and Dave.

You can purchase a copy of the book from but I recommend you purchase your copy direct from McFarland Publishing. (a direct link here: A direct purchase from the publisher will ensure the largest royalties to the authors. We're probably talking pennies here, but the price is the same so there's no reason to shop elsewhere.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Lone Ranger in NYC

This December, in New York City, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is running their Nostalgia Holiday Special Train consisting of subway cars of the past that have long been retired, including many of the original advertisements that were once posted within the trains. They are running every Sunday this month along the 6th Avenue Subway line. Check out the LONE RANGER advertisement for station WOR that was captured on digital camera (courtesy of Brian Hochberg) yesterday!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Recent Auction Sales

Looking for something to buy this Christmas? Check out some of these auction items from the past year!

Judy Garland's WIZARD OF OZ Dress... Sold!
Judy Garland's WIZARD OF OZ dress.
The amount of $480,000 is a pretty penny to pay for a secondhand dress worn by a Kansas farm girl, but this one is pretty special. The famed blue gingham dress worn by Judy Garland’s Dorthy Gale in The Wizard of Oz fetched that price during a two-day event at Julien’s Auctions Beverly Hills Gallery that featured bids coming in by phone from throughout the world. Garland’s dress wasn’t the only iconic costume sold. The dress Julie Andrews wore in The Sound of Music brought $38,400, and a purple skirt worn by Marilyn Monroe during the Canadian filming of River of No Return sold for $50,000. Other Hollywood memorabilia auctioned included Steve McQueen’s racing jacket, which went for $50,000, and John Belushi's sunglasses from The Blues Brothers, which brought in $16,640. For those of you who don't like Johnny Depp or believe he's overrated... the glasses worn by Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows brought in $3,250. Another version of Garland’s Oz dress, which was blue and cotton and never appeared in the finished film, fetched $910,000 in June 2011 at the Profiles in History auction in Calabasas, Calif. The actress wore that dress during the first two weeks of filming before they reshot those scenes.

Fake Babe Ruth baseball mitt.
Beware of Ebay Scammers
A California man pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal courtroom in June 2012 for trying to sell a baseball glove he falsely claimed was once owned by Yankees legend Babe Ruth for $200,000. "I sold a baseball glove and falsely claimed it was Babe Ruth’s," Irving Scheib, age 50, told U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson. "I feel horrible about it, Your Honor, but those are the facts." Scheib bought an authentic 19th century baseball glove on eBay for $750, then turned around and tried to resell it for $200,000, starting in January. To entice buyers, Scheib wrote a fake handwritten note he said was from Ruth and concocted an elaborate story about the glove that made it appear to have been one of the Bambino's treasured possessions

The fake document was then sent to an individual interested in purchasing the glove (the buyer). After paying for the glove, the buyer asked Scheib to notarize one of the letters attesting to the glove's provenance that was signed by Scheib and purportedly signed by Scheib's wife, who is Robert Young's granddaughter. Scheib refused to do so ad the buyer promptly returned the glove.

Scheib then tried to con another man by alleging that Babe Ruth owned the glove. But this potential buyer turned out to be an investigator for the U.S. Attorney's Office. In addition to probation, the judge ordered Scheib to pay a $25,000 fine. He also agreed to forfeit the glove to the United States.

Martin Luther King Audio Tape
Stephon Tull was going through his attic, cleaning it out, when he stumbled on a box formerly owned by his father, a Chattanooga insurance salesman. A rare reel-to-reel tape consisting of a interview his father had with Martin Luther King, Jr., dated December 21, 1960. For ten minutes King discussed the topic of civil rights and the movement and a recent trip to Africa. It seems Stephon's father had plans to write a book about King but was never completed. Made four years before the Civil Rights Act, the tape was put up for auction earlier this year.

Clayborne Carson, a history professor and head of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University in California, told CNN it was difficult to discern immediately the tape's historical significance from the thousands of interviews King conducted during his life. "What is interesting about this is rather than just a transcript, you can hear his voice," Carson said.

Courtesy of the Associated Press with permission.

$20,000 Buys You a Piece of WWII History
If you had $20,000 loose change in the sofa, you could have owned a piece of WWII history. A naval cable signaling the end of the war against Japan was sold on auction. The cable was on a piece of paper, 8 inches by 6 inches, a dispatch from President Harry S. Truman's Navy Secretary to Rear Admiral Francis Denebrink (the commander of the Pacific sub fleet aboard the U.S.S. Holland) and read: "All hands of the United States Navy, Marine Corpse and Coast Guard may take satisfaction in the conclusion of the war against Japan." Bob York, age 65, sold the dispatch formerly owned by his father, Robert W. York, a WWII veteran who was on the U.S.S. Holland on August 15, 1945. It was a prized possession of his father's but since the veteran recently passed away, his son put it up for auction and the winning bid was $20,000. 

Pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls for Sale
In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into a dark cave along the Dead Sea east of Jerusalem and heard the sound of something breaking. Inside, he found clay jars, some of them with rolled-up scrolls inside. He and some companions ended up finding seven scrolls -- the Dead Sea Scrolls -- one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th Century. These were the world's oldest biblical manuscripts, and the Bedouins who found them sold three to a Hebrew University professor and four to William Kando, a Christian cobbler.

The Kando family ended up selling most of the scrolls to scholars and institutions, but Mr. Kando's son still has fragments that he's kept in a Swiss safe deposit box for years that he recently decided to make for sale. Most of the fragments are barely the size of a postage stamp, and some are blank, with no writing on them at all. But there is still keen interest from many evangelical Christian collectors and institutions in the U.S. The reason Kando is selling on the down-low is that Israel wants the scraps to be recognized as Israeli cultural property. But money talks, doesn't it?

Jackie Robinson's Baseball Glove for Sale
The baseball glove believed worn by Jackie Robinson during the 1955 and 1956 World Series sold for $373,002 in an auction that ended June 3 by Steiner Sports, based in New York. It was not the most ever paid for a baseball glove at an auction. That honor goes to the mitt advertised as the last one used by Lou Gehrig; it fetched $387,500 at Sotheby's in 1999.

An aerial view of Bob Hope's house.
Bob Hope's House for Sale
A known fact that Bob Hope invested his money in real estate led to a startling revelation: at one point he was one of California's largest individual property holders, owning some 10,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley alone. Now his home in a San Fernando valley walnut grove, first built in 1939, is up for sale... the asking price is $27.5 million. The 5.16 acre Toluca Lake estate was expanded on over the years to fit Bob Hope's needs, hobbies and family. In the surrounding area, zip codes, Beverly Hills, Studio City, Encino, Holmby Hills and Sherman Oaks, there are supposedly only 22 properties that have more than 5 acres so anyone wanting a lot of land in California needs to look no further than Bob Hope's private residence. There are a number of personal mementos that come with the house, catered to Hope, including the letter 'H' on the giant iron gate. Six bedrooms, seven bathrooms and an indoor and outdoor swimming pool.  


Friday, November 22, 2013

77 SUNSET STRIP: "Secret Island"

77 Sunset Strip television series
Remember 77 Sunset Strip? If you cannot remember the names of the lead characters, you no doubt remember Kookie and the finger snapping theme song. The first hour-long detective program to air on a weekly basis, the detectives worked hand-in-hand with the police... not insult them. Prior to 77 Sunset Strip, detectives and private investigators were depicted on television as experienced men with service backgrounds and a not-too-favorable relationship with the local police. These detectives were young, often seen smoking, drinking, having a taste for modern day jazz and a habit of describing their female clients by their figures. In the same mold as Maverick, the producers chose to rotate the spotlight on the co-stars; one week Stuart Bailey might be the lead detective, another week Jeff Spencer. Sometimes they worked together, oftentimes they worked solo with brief appearances in the beginning or final moments of the episode.

Most of the episodes were pulp noir crime dramas, using such lingo as "gumshoe," "doll," "shamus" and "buzzer." Spawned housewives plotting to murder their husband's lovers, scamming insurance companies and a missing heiress was common. When the episodes centered on the solo adventures of Stuart Bailey (played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), the adventures oftentimes became high adventure and international intrigue. In many cases, Bailey was hired by the U.S. Government or met an old acquaintance from his old war days when he worked for the OSS. That's where "Secret Island" comes into play. On the evening of December 4, 1959, ABC-TV telecast the latest episode of 77 Sunset Strip, "Secret Island," which was either the worst -- or the best -- episode of the series to date... depending on your tastes.

The plot for "Secret Island" was a simple one. On route from Philippines with a wanted criminal, Stuart Bailey and five other survivors of a plane crash at sea reach an isolated island. Add a cheating husband and a woman with unscrupulous principals to the mix and Bailey finds himself with multiple tasks at hand besides finding a way off the island. When the men discover they are on the target of a future H-bomb test, they retain their information from the women. Young Lani finds evidence of the fact and withholds it from everyone but Bailey, who discovers the adults have been making a mistake of treating Barrie as a child. The radio provides the latest news of the test, including frequent updates of the on-coming plane designed to drop the bomb. After discovering how the test is going to be conducted, Bailey and the men use a reflection mirror to alert the pilot carrying the bomb and the test is postponed.

77 Sunset Strip comic book
"Secret Island" was the 44th episode telecast in the series. Fans tuning into the program that evening expecting a mystery involving a double-cross, a femme fatale and murder might have been disappointed. Then again, episodes that do not follow the cookie-cuter format are often regarded by fans as the highlights of the series.

"Secret Island" was not the worst episode to air ("The Grandma Caper" in the first season was horrible) but it was not the best ("The Kookie Caper" aired weeks prior and is considered one of the ten best episodes of the series). But fans of the program continue to debate.

Personally, I prefer the film noir variety.

Among the studio facilities was The Jungle, an exterior plot of ground complete with a lake, tropical growth and enough trees to resemble any time, setting or period from a wooded forest to the tropics. Most of the filming for this episode took place in The Jungle but the first day of filming was plagued with technical issues. Howie Horwitz, responsible for daily television production, wrote a memo to William T. Orr on the evening May 8, explaining why production was falling behind. “I don’t know if I am the only one who is having this problem, but I seem to be running into the problem of faulty equipment lately -- camera heads, belts, etc. For example, I have been delayed three times (Secret Island) for a total of one hour and fifteen minutes while this equipment was being repaired. The crews tell me there is no longer maintenance on the equipment and if this is so, then perhaps something should be done about it.”

Under george waGGner’s direction (yes, that is how the director preferred to have his name spelledin the closing credits), the entire production was completed on schedule within the six days allotted for an hour-long television drama. Two weeks after principal filming concluded, Horwitz sought permission from Hugh Benson to shoot 3 or four additional lines of dialogue between Kookie and Roscoe, used for the opening tag of this episode, which was already shot independently from the rest of the program. “I can do this very easily,” Horwitz explained. “It will require a couple of close-ups and george waGGner can shoot it during the filming of ‘The Texas Doll’ next week.” His permission was granted and the additional lines were shot and inserted into the rough cut.

Like every episode of the series (and every Warner Bros. television production), numerous scenes were complicated by outside interference such as planes flying overhead and microphones that could not located close enough for the actors without being visibly seen on camera. As a result, numerous lines of dialogue had to be dubbed by the actors. On October 27, Horwitz wrote to Jim Moore, requesting a rush job for what he felt was one of the best episodes of the series. “I know the dubbing schedule is rough, but could we possibly get the 77 episode titled ‘Secret Island’ through a little ahead of time, as this is a particularly outstanding show and we might want to have some advance screenings in order to raise some fuss in the press.”

(Left to Right)  Kookie, Stu and Jeff on the Warner Bros. lot.

Leonard Lee’s story idea was inspired by an article he read in Newsweek magazine documenting the accounts of atom bomb tests in the Pacific, either at Bikini or Eniwetok, during the early fifties and involved a group of passengers from a small pleasure boat instead of a commercial airplane and did not involve a detective or a criminal. When Lee submitted his story to the producers of Climax and Playhouse 90, it was rejected. The author then proposed the idea to producer Howie Horwitz. Howie liked it but Orr at first turned it down as being too “off-beat” and not readily adaptable for the 77 Sunset Strip series. Horwitz pursued the matter, insisting it would be a change of pace from the gumshoe approach and finally induced Orr to agree to acquiring the story rights.

The five-page story treatment titled “The End” was dated October 23, 1958, taking place on board the boat. A formal seven-page plot synopsis of the same title was drafted on April 7, 1959, now on board an airplane. In adapting it for Sunset, Horwitz and Lee in a story conference agreed on some changes and additions. At Horwitz’s suggestion, instead of the story taking place while Bailey is on a vacation, he goes out to the Pacific to apprehend an embezzler for a surety company. Jack Emanuel suggested to Lee that the story would have some better elements of Stagecoach or Five Came Back -- where a group of people could be characterized. Sadly, while the story offered the promise of strong and weak characters, human frailties and love-hate relationships between the fictional characters and the viewers, the final cut featured very little in the way of character development.

Nancy Gates and Roger Smith
In the end, Leonard Lee was paid $500 for his short story, $1,230 for the first draft of the teleplay and $770 for the completion of an acceptable final draft for a grand total of $2,500. His contract for employment was dated March 26, 1959.

Just a few weeks following the initial telecast, George Patrick Kelly (of Victoria, Australia) sent a letter to Warner Bros. dated January 19, 1960, claiming “Secret Island” infringed upon his copyrighted play, Suffer the Innocent, which he wrote in 1956. On January 26 or 27, James Barnett at Warner Bros. exchanged communication with Leonard Lee to verify that the author had never seen nor had any knowledge of the George Patrick Kelly play. Lee even registered his story with the Writer’s Guild of America (Registration Number 67079) on June 17, 1957. Barnett verified that Kelly’s play was never purchased or considered by the studio. “The plot of ‘Secret Island’ is a generic one,” Barnett wrote to Bryan Moore. “A writer conceiving such a basic premise could only develop it logically along the lines that Mr. Lee followed.”

The finished teleplay was a somewhat expanded and adapted version of the original submission, and Lee was correct when he later swore, after being informed of the infringement, that he adapted it for 77 Sunset Strip with the help of producer Howie Horwitz who co-wrote the teleplay (un-credited).

Moore conducted further communication with George Patrick Kelly and in a letter dated February 25, Kelly acknowledged that his play was never produced or published, but it was submitted to “a leading American Literary and Film Agent,” although he could not disclose who this was. “I have requested our Foreign Department to postpone any more exhibitions of our 77 Sunset Strip episode ‘Secret Island’ anywhere in the world, and I will also request that it not be scheduled for rerun, until final disposition is made of this claim,” Moore wrote to Parker Harris on March 4.

Sue Randall and Edd "Kookie" Byrnes
77 Sunset Strip was sold to the Associated British Television Company in England, who in turn licensed it for television stations other than their own. In a letter dated December 8, 1960, an attorney named Tristam Owen, wrote to ATV stating that he represented Sydney Box Associates, Ltd., the distributor of a film entitled S.O.S. Pacific and that the 77 Sunset Strip was so similar in plot that he felt there might have been a breach of copyright. ATV referred him to ABC-TV, who referred Mr. Owen to Warner-Pathe Distributors, Ltd., the British distribution company who distributed Warner’s theatrical program, as well as television programs. Mr. Owen then wrote to Warner-Pathe by letter dated January 3, 1961. During the month of January, the attorney in England made arrangements to screen both S.O.S. Pacific and “Secret Island” to determine if there would be a conflict.

Warner Brothers was protected since “Secret Island” was covered under the Worldwide Errors and Omissions Policy and for that reason the studio filed a claim to the Insurance Company so they were aware of the situation. S.O.S. Pacific was released theatrically in the United States in July of 1960. The writer’s contract was dated March 26, 1959, and principal photography for the episode was completed May 15, 1959, but the initial telecast was not until December 4, 1959, held back until the 1959-60 season although it was originally planned for the 1958-59 season. This was the second claim they had on the picture.

At the time, television broadcasts in Australia ran later than the United States airing and on different airdates depending on the location: Sydney on January 8, 1960, Melbourne on January 15, 1960, Brisbane on June 10, 1960 and Perth on August 12, 1960.

Louis Quinn and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
By February 10, 1961, Owen had viewed both the movie and the television episode. “I think that it is clear from the viewing of the two films that the points of similarity between then were more than could possibly arise from pure coincidence. In fact, I think I can say that from the moment in the films when the passengers boarded the plane the storyline of both films was almost identical and that, at one stage of the development of the respective shooting scripts, there had been some material which has been used as a source for both films.” Owen then swore in writing that the script for S.O.S. Pacific was written in 1955 and beat the studio to the punch. By August 1961, attorneys for Warner Brothers had viewed both films and ruled: “It became apparent to all who saw the two films that there were a great many similarities between them. Some of these similarities were inevitable once the basic theme had been devised, but others give rise to some suspicion at least that one story may have been copied from another.”

Ultimately, an out-of-court settlement was reached. Claims for infringement was not uncommon in Hollywood and by 1960, more than a thousand television broadcasts had been subject to similar claims. The fact that a studio settled on such claims did not mean the studio committed infringement; such decisions were made based on the cheapest approach since fighting an infringement case in court could cost more than the settlement itself. In these cases, terms of the settlement were rarely disclosed to the public but often allows the studio to continue syndicated reruns of the broadcast and a statement that states the movie studio was not guilty of the crime. Because the insurance company covered most of the financial damages, the studio often considered an out-of-court settlement just to get the claimant to go away quickly and quietly.

Fun Trivia
One of the two men communicating via radio during the test is Adam West, un-credited.

Actress Tuesday Weld was 15 years old when she appeared in this episode, which meant she was a minor and a welfare worker was required on the set: Gertrude Vizard. Weld’s character was originally called Lani in the first draft of the teleplay.

The words “Phillipine Islands” is mis-spelled on the insert shot of the airport sign.

Production #2-6614
Episode #44  “SECRET ISLAND”
Final Draft of Script Dated: ________________
Initial Telecast: December 4, 1959
Dates of Production: May 8, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15, 1959
Studio Production Shooting: The Jungle and Stage 19
Total Cost of Production: $61,408
Teleplay by Leonard Lee.
Directed by george waGGner.
Cast: Jacqueline Beer (Suzanne); Jacques Bergerac (Pierre D’Albert); Barry Cahill (the pilot); Joseph Conway (Chuck, the co-pilot, un-credited); Kathleen Crowley (Carol Miller); Jimmy Lydon (Steve, the navigator); Catherine McLeod (Amanda Connell); Louis Quinn (Roscoe); Joan Staley (the stewardess); Grant Sullivan (Dave Connell); and Tuesday Weld (Barrie).

Music Cues: Horsey! Keep Your Tail Up, Keep The Sun Out of My Eyes (by Walter Hirsch and Bert Kaplan, :04 and :05); 77 Sunset Strip (by Mack David and Jerry Livingston, :33); Fanfare (by Sawtell and Shefter, :06); 77 Sunset Strip (by David and Livingston, :42); In the Park (by Sawtell and Shefter, :26); Rainy Dawn (by Sawtell and Shefter, :54); Cosmic Man Appears (by Sawtell and Shefter, 1:00); Cosmic Man Destroyed (by Sawtell and Shefter, 1:33); Several Moods Dramatic #1 (by Sawtell and Shefter, 1:03); On My Way (by Sawtell and Shefter, :06); 77 Sunset Strip (by David and Livingston, :05 and :05); Beware (by Sawtell and Shefter, :11); Deep Trance (by Sawtell and Shefter, :43); Gentle Mocking (by Sawtell and Shefter, :40); Monkeying Around (by Sawtell and Shefter, :26); Gentle Mocking (by Sawtell and Shefter, :56); Hawaiian Eye (by David and Livingston, :20); More Far East (by John Neel, :25); Several Moods Dramatic #2 (by Sawtell and Shefter, :50); 77 Sunset Strip (by David and Livingston, :05); Cornered (by Sawtell and Shefter, :37); Several Moods Dramatic #1 (by Sawtell and Shefter, :27); Hawaiian Eye (by David and Livingston, :32); Religioso (by Sawtell and Shefter, :35); The Last Struggle (by Sawtell and Shefter, :30); Several Moods (by Sawtell and Shefter, 1:41); Leona (by David Buttolph, 1:00); Dead Reckoning (by Sawtell and Shefter, :19); Follow Him (by Sawtell and Shefter, :10); Wild Chase (by Heindorf, :33); Police Mystery (by Sawtell and Shefter, :20); The Monster’s Mate (by Sawtell and Shefter, :45); Great Raid (by Sawtell and Shefter, :17); 77 Sunset Strip (by David and Livingston, :38); Horsey! Keep Yout Tail Up, Keep the Sun Out of My Eyes (by Hirsch and Kaplan, :19); Blues (by Sawtell and Shefter, :10); 77 Sunset Strip (by David and Livingston, 1:10); and Fanfare (by Sawtell and Shefter, :04).

Licensed Music
Horsey, Keep Your Tail Up, Keep the Sun Out of My Eyes (Hirsch-Kaplan) Witmark, :04, :05 and :19

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Ugly American (1958 book) and (1963 movie)

The Ugly American dust jacket
Not since I read John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids three years ago have I finally read a book that qualifies as one of the "Ten Best Reads." I just finished reading The Ugly American and was blown away with the superb prose, the stories and the moral lessons which is rarely prevalent in today's fiction. Following the law of Watchmen (Issue #1), the best way to grab the reader is to tell a horrifying story that grabs that tugs on your heart strings... from there it's only a matter of retaining good story telling. And The Ugly American is one such example. The main reason I even bought a first edition to read was because it had a unique (and very trivial) connection with one of the best television programs ever produced: Playhouse 90.

Among the many projects that never met fruition was a 1958 best seller by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, as reported in the April 11, 1959 issue of TV Guide: “Before the season is over, Playhouse 90 hopes to do The Ugly American, best-seller about the lack of experience and diplomacy in our foreign service.” The novel told of the Honorable Gilbert MacWhite, ambassador to Sarkhan, an illusory Southeast Asian country dealing with an uprising of anti-American sentiment and disapproval of its own government. MacWhite underestimates the magnitude of the situation, assuming he’ll be able to smooth things over in no time. But he soon realizes that the country’s turmoil won’t easily be pacified. MacWhite soon discovers that American diplomacy does not involve ammunition or money, as he tries to keep the Communists in the north from overrunning the weakened democracy in the south.
            The Ugly American consisted of 21 short stories, each teaching a valuable lesson in the span of an ambassador’s overview in Sarkhan. In a time of Sputniks and Explorers and ICBM’s and “dirty” and “clean” atomic weapons, the novel demonstrates how a nation could lose its power and integrity slowly, in minute particles, through a succession of bits and fragments. Though fictional, each story featured a facet of real events and situations that have hurt American diplomacy. In more than one story, the value of close communication with the native tongue was more important than a native translator who was hired to interpret the press, the radio and personal conversation. Diplomats received rose-tinted reports of local sentiment that only served to soundproof the representatives responsible for an accounting. Blockage of information itself was among the many penalties we had to pay.
Playhouse 90 Television Series
            In the short story, “What Would You Do?”, two Americans – a married couple named Martin – came to Burma as short-term advisors. They were quiet people about whom nobody seemed to know much, and they quietly went up north to the Shan States, which are pretty wild. They brought no pamphlets, brochures, movies, or any of the other press-agent devices which are so offensive to most of the natives. Unlike ambassadors and diplomats, they had no automobile and no servants. They just moved into a small town and settled down in a modest house and began living there. They spoke Burmese – a most unusual accomplishment for Americans in Burma – and they frequently received visitors as a result. These visitors were amazed at two things. One was the tremendous size of the vegetables they were growing in their garden; and the second was the size of the garden itself. Mrs. Martin took them into the kitchen and showed them a small home canning outfit. The Burmans had never seen anything like it, and didn’t know what it was. They came around day after day to watch fruit and vegetables being canned. Then, as the months passed by, the Burmans saw that when the cans were opened the vegetables were still edible.
            The two Americans distributed high-quality seeds to all of the townspeople and helped them organize a community canning plan. The people of the village still do most of the growing individually, and a good deal of the canning is done at home; but now they not only put up things for their own use, but for all Burma. The village became the canning center of the nation, and process meat, vegetables, and many favorite Burmese foods. In that section of the Shan States everyone was pro-American because of the Martins. They came to Burma to help the natives, not to improve their own standard of living. “You don’t need publicity if the results of what you are doing are visible and are valuable to the people,” it was explained in the book. “The steam from a pot of soup is its best advertisement.”
            In another short story, “Nine Friends,” the story of Father Finian, ordered to Burma with the positions of Overseers of Catholic Missions and Advocate for the General of the Society of Jesus. He knew of the terrible trouble there, the political plague which infected people who were susceptible because of hunger, poverty, or political disunity. To verse himself in the local preachings, Finian read Lenin’s What is to be Done? and Stalin’s History of the Communist Party, Engels’ Anti-Duhring and Marx’s Das Kapital. Through all the tedious reading through economics and politics, sociology and philosophy, the priest never wavered. He decided to take a long trip via Manila, Saigon, Bangkok, and finally Rangoon. There, he learned first hand the culture, the history, and anthropology of the country. After discovering how Communist infiltration was applied through the printed paper, Finian and eight associates formed a battle plan.
            The group, under the leadership of Father Finian, published a small, cheap newspaper on the ditto machine. They called it The Communist Farmer. This was cunning, because the title could mean anything. Initially the Communists did not know whether to support or oppose the newspaper, which appeared mysteriously and suddenly in marketplaces, stores, doorsteps, village squares, buses and streets. In each issue was an article by a famous Communist. One issue had an article by Karl Marx in which he attacked the stupidity and backwardness of the peasants. Another issues offered a speech by Stalin in which he justified his slaughter of “kulaks” on the grounds that agriculture must be collectivized. The rest of the issue was a simple reporting of facts about farming difficulties in Russia, the agricultural progress in the United States, hints on how to increase farm production, advice on how to use fertilizer. The Communist Party was confused and attacked the paper savagely in speeches, by radio and in other papers. They could not effectively deny that what was reported was authoritative. Their all-out effort to suppress the paper made The Communist Farmer more desirable, and copies became prized.
The lesson to be learned went beyond his effort to venture into the territory and learn the native way of living, speaking and praising. By setting an example, he changed the way people thought of America. “The evil of Communism is that it has masked from native peoples the simple fact that it intends to ruin them. When Americans do what is right and necessary, they are also doing what is effective.”
            Most of the stories in the book do not have happy endings. In most cases the Communist infiltration succeeded and rarely an American learned a valuable lesson that could be applied to future diplomacy. The entire novel ends with a negative note the dreadful dilemma that the little things done must be moral acts and must be done in the real interest of the people whose friendship America needed – not just in the interest of propaganda. The heads in Washington knew nothing of this. The ambassador who was replaced by MacWhite cared not for the people who lived outside the embassy. He merely considered his own status with his superiors, hoping for a transfer and promotion. Senators in Washington assumed MacWhite and his staff, like any foreign ambassador, would show the best side of things to keep their own appropriations up. When a Senator paid a visit to Sarkhan and inspected a tank-training field, a machine-gun range and a parade field, he asked a Vietnamese being given instructions in a recoilless rifle, how many times he’s fired the rifle and against what kind of targets, the answer was not what he expected. The native answered that he had never seen the recoilless rifle before this morning, and normally he was a cook. He was bewildered by the sudden change in his assignment, but delighted. The translator told the Senator that “he has worked several weeks with the recoilless rifle. He has not fired at targets because there is an extreme shortage of recoilless shells. He says, however, that he welcomes the chance to practice with the rifle, and would like to use it against the Communists.”
            When The Ugly American was first published in 1958, the New York Tribune reviewed: “If this were not a free country, this book would be banned.” The novel was a scathing indictment of foreign policy of the period, which more than likely is a problem we still face today. The producers of Playhouse 90 had one sole objective for their weekly presentations: television viewers would spend the next morning participating in enlightening discussions between coworkers at the water cooler. Any drama demonstrating the lack of competence with the American government was certain to generate feedback for the network. Like the readers of the book, television viewers would share the manifold frustration of the few who understood how to achieve results in Sarkhan. Naturally, the television play would contain a different story in between each sponsor break, offering a format best suited for an adaptation of this novel. Having read the novel, it remains a darn shame that Playhouse 90 never telecast a version in 1959 or 1960.
The Ugly American 1963 movie poster
            The novel did make it to the silver screen in 1963 with Marlon Brando playing the role of Harrison Carter MacWhite. To add an air of authenticity, much of the movie was filmed on location in Thailand. In the movie, like in the novel, MacWhite ignores the advice of his staff and focuses primarily on the completion of Freedom Road, a U.S.-built highway which he feels is most essential to the community making transportation and industry feasible to acquire financial stability. In a similar manner as depicted in the novel, MacWhite loses the battle and upon resigning his position, returns to the United States. The short stories that make up the novel are far superior to the movie which chose to only cover one or two aspects. Very few words of wisdom are applied in the movie, which are sprinkled throughout the book. “You can’t buy gratitude with your handouts," MacWhite is told by a Communist sympathizer. In short, the old adage is applied here: the book is much better. The film closes with MacWhite explaining to the press in an interview that to help the countries of Southeast Asia, Americans must understand their internal problems before inflicting a way of life upon them. As his words are carried to the United States by television, an uninterested viewer switches off his television set. The movie was in part an allegory of American involvement in Vietnam, among other Asian countries, and the battle against Communist insurgency.

The book is essential reading and available on for a bargain of a price.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Theft and Recovery of The Lone Ranger

The worst kind of news any devoted fan of nostalgic pop culture could hear is the theft of archival documents from a public library... especially when the archival materials impairs the valuable and necessary research and documentation of such classics as The Lone Ranger. But that is exactly what happened in the summer of 2013, when a long-time Detroit resident masterminded the unlawful theft of archival historical documents and attempted to sell them on the internet.

Because of the rising incidence of library theft and mutilation of library materials -- most likely caused by the recent economic decline -- public libraries have been suffering serious losses of books and other property. Radio research has taken a massive step up the evolution scale as a result of the internet (provided researchers use the internet as a tool for research, not as a reference). Archival materials in libraries have been making the transfer to digital format as a means of preservation (provided the backups are stored off-site, else that loses the point of "preservation"). But there are still hundreds of thousands (potentially millions) of items that have never been digitally scanned and are still susceptible to theft.

Earle Graser contract for sale
In late June 2013, Hake's Americana and Collectibles Auctions in York, Pennsylvania, officially launched the sale of the "WXYZ Archives," offering boxes of vintage collectibles ranging from The Green Hornet, Challenge of the Yukon and The Lone Ranger. Included among the lot were employment contracts signed by the actual staff of WXYZ (Brace Beemer, Earle Graser, etc.), glossy photographs, promotional premiums, unpublished manuscripts, newspaper comic strips and more. The weekly SCOOP newsletter announced the "WXYZ Archive" and naturally, this caught my attention. I was aware of the George W. Trendle Archive, the Brace Beemer Archive, the Fran Striker Archive, the Raymond Meurer Archive, and other collections housed at public and university libraries, and private collections of family relatives. But what exactly is the WXYZ Archive and why did they have three factual errors wrong in their write-up? Turns out a resident of Detroit, Michigan, consigned his private collection to the auction house in the hopes of making a profit. But the collection was not his...

The auction caught the eye of a number of collectors, including a friend of mine in Brooklyn, New York, Alex, who called me over the phone to inquire about The Green Hornet comic strips (reprinted on my blog HERE). They were for sale and he wanted to know the estimated value. I provided Alex and exact details of why the comic strip never went to print, how many rough sketches were made, the estimated value and other details that were not provided on Hake's auction site. Since only two were made and I know where the two reside, what puzzled me is where this third one originated. Even more puzzling was a number of other collectibles that had two similarities -- they contained autographs of George W. Trendle or "To George W. Trendle" and all of them were among the inventory list in the George W. Trendle Archive, housed at the Detroit Public Library.

The Green Hornet newspaper comic strip
A few years ago, Terry Salomonson, Chris Holm and myself had photocopied eighty to ninety percent of the documents, letters, correspondence, inter office memos, contracts, financial papers, photographs and other materials related to The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet housed in the George W. Trendle papers at the Burton Collection of the Detroit Public Library. For researchers like myself, photocopying the materials and filing them away for future ease is extremely beneficial. What can take four days copying 20,000 sheets of paper can take six months organizing, analyzing and typing into a book manuscript. Sitting in the reading room and typing information directly into a computer is only feasible when the amount of material does not exceed 40 to 50 sheets of paper per day. 

From a researcher's end, the copy policies at libraries vary and researchers often contact the libraries in advance regarding copy limits, fees, advance permissions, etc. This helps plan and map out a research schedule. (Or as I often say, research entails legwork -- not consulting prior published reference guides and internet websites.) Personally, I have a damn-the-cost attitude when it comes to research, choosing the more expensive route, knowing in the short few hours I have at a library I can go home with more material than I can process in the short time reviewing the same papers at the library. (This is generally why more than half the books I wrote cost me more than $12,000 in research expenses alone.) Having conducted research at more than 100 libraries in the past decade, I can state that my favorite are those with low copy fees (10 cents vs. 25 cents) and no copy limits. (The Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts at the New York Public Library has the worst policy anywhere -- their policies and staff do more to handicap your research then help.)

Researchers are responsible for the accuracy of the descriptions of the items sold on auction houses and auction houses make an effort to contact those researchers to ensure their customers are not being misled as to the validity of the item.

Reviewing the items for sale on Hake's auction (link cane be found HERE), a number of them caught my attention. Ink blots, coffee stains, torn corners, carbon copy blemishes, rusted paperclips and other signs can individually brand any archival document. It was those same tell-tale signs that caught my eye. After examining the items for auction and comparing the photographs to the copies in my files, you can imagine my surprise when the blemishes matched  the items being offered on Hake's. Could the items being sold on the web site be the same housed at the library in Detroit? A phone call to Hake's in late July did not confirm my suspicions and the general consensus was that the items were the property of the consignor and therefore the auctions would conclude as scheduled. When I asked an official at Hake's what the policy and procedure is regarding stolen items consigned to the company, I was told "no comment." My next option was to contact the library. After all, the items were probably theirs and they should be notified. After taking down the necessary information, including an e-mail documenting photographic proof, the library staff began an investigation. A police report was promptly filed out with patrol officers, who turned it over to detectives.

John Todd salary contract
Over a period of weeks following, photocopies of the archival documents in my files were scanned and sent to the library at their request; some of the scans were forwarded to detectives in York, Pennsylvania. The staff at Hake's were cooperative with the library and the detectives, even providing the name of the consignor to the library. The library staff began investigating and documenting every visit the library patron made, including every box and file number he reviewed, matching every item being sold on Hake's. A search of the perpetrator's apartment found nothing so we can only hope that all of the stolen items were recovered and not sold prior to this discovery. (Ironically, the perpetrator is quoted on the internet (twice) as a historian and as a preserver of the arts.)

On August 15, the suspect was arrested and charged with larceny from a building. He confessed that all of the material was in fact stolen. He has since been released but not yet sentenced. Hake's has returned everything that was in the auction and will return the remaining materials that they received from this person as soon as they photograph and catalog the items for their own records.

The library has since taken the precaution of installing lockers. Researchers are allowed only note-taking items when consulting the Burton manuscripts. All bags, coats, hats, briefcases, handbags, folders, books, newspapers and other belongings must be stored in the locker. Security cameras have been installed throughout the entire reading room, covering every square inch of the room. 

One of the stolen items, autographed to Trendle.
The perpetrator cleared Hake's of any wrongdoing. It should be noted that the internet has granted auction houses such as Heritage and Hake's vast market potential with a virtually unlimited number of buyers as opposed to a brick and mortar building. High-valued items that are too valuable for eBay's marketplace can be found on these type of auction sites. For researchers, these websites offer the occasional treasure such as the existence of a promotional poster unheard of prior, a rare collectible or prototype. Private archives from family relatives grant researchers temporary research potential during the auction tenure, when family relatives were impossible to track down or such collections were not known to exist. (Some theorize the dispersement of archival documents also makes research more of a challenge because the buyers often remain anonymous.) Hake's, like any auction house, provides a contract to every person wanting to sell their valuables and among the clauses is a statement from the consignor attesting to the ownership of the items. The auction houses can only assume the consignor is honest.

This story is not a common one. Theft like this does not happen every day. It is simply an isolated, quickly discovered and remedied incident. But there can be no doubts that many thefts have occurred from other libraries across the country. At an archive last year, a business contract signed by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall had been discovered missing. Thankfully, a carbon copy of the original contract was still in the collection. Without the carbon copy, the financial records and terms of the contract would have been unknown to historians. In the case of the George W. Trendle Archive, imagine if the stolen items had gone unnoticed and sold to private collectors. Writeups documenting various facets of The Lone Ranger would have gone undocumented. (It has been proven in the past that most people who buy archival items from online auctions have personal agendas and do not cooperate with serious-minded researchers.) 

For researchers hoping to document "the complete story," and fans who enjoy reading such documented findings, with libraries doing their absolute best with security, with auction houses and libraries cooperating to ensure the safe return of archival materials, why are people constantly choosing greed over historical preservation? What can libraries do to ensure that the materials are safe from future raids, and what will they do to provide guidance to similar libraries? 

This story should never deter any parties from donating collections to public or university libraries. No matter what they do with the collection (including storing it in their attic), the threat of fire, water or theft is always a roll of the dice. No matter what security measures are placed, someone will always defy Darwin's theory of evolution by attempting to steal valuable, archival materials from libraries. Stricter policies, procedures and punishments ensure stronger security of the archival documents. But at what cost to the researcher?