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.