Friday, April 26, 2013

Tom Mix: The Radio Program, 1941

The Real Tom Mix
Based on the life of a real cowboy, a screen legend and a soldier of fortune, The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters provided fifteen-minute entertainment for juveniles glued to the radio tubes. Premiering on network radio in 1933, the series was heard three days a week and in serial format told the adventures of a real "straight-shooter." The real Tom Mix never appeared in person on the radio program. Artells Dickson was the first to play the role of Tom Mix on radio, followed by Jack Holden circa 1937, Russell Thorson in the early forties and Joe "Curley" Bradley beginning June 5, 1944.

Very little has been documented about the radio program. The creation of the radio show was detailed by the late Jim Harmon, whose chapter on Tom Mix in The Great Radio Heroes contains what might be a solid account of what the serial provided to boys and girls, and how it affected the audience. We know how it affected Jim Harmon because he wrote that chapter, above all others, with a fond look back at a time when children received entertainment from books, newspaper comic strips and the radio. Knowing Jim as well as I did, Tom Mix was his favorite and Holy Grail among "lost" old-time radio recordings. He even had a few uncirculated recordings himself.

No recordings from the early days have yet to be found. The earliest surviving recording known to exist (according to Jay Hickerson's Ultimate Guide) is dated March 10, 1939. Officially, a total of 29 episodes are known to exist in recorded form. (Some unscrupulous mp3 vendors have been duplicating the audio files and retitling the files so people assume more exist.)

For reasons I cannot comprehend, and maybe it is because I am of a generation that hasn't yet comprehended the greed behind "recording hoarding," there have been rumors for years of a man in California hoarding transcription discs of Tom Mix for his own personal pleasure. Fans of the program remain optimistic -- sometimes at the disadvantage of an obsessive fan boy -- repeating tales of the hoarder and exaggerating the number of recordings. Whether these are rumors or some basis of truth behind them... one thing remains a fact. Fans today have less than 30 recordings to enjoy. But wait! There is hope! Read on and you'll learn the good news.

Old Time Radio Premium
Two months ago, during my travels for a combination business and research trip, I uncovered a yet-non-cataloged cache of radio scripts dating as far back as 1928. Bound volumes of programs ranging from Little Orphan Annie, Popeye the Sailor, Hop Harrigan and many others.... including The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters. I quickly browsed the scripts and it appears every episode is accounted for in script form.

Almost immediately I began preparations for a concentrated effort to preserve the only existing scripts. We are now scanning every radio script into pdf format and generating an off-site backup to ensure a method of preservation. This effort may take a few months -- after all, it is a massive undertaking. Interestingly, even with volunteers willing to donate their time (I personally donated 12 hours this week scanning the first 103 radio scripts), the date of completion is all dependent not on time or staff, but money. It requires many trips crossing state boarders to the private collection and each travel costs a sum of money. If the loose cash (or what friends refer to as discretionary money) is not available, traveling to the archive will be temporarily hampered. On the plus side, this also opens the door to potential documentation such as radio re-creations on stage using the original scripts, published reference guides and magazine articles that will reveal much more than anyone documented in past publications.... provided we finish in a timely manner. No one is asking for donations but funds are limited so trips to the private collection are being made in between available funds. (If you want to donate to a worthy cause, contact me via e-mail and I will put you on the list. We are working out details for those who want to donate money for the project to receive a CD or two, or three, loaded with old-time radio scripts to "lost" programs.)

As a treat, here is a scan of a radio script dated January 1, 1941 that was never broadcast. The Rose Bowl game (Stanford Indians vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers, held in Pasadena, California) pre-empted the Tom Mix radio program from airing. With advanced knowledge that the episode would probably not air as scheduled because of the game, the continued story arc with Tom and his friends was temporarily shelved for this special musical offering. Had the game ended early, this musical presentation, complete with the Wrangler's Thanksgiving Day poem (from a prior radio broadcast for Thanksgiving 1940) would have aired. I present a scan of that script. By the way, most scripts ran 11 to 13 pages but because this episode offered music, it is shorter in length than the rest. I did not omit a single page. This is the entire script, unedited. Click on each page to enlarge.

Could she be listening to Tom Mix?
This posting on my blog is not being made to brag, tease or taunt anyone who is a fan of Tom Mix. Rather, this brief news item is being posted to let all you Tom Mix fans out there cheer for joy. News items like this are always welcome and keeps interest alive in the hobby. The location of the scripts will remain withheld for the time being. After all, fifty people swamping to the same private collector seeking copies of radio scripts will only hamper present-day efforts. Perhaps one day.... provided there really is someone who is hoarding transcription discs.... the recordings will be properly archived and transferred to audio CDs, properly mastered through CEDAR, and released to the general public. After all, with radio scripts for hundreds of series starting to become available to the public through rental libraries and private exchanges/trades with old-time radio collectors, the demand for recordings from an aging fan base are continuing to diminish. One such example: Faithful fans of Tom Mix would certainly not hesitate to purchase a book of scripts from the series. If someone hoarding uncirculated Tom Mix recordings were to confirm the recordings were for the same scripts reprinted in book form, fans wouldn't be as concerned about the recordings as they were prior to the book. This is what I often refer to as the "law of depreciation." So whether it be Little Orphan Annie, The Mysterious Traveler or Tom Mix, the hoarders of "lost" old-time radio programs need to do more than sit on their treasures... or they won't have anyone to blame but themselves.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

National Geek Pride Day, 2014

I received a e-mail this afternoon that many of you might want to take a quick minute and participate.

Hi, all.  Please forgive the mass email. 
Wanted to give you a heads up that this Thursday I'll be 
filing a petition for the White House to proclaim May 25, 2014 
as National Geek Pride Day.  We need 100,000 signatures within 
30 days to receive an official response from the White
House (and 150 for the petition to become searchable).
Would you mind to promote the petition on your various blogs, 
social networking sites, etc.?  I’ll be posting a press release 
this Thursday at and cross-posting on Facebook
and Twitter.
Many thanks for your consideration.
Robert J. Burns

Friday, April 19, 2013

Dick Tracy: 1934 Year in Review

Even with automobile rackets and drug addicts, the comic strip of Dick Tracy was still seeking super villains and Chandler-style prose, but the soap opera melodramatics was what made the early years enjoyable in their own right. When we left off 1933, Jimmy White (a deliberate rip-off to screen actor James Cagney) was apprehended courtesy of Junior’s smarts, placing the kingpin of juvenile stick-ups behind bars. His attorney, Spaldoni, pays Jimmy a visit to inform him that he won’t be representing him. Jimmy’s father refused to finance his legal fight and has disclaimed any interest in the case. That leads us to an act of desperation on the part of Jimmy White…

Claudette Colbert meets James Cagney
In January 1934, Jimmy’s girlfriend, Jean Penfield (an artist rendition of Claudette Colbert), daughter of a friend of Chief Brandon, is writing a book and wants to make a close-up study of criminals for an expose. She wants to interview Jimmy White. When Jimmy attempts to strangle the broad because she once squealed on him, the author asks Spaldoni for help. She will post bail money in exchange for an interview with Jimmy White. Spaldoni makes the arrangements, Jimmy consents to the interview and later, after reading the manuscript, Spaldoni warns Jimmy. If this book gets published, a number of crooks in town will be out of commission -- Jimmy included. Hoping to uncover Jean’s involvement, Tracy breaks the rules and wiretaps her phone without a court order to overhear conversations between Jean Penfield and Spaldoni.

Big Boy (yes, he’s back!) returns after Spaldoni phones him up about material in Jean Penfield’s manuscript. Spaldoni, you see, managed to acquire half the manuscript. He wants the other half and hires Jimmy to sneak into Jean’s house late at night to steal the manuscript. Jean, however, shoots Jimmy in the arm in an attempt to shoot to kill. Dick Tracy, meanwhile, attempts to avoid the romantic interests of Jean Penfield while at the same time keeps her from getting killed. Two attempts on her life (including an exploding car) suggests the entire underworld is after her.

In February, Tracy arrests Big Boy, once again putting him behind bars. Jimmy attempts to kill Jean Penfield by jumping in her car and forces her to drive out into the country. Jean, taking desperate action, forces the roadster into a concrete viaduct, steering out of control and crashing into a huge storage tank. Jimmy is killed and dies in the flames and explosion. Jean’s body is nowhere to be found.

Dick Tracy shows Pat how to unfold a number of ashes, press them onto a plate of glass and using a new photo development system, uncovers what appears to be a railway ticket to Canada. A footprint made from plaster of paris adds to the mystery. Who walked away from the flaming auto crash? Meanwhile, the newspapers start printing an expose of the underworld and politics, authored by someone known as “The Phantom.” Through the month of March, Tracy tries to solve the mystery but anyone with an I.Q. higher than room temperature knows Jean Penfield is alive and well and printing the expose for the papers. Pat uses a Benzidine blood test to prove the presence of blood on Jean’s clothing, to verify the stains found on her clothing. (Yes, by this time is was obvious that Gould was applying modern-day police procedures to assist Dick Tracy in his investigations.)

Saving the newspaper from sabotage, Dick Tracy shoots and kills “Tony the Bomber,” finds himself engaged to Jean Penfield, Tess Trueheart catches them in the act of kissing, and the women start a cat fight in the streets over the love of Dick Tracy. Spaldoni, catching wind of the burned act of jealousy, arranges for a very clever frame-up using Tess Trueheart’s fingerprints on a .38 which is used to shoot and murder Jean Penfield. Tess is framed for murder. Dick Tracy spends some time using police methods to prove Tess is innocent, while Junior spots Spaldoni in the streets and follows the crooked lawyer and his goons leaving town, bound for an abandoned steel mill where they have a secret hideout. Dick Tracy follows Junior’s trail and a confrontation of violence, involving Tracy being buried in a pile of scrap iron and the exchange of gunfire, results in Spaldoni’s death -- but not before he makes a death bed confession that he framed Tess for the murder.
The month of May introduces J. Scotland Bumpsted, a secret operative from England, an equal in detective work which almost rivals the efforts of Dick Tracy. Steve the Tramp, having read about an Indiana thug who escaped from stir with a wooden gun, mimics the same to escape from prison. Police start a modern-day posse to apprehend Steve, Dick Tracy is shot and wounded, and Steve Brogan, bleeding to death, manages to escape and seek shelter in a battered house where Larceny Lu and his assistant, Curley, are operating a hot automotive racket. Steve is bleeding to death and needs them to fetch a doctor. Doc Hump is called for but J. Scotland Bumpsted holds the doctor at bay and takes his place. Larceny Lu recognizes Bumpsted and unmasks the detective, turning the tables on him. “Scotty” is beaten about the head and shoulders and on the back. His legs are paralyzed and it will take many months for him to recover.

By July, Larceny Lu has operated on Steve, resulting in one eye being larger than the other. When Scotty’s mother catches a glimpse of Steve the Tramp, she arms herself, sets after him and shoots and wounds the criminal. The doctors later operate on Steve and Dick Tracy visit’s the prison to check on him. Steve the Tramp will eventually be fitted with a peg leg as soon as he is well, but he won’t be escaping from prisons any time in the future. (I’d like to stop and pause for a moment to state that during this adventure, a stool pigeon named Mickey Dunn attempts to leak information to Dick Tracy. When Tracy opens the door to his house, Dunn is dead stiff, tied up, and falls to the floor on his face ala James Cagney in Public Enemies (1931).)

Hoping to lay low for a while, Larceny Lou spends the month of August traveling to California, with her assistant named Mortimer. Before Steve went back to prison, he gave Larceny Lu some information about Junior, whom he adopted many years prior. The location of Junior’s mother. Since Junior’s father is dead, her mother stands to inherit a fortune and armed with this knowledge, Lu sets out to the sunny West Coast to meet the woman. Mary Steele owns and operates a roadside diner known as the Coffee Pot, shaped like a Coffee Pot. Larceny Lu finds Mary, explains her reason for visiting, convinces the woman to sell her diner and travel back to the East to meet Junior.

Throughout the month of September, Doc Hump communicates with Steve the Tramp, but Dick Tracy is aware of the communications, intercepting the letters and discovering that writing invisibly with a toothpick, using milk for ink, delivers encoded messages. Mary Steele, however, hesitates introducing herself to Junior, after discovering the swell living conditions he presently has. Angry because of her hesitation, Larceny Lu orders Mortimer to visit Mary in her hotel room and apply a whip to her back (later depicted as brutal lacerations on her bare back) to persuade her to do her job and introduce herself to Junior.

Dick Tracy meets Mary and discovers her secret, promising not to tell anyone. Larceny Lu and Mortimer are apprehended at the midway, thanks to Pat Patton’s clever crime deductions, which also saves the life of Dick Tracy from a sniper up in the ferris wheel. Mary Steele, not wanting to take Junior away from his home, buys a small Scottish terrier and has it mysteriously dropped off on Dick Tracy’s doorstep. Junior adopts the dog.

In recognition of Halloween, October and November 1934 offers an exciting story arc, involving Doc Hump who manages to get out of jail thanks to a fast-talking attorney named Twillbrain. Seeking revenge against Dick Tracy for putting him behind bars, Doc Hump turns mad scientist and creates a vial of germs and cultures, injecting rabies and other diseases into a dog. His plan is to have the dog attack Dick Tracy, killing the detective. In order to test out his theory, a butler once owned by Hump’s family, is requested at the old abandoned mansion. Chained to the wall, he is about to be attacked by the dog when Dick Tracy arrives, thanks to a tip-off from an alert policeman. Chasing Doc Hump through the catacombs, Tracy and Junior fall into a trap. A fish net is dropped on the two, lined with hundreds of fish hooks. The crazed Doc Hump is about to let loose his dog but the beast attacks the doctor, tearing his throat out.

Mary Steele, hoping to earn enough money to venture back to California, has meanwhile signed for the job of a maid for Boris Arson, a master criminal. It doesn’t take long before she discovers who her employer is… or his mad scheme to bomb six banks in six major cities all at the same time. Stealing the plans, Mary Steele escapes and flies to Washington where Government men investigate the plans and immediately phone Dick Tracy. They ask Chief Brandon to please allow Dick Tracy to investigate and the Chief agrees. Tess Trueheart, who by this time has made up to Dick Tracy, understands the scenario and agrees he should leave for a few weeks.
The remainder of the calendar year involves the mad Boris Arson and Dick Tracy, employed by the Secret Service, to investigate and capture the master criminal. This involves an inspection of the famous “Della-X” nitro-glycerin plant, where Pat and Tracy discover who is embezzling vials of nitro from the plant… a trail that leads straight to Arson and his gang. Tracy is captured and taken alive while Pat proves his worth on board the airplane filled with gallons of explosive liquid. Tracy tricks the crooks and turns the tables on them, just in time to return home for Christmas.

Arson, however, steals the keys from Pat and escapes jail. After a death-defying car chase, Arson escapes and quickly changes his appearance by shaving off his beard. Arson sets a price on Tracy’s head and one criminals fails -- but manages to find Mary Steele… someone Arson would love to seek revenge against for spilling the plans to the U.S. Government. Dick Tracy has to come to the rescue, but not before he finds himself trapped in a closet and Arson waits patiently as the closet fills with chloroform. Tracy outsmarts him, however, but sucking air through the keyhole. The police arrive and nab the villains (hoping this time they’ll stay behind bars) and Junior meets the lady… still unaware that she is his mother. But that won’t last very long…

Dick Tracy Comic Reprints (Volume 2)
I would like to add that IDW Publishing has been reprinting the comic strips in chronological order. The plots for this blog post originate from volume two. At present, they are in the mid-fifties and have intentions of doing another two decades so please support them and buy these wonderful hard cover volumes. None of the volumes undergo a reprint so once they are sold out, the price starts to skyrocket. Buy the earliest volumes today and start your collection.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Everybody Comes to Rick's...
Remember that catch-phrase from Casablanca? Well, it rings true with a newsgroup that premieres later this month. For anyone who isn't aware, the definition of a newsgroup is a group of internet users who exchange e-mail messages on a topic of mutual interest. If you have ever been part of a Yahoo newsgroup, you know what I am referring to. I used to be a member of a dozen newsgroups. One focusing on The Twilight Zone, another about pulp magazines. But sadly, some of the moderators of those groups failed to maintain their positions and spam postings crept into place... forcing me to unsubscribe because there was nothing overlooking the general practice and intent of the newsgroup. Worse, a few moderators allow close friends to make attacks against others, masqueraded as "friendly postings" and that kind of nonsense isn't favorable.

As of last month I remain a subscriber to two newsgroups. The Old-Time Radio Digest and a Yahoo group about the television series, The Time Tunnel. Both are fairly active and provide information about what is happening in the hobby. Convention updates, new products being released on the market, advanced notice of restoration efforts and donations being sought after... you get the idea. If you are not a part of these type of newsgroups and wished there was a way to stay informed with what all is going on in the hobby... relax. There is a solution.

After all, it's nice to chat with a friend at a film festival and discover a "lost" film was recently discovered or a company planning a commercial release for a television series I've been waiting for an official DVD release. But the question comes to mind. If they knew about it, why didn't I? What newsletter or e-mail subscription service are they part of that I should be a member? That's where Rick's Place comes into being.

Anyone with e-mail can subscribe for FREE and if you don't like what you read after a couple weeks, you can unsubscribe for free. But give it a few days so you get a feel of what you are receiving daily (or every other day) in your inbox. It's like a mini newsletter with updates and discussions of what is going on in... well, all hobbies in general provided they have a nostalgic appeal.

Rather than focus on a single subject (such as old-time radio or vintage movie posters), Rick's Place was designed (as it was explained to me) to allow all facets of nostalgia pop culture. The potential is huge. I was told over 400 people signed up for Rick's Place in the first two weeks the site went up on the internet and the official launch date is later this month.

I met Rick a few years ago and he's a nice guy. He has common sense and any whackos that creep into the newsgroup will be given warnings before they get suspended or removed from the list.

You do not have to participate by submitting postings to the newsgroup. You can remain a "lurker." By definition, a lurker is someone who subscribed to a newsgroup but prefers to read them and not contribute. Nothing wrong with that, by the way. Sometimes it's amusing to read the updates and on-going discussions, rather than participate. But I am sure, like all newsgroups, participation is encouraged.

So yes, I am endorsing Rick's Place. Especially since they include my first love: old-time radio. The way I look at it, the hobby is divided into four groups. The recordings (which will always be around, no matter what format), the fan clubs, publications such as club newsletters and reference books, and conventions. And for every convention that closes doors, for every old-time radio club that folds, a piece of the hobby fades into obscurity. Like Civil War reenactments, there will always be folks doing radio broadcasts on stage complete with scripts and microphones and sound effects. There will always be recordings. There will always be fans who enjoy listening to the recordings. But with new technology there comes a new facet that can keep the hobby alive. Newsgroups. And Rick's Place should fit the bill.

Subscribe for free and give it a few weeks. I think you'll like what you read. Be sure to confirm if you receive an e-mail asking you to confirm your subscription (that's to make sure someone doesn't subscribe you without your permission). And tell them Martin recommended you sign up. You can thank me later.