Saturday, December 26, 2015

George Clayton Johnson, dead at 86

He was born in a barn, forced to repeat the sixth grade, dropped out of school during the eighth, watched his stories come to life on television and established what is probably the general rule of fantasy: "Fantasy must be about something, otherwise it's foolishness... ultimately it must be about human beings, it must be about the human condition." The man who defined THE TWILIGHT ZONE as "wisdom fiction" passed away on Christmas morning at the age of 86.
Robert Redford and George Clayton Johnson in 1960.

George Clayton Johnson was among the small handful of gifted -- and privileged -- to write teleplays for Rod Serling's classic television series, which aired over CBS from 1959 to 1964. Remember the episode about Jack Krugman and Jonathan Winters playing a game of pool... with a human life at the stakes? That was George Clayton Johnson. Remember the episode with Robert Redford as a young man harbored by an old lady, sheltered from fear of Mr. Death... only to turn out the young man was Death himself? That was George Clayton Johnson. Remember the episode about the old people who played a game of "Kick the Can" and became young again? The same story restaged for the 1983 motion picture? That was George Clayton Johnson.

The premiere episode of Star Trek: "Man Trap"
George got his start writing for THE TWILIGHT ZONE courtesy of Charles Beaumont, who taught the aspiring writer and how to script a teleplay. Beaumont did this on the sly, taking credit and pocketed some of the cash, but that did not bother George. Having THE TWILIGHT ZONE on his resume was one of the best things that could have happened to him. "He was a good friend and he inspired people to try harder," Johnson later recalled about Beaumont. In short time George was writing for HONEY WEST, KUNG FU, and what became the premiere episode of STAR TREK.

Ocean's Eleven (2001 version)
One of his stories was adapted into a motion-picture, OCEAN'S ELEVEN, starring Frank Sinatra, later remade as a hip and witty 2001 motion picture of the same name starring George Clooney. Johnson's characters would return for two additional sequels. 

Johnson and William F. Nolan collaborated for a 1967 novel, LOGAN'S RUN, which would also be adapted into a short-lived weekly TV series of the same name. He even tried his hand at acting in a Roger Corman film, THE INTRUDER (1961), and on a fourth season episode of SEA HUNT, playing the role of Lt. Hartwell. (How's that for obscure trivia?) George was so nervous during filming that he accidentally referred to his commander as captain, and confessed not wanting to appear in front of the camera again... which he avoided for a number of years.

During filming of "A Penny for Your Thoughts," one of Johnson's earliest contributions to THE TWILIGHT ZONE, he was invited to the set to watch the filming. "I introduced myself to James Sheldon. He was the director," Johnson recalled. "We talked a while and then Rod Serling comes on the set. He's leading a choir of on-lookers like a tour guide for visiting dignitaries and everyone on the set was electrified. No one dared to make a move while he was there. Then he sees me and Lola standing there, and he introduces me to the people, 'And this is George Clayton Johnson, the writer of this absolutely dandy film we are making right now.' And I am hearing my name and the praise. Then Serling introduces the director... but he introduced me first. I felt like a king."

I had the privilege of meeting and chatting with George Clayton Johnson at a convention some years back. He was impressed with some of the knowledge I had about THE TWILIGHT ZONE, based on the questions I asked him, and he ultimately agreed to write a foreword for my award-winning book about THE TWILIGHT ZONE. It was here that you could see, almost sixty years after THE TWILIGHT ZONE went off the air, that his creative juices were still flowing. His foreword was a letter addressed to the late Rod Serling, expressing his appreciation and admiration for the longevity of the television program. "What an astonishing shelf-life for a piece of television entertainment and a great testament to the timeless nature of the program and the quality production you brought to the project," George wrote to Serling.

Johnson was the second-to-last of the major contributors for THE TWILIGHT ZONE and it is with sadness that I report his passing earlier today. Earl Hamner Jr. is still with us. George Clayton Johnson is now reunited with his friends and I have no doubt that like the early sixties, he and Matheson and Beaumont and Bradbury and Serling and the rest are relaxing by the swimming pool concocting magnificent fantasies to keep us entertained for another millennia. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's a Christmas Tradition

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!

Anita Page

Anna May Wong

Jean Harlow

Joan Crawford

Yes, even Natalie Wood loved Christmas.

June Lang is counting down the days.

Okay, it's not a Hollywood starlet. But they're too cute to not include them.

Gloria Swanson must have been a nice girl this year.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Who's Afraid of Song of the South?

"Now this here tale didn't happen just yesterday nor the day before, it was a long time ago... the critters, they was closer to the folks, and the folks, they was closer to the critters -- and if you'll excuse me for saying so, it was better all around."
                   -- Uncle Remus in Disney's Song of the South (1946)

Disney's Song of the South (1946)
There is a new book available by Jim Korkis that is worth reading if you ever wanted to know the details behind the making of Disney's Song of the South. Just the mere name of the movie sparks heated emotions because of a sad mixture of misunderstandings and urban legends. Every time someone tells me that the movie is "racist," I calmly ask them what makes the film "racist." The response I receive is always one of two: "The movie depicts slavery" or "The movie portrays slaves happy as they work in the fields." Every time I ask if they saw the movie, the answer is always "no." You can imagine their surprise when then I inform them that at no time in the movie are people depicted working in the fields. In fact, the movie takes place after the Civil War during a period known as Reconstruction and African Americans in the movie are happy and singing because they are free men, hired hands, getting paid from a kind and generous employer. At no time is slavery ever depicted in the movie.

Here's another fun fact: Gone With the Wind (1939) does depict slavery. The Birth of a Nation (1915) not only depicts slavery, but the KKK rides to the rescue as champions of justice. If someone wants to claim Song of the South, the same movie with Uncle Remus walking down the bunny trail singing "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," as a racist film... they need to see it first. And therein lies the problem. The Disney Corporation has retained the rights to keep the movie locked in the vaults with no hope of a commercial VHS or DVD release.

Outside Splash Mountain at The Magic Kingdom.
On Wednesday, March 23, 2011, at the Disney Annual Shareholders Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, the final question asked of Disney CEO Bob Iger, just minutes from him concluding the meeting, was the yearly query about when the Disney Company might release the live-action/animated movie Song of the South on DVD. After all, November of that year would mark the 65th anniversary of the film's release. Although smiling, Iger seemed irritated that the same question kept coming up at every Disney shareholder meeting. His response can be summarized in a single word: no.

I have a few friends who are on the "inside" of Disney and they explained to me that every year a list of movies to be released on DVD is proposed during the executive board meetings. Song of the South is always proposed. And Bob Iger always removes the title from that list and comments how Disney will not go down that route. Yet, from my inside sources, everyone else at Disney confidently admits the movie should be released on DVD and knows it will generate a lot of sales for the company. That is why they keep sneaking it on the list every year. Today, money may not be the motive. In 1939, Walt Disney bought the screen rights to the Uncle Remus stories from the Harris family for $10,000 -- an investment that paid off. Adding to the revenue of all the books, comics, records, toys and other items associated with the film, it was estimated that the Disney Company received $300 million over the years -- not bad from a $10,000 investment.

The last time the movie was theatrically released was in 1986. The movie poster for the re-release strongly emphasized the animated sequences, downgrading the live action segments (the opposite of what the 1946 poster depicted). The movie has since been released commercially on VHS in England, which many fans resorted to buying and converting to DVD. Even today a google search of "Song of the South DVD" will generate a number of websites where you can buy the movie -- all bootlegs of course, and of varied quality (make sure you get one without the Japanese subtitles).

When Walt Disney conceived of making the movie, it was his intention that Song of the South would be his own Gone with the Wind -- complete with Atlanta premiere and long lines at the movie palaces. But instead there were small pockets of picketers in Boston and Los Angeles who made the choice to disrupt the serene locale. The New York Tribune reported that at a press conference, Walt Disney said that any real antagonism towards the film would come from radicals, "who just love stirring up trouble whenever they can." The NAACP later admitted that their initial criticism of the movie was based on faulty information. In an interview in February 1947, Hattie McDaniel (who played Aunt Tempy in the movie) defended the film: "If I had for one moment considered any part of the picture degrading or harmful to my people I would not have appeared therein." James Baskett, who played the role of Uncle Remus in the movie, remarked in the same article in The Criterion, "I believe that certain groups are doing my race more harm in seeking to create dissension than can ever possibly come out of Song of the South."

The movie has since been televised over the BBC2 in the United Kingdom, many times, with no public outcry or rioting in the streets. The film was released commercially in several European and South American countries, including France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, Argentina and Brazil. 

The film was never meant to be a political statement, not a malicious attempt to depict foolish stereotyping of any race, but rather an attempt to show that children of all races and different social statuses could play together as friends, learn important moral lessons from the stories, and survive times of trouble (in this case a combination of separated parents and bullies who want to murder a puppy) by finding a place to laugh and momentarily forget the hardships. 

A new book was published documenting the making of Song of the South, providing a detail level regarding the controversy surrounding former Disney employees that either quit or were fired, who in turn attempted to suppress the movie by stirring up trouble when it was released in 1946. Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? and Other Forbidden Disney Stories, written by Jim Korkis, is worth reading. The same book also documents how a Disney live action comedy caused the FBI to spy on Walt Disney, why Walt Disney once suggested Mickey Mouse commit suicide, and other true stories. You can buy a copy from here:

Some of the information on this blog post originates from Jim's book, which only adds to the validity of this statement: If you are looking for something cool to give a friend this holiday season, or for their birthday, this book makes a great gift. Buy one for yourself as well.

In the meantime, the only thing the Disney Corporation has created is a situation where the only way you can see and study this historic film is to support piracy... and a controversy that exists only in the minds of those who have never seen it but tell of legends and stories that are less to be believed... I for one prefer the story Uncle Remus tells of "The Laughing Place," versus the misconceptions people insist time and time again. Disney accomplished a charming movie and it is a treasure to behold.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Value of Antique Toy Shows

With Christmas soon upon us and an overabundance of Star Wars merchandise set to outrun the multimillion-dollar Frozen juggernaut, and with predictions that the sale of the movie merchandise will quadruple in the countdown to Christmas, I thought it would be cool to take a moment and visit an aspect of toy collecting that has proven value, time and time again. Those hidden treasures at antique toy shows. There might be one in you own backyard and you never knew about it. Read on to understand why.

The original Lost in Space robot with original packaging.

The secret of success with Star Wars is its reach across a broad range of retail segments, including toys, kids apparel, homeware, stationery and adult apparel. Perhaps the first to figure this out was William Boyd who, during the 1950s, mass-marketed Hopalong Cassidy in a means that was unprecedented at the time. Hopalong Cassidy wind-up toys, shooting galleries, wristwatches, holster sets, comic books and other merchandise made William Boyd a very wealthy man. Wealthy enough to convince Life magazine to put Hopalong Cassidy, complete in costume and black hat, on the cover of a 1950 issue. That same year, Time magazine reported a shortage of black dye as a result of all the Hoppy merchandise produced. Historically, though smaller by comparison, Walt Disney was the next person to succeed in mass production with the Davy Crockett coonskin caps.

Today, the collecting market has changed. The old joke among collectors was that in the days of old, for every 100 toys sold in the stores, one was saved and 99 was played with. By the late seventies and early eighties, with understanding that the value of an item was based on scarcity and condition, for every 100 toys sold in the stores, one was played with and 99 were saved.

Scarcity has become obsolete as a result of the internet. What used to be difficult to find is now a dime a dozen on eBay and other internet auction houses. eBay has changed the values in price guides. The value of an item is still dependent on the overall condition and the purchase price is relative -- based on an agreement set between the buyer and seller. But the internet is not the only venue to seek old collectibles and I encourage others to seek out Antique Toy Shows. There are treasures galore at these venues that remain virtually unscathed by serious collectors.

My mother told me she used to have one of these when she was a child.

If you buy off the internet, you are buying blind. Regardless of the item description, your idea of the condition may vary from that of the seller. What you feel is near mint, the seller may consider mint condition. Being able to review the item first-hand helps avoid such misunderstanding. Last week at an Antique Toy Show I purchased a Hopalong Cassidy coloring book for $5.00. The seller wanted $15.00. I looked inside and pointed out how the coloring book was partially used. The cover was not in mint condition and faded by sunlight (the back of the book was the exact same image as the front, but the color was darker on the back). She asked if I felt $5.00 was sufficient. I agreed and went home with my prize. Note that it was she who counter-offered with a price one-third of her original asking! Why buy a vintage coloring book partially used? The left page of each two-page spread was print colored with text below to describe the action. The same image was on the right page but in black and white so the child could attempt to reproduce the colors in crayon. The former owner never applied crayons on any of the left pages. This means I can scan the colored illustrations on the left side and use them for illustrating any future write-up about Hopalong Cassidy... illustrations most people have never seen. Well worth my $5.00 investment. ($15 for 18 illustrations would have been worth it, too, but hey, I saved $10.)

My wife accompanied my recent sojourn and, the tomboy that she was, observed a vendor selling old Hess trucks. She's bought Hess trucks for her father in past years, but never knew what the value was for pre-1970 Hess trucks. She took 20 minutes and talked to the vendor, learning just which years have more value, mis-prints that were quickly corrected, how to tell the difference from reproductions and originals based on packaging, and what the usual price is for a 1966 Hess Voyager Tanker Ship with and without the original packaging. Now if she ever sees a Hess Voyager Tanker Ship at a flea market, she will not make the mistake of paying too much without understanding the real value. For this education, she agreed that the admission price to the venue was worth every dollar. One of many reasons why visiting antique toy shows is necessary for anyone who wants an education regarding values and grading.

An old woman at the toy show had two tables of comic books for sale. "Estate Sale, Must Go!" Curious as I was since many of the comic books were from the 1970s, I asked her what the prices were. She told me $80 per issue and if I paid cash, $75 per issue. I asked her how she came to that conclusion. "My nephew passed away last month and I have these comic books which obviously have lots of value." I did not have the heart to tell her that the comics had little value at all -- at least the ones she was trying to sell. I could buy them at comic shows for a buck a piece. This happens more often than reported: someone hears about an Action Comics #1 (June 1938) selling for more than $1 million and believes that all comic books have extreme value. Half a dozen times in the past few years I witnessed people with overestimated expectations: "It is old, therefore it is valuable."

One of the vendors had a table with signs plastered all over: "Everything on this table is $4.00" People were skimming through boxes of magazines, VHS videos, plastic toys and other collectibles. I also observed a number of people who saw the sign and made a turnabout. It was if those signs and those prices were shouting: "Junk for sale." What they were looking for was not valued at $4.00. Sure, there might stocking stuffers worth a few bucks but they were looking for some items of REAL value. 

When I used to attend an annual convention in Newark, New Jersey, one acquaintance attending the show would only buy dollar items. Privately, he used to ridicule people who spent large sums of money on books, posters and other collectibles at the convention. More than once I tried to explain to him the value of financial support, for the authors of those books, the historians who prefer encouragement. I also explained how certain vendors will make an effort throughout the year to find articles of interest; such friendship among vendors forms a strong bond.

The best way to price vintage toys. Post-It Notes prevent damage upon removal.

Want to know the real value of an item? Fifteen years ago a friend of mine spent $3,000 on a movie poster. To him, not only was the poster extremely rare (one of four known to exist), but the color was lavish; the art was magnificent. As a vendor who buys and sells movie posters and lobby cards, he should know. He can tell you what time period certain movie studios offered the best art. That poster is hanging in his living room, professionally framed with museum glass. He sees that poster every day. Fifteen years times 365 days = 5,475 days. Take that and divide it by $3,000 and that poster cost him 54 cents a day to look at. To him, that poster is worth 54 cents a day. And that value will be cut in half 15 years from now. 

Another friend of mine has a Clerks movie poster hanging on the wall in his apartment, a giveaway at his local movie theater on opening day of the same movie. Yes, this is the same poster you can buy at trade shows for a buck. He keeps his poster on display in a cheap Wal-Mart frame. That poster is not autographed by the cast. He admits it is not his favorite movie. So why does he have it on display in his apartment? 

I find you can tell a lot about someone based on the books they have on their bookshelf and the collectibles that adorn the walls and shelves of their house. My in-laws' next-door neighbor is 95 years old and ballroom dancing, and his shelves contain dozens of books about herbs and medicinal organics. This tells me he took time to live a healthy life. He is self-educated. He is self-motivated. He is a man to aspire. For my friend with the Clerks poster on the wall... well, what does that tell you? As for my friend who spent $3,000 on that rare movie poster? It tells me he has taste, he has style, he knows the history behind the scarcity of the poster, and the condition of the surviving posters in collector hands. His treasure, displayed with pride, comes with a story... proving what I have said for years. How much someone has or how much they spent on an item does not impress me. Where they found the item and how they came into receivership may impress me.

At the antique toy show, I was set up as a vendor and offering a Hopalong Cassidy movie poster for $150. The condition of the poster was great. An attendee at the show asked about the purchase price and his response? "I can buy a replica of the same poster for $20 on the internet."

"You are correct," I explained. "But reproductions go for as little as a buck to as much as $20. And there is a reason for that pricing structure. No one can sell a reproduction of a Hopalong Cassidy movie poster for more than $20 on the internet or at events like this one. I don't know about you, but if I gave a tour of my house and pointed out a reproduction, framed, hanging on the wall, they would pretty much do what I would in their position. Shrug shoulders and say, 'Oh, that's cool.' But I would only be speaking polite. Now, having an original -- not a reproduction -- hanging on the wall, linen baked, framed in museum glass has something of value." 

The customer asked why I was selling the poster. "I have three different Hopalong Cassidy posters hanging on my wall and this is the least quality of the three," I explained. "And it's my least favorite of the 66 Hoppy movies." He counter-offered with $30 and I assured him that even with cash we would be speaking three-digit figures. The asking price was firm based on much I originally paid for the poster, and it cost me to have it linen backed. This alone, I explained to him, was an exceptional value of an asking price.) He walked away muttering to himself that he would never spend more than $20 for a movie poster and never consider spending that kind of money to have it framed. What was he telling me? He had no true appreciation for the value of Hopalong Cassidy. Tens of thousands of people know who Hopalong Cassidy is... but only a fraction have a real application for Hopalong Cassidy to buy Hoppy comics, toys and movie posters.

By the way... I never sold the poster at the toy show but wo days later I sold the poster. Purchase price was $200. The fact that he traveled to my house to check out the poster meant he was a serious buyer and knew how much it cost to have a movie poster linen backed and professionally framed. That poster has since been replaced with a different Hoppy poster for (the same price, $200) and happens to be my favorite of the movie series. The color and condition is beautiful. I do plan to have it framed. And the purchaser, who came to my house to check it out first-hand, went home a happy customer. That poster has a good home with someone who will take care of it because they appreciate what they bought. 

My wife and I booked a trip for a ride in a hot air balloon. It was one of those things we always wanted to do. The cost was $280 per person for a 90 minute flight. When I told my mother of our plans, she questioned whether $280 was cheap or expensive for such a trip. "I don't know" I replied. "But it is something we only plan to do once in our life, and the experience will probably turn out to be something so cool we will be recommending it to others for months following and you cannot put a price tag on something like that."

Of the 130 plus vendors at the Antique Toy Show, one of them earned my admiration. I was immersed in the vast collection of high-quality vintage toys on display and I asked for gloves to inspect a couple of them. Asking for gloves provided the seller with the understanding that I had an appreciation for the items on display and he gladly let me inspect them. (You have no idea how many idiots are quick to handle items priced in three and four-digit figures and then put them back on a table with careless regard for the way they manhandled the item. If you do not have enough money to afford purchasing the item, do not handle it. "You break it, you buy it" still applies.) Lots of vendors at the show had old cowboys and horses, Lincoln Logs in metal containers, circus programs from the 1950s, and toy cars. You almost wanted to shop around before making purchase because they all varied in quality and price. But what this vendor had was strictly top-notch quality that put everyone else to shame. Not an item on his table was priced less than $100. He was not catering to a clientele that wanted just any toy. He had what I would refer to as museum quality.

The photographs below are from his table. The item I was really impressed with was the metal Tom Corbett, Space Cadet rocket ship with practically no rust and near-mint condition. I did not have $1,000 to spend but I did get the seller's business card.

Make an effort to find an Antique Toy Show near you. They vary in size from a couple dozen vendors to hundreds of vendors. Many of those vendors do not have the internet and are unaware that they could be selling the same merchandise for larger sums of money -- an advantage you have compared to shopping online. I often ask if they have a website or sell online and when they say they do not... well, that provides me with the advantage. (Some of these shows fall below the radar, by the way, and do not have a website to promote their event. Check out the calendar of events for the county fairgrounds near you. Those are the shows that have hidden treasures.) During negotiations, after talking the seller down from his initial asking price, ask "I'm willing to pay cash, not credit card or check. What's the best you can do?" You will be surprised how the price will be knocked down again in your favor. (If they do not accept credit cards, this will not be leverage. Ask in advance early on if they accept credit cards.) And most important: make the most out of your admission. Most vendors are willing to provide a few minutes of instruction regarding the items they have for sale. It's both geeky and cool to find out when Lincoln Logs went from metal tins to cardboard containers, the few toys never released to market and leaked into collector hands (thus very rare to acquire), what items are prototypes, etc. Remember my wife who learned a few things about vintage Hess trucks? The value of an antique toy show is the educational aspect. Worth the price of any admission.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Betty Grable's Hollywood Fan Club Newsletter

From time to time I come across an oddity that I never knew existed. While attending a local antique flea market, one of the vendors was offering a stack of fanzines titled Betty Grable's Hollywood. Further inspection provided me with the answers to the questions rummaging through my head. The club originated from the United Kingdom and for an annual subscription, four times a year, this 32 to 36 page fanzine would be mailed to the subscriber. Everything related to Betty Grable movies can be found within the pages: book reviews, biographical articles, excerpts from movie studio press books, notices of the latest VHS releases, even exclusive interviews with the actress not available elsewhere. 

I do not know many of these were printed over the years. The latest issue I have is number 33, Winter 1996/1997. The first issue was dated September 1988. Over the years there was a Betty Grable tee-shirt for sale, retrospectives on Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Carmen Miranda (all of whom worked with Grable), reprints of publicity photos with their press release, and it turns out there was also a Betty Grable convention.

Reprinted below are assorted pages from the 33 issues I have. Some of these are fascinating to read (such as a convention review). Enjoy!

Cover of the first issue of Betty Grable's Hollywood.
After half a dozen issues, the covers went to color.
Reprint of vintage advertising of Betty Grable movies.
Reprints of newspaper articles about Betty Grable.
Fan letters were reprinted in the issues.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Shadow: The "Lost" 1953 Episodes

Among the holy grails of old time radio broadcasts are the “lost” episodes of The Shadow. Despite the broadcast of more than 200 episodes by Mutual from 1950 to 1954, less than half-a-dozen exist in recorded form from this time period. The fact that many of The Shadow programs were taped for later playback and Mutual’s concern for reusing tape to save money, it remains unlikely that most of those episodes are going to be found. On October 22, 1951, Street & Smith granted permission to the Armed Forces Information and Education Division, through the Armed Forces Radio Service, for overseas broadcast of The Shadow recordings from 1951 through 1952, with the stipulation: “It is further understood that these tapes will ultimately be destroyed and the permission herewith granted is contingent upon that requirement.” Collectors today can only hope the Armed Forces did not destroy the recordings.

Charles Michelson ceased offering The Shadow to regional networks by 1948. It was Michelson who recorded every episode from September of 1937 to April 1944 for transcription, for the purpose of syndication across the country. This is the reason collectors today have many existing Shadow recordings to enjoy. Beginning with the 1944-45 season, Shadow transcriptions were not made; the network show covered so much of the nation that it was not economical to continue transcribing it for the few territories that had not yet broadcast The Shadow and could begin with the 1939-1944 transcriptions. In other words, it was a business decision on Michelson's part to stop transcribing the radio shows, believing he had plenty in quantity to serve his purpose. 

Disc label from a Michelson syndication.
By 1946 and 1947, many territories that had not heard the early episodes were being offered them, so those areas would still be introduced to new adventures — even if they were not The Shadow of 1947. These were Michelson’s final attempts to cash in on the elusive crime fighter. He would continue to market The Avenger, a syndicated transcription series that he produced and many consider a bland rip-off of The Shadow, until 1953.

For your amusement, enclosed are a number of "lost" Shadow adventures that do not exist in recorded form. The plots originate from reading the scripts housed at Syracuse University and the Library of Congress.

Recorded June 2, 1953. Broadcast June 7, 1953
Copyright Registered in U.S. Copyright Office, #DU35505, November 13, 1953.
Renewal Copyright Registration #RE97-126, July 27, 1981.
Script written by Peter Barry.
Plot: Having finished a business transaction in the Caribbean, Lamont and Margot broke the long return trip with a sightseeing stopover at the tiny palm-studded island of Opago. Madame Curlew, owner of a local hotel, plots with Timkins, the beachcomber, to skillfully murder a smuggler in possession of half a million dollars in jewels and diamonds. To cover their crime, they trick a young native named Pamka to dispose of the body and pay him in the form of a ring that supposedly summons Zanlaghora, a dwarf god who seeks murderous revenge against those who use the ring to make a death wish. Lamont quickly discovers the plot after Timkins becomes the latest victim and proves Madame Curlew hired a maniac dwarf to commit the deeds so she could have the loot for herself instead of splitting it three ways. 

Trivia, etc. This episode was a re-write of a former Shadow broadcast titled “The Ring of Mahlalaylee” (March 13, 1949). The plot and dialogue remained the same but the names of the fictional characters were changed.

Episode #624 “THE HOWLING BEAST”
Recorded June 9, 1953. Broadcast June 14, 1953
Copyright Registered in U.S. Copyright Office, #DU34627, July 2, 1953.
Renewal Copyright Registration #RE97-135, July 27, 1981.
Script written by J.G. Leighton (a pseudonym of John Cole).
Plot: The country estate of David Wakefield is as forbidding a piece of architecture as a death house. Katy, the family servant, calls on Lamont and Margot to solve a mystery that may or may not involve a bloodthirsty werewolf. When Katy is savagely murdered by what appears to be a wild animal and there are wolf tracks that appear to become human, Lamont starts to question the sanity of David Wakefield. Having recently suffered a nervous breakdown, Wakefield is going mad and suspects he has a severe case of lycanthropy. Following wolf tracks through the countryside leading to a cave, Lamont, Margot and groundskeeper Steven venture through the tunnels to find Wakefield hunched in fear. Realizing the game is up when Margot comes upon a chained wolf, Steven attempts to make her the next victim — until The Shadow arrives. Using Lamont’s revolver, Wakefield shoots Steven in anger. It seems the groundskeeper was substituting Wakefield’s sedatives with a mild narcotic that induced the mental exhaustion and wild nightmares that made Wakefield believe he was a werewolf. Between the planted bloodstains and the actual wolf under the window, Wakefield went berserk and escaped to the cave. Steven had married Edna and was hoping that he could get hold of the family fortune after Wakefield suffered a nervous breakdown.

Trivia, etc. The Street & Smith Archives in Syracuse, New York has research notes for this episode, referring to this episode under the title “Terror of the Howling Beast,” with the proposed airdate of July 19, 1953. Numerous sources verify the Archives are incorrect.

Recorded June 3, 1953. Broadcast June 21, 1953
Copyright Registered in U.S. Copyright Office, #DU34628, July 2, 1953.
Renewal Copyright Registration #RE97-134, July 27, 1981.
Script written by Judith and David Bublick.
Plot: Dr. Brenner, a power-mad scientist, is holding Valerie Hastings prisoner in order to force her father to permit the use of his sanitarium and patients for dangerous anti-radiation experiments. On the trail of the missing girl, Lamont and Margot meet Dr. Hastings, unaware that the good doctor is really Brenner in disguise. Suspecting foul play, Lamont sends Margot back to the clinic pretending she forgot her purse. When Margot discovers the real Dr. Hastings is being held prisoner, she becomes the next victim of Brenner’s experiments. His first experiment resulted in success — sort of — but the patient died. Now, he plans to succeed with Margot. The Shadow arrives, saves Margot and locks Brenner behind the iron door so Weston and his men can take charge when they arrive. Later, Lamont reveals to Margot the number of tips that led him to conclude the foul play — including Brenner’s blue eyes. Since Valerie’s mother had blue eyes and the girl was described in the police bulletin had brown eyes, he remembered that two blue-eyed parents couldn’t produce a brown-eyed child. Thus, Brenner was discovered as an imposter.

Photo and press release. (Courtesy of Rick Payne.)
Episode #626 “POLICY OF DEATH”
Broadcast June 28, 1953
Copyright Registered in U.S. Copyright Office, #DU34629, July 2, 1953.
Renewal Copyright Registration #RE97-133, July 27, 1981.
Script written by Max Ehrlich.
Plot: Jonathan Drexel knows all the tricks for collecting insurance claims and death benefits. He operates a shady business in which he loans out large sums of money to clients in need on the condition that, as beneficiary of their life insurance policy, he receives a larger payoff one year from the day of advance. Using strong-arms named Brady and Keeler, he succeeds by creating “accidents” that result in his success. Ellen Wilson needs money to fund her husband’s recovery in a sanitarium, but she deliberately avoids her good friend, Margot. Lamont investigates and discovers the plot. Discovering that today is the one-year anniversary of the loan and Ellen is about to become a victim of the scheme by having poison forced down her throat, The Shadow interferes. Drexel fires his gun at the voice of The Shadow and misses, discovering that he cannot hide from the long arm of justice. 

Blooper! Assuming the actors delivered their lines verbatim, Mrs. Collins, the secretary working for Drexel, refers to Edward Malloy as Fred Malloy.

Trivia, etc. This episode was a rewrite of a former Shadow broadcast titled “Death Pays the Premiums” (October 8, 1944). The plot and dialogue remained the same but the names of the fictional characters were changed.

Broadcast July 5, 1953
Copyright Registered in U.S. Copyright Office, #DU34800, August 24, 1953.
Renewal Copyright Registration #RE97-132, July 27, 1981.
Script written by Judith and David Bublick.
Plot: The body of a redheaded girl, Cora Denby, is found in the car of Roger Fleming, a victim of an artificially induced amnesia. When Lamont and the police leave Alfred Miller, the half-crazed chemist who identifies Fleming by name, alone with Fleming for a few moments, Miller seizes the opportunity to give the suspect another shot of the amnesia serum he has developed. Discovering a red welt on Fleming’s arm, Lamont suspects foul play and, with the assistance of Margot, sets a trap for Miller. Caught red-handed with the needle and serum, Miller attempts to evade the law and The Shadow by using the hypodermic needle as a weapon to kill the sleeping Fleming. 

Trivia, etc. The announcer opens the episode referring to the title as “One Shoe Off” but the title on the script cover is “One Shoe Off or The Case of the Red-Headed Corpse.” Nick Carter usually opened with two separate titles in the same manner, and further research verifies this episode was a re-write of the former Nick Carter broadcast of January 15, 1950 titled, “The Case of the Forgotten Murder.” 

Sylvania was one of the last sponsors.
Recorded July 7, 1953. Broadcast July 12, 1953
Copyright Registered in U.S. Copyright Office, #DU34801, August 24, 1953.
Renewal Copyright Registration #RE97-131, July 27, 1981.
Script written by Max Ehrlich.
Plot: A notorious gangster known as the Ace of Spades has recruited a number of thieves named after playing cards to commit daring acts of robberies across town. The Ace of Spades has a macabre sense of humor, leaving a playing card at each scene and on each victim — including dead police officers. While Margot spends time with an old college friend named Rita Curtis, Lamont uses his deduction skills to discover the identity of The Ace — Frank Wakefield of the Equity Underwriters. While Wakefield’s insurance company is being depleted of funds and offers a reward for the apprehension of the killers dead or alive, he has been using his access to the files to gain intimate knowledge of every job planned. The Shadow tricks Wakefield into revealing his scheme and emptying his gun — making it convenient for the arriving police to make an arrest. Rita is arrested too, for helping Wakefield as the Queen of Hearts.

Trivia, etc. This episode was a rewrite of a former Shadow broadcast titled “The Red Domino” (January 23, 1944). The plot and dialogue remained the same but the names of the fictional characters were changed.

Recorded July 14, 1953. Broadcast July 19, 1953
Trivia, etc. Oddly, notes found in the Street & Smith archives state this episode was recorded but never broadcast. Yet, half of this episode is known to exist in recorded form. Obviously, it was recorded on July 14. It is still questionable whether this episode aired on July 19. Perhaps a last-minute, unscheduled pre-emption?
(I am not featuring the plot since half the recording is available in collector hands.)

Episode #630 “THREE MUST DIE”
Recorded July 21, 1953. Broadcast July 26, 1953
Copyright Registered in U.S. Copyright Office, #DU34803, August 24, 1953.
Renewal Copyright Registration #RE97-129, July 27, 1981.
Script written by Judith and David Bublick.
Plot: On a hot, sultry night in August, while taking a drive in the countryside, Lamont and Margot witness someone trapped in a locked car that has caught on fire. A piece of paper found at the scene of the crime reads, “Three must die slowly, in pain and agony, each by his own hand.” Stranded with no gasoline for their car, the two detectives find themselves taking refuge in a rooming house on the edge of Lookout Cliff. In the morning, Commissioner Weston rules the death as an auto accident but Lamont suspects murder and hangs around long enough to witness another murder. The dead man’s daughter, Rosemary, dies in another auto accident. To prevent a third murder, The Shadow questions Jeff Davenport, the proprietor of the rooming house. It doesn’t take long for Lamont to figure out the motive and method behind the crimes, and Jeff faces justice at the hand of his own weapon.

Information provided in this blog post originates from The Shadow: The History and Mystery of the Radio Program, 1930-1954, by Martin Grams. Reprinted with permission from the author and the publisher. For more information, visit

Friday, November 13, 2015

Beware of Wally the Spook

Wally the Spook, often mistaken as The Shadow.
Wally the Spook, sometimes referred to simply as "The Spook," or "Sneaky Pete," was an official logo of the Army Security Agency personnel in Korea during the fifties and sixties. The logo, a cloaked figure holding a small dagger in hand, was featured on Army patches, lighters and pins. Now a collectible item, fully documented on numerous websites including, continues to be mass produced and sold for as little as $8.00 a pair. 

During the 1990s, this same crime-fighter pin was mistaken as "The Shadow," a fictional crime fighter best remembered in comic books, pulp magazines, dime novels and radio programs. The story floating about is that the pin was produced and distributed to members of the production crew of The Shadow radio program, either during the Orson Welles run or the first year of Bill Johnstone (circa 1937 to 1940). I know of at least one collector who purchased such a pin over a decade ago, under the auspice of what he was told. He bought the back story believing it was legit. It was not until a decade later that he discovered the pin was in no way resembling the image of The Shadow... nor did it have anything to do with the radio program. Regrettably, in need of extra cash, he sold the pin to an auction house, who in turn agreed the item was in fact a rare radio premium.

This past week a friend of mine in New York City phoned and asked me if I knew anything about The Shadow pin presently being offered on Hake's Auctions. (This particular auction can be found here: He placed the minimum bid of $200 and was hoping for the best. My friend explained that he read my book on The Shadow from cover to cover and could not recall any mention of a Shadow pin. I confessed this was new to me and quickly sent an e-mail to another friend to see if they knew anything about the mysterious auction item. Lo and behold, they told me about their purchase experience and sale to an auction house (as described above). 

The real Shadow from the pulp magazines.
"This pin is just another fiasco I've had to deal with The Shadow," he explained to me. "I'm not blaming you, but am glad that you brought this to my attention. I'm just thoroughly disgusted. I bought that pin and then resold it in earnest that is was the real thing. But now, it's a moot point for me. However, [as researchers] it is our job to alert others of possible deception."

Hake's was offering a Wally the Spook pin with an item description providing the legend and lore of an old-time radio premium. In defense of the auction house, the staff tries their best to be as accurate and honest as possible when describing the items for sale through their website. No one is an authority on every facet of pop culture and sometimes the auction house has to go by the information provided to them by the consigner. As for my friend in New York who placed the bid of $200, he wasn't happy when I reported back with the news that the item had nothing to do with The Shadow. In fact, I suggested he visit google and type "Wally the Spook" and he would find all the evidence he needed. Regrettably, he was unable to find any option on the computer screen for canceling a bid on the website but a phone call to Hake's prompted the operator -- without any hesitation -- to cancel the bid for him.

Not The Shadow.
Sadly, that same friend in New York City had spent more than $300 for a figurine described on a past auction as The Shadow and this too, was not accurate. offers the serious collector an opportunity to know the facts, as evident here:  But this is only one case where the old adage applies: "Buyer beware." Do your research before bidding and buying on an item. 

The words "prototype," "file copy" and "concept art" are terms that should trigger high skepticism. Silly tales of cast gifts are embraced without any logic -- just imagine how expensive it would have been to design and produce a figural enameled pin for something like 20 people.The problem is in the willingness of collectors to embrace the most egregious tales of provenance and authenticity. Most auction houses are ignorant of radio history and with good reason. The internet is swamped with loads of these stories, "assumptions" based on a review of the item, and very few published reference guides to consult. This forces the auction house to accept what information is provided to them from the consignors. Auction houses would be out of business if they built a reputation for mis-representing collectible merchandise, time and time again. As my friend in New York likes to joke, when questioning why an auction house misrepresents an item description, "They like to sell stuff." This is a catch phrase used to describe two particular auction houses that have, from time to time, avoided making the necessary corrections or revisions to an item description once the corrected info is provided. An auction house is not at fault when they apply their best efforts to be accurate in the item description -- their honesty and integrity is verified based on the adjustment they make following a notification that the information is inaccurate. Failure to make such changes gives cause for the serious collector to seek out other auction houses for rare collectibles. 

Remember that when you buy an item off the internet, you are buying blind. Make sure to use a credit card or Paypal to make your purchase so if you are forced to return the item, you get your money back. The worst an auction house can do is kick you off their site and all things considered -- that is the last thing they want to do. But also remember it is the same as buying an item at a flea market -- many terms as "all sales final." For on-line auction houses, including eBay, be sure to review their terms and conditions.

Heritage Auctions, among their Terms and Conditions, indicates clearly that employees of the auction house can place bids on an item they are selling to force the final selling price to go higher. A number of collectors avoid this website -- regardless of the items they offer for sale -- because of this stipulation. See clause 21 here in their Terms and Conditions:

Recent eBay item for radio's The Big Show.

Funny closing story: Two months ago I noticed an item on eBay advertised as "TALLULAH BANKHEAD 1950 SIGNED CONTRACT AUTOGRAPH 'BATMAN' BLACK WIDOW." I took a close look at the photo image and it was clearly signed in 1950 by Charles Barry, a veepee at NBC. I suspected it was a contract for Bankhead's radio career on The Big Show, which ran from 1950 to 1952. Batman ran on ABC and her appearance was not until the mid-sixties. I e-mailed the seller asking for verification and he assured me she was Black Widow on Batman. (He didn't answer my question but instead was being vague and trying to tell me what he thought I wanted to hear.) I sent a second question, asking point blank if it was for The Big Show or for something else Batman related. Again, his response was generic: "The autograph is authentic and original." I leaned my head back for a moment, closed my eyes, and then sent him the following response. "Okay, bud, Charles Barry was NBC, not ABC. Batman began in 1966, not 1950. If the signed document is complete, with all 14 pages, and is indeed for The Big Show stated clearly in the contract, I will not hassle over the $149 asking price and I will buy it. But I don't give a hill of beans about Batman and have no interest in buying anything related to Batman." This time he confessed he had all 14 pages and yes, it was for The Big Show. I bought the contract and paid his price. (For anyone wanting to know how they can read all 14 pages of the contract, every page has since been scanned digital and will be reprinted, all 14 pages, in the back of my soon-to-be-published book about The Big Show.) Moral to the story? The seller could not sell the contract when misrepresenting the item but he did make a fantastic sale when he was honest.