Friday, July 25, 2014

From Radio to the Big Screen

My mail box wasn't large enough for the numerous books that arrived this past month. It's amazing that I find the time to read them all. Brief reviews follow but I would like to state for the record and in full disclosure that I know all of the authors, have communicated with them via e-mail, and the reviews below are not biased.

From Radio to the Big Screen book
by Hal Erickson
I was wondering how long it would take for someone to do a book about Hollywood movies that incorporated radio broadcasting as thematic material. There was a time when "American popular entertainment" referred only to radio and motion-pictures. With the coming of talking pictures, Hollywood cashed in on the success of big-time network radio by bringing several of the public's favorite broadcast personalities and programs to the screen. The results, though occasionally successful, often proved conclusively that some things are better heard than seen. Remember the silent W.C. Fields movie where the comedian put on a set of headphones on his radio and began following the verbal instructions with his morning exercise equipment? Today's audiences may not be aware of exactly what was going on in that scene. But then again, all motion-pcitures are topical as they capture the clothing, lingo, picturesque scenery and landscapes of a time gone by. Someone once wrote that motion-pictures defined fashion trends and popular music. So did network broadcasting.

Concentrating primarily on radio's Golden Age (1926-1962), this lively history discusses the cinematic efforts of airwave stars Rudy Vallee, Amos and Andy, Fred Allen, Joe Penner, Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, Lum and Abner, Edgar berg and, and many more. Also analyzed are the movie versions of such radio series as The Shadow, Dr. Christian and The Life of Riley. But taking on such a monumental task is... well, monumental. For that reason, Hal Erickson briefly explains in the introduction of his book why he chose not to including motion-pictures that derived from British radio programs. So you won't see The Man in Black (1949) or Band Wagon (1958) documented here. The author chose to focus on movies based on radio properties, not published novels. So you won't read about Ellery Queen, The Falcon, The Thin ManMr. and Mrs. North or other similar properties. Eddie Cantor and Bob Hope, capable of separating their film and radio careers, are also excluded from this tome simply because they played different characters from their radio counterpart.

The book begins with The Vagabond Lover (1929) and pretty much concludes with Pete Kelly's Blues (1955). The introduction alone is a crash course in radio celebrities and their motion-pictures, ranging from the studio's block booking policies, radio-to-movie properties, how radio killed the novelty of the talkies, and numerous efforts the studios made to use radio as an advertising medium. I, for one, was quite pleased to see a write up about Kate Smith's Hello, Everybody! (1933), the Walter Winchell-Ben Burnie feud on Wake Up and Live (1937) and The Phantom of Crestwood (1932)... the latter a murder mystery with the solution withheld from the radio listeners so they would rush out to the theaters and watch the screen version with the thrilling conclusion. (I recently read the radio scripts which is why I was excited to see Hal went to the effort to include it in his book.)

If I had any complaint about this book, which I would describe as an "entertaining read," it is that the author used a few websites for reference. Cited in his bibliography, this turned me off for a moment because I have been a stubborn mule when it comes to using the internet as reference. I prefer to use the internet as a tool for reference... not as reference. But then again, this book is not a published reference guide used to document "beyond the facts," so to speak. It is an entertaining read. The kind you would find within the pages of Classic Images and other magazines and is worth the cover price. If you are a Hollywood film fan, this is the kind of book you want on your bookshelf.

Sold on Radio by Jim Cox
by Jim Cox
How was it that America would fund its nascent national radio services? Government control and a subscription-like model were both considered. Soon an advertising system emerged, leading radio into its golden age from the 1920s to the early 1960s. Anyone who has seen AMC's Mad Men knows what an advertising agency is. If you were a major company wanting to make the most of your advertising dollars, you went to an advertising agency. There, executives created a number of proposals that would best promote the product and the sponsor would sign on the bottom line.

Sold on Radio should be considered a text book requirement in media relations and the history of radio broadcasting. Divided into two parts, the first half studies the commercialization of network radio during its golden age. This includes the general history of radio advertising. From the advertising agencies, the ratings systems, general sales, research, photographic, traffic, station relations, program development, recordings, script library and all other facets of the medium, you'll discover just how commercial copywriters worked, the selection of the commercial spokesman, and the science behind the reasoning of product placement: i.e., Singing Sam and the Barbasol Man and The Chase and Sanborn Hour.

The second part of the book examines the major radio advertisers of the period, with profiles of 24 companies who maintained a strong presence on the airwaves. General Mills, Standard Brands, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Lever Brothers, and Quaker Oats. The origin of the companies, their introduction to radio, the pacts they made with the networks, the programs they sponsored, and a sample of commercial copy promoting their products.

The book also explores headliners as spokesmen, the change in format with electrical transcriptions and tape recordings, cowcatchers and hitchhikes, audience participation, contests, jingles, premiums, sound effects, testimonials, spot announcements and other factoids provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the commercials; the historical significance beyond the catchy jingles. After all, if it wasn't for the sponsors, radio broadcasting might not have been what it became. If there were five or six books to be considered essential reading if one wants to delve deeply into the history of old-time radio and understand the "whole picture," this is one of them.

The Quiz Kids by Martin A. Gardner
by Martin A. Gardner

If you never heard a recording of a typical, average episode of The Quiz Kids, you might want to seek one out. You might be surprised how smart those young folks were. Makes you wonder who provided their schooling. More than 100 episodes are known to exist in recorded form. I remember the Christmas episode of 1948 when they children were asked to say "Merry Christmas" in another language other than English. I could only name four and they quickly put me to shame.

It was more than a quiz program. The Quiz Kids was a national pop culture phenomenon. During World War II, they toured America and raised $120 million in war bonds. They were guests on Jack Benny's radio show for three consecutive weeks. Famous celebrities made guest appearances on the quiz program: Al Capp, Clifton Webb, Eddie Cantor, Lum and Abner, Walt Disney, Frankie Laine, Bing Crosby, Victor Borge, Jane Powell, Tito Guizar, Ralph Edwards, J. Edgar Hoover, Robert Preston, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, several U.S. Senators, The Lone Ranger, Father Flanagan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jack Dempsey, Kay Kyser, Dinah Shore, Gabby Hayes, Roy Rogers, Virginia Mayo, Dave Garroway, James Stewart, Ted Lyons, Gene Autry, Edmund O'Brien... and that's just a small selection! Yes, screen actress Vanessa Brown was originally a Quiz Kid.

This 312 page book covers the essentials from the origin of the program, what it took to qualify as a Quiz Kid, biographies about each of the children, the film shorts, incidents when the children were... well, children... practical jokes the kids pulled on the grownups, stories that went on beyond the scenes, the selection of questions for the children, the Showcase Train, their visit to the White House, collectible premiums, and a weekly episode guide listing the episode number, broadcast date and kids that appeared on rotation that week.

I could go on and on about the content of the book, emphasizing how comprehensive it is. But honestly, that would give away too much and the author went to a lot of hard work to surprise the readers. I will make this statement (and it's the first time in five or six years that I can honestly say this)... this is the kind of book I wish everyone would extensively research and produce when it comes to documenting an individual radio program. Far too many times people slap together inferior books based on notes they made while listening to extant recordings and/or compile from a small stack of newspaper and magazine articles. While beneficial to the hobby solely because there are no other books about the subject, those tomes only inspire others to outclass the prior effort. Martin A. Gardner clearly deserves an award for "Best Book of the Year" based on the finished product.

Newspapers in Transition by Jim Cox
by Jim Cox
Yeah, we know. Newspapers are becoming a dying breed. Blazing the paperless trail, Jim Cox wrote a 218 page argument that is bound to disappoint those who still prefer the printed page over digital. Early in 2013, the Associated Press reported that, of all things, cash registers in retail emporiums were beginning to be transferred to the recycling bins and landfills. Technology's latest implementations are suddenly allowing merchants to reconsider the demand for internet commerce. The brick and mortar stores at our local mall consist primarily of clothing and food -- two things you really cannot get over the internet during a time when impulse buying is regulated by discretionary money. The new gadgets are eliminating those pesky sheets of headline news that my grandfather swore was the best insulation for keeping frozen food frozen from the food store.

Not everyone is willing to embrace new technology... but let's face it. If that many people have dropped newspaper subscription for the internet, then the rest of the country will ultimately follow the lead... or spend their remaining time complaining about how thin their newspaper is getting and the rising cost of subscription. At least, that is the debate Jim Cox makes with Newspapers in Transition. Although the transition from paper to pixels hasn't occurred everywhere, it's happened in enough places to constitute a mounting trend. The current period may be viewed as one of transition. And before the pendulum swings any further in the direction of electronic transmission and the potential displacement of newspaper altogether, the hybrid interval of both extremes seem to co-exist... but for how long?

Jim explores the possibilities of a mixed bag of keyboard-originated communications and its prospective impact on the conventional newspaper in America. As technology continues to fabricate newer methods of conveying what people want to know in the Information Age, with each passing month there are more indications that we are reaching a few lofty summits from which it will be difficult to descend. Jim explores all areas ranging from getting what you pay for, an alternating landscape, supply and demand, how certain cities across the country have ceased producing newspapers altogether, families in distress, the multimedia facet, and a possible future in a digital age.

One thing is for certain: if you were curious to know more about our changing society regarding newspapers vs. the internet, you can place your bets that this book will stimulate conversation at the next summit. Do not weigh an opinion on either side and do not place your bets until you read this book. Too many people have opinions but very little take time to read up on the facts.

The Texas Rangers book
by Ryan Ellett and Kevin Coffey
The Texas Rangers were Country and Western artists during radio's golden age who debuted in 1932, entertaining America by radio, records, tours, motion pictures and television before finally disbanding in the 1950s. They appeared in ten Western films, hundreds of transcription recordings for radio, peaked popularity before World War II and went into steady decline afterwards. With few commercially released singles, the Texas Rangers were soon forgotten after their heyday (probably overshadowed by screen legends such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry) except by the most devoted fans of the genre. This is the kind of book that geeks like me get into. Subject matter so specific and obsolete to today's mainstream audience that it leaves behind the burning question of whether or not this will be the most talked about book of the year. Will it sell a million copies? I doubt it. Will I ever need to turn to it as a major source of reference in the near future? I doubt it. Will I hear a few friends make condescending chuckles when I tell them about this book? I probably will. But their loss is our gain. And the 345 page book has something you won't find on a three-page website. Details.

The authors clearly shared a passion for the subject. And the detail level is the kind I expect in books that warrant permanent placement on my bookshelf. From the 1930s audition script, Smilin' Valley Dude Ranch, the Eb and Zeb discussions, the 1941 Kellogg transcription series, their participation with Hawk Larabee, Alan Ladd's Mayfair Productions and the 1938 Brush Creek Follies are documented as it pertains to sponsors, budgets, business dealings, radio networks for syndication, and other details that document the legacy of a once-popular country/western group that you probably heard dozens of times and never identified them as the same group.

The most important facet when describing a book of this nature is that it needed to be done. Even if College and University Libraries fail to take note of the importance of the book, or the mainstream public casually passes over the book in lieu of a recent blockbuster, The Texas Rangers has finally received their due and their legacy preserved for all time. And, after all, preserving their history is more important than any New York Times best seller.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dick Tracy: A Review of 1939

Chief Brandon, wanting to see Dick Tracy recover from his harrowing ordeals of 1938, pays for the detective's vacation at Pop's Health Farm, a resort located 300 miles out of the city. Pop is an old friend of Jim Brandon, who welcomes Tracy with open arms. At first Tracy isn't happy with mud baths and soaking in hot springs, but he soon finds the comforts of the Health Farm to his liking... until he discovers the Health Farm is a front for diamond thieves. Pop's son, Mickey, is involved with a gang of cut-throat jewel thieves who stash their loot into a cast-iron box hidden on the Health Farm. When all the gang members succeed in filling the box, the loot is divided up among the crooks. Pop eventually reveals his secret to Tracy and the two discover the mastermind is Woolley who, in a desperate move pulls a Tommy gun on Dick Tracy, discovers his gun is empty and Tracy punches him to the ground.

During the month of March, Mickey, afraid to confront his father, escapes and meets up with Scardol, a notorious robber who uses cold water paint to mask his automobile so police are seeking the wrong vehicle during the getaway. Mickey earns his keep and for a while the two reap the rewards of crime. Scardol is the start of Gould's bizarre, deformed criminals (unless you count "The Blank" a couple years prior), who displays a high forehead and lots of pimples. During a daring getaway the two criminals kill a police officer and when Dick Tracy and Pop catch up to the gang in a barn, Mickey is unable to pull the trigger and kill his father.

The criminals catch Tracy and Pop and attempt to break a support meant for pouring concrete, hoping to bury the detectives so no one will ever know what happened to the bodies. Mickey, however, won't partake of the murder of his father and turns against Scarpol, who ultimately falls to his death and gets buried in cement... by the hand of his own making. Mickey's father, Pop, is seriously wounded and survives only because Mickey volunteers a blood transfusion. Mickey is sent to prison to serve a two-year sentence. He leaves behind a wife and child, but they will be reunited in two years. His service to the law was appreciated but his involvement in the crime still deserved punishment. Crime does not pay.

In the next story, which begins in May, two Bovanian princes arrive in town via a luxury liner. Crooks mastermind a clever scheme to sneak on board and using molds and makeup replicate the two princes. The real ones are kidnapped and the fake ones take their place in prominent society in town. After a couple weeks, the police discover that houses are being robbed along the same path where the two princes are guests at society parties. But fearing the repercussion with international affairs if they accuse the crooks of stealing, the two fake princes are on a robbing rampage. When Tracy finds evidence against them, the fakes flee and one of them attempts to escape by climbing down a theater marquee. The screech of metal pierces the air and one of the crooks falls to his death. 

The next story arc begins in July of 1939 and is perhaps one of the most surprising story arcs in the early Dick Tracy years. Tess Trueheart, disappointed that Tracy hasn't made a romantic move in many months, discards her love for the detective and falls head over heels for Edward Nuremoh, an ex-professional baseball player. Nuremoh is wealthy, charming and sophisticated. Did we mention wealthy? He proposes to Tess and their quick romance involves a marriage. At the Nuremoh estate, Tess has to prove to Margot, the wealthy old aunt who controls the entire Nuremoh fortune, that the marriage truly is for love. Edward, you see, is not to be included in the old woman's will unless he is married and the old woman believes he is just trying to use Tess to get to her fortune. Tess succeeds and the two get married. Soon after, Margot is found dead from a bullet hole and Edward's younger brother, who is mentally disturbed, is accused of the crime.

Tracy tries to shelve his personal feelings for Tess and prove that the village idiot didn't commit the crime. This doesn't take long and Tracy clears the innocent man from a potential hanging. Tess, meanwhile, finds evidence that proves Edward Nuremoh is the killer. It seems Edward loves another woman and was only using Tess to get to his aunt's fortune. When a long-long cousin arrived at the wrong time, Edward feared the old woman would will the fortune to his family relative. After killing Margot, Edward hoped to get a divorce from Tess and then marry the tramp he longs. Tess confronts Edward, who confesses his crime. She flees from the Nuremoh estate and at the top of a cliff, Tess discovers she is cornered. Edward pitches a rock to perfection, knocking Tess off her feet. Fleeing for her life, Tess attempts to run faster than Edwards, who catches up to her and even throws her off a log.

In one final attempt to shoot Tess, Lola, Edward's true sweetheart, gets shot when she jumps into the path. Edward, realizing he cannot live in prison without his true love, picks up her body and jumps off the cliff. Tess is taken back to the Nuremoh estate and she is obviously in shock. John Lavir (Rival spelled backwards), the brother of Lola, attempts to kill Tess when he blames her death on widow Trueheart. Still in shock from the caper, Tess falls in love with John and discovering how beautiful she is... well, John falls in love with her. John even shows Tess how he makes his living, training dogs to become guard dogs. His talent hides a horrible secret -- he gets his dogs from off the street and asks no questions to those who sell him the dogs. At first Tess tries to return the dogs when advertisements in newspapers report "lost dogs" but John figures her scheme and attempts to eliminate the lovely betrayal. A violent confrontation between Tess and John results in the madman's death and the police first assume Tess sliced John's throat with glass. But Tracy digs into the details and proves one of the trained guard dogs tore John's throat open. Tess, upset because of the way she treated Dick Tracy, begs for forgiveness. Tracy does... but it won't be right away that the two lovebirds are back together again. But the patch of friendship has been applied.

In October, Dick Tracy stumbles onto a new racket, that of fox fur thieves who steal valuable pelts from a farm so they can sell it on the black market. Dick Tracy even shows Pat Patton how dry plaster of Paris will dry the mud just enough so a mold reproducing the tire tracks can be used to help track down the culprits. Tess Trueheart, meanwhile, arranges for an attorney to convince a judge to eliminate all paperwork involving her marriage to Edward Nuremoh.

Tracy enlists the aid of fur trappers and even gets into a disguise to trap the culprits. But before he succeeds, he has to escape a fire trap when the criminals spill oil all over the road to those giving chase will slide of the road and crash. Tracy has to pull Pat Patton out of the flaming wreck. A legit fur dealer allows Tracy and the law to hide behind a fake wall in his house, which leads to the arrest of the lawbreakers.

Just a few days before Halloween, Stooge Villar is released from prison and joins forces with The Professor to mass market gimmicks and scientific gadgets used to fight the law, and criminals across town are buying up all the items. Small portable acetylene torches that fit within the palm of the hand that can cut into metal quicker than you can draw a line with a pencil. Guns that eliminates all ballistic markings from bullets. In the wrong hands, this can be troublesome to Dick Tracy. While Villar makes a killing in sales, Tracy follows the trail of a piece of pig skin used to rig a murder weapon to The Professor's hideout. Stooge overpowers the detective and decides this is his final confrontation. Tracy is tied and gagged, lowered into a well and left to die. Relocating The Professor's shop, Stooge Villar picks up where he left off. Tracy, meanwhile, takes his wrist watch apart and uses the sharpest edge to cut through the ropes and escape. Tess Trueheart and a gang of Girl Scouts find the unconscious body of Dick Tracy, who had just enough strength to get out of the well and flee the scene. 

Stooge, knowing Christmas is coming up, wants to do something nice for his daughter, who lives with her grandmother. Young Binnie, however, despises everything her father represents. When Dick Tracy discovers Stooge has a daughter and has been trying to make her Christmas a very special one, he uses his to his advantage and tracks down the criminal, who kidnapped his own daughter. During a violent confrontation, Dick Tracy and Stooge fight through the window and out onto the fire escape. Stooge has Tracy at a disadvantage and seconds before pushing the detective over to his death... Binnie picks up the gun and holds it against her father... tears streaming down her cheeks. 

Will she pull the trigger and shoot her own father? Remember, this is Chester Gould and he loves to do what you wouldn't expect. But since this panel is December 31, 1939, we'll have to wait until 1940.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Robert Florey, The French Expressionist

Robert Florey, if you are longing for a quick five minute education in the history of old-time movies, was the screenwriter of the original 
Frankenstein (1931, Boris Karloff), the director of the first Marx Brothers movie, The Cocoanuts (1929), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932, Bela Lugosi), This Way Please (1937, Fibber McGee and Molly), the first of fourteen Boston Blackie movies starring Chester Morris, The Face Behind the Mask (1941, Peter Lorre), Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948, Johnny Weissmuller), and directed hundreds of television programs including M SquadAlfred Hitchcock PresentsThe UntouchablesThe Twilight ZoneThe Outer LimitsThe Untouchables.... well, you've probably seen the name more times than you can remember.

During almost half a century in the movies, from 1916 to 1963, Robert Florey directed 65 features and 220 television films at most of the major studios from Paramount to Warner Brothers to Universal. His greatest success came in thrillers, yet he displayed his skill with many genres and renowned comedies. He was always known as an artist, gaining fame through his experimental shorts, beginning with The Life and Death of 9413 -- A Hollywood Extra, and his features remained distinctive for integrating European filmmaking styles into the Hollywood studio system. 

Author Brian Taves took advantage of numerous primary sources, including studio archives, interviews with associates, and access to all of Florey's personal papers. Thoroughly analyzing and locating Florey's films within the context of the times, relating them to such topics as the influence of expressionism and other techniques, the realm of the "B" film, the position of the contract director in the studio system, and the transition of movie talent to television are all covered within a single volume, Robert Florey: The French Expressionist

Back in 1981, When Taves began the book as a Master's thesis at the University of Southern California, Florey passed away a mere two years earlier. Most of the film community knew him for three mainstream pictures, Frankenstein (1931), The Cocoanuts (1929) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). Thanks to recent technology and the home video market, films such as God is My Co-Pilot (1945) and Lady Gangster (1942) have been re-explored by a community that craves not such social history captured on celluloid, but the artists behind the motion-pictures. Florey's avant-garde films made between 1927 and 1929 have emerged and are now more widely seen than in their own time. The last surviving print of Skyscraper Symphony (1929) was located at Gosfilmofond to receive acclaim at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Italy, followed by a DVD release in a National Film Preservation Board collection. The Love of Zero (1927), preserved but largely unseen in archival vaults, also received a DVD release, and both are now viewed alongside The Life and Death of 9413 -- A Hollywood Extra (1928), a staple of film study for decades. 

As Brian Taves remarks in the preface, "There is no longer any question of Florey's contribution to the emergence of American experimental filmmaking."

The book went out-of-print in 1995 and thanks to the dedicated hopefuls at Bear Manor Media, an expanded edition was recently published for a new generation to re-explore the works of Robert Florey. Over the years since writing the first book, Taves authored a number of articles and chapters in anthologies, filling in various gaps. A movie would become accessible and to include more extensive details with broader context adds more to the expanded edition. Print information that was not possible to be included in the book years ago in now incorporated. My copy arrived in the mail this week and I spent the good part of an hour reading trivial bits that I know now what to look out for the next time I watch Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). I haven't seen the film in more than 20 years so I think this October I'll be catching up on that classic.

For those who are attending the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention this Septenber: Brian Taves will be among the guests. A limited number of copies of his book will be available on the Bear Manor Media table. Make sure to grab your copy and get it autographed during the weekend. Taking time to read the book from the front cover to the back cover, and a week or so reviewing some of his motion-pictures, will give you a deeper appreciation of the craft and the man behind the camera.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Lone Ranger on Powderhorn Trail

Pressed for time, as a result of his constant output for Green Hornet and Lone Ranger radio scripts, Fran Striker took a number of his Lone Ranger pulp novels and expanded them into feasible hardcover books for Grosset & Dunlap. The Phantom Rider (The Lone Ranger Magazine, April 1937) was published as The Lone Ranger and the Mystery Ranch (1938). Killer Round-Up (The Lone Ranger Magazine, June 1937) was published as The Lone Ranger and the Outlaw Stronghold (1939). Striker even borrowed plots from the radio scripts for the G&D novels. The shooting contest dramatized in the February 4, 1935 radio broadcast was a scene written in The Lone Ranger and the Gold Robbery (1939). The May 21, 1941 radio broadcast became the basis for The Lone Ranger Traps the Smugglers (1941).

The Lone Ranger and the Powderhorn Trail (spelled “Powder Horn,” two words, only on the cover but as one word inside), published in 1949, was originally based on a three-part radio broadcast from March of 1937 (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Since only two broadcasts from 1937 are known to exist in recorded form, none of them from March, this novel appeals to radio fans. The three-part story, concerning The Lone Ranger’s manhunt for The Arizona Kid, was featured in the October 1937 issue of The Lone Ranger Magazine as Lone Star Renegade (with the names of some of the characters changed). The same story was put to book form in 1939 as Hi Yo Silver: The Lone Ranger to the Rescue as a Dell feature book). The same story was adapted for the newspaper dailies one year later, April to August, 1940. The same newspaper strip was reprinted in edited form for the February 1947 Dell Four-Color comic.

But nothing beats the prose of Fran Striker with the opening paragraphs:

    It was mid-afternoon when the Lone Ranger reined up abruptly and stared aghast. Two men sprawled motionless in a woodland clearing. The masked man felt instinctively that both were dead.
    He had been riding south through the forest for the better part of two hours. The sun filtering through the leaky roof, a soft breeze stirring the trees, and the frequent trickle of clear streams had given no hint of violence. Yet here was death, twofold, in its most violent form.

The death of two Texas Rangers forced The Lone Ranger, a former Ranger himself, to swear a vow to apprehend the guilty party and bring him to justice. The suspect was Dave Lowery, a.k.a. “The Arizona Kid.” Despite an intensive manhunt, four days brought nothing tangible in the way of results until The Lone Ranger and Tonto managed to pick up his trail. Tonto, having spent a few days with his own tribe in a valley near Powderhorn Trail, joins The Lone Ranger as they ride north to track The Arizona Kid. “I swear upon my sacred honor to do my best to deliver the Arizona Kid alive to the Texas Rangers,” The Lone Ranger tells Texas Ranger Hastings.

Dave Lowry used to be a stubborn, but brave lad, before he joined the Army. After the war, he traveled around considerable and then went south to Texas. Down there he got pretty handy with his six guns and became known as The Arizona Kid, an outlaw people feared only by reputation. He built a reputation as a gunslinger.

Along the trail, The Lone Ranger and Tonto meet Lem Loftus and his wife, Mary. The couple came from the East when they were young. Lem went prospecting for gold in the hills and had a stroke of good luck. For a long time they were mighty well off. They bought a piece of property and put it into farm land. They built a big house and fancy furniture shipped in from the East. One day, Ebenezer Gorman introduced himself and offered ready cash to grubstake Lem. While sleeping in camp, Lem discovered the pouch was stolen. In debt, Lem and Mary were forced to sell the house and land over to Gorman, auction off the furniture and found they had to work ten years to repay the balance.

Gorman had bought the land for a pittance when Lem had been forced to sell at auction, and ever since that sorry day, the old man and his wife had been compelled to work as field hands on the Gorman property… until the truth came out. Courtesy of Dave Lowry, Gorman’s crooked scheme is exposed. The sack of gold rally contained four hundred dollars -- not $3,000 -- the rest was worthless stuff to weigh the sack down. Thanks to the reputation of The Arizona Kid, and the virtuous heart of The Lone Ranger, Gorman is forced to hand $3,000 over to Lem and Mary. The property is deeded back to the old couple and Gorman refurnishes the big house for them. Forcing Gorman to make restitution, Lowry leaves while The Lone Ranger makes sure that justice is served… before setting out to capture Lowry.
With a few hours head start, Lowry proves to be a challenge for The Lone Ranger and Tonto, who spend long days and nights in the saddle. They traveled with a minimum of rest and frequently ate cold food as they rode, rather than lose time making camp to prepare a hot meal. Their course continued north across the terrain that was increasingly rough and mountainous. The Lone Ranger almost caught up with The Arizona Kid except for Tonto’s brief bullet wound from Lowry’s girlfriend, trying to defend his honor and hold the lawmen at bay long enough for Lowry to make good an escape. Dave Lowry soon discovered that both lack of water and exposure to the noon day sun put a damper on his trail and is eventually forced to take a stand behind huge rocks. The Lone Ranger, however, doesn’t believe Lowry is a true killer and slowly walks up to the youth to disarm him.

Lowry tells The Lone Ranger his true, but unbelievable story. Captain Scarsdale wanted an outlaw named Ring Durango, a quarter-breed, wanted for committing just about every crime a man could think of. The Texas Rangers has been trying for a long time to get Durango, but they never came close. Out of desperation, he suggested Lowry build up a reputation as an outlaw. He made sure wanted posters for The Arizona Kid be plastered across the West. The masquerade eventually worked and Lowry became pals with Durango. Lowry even suggested a bank stick-up and then leaked information to Captain Scarsdale. The trap was sprung and gunfire was exchanged. Ring Durango was apprehended and Scarsdale was killed. When Dave Lowry was captured, he learned how the situation was not in his favor. Only the Captain knew of The Arizona Kid’s true status as an undercover agent for the Texas Rangers. Lowry, always wanting to be a Texas Ranger, was now in custody and awaiting trial. Lowry had no other choice but to escape. If it wasn’t for The Lone Ranger’s perseverance, The Arizona Kid would be out of U.S. jurisdiction.

“I vowed I would find you and take you back to Texas, to be placed on trial for the murder of Texas Ranger Brelt. I intend to keep that vow,” The Lone Ranger explains to Lowry. “It will be fulfilled when I deliver you as a prisoner to the authorities… From that moment on -- from the moment I deliver you, I’ll begin fighting on your side.”
The Lone Ranger pulp magazine
The Arizona Kid thanked The Lone Ranger for believing his story and rode back to Orlando to face trial. Judge Pearson Kenny, respected and dreaded for his justice, which he doled out with an impartial hand, proceeded with amazing swiftness. Texas Ranger testimony against Lowry was all circumstantial, but was almost conclusive coming from men whose word could not be doubted. Lowry was found guilty and sentenced to hang Tuesday morning. While Lowry sat in jail, awaiting his fate, The Lone Ranger and Tonto set into motion a scheme to save Lowry and prove his innocence. Two days after the trial, Matilda Scarsdale, widow of Captain Scarsdale, arrived in town to take up temporary residence. There, she took in boarders who traveled far distances at the request of the Masked Man and his faithful Indian companion.

The night before the hanging, Judge Kenny was called to Matilda’s residence for a special meeting. There, he was introduced to Mary and Lem Loftus, Martha Westerly and his daughter Abigail (Lowry’s girlfriend), and Colonel Carter, commandant at Fort Bardow. Bert Hastings, Texas Ranger, arrived to the meeting and finally the discussion began about saving Dave Lowry. Lem Loftus told how Dave Lowry had risked capture by The Lone Ranger to help him and his wife out of their trouble with the moneylender, Gorman. Abigail gave her testimony, telling how Dave had left for the Badlands of Texas, in the hope of becoming a Texas Ranger. Captain Norton and his superior officer, Colonel Carter, told about Dave’s Army life, going into detail about a number of heroic incidents in the boy’s career. Then The Lone Ranger told the account of how his life was saved by Dave Lowry, when he was trapped by a landslide. “Does that sound like the act of a hardened killer?” the Masked Man asked.

Illustration of The Lone Ranger trapped in the landslide from the pulp magazine version.

Matilda Scarsdale shows the judge a book her husband was reading, about a Scotland Yard detective who employs the same method of undercover operation. On the margin of the page, in her late husband’s own handwriting, was a message: “To whom it may concern -- In the event of my sudden death, this is to state that Dave Lowry, known as The Arizona Kid, is acting under my orders, along lines suggested by this book. Dave Lowry should not be considered a criminal in the eyes of the law.” In the excited turmoil that followed this pronouncement, The Lone Ranger explained how he had felt sure that Captain Scarsdale, aware of the hazards of his work, never would have allowed young Lowry to undertake his secret assignment without some sort of legal protection in case of the Captain’s death. The Lone Ranger even reveals another member of the late-night meeting, the governor, who has the authority to delay the execution. The prisoner was granted a new trial, and this time the verdict was different. Abigail, proud of her boyfriend for his heroic efforts, watches as Captain Bert Hastings and five men in uniform presented Dave Lowry with a badge, making him an official Texas Ranger. 

In chapter thirteen, it is revealed that The Lone Ranger carries on his person, a powerful field glass for long range sight across the plains. In chapter twenty, Tonto’s paint horse is mentioned by name, “Scout,” as it was on the radio program. In the earliest of radio adventures, Tonto rode a pony. Later graduating to a horse named “White Feller,” for obvious reasons the name of the horse was changed to “Scout,” as reflected in this novel. The early Lone Ranger novels reflect “White Feller,” but whether faithful readers of the hardcover novels ever caught the inconsistency of continuity remains unclear.

For fans of the radio program who want to enjoy further adventures of “lost” radio broadcasts, I suggest the first Grosset & Dunlap novel, The Lone Ranger (1936), adapted from seven radio scripts from 1935. The Lone Ranger and the Mystery Ranch (1938), described above, was also based on the July 6, 1936 radio broadcast. If you enjoy Big Little Books, I recommend The Lone Ranger and his Horse Silver (1935), based on two radio broadcasts, July 27, 1934 and April 26, 1935. The Lone Ranger and the Red Renegades (1939) was based on the September 9, 1936 radio broadcast.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone

On October 2, 1959, CBS broadcast the first episode of Rod Serling's series, The Twilight Zone. For the program, Serling fought hard to get and maintain creative control while maintaining the series was not science-fiction. It was fantasy. He hired scriptwriters whom he respected (such as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont). In an interview, Serling said the show's science fiction format would not be controversial with sponsors, network executives or the general public and would escape censorship, unlike his experienced with Playhouse 90.

Serling drew on his own experience for many episodes, frequently about boxing, military life, and airplane pilots. The Twilight Zone incorporated his social views on racial relations, somewhat veiled in the science fiction and fantasy elements of the shows. Occasionally, the point was quite blunt, such as in the episode "I Am the Night -- Color Me Black," in which racism and hatred causes a dark cloud to form in the American South, before spreading across the world.

The Twilight Zone aired for five seasons (the first three presented half-hour episodes, the fourth hour-long episodes and the fifth returned to the half-hour format). It won many TV and drama awards, and drew much critical acclaim for Serling and his co-workers. Though it had a loyal fan base, The Twilight Zone drew only moderate ratings and was twice canceled and revived. After five years and 156 episodes (92 written by himself), Serling grew weary of the series. In 1964, he decided to not oppose its third and final cancellation.
In 1965, he sold his 50 percent ownership rights of The Twilight Zone to CBS. His wife later claimed he did this partly because he believed his own studio would never recoup the production costs of the programs, which frequently went over budget.

The enclosed letters will be of amusement for fans of The Twilight Zone. Enjoy!