Friday, June 28, 2013

The Lone Ranger and Tonto

With the new Lone Ranger movie coming out in a few days, it seems only fitting we explore the character a bit (for all you die-hards who already know who The Lone Ranger is).

A total of 18 Lone Ranger novels were published through Grosset & Dunlap and over the past five years I have been reading one every so often. The prose is excellent and flows so smoothly that I find myself reading about two or three a year -- spreading them out to enjoy them as long as I can. The fifth novel, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, was published in 1940. The plot can be summed up in one paragraph.

Dave Walters is falsely accused of robbery and The Lone Ranger breaks the youth out of jail. While Tonto keeps the boy hidden from the posse, The Lone Ranger learns the identity of the guilty party -- Steve Delaney. A gambler by trade, Delaney owns most of the mortgages in town, making him a very powerful man in Snake River. Alone in Delaney’s private residence, The Lone Ranger ties, bounds and gags the gambler so the Masked Man can remove his mask and use his makeup kit to impersonate the crook. While masquerading as Delaney, The Lone Ranger hopes to uncover enough facts to prove Walters’ innocence. While Tonto helps aid The Lone Ranger, the sheriff and his posse find Dave held up in a cave and brings the boy back to town. Upon their return, The Lone Ranger has uncovered enough evidence to prove Delaney stole the jewels from the old widow who was brutally murdered... not the innocent youth. Failing to throw the blame on Dave Walters, Delaney then attempts to double-cross his own comrades. Angry for the betrayal and hold-out of funds, the men reveal the truth of the murder and robbery to the sheriff. Dave Walters is reunited to his parents who he was seeking before stepping foot in Snake River.

1979 paperback reprint of the G&S novel.
This is the kind of plot you would expect to see in a Monogram Studios cowboy Western: The Trail Blazers, The Range Busters... heck, any of them would have used the same plot.

Notes About the Novel 
The makeup kit was featured prominently in this novel as The Lone Ranger remained in disguise throughout most of the adventure, impersonating Delaney in an effort to thwart his scheme. His infiltration caused a number of people to confess details of the scheme in the hopes of seeing him reach the end of the rope -- a tactic employed often by The Green Hornet on the radio program. In disguising himself, the description of the makeup kit contents and the standard wear of the Ranger is described.

It took but an instant to remove the mask and hide it beneath his shirt. The Lone Ranger took a small bottle from a saddlebag and poured a few drops of fluid it contained into the palm of one hand. He replaced the bottle and rubbed his palms briskly together, then rubbed them over his face and neck. The fluid was a stain that Tonto made from roots. It darkened the Lone Ranger’s complexion by several degrees. He hung his white sombrero on the saddle horn and replaced it with a battered old black felt that had seen far better days. Next he changed his black silk neckerchief for one of brilliant hue. This was his disguise. It wasn’t much, but past experience had proved it to be all that was required.

In chapter two, titled “Dave’s Story,” more information about The Lone Ranger’s mask is provided.

Dave watched the masked man, wondering if he would sleep with the mask in place. He did not know that The Lone Ranger wore the mask, habitually, whether there was need of it or not. It has become a part of him, and because of that it did not hamper him in action. 

The Lone Ranger sends a message on paper via horseback. Tonto receives the message and reads it clearly but Dave Walters is puzzled. In short stilted sentences, the Indian made Walters understand that The Lone Ranger’s message was a combination of the white man’s way of writing and the Indian’s picture writing. Many of the masked man’s thoughts and suggestions had been abbreviated in a way that only Tonto would understand. If anyone had intercepted the message it would have been totally without meaning. This unique form of communication was established in an early Lone Ranger radio broadcast from 1935, and verified by an inter-office memo between George W. Trendle and Fran Striker, who proposed this be used as a means of offering young children their own codes for exchanging communication. Perhaps a Lone Ranger ring was in the works?

The Lone Ranger’s silver bullets was explored twice in this novel. Once when Tonto makes reference that he received cash from a silver mine toward the North. There were silver-bearing claims in the country to the north and many of these claims had been on land controlled by Indians. As Striker explained in the novel, There were, at the time, instances where white men had made a deal with the Indians to work the land and sell the ore at ridiculously low prices. But those low prices represented vast wealth to the Indians. 

In chapter 16, Dave Walters looks over The Lone Ranger and Tonto’s reserve supplies and finds extra blankets, countless cans of food, boxes of cartridges, clothing, saddle equipment, a couple of short rifles of the finest manufacture, a keg of gunpowder, a supply of rope, materials for re-shoeing the hoofs of the great horse Silver, and moulds for making The Lone Ranger’s silver bullets.

The Lone Ranger’s code of ethics was explored (as it was in many Lone Ranger novels). The masked man hesitated fighting a man that would bring about many crooks. It was a turn of events The Lone Ranger had not counted on. "The masked man hesitated. He did not like to attack from the rear. It would give him an unfair advantage…"  

In chapter eight, The Lone Ranger attempts to frighten a confession from Steve Delaney. The gambler will not talk and when the Ranger threatens a number of consequences, the gambler calls his bluff. Here, The Lone Ranger found himself in a peculiar situation. It was against his code to use any of the familiar means of making an unwilling man talk. Even though Dave Walter’s life depended on what the gambler might reveal, the masked man found himself incapable of resorting to physical torture.

The Radio Program
The March 26, 1947 radio broadcast of The Lone Ranger, titled "Reward Notice," featured a character named Steve Delaney. Striker often did this many times on the radio program, reusing names of characters over the years. The June 17, 1940 radio broadcast titled, "Sheriff Olson," featured a character name Snake Walters. The name of the town in this novel is Snake River and the boy wanted by the posse was Dave Walters. There is a character in this novel called Lem Purvis. The May 2, 1938 radio broadcast titled, "Lem Purvis," features a character named Lem Purvis. Coincidence? No, Striker was simply reusing names from his radio scripts.

Additional Notes
There is another book of the same name, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, published for children (pictured here for your reference), known as A Little Golden Book, and is not to be confused with the novel described above.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto was based (expanded) from the second of eight Lone Ranger pulp magazines, The Masked Rider's Justice (May 1937). All eight of the pulp magazines have been reprinted (twice, courtesy of two different publishing companies). Five of the eight pulps were made into Lone Ranger novels for G&S, elements were borrowed from a sixth for another novel. But I personally recommend the actual novels as there's more material to enjoy.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Man of Steel: The 2013 Motion-Picture

Having enjoyed the reboot of the Batman franchise through Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan (although the last one was nowhere the enjoyable caliber of the first two), my expectations were high with the new Superman movie, titled Man of Steel. You would think that the movie would have been made because of the financial success of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. In reality, it stemmed from a lawsuit.

In 2009, a court ruling resulted in Jerry Siegel's family recapturing the rights to Superman's origins and Siegel's copyright. The decision stated that Warner Bros. did not owe the families additional royalties from previous films, but if they did not begin production on a Superman film by 2011, then the Shuster and Siegel estates would be able to sue for lost revenue on an un-produced film. Christopher Nolan pitched David S. Goyer's idea after story discussion on The Dark Knight Rises, and Zack Snyder was hired as the film's director in October 2010. Principal photography started in August 2011 in West Chicago, Illinois, before moving to Vancouver and Plano, Illinois.

The intention was to create a modern context of the fictional character, dismissing some of the novel appeal George Reeves and Christopher Reeve brought to the screen in the 1950s and 1980s. I enjoy the radio program of the 1940s, often finding the fifteen-minute daily series best flavored when an entire four-hour or five-hour serial is heard consecutive during a lengthy car ride. Among my favorites (of the ones I have heard so far) is the 1948 serial "Dead Man's Secret" (14 chapters) in which Superman and Freddie sets out to solve the mysterious disappearance of Professor John Archer. Only when the solution is revealed does the worst come true: a criminal known as "The Boot" used Archer to create a device powered by the sun, hidden on a mountain top in Switzerland. At the conclusion, Superman saves the world by destroying the device -- but not before the entire mountain rains down on him from the explosion. And, naturally, only Superman is capable of surviving such an explosion.

Unlike The Amazing Spider-Man last year, the origin story is not half way boring. When you already know the origin, retelling the same gets to be boring. (Yes, I am aware that the mainstream public loves origin stories but remember comic book fans also come to watch the movies.) Here, we see the destruction of Krypton in a manner that provides General Zod and his followers an intelligent reason for why they do what they do. I found myself partially routing for the criminal in his zealous determination to reforge a new Krypton and save his race from extinction. Instead of spending half the movie with Clark Kent as a young boy on the Kent farm, his childhood is explored through the use of flashbacks -- revealing why Superman chooses a life of secrecy and at the same time, moral issues that require a heart of gold -- regardless of the outcome. In this case, society against the one man who will ultimately prove to be their salvation. Superman is feared by the public who cannot rationalize or comprehend what they do not understand. When General Zod starts making demands, it doesn't take long for the battle (and survival) of Krypton to begin. While the strength of the military proves futile against the aliens from outer space, Superman proves his worth and ultimately makes a sacrifice at the conclusion of the movie that makes you realize this is not the same Superman we grew up with.

And I liked it.

Casting was superb. This speaks a lot for the director, Zack Snyder, who gave us Watchmen (2009), whose style of filming I never cared much for except in that movie and this one. And if you never read Watchmen (one of the five best reads, in my opinion), I do not recommend that movie. To date, the only two directors who are capable of ensuring great performances from actors is M. Night Shyamalan and Steven Spielberg. Snyder might just prove to be the third on that list if his future movies stay on this course. No flawless performances here.

The special effects are great, as expected. Superman's abilities are revealed to be above all other creatures on Earth because of the atmosphere -- he truly is able to move faster than a speeding bullet and jump over buildings -- compared to an American astronaut on the Moon because the atmosphere is different there.

To be honest, I never cared much for Superman -- the character that is. Keep in mind that many people don't like The Green Lantern and others do not care much for Thor. But my reasons for never really getting into the Superman fever is a practical one. Let's be honest. He still has that lock of curl in his hair. His height cannot change. Just because he wears glasses employees at The Daily Planet cannot recognize Clark Kent as the Man of Steel? Really? Thankfully, they wrote that inconceivable device out completely. No plot spoiler here -- you'll understand what I mean towards the end of the movie and I for one was was cheering. Thank you!!!!

One of the few things I find disappointing in motion-pictures adapted from comic books are the producers who fail to comprehend the value of comics. Half of the movies fail to remind us that the doomsday device can only be resolved by the masked (or costumed) hero. Remember Doctor Octopus created such a device in Spider-Man 2 and then changed his mind and it was he who saved the world. (Spider-Man only saved the girl.) In this instance, Superman is the only person capable of saving the world and we root for a hero who actually completes the task. Half of the films do not include a moral dilemma which the hero is forced to face against... children do need a role model... what kind of a world would it be if children rooted for the villain? Man of Steel includes everything you come to expect in a Superhero movie.

In case you are asking why I didn't make mention of that last Superman movie (the one with Brandon Routh hovering in the sky instead of flying and comparing himself to God in front of Lois Lane), I never liked that one. Lex Luthor's scheme was the only thing I found clever. Small trivia: This was one of three live-action theatrical Superman films to not feature Superman's nemesis Lex Luthor. The other two were Superman III (1983) and Superman and the Mole-Men (1951).

Henry Cavill is great in the role of Superman. There's no need to try and compare him to George Reeves or Christopher Reeve. Seriously. That would be like trying to compare Sean Connery to Daniel Craig. It's a new rendition. In the comics world, various artists and story tellers have presented their own takes on the characters. This movie is not a continuation of prior Superman movies. And if you are debating whether to watch the 2-D version or 3-D version, do not spend the extra money to see it in 3-D. Not much is thrown at the screen worthy of the extra bucks. Instead, buy a bag of popcorn.

I suspect this might be the largest money making movie of the summer. With the exception of The Hunger Games and Hobbit sequels, it may be the biggest money maker of the year. So it comes as no surprise that Warner Bros. has already announced a sequel. I, for one, will be looking forward to seeing how the story continues and where they choose to take it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A History of REPS (Radio Enthisiasts of Puget Sound)

For anyone not versed in the old-time radio hobby, there are only two conventions along the West Coast focused primarily on old-time radio. SPERDVAC and REPS. Because I am among the guest of honors this weekend, this blog entry will focus on the latter of these two.

The date was November 3, 1990. Eleven people gathered at the Merchants’ Café, the oldest restaurant in Seattle, Washington. The group exchanged conversation about old-time radio, a subject and hobby they shared mutual interest. The December meeting was skipped (probably because of the holiday festivities) but the second meeting was held at the Queen Anne Library in January 1991 and a total of 22 people attended. There, Mark Skullerud came up with the name “Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound” (after Andy Anderson jokingly suggested that the organization should be called the Society of the Glowing Dial).

In February, Hollywood actor John Archer was a special guest and the event was well advertised. Close to 100 people attended. Archer spoke about his days in Hollywood, playing the role of Lamont Cranston on the radio program, The Shadow, and signed autographs. Membership continued to grow and for the cost of $100, members could gain an “Executive Membership,” which gave them a numbered copy of a radio script personally autographed by John Archer. This was limited to only 30.
Actor Dick Beals at the dress rehearsal.
REPS focuses on preserving, re-creating and sharing old-time radio during their monthly meetings in Seattle. A number of their members so many shows for older senior citizens at retirement homes. In November of 2007, REPS put on an event at the historic Paramount Theatre. REPS joined the Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society and the Seattle Theatre Group for a benefit and fund raiser for the restoration of the Paramount Theatre’s original mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. The Wurlitzer was installed in the theatre in 1928 and was in need of repairs. REPS presented re-creations of classic such as the Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First?” routine, an adventure of The Shadow, the comedic Dragnet spoof of “The Copper-Clapper-Caper” and The Life of Riley. Ken Double, a renowned entertainer and organist, masterfully performed for the audience as he brought the Wurlitzer to life. Mr. Double played many selections from the console and he also added his vocal rendition of several songs as he accompanied himself on the Wurlitzer.

In June of 1993, the first annual REPS Convention was held, under the leadership of Mike Sprague, then president of the club. John Archer, Dick Beals, Harry Bartell, Parley Baer, Page Gilman, Herb Ellis, Doug Young, Anne Whitfield and Merrill Mael were among the guests. That means this year’s event will be their 20th Anniversary so it seems only fitting that we explore some of the past events.

1993 -- Celebrities for the first year included John Archer, Parley Baer, Harry Bartell, Dick Beals, Frank Buxton, Stuart Conway, Herb Ellis, Page Gilman, Meril Mael sp? (sound effects man), Anne Whitfield and Doug Young (sound effects man).

Highlights of the weekend included a Jack Benny workshop with John and Larry Gassman. A re-creation presentation was performed by a local troop of actors known as “Bathhouse Theater.” A re-creation of The Shadow with John Archer reprising his role of Lamont Cranston in “The Man Who Dreamed Too Much” was performed, with Frank Buxton, Catrina Baxter Hodiac, Anne Whitfield, Meril Mael, Stuart Conway, Marti Lewis, Page Gilman and Doug Young. Music bridges were taken from tracks prepared by Rosa Rio for SPERDVAC in 1986. Larry Gassman moderated a panel, “Remembering Carlton E. Morse,” with Anne Whitfield and Page Gilman. A re-creation of the first episode of Gunsmoke, “Billy the Kid,” was performed on stage with the celebrity guests attending. 

Old-Time Radio Recreation at REPS
1994 -- This was the second year REPS put on their annual convention. (Details of the 1993 have eluded me for the time being.) Celebrities included on Clark, Bill Murtough, Anne Whitfield, Ray Erlenborn, Stewart Conway, John Archer, Frank Buxton, Willard Waterman, Gale Storm, Paul Masterson, Merrill Mael, Tyler McVey, Sam Edwards, Jack Kruschen, David Ossman, Esther Geddes, Norma Jean Nilsson, Rhoda Williams, John Rayburn, Doug Young, Katrina Baxter Hodiak and Dick Beals.

1995 -- Celebrities included Parley Baer, Harry Bartell, Rhoda Williams, Shirley Mitchell, Jay Livingston, Peggy Webber, Herb Ellis, Doug Young, Anne Whitfield, Merrill Mael, Jeanette Nolan, Norma Jean Nilsson, Anna Denton, Bill Murtough, Frank Bresee, Peter Leeds, Bill Brooks, Kevin O’Morrison, Arthur Anderson, Esther Geddes, Tyler McVey, Jim French, Pat French, John Archer, Stewart Conway and Dick Beals.

1996 -- Celebrities included Norma Jean Nilsson, Sam Edwards, Merrill Mael, Rhoda Williams, Gil Stratton Jr., Parley Baer, Esther Geddes, Tyler McVey, Anne Whitefield, Harry Bartell, Ginny Tyler, Jim French, Pat French, Herb Ellis, Fred Foy, Art Gilmore, K. Baxter-Hodiak, Doug Young, Stewart Conway, Dick Beals, Ray Erlenborn, Frank Buxton, Colby Chester and Bill Murtough.

Leonard Maltin was scheduled to attend REPS, but a schedule conflict prevented him from appearing. He sent his regrets. Peter Leeds and John Archer were also planning to attend but their health permitted them from leaving the house. Sam Edwards and Gil Stratton Jr., reprised their roles in “The Game,” an episode of radio’s Suspense from 1955. Vic and Sade, a popular favorite, was re-created on stage. Also re-created was The Right to Happiness, The Lone Ranger, The Lux Radio Theatre and The Clock. The Gassman brothers also provided “George Burns: Vaudeville to God.”
1997 -- Celebrities included Art Gilmore, Harry Bartell, Merrill Mael, Norma Jean Nilsson, Rhoda Williams, Tyler McVey, Esther Geddes, Peg Lynch, Parley Baer, Peggy Jordan, Stewart Conway, Ray Erlenborn, Dick Beals, Gil Stratton Jr., Herb Ellis, Larry Dobkin, Ginny Tyler, Sandra Gould, Doug Young, Bob Hastings, Frank Buxton, Jim French and Pat French.

Tyler McVey was asked by the audience what radio program paid the most. His answer? The Lux Radio Theater. Merrill Mael played the role of Uncle Fletcher in Vic and Sade, with Parley Baer and Peg Lynch in the cast. Parley and Peg also played Ethel and Albert. Tyler McVey and Rhoda Williams played John and Blanche Bickerson. Harry Bartell talked about the creative process of writing radio scripts, gave the Webster’s definition of creativity, then added “It’s getting the marks on the paper.”
Penny demonstrates the illusion of sound effects.
1998 -- Celebrities included Dick Beals, Ray Erlenborn, Larry Dobkin, Tyler McVey, Esther Geddes, Merrill Mael, Rhoda Williams, Sharon Douglas, Jo Anna March, Janet Waldo, Barbara Fuller, Norma Jean Nilsson, Stewart Conway, Sandra Gould, Anne Whitfield, Art Gilmore, Sam Edwards, Gil Stratton Jr. and Harry Bartell.

Radio re-creations included The Life of Riley, Meet Corliss Archer, Ethel and Albert, One Man’s Family, The Aldrich Family, Vic and Sade, The Second Mrs. Burton, The Adventures of Ellery Queen (with Larry Dobkin reprising his role as Ellery) and Escape.

Norma Jean and Rhoda talked about what it was like to work on Father Knows Best (the radio series, naturally). Harry Bartell did an intriguing interview with Barbara Fuller and Art Gilmore. Barbara Fuller recalled with fondness the days she worked with Charlie Chaplin, Ethel Barrymore and Ingrid Bergman. Ray Erlenborn and Stewart Conway entertained the audience with stories and demonstrations from their years of creating sound effects. Friday offered the convention highlight as the crew paid acclaim to Parley Baer. John and Larry Gassman led the tribute to Parley, which was videotaped and sent to the talented actor who could not attend the convention that year.

1999 -- Celebrities included Merrill Mael, Anne Whitfield, Norman Jean Nilsson, Jo Anna March, Tyler McVey, Esther Geddes, Art Gilmore, Gil Stratton Jr., Dick Beals, Stewart Conway, Ginny Tyler, Harry Bartell, Rhoda Williams, Douglas Young, Alan Young, Herb Ellis, Sam Edwards, Frank Buxton, Charles Flynn, Tommy Cook, Ray Erlenborn and Larry Dobkin.

Three former Archie Goodwins from The Adventures of Nero Wolfe participated in a radio re-creation: Larry Dobkin played the role of Nero Wolfe. Harry Bartell was Archie. Herb Ellis directed as well as played a small role. Vic and Sade, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, Broadway is My Beat, The Adventures of Red Ryder and The Alan Young Show were performed on stage. With Alan Young making one of his rare convention appearances, honorary member Ginny Tyler interviewed Alan Young on stage. He talked about Mister Ed, his radio work in Canada, and Scrooge McDuck.
Tommy Cook and Shirley Mitchell
2000 -- Celebrities included Norma Jean Nilsson, Rhoda Williams, Esther Geddes McVey, Ray Erlenborn, Anne Whitfield, Gil Stratton Jr., Jo Anna March, Jim French, Pat French, Ed Scott, Tyler McVey, Alice Backes, Art Gilmore, Sam Edwards, Janet Waldo, Paul Herlinger, Harry Bartell, Dick Beals, Frank Buxton, Merrill Mael, Ginny Tyler and Douglas Young.

Larry Albert has conducted a panel with Dick Beals and Art Gilmore on “Radio’s Top Ten Treasures and One Stinker.” According to Larry’s REPS survey, the top ten were (in reverse order): The Six Shooter, Vic and Sade, Our Miss Brooks, The Lone Ranger, The Jack Benny Program, Gunsmoke, Escape (notably the “Three Skeleton Key” broadcast), Fibber McGee and Molly, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Suspense (notably “The House in Cypress Canyon” episode). The stinker was Hawk Larabee.

There was supposed to be a panel about Norman Corwin, but Corwin was unable to attend. Radio re-creations included Romance, Let’s Pretend (my favorite episode, by the way, “The Snow Queen”), Dr. Christian, Suspense, I Love A Mystery, The Bickersons, Vic and Sade, Meet Corliss Archer and Norman Corwin’s “My Client, Curly.” After dinner, Randy and Chris McMillan provided musical entertainment. Randy played “Name That Tune” with some of the popular themes from OTR shows.
Norman Corwin signs an autograph for a fan.
2001 -- Celebrities included Tommy Cook, Dick Beals, Anne Whitfield, Ginny Tyler, Paul Herlinger, Pat French, Dick Van Patten, Jo Anna March, Gil Stratton Jr., Douglas Young, Art Gilmore, Frank Buxton, Harry Bartell, Herb Ellis, Elliott Reid, Sam Edwards, Norma Jean Nilsson, Arthur Anderson, Rhoda Williams, Dick Van Patten and True Boardman.

Actor Elliott Reid made his first appearance at REPS this year. Reid was known for his work on tons of old-time radio programs including The American School of the Air, Suspense, The Adventures of Sam Spade and it was while working on The March of Time that Orson Welles approached him to join in a new venture of a new repertory company called the Mercury Theater. This was also Dick Van Patten’s first appearance at REPS. A child actor on Let’s Pretend (as well as weekend guest Arthur Anderson), Patten reprised his role of Mark in a re-creation of Young Widder Brown. Lindsey Stewart, a huge Alan Young fan, shared a 50-year-old Kinescope of The Alan Young Show during the dinner break. Michael J. Hayde, author of My Name’s Friday (which officially went out of print two weeks ago so if you can buy a copy now, grab it!!!), was among the guests participating on a Dragnet panel with radio cast members.

Radio re-creations included Frontier Gentleman, Vic and Sade, Let’s Pretend, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Escape, The Silver Theatre, Fibber McGee and Molly and The Bickersons.
Bob Hastings speaks into a solid gold microphone.
2002 -- Celebrities included Rhoda Williams, Anne Whitfield, Jo Anna March, Sam Edwards, Ray Erlenborn, Hal Stone, Ginny Tyler, Dick Beals, Gil Stratton Jr., Alice Backes, Norma Jean Nilsson, Jean Rouverol Butler, Esther Geddes, Barbara Fuller, Bill Brooks, Art Gilmore, Tyler McVey, Jim French, Frank Buxton, Phil Harper, George Pirrone, Douglas Young and Larry Albert.

This year’s event showcased a reunion of two sports announcers. Gil Stratton Jr. (known for his love of baseball and acting on such shows as My Little Margie) met Dave Niehaus, the Seattle Mariners play-by-play man for 25 years. The men talked a full hour of stories about sports and sports casting. “Baseball is a radio game,” Niehaus remarked. “I’m one of the last sportscasters trained in radio only. Television is going to be the death of great sports casting. Nobody uses the medium to tell a story any longer.” One Man’s Family aficionados staged their own reunion with a box lunch social. The radio re-creation was from December 18, 1949 and concerned Father Barbour trying to give away a Christmas wreath.

One of my favorite radio programs, The Cavalcade of America, was dramatized that weekend. “Petticoat Jury” from May 20, 1946. Sam Edwards reprised his role of a judge, which he played back in 1946. Bob Louden, one of the attendees, recalled observing how the nearly 200 people in the room had closed their eyes to let their imagination watch the action. “When David Persson and Cheryl Jacobs performed the sound effects of horses walking, a train chugging into town, its’ whistle, doors opening and closing, cups rattling… eyes didn’t hesitate to focus on the action.” And as Bob added, “Cheryl’s ‘horse whinny’ was a gem.”
A recreation of "Arsenic and Old Lace" on stage.
2003 -- Celebrities included Pat French, Jim French, Gil Stratton Jr., Jimmy Lydon, Ginny Tyler, Douglas Young, Art Gilmore, Kathy Garver, Harry Bartell, Anne Whitfield, Peggy Jordan, Dick Beals, Barbara Fuller, Sam Edwards, Ben Cooper, Ray Erlenborn, Larry Albert, Bill Brooks, Hal Stone, Ellen McLain, John Patrick Lowrie, Susan Connors, Frank Buxton and my good friend Jim Cox.

There was a spotlight on Jimmy Lydon (he silver screen’s Henry Aldrich), another on Ben Cooper. Re-creations included the Damon Runyon Theatre, Imagination Theater, Escape, Our Miss Brooks, Lux Radio Theatre and Mr. and Mrs. North. Jim Cox participated in a panel about old-time radio research and writing. The Writing Workshop was very popular and Jim provided tips for anyone wanting to do a write-up about an old-time radio show including getting permission to quote someone, permission from the copyright/trademark holders, requesting an index be created and how to negotiate for the cost of photograph reprint permissions. Tyler McVey was originally scheduled to attend but he could not make it. Instead, a phone call was placed and piped in through the speaker system so attendees could ask questions.

2004 -- Celebrities included Larry Albert, Alice Backes, Dick Beals, Bill Brooks, Frank Buxton, Paul Carnegie, Cliff Carpenter, Susan Connors, Tommy Cook, Ivan Cury, Bill Edwards, Sam Edwards, Ray Erlenborn, Jim French, Pat French, Barbara Fuller, Art Gilmore, Phil Harper, Margaret Lenhart, Jimmy Lydon, Esther McVey, David Parker, Donnie Pitchford, Jean Rouveral, Ed Scott, Gil Stratton, Charlie Summers and Ginny Tyler. This was my first year at REPS and one of my first public-speaking engagements. Nervous? Of course I was. But it was a learning experience and a lot of fun. Re-creations included The Green Hornet, Ethel and Albert, Let George Do It, Lost in a Radio Studio and Quiet, Please (a personal favorite of mine). Oh, I cannot forget The Lone Ranger, Jack Benny and Gang Busters were also re-created on stage. There was also a panel about The Lone Ranger and another about Carlton E. Morse. Millie Morse, Carlton’s widow, was present at the event to talk about her late husband.
A recreation of "Vic and Sade" on stage.
2005 -- Celebrities included Pat French, Rosemary Rice, Donald Buka, Alice Backes, Ray Erlenborn, Bill Idelson, Jim French, Dick Beals, Bob Hastings, Gil Stratton Jr., Larry Albert, Frank Buxton, Hal Stone and Esther McVey. A re-creation of Archie Andrews was performed on stage. “This was the friendliest and best-organized convention that I can remember, and I have been to many over the past 15 or so years. And, our Archie cast was the best I have ever worked with, with the results speaking for themselves,” Rosemary Rice remarked.

2006 -- Celebrities included Larry Albert, Dick Beals, Frank Bresee, Donald Duka, Frank Buxton, Tommy Cook, Walter Edmiston, Jim French, Pat French, Paul Herlinger, Esther Geddes McVey, Rosemary Rice, Hal Stone, Gil Stratton Jr., Ginny Tyler and Dick Van Patten. 2006 celebrated “Kids Again!” with a dedication to the folks who played juvenile roles on radio programs. Frank Bresee talked on stage about the radio programs he appeared on. A spotlight on Dick Van Patten offered a great interview with the actor. The first chapter of The Cinnamon Bear was re-created on stage, along with a panel about the program with Dennis Crow, Harlan Zinck and Rich Lewis. Bob Blume dug into his extensive library to offer entertaining clips that featured stories and/or stars from kid’s radio shows and the TV versions that followed. Re-creations on stage included Batman’s Greatest Mystery, Buck Rogers, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Duffy’s Tavern (with Dick Van Patten playing the role of Archie’s nephew, Morton).
Gregg Oppenheimer directs during a rehearsal.
2007 -- REPS didn’t seem the same with such nice folks who passed away within the past year, who made past REPS conventions a fun event. Hal Stone, Walker Edmiston, Alice Backes and Ray Erlenborn were memorialized. Special guests this year included Larry Albert, Dick Beals, Frank Bresee, Donald Buka, Eddie Carroll, Tommy Cook, Kathryn Crosby, Jim French, Pat French, Bob Hastings, Paul Herlinger, Gloria McMillan, Esther Geddes McVey, Shirley Mitchell, Rosemary Rice, Stuffy Singer, Gil Stratton Jr., Ginny Tyler and Dick Van Patten.

Author Chuck Schaden hosts an author’s panel about “The Rise of Radio,” promoting his new book of radio interviews. Gregg Oppenheimer promoted his book and talked about the I Love Lucy program and Lucille Ball’s radio career. Laura Leff, an expert on Jack Benny, hosted a panel about Jack Benny. Radio re-creations on the first day included The Shadow, Our Miss Brooks, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Lux Radio Theater (“Pinocchio”) and The Fred Allen Show with Eddie Carroll playing the role of Jack Benny. The second day of event included a Red Ryder re-creation with Frank Bresee and Tommy Cook, Laura Leff pretended to be Hedda Hopper and interviewed Jack Benny (Eddie Carroll). Truth or Consequences was performed on stage, an audience participation game show. Eddie Carroll also played Jack Benny for The Horn Blows at Midnight. Other re-creations included The Great Gildersleeve, Fibber McGee and Molly and The Bickersons.

2008 -- Celebrities included Stuffy Singer, Gil Stratton, Paul Herlinger, Ron Cocking, Dave Parker, Jan Merlin, Greg Oppenheimer, Chuck McCann, Jim French, Larry Albert, Ilona Herlinger, Ester Geddes-McVey, Joan Parker, Dick Beals, Rosemary Rice, Janet Waldo, Pat French, Gloria McMillan, Elizabeth Riplely, Shirley Mitchell, Bob Hastings, Frank Buxton and Lucy Lee. Chuck McCann did for different roles in one radio re-creation: Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, W.C. Fields and Mortimer Snerd. This was a challenge since the script called for a drawn out verbal brawl between McCarthy and Fields with Bergen caught in the middle.

“The Lost Letters of Robert E. Lee” was a highlight of the weekend. Janet Waldo’s late husband, Robert E. Lee, wrote the drama based on the fictional 43 year correspondence between the writer’s namesake, General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, and Amy Woodruff from New England. It was produced previously by the California Radio Artist Theater. Janet Waldo adapted a newer version for REPS starring herself as Amy Woodruff with Larry Albert as General Robert E. Lee and narrated by Paul Herlinger. It was produced by Lucy Lee and directed by Frank Buxton. Receiving a standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house, many proclaimed “The Lost Letters of Robert E. Lee” as one of the best shows ever produced at a convention.

Gregg Oppenheimer is the producer of the I Love Lucy DVD sets and the author of the book Laughs, Luck… and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time, for his father. Jess Oppenheimer was the head writer and producer of I Love Lucy. With video and stories, Gregg took us behind the scenes of I Love Lucy and the show’s star, Lucille Ball.
The audience enjoys "Meet Corliss Archer."
2009 -- Celebrities included Larry Albert, Dick Beals, Eddie Carroll, Ron Cocking, Tommy Cook, Frank Ferrante, Jim French, Pat French, Bob Hastings, Paul Herlinger, Bob Hudson (NBC San Francisco, including Little Orphan Annie), Tim Knofler, Gloria McMillan, Esther Geddes McVey, Shirley Mitchell, Gregg Oppenheimer, Dave Parker, Rosemary Rice, Stuffy Singer, Beverly Washburn and Heather Woodruff Perry.

Dave Parker’s new documentary was completed and “Remembering Radio” was presented at the convention for attendees, with a strong emphasis on sound effects men and a recorded interview with the late Ray Erlenborn. Tim Knofler directed a re-creation of CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Gregg Oppenheimer presented bloopers and fluffs (adults only). Dick Beals re-created his role for “Return to Dust,” a kick-butt episode of Suspense that still brings chills to anyone who hears it for the first time. A full radio production of The Wizard of Oz is performed on stage. Bryan Henderickson appeared as Deadeye and Junior, “the mean widdle kid,” in Red Skelton’s Scrapbook on Stage. A special You Bet Your Life sketch with Frank Ferrante, Eddie Carroll and Larry Albert play comedy legends, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny and Fred Allen. Matthew Rovner and Tommy Cook talk about working with Arch Oboler, the man responsible for Lights Out!

Radio re-creations included The Great Gildersleeve, It Pays to be Ignorant, Fibber McGee and Molly, Lum and Abner, The Bickersons, The Shadow, I Remember Mama, Gunsmoke (a re-creation of a “lost” episode, “Dodge City Killer”), Your Hit Parade, The Jack Benny Program, and Tim Knofler presented I Love A Mystery.
Laura Leff in costume as Hedda Hopper
2010 -- Celebrities included Larry Albert, Dick Beals, Frank Buxton, Michael James Casey, Ron Cocking, Norman Corwin, Ivan Cury, Robert Easton, Jim French, Bob Hastings, Bob Hudson, Tim Knofler, Robert Loudon, Chuck McCann, Gloria McMillan, Esther Geddes McVey, Jan Merlin, Shirley Mitchell, Gregg Oppenheimer, Dave Parker, Heather Woodruff Perry, Rosemary Rice, Ed Silverman, Stuffy Singer and Leonard Smith.

Events included Bob Loudon’s House Party (comedy, news, drama, bloopers, very fast moving and with lots of really nice door prizes), a visit with Norman Corwin who did an interview on stage, Shaun Clancy chats with Ed Silverman who told of his days working as a correspondent in World War II, his days in radio with Bill Stern and many other personalities, Dark Parker does another “Remembering Radio,” Len Smith’s tribute to Our Miss Brooks, and a salute to the radio serial hour with a feature devoted to Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. Bob Loudon also offered a Big Band party. Tim Knofler directed a radio version of a classic Twilight Zone television episode.

Radio re-creations included the D-Day broadcast, The Treasury Hour Bond Show, Suspense, The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, The Aldrich Family, Studio One, Screen Guild Theater, The Fred Allen Show, Our Miss Brooks and The Six Shooter.

2011 --  Celebrities included Tim Knofler, Ivan Cury, Bryan Henderickson, Beverly Washburn, Tommy Cook, Stuffy Singer, Jerry Williams, John Dix, Bill Brooks, Michael James Kacey, Jim Dolan, Esther Geddes McVey, Gloria McMillan, Jenn Ollivier, Kate McKnight, Anna Denton, Ron Cocking, Chuck McCann, Gregg Oppenheimer and Larry Albert.

Radio re-creations included Little Orphan Annie, I Love Lucy: The Untold Story, The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre, Escape’s “Three Skeleton Key,” Lights Out!, My Favorite Husband, The Lux Radio Theatre, The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show, The Great Gildersleeve and a spoof of The Shadow.
Many thanks to Larry and John Gassman, Shaun Clancy, Don Bishop, Walden Hughes and Paul K. Secord.

For more information about the Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound, or how to become a member and get a free subscription to their monthly newsletter, Air Check, visit the REPS web-site at

The REPS Convention web-site is

Friday, June 14, 2013

Bela Lugosi's "lost" 1928 Dracula Performance

Bela Lugosi as Dracula
Not a week goes by that someone is not asking me via e-mail for information about some radio broadcast that has yet to be documented. I feel bad about not having the time to answer every request, but the enclosed story reveals how a Holy Grail for old-time radio fans was unearthed as a result -- not from a request -- but from of a wager. And a prime example of how much effort can go into one search... and hopefully a few ideas for researchers to apply. 

About a year ago I was shaking hands with a friendly fellow, Jerry Robbins, who introduced himself as an authority on all things Bela Lugosi. I was an attendee at the annual Monster Bash convention in Butler, Pennsylvania, and Jerry brought a copy of a magazine article I wrote a few years back about Lugosi's 200+ radio appearances (also citing the sources of where those radio appearances were referenced). What peaked his interest was a notation I made referring to as "the earliest known radio appearance" of Bela Lugosi. 

News Flash: I phrased "earliest known" because there is no possible way anyone can generate a list of a Hollywood actor's radio career and claim the earliest known is their "radio premiere." A number of newspapers and magazines of the twenties and thirties publicly hailed Hollywood and Broadway celebrities making their "radio debut" -- but that was always for publicity and newspaper editors rarely questioned what was reported in press releases. I find that when you dig far enough you will often find an appearance that pre-dates any such proclamation.

Anyway, the entry in question was in the spring of 1928, when Bela Lugosi supposedly appeared before a radio microphone to act out the role of Dracula, the title character of a stage play adapted from the Bram Stoker novel of the same name. The Broadway play premiered in 1927 and exists today only through playbills, photographs, newspaper articles, tabloid briefs and Lugosi's reprisal on the silver screen in 1931. As is often the case in Hollywood, Lugosi found himself typecast and played the role of a vampire many times (or suspected of being a vampire as in the case of the 1935 motion-picture, Mark of the Vampire).

Anyway, two months ago, Jerry called me on the phone to ask if I was planning to attend Monster Bash in a few weeks, now held in Mars, Pennsylvania. After reminding me of our discussion about the 1928 radio broadcast, Jerry asked if a recording of that broadcast was ever found. Again, my answer had not changed from last year. No, it had not and probably will not. Why? In 1928, radio broadcasts were not even considered a viable commercial property. Rarely was a broadcast sponsored because companies both local and national questioned just how many people had a radio in their living room. 1928 was the same year Amos and Andy premiered in Chicago, radio station WOL in Washington, D.C. opened for business, and it was not until December 23 that NBC was set up to broadcast as a coast-to-coast network. This means most radio stations (depending on the wattage) offered programming on a local/regional basis. Ten years later, in 1938, the cost of a half-hour transcription disc was $90 (yeah, that was a lot of money back then) and while the reasons why radio broadcasts of the thirties, forties and fifties exist today vary, depending on the program, someone had to foot the bill. If the Lugosi broadcast of 1928 was ever recorded, what would be the reason and who would have paid the bill? Per statistics (via Hickerson), only four (general) radio broadcasts exist in recorded form that pre-date 1928, so the chances of the long-rumored radio broadcast Jerry asked about remains almost improbable.

Jerry, being determined, asked me if a copy of the radio script exists. "It might," I told him, explaining that there was no industry standard for radio scripts in 1928. At that time, many radio program were broadcast without the use of scripts. The few that were scripted were molded from the format of stage plays. And dramas were few and far between in 1928. Radio provided mostly news and music... especially music. Singers who knew the lyrics didn't need anything but a finger to cue their vocal chords.

Since I completed that "Lugosi on Radio" article a few years back, I amassed over 70 radio scripts with Lugosi featured in the cast, verifying what his role was on those particular programs. Of amusement was the Dr. Heggi role on Quick as a Flash where the script was found in an archive. (Click the link to see that radio script.) Because of this, Jerry offered me a proposition. He wagered me a box of Krispy Kreme donuts that I couldn't find a copy of the 1928 radio script within 30 days.

[pause behind the phone for a moment...]

"Sixty days," I told him. "I will be attending Cinevent and the Cincinnati Nostalgia Expo and among my duties will be introducing a film short, and I need to prepare for a slide show presentation... among other things. Give me sixty days." Jerry accepted the terms and as King Henry IV (Shakespeare) remarked, "the game's afoot." Before our phone conversation concluded, I did ask Jerry who else he approached, in case someone else has been working on the same and might have a few leads I could start with. No, the only person who could solve the mystery and find a script to the 1928 broadcast would be me, Jerry insisted.

Radio News in 1928
So how do you go about finding a radio script from 1928, with nothing but the information described above? I started by narrowing down the possibilities. The Dracula stage play went on tour across the country but it was still rooted in New York City at the time of the broadcast. It was an educated guess that the broadcast originated from New York City and would have been a local broadcast, not a coast-to-coast presentation. That narrowed down the number of radio stations. The broadcast more than likely would have been between 1927 and 1929, with a focus to publicize the stage drama and encourage listeners to visit the theater.

Newspaper listings are rarely consulted because it has been proven that one out of every eight listings is inaccurate (refer to the article Unreliable Newspaper Logs from 2011). Remember, newspapers should not be used as reference, but as a tool for reference. My listing of Lugosi's radio credits in a magazine article a few years ago cited which of his "known" appearances were featured in specific newspapers across the country but proven to be inaccurate, while 12 still remain questionable. In this case, I used a number of New York newspaper archives (especially the valuable Nothing came up referring to Dracula or Lugosi. Most likely the Dracula production was a dramatic highlight of a radio program. Using key words such as "Broadway" and "Stage," and consulting Jay Hickerson's Ultimate Guide book (recommended for anyone who plans to do research on old-time radio), I narrowed down the possibilities to 98 programs (might be 97 or 99, I did a loose count here). Scratching off anything originating from Buffalo or Syracuse, the number came down to 93.

For each and every program, I dug into the series history and scratched off anything that aired in the evening. The actors could not have performed the drama during the evening since they had a play to perform. That narrowed down to morning or afternoon. Down to 23. Looking over the list, one program caught my eye. Fifteen Minutes of Drama remained a strong possibility. No one said the cast of the stage play had to perform the entire drama (why give away the entire story?) so a sample or teaser was a likely theory. Photographed below is a snapshot taken on my new iPhone5 which provided both the time and the network.

Screen capture of the potential and elusive Bela Lugosi.

Finding the exact program and air date would be trial and error. As you can see above (click to enlarge), Mary Margaret Chester was a temporary substitute for the series regular, Aileen Berry. This offers two additional leads: the names of the female hosts. But two days of digging only suggested I was walking down an empty alley. Everything referring to the two women helped document Fifteen Minutes of Drama but nothing referring to Dracula. For anyone curious, WJZ was one of two stations representing NBC (NBC Red and NBC Blue) and originated from Newark, New Jersey. Located about 30 minutes outside of New York City, it remained possible that the stage actors, Lugosi included, made the trek down to Newark and their performance might have originated from New Jersey. Following this lead my next course of action was to contact The New Jersey Historical Society. Located on Park Place, for anyone who is not familiar with Newark, New Jersey, I recommend you make the trip only if necessary. Remember the joke in New Year's Eve (2011) about how bad an area Newark is? Yeah, I was afraid my car might be stolen after I parked and locked it.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the 1931 movie.
The Historical Society, however, turned up negative regarding anything I was seeking. (Found good radio material but nothing leading to Dracula.) The next phase was to start scanning through old periodicals like Broadcasting and Variety. I scanned every page of Broadcasting at College Park in searchable pdf format but in this case it did not help. Broadcasting didn't start until 1931. Variety was a crap-shoot. Then I made the trek into New York City and went to the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. Using their card files on the second floor, I found a number of newspaper clippings for radio programs that featured the words "Broadway" and "Stage." That is when one item came across my attention...

A radio program known as Stardom of Broadway which, on the afternoon of March 2, 1928, featured an adaptation of "The Racket" with Williard Robertson, Hugh O'Connell and Harry English reprising their stage roles. The clipping made mention of the play at the Ambassador Theatre and how screen options were recently purchased by a major film studio. The same clipping also stated that "The Racket" would be the first of many Stardom of Broadway radio broadcasts to highlight scenes from popular and "highly-acclaimed melodramas." The director of the radio program was Mortimer Stewart. The sponsor was Barbour, Crimmins & Bryant, a theatrical firm based out of New York City. Obviously the producers bought radio air time to promote a number of stage plays including "Excess Baggage," presently playing at The Ritz Theatre, which they were producing on Broadway. (Special thanks to Jo Bagwell for her assistance with the sponsor.)

Looking through Variety for an obituary for Mortimer Stewart, I was able to discover who the next of kin was "survived by son and daughter..." From there I was able to use and track down a family relative, but no one even knew Stewart did radio. They thought he did stage plays. Dead end again.

I put in a plea on Craig's List for tracking down a family relative of a radio script writer responsible for the Dracula radio program. I did receive one response but afterwards discovered it was for a different Dracula script.

Makes you wonder what she is listening to?
So I began digging into the history of Stardom of Broadway. Here was what I was able to dig up about the program: Mortimer Stewart was a member of the WJZ staff so his duties served as director and writer for dozens of radio programs over a short time, in many cases he managed as many as three programs a day! Stardom of Broadway lasted a mere five weeks -- five broadcasts. The series aired from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern. The presentation of March 9 remains unknown. On the afternoon of March 16, "Our Betters" was dramatized, based on the stage play by W. Somerset Maugham. On the afternoon of March 23, "Excess Baggage" was presented, a comedy by John McGowan. On the afternoon of March 30, "Dracula" was presented. I have not been able to verify a Stardom of Broadway broadcast on April 6 and I suspect March 30 was the fifth and final broadcast of the series.

Now that I had a broadcast date, finding the script would be easier. The WJZ Radio Station archives might have something. So off I went to the microfilm division and keeping in mind that finding something there is like searching for a needle in a haystack without knowing the broadcast date, time and name of program, I find WJZ's accounting of radio broadcasts on March 30, 1928. News bulletins, titles of programs and... BINGO! I found the radio script.

Keep in mind that in 1928 radio scripts were not necessary when the stage actors could recite their lines forwards and backwards. Week by week the stage actors were expected to know their lines and deliver them flawlessly. And there does not appear to be any rehearsals. Exactly what scene or scenes from Dracula were acted out before the radio microphone still remains a mystery. But what you see pictured below is a copy of the radio script for the benefit of the radio announcer and, yes, it is hand-written! The first two pages opened the drama and introduced the principal actors. The third page was the closing announcements after the drama concluded. I also verified that the program did not end on time. Scheduled to end at 4:00 p.m., the drama ran over eight minutes and concluded at 4:08 p.m. Note the name of the drama is the same as the stage play, with no variation. 

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I consider this a major find for what is possibly a Holy Grail for old-time radio and horror buffs, despite the fact some have since come out of the woodwork and claimed they knew all of this beforehand and that this was something old, not a new discovery. 

I e-mailed Jerry Robbins this past Wednesday night and told him to check out my blog entry this coming Friday.

Jerry,  it appears you owe me a box of Krispy Kremes.

For a copy of the radio script for Lugosi's radio appearance on The Vitalis Program, CLICK HERE.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Slapsticon Moves to a New Venue

Before Mike Myers, Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, and Adam Sandler, there were many early film pioneers who broke new ground in the art of motion picture comedy. Some of the more familiar names include Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Mabel Normand, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Thelma Todd, along with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

However, a significant number of lesser-known artists made important contributions to the development of film comedy. These artists include the likes of Larry Semon, Jimmie Adams, Lupino Lane, Gale Henry, Lloyd Hamilton, Max Linder, Billy West, Bobby Vernon, Alice Howell, Snub Pollard, Billy Bevan, Ford Sterling, Fay Tincher, Andy Clyde, Monty Banks, Clyde Cook, and Raymond Griffith, among many, many others.

It is to the well-known — and especially the lesser-known comedians, producers, directors, writers, and studios — that SLAPSTICON is dedicated.This annual, four-day film festival features screenings of rarely seen comedies from the silent and early sound eras. It is an opportunity to view films that are some of the earliest creative efforts in the development of motion picture comedy. Having attended many film festivals, I can state for certain that watching Laurel and Hardy or Charley Chase at home is worth a chuckle or laugh. But watching the same comedy shorts on the big screen in an audience that appreciates the same makes the comedy shorts all the more merrier -- and funnier. The difference between watching the shorts at home versus at a film festival is that the films go from funny to hilarious.

Just as important, SLAPSTICON, like any convention or film festival, is an opportunity to meet other people like you who share an interest in the appreciation and preservation of early film comedy. In attendance at SLAPSTICON are some of the nation's most dedicated motion picture researchers and collectors, most of whom are walking encyclopedias of early film comedy.

Monte Banks in ATTA BOY (1926)
Slapsticon 2003 was held at the Spectrum Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. from July 10–13. Regrettably, I was unable to attend because it was the same weekend as another show in North Carolina and I was already committed to that show. Some of the highlights that year was "I'll Take My Keaton Rare," An entire evening devoted to rarely seen and recently discovered Buster Keaton material. A tribute to Charley Chase's silent years, a screening of Chaplin shorts struck from the original nitrate,and The Slapstick Summit (A panel of silent comedy historians, collectors and accompanists).

Slapsticon 2004 was produced by Dave Stevenson, Cole & Mark Johnson and friends. It was headquartered at the Lowell, Massachusetts Doubletree Inn with sortees to other sites around the Boston area. Highlights included a special guest appearance by Jean Darling of the Our Gang (Little Rascals) comedies. A program of Hal Roach two-reelers accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer at Babson College, a screening of rare 35mm shorts at the Coolidge Corner Theater, a tribute to Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's talents as comedian and director, and rare Mack Sennett shorts were among the highlights. There was a Snookie the Humanzee retrospective, a birthday tribute to Thelma Todd complete with cake and candles and the Mark Johnson collection of glass coming-attraction slides.

Slapsticon 2005 returned to its permanent home at the Rosslyn Spectrum in Arlington, Virginia, where the event was held annually from that day forward. It was the highest level of attendance to date. Some highlights: The re-premiere of Mabel Normand's Head Over Heels after 80 years. The Washington premiere of UCLA's restoration of Tillie's Punctured Romance.A rare screening of Raymond Griffith in Howard Hawk's Trent's Last Case at the National Gallery of Art. An unidentified films seminar at the Library of Congress. An appearance by W. C. Fields' granddaughter, Harriet Fields. The Rob Stone Solo Laurel OR Hardy Show.

Lloyd Hamilton in MOONSHINE (1920)

This year the event SLAPSTICON 2013 will be held at a new venue at the IU Cinema at Indiana University in Bloomington, June 27-30, 2013! The IU Cinema is a fabulous place to watch movies, and the campus and hotel at IU’s Student Union are very nice and hospitable places to stay up and discuss Billy Franey and Milburn Morante into the wee hours. Among the highlights of this year's event is a screening of the 1946 movie, Bringing Up Father, adapted from the newspaper comic strip of the same name, War, Italian Style (1967 with Buster Keaton), Keystone Girls Open Trout Season (1917), Moonshine (1920, with Lloyd Hamilton, a comedian who I recently discovered when watching a few silent comedies earlier this year and enjoyed very much), and a selection of comedy gems so diverse that it's difficult to name a comedian during the golden age of slapstick that isn't featured. 

To accompany the many silent comedies to be shown during SLAPSTICON, there are two very talented musicians booked. Dr. Philip Carli has been accompanying silent film since the age of 13. He tours extensively as a film accompanist throughout North America and Europe, and has performed at such venues as Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Cinémathèque Québécoise in Montreal, the National Film Theatre in London, and the Berlin International Film Festival. Dr. Carli performs annually at several film festivals in the United States, as well as at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Italy. Dr. Carli has recorded piano accompaniments to over seventy films for video release by the Library of Congress, a number of film and video companies, and for broadcast on the American Movie Classics and the Turner Classic Movies cable channels. He has most recently composed and recorded scores for Kino's edition of Peter Pan and Laughsmith Entertainment's The Forgotten Films of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.

For more information about Dr. Philip Carli, go to

Andrew Earle Simpson, composer, pianist, and organist, is ordinary professor and chair of the division of theory-composition at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music of The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. As Resident Film Accompanist at the National Gallery of Art and House Accompanist at the Library of Congress’ Mt. Pony Theater, Dr. Simpson performs improvised piano and organ scores. Andrew also creates fully-notated scores for silent film for live performance and DVD release.
He has performed silent film scores at the Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy, the New York Public Library, Sala Cecelia Meireles in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Kennedy Center, and many other venues.
Dr. Simpson also explores film and video as part of a larger theatrical context: cabaret, musical theater, opera. The Comic Roach: A Roadhouse Picture Show, which premiered at the 2009 Capital Fringe Festival , is an example of embedding silent film within a larger theatrical production (a “film-cabaret”).
Mr. Simpson is also the co-founder of the Snark Ensemble

If you live within driving distance of Bloomington, Indiana, and have a day or two free, or even an afternoon, go check it out and enjoy the comedies being scheduled for this year's event.

On-line registration through the IU website is now available at
$99 for a full 4-day pass.
$30 for a single day pass.

The closest hotel to the IU Cinema is the Biddle Hotel right on campus.
Guests can either make reservations online at or by calling the hotel directly at 800.209.8145. If you call, you MUST say "Slapsticon" or "Slapstick"! Otherwise you will be told the hotel is sold out. As of now there are still rooms left in the Slapsticon block.
Online Reservation instructions:
click “Biddle Hotel”
click “accommodations”
scroll down to “reserve a room” put in desired arrival / departure dates
click here for special rates
enter group code: SLAPSTICK
click “check availability”
make selection and process reservation
Off-campus budget accomodations include the Bloomington Travelodge East 3rd
(NOTE: This hotel is among the closest to the IU Cinema and rates are currently just $57/night.)

For more information, e-mail