Friday, July 26, 2013

HAVE GUN-WILL TRAVEL, "Gun Shy" (1958)

One of my favorite television cowboy Westerns is Have Gun-Will Travel. Richard Boone was known as the Barrymore on horseback and while he often spouted poetry and other words of wisdom, the stories more often were inspirational... one could best describe them as "wisdom fiction."

On the evening of March 29, 1958, the episode "Gun Shy" was telecast with Dan Blocker (pre-Bonanza days) as a villain. The plot was simple: In order to collect the gift of a precious jade chess set, Paladin must first intercept the men who stole it from Hey Boy's family. It is an average episode of the series but the dining room scene builds tension that almost had me leaning on the chair to see what happens. And there is a great blooper in this episode, too. Boone is filmed outdoors on a hill, looking down on Ma Warren's boarding house with his collar buttoned and wearing a white necktie. When he arrives at the house seconds later (on an indoor set), the tie is gone and the collar open. The reason is simple. The first five or six episodes of the television series depicts Paladin wearing the white tie. But as the actor rode a horse, the tie kept bouncing up and hitting him in the face. The producers quickly agreed to eliminate the tie. But the stock footage from an early production was inserted into this episode -- hence why there is a tie and then no tie.

Chuck: Mister.
Paladin: The name is Paladin.
Chuck: Mister, that's what I meant. She's got my brand on her.
Paladin: Which one, mother or daughter?
Chuck: Look! Let's get something straight right now. In this country we shoot claim jumpers on sight.
Paladin: (Brandishing a pheasant bone) Well, I'm sure they die very happy.

Most people don't know how television production works and the majority assume people just write a teleplay and submit it to the producers and story editors. In actuality, this rarely ever happens. It takes too long for producers and story editors to read a teleplay. Instead, a staff of gifted writers draft a story proposal which ranges from one page to nineteen. Sometimes the proposals are titled. Sometimes they are not. Often submitted by an agency representing the writer (to avoid lawsuits from unsolicited proposals), the story proposals are reviewed in quicker time than a teleplay. If approved, a contract is drawn up and the writer is commissioned to write a first draft and a final draft. The first draft is always reviewed by the producer, story editor, production chief (who suggests changes to keep the budget down such as eliminating extra bit players and unnecessary location shots), network censorship (hoping to avoid inconsiderate dialogue and scenarios) and lawyers who want to ensure there is nothing in the script that could open a can of worms. Then the revised draft is written with all the changes and the finished script is completed. If, during production, pages need to be revised and inserted into the scripts, the revised pages are not white -- they are of a different color. (This is how, many times, if you buy a teleplay off eBay from a program like The Lone Ranger or Soldiers of Fortune, you can tell if it is an original or a copy.)

Chuck: Look, I told you. She's got my brand on her.
Paladin: Young man, are you under the impression that Nancy is a cow?

"Gun Shy" was later adapted into a radio drama for the radio version of Have Gun-Will Travel. Jeanette Nolan reprised her role as Ma Warren--the only time that any actor did so (and it was because she was one of the few who was doing both radio and television at the time). So the enclosed may interest both radio and television fans.

Enclosed below is a reprint of the six page story proposal by Frank and Doris Hursley, who also wrote the first draft. Albert Aley wrote the final draft incorporating the necessary changes. If you have this episode on DVD (now available commercially courtesy of CBS), you can watch the episode and then read this plot proposal to compare the differences.

Click to enlarge.

Friday, July 19, 2013

NBC: Behind the Scenes Tour

The history of NBC is just as fascinating as the competition: CBS, ABC, Mutual, DuMont... and the inter-office memos reprinted below (including one telegram) offer a glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes in 1950 and 1951.

Click on the photos to see them enlarged.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Dick Tracy 1935: A Year In Review

Well, it didn't take Junior very long to discover that the strange woman who keeps lurking in the shadows is his mother. He compares the photo in a locket, left to him by his father, Hank Steele, to the mysterious woman and observes a resemblance. When he approaches the woman with the locket, she breaks down and cries. A fond family reunion.

Meanwhile, Boris Arson is still behind bars and his fiendish sister, Zora, masquerades as his attorney to get the lowdown on his arrest. As a result, Zora attempts (and fails) to shoot and kill Dick Tracy, Junior and his mother. She hires a criminal to create a "pineapple" and almost blows up Junior's mother. When she discovers that spilling iodine on potatoes makes them turn black, she gets an idea and sends a message to Boris, who uses this information to create a fake gun (ala John Dillinger and the famous potato gun) and escapes jail.

Chief Brandon becomes the ridicule of the press and the mayor promises to clean up the police department, even if it means he has to fire Brandon. Dick Tracy takes the blame for the potato and accepts responsibility. The mayor orders Brandon to fire the famous detective. With the police blocking all roads leading in and out of town, Boris Arson arranges a fake marriage between Yellowpony's daughter, Sunset, and Boris Arson has the American Indians handle the transportation. When Yellowpony becomes suspicious, Arson draws out a gun and Yellowpony is forced out of his car. The police give chase, leading up a treacherous mountain road. Zora Arson has guided the Indian's commandeered car toward the mountain hideout of "Cutie" Diamond.

Along the side of the hill is a hideout inside a secret entrance, guarded by vicious mountain wildcats. A caged runway prevents the criminals from getting mauled and torn to shreds. After all efforts to get inside the cave fail, Dick Tracy and Pat Patton drill a hole into the cave and push a tube inside, from the automobile, forcing carbon monoxide gas into the hideout. Diamond, angry, races to the exit to shoot at the cops but his body is drilled with bullets. Zora charges out and is shot to death in an exchange of gunfire. Pat Patton is forced to shoot the wildcats. Diamond, wounded, blinded by so much blood on his face, finds the rear door of the house and stumbles blindly up the stairs to the second floor of his mountain home. In one last feeble effort to ward off inevitable capture, he enters the room furthest down the hall and fortifies himself behind an overturned chair. With automatic poised and aimed toward the door, his body stiffens. Fingers that sent leaden death into his fellow men, grow white and rigid. He dies before the police charge in to clean up the mess. 

Boris Arson remains behind in the cave shooting through the door. Dick Tray, spotting the end of Arson's gun, makes a quick decision. Figuring from the position of the criminal's firearm, about where his body would be, Tracy presses the machine gun against the cave wall and pulls the trigger. Arson is shot and wounded. His body is carried out for identification, wrapped in a blanket and flown back to the city where the criminal demands his constitutional rights. "You can't cross state lines. You've got to extradite me!" he cries to deaf ears. "A murdering rat like you has no constitutional rights," Tracy tells him.

All of this takes place during the first five months of 1935, perhaps the longest story arc to date for the comic. In June, Junior's mother has had a "coffee pot-shaped" hot dog stand like the one she had in California. She is back in business and she even hires a young lady to help behind the cash register... Toby... with eyes for the cute Dick Tracy.

Toby, it turns out, has a secret. She places the races with Mrs. Steel's daily cash receipts. Toby's boyfriend, Mark Masters, makes a career betting on a sure thing and every day the two use Mrs. Steel's money to make $12 dollars into $200. Toby then deposits the $12 into the bank before Mrs. Steel learns what happened. With Toby wearing expensive clothing, Tracy and Mrs. Steele question where the new cashier gets the money but an investigation of the bank account reveals nothing. When Junior finds a ticket on a horse race, which belonged to Toby, he takes the evidence to Dick Tracy. For weeks the two crooks uses Mrs. Steel's money to bet on the horses and eventually Mark receives what he believes is the biggest tip of the year.

Intoxicated by his own success at playing the ponies, Mark, the bank teller, decides to make one final plunge -- this time on a big enough scale to make himself independently wealthy. This involves embezzling $5,000 from the bank. But when the horse doesn't pull through, Mark, desperate, turns to Bookie Joe. Joe won't help and a struggle ensues. A gun goes off and Mark shoots Bookie Joe dead. He steals $5,000 and Toby was witness to the crime. When Toby discovers Joe is still breathing, she asks a cabbie to help her transport the body to the hospital and then flees before the police can discover who she is. Joe recovers and sends one of his men to the bank to deposit a roll of quarters. The roll turns out to be a bomb and Mark is killed instantly.

Angry, Tracy leads police on Joe's gambling houses and the raids force Joe to order Tracy's sweetheart, Tess Trueheart, to be kidnapped. Driving Tess Trueheart out to the country, the criminals tie her wrists from behind and tosses her into the old fairground stables. Using telegraph wires in the loft, Tess sends an S.O.S. which alerts the police. To clear her name, Toby agrees to be the police intermediary in negotiating for Tess' safe release. The plan doesn't go in favor of the police and the criminals throw a lantern onto a pile of hay. The stables catches on fire and Tess is still trapped in the hayloft. Tracy and Pat Patton arrive on the scene to find the criminals racing out of the burning building. After knocking the men unconscious to the ground, Tracy witnesses the stables falling to the ground. The flame-weakened beams crash and splinter. But Tess survives because the wall she was leaning against fell back away from the burning structure. Bookie Joe attempts to flee the scene, running through the loft of the stables and out the other end. Pat fires and misses. Coming unexpectedly to an open place in the floor, Joe's body is hurled downward. His head meets something hanging to the rafter. Leather straps and a harness. His body comes to a sudden stop and suspended by the neck, dies in the fire.

With Bookie Joe out of the way, victim of the fire which swept the racing stables, Blake, Joe's partner, is still held in custody along with Toby. Blake opens a slot in his thick-soled shoes and removes a fountain pen gun and frames Toby for the murder of Donovan, a police officer. Toby discovers the frame is too perfect and she will remain behind bars for many years. Dick Tracy, hoping to prove her innocence, eventually finds the secret compartment in Blake's shoe, but not before it's too late. Toby was sentenced by a court of law and sent to a women's prison. Cold-grey walls that mean bitter, monotonous confinement to all who enter. Armed with papers for Toby's release, Dick Tracy in company with Pat Patton, speeds to the women's prison. A prison riot has broken out and Toby finds herself trapped and confined inside a closet with a tear gas bomb so potent that when she is saved, the doctors report a tragic diagnosis... she is blind in both eyes.

In September, Junior tries to train his dog to be a seeing eye dog. His efforts fail but as Toby tells the boy, "Misfortune has its good points, Junior. It teaches us how much sweetness and human kindness there is in this old world after all." Dick Tracy, meanwhile, receives a letter from Mayor Waite Wright of Homeville, Illinois. It seems"Cut" Famon, the famous gangster, just finished serving a three year income tax sentence at Alcoretz Prison. Famon plans to return to town. But that is only half the problem. The mayor finds himself surrounded by conniving and corruption to such an extent that his law enforcement machinery is practically paralyzed. Tracy, after explaining the scenario to Chief Brandon, secures six months leave of absence.

As the new chief of police in Homeville, Tracy enforces a new and strict police force, arresting traffic law violators, arrests a hit and run driver and investigates a secret room underneath a filling station where Cut Famon is busy preparing for a big haul. The aldermen of the town are not happy with Tracy's new law enforcement and while the new chief of police finds himself fighting politics, Cut Famon decides to eliminate Tracy by framing him with a fake promissory note on a business deal that will split the town wide open. "Bail" Gordon, a member of Famon's gang, turns out to be a G-Man named Jim Trailer and Famon alerts his mother, who races to the secret hideout with her Tommy Gun. The police are also armed and in the fashion of Ma Barker and her boys, a bloody exchange of bullets riddle the house as "Maw" Famon and her boys are cut down one by one.

With the crook situation in hand, the Famon boys and "Maw" Famon no more, the crooked aldermen who joined Famon in framing Dick Tracy now exposed and in jail, the only sour note is that "Cut" Famon is still at large. He deserted Homeville. Hiding out in an old silo with two notorious crooks, "Cut" Famon's hideout is soon discovered and Jim Trailer and Dick Tracy race out to apprehend the notorious criminal. Tracy tells Jim to hold the gangsters' attention by firing at the silo from the road while he circled around the back and throwing the throttle open, allows a truck to head down the hill directly toward the silo, smashing it wide open. Somewhere under the brick debris is "Cut" Famon... or so the boys think.

What will happen next? We'll have to wait for a review of 1936.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Happy 4th of July, Hollywood Style

Celebrating the 4th of July, Hollywood Style.

Ann Miller

Colleen Moore

Jayne Mansfield

Vera Allen

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Lone Ranger: 2013 movie review

The Lone Ranger (2013 movie)
Although The Lone Ranger premieres in the movie theaters tomorrow, my wife and I were privy to a screening at our local theater -- courtesy of a few good friends who arranged for us and a small group of people to preview the film before it goes nationwide. Having listened to over 1,000 of the radio broadcasts (circa 1938 to 1954) over the past decade, watched all 200 plus television episodes, read over 200 of the radio scripts (from 1933 to 1935) and read more than half of the 18 novels written by Fran Striker... not counting a scholarly review of the George W. Trendle archive in both public and private collections... I can say that I am well-versed in the history of The Lone Ranger.

Before I compose a quick review of the movie, I would like to remind people that the image of The Lone Ranger is both iconic in pop culture and "legendary." He premiered on radio in 1933, five years before Superman made his initial appearance in the comics. He was taller than six feet, well-built, displayed polite and dignified mannerisms, spoke with an educated voice, both deep and convincing, never shot or killed a human being and respected both God and nature. He rode a white stallion that was larger than life, sped faster than a speeding bullet (hence the classic opener "a cloud of dust...") and represented the best a hero can be when the call of bravery shouted among the meek.

The Lone Ranger was a true superhero of the Wild West.

Fran Striker, under the guidance of radio magnate George W. Trendle, created the radio program and for more than a decade Striker wrote almost every story. Except for a brief spell in the mid-forties when he left for greener pastures over a dispute about his salary for keeping up with the demand of writing three new scripts a week, he guided and shaped the series into the program we are familiar with today.

Johnny Depp as Tonto... not so faithful
Flash forward to 2003 when Walt Disney released Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, directed by Gore Verbinski, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. I have to admit that the movie was one of the two best that year. Depp's portrayal of a castaway pirate was not original: he mimicked a drunk Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. But the story, the camerawork, the special effects and Depp made it a fun movie. (Ignore the sequels, by the way.)

So I can imagine the gleam in the eye of Disney executives when someone pitched them the idea: "It's Pirates of the Caribbean meets the Wild, Wild, West with an already successful franchise, The Lone Ranger and... get this... hold on to your hats... Johnny Depp playing the role of Tonto." The executives must have been cheering with joy. The cost? An estimated $215 million dollars, plus an additional (rumored) $175 million in advertising to promote it. I have no doubt the film was previewed for a test audience months ago and the results were... well, if the folks at Disney have stomach ulcers worrying if they will make the $400 million domestically before the movie departs for DVD this Christmas, they have cause to worry. What worked for Pirates doesn't necessarily work for an adaptation of a children's Western. Let's be honest. Making a movie out of an amusement park ride is easy -- the movie establishes a franchise and creates characters we can grow to love. But trying to make one's own version with a property we are already familiar with after eight decades... they are tampering with the design of the automobile tire. It's round -- leave it that way.

For weeks now I watched every advertisement on television, teaser and promotional footage. Tonto wearing a dead crow on his head? The Lone Ranger raising his hands up, surrendering cowardly? The great white horse Silver standing on a tree branch? Still, I shrugged and decided to attend the screening and wipe the slate clean. Let's be honest. Walking in the theater and expecting to see The Lone Ranger as I envisioned all these years listening to old radio broadcasts is nonsensical. Ditto if I expected to see a Clayton Moore lookalike. So I went in with an open mind, fully aware that the silver screen can never be 100 percent faithful to the original and hoped for the best.

Warning: Minor spoilers below! But I did avoid giving away anything really important so if you plan to watch the movie, I won't be ruining your fun. They are more warnings than spoilers.

The movie has flaws and while I could focus on them, you'll probably sleep better not knowing most of them. Focusing briefly on the plus side: the plot and story about railroad magnates attempting to take over the country is great. So is Tom Wilkinson's dialogue on board the train when his true motives are revealed. It is the kind of story I expected to see in any Lone Ranger movie. The retelling has a few revisions (with nice touches) and the massacre at Bryant's Gap and the outlaw Butch Cavendish are all there.

The entire cast (except for Johnny Depp) is perfect in their roles. The special effects is as good as expected. Production values are up there as they spent a lot of money putting this together. How they managed to spend $200 plus million is beyond me. I have seen movies cost $60 million and look just as polished. The location scenery is excellent.

Tonto and his faithful companion, The Lone Ranger
In fact, everything about the movie is great... except for Tonto. There are Comanche Indians in the movie (apparently Navajo Indians were used for the cast, according to the closing credits) and the people playing those roles look more like the Tonto character than Johnny Depp. Tonto, the faithful sidekick for The Lone Ranger throughout the thirties, forties and fifties, is now the guiding light for this rendition: and played solely for laughs. None of which is funny. The audience in the theater was not laughing. Tonto is trying to prevent Silver from drinking alcohol bottle after bottle. Tonto is trying to feed cracked corn to his dead crow. While Tonto is riding the white horse, Silver poops on The Lone Ranger. I got the impression that the first draft of the script was played straight and was later revised after Johnny Depp signed as an Executive Producer and to play the role of Tonto. If Tonto had been played straight like the character he was for three decades, this movie would have been great. In short, the comedy wasn't funny and the producer, the director, the actor and the distributor should have known better. If you license a franchise from a successful pop culture property, you need to keep it faithful. It's been 30 years and people still crack jokes about the 1981 motion-picture. I suspect they will be doing the same about this one 30 years from now. Heck, the catch phrase "Who was that Masked Man?" which appears in half of the radio and TV shows is never even uttered during the 148 minutes! 

Now that's a faithful Indian companion!
It gets worse: I haven't even mentioned the man who cuts out a heart from a man's chest and eats it. Bunny rabbits that turn cannibalistic. An Indian massacre that isn't even emotionally moving but was clearly meant to be. They even refer to The Lone Ranger as John Reid. Every Lone Ranger authority and historian knows that John Reid was never his name. (His last name was Reid but his first name was never revealed in any of the radio or television programs, or the books authored by Fran Striker.) Striker always wanted it to remain a mystery. The origin of John Reid dates to The Big Broadcast, an encyclopedia on the 1960s that somehow made a small error by printing that and it somehow became the gospel. (This is what happens when people don't do research, rather they choose to consult published reference guides.) This error later got reprinted in the 1980s Green Hornet comic books and the 1981 motion-picture. (I'm waiting for the day Warner Bros. decides to refer to Superman as Charles Kent...)

There are shades of brilliance: from the silver bullet flying through the air to an explanation of the eye holes in the mask. The use of the final movement of the William Tell Overture which is synonymous with The Lone Ranger is also used. I liked the idea of an aged Indian, in 1933, recounting the legend to a young boy. But it was the final 25 minutes when the music spiked and The Lone Ranger appeared on the roof tops on the great steed Silver, charging for the runaway train, that I cheered and like a kid on cocaine I was rooting for him to pull out those ivory-handled six-shooters and start blazing away. And he did. Forget the fact that he shot more bullets than we could count (and he did not reload between action scenes). He was doing something... well, legendary. Something witnesses would later tell their disbelieving grandchildren -- and women turn to their husbands, grabbing them by the arm, pointing and shouting "Who was that Masked Man?" But somehow it doesn't make up for the bad comedy (ala Johnny Depp's Tonto).

There are five inside jokes and tip-of-the-hat references in the movie. 
Inside Jokes: Spoilers 
(You might want to skip this paragraph until after you watch the movie.)
1933 was the year when The Lone Ranger made his initial appearance. "Thrilling Days of Yesteryear" is plastered on a banner in the beginning of the movie, a phrase spoken at the beginning of every radio and TV broadcast. One of the villains is named Clayton (obviously named after Clayton Moore, TV's Lone Ranger), Dan Reid (The Lone Ranger's nephew who would later go on to establish The Daily Sentinel, ala The Green Hornet), and the name etched on the back of the Texas Ranger badge is G.W. Reid (George W. Trendle, referenced above).

No spoilers here....
You can tell the cast and crew put time and effort to make a good movie that pays homage to The Lone Ranger. To commemorate the 80th anniversary of The Lone Ranger, Disney did a Western remake of Pirates of the Caribbean and it shows. (By the way, same script writers, too.) From a group of drunken and disorderly ladies, outlaw bandits who (some of them at least) do not have their head on too tight (also played by some of the same actors who played the villainous pirates in the former)... it's the same thing all over again. If Disney takes a financial loss as a result of this movie it will be because of one major reason: the way they choose to do Tonto.

The last Lone Ranger motion-picture was in 1981 and it took them 30 years to produce another. I guess we'll just have to wait another 30 years to see if they can get it right. If we are lucky, we won't have to wait that long. The 100th Anniversary is 20 years from now...

Closing Comments
This movie was not produced for an aging fan base that grew up watching The Lone Ranger. Anyone over the age of 60 will probably leave the theaters in disgust and disappointment. The movie was clearly produced with a demographic that today pays for the majority of the tickets: young kids under the age of 25 who want to see Johnny Depp play Captain Sparrow. My big fear is that kids today who never grew up watching The Lone Ranger or do not even know who The Lone Ranger is, will think of this representation. They should have titled this movie "Tonto and The Lone Ranger."

Johnny Depp as a man with a dead crow on his head.
Before finishing this write-up, I took a quick minute and checked out what The New York Times, Variety, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Times and The Washington Post, among others, all had to say in their reviews. It seems great minds think alike and Disney is not going to be quoting newspaper columnists in TV spots after opening weekend. (My favorite was the remark by The Huffington Post: "I saw The Lone Ranger because I had to write a review for my weekly outlet. And it was so pointlessly awful that I wrote a review before I left. Because, as a mentor of mine once said, there's no point in patting idiots on the head. Everything you need to know about this movie can be found in four little words: Pirates of the Caribbean. Everything that was wrong with that series of films (and that includes the first one, the only watchable movie in the bunch) is amplified in The Lone Ranger. Combine the visual excess of director Gore Verbinski with producer Jerry Bruckheimer's addiction to spectacle and Johnny Depp's mugging and, well, you can do the math."

Will the movie make a bunch of money for the studio on the opening weekend? Sure it will. With all the money backing the publicity. And remember that it will be a five-day weekend gross, not three. Besides, other than fireworks and a night at the ballpark, what else are you going to do on the Fourth of July? My curiosity will be how much money it makes during the second weekend...

Which leads me to a closing thought: The Lone Ranger movie reminds me of a two panel comic that appeared in news print in 1997. Both containing a group of people sitting at a table having a board meeting, the left panel said, "How Hollywood Should Work" and the man at the head of the table commenting, "You know, we should let people like James Cameron bring their own creative production ideas to the table and give them the leverage they need to produce great entertainment." On the right, the caption read, "How Hollywood Really Works" and the same man at the head of the table comments, "We should do a movie about big boats sinking. What boat can we sink that's bigger than The Titanic?" Truth in humor.