Friday, November 22, 2013

77 SUNSET STRIP: "Secret Island"

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

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

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

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

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

Personally, I prefer the film noir variety.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Theft and Recovery of The Lone Ranger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 1, 2013

War of the Worlds: Rediscovered

Paul Stewart, radio and movie actor
I'm going to keep my comments brief today, making way for Randy Riddle, a collector of old-time radio who recently discovered a new version of the 1938 War of the Worlds panic broadcast. What? A new recording? Sure is. The history of the panic broadcast and the recordings circulating today is too much to include in a single blog post. But thanks to Randy, we have something new to look forward for.

And yes, if this all appears a bit too much "geek," we apologize. But it's way cool!!!

And now, ladies and gentlemen, Randy Riddle.

(clap, clap, clap, clap, clap)

I recently picked up on ebay a six-disc, twelve-side lacquer recorded at 78 rpm of the Mercury Theatre broadcast of "The War of the Worlds." The set is a dub, either from another 78 rpm set or from a 16" lacquer.

Although the set has some sound issues, it does include some very brief parts missing from all of the circulating copies.

Known copies of "War of the Worlds"
A bit of history is in order.  Several posts archived here sum up what we know and don't know about the provenance of existing copies of the program.  CBS, apparently, has an original lacquer of the show - it's unclear if they had transcription recording capabilities "in house" or if it was done "off-site" during the original broadcast.  Michael Biel, in one of the archived posts, talked with an engineer who said he recorded the original discs at CBS when he was new in his job there and was ordered to "smuggle them out" of the studio.

After the broadcast, there are indications that some copies were made for a Congressional committee and/or the FCC, but we don't know the format (16" or 12") or particulars of what discs were made and what happened to them.

We know that another 16" unlabeled lacquer surfaced at an auction in 2001 from the estate of old time radio collector Ralph Murchow.  This green label Presto disc was not authenticated, but sold for $14,000.  It's not clear where the disc originated - it might have been one of the Congressional committee/FCC copies, another copy made at a local station or a dub made from CBS's archive copy.  The type of Presto lacquer was commonly used in 1938, so it could have originated from the period of the original broadcast.  (You can see more info on Presto's early years here.)

All of the circulating copies of "War of the Worlds" originated on a tape that surfaced in 1968.  By coincidence, a tape copy of the program was made for the Library of Congress that year, mono, running 7.5 ips - the source disc used for this tape copy isn't known.  Was it the CBS archive master, the Murchow green label Presto set, or another undocumented version?

Regardless, the copies of "War of the Worlds" circulating now all came from the same tape that surfaced in the late 60s, perhaps a dub of the Library of Congress tape.  The cds in circulation were copied from the lps of this tape that were released in the 1970s and the lp and cd releases have noise gates or other analogue or digital tricks to minimize the surface noise of the original tape.

Background on this set
In this post is a new dub made direct from the 78 rpm 12-sided set that I recently obtained.

According to the seller, it came from a book dealer specializing in rare books and celebrity autographs in the City of Orange, about twenty minutes from Los Angeles.  The set originated in the estate of Jimmy Star, a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and "Film Daily", an industry magazine.

The set has the name "Paul Stewart" written on the cardboard container for the set.  Stewart was one of the Mercury actors who appeared on "War of the Worlds".  He was later a founding member of AFTRA and well respected "behind the scenes" in the Hollywood film community, working in films and television well into the 1980s.

Did Stewart have the set made for reporter Jimmy Star for some reason, perhaps as a gift, a souvenir, or for some story he was working on?

There's no documentation with the set to be sure.  Based on the sound quality, it sounds as if it came either direct from the 16" masters or a really well-done dub of one.

The discs themselves all have white paper labels just like the picture above.  One was a little loose and I peeled it back - the discs are aluminum based and are green label Presto brand.  The set came in Audiodisc "glass base" generic sleeves - the discs themselves could date from near the time of the original broadcast or after WWII.  The disc type - Presto green label - and the way they were cut leads me to think they were done in a professional facility.

The original recording that is the basis for the set appears to be taken directly from the CBS studio or a line from the studio - there's no local station ids, the program is complete, and I don't hear "line noise" indicating it was a "line check" from a local station.  The surface noise is different from the 60s era copy circulating now - perhaps this copy and the 60s tape came from the same disc, dubbed to 78 rpm before it became damaged, or perhaps they came from different copies.

Sound quality and extra material on this set
It's unfortunate that the sound quality of this disc set varies so much on each side, with bright clear sound at the beginning of each of the twelve sides and more muffled sound as the inner groove is reached at the end of the sides. The set also suffers from palmitic acid leaching - a white powder that comes out of the lacquer coating and causes surface noise.  Some parts sound better than the circulating copy; some sound worse.

Despite the varying sound quality, the set is the most complete version of "War of the Worlds" available and includes some brief segments not in the circulating copies.
  • At the 30 minute mark, there's a short extra bit at the part where the announcer says "One moment please ladies and gentlemen … We've run special wires…."  This previously unheard part is some "behind the mic" fumbling by the announcer with another cast member - on circulating copies, this segment got lost in a side change.
For some time, we've been puzzled by a couple of missing lines from the existing recording. 
  • About 40 minutes into the piece where Welles as Professor Pierson says "I look down at my blackened hand…"  In the version that exists, part of the line is missing and sounds like Welles might have not said some of the lines in the published version of the script.  With the missing lines in this new copy, it sounds like the original master used for the circulating copies has a "skip" that was disguised with a bit of editing.
  • At 57:25, there's also a line in the original script not heard on the circulating recordings where Welles says "Strange to see from my window the University spires dim and blue through an April haze."  This might have been another "skip" in the master used for the circulating copies.
  • This new version also includes the original full-length CBS station break, which runs about 15 seconds.  In circulating versions, the silence for the original station break was edited out.
There might be other short bits not in the circulating version that I missed.

Orson Welles at the microphone.
Wrapping up
If you have any thoughts on the possible origins of the disc set or other bits of the show you've never heard before, let me know in the comments.

Our mp3 was dubbed direct from this undated 78 rpm, 12", 12-sided lacquer.  Slight scratch removal was applied to the original file and the "side joins" were edited as closely as possible to the original - each side change of the disc had overlapping sentences or phrases, so you may notice a side change in the middle of a sentence.

Note - This file may take a bit to download.  I've encoded it at a max 128 kps bit rate with the highest quality option.  It's just over 50 mb.  CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Small added notation: There is enough information to give cause and belief that what Randy has turned up is Paul Stewart's personal copies, which Stewart, may years ago, once told the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio Club that he once owned a recording of the rehearsal for "War of the Worlds."