Friday, December 27, 2013

DICK TRACY: A Review of 1937

When we last left off, Dick Tracy was on the trail of the Purple Cross Gang, whose members could be identified with a purple cross tattooed on their tongues. The mastermind in charge of the gang remains a mystery (ala Republic Pictures cliffhanger serials) and plans a multi-city bank robbery spree that will rival anything put in newsprint. After discovering one of the criminals, “Baldy” Stark has been furnishing a little girl, probably his daughter, Tracy decides to follow the trail…

After the master criminal and the gang discover what Baldy has been up to, they attempt to eliminate him from the equation. Meanwhile, at the police station, “Shirtsleeve” Kelton provides a number of tips for the police to follow, the information turns out to be a dud… even when he offers the police a chance to nab the whole gang.

When the mastermind decides it’s time to eliminate men from his own gang who thought it would be easier to divide the bank loot in larger portions, the master criminal lines the men up in the form of a St. Valentine’s Day massacre and guns them down. Visiting “Baldy” in his hotel room, hoping to wipe every member of the gang off the books, the master criminal pulls a gun. As the two maneuver in the hotel room, “Baldy” turns off the lights and uses the light from the refrigerator door to shoot his boss dead. Tracy and Pat arrive to find the master criminal dead on the floor. Unmasked, the criminal turns out to be “Shirtsleeve” Kelton, who hoped to lead the police on wild goose chases while his gang committed crimes elsewhere. The story concludes with “Baldy” going to jail for his crimes. Even after all that he did, crime does not pay.

In the courtroom of Baldy’s sentencing, Tracy meets the beautiful Madeline, who claims to be a courtroom fan and Tracy drives her to her apartment. Tess, who was waiting along the road for Tracy to pick her up, gets jealous and won’t speak to the detective. Madeline, however, is among a group of female criminals who, using a small vacuum bottle strapped to her waist, steals perfume from department stores. Junior tries to uncover the facts behind the case and is almost killed by one of the ruthless women. Thankfully, the police come to rescue him in time. When Tracy gets too close to the case, he finds himself knocked unconscious and tied to a cot. In order to escape, Tracy bites Madeline’s hair and won’t let go until she unties him.

The women are arrested and Dick Tracy meets Johnny Wintworth, one of their playboy boyfriends. Johnny, as it turns out, is a reckless playboy who won’t accept any responsibility for his actions. His mother, Mrs. Mintworth, offers Tracy $25,000 if he can devote one year to make a man out of her son. Tracy gives the offer serious thought. Johnny, meanwhile, gets caught up in a number of nefarious criminal gangs and ultimately flees the city, joining a gang that has a wicked sense of humor: he’s to become a victim of a number of “accidents” for which they collect the insurance money. This involves a broken arm and almost drowns in the ocean.

Meanwhile, back in the city, the body of Mrs. Mintworth is found and Tracy investigates the apparent murder. After discovering his mother was murdered, and his employer is the man responsible, Johnny sets out to find Tracy and report the name of Danny Supeena. Danny recovers from his wounds and agrees to masquerade as a woman in a movie theater in order to help the police find and arrest Danny Supeena. When the theater is tossed into darkness, Tracy uses a gun with a tracer bullet to find and shoot the criminal dead. 

Once again, Junior plays an important role in assisting Dick Tracy in the apprehension of another master criminal. And once again, a notorious gang puts a price on Junior’s head and the young boy soon finds himself kidnapped. Junior is tied and bound in a garage where an automobile is left running, while Supeena’s men leave, hoping the young man dies of carbon monoxide. What the criminals did not expect was a visit from “The Blank,” who rescues Junior and leaves the criminals behind to face the fumes.

This faceless figure has a strange sense of vendetta, devoting his life to catching crooks… but acting as judge and jury and sentences criminals to death. Dick Tracy follows the trail of dead bodies, left behind by The Blank, who later fakes his death so the police would stop trying to find him. Getting too close to the identity of The Blank, Dick Tracy follows the trail to a private boat on the waterfront where he apprehends “Stud” Bronzen, whom The Blank blows up with sticks of dynamite.

Tracy survives, forced at the point of The Blank’s gun, into a specially designed decompression chamber for divers. While suffering from the ill effects of the decompression chamber, Tracy waits for outside help. Pat boards the boat and knocks the criminal unconscious. Stud escapes overboard but Tracy and Pat have the criminal they were really seeking… and removes the flesh-colored cheese cloth to reveal the identity of the criminal known as “The Blank.” Frank Redrum in the flesh -- a man whose face was horribly disfigured that he wanted to seek revenge against old gang members for the crime. (Yes, Redrum is murder spelled backwards.)

“Stud” Bronzen, in the meantime, finds the second floor suite of a rambling frame building not far from the waterfront. He pleads for Lee Ting, a notorious smuggler of human cargo, to help hide him until the heat is off. Dick Tracy contacts the U.S. Coast Guard for assistance in apprehending the men responsible for human trafficking… unaware of where his next case will lead him in 1938.

By the way, I recommend the IDW Publishing reprints of the Dick Tracy comic strip, reprinted in chronological order. The first fourteen volumes are now available in hardcover format.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eye Candy

For those of you hoping I would continue with the annual tradition of featuring holiday glamour photos of Hollywood eye candy, you won't be disappointed. Randomly selected from the archive.... here you go!

Deanna Durbin

Carole Lombard

Another photo of Carole Lombard

Cyd Charisse

The beautiful Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds

Esther Williams

Hedy Lamarr

Janet Leigh

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Claudette Colbert at Christmas

Starting off the first of four consecutive photo postings between now and New Year's, we reveal a candid shot of Claudette Colbert... I love those early Paramount Pictures films she did in the thirties. Especially in those pre-codes. It might be because she was obsessed with how she was photographed. She even preferred to do her own hair and makeup. But these candid shots, sent to me by James Culpepper, are a fascinating tid-bit in the life of the actress. A Christmas wreath bearing her image was hung on a pole on Vine Street in California in November or December of 1932. This was the same year Cecil B. DeMille's Sign of the Cross was released and Colbert plays the cruel, seductive Empress Poppaea, and appeared topless in the notorious milk bath sequence.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Radio Rides the Range Book

Radio Rides the Range
One of Jim Cox's hobbies is authoring encyclopedias about old-time radio. In particular are subject-oriented topics such as The Great Radio Audience Participation Shows (2008), The Great Radio Sitcoms (2012) and The Great Radio Soap Operas (1999). Jim rarely attends old-time radio conventions and when he does, his appearance is usually brief. One year in Cincinnati I remember visiting Jim in his hotel room. He was trying to finish the index for his next book. "Why don't you come down to the show and chat with the attendees?" I asked. His response was that he already put in his appearance, chatted with folks who share a common interest, and his priority was finishing his latest project on the laptop.

To date, Jim has authored 18 books with a labor of love and so it was bound to happen eventually: a book devoted to the Westerns on old-time radio. Despite the historic popularity of Western drama, there has never been one volume to encompass them all. Good friends Jack French and David Siegel put this one together, saving Jim from another challenging project he might otherwise take on. Someone had to do it and I for one am glad Jack and Dave filled in the gap. My bookshelves at home contain a wealth of reference guides and with this addition, which just arrived in my mail box, I am not sure what there is left that could be written about that cries for desperation. I fear future books devoted to old-time radio will start duplicating past endeavors. This has happened three times in the past two years and I had no other choice but to resell the books that offered nothing more than the ones on my book shelf. Perhaps the only option left is for historians to focus on the really, really, really obscure. Murphy's Law dictates that if you take time to write a book that even the geeks will want to own and read... only the geeks will buy and read it. I guess time will tell.

Radio Rides the Range, available in paperback format, is a reference guide to Western drama on the air (1929 to 1967). More than 100 dramatic radio programs are documented, with careful selection of the programs. Jack and Dave chose to avoid programs designated as all-music (Grand Ol' Opry is one such example). Western frontiersman such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were dismissed. Programs such as Dakota Days and Chisholm Trail had insufficient data to be classified and included. What the authors/editors chose to do was include five basic types of Western dramas: anthology programs such as Empire Builders and Frontier Fighters; juvenile adventure dramas such as Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger; legend and lore such as Chief Grey Wolf and Red Goose Indian Tales; adult Westerns such as Gunsmoke and Frontier Gentlemen; and soap operas such as Lone Journey and Cactus Kate.

The book also clarifies the portrayal of Mexicans and American Indians, how stereotyping began to change during World War II, how children programs began painting a picture of racial intolerance, and the portrayal of American Indians from heavies to sidekicks. One program I was not familiar with was Light on the West, where a woman played the role of a law enforcement officer. Women played minor roles in radio Westerns, primarily as love interests, schoolmarms or victimized widows. The plight and progress of women in the West is chronicled throughout the book. 

A pleasant surprise: Will Hutchins, Tom Brewster of television's Sugarfoot, submitted a great foreword, both enthusiastic and praising of radio drama and the book.  

With over 100 entries, a tome of this scope is more difficult than a book focused on a single subject. Jack and Dave recognized that no one person can put together such a book without errors slipping, so they consulted historians (myself included, full disclosure) and researchers who would devote long hours of research and ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this book. A total of 36 submissions were received from 20 contributors, with Jack and Dave authoring about 60 entries. Some of the entries were obviously created with only one or two sources such as a Variety review or a newspaper clipping. Other entries were created by fans of the program who devoted considerable amount of their writeup citing the cast (probably because content and script information was not available). Among the impressive entries were J. David Goldin's Tales from the Diamond K (1951), Goldin's Hoofbeats (1936-37), Stan Claussen's Frontier Town (1949-53), Jack and Dave's Ranch House Jim (1943-44), and Ryan Ellett's Life on Red Horse Ranch (1935-36).

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of this book is the inclusion of radio programs where no surviving recordings exist, or which very few recordings are known to exist. Thankfully, with but one or two entries where the contributors chose to "speculate" rather than "verify" the contents of a radio program where recordings are sparse, the entire book stays focused on the facts. (It bugs me when I read books that mistake speculation for facts and mislead the readers.) For the rarities, print documentation was used to fill in a gap that was sorely needed. This reason, among all reasons, is why this book provides a major contribution to the preservation of old-time radio. "It will definitely be a strong asset in any reference repository, whether in a large public library or just the book shelf of a collector," Jack told me. That just about fits the bill. 

Thank you, Jack and Dave.

You can purchase a copy of the book from but I recommend you purchase your copy direct from McFarland Publishing. (a direct link here: A direct purchase from the publisher will ensure the largest royalties to the authors. We're probably talking pennies here, but the price is the same so there's no reason to shop elsewhere.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Lone Ranger in NYC

This December, in New York City, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is running their Nostalgia Holiday Special Train consisting of subway cars of the past that have long been retired, including many of the original advertisements that were once posted within the trains. They are running every Sunday this month along the 6th Avenue Subway line. Check out the LONE RANGER advertisement for station WOR that was captured on digital camera (courtesy of Brian Hochberg) yesterday!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Recent Auction Sales

Looking for something to buy this Christmas? Check out some of these auction items from the past year!

Judy Garland's WIZARD OF OZ Dress... Sold!
Judy Garland's WIZARD OF OZ dress.
The amount of $480,000 is a pretty penny to pay for a secondhand dress worn by a Kansas farm girl, but this one is pretty special. The famed blue gingham dress worn by Judy Garland’s Dorthy Gale in The Wizard of Oz fetched that price during a two-day event at Julien’s Auctions Beverly Hills Gallery that featured bids coming in by phone from throughout the world. Garland’s dress wasn’t the only iconic costume sold. The dress Julie Andrews wore in The Sound of Music brought $38,400, and a purple skirt worn by Marilyn Monroe during the Canadian filming of River of No Return sold for $50,000. Other Hollywood memorabilia auctioned included Steve McQueen’s racing jacket, which went for $50,000, and John Belushi's sunglasses from The Blues Brothers, which brought in $16,640. For those of you who don't like Johnny Depp or believe he's overrated... the glasses worn by Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows brought in $3,250. Another version of Garland’s Oz dress, which was blue and cotton and never appeared in the finished film, fetched $910,000 in June 2011 at the Profiles in History auction in Calabasas, Calif. The actress wore that dress during the first two weeks of filming before they reshot those scenes.

Fake Babe Ruth baseball mitt.
Beware of Ebay Scammers
A California man pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal courtroom in June 2012 for trying to sell a baseball glove he falsely claimed was once owned by Yankees legend Babe Ruth for $200,000. "I sold a baseball glove and falsely claimed it was Babe Ruth’s," Irving Scheib, age 50, told U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson. "I feel horrible about it, Your Honor, but those are the facts." Scheib bought an authentic 19th century baseball glove on eBay for $750, then turned around and tried to resell it for $200,000, starting in January. To entice buyers, Scheib wrote a fake handwritten note he said was from Ruth and concocted an elaborate story about the glove that made it appear to have been one of the Bambino's treasured possessions

The fake document was then sent to an individual interested in purchasing the glove (the buyer). After paying for the glove, the buyer asked Scheib to notarize one of the letters attesting to the glove's provenance that was signed by Scheib and purportedly signed by Scheib's wife, who is Robert Young's granddaughter. Scheib refused to do so ad the buyer promptly returned the glove.

Scheib then tried to con another man by alleging that Babe Ruth owned the glove. But this potential buyer turned out to be an investigator for the U.S. Attorney's Office. In addition to probation, the judge ordered Scheib to pay a $25,000 fine. He also agreed to forfeit the glove to the United States.

Martin Luther King Audio Tape
Stephon Tull was going through his attic, cleaning it out, when he stumbled on a box formerly owned by his father, a Chattanooga insurance salesman. A rare reel-to-reel tape consisting of a interview his father had with Martin Luther King, Jr., dated December 21, 1960. For ten minutes King discussed the topic of civil rights and the movement and a recent trip to Africa. It seems Stephon's father had plans to write a book about King but was never completed. Made four years before the Civil Rights Act, the tape was put up for auction earlier this year.

Clayborne Carson, a history professor and head of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University in California, told CNN it was difficult to discern immediately the tape's historical significance from the thousands of interviews King conducted during his life. "What is interesting about this is rather than just a transcript, you can hear his voice," Carson said.

Courtesy of the Associated Press with permission.

$20,000 Buys You a Piece of WWII History
If you had $20,000 loose change in the sofa, you could have owned a piece of WWII history. A naval cable signaling the end of the war against Japan was sold on auction. The cable was on a piece of paper, 8 inches by 6 inches, a dispatch from President Harry S. Truman's Navy Secretary to Rear Admiral Francis Denebrink (the commander of the Pacific sub fleet aboard the U.S.S. Holland) and read: "All hands of the United States Navy, Marine Corpse and Coast Guard may take satisfaction in the conclusion of the war against Japan." Bob York, age 65, sold the dispatch formerly owned by his father, Robert W. York, a WWII veteran who was on the U.S.S. Holland on August 15, 1945. It was a prized possession of his father's but since the veteran recently passed away, his son put it up for auction and the winning bid was $20,000. 

Pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls for Sale
In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into a dark cave along the Dead Sea east of Jerusalem and heard the sound of something breaking. Inside, he found clay jars, some of them with rolled-up scrolls inside. He and some companions ended up finding seven scrolls -- the Dead Sea Scrolls -- one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th Century. These were the world's oldest biblical manuscripts, and the Bedouins who found them sold three to a Hebrew University professor and four to William Kando, a Christian cobbler.

The Kando family ended up selling most of the scrolls to scholars and institutions, but Mr. Kando's son still has fragments that he's kept in a Swiss safe deposit box for years that he recently decided to make for sale. Most of the fragments are barely the size of a postage stamp, and some are blank, with no writing on them at all. But there is still keen interest from many evangelical Christian collectors and institutions in the U.S. The reason Kando is selling on the down-low is that Israel wants the scraps to be recognized as Israeli cultural property. But money talks, doesn't it?

Jackie Robinson's Baseball Glove for Sale
The baseball glove believed worn by Jackie Robinson during the 1955 and 1956 World Series sold for $373,002 in an auction that ended June 3 by Steiner Sports, based in New York. It was not the most ever paid for a baseball glove at an auction. That honor goes to the mitt advertised as the last one used by Lou Gehrig; it fetched $387,500 at Sotheby's in 1999.

An aerial view of Bob Hope's house.
Bob Hope's House for Sale
A known fact that Bob Hope invested his money in real estate led to a startling revelation: at one point he was one of California's largest individual property holders, owning some 10,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley alone. Now his home in a San Fernando valley walnut grove, first built in 1939, is up for sale... the asking price is $27.5 million. The 5.16 acre Toluca Lake estate was expanded on over the years to fit Bob Hope's needs, hobbies and family. In the surrounding area, zip codes, Beverly Hills, Studio City, Encino, Holmby Hills and Sherman Oaks, there are supposedly only 22 properties that have more than 5 acres so anyone wanting a lot of land in California needs to look no further than Bob Hope's private residence. There are a number of personal mementos that come with the house, catered to Hope, including the letter 'H' on the giant iron gate. Six bedrooms, seven bathrooms and an indoor and outdoor swimming pool.