Friday, July 29, 2016

A Recent Visit to the Ohio Theatre

Fun trivia. When people went to see Gone with the Wind in 1939 and 1940, movie theatres were practically selling tickets six months in advance. That meant if you missed the screening, you had to buy new tickets and wait another six months. Yes, David O. Selznick did make a ton of money off that picture... But with today's cinema complexes offering 20 plus screens, IMAX, 3-D and digital projection, it boggles the mind that few today can picture what it was like to visit a movie palace from the by-gone era. 

Inside the lobby of the Ohio Theatre.
Sadly, movie palaces of the past are becoming a dying breed, threatened with demolition. Real estate developers knock 'em down and establish condominiums, apartment complexes and storefronts. Which is why I took advantage of the opportunity to visit the Ohio Theatre and attend a screening of Giant (1956) starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. An epic worthy of viewing for sure but epics rarely spark my interest because of their lengthy running time. And as I get older I find my appreciation for a motion-picture extends to the capacity of the human bladder. Watching an epic at home is rare because I can think of better things to do in those four hours. But while attending a convention in Columbus, Ohio, and learning the theatre was merely ten blocks from the convention center, I decided to spend my evening watching Giant, which I never saw before. It was an enjoyable epic and James Dean was surely one of the best actors of 1956. 

The manager of the Ohio Theatre gave me (and a friend of mine) a brief tour of the facility, explaining how everything remained intact as it was when the building was constructed and opened for business in 1928. There was a 21-foot high chandelier, 2,791 seating capacity and an organ that rose from the stage before the movie started. The only thing that was not original, I was informed, was the carpet. Every ten years new carpet is purchased and replaced. The pattern is cut from the existing carpet and replicated at a factory to ensure the same pattern could be evident on the new carpet.

Legendary vaudevillians performed on stage there including Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Martha Raye, Kate Smith, Ray Bolger, Ginger Rogers and many others.

Here, an organist rose from below the stage to devote the first 20 minutes playing classic melodies before the picture began. Giant was projected on the big screen through 35mm and not digital, providing an experience that I often describe as "the feel of film." Intermission consisted of more organ music with music appropriate for the subject matter of the movie. 

Tickets were $4.00 per person and most of the candy and soda pop sold for $2.00. The volunteer staff was very friendly and it was evident that everyone wore evening dinner attire. When I verified that the money raised from the sale of concessions went to the preservation of the theatre, I handed them a $20 and walked away with a soda and two packages of candy. I told them to keep the difference.

The Ohio Theatre thrived as a movie house until the suburban sprawl of the 1960s drew traffic out of downtown Columbus. Like many other grand theatres of the past, the Ohio was headed for demolition. In 1969, the citizens of central Ohio mounted a "Save the Ohio" campaign, raising over $2 million in less than a year in an unprecedented effort. The newly-formed Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA) subsequently purchased and renovated the Ohio Theatre, which now puts on an annual summer movie program usually consisting of double features. Any film older than 25 years is considered a classic and screened -- from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) to The Princess Bride (1987).

And to think some people prefer strip malls here?

And you would think there was a way to keep other historic movie palaces from suffering the ill effects of adaptive reuse, through some form of preservation beyond photographic memories. Thankfully, there is.  

The Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) is a national non-profit membership organization founded in 1969, which is devoted primarily in the history of theatre buildings. It exists to encourage and ensure the acquisition, preservation and publication of historic photographs, documents, artifacts and other information and material related to American theatre architecture and history, and to encourage the preservation and use of historic American theatres. THS maintains the American Theatre Architecture Archives and the American Movie Palace Museum.

The American Museum Palace Museum and National Headquarters are located on the 2nd floor of the renovated York Theatre in Elmhurst, Illinois. It showcases artifacts, posters, programs, seats, blueprints and photographs from the great movie palaces built all over the United States in the 1920s. The Museum is open to the public free of charge (donations accepted). Small group tours (up to 15 people) are welcome by prior appointment. HOURS: Tuesday - Friday: 9 am - 4 pm. 3rd Saturdays: 9:30 am - 1:30 pm (Call to confirm 3rd Saturdays).

The centerpiece of the Museum is a finely-detailed, large scale-model of Chicago's 1927 Avalon Theatre, complete with bubbling fountains and flying doves! This authentic replica of the atmospheric "Persian Palace" theatre was built over a period of three years by Frank Cronican, a New York designer of television stage sets, and is accurate down to the WurliTzer organ console. Following his death, it was donated to THSA. A large-screen television now graces its "stage" and visitors to the Museum can view videos from the THSA collection in a real "movie palace" setting, albeit a scale model! One featured video is “The Movie Palaces” which is a 30 minute film produced by the Smithsonian Institution that tells the story of our nation’s greatest movie theatres.
The Marquee Exhibit (Interactive) is a huge photo blowup of the Paradise Theatre from Chicago, and has a magnetic marquee. Letters, symbols and numbers are on hand for you to spell out words and phrases on the marquee. Give it a try and you see your name "in lights"!
The American Theatre Architecture Archives, also in the York Theatre, is dedicated to preserving the architectural, cultural and social history of America's theatres. It contains information on more than 15,000 theatres, primarily in the United States. Every period and style of theatre architecture is represented: 19th century opera houses, nickelodeons, vaudeville houses, small town and neighborhood theatres, open-air theatres, drive-ins, and movie palaces. 

The Archives’ holdings consist of photographs, negatives, slides, postcards, artist’s renderings, scrapbooks, books, periodicals, business records, blueprints and architectural drawings, supplier and trade catalogues, architectural artifacts, theatre furnishings, ushers' uniforms, and numerous other items relating to theatre buildings and their history. Talk about comprehensive!

Scholars looking into the possibility of doing research about a specific theatre might find this place of extreme value. Research can be done on-site or by the THS staff. A preliminary search has a small fee for each theatre or topic requested. Further research is done at an hourly rate. This is not uncommon considering the fact that most libraries offer the same service for an hourly fee. On-site research is by appointment only. Other costs may apply for photo prints, scanning, licenses to use, display, or publishing images (including web posting), etc. If you wish to conduct research, please contact the Archive Director, Kathy McLeister at (630) 782-1800 or e-mail her at

The Ohio Theatre 30 minutes before showtime.
Among the major collections are the Theatre Files, approximately 450 linear feet containing paper-borne materials. This includes advertising, newspaper clippings, magazines, corporate documents, and representative samples of stage bills and playbills. These are organized geographically by state-city-theatre. In addition, there are materials in the Subject Files, including theatre architects, scenery, seating, theatre chains and other allied topics. THS also keeps a Reference Library which contains more than 800 books.
The THS Negative Collection and Slide Collection includes more than 6,000 negatives and 10,000 slides. The negatives are primarily 4”x5” and 35mm, but contain some odd size and oversize negatives. The slides are primarily 35mm, but contain some other sizes.

The Chicago Architectural Photographing Company Collection includes photographic images taken by the firm for architects and builders. The collection includes approximately 1,400 negatives of 250 theatres mainly in the Midwest. The negatives are 8x10 glass plate negatives, 8x10 film negatives, and 4x5 copy negatives. 

The Michael Miller Collection includes 35mm slides, 3.5x5” photographs, 35mm negatives, and a card catalog index of New York City theatres. The slides and photographs cover the United States, but are primarily New York City and the surrounding area.

The Terry Helgesen Collection consists of 26 scrapbooks (some with 600 pages) with over 2,000 photographic images of theatres across the country, mostly 1920s and 1930s era, with his index and notes. Terry Helgesen amassed his collection while traveling on the vaudeville circuit as a pianist.
As a researcher of old-time radio broadcasts, it comes as no surprise that a number of radio programs such as The Lux Radio Theatre originated from theatres and movie houses that could support a large crowd wanting to watch the performances. Some programs like The Cavalcade of America and Duffy's Tavern performed on stage on occasion, offering the general public a rare opportunity to watch their favorite radio celebrities in action. Cannot find information about the theater and the time period those broadcasts originated? This is the place to visit. 

The best part of about this Society is that you can become a member! THS publishes a quarterly journal called Marquee®, and a special Annual publication on a specific theatre or topic, and a quarterly Newsletter with current THS and theatre news. I love this magazine because it features extensive articles about various theaters across the country, the people who kept them running, and superb photos that makes you wish you had Professor Peabody's Wayback Machine.

The Rivoli Theatre in Pendleton, Oregon

Every summer, THS has an annual Conclave/Theatre Tour which brings together THS members from around the world to visit a different city every year to tour theatre buildings. During the Conclave, THS tours theatres from “basement to booth,” enjoys a banquet, a silent auction, and the company of like-minded people.  
York Theatre Building
152 N. York St, 2nd Floor
Elmhurst, IL 60126
Telephone: (630) 782-1800
Richard Sklenar, Executive Director
Information on becoming a member of THS is available at its web site,

The Theatre Historical Society is also available on Facebook!  

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Shadow of Fu Manchu Radio Program

“The chimes of old Big Ben, London’s historic clock, ring out.  A sharp rap on a door is heard.  The door creaks and warns of a stealthy entrance.  A girl gasps and piercingly screams.  A shot is fired.  The Yellow Peril Incarnate laughs terrifyingly and sends shivers through millions of listeners from coast to coast.  Dr. Fu Manchu, Mastermind of Crime, is on the air!” 

Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu (a great movie, I might add)

Fu Manchu was created by Sax Rohmer in the novel The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu (1913). This was the first of a series of extreme racial stereotype of “Yellow Peril” sub-genre and Fu-Manchu was the most popular character to come from it. Often imitated, this series of adventures never made it to the top of the popularity charts, but today, fans of Fu Manchu can never get enough of him. Like The Saint novels, they are enjoyable reads and offer escapism in the blood 'n' thunder mold. Fu Manchu's exploits were many, but documentation about the radio series has been cursory at best. Fu Manchu has been brought to radio in a number of incarnations.

Version #1 
The first was The Collier Hour, broadcast over the NBC Blue Network starting in 1927. Designed to boost magazine circulations, this hour-long program was divided into segments, each dramatizing a story or serial installment from the current issue of Collier’s. The segments were introduced by a host called The Editor, portrayed through the years by John B. Kennedy, Phil Barrison, and Jack Arthur. Malcolm LaPrade created and produced the series; his brother Ernest LaPrade supplied the music scores. Directed by Colonel Davis, this series was a mere amateur performance, with music and sound effects improvised during rehearsals. Three separate serials were dramatized, based on those that appeared in Collier’s
“The Day the World Ended” (12 installments, May 1, 1929 to July 17, 1929) 
“Daughter of Fu Manchu” (12 installments, March 9, 1930 to May 25, 1930) 
“Yu’an Hee See Laughs” (12 installments, March 1, 1931 to May 17, 1931) 
Arthur Hughes played the role of Fu Manchu (and also doubled as host “The Editor” for a majority of these broadcasts). For the first year, The Collier Hour was broadcast on Wednesday evenings preceding publication of the magazine. Beginning in 1928, the program was broadcast on Sunday evenings following publication. According to the files at NBC, Sax Rohmer appeared in person on the broadcast of March 1, 1931, for the premiere broadcast of “Yu’an Hee See Laughs.” It’s been suggested that “The Emperor of America” was another 12-chapter serial, broadcast circa 1927-28, but no information has been found to confirm it. The Collier Hour originated from New York radio stations and was heard only on the East Coast. Luckless listeners on the West Coast never had a chance to hear the first radio adventures of Fu Manchu. 
It should also be noted that the first three Fu Manchu novels written by Sax Rohmer, were actually compilations of twenty-nine short stories that Rohmer wrote for Collier’s  magazine. 
Version #2 
By far the most ambitious Rohmer adaptation was the second of the four series, this time recorded in the WBBM studios, and broadcast over the CBS Chicago affiliate, WGN. On Thursday, September 15, 1932, Sax Rohmer and his wife Elizabeth sailed from Southampton, bound for the Big Apple. On Wednesday, September 21, the White Star line Majestic arrived in New York port. Mr. and Mrs. Rohmer stayed at the Ritz for a few days, and went sightseeing till Sunday the 25th, when Rohmer made one of his rare radio appearances for a fifteen-minute interview with CBS writer Steve Trumbull. The purpose of the interview was to publicize the new radio series, again heard only on the East Coast. Within weeks, the program brought hundreds of positive letters to CBS, and a nationwide hookup was established so that certain stations on the West Coast could carry the program. 
“I am deeply interested in radio and the dramatic technique,” Rohmer commented, “which has been enormously developed on your [the American] side.” Rohmer claimed crime was on the increase in England and attributed it largely to the influence of American crime (courtesy of newspapers and motion pictures) and the fact that some American criminals had transferred their activity to London. He believed that Scotland Yard was capable enough when dealing with ordinary crimes, but frequently ineffective when faced with organized gangs. 
On Monday, September 26, Fu Manchu Mysteries premiered on CBS radio, nationwide. Instead of a serial, the show presented a single 30-minute adventure. The opening episode, an adaptation of Rohmer’s "The Zyatt Kiss," varied slightly from the rest of the series, the drama lasting only 20 minutes instead of the customary 25. Introductory remarks and commercial credits usually took up the remaining five minutes, but the premiere instead featured a talk by Sax Rohmer.(Sadly, both this series with John C. Daly and The Collier Hour are not known to exist in recorded form.)
Unlike the other Fu Manchu series, this one went all out for preparation and performances. The actors had to dress in full costume, and instead of the performance being acted out in a small sound studio, it was performed on stage before a live audience, recorded, and later broadcast via transcription disc. "Sound effects were as authentic as possible," according to a press release. The solemn note of Big Ben and the background traffic noises of the Thames embankment were as true as could be, since they were actual recordings specially made and imported from England. G. Fred Ibbett, director of radio for the McCann-Erickson Company, and in charge of the production, would have nothing but exact sound effects. He knew his native London, having been an engineer for the BBC previous to his service with NBC and CBS. When Nate Caldwell, with an option on the radio rights to Rohmer’s mystery in his pocket, convinced Mr. Ibbett that Fu Manchu was a natural, the radio director readily agreed. Ibbett convinced the Campana Company to sponsor the dramas, and began a diligent search for the right actors and actresses to make Rohmer’s characters spring realistically to life. 

Movie poster from 1932
Most of the characters were British, with a wide variety of types required, and the problem of finding them in Chicago was a hard one to solve. “From all corners of the world (if you can believe a 1932 CBS press release), even far off china itself, the cast was drawn.” John C. Daly (as Dr. Fu Manchu) spoke French, Chinese, Arabian, and Hindustani. (Note: This was fairly common for many radio actors, as Virginia Gregg, during the forties and fifties, doubled as old English ladies and young Chinese women in many radio westerns.) Charles Warburton, one of the first to bring Shakespeare to radio (as Shylock), would play the role of Nayland Smith, the Devil Doctor’s nemesis. A few years later, Warburton returned to the New York radio studios to star in 35 big dramatic programs, among them Eno Crime ClubSherlock Holmes and K-7: Secret Service Spy Story.*                            
* (footnote) Oddly enough, although Warburton was signed to play roles in these shows, one Sherlock Holmes radio expert insists that Warburton did not act in any Holmes radio plays, but with so many radio incarnations of the Holmes character, and so little recordings existing in recorded form (compared to the thousands broadcast), it still remains a possibility that Warburton did play the role. 
Bob White, who played Smith’s “Watson,” Dr. Petrie, was born in England and experienced on the stage. Betty, his wife, was an experienced radio actress specializing in juvenile parts, and took an un-billed role in a couple of the Fu Manchu episodes. When not excelling as Petrie, White headed his own successful radio-producing company.
Many hours were spent daily during the week preceding the Monday night broadcast, which took but 30 minutes air time. There was no music for the production. Ibbett explained that “The chance of irritating the listener, instead of creating a mood fitting the play, is too great. I prefer to omit music which might distract from the setting.” The actors performed their roles in costume, so that fans could attend the stage performances and be thrilled by the spectacle of the Oriental settings. During the early productions, Ibbett drafted plans for the scenery and lighting effects, for the purpose of allowing the audience attending the “horror chambers” of the criminal mastermind. 
Part way through the series, John C. Daly, (not, by the way, the John Charles Daly of television’s What's My Line? fame) was replaced by Harold Huber, and Sundra Love were replaced by Charles Manson. In the thirties, Huber became a popular character player for Warner Bros., as well as a radio actor. He is known to Charlie Chan fans for playing police inspectors of various nationalities in the 20th Century Fox Chan film series. Huber also wrote radio scripts for Suspense in 1943 and 1944. Sponsored by Campana Balm. Helen Earle and Urban Johnson supplied the sound effects. 
Fu Manchu Mysteries ran for a total of 31 half-hour programs, heard Monday evenings at 8:45 p.m.  It lasted until April 24, 1933. 
Version #3 
During the thirties, the pirate commercial radio programs transmitted from the European continent had vast English audiences. By law, the British Broadcasting Corporation had a complete monopoly on radio transmission within Britain, and was charged by its license holders, and by the British Parliament, with the task of providing radio entertainment for all tastes. Commercial radio, banned in Britain and able to operate only from transmitters on the Continent, capitalized on this situation. With the financial backing of sponsors such as Ponds, Colgate-Palmolive, and other large firms, the pirate stations attracted quality writers and performers to provide showcases for their talents, which the BBC could not match. From the inception of their transmissions until they were closed down in the late thirties, the pirate IBC stations in Luxembourg, Normandy, Lyons and Toulouse offered a continuous flow of high-quality entertainment. In 1936, Radio Luxembourg decided to feature a series of mystery adventures built around a single character. This series would originally be written and supervised by Sax Rohmer himself. 
“Sax himself wrote the scripts during the first half of the series,” Rohmer biographer Cay Van Ash recalled. “When the series continued beyond his original expectations, he found it too great an imposition on his time. He continued to write some of the scripts, but others were written either by Elizabeth or myself. I came in on only the last six months or so of the project. I had first met Sax in November 1935, and he had had my education in hand for just over a year. Whether the draft scripts were written by Elizabeth or by me, they were carefully edited afterwards by Sax, for which reason I described the series in Master of Villainy as the most faithful version broadcast. The adaptation was not a very difficult job.  I don’t recall that any particular selection of episodes was made. As I remember it, we just went straight through the books in their natural sequence. The dialogue did not require changing very much. On the other hand, we did our utmost to avoid narration and to translate action directly into dialogue or sound. This often required additional material, and I think we also used a great many more sound effects than there were in the American Shadow of Fu Manchu radio series.” 
Frank Cochrane, who played the Luxembourg-broadcast Fu Manchu, was a distinguished stage actor and eminently suited to play the part. He had lived for many years in China, studying the native habits and mental makeup. He had also played numerous Chinese roles on the stage. (Cochrane had won acclaim for the part of The Cobbler in the long-running show, Chu-Chin-Chow.) 
“Fu Manchu,” Cochrane said in a 1937 interview, “has a definite personality and a definite purpose. He is a keen wit and possesses a quick Oriental brain. He is a demon for power and wants to mold the world to his way of direction and thinking. The adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu are full of unlikely happenings, which have been so well treated that they convince the listener as being highly probable. Before settling down to listen, I suggest you turn out the lights in the room the moment you hear the gong, and take your mind into serious channels. This will help you enormously to catch the illusion.” 
All of the IBC recordings were produced in London. There were no live broadcasts. It’s believed that Rohmer and the crew recorded the shows at a disused theater. The leading light in the operation was producer Eddie Pola, who also took part as an actor in some episodes. There was actually a plan to follow up the 52 Fu Manchu broadcasts with a series adapted from Rohmer’s The Quest of the Sacred Slipper (1919), Cay Van Ash distinctly remembering having written the first two episodes. However, the BBC exerted legal pressure to close down the rival operation, and thus ended the Fu Manchu broadcasts.
D.A. Clarke-Smith, a well-known stage actor who had appeared in Rohmer’s stage plays The Eye of Siva and Secret Egypt, played the role of Nayland Smith. “I’m getting hardened to it now, but the nerve strain is still almost unbelievable,” commented Clarke-Smith, as the atmosphere in the studio grew more intense with each passing moment. “I have to talk so fast, six or seven prop men are grouped round another mike, to provide the dramatic effects. And, when I’m supposed to be swimming for my life in a swirling river, I have to try to forget that at the other mike a man is vigorously shaking a half-filled hot-water bottle.” 
The program’s producer, swift-thinking Eddie Pola, rehearsed three radio installments in the space of two hours. “Funniest thing, rehearsing one dramatic scene,” recalled Eddie, “was when we came to the line, ‘Shoot the man at the window.’ The effects man fired the gun, but it just didn’t go off. Again we repeated, ‘Shoot the man at the window.’ Again the gun refused to function. We tried again. ‘Shoot the man at the window!’ But still the gun was silent. ‘Oh, cut his throat,’ I said. And at that moment, the gun went off and nearly blew me out of my skin!” 
“There is only one female role in Dr. Fu Manchu,” Frank Cochrane said. “This is the part of the heroine. The girl who takes this character, Karameneh, is Rani Walker. She’s brilliant! There is a good cast in these programs, all exceptionally good actors, and with Rani in the only female role – who, as I have said, is excellent. It is a well-balanced cast.” 
The supporting cast who performed the incidental character parts included Arthur Young, Mervyn Johns (father of actress Glynis Johns), and Vernon Kelso. As was common in radio drama, the actors often took several parts in the same episode and program, and sometimes switched roles whenever necessary. For example, in episode 43, Arthur Young portrayed Dr. Fu Manchu, Inspector Weymouth, and Sir Frank Narcombe, while Vernon Kelso took on three other parts. 
With the completion of the Fu Manchu series, Cochrane and Clarke-Smith were rated such a successful team that they were featured in another long-running series of radio plays, this time concerning Inspector Brooks of Scotland Yard. Clarke-Smith played the Inspector, while Cochrane played the – perhaps inevitably – Chinese villain, La Sante. 
Version #4
In 1939, a lengthier Fu Manchu program was produced, probably the most popular of them all because so many episodes exist in collector circles. This was a series of 156, fifteen-minute episodes, under the overall title of The Shadow of Fu Manchu. The series was recorded, transcribed, and released through Fields Brothers in Hollywood. After the recordings were completed, all 156 episodes were pressed and copied onto transcription discs, and distributed to radio stations across the country. This allowed the stations to play the episodes in any time slot they wanted. Some presented the series on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while others broadcast on all five weekdays. 
Ted Osborne played Dr. Fu Manchu, with Hanley Stafford as Nayland Smith, Gale Gordon as Dr. James Petrie, Paula Winslowe as Karameneh, and Edmund O’Brien as Inspector Rymer. It has not been confirmed whether O’Brien or Gerald Mohr was the announcer. (It was common for radio announcers to double in an acting role, which would give credence to the claim that it was O’Brien, but until someone turns up a recorded interview with either actor providing that information, or can find the original scripts with cast credits included, neither name should be taken as the gospel.) It should also be added that a lot of people would swear O'Brien was the announcer, others swear it is Mohr. Without archival documents to prove who it is, the announcer still remains a mystery. Frank Nelson and Norman Fields played supporting roles. 
Sample of Archival Documents as described above.
40 episodes from The Shadow of Fu Manchu have definitely been floating about in circulation among collectors for decades, 39 of them were from the first serial. The single out-of-sequence episode that has been in circulation was not (as many people have assumed), episode number forty.  In fact, from observation, and narrowing down possibilities (and applying a little common sense), I suspect that the out-of-sequence episode many people label as episode #40 is either episode #136, 137, 138, 139, 140 or 141. 
The adaptations was quite faithful to the original books, though in the middle of the series the episodes occur in somewhat jumbled order.  From what is known so far: 
Episodes #1 to #21, for example, is an adaptation from The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu (1913) 
Episodes #22 to #27 from The Hand of Fu Manchu (1917) 
Episodes #28 to #39 from The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1916) 
Episodes #40 to #78 from Trail of Fu Manchu (1934) and President of Fu Manchu (1936) 
Episodes #79 to #94 from Daughter of Fu Manchu (1931) 
Episodes #99 to #117 from Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) 
Episodes #118 to #135 from Drums of Fu Manchu (1939) 
Episodes #142 to 156 from Bride  of Fu Manchu (1933) 

Many sources wrongly list the 1939-40 Fu Manchu series as a 77 or 78 episode broadcast run. Truth is that 156 were actually recorded and aired. Four separate serials were recorded, each 39 episodes in length, each composed of more than one Sax Rohmer story. Each serial ran 39 consecutive installments. It’s been rumored for the past decade that selected discs from the other three serials, episodes #40 to #156, are in existence, but not yet released in circulation, being held on to by a profiteering collector in Niles, Ohio. In 2001, I personally tracked down and made contact with the collector, who verified over the phone that he had come across a huge stack of 16-inch transcription discs and, among them, were many of the episodes from the third and fourth serials of The Shadow of Fu Manchu. Neither             serial is complete. Sixteen of the thirty-nine episodes are missing from the third serial, and fifteen of the thirty-nine episodes from the fourth and last serial, which means there are still more to be discovered elsewhere.

There were a number of collector items produced to promote this series. The photo above is a 1.25" button featuring the character of Fu Manchu, created by Sax Rohmer. The button was a premium designed to promote the 1939 thrice-weekly broadcast based on Rohmer’s novels. Gale Gordon was Dr. James Petrie and Bruno Lang was Fu Manchu. Three years earlier they were, respectively, radio’s Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless. According to one price guide, the price varies from $75 to $200, depending on the condition.
For more information about this particular series, check out Ray Stanich's write-up of "Radio Fu Manchu" in  The Rohmer Review, issue 12. This out-of-print fanzine is available through major book outlets and collectors.
Version #5 
The fourth and final Fu Manchu broadcast was a one-time presentation. The Molle Mystery Theatre was an anthology series, aired over a decade under different titles. The program featured the best in mystery and detective stories, all adaptations of short stories, stage plays and novels by such stalwarts as Raymond Chandler, Jack London, W.W. Jacobs, Rufus King, and Craig Rice. On the evening of Tuesday, October 3, 1944, from 9 to 9:30 p.m., EST, the 1913 novel, The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu,  was dramatized and originated from NBC studios in New York. The program was narrated by Roc Rogers and selected by Geoffrey Barnes (the on-the-air pseudonym of Bernard Lenrow, who had recently played Doc Savage, Man of Bronze, in a series that ended in June of 1943). Jack Miller supplied the music.  
Newspapers of the times reported The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu planned for broadcast on August 22, 1944, but it's a known fact that newspapers only listed what was "planned" and not verified as broadcast. No true researcher uses newspapers as a means of compiling broadcast logs (I have yet to meet a college professor or university scholar or published author who claims they uses newspapers as a source for logs), and verifying both the NBC files and the actual scripts as they were registered for copyrighted at the Library of Congress proves that "The Case of the Talking Pills" was broadcast on August 22, and the Fu Manchu story was truly broadcast on October 3. 
Version #??
According to Gordon Payton (a.k.a. “The Sci-Fi Guy”), in 1945, Sax Rohmer wrote a series of eight radio plays for the BBC. Fu Manchu was a bit too politically incorrect for the BBC, in light of England’s large Asian population, and they liked to avoid criticism from any quarter, so Sax created for them a character named Sumuru, who, in effect, was a female Fu Manchu. Described as “a glamorous witch of totally untraceable nationality, heading an international crime organization which employed strange and bizarre devices.” This series aired from December 30, 1945 to February 17, 1946. No copies survive, but Rohmer later wrote a series of five books based on his BBC plays. 
Closing notes: Most of this article originally appeared in the thirty-ninth issue of Scarlet Street Magazine, © 2000. Reprinted with permission and courtesy of the editors of Scarlet Street, and the author. Since the article’s initial printing, the discs described above, held by a collector in Ohio, had been purchased and released on audio cassette and CD by Ted Davenport, who paid the collector his very large ransom. Thanks to Ted, these shows are currently available through RADIO MEMORIES (and your support in purchasing these from RADIO MEMORIES will help reimburse Ted for his generosity). After all, if you spent $1,000 out of your pocket for the discs, then paid additional expense to have them transferred to CD, wouldn't you want people to buy your CD sets rather than download them for free?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Bruce Lee as Kato on THE GREEN HORNET

In early March of 1966, The Herald Tribune in New York reported news of The Green Hornet coming to television in the fall. Al Hodge, former radio actor and star of the radio series, having noticed a few discrepancies in the article, wrote to producer William Dozier in the hopes of correcting a few false statements. Dozier was aware the editor of the paper misspelled Kato with a “C.” Dozier told Hodge casting for the series would not begin for two to three weeks, and that the only person signed up definitely was the role of Kato. “We have a superb American-born Chinese actor named Bruce Lee to play Kato. He is a black belt karate and will be able to do all his own stunts in that area.” Dozier also assured Hodge that The Green Hornet would not be an imitation of Batman, which had been labeled by critics as “camp treatment.”

On YouTube you can find what everyone keeps labeling as Bruce Lee's screen test for The Green Hornet. The truth is, Lee's screen test was made for a proposed television program based on the fictional Charlie Chan character.

“Mike Axford and Lenore Case (Casey) will present no particular casting problem,” William Dozier said in a letter to George W. Trendle on November 16, 1965. “I have a superb Oriental in the bullpen for Kato and will be able to show you a piece of test film on him when you come out. He is actually an American-born Chinese, but can play any sort of Oriental or Filipino. I don’t think we should ever say what sort of nationality Kato is: just let him be what he looks like — an Oriental. The actor I have in mind for the role is a Black Belt Karate, incidentally, and can perform every trick in the Karate book.”
William Dozier in a promotional sales film.

Bruce Lee, born in San Francisco in 1940, was the “Oriental in the bullpen.” As a child, Lee had moved with his family back to Hong Kong and appeared in motion pictures there from the age of 6. He returned in 1959 to attend the University of Washington, where he met his wife. In early 1965, Lee went to Oakland, California, to appear in a screen test — though not for The Green Hornet — at the expense of Greenway Productions. What Dozier had in mind was Number One Son, in which Lee would portray the eldest son of Charlie Chan, the fictional Honolulu detective. Television’s Number One Son, in continuing the legacy of the famous — and now, departed — detective would be something of a cross with the James Bond formula proving so popular in movies at the time.

Lee gave a kung fu demonstration at the first International Karate Championships, which was organized by Ed Parker, a martial arts instructor whose most famous student was Elvis Presley. In the audience for the tournament was Ed Sebring, a Hollywood hairdresser, who passed along Lee’s name when Dozier mentioned he needed a Chinese actor. For the screen test, Lee sat before a camera to answer questions and also demonstrated powerful, yet controlled, leaping, kicking and punching.

In February, Lee’s father died, so the actor went to Hong Kong to handle family business. He returned to the States in mid-March. A couple of weeks later, Dozier assured Lee that plans for the Chan television series were underway, but it might take another three months until there was noticeable progress. In late April, the producer suggested Lee hire an agent: “I am taking the liberty of suggesting a reputable and honest agent to you, one William Belasco, President of Progressive Management Agency here in Hollywood.” After signing with Belasco, the agent also said that any action on Number One Son wouldn’t occur until July, so Lee took the opportunity to travel back to Hong Kong with his wife.

Van Williams, George W. Trendle, Bruce Lee
In the meantime, Lee offered Dozier several ideas of his own for Chan, writing that “I can establish an exciting characterization by supplementing cool and concise ‘small action’ to make every ‘ordinary’ action into something unusual.” Lee also watched many television programs to improve his speech. It must have worked. At least, Lee was able to joke with a Canadian journalist in 1971 that he got the role of Kato simply because he was the only Chinese actor who could pronounce the name Britt Reid. 

Finally, at the end of February 1966, Dozier had a first draft of a Number One Son script ready. A month later, the show itself was rejected by the network, but by this time Dozier had the TV rights to The Green Hornet. There was never any doubt about who would play the part of Kato. Lee was hired at a salary of $400 per episode ($800 per two-part episode), which rose to $550 per episode effective November 30, 1966. By the first week of April, Lee was learning from actor Jeff Corey about camera shots, lighting, placement, matching and other factors involved in television production. Corey sent his bill to Greenway Productions and Dozier charged it off specifically to The Green Hornet show. Corey also played the heavy in one of two test films that were made.

After only a few episodes Lee was unhappy with the depth of his role. “[It’s] true that Kato is a house boy of Britt, but as the crime fighter, Kato is an ‘active partner’ of the Green Hornet and not a mute follower,” he wrote to Dozier. “Jeff Corey agrees and I myself feel that at least an occasional dialogue would certainly make me feel more at home with the fellow players.”

He didn’t need to convince Dozier, who replied it was Trendle who insisted Kato remain in the background as an ally, not a companion. But Dozier said he would also ask the writers to incorporate more material involving Kato, hoping this would offer Lee some satisfaction.

Despite limited screen time, Kato proved a more popular character with children than did The Green Hornet, judging by the amount of fan mail sent to the actors. Many requested a copy of the mask worn by Lee, and Dozier complied, telling recipients that enclosed was “a genuine authentic Kato mask, and one which was actually worn by him in Green Hornet.” That was a stretch — Dozier had masks in his office that went straight from a box to an envelope for mailing, never having seen the light of a soundstage. Even so, maybe one of them was good enough to earn viewer Ricky McNeece of Clinton, Iowa, an “A” from his teacher — he said he wanted a Kato mask for a school project, hoping it would win him a high grade.

Van Williams (The Green Hornet) - $2,000 per half-hour episode
Bruce Lee (Kato) - $400 per half-hour episode
Lloyd Gough (Mike Axford) - $1,000 per half-hour episode
Wende Wagner (Miss Case) - $850 per half-hour episode
Walter Brooke (District Attorney) - $750 per half-hour episode

The procedure for writing a Green Hornet script was the same as for most television programs. The script writer would draft a plot synopsis of two to 30 pages. (The average was six pages.) If the producer liked the idea, he would then commission the writer to compose the first draft or pay an inexperienced author for the plot and then commission a seasoned script writer for the larger work. A number of plot summaries were proposed, but not all of them were feasible as television scripts. Among the reasons for rejection, besides a producer declaring the story unacceptable, would be cancellation of the series. The following is a plot summary following my review of Bruce Lee's 13-page plot proposal for an episode. To my knowledge, this was the only plot proposal submitted by Lee that never made it to production.

“The Cobra From the East” by Bruce Lee
Dated: October 28, 1966

There is an old saying in the rackets: “In the East there is The Cobra. In the West, The Green Hornet.” Dope racketeer deMarco survives a vicious attack by The Cobra and his men, and begs The Green Hornet for protection against the master criminal. The Hornet agrees, only to learn the whereabouts of The Cobra — who uses poisonous snakes for his murders-for-hire. A confrontation between the men results in Britt Reid bitten on the forearm. The Cobra makes a getaway as Kato rushes to The Hornet’s aid. Kato takes his friend back to Reid’s living room. A doctor explains to Casey and Scanlon that Reid’s system seems to be a strange mixture of various poisons. Angry, Kato starts a rampage across town to locate The Cobra, kicking doors down and beating up bodyguards. Stealing The Cobra’s luggage, he finds the antidote and rushes back in time to administer the serum. During a second confrontation, The Hornet uses his Hornet Sting to disarm The Cobra and, while Kato battles The Cobra’s henchmen, The Hornet forces The Cobra to fall on his own stick. A snake exits the cane and bites the criminal, taking his life. Bruce Lee’s plot proposal featured a number of details to display the artistic use of the fighting poses.

This blog consists of copyrighted excerpts from The Green Hornet: A History of Radio, Motion Pictures, Comics and Television. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 4th of July, Hollywood Style

Have a Happy 4th of July!

Grace Bradley

Lynn Bari and Esther Brodelet

Ann Rutherford

Cyd Charisse

Friday, July 1, 2016

Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan

We finally have a Tarzan movie that is worthy of the author who created the character, and it only took Hollywood 98 years to get it right. Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd would not have been my first choice and the previews certainly made me question the producer's casting call but he not only played the role with perfection, but for a younger generation that never grew up with Johnny Weissmuller, he may be the spitting image of Tarzan as Burroughs described him on the printed page.

In an era where movie making is influenced by product placement and the Chinese secretly own Hollywood (no joke, click here:, it is nice to see a modern-day take on a franchise set in 1890 Africa that also doubles as a period piece. It is a proven fact that more than half of the budget for today's Hollywood blockbusters are paid for in advance through product placement. Period pieces are more expensive to produce and limit the possibility of product placement. This is the main reason why Westerns remain profitable but too often discarded before production. The same could be said for the Tarzan franchise. Keeping in mind that I never embraced the Tarzan movies -- probably because the jungle setting places limitations on story potentials -- The Legend of Tarzan was enjoyable and I hope a sequel gets made. But the answer to that question will rely on the bottom line. I have no doubt Tarzan will generate more revenue during opening weekend than the horrible Independence Day sequel, but I am uncertain as to the profit margin.

Also appreciated was the fact that the origin story for John Clayton III, a.k.a. Lord Greystoke, a.k.a. Tarzan, was represented through minor flashbacks. Of recent, this has become the norm for movie franchises because we all know the origin story and wasting half a movie retelling what we already know is like watching Peter Pan on stage for the ninth time. It doesn't matter if the scenery, costumes and actors are different... it's the same story. Rather, this retelling lives up to the title. The "legend" was in print in London, respected by all who read the stories, children who asked for minor demonstrations, and a man who is torn to choose between two different worlds. Should he return to Africa and revert back to savagery or should he remain in London and live a life his parents wanted him to aspire?

When Leon Rom (played by Christoph Waltz) maps out a plan to enslave all of the Congo and mine the Diamonds of Opar, he strikes an arrangement with Chief Mbonga, Tarzan's old foe. Deliver Tarzan to the Chief and Rom can have all the diamonds he wants. The reason for Chief Mbonga's vengeance is a backstory revealed through flashbacks and a scene involving hand-to-hand combat. Waltz is a great actor with a personality fit for the camera. He attempts to break typecast by playing the role by expressing no emotion throughout the entire movie -- until the final conflict -- but sadly, Waltz is still Waltz on screen. He can chew his lines and steal a scene but someone other than Waltz should have played the heavy.

Margot Robbie, who is soon to become Hollywood's most sought-after pretty face (especially after Suicide Squad later this summer), proves that she can act and her quick rise in Hollywood is the result of hard work, understanding what the director asks of her, and like Enid Markey, the screen's first Jane (back in 1918) can express emotion with her facial expressions. When Tarzan's infamous yell through the jungles serves as a message that he survived a hair-raising ordeal, Robbie did not have to say a word to express her uplift.

Having recently watched the live action Jungle Book, I have to express disappointment in the computer effects used in Tarzan to mimic the jungle animals. At times, such as the scene with the butterfly, they appeared cartoonish. Whether the butterfly landed on Robbie's shoulder in a closeup or flies away in a long shot, the insect was obviously the same size on screen throughout. And Samuel L. Jackson as the anachronistic role of Crusoe's man Friday was certainly not helping what was obviously meant to offer a politically correct take for today's generation -- much like Jane's independent spirit through the entire endeavor. Jackson served merely as an eyewitness to the "legend" that unfolded before his eyes and cutting out a couple of his scenes involving dialog would have provided a more serious take on a man who respected the law of the jungle.

As I was leaving, someone outside the movie theater remarked how they enjoyed this "reboot" and I was tempted to inform them that The Legend of Tarzan is not a reboot. To clarify, a reboot is a movie that differs from the previously existing canon in a significant way, offering a new take on an origin firmly established. A reboot originated in the world of comics where an entirely new take on a familiar theme was established through another artist conception. The origin story was the same. It was the manner of which the story unfolded that differed. But whether you want to classify this as a remake or a reboot will be your call.

The generation that grew up with Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan will find this rendition just as pleasing. Vine swinging? Check. The "me Tarzan, you Jane" reference included? Check. Lord of the Jungle fighting gorillas and loving elephants? Check. Weissmuller and the studios heads at MGM and RKO may have interpreted Tarzan as pidgin-speaking noble savage, but it was producer Sy Weintraub who produced a series of Tarzan movies that closely followed the printed page with a Tarzan who spoke grammatical English, was well-educated and familiar with two worlds of both white men and black natives. Mike Henry's take was influenced by the James Bond craze. In his 1981 rendition, John Derek focused the camera on his scantly-clad wife more than the title character. Disney animators interpreted Tarzan as a California surfer who glided across the trees, sporting a tan. I for one have been waiting for the day Hollywood produced a gritty, bleeding-from-bullet-wounds, self-stitching, occasionally short-tempered, breaking a lion's jaw rendition of Tarzan. He doesn't break the mighty jaws of a lion in this movie, but The Legend of Tarzan is as good as it will ever get.