Thursday, September 25, 2014

Death Valley Days: The First Year

The Old Ranger on Death Valley Days
Follow along the State line that separates Nevada, from the California side, to a narrow rent in the Earth that bares the grim name of Death Valley. The Paiute Indians claimed that the Gods created Death Valley as a terrible punishment to mankind; that they tore a great gash in the face of the Earth, blew the tops off nearby mountains, split and twisted and stood on end another gigantic range, dried up the valley, and left it. Considered the lowest spot in the United States, Death Valley is hemmed in by the country’s highest peaks.

If that legend be true, then the Gods tempered their punishment by putting in Death Valley one of the world’s greatest treasures… borax. The thrilling story of man’s conquest of Death Valley and its treasures had for years been written only in the minds of a few men, newspapers, reference books and promotional pamphlets distributed to hundreds of druggists and grocers from coast-to-coast. Beginning in 1925, the producers of the famous 20 Mule Team brand of borax, the Pacific Coast Borax Company, devoted a percentage of their allocated advertising for the new medium of radio. For five years the company sponsored orchestral and vocal music until 1930, when the advertising executives at McCann-Erickson shifted toward a dramatic offering. Each week at the same hour on Tuesday evening, radio listeners were treated to the stories recalled by The Old Ranger, wherever he happened to be “rangin’ round.” The radio program was titled Death Valley Days.

Lead-ins for each story invited radio listeners into the fold through association. Termed “relationship marketing for the mass medium,” the audience was subconsciously accepted by The Old Ranger who each week shared a heart-warming story. As an example, for the broadcast of October 28, 1930, The Old Ranger was a guest at the New England home of Mrs. Winthrop. Radio listeners could associate with the broadcast because they too were inviting The Old Ranger into their own living room. Mrs. Winthrop’s hospitality reminded him of a story, then dramatized via flashback for the benefit of the radio listeners. This format of The Old Ranger recollecting a story to a civilian was utilized for many years.

One episode offered a unique perspective of the times, worth reprinting below. For the broadcast of November 4, 1930, The Old Ranger was in up-state New York, standing with a small crowd on the sidewalk in front of a radio shop, listening to election returns on the radio. At his elbow are a couple of voters… a man and his wife.

MAN: Come on, Helen, let’s go home and hear the rest of the returns over our own radio. This citizen likes to get his political news in an easy chair in front of an open fire.
WOMAN: But it seems so stupid on election night, Ralph. I suggested coming downtown just so we could be in the midst of the excitement… if any.
MAN: That’s just it. There isn’t any. Since the days of radio, everybody stays home where it’s warm and comfortable.
WOMAN: I suppose so. But, oh dear! I used to love election night years ago… with all the horns and confetti and big good-natured crowds milling around.

Naturally, this leads to The Old Ranger overhearing their discussion and injecting himself in the conversation regarding election night in Death Valley… which ultimately leads to the week’s story.

A collector item from the 1930s.
The brainchild of the radio program remains unknown, except for the fact that the series was created by executives at the advertising agency of McCann-Erickson. The script writing chores were designated to Ruth Cornwall Woodman, a staff employee at the agency. Born in England, 1894, she received a degree from Vassar in 1916 and was part of Phi Beta Kappa. Her first job was with the Century Company, as secretary to the editor of St. Nicholas Magazine, whose position she expected to take over within a short time. When Woodman learned that several employees who had been with the company for over thirty years expected to receive the same promotion/position, she looked for work elsewhere. This search landed her in Turkey, where she worked with an American organization on a survey of Constantinople after World War I. Spending the winter of 1921-22 in Constantinople, she taught English to refugee boys and served as amanuensis to the head of the Language School for missionaries in Scutari. Ruth Woodman traveled from Constantinople to Egypt, India, and China before returning to New York City.

Woodman’s first article about Turkey appeared in the New York Times Magazine Section, from which she made forty dollars. A vice president of the H. K. McCann advertising agency read it and offered her a job with the company as copywriter. She wrote magazine and newspaper copy for five years. In 1928, she began writing for radio, turning out scripts for a number of programs, including a few for the Pacific Coast Borax Company, more than half of which will probably never be documented simply because of the lack of preservation during that era of network broadcasting. (Don’t worry, progress continues to be made…)

Archival Document. Click to enlarge.

Death Valley Days, true stories of the West, premiered on the evening of September 30, 1930, and Woodman was selected as the primary writer. (Contrary to popular belief, Woodman eventually designated script writing duties (circa 1935 or 1936) to other employees including Jack Hasty.) The program’s sponsor, the Pacific Coast Borax Company, agreed with the executives at McCann to offer a weekly drama with the purpose of providing educational entertainment, and agreed that the writer should have a first-hand knowledge of the Death Valley region. The earliest broadcasts of the series, circa 1930 and early 1931, focused on historical aspects documented by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Story material originated from research data provided by the sponsor, including an extensive draft for The History of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which was later published in greatly reduced form. This included information about the discovery of Teel’s Marsh, the Nevada Marsh Operations, and the building of the T and T Railroad.

Rare Death Valley Days magazine.
Features adaptations of radio scripts. 
As the months passed, story material dwindled and Woodman optioned for published reference guides. This, however, was only a temporary solution. With the approval of the advertising agency and sponsor, Woodman began making summer excursions to Death Valley to gather material. If a publicity release could be taken as the gospel, her first trip was in a Model A Ford, where she gathered interviews from people in Death Valley and researched local newspaper files. She was accompanied by W. W. (Wash) Cahill, an employee of the company, considered an expert on the desert. Following her first excursion to Nevada, the majority of her story material henceforth originated from interviews with old-timers and from the files of mining camp newspapers. This continued until July of 1945. (As you might suspect, the stories circulating of Woodman spending several months each year in the Death Valley region, including quotes from local residents regarding Woodman’s determination, originate from press releases furnished by the advertising agency, which provided material for magazines and trade columns, and should be taken with a grain of salt.)

With radio in its infancy at the time Death Valley Days premiered, it comes as no surprise with hindsight that the program was a blatant half-hour infomercial for Borax and the company’s business interests. Many of the stories explored the origins of the 20 Mule Team, the discovery of borax, and/or vacationing at the Furnace Creek Inn. Beginning with the episode of October 28, 1930, the announcer promoted this vacation spot as “a healthful vacation,” where radio listeners “can explore on horseback or by motor the very scenes you are hearing about in these radio programs.” At the conclusion of the December 2, 1930 broadcast, the announcer disclosed the fact that Furnace Creek Inn was owned and operated by the Pacific Borax Company and any listeners considering a visit during the winter season could write for a free pamphlet. (The same episode opened with The Old Ranger recollecting his weekly adventure to a young couple making their way to Furnace Creek Inn.) Furnace Creek Inn was originally built to accommodate Borax Company officials who traveled to Death Valley to check on daily operations. It would later become a luxury resort in an effort to diversify investments and increase profits.

One of many postcards from the Furnace Creek Inn.
The pool was heated by natural springs and a highlight of the resort.

The Old Ranger was fictional, possibly inspired by a number of radio anthologies of the time, which often had a host to introduce and close each story. Described as an emigrant, a prospector, a guide and finally as a 20 Mule Team driver for the Pacific Borax Company, the teller of tales was now in the twilight of his life and spent his retirement wandering the country relating his incomparable reminiscences. The Old Ranger would happen to be within an earshot of the conversation and like a door-to-door salesman, place his foot in the door to lead in with another story.

The script for the broadcast of October 7 featured a section of the announcer’s opening remarks, scratched out. Reprinted below is the section that was deleted during rehearsals, when referring to The Old Ranger. 

“He has heard thrilling tales from the lips of the old 49ers themselves who gave Death Valley its grim name… he has smoked his pipe with the Paiute Indians… worked the Valley as a prospector… and even driven one of the famous 20 Mule Teams that carried their precious loads of Borax over the scorching sands and down the ragged ravines of Death Valley to the waiting world outside.” 

In the second episode of the series, it is revealed that The Old Ranger was a prospector who joined the silver rush to Panamint back in 1872. (And, of course, he did not fail to mention Borax being discovered a few years later.) Indication of The Old Ranger’s age is suggested in the broadcast of October 21, when he makes reference to hearing his mother talk “all of seventy-five years ago.”

Strategically, the opening scene involving The Old Ranger lasted no more than a page-and-a-half so the introductory cast could double for supporting roles using other voices in the same script. The female usually made reference to using borax for her daily grind about the home, one of the earliest forms of product placement without involving the renaming of an orchestra to suit the sponsor’s product. On December 9, for example, the episode opens with the female customer asking the owner of a general store for Borax by the box so she can do the laundry.

Now the Good News!
Until recently, radio scripts for the series were few and far between. According to Jay Hickerson’s Ultimate History of Network Radio Programming (updated every year with supplements), only five recordings are known to exist from the series.

August 27, 1936, “Sam Bass”
October 29, 1937, “The Whitney-Death Valley Highway Dedication”
June 17, 1938, “The Burro That Had No Name”
December 2, 1938, “Pete Kitchen, Pioneer”
June 16, 1939 “Shoo Fly”

A sixth possible recording exists, misdated September 17, 1940, but this has not yet been verified. An audio recording circulating with the title of “Dear Teacher” is actually the audio of a Death Valley Days television episode and should not be mistaken as a radio broadcast.

An explanation as to why very few recordings are known to exist is because the network, the sponsor and the advertising agency had no desire to go to the additional expense of having transcriptions produced. It is a fair assumption that the broadcast of October 29, 1937, exists today because of historical purposes. The highway dedication lasted three days (October 29 to 31) involving other radio programs and celebrated personalities including Gene Autry and James Gleason.

Scan of a script cover for October 7, 1930.

With few recordings known to exist, fans and historians of the radio and television program have to resort to the radio scripts. Earlier this year, ten consecutive years of radio scripts (1930 to 1941) have recently become available to scholars and historians, now providing us with an opportunity to document cast, script titles and plot summaries. This includes the proper spelling of fictional characters, titles of songs and exact punctuation for script titles. Recent discoveries include verification of John White’s participation beginning with the first episode of the series. White supplied the musical vocals that bridged scenes and whose songs were somehow written into the dramas. White was a sports writer on a Washington, D.C. newspaper before entering a career in radio broadcasting. White became a celebrity as a result of the Death Valley Days radio broadcasts, appearing on sheet music and receiving invitations to perform in clubs throughout New York City. White also played supporting roles on each of the broadcasts. On November 11, he played the role of Jake, who sang a few songs to those with an open ear. On November 18, he played the role of Jeff, a prospector, who provided a singing voice to those in need. On December 30, he played the role of Curly, an ex-cowpuncher who sang at the saloon. Thanks to the radio scripts, we have verified White’s participation beginning with the first broadcast. In later broadcasts, White would become a recurring character known as “The Lonesome Cowboy.” Because he played different roles in Death Valley Days in 1930, as you will discover from the episode guide below, White was not referred to as “The Lonesome Cowboy,” except for the December 23 broadcast, where he played himself. (An odd bit of trivia: Mutual’s Tex Fletcher, a singing cowboy, once underwent the name “The Lonesome Cowboy” in 1939 and 1940, causing a momentary dispute between the singers regarding the name ownership.)

One of many sheet music sold in stores.
The exact date of when John White began a recurring role billed as “The Lonesome Cowboy” remains unknown. We hope to answer that question before the spring thaw. Throughout the winter months, as the scripts are scanned into pdf format, a number of volunteers will be reviewing the radio scripts to help document Death Valley Days beginning with scripts from 1931. The speed at which it takes to scan the scripts and the time it takes for volunteers to read them will determine how far and fast we can speed through this project. The goal is to have the first five years documented by spring.

For decades, reference guides claim Jack MacBryde was the first person to play the role of The Old Ranger. Known as “John” to his friends, the earliest date was 1931, cited by John Dunning. We can now cite 1930. Sadly, cast names were not documented on the first twelve radio scripts. Beginning with episode thirteen, the broadcast of December 23, 1930, MacBryde was listed among the cast. Further archeological digs in the coming months will hopefully verify his involvement beginning with the first episode. The announcer for all of the 1930 broadcasts was George Hicks. The cast for episode 13 and 14 have been verified: Joseph Bell, Virginia Gardner, Jack MacBryde, Elsie Mae Gordon, William Shelley and John White.

A number of reference guides claim the program originated from San Francisco when the series first premiered. This appears to be inaccurate. The entire series, from the very beginning, originated from station WJZ, the flagship station of NBC Blue, in New York City.

Enclosed is an episode guide for the first 14 episodes representing the entire calendar year of 1930.

Broadcast Date: September 30, 1930
Script completed: September 22, 1930
Plot: When a young couple from New York find themselves stranded at the edge of Death Valley, their automobile having run out of water, The Old Ranger comes to the rescue. During supper, he shares with them a story of the Sand Walking Company: ambitious folks who, in covered wagons drawn by oxen, packed up their household goods, and their children, bound for California. This was shortly after 1849 when gold was first discovered in the West. The party consisted of numerous families, including the Bennetts and their three children, the Arcanes and their two boys, among others. They attempted a shortcut while risking their lives during the first trek across Death Valley. Against all odds, they succeeded.

Broadcast Date: October 7, 1930
Script completed: September 25, 1930
Plot: The Old Ranger is aboard a Pullman train, just pulling out of Los Angeles. When he overhears two passengers talking about the Panamint Mountains, he recalls a story of what happened in 1872 when his partner, Jim Bridges, was sweet on a little Spanish girl named Chita. When Jim learns that Terry, a man behind all the Wells Fargo hold-ups, is in town and attempting to woo Chita, Jim offers a proposition. Terry owes the sheriff $5,000 to pay off a debt or face jail time. Jim offers Terry the money he needs in return that he leave town for good. Terry takes the money but later returns for the town celebration (Fourth of July is celebrated in the spring due to the extreme heat in July) and like any crook, attempts to kill Jim. Chita warns her lover and Jim quickly shoots Terry in self-defense. “The town is better off without his kind,” someone on the street remarks. Terry comforts his bride-to-be.

Episode #3  “SHE BURNS GREEN”
Broadcast Date: October 14, 1930
Script completed: September 29, 1930
Plot: When a young bride named Rose shows off her new kitchen to The Old Ranger, he recounts another Rose – Rosie Winters – who helped make the real big discovery of Borax fifty years prior. The Spanish-American girl and her husband, Aaron Winters, were pioneers and prospectors in Death Valley in 1880. They spent their months in a little one-room shack on Ash Meadows near Death Valley. Rosie wants to leave the hell hole but Aaron fears going to jail for a murder he committed 20 years past, should he be recognized by someone outside. One hot afternoon, a wandering traveler named Joe Gibbons arrives and explains that he is searching for Borax, rumored to be in the Valley. He brought with him a chemical that will burn green if the discovery is indeed Borax. Against his better judgment, Aaron Winters agrees to put the stranger up for the night and after he leaves, Aaron gets gold fever (in this case, Borax fever) and decides to pitch camp on Furnace Creek, searching for mass quantities of deposit resembling the precious Nevada Borax. Remembering where he saw the crystals described by Gibbons, Aaron lights a match and applies the chemicals. His hunch was correct. His discovery soon spread like wild fire and he ultimately soon sold his claim for $20,000. The Winters later moved to Pahrump Oasis in Nevada and settled down in the home of their dreams.

During the drama, Joe Gibbons tells his new friends at least a dozen uses for Borax, thus serving as a commercial in the middle of the story.
This episode featured the first of many mentions of the Furnace Creek Inn, which opened to the public on the first of November – a vacation lodge owned by the Pacific Coast Borax Company.
Many of the radio scripts for this series were repeated again in later years. This episode would be dramatized more often than any other radio script. This radio episode would later be adapted into a television episode of Death Valley Days.

Broadcast Date: October 21, 1930
Script completed: October 2, 1930
Plot: In a sequel to last week’s episode… Rosie Winters, a Spanish American wife of old Aaron Winters, discovered Borax in Death Valley in 1880. Aaron sold his claim to Coleman and Smith for $20,000 and bought a ranch north of Death Valley at Pahrump, Nevada. In 1881, while the big operations in Death Valley, to the Northwest of Furnace Creek, commenced with every able-bodied prospector, Aaron discovered that finding a servant to help tend the ranch was beyond scarce. On his way into town one day, Aaron was held up by two shady characters. After shooting and killing one of them in self-defense, Aaron discovers the other merely went along for the ride. His name was Sandy and he used to work as a ranch hand in Arizona. After helping to deliver the body of the wanted man to the Sheriff, Aaron decides to keep silent about Sandy’s involvement with the attempted hold-up and instead, hires Sandy as a ranch hand… Years later, Aaron claimed Sandy was the best ranch hand he ever hired.

Broadcast Date: October 28, 1930
Script completed: October 17, 1930
Plot: The prospector named Bellerin’ Teck got his name from a little habit he had of raising his voice when he wanted especially to make himself understood. Teck went into Death Valley about 1870 and settled down in his own oasis of 100 acres. Everything was peaceful and relaxing until a prophet named Jackson, leading oxen through Nevada, showed up and joined partnership with Teck at Greenland Ranch. When the men agree to take on a new ranch hand named Lee, an army deserter who swears he recognizes Jackson as a wanted cattle thief back in Wyoming, Jackson protests his innocence. Teck overrules the protest and while the Lee family (half Indian) resides on the ranch, Jackson attempts to convert the Lee family to Christianity. But Lee later proves his memory was infallible. Once the truth came out, Bellerin’ Teck orders Jackson to leave – at the point of a gun. Jackson fled and was never heard from again. Over the years, the name of Greenland was changed to Furnace Creek Ranch… as it is known today.

The word “hell” was replaced with “Cain” during rehearsals as a result of a network censorship request.

Broadcast Date: November 4, 1930
Script completed: October 22, 1930
Plot: Frank Abbott, one of the early “Borax Kings,” learns that the Eagle Borax Works in southern Death Valley has closed business for the same reason the Pacific Coast Borax company is considering: the problem of shipping an inexhaustible supply of borax out of the valley. The trek consists of 165 miles through treacherous dry country. At the suggestion of his wife, Frank calls on Mr. Perry, an employee, who knows the desert like the back of his own hand. Combatting cloudbursts, avalanches of boulders and desert sandstorms are only part of the problem Mr. Perry has to take into consideration. Weeks later, in the form of a Christmas gift, Perry offers a solution. A 20-mule team to haul a specially-designed and constructed wagon that could haul 40,000 pounds of borax in one haul, through a specially-guided map, with dry camps in between the few water wells. It would take an estimated eleven days to travel each way. Abbott approves of the idea after careful consideration.

Broadcast Date: November 11, 1930
Script completed: October 28, 1930
Plot: In a sequel to last week’s episode… While chatting with a local grocer about Armistice Day, The Old Ranger said the celebration of 1918 didn’t hold a candle to the excitement in Mojave back in the 1880s… the day “Borax” Bill Parkinson drove his 20-Mule Team into town, after their first round trip through Death Valley. At the Mojave Club owned by Jake and Nellie, folks were counting the days when Bill would return. He was two days overdue. Following Perry’s exact directions and orders (as described in the last episode), Bill told very few people that he was three months married when he set off on the venture. Her name was Margaret Howard and she came from Indiana. Bill rescued her family when they were bleaching in the sun, having failed in their trek West, bound for the promise of gold. Perry assured Margaret that he wouldn’t have sent a man into the desert if he did not feel certain of a return trip. He calculated every aspect of the trip. Just when all was though to be dismal, a small dust cloud grew in size as witnesses observed Bill’s triumphant return. Shouts of joy and excitement filled the air. And Bill expressed his eagerness to rush out and gather another 40,000 pounds of Borax for the freight car… but first, he needs a bath.

Broadcast Date: November 18, 1930             
Script completed: November 10, 1930
Plot: Just East across the state line in Nevada lay a ghost town that was once known as Bullfrog. After Shorty Harris first made his strike in 1904, people swamped to the small town, consisting of tents and two frame buildings: Mickey’s store and the Ferris restaurant. The Ferris family had one daughter, Mame, known as “The Little Bullfrog Nugget,” because she was worth her weight in gold. Her favorite meal was eggs, which she served to people every day. When she rejected the offer of marriage from Buck, a young prospector, he cornered the egg market by purchasing every egg from the local farmers. A week later he returned to Bullfrog where Mame is desperate for eggs… both for business and for personal pleasure. Buck brought in a dozen eggs and asked her to cook them for him. Mame preferred to buy them but he said the only way that would happen would be if he came with the purchase. Mame confessed that she loves Buck and she was just too mean to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. Thus the only time a man paid as high as a dollar a piece for eggs… and as a wedding present for his bride.

Broadcast Date: November 25, 1930
Script completed: November 17, 1930
Plot: The Old Ranger recounted the story of Jacob Breyfogle, a blacksmith in the little town of Austin, Nevada. Hired to guide a party of Southerners from Austin down across the Death Valley country to Arizona, so they could serve for the Confederacy, Breyfogle promised his wife, Greta, that he would have enough money from the job to take her to San Francisco. After all, no one knew Death Valley better than he. The year was 1864 and months passed and no word came of him. When Breyfogle returned, pockets rich with gold, it was discovered that his mind was clean gone. Blood on his head and hands suggested either an accident or foul play. Breyfogle remembered succeeding in getting his party to Yuma, but on his way back he got lost along the Amargosa Range, through the Funeral Mountains. He struck gold and a whole mountain of it. He filled his pockets and made for home. Indians stole his horse and water but he managed to make it back alive. That was the story that became legend. Years passed by and the lost Breyfogle Mine became one of the big mysteries of Death Valley. No matter how hard he tried, grubstake after grubstake, Breyfogle never found his claim. Greta died in 1900 and Jacob Breyfogle died a year following. Then in 1906, a young man named Bud found what was probably the lost Breyfogle mine. And he wasn’t even looking for it. “Death Valley’s like that,” his friend Carl explained. “Breaks the old hard-rock miners’ hearts an’ backs… mocks ‘em… cheats ‘em. An’ then sudden like turns around an’ yields up rich treasures to some young sandbank miner like yourself, who’s hardly struck his pick in the ground.”

This is the only episode in which a male singer is not provided. Greta, a female, sings a song with guitar accompaniment. The name of the female singer remains unknown.

Broadcast Date: December 2, 1930
Script completed: November 14, 1930
Plot: During the late 1880s, a young prospector named Philander Lee stumbled into Death Valley. Saved from dehydration by Tavn, a Shoshone princess, the two fall in love. Tavn later explains that her father, the chief of the Shoshone tribe, has betrothed her to a warrior the same age as her father. Philander forbids the ceremony. She insists nothing can be done to prevent the marriage. On her wedding night, under the moonlight and ceremonial fire, Philander overhears the chief's story of the gods riding into Death Valley on a black stallion to sweep a Shoshone maiden for his bride and this gives Philander an idea. He decides to mimic the legend, whisking his bride away. The ruse works and the lovebirds spent the remainder of their lives at Philander's ranch and ultimately had nine children... some of whom became employees for the Pacific Borax Company. 

Broadcast Date: December 9, 1930
Script completed: November 25, 1930
Plot: The Old Ranger tells Mr. Sprague, a neighborhood druggist, and Mrs. Martin, a customer, the story of Joe Salsuepedes, also known as Swamper Ike, the most famous of mule skinners. Joe helped lead the team of mules for Borax, always believing he was a Cocopah Indian... a half-breed, anyway. During one of his routine travels, he discovered Indian pyroglyphics that coincidentally documented his childhood. This proved he was a white man. His parents died in Death Valley and the Indians, taking pity on the youth, adopted the newborn baby as their own. 

Broadcast Date: December 16, 1930
Script completed: December 1, 1930
Plot: The year was 1890. Frank Mills and his wife, Carrie, settle at Furnace Creek Ranch, one mile below the Old Harmony Borax works. Carrie wasn’t happy. Day in and day out she saw everlasting sun… and sand… and silence. When her husband left for a one-month trek hauling Borax across the desert, a thief named Pablo showed up and took advantage of Carrie's hospitality. Pablo knew how to impress a woman and she started to believe there was a better life of love and laughter. The lovers attempted to flee the desert and might have made it if it had not been for a sand storm that dominated the situation. Pablo, through self-preservation, showed his true colors by deserting Carrie in the storm. She miraculously survived the ordeal and her husband found her in the desert. After hearing her story, he carefully weighed his options and forgave her for her trespass and took her back home.

This episode opened where a woman in the street said she uses Borax in the home for all her housecleaning.
The Old Ranger, talking about sandstorms in the beginning of the episode, made reference that some people vacationing at Furnace Creek Inn get to see a real sand storm.

Broadcast Date: December 23, 1930
Script completed: December 13, 1930
Plot: The episode opens with The Old Ranger meeting a couple leaving Ludlow, California, about 175 miles from Death Valley, heading home to Kansas City for Christmas. The Old Ranger mentions he is traveling on the Tonopah and Tidewater, the railroad that the Pacific Coast Borax Company built to haul Borax. This episode featured two, fifteen-minute stories. The first dramatized the first Christmas that was ever observed in Death Valley, in 1849, when a group of emigrants looking for a short cut to the California gold fields, stumbled into Death Valley by mistake. The party of pioneers found themselves trapped in the Valley for months but never lost their faith and courage. Then The Old Ranger joined in a dramatization of last year’s Christmas Party at Furnace Creek Inn, 1929, with Frank Tilton (retired driver of the 20-Mule Teams), John White (a.k.a. the Lonesome Cowboy), and a crowd of holiday visitors. White sang two Christmas songs and a young man recited a Death Valley version of “The Night Before Christmas.” A Wandering Minstrel performed a couple songs, and the cast closed the broadcast with a rendition of “Silent Night.”

Broadcast Date: December 30, 1930
Script completed: December 22, 1930
Plot: This episode opened with The Old Ranger meeting two young women, raising money for the local Emergency Unemployment Fund. After making a donation with five silver dollars, he tells the story that took place in a Nevada mining camp in the hills of Rhyolite, east of Death Valley (a boom town that today is now a ghost town). The year was 1907 and Davey MacDonald and his wife, Jennie, paid a visit to Jim Baxter’s saloon where Tiger Lil climbed up on tables, sang vulgar songs and showed off her leg clear above the knees. Jennie was appalled and preferred to stay home and avoid the kind of woman Tiger Lil was. Jennie looked after the children and tried to make Dave’s low wages stretch as far as possible… forgetting what kind of horrid entertainment her husband frequented after a long, hard shift. One afternoon, men arrived at the front door with Dave’s body. A cage dropped down the mineshaft, they explained, and Dave was now paralyzed. A Nevada winter was approaching and with four children to look after, Jennie had not a cent of money coming in. Tiger Lil, upon hearing the news, started a purse, asking every man in town to donate a day’s wages. A big city doctor, surgeries and nurses would cost a lot of money but she managed to raise $5,000 for Jennie MacFarland. When the men delivered the money and explained how a woman anonymously arranged for the donation, Jennie remarked: “I’ll remember her in my prayers every night… and thank God there are such good women in this world!”

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Green Hornet: The NBC Files

In November of 1939, The Green Hornet went from Mutual to NBC Blue in an effort to gain more coverage. George W. Trendle, and his legal advisor, Raymond Meurer, felt there was more to gain with NBC Blue picking up the series. Trendle had a number of stipulations which NBC had to abide by, and this ultimately prevented the network from selling sponsorship. Parents were concerned about the program, having gotten the impression that the program was not suitable for a young juvenile audience. Enclosed are scans of various carbons of letters at the NBC Archive related to The Green Hornet and Mr. District Attorney, which you will no doubt find amusing... if not fascinating. Enjoy!