Friday, January 27, 2017

The Railroad Hour: The "Lost" 1949 Episodes

“Entertainment for all. For every member of the family — the humming, strumming, dancing tunes of the recent musical shows. For Mother and Dad — happy reminders of the shows they saw ‘only yesterday.’ And also, occasionally, one of the great and everlasting triumphs that go ‘way back before then…” 

This was how the Association of American Railroads described their product known as The Railroad Hour, in their annual publicity pamphlets. For 45 minutes every Monday night, over the American Broadcasting Company’s national network, the American Railroads presented, for listener enjoyment, one after another of the world’s great musical comedies and operettas… the top-rated successes whose names had been spelled-out in the blazing lights on both sides of Broadway. Complete with music and words, the program offered famed headliners of the stage, screen and radio taking the leading roles.

Highly favored by Joseph McConnell, President of the National Broadcasting Company, and William T. Faricy, President of the Association of American Railroads, The Railroad Hour competed against such radio programs as CBS’s high-rated Suspense and The Falcon in the same weekly time slot. The program lasted a total of 299 broadcasts over a span of six broadcast seasons—an accomplishment some would consider impossible by today’s broadcasting standards should the program be dramatized on television.

“The amazing progress made by the railroads in their first century is only a promise of what they will do. Up to now they have been vital to our complex existence. Tomorrow they will be essential. No matter what other forms of transportation do, or what new ones come into being, the railroads will remain the backbone of transportation. The world, in peace or war, cannot get along without them.”
                       — Charles F. Kettering, Vice President, General Motors Corporation

The Railroad Hour was broadcast from the studios of the National Broadcasting Company in Hollywood, California. The program was heard regularly over 170 stations of the NBC network. According to an annual report issued by the Association of American Railroads, it was estimated that the program was heard by more than four million family groups. “Musical shows with a dramatic continuity are enjoyed by persons of all ages, especially when the leading roles are portrayed by outstanding artists. All members of the family, as well as school, church, and club groups, find The Railroad Hour wholesome, dignified, and inspiring entertainment,” quoted Francis Van Hartesveldt.

So why is the program called “Hour” when it was on the air only thirty minutes? In radio, the term “hour” was indicative of the time of the beginning of the broadcast, rather than the number of minutes the program was on the air. Also odd was the fact that the program ran a mere 45 minutes instead of 30 or 60 during the opening months. During its half-hour on the air, The Railroad Hour gave its listeners 25 minutes of entertainment. About two-and-a-half minutes were given to the railroad message. The remaining time was required for opening and closing announcements and station identifications.

The Railroad Hour did not broadcast any operas, contrary to popular belief and reference guides. The producers of the series presented operettas and musicals, leaving the operas for other programs, namely The Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. So what is the difference between opera and operetta? An opera is an art form consisting of a dramatic stage performance set to music in which the dialogue is sung, rather than spoken. An operetta is a musical performance where the conversations are “talked” and the expressive moments are set in song.
One question came up during a standard question-and-answer session with the Association of American Railroads: “Are recordings of The Railroad Hour broadcasts available?” The formal answer from the Association was that copyright restrictions did not permit the producer of The Railroad Hour to make any recordings of the musical program available to the public. However, recordings of many of the song hits heard were available at music stores. This, of course, was the formal public statement. In reality, every broadcast of The Railroad Hour was recorded and transcribed. Numerous copies were made for both legal and historical purposes. Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, who wrote the majority of the scripts, actually kept a copy of almost every broadcast for their personal collection. These discs were later donated to the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts located at Lincoln Center in New York City. The Library of Congress presently stores a copy of all the discs in their archives. Dealers and collectors specializing in recordings from the “Golden Age of Radio” have come across similar depositories over the years and, thankfully, more than half of the broadcasts are presently available from dealers nationwide. Marvin Miller, the announcer for The Railroad Hour, saved a few of the scripts, which were later donated to the Thousand Oaks Library in California. Due to music rights, The Railroad Hour has not been released commercially, but it has been made available unofficially through collector hands.

A limited number of free admission tickets for the public were available for each Railroad Hour broadcast. Tickets could be obtained by writing to the Association of American Railroads, Transportation Building, located in Washington, D.C., or by writing to the National Broadcasting Company in Hollywood, California. The Applicant was required to give the date for which the tickets were desired and the number of persons in the party. Because of the demand for tickets (especially since they were free), it was publicly advised to request them several weeks in advance of the broadcast.

During the 30-minute period The Railroad Hour was on the air, more than 600 passenger and freight trains departed from their starting terminals and more than 600 arrived at their destinations. In each half-hour period, day or night, the railroads received for shipment around 2,100 carloads of freight and delivered the same number of carloads of freight to destinations. They performed the equivalent of transporting 30 million tons of freight one mile and 2 million passengers one mile. They received for handling between 8,000 and 9,000 express shipments and 664,000 pounds of United States mail. For each 30-minute period of the day and night (equal to the time The Railroad Hour was on the air), the railroads paid out $50,000 for federal, state and local taxes; more than $100,000 for fuel, materials, and supplies; and more than $250,000 in wages.

Among the millions who listened to Gordon MacRae and his supporting cast on The Railroad Hour each Monday evening was the daughter of Victor Herbert, the world-famous composer whose operettas had been among the most widely-acclaimed productions on The Railroad Hour. The composer’s daughter, Mrs. Robert Bartlett, who resided in New York City, had written the Association of American Railroads commending Gordon MacRae and other stars for their excellent work and expressing her great interest in the programs.

The railroad salute to musical appreciation was expressed years before Mrs. Bartlett’s kind comments arrived at the Association’s doorstep. In Eleanor Early’s book, New York Holiday (1950), she tells of the death of Stephen Collins Foster, the celebrated songwriter and composer. A friend of Foster’s bought a cheap coffin on the Bowery and went to the depot to make arrangements to send the body to Pittsburgh, Early related. When officers of the railway company learned that the coffin was for Foster, they ordered a special car, heaped the coffin with roses, and carried the remains to Pittsburgh without charge.

Gordon MacRae
The program was first broadcast over ABC from October 4, 1948 to September 26, 1949. Beginning October 3, the program moved to NBC where it remained until the summer of 1954. All of the 45 minute broadcasts heard over ABC exist in recorded form. Less than half of the 30 minute broadcasts heard over ABC exist in recorded form, and this is very sad. (We'll explore the NBC seasons in a future blog post.) Because some of the musicals were performed more than once, some unscrupulous mp3 dealers have been duplicating existing recordings and labeling them with alternative dates. As a result, listeners and collectors today mistakenly believe what they are hearing is the recording listed on that file. 

Since all of the 1948 broadcasts are known to exist, what follows is a list of all the 1949 broadcasts that are not known to exist in recorded form (all of them aired on ABC except the November 14, which was NBC). Use the information contained below as a guide. If you think you have any of the "lost" episodes, please verify using the information provided. For example: if you think you have the May 16, 1949 broadcast of "Robin Hood" with Lucille Norman, listen carefully to the anouncer. The May 15, 1950 version with Dorothy Kirsten is known to circulate in collector hands. You might not have the 1949 "lost" version.

Episode #32 “KISS ME, KATE” 
Broadcast May 9, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show
Script subtitled: “Tribute to Cole Porter”
Cast: Constance Collier (female role), Gordon MacRae (Fred Graham), Patrice Munsel (Lois Lane), Lucille Norman (Lilli Vanessi), The Sportsmen Quartet (backup singers), and Carleton Young (Bill Calhoun).
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Based on the musical of the same name, which premiered at the New Century Theatre on December 30, 1948.
Music score and lyrics by Cole Porter, based on the book by Bella and Sam Spewack, with the title taken from Petruchio’s last command to Katherine in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, upon which this musical is loosely based.
Songs include: Always True to You in My Fashion (Munsel and Young); Were Thine That Special Face (MacRae); I’ve Come to Live It Wealthy in Padua (MacRae); Wunderbar (Norman and MacRae); and Why Can’t You Behave? (Munsel and Young).
Episode #33 “ROBIN HOOD” 
Broadcast May 16, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show
Script subtitle: “Tribute to Reginald De Koven”
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Whitfield Conner (Little John), Jerome Cowan (the Sheriff), Gordon MacRae (Robin Hood), Lucille Norman (Maid Marian), and The Sportsmen Quartet (backup singers).
Based on the operetta of the same name, which premiered at the Standard Theatre on September 28, 1891.
Music score by Reginald De Koven, with book and lyrics by Harry B. Smith, adapted from the legend of Robin Hood and His Merry Men.
Songs include: Brown October Ale (Conner); Though it Was Within This Hour We Met (Norman and MacRae); Sir Cavalier (Norman); Tinker’s Song (Cowan and chorus); and Oh, Promise Me (lyrics by Clement Scott, sung by Norman).

Episode #34 “PORGY AND BESS” 
Broadcast May 23, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Script subtitle: “Tribute to George Gershwin”
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig
Cast: Edward Arnold (Sportin’ Life), Gordon MacRae (Porgy), Lucille Norman (Bess), and The Sportsmen Quartet (backup singers).
Based on the folk opera of the same name, which premiered in Boston on September 30, 1935 and at the Alvin Theater on October 10, 1935.
Music score and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, with book by DuBose Heyward, adapted from his 1925 novel Porgy, and the play by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward.
Adapted for The Railroad Hour by Jean Holloway.
Songs include: I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ (MacRae); It Ain’t Necessarily So (entire cast); Oh Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess? (MacRae and chorus); Summertime (cast); and Bess, You is My Woman Now (Norman and MacRae).
Broadcast May 30, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Sam Edwards, Gordon MacRae, Jeanette Nolan, Lucille Norman and The Sportsmen Quartet.
Written exclusively for The Railroad Hour, and not based on an already staged musical.
Songs include: I Love You Truly; Once More I Sit; Just a Wearing For You; God Remembers; Baby, Baby; and End of a Perfect Day.

Episode #36 “OKALAHOMA!” 
Broadcast June 6, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Script subtitle: “Tribute to Franz Schubert”
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Gordon MacRae (Curley McLain), Lucille Norman (Laurey Williams), and The Sportsmen Quartet (backup singers).
Based on the musical of the same name, which premiered at the St. James Theatre on March 31, 1943.
Music score by Richard Rodgers, with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, adapted from the 1931 stage play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs.
Songs include: An Sylvia, D.891; Fischerweise, D.881; Ave Maria; Be Still My Beating Heart; Wanderers Nachtlied, D.768; Thine Being My Heart; and Du Bist Die Ruh.
Broadcast June 13, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Gordon MacRae (Stephen Foster), Lucille Norman (Mary), and The Sportsmen Quartet (backup singers).
Written exclusively for The Railroad Hour by Lawrence Lee.
Songs include: My Old Kentucky Home (MacRae); Camptown Races (Norman and chorus); Old Folks at Home [a.k.a. Swanee River] (MacRae); Come Where My Love Lies (Norman and MacRae); Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair (MacRae); Oh! Susanna (entire cast); Old Folks at Home (reprise with entire cast); and Beautiful Dreamer (entire cast).
Episode #38 “BURKE and VAN HEUSEN SALUTE” 
Broadcast June 20, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Gordon MacRae, Lucille Norman, and The Sportsmen Quartet.
Written exclusively for The Railroad Hour by Jean Holloway.
Songs include: Moonlight Becomes You; Going My Way; The Day After Forever; Swinging on a Star; and a medley of songs from Connecticut Yankee.
Broadcast June 27, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Gordon MacRae, Lucille Norman, and The Sportsmen Quartet.
Written exclusively for The Railroad Hour by Jean Holloway.
Songs include: Wheels Are Rolling; Gone to Chicago (by Meredith Willson); On Top of Old Smokey (traditional song); The Lonesome Train (by Owen Bradley); Home on the Range (by David Guion); Flora Dora medley (from the musical Sing Out the News); and Beyond the Blue Horizon (by Richard Whiting).

Episode #42 “THE BANDWAGON” 
Broadcast July 18, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Tony Barrett, William Johnstone, Gordon MacRae, Lucille Norman and The Sportsman Quartet.
Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, which premiered at the New Amsterdam Theatre on June 3, 1931.
Music score by Arthur Schwartz, with lyrics by Howard Dietz and George S. Kaufman.
Adapted for The Railroad Hour by Jean Holloway.
Songs include: A New Song Up in the Sky; High and Low; I Love Louisa; Dancing in the Dark; and Inside U.S.A.

Broadcast July 25, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Gordon MacRae, Ken Mann, Lucille Norman and The Sportsmen Quartet.
Written exclusively for The Railroad Hour by Jean Holloway.
Songs include: All or Nothing at All (by Jack Lawrence); Sleepy Serenade (by Lou Singer); I’ll Remember April (by Al Hoffman); Heartaches (by Al Hoffman); Piccolo Pete (by Phil Baxter); Farewell Song (by Dorothy Stewart); and Dance with Me (by Leo Edwards).

Episode #45 “BRIGADOON” 
Broadcast August 8, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Gordon MacRae (Tommy Albright), Ken Mann (Jeff Douglas), Lucille Norman (Fiona McLaren) and The Sportsmen Quartet.
Based on the musical production of the same name, which premiered at the Ziegfeld Theatre on March 13, 1947.
Music score by Frederick Loewe, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, partially inspired by the story Germelhausen by Friedrich Gerstacker.
Adapted for The Railroad Hour by Jean Holloway.
Songs include: Brigadoon (MacRae and chorus); Waiting for My Dearie (Norman and chorus); Down on McConachy Square (chorus); The Heather on the Hill (Norman and MacRae); I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean (entire cast); Come to Me, Bend to Me (entire cast); There But For You Go I (MacRae); Almost Like Being in Love (MacRae); and Brigadoon (reprise with entire cast and chorus).

Episode #47 “CALL ME MISTER” 
Broadcast August 22, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Harry Bartell (Private Stanley), Gordon MacRae (Shep Dooley), Lucille Norman (Kay Hudson), Ted Osborne (Captain Constock) and The Sportsmen Quartet.
Based on the musical revue of the same name, which premiered at the National Theatre on April 18, 1946.
Music score and lyrics by Harold Rome, with sketches by Arnold Auerbach and Arnold B. Horwitt.
(Producers were Herman Levin and actor Melvyn Douglas).
Adapted for The Railroad Hour by Jean Holloway.
Songs include: Call Me Mister; When We Meet Again; Military Life; Along With Me; Going Home Train; Yuletide, Park Avenue; South America, Take It Away (Norman); and Body and Soul (preview of next week’s broadcast,'Tribute to Johnny Green').

Episode #49 “THE WIZARD OF OZ” 
Broadcast September 5, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Jack Arthur, Gordon MacRae, Lucille Norman, Ted Osbourne and The Sportsmen Quartet.
Based on the 1903 stage musical of the same name, which premiered at the Majestic Theatre on January 21, 1903, and the MGM movie of the same name, which premiered August 15, 1939 at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Music score (from the movie) by Harold Arlen and E. ‘Yip’ Harburg (screenplay by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf), adapted from the 1899 novel by Frank L. Baum.
Music score (from the stage play) by A. Baldwin Sloane and Paul Tiejens, with lyrics and book by Frank L. Baum.
Songs include: Stormy Weather; I’ve Got the Whole World on a String; Let’s Fall in Love; Ac-cent-thcu-ate the Positive; That Old Black Magic; Get Happy; It’s Only a Paper Moon; Blues in the Night; I Love a Parade; We’re Off to See the Wizard; Over the Rainbow; and Stardust (preview of next week’s broadcast, Hoagy Carmichael).
Trivia, etc. The Railroad Hour, on behalf of its listeners, artists and sponsors, awarded a tribute to Harold Arlen for having “woven his own black magic into melodies which have become standards of American popular music and especially for the charm and warmth of his score for The Wizard of Oz.”
Broadcast September 12, 1949Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Willis Bouchey, Jack Edwards, Frances Langford, Gordon MacRae, Lucille Norman and The Sportsmen Quartet.
Songs include: Two Sleepy People; Georgia on My Mind; Ole’ Rockin’ Chair; Up a Lazy River; I Get Along Without You Very Well; Old Buttermilk Sky; It Couldn’t Be True; Little Old Lady; Lazy Bones (by Johnny Mercer); Stardust; and Temptation (preview of next week’s broadcast, a salute to Nacio Herb Brown).
Broadcast September 26, 1949
Series subtitle: The Railroad Summer Show.
Music for The Railroad Hour conducted by John Rarig.
Cast: Celeste Holm, Gordon MacRae, Lucille Norman and The Sportsmen Quartet.
Written exclusively for The Railroad Hour by Jean Holloway. 
Songs include: Younger Than Springtime; A Wonderful Guy; If I Loved You; June is Bustin’ Out All Over; It Might as Well be Spring; A Fellow Needs a Girl; Many a New Day; People Will Say We’re in Love; and Ol’ Man River (preview of next week’s broadcast, “Show Boat”).

Trivia, etc. This radio broadcast marked the final episode to air over the American Broadcasting
Company, and the last of the “Tribute Summer Series.”

Episode #59 “THE VAGABOND KING” Broadcast November 14, 1949Cast: Francis X. Bushman (King Louis XVI), Evelyn Case (Huguette), Gordon MacRae (Francois Villon) and Lucille Norman (Katherine).
Songs include: Song of the Vagabonds (MacRae and chorus); Some Day (Norman and MacRae); Only a Rose (Norman and MacRae); Only a Rose (Norman, MacRae and chorus); Tomorrow (Norman and MacRae); Huguette’s Waltz (Smith); Love Me Tonight (Norman and MacRae); and Only a Rose (reprise with Norman, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. The 1949 version of "The Vagabond King" was a repeat of a prior episode, episode seven, originally presented in the 45 minute format on November 15, 1948. This version was only 30 minutes.

Closing Comment
The Billy Rose Theater Collection located at the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts in the New York Public Library holds the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Collection, which includes a broad sampling of the material that the team created for radio, television, and the stage. Included in the collection are complete holdings for The Railroad Hour, both recordings and scripts. These include almost the entire run of The Railroad Hour, all off-line recordings from KFI in Los Angeles, California. Each recording is complete on two sound discs, analog, 33 1/3 RPM., 16 inch aluminum-based acetate discs. Access to many of the original items (such as transcription discs) is restricted. Many of the broadcasts, thankfully, have been transferred to sound tape reels (analog, 7.5 IPS, 7 in.) so patrons can listen and enjoy the musicals. 

 In 1967, they presented a full collection of Railroad Hour recordings to the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound at the New York Public Library.

The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Collection may or may not be complete. According to their inventory, the collection holds a total of 532 sound recordings – not all of them are The Railroad Hour. While the archive does house one rehearsal recording, the list of titles and broadcast dates remain incomplete. Comparing the library’s inventory with the recordings known to circulate among old-time radio collectors, it is estimated that about six recordings remain unaccounted for. Dismal hopes should not prevail, as it is “assumed” (but not proven) that the Lawrence and Lee Collection does contain a recording of every broadcast – and that the inventory sheets are merely incomplete.

So the recordings listed above are referred to as "lost" only in the sense that they are not available in collector hands. In a future blog post I will list those six in particular. But in the meantime, if you have any of the above, please let me know so I can remove them from this list.  

Shameless plug: Material included in this blog post originates from The Railroad Hour by Gerald D. Wilson and Martin Grams. Reprinted with permission from Bear Manor Media. Special thanks to the staff of Ohio State University Library and the staff at the Billy Rose Theater Collection. Also special thanks to Ben Ohmart, Derek Tague, Joyce Comeaux, Kara Darling of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Theatre Library, Aida Garcia-Cole of G. Schirmer, Inc., Jim Cox, Leo Gawroniak, Terry Salomonson, Amanda Dittoe, Craig Wichman, Sheila MacRae Wayne, Al Hubin, B. Ray Druian, Jack French, Harlan Zinck, Roy Moore, Kathy Dragon Henn, David Goldin and Alex Daoundakis.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

NBC's TIMELESS Makes a Major League Error

NBC's latest television series TIMELESS
The good name and reputation of lawman Bass Reeves, one of the first African American U.S. Marshals, is going to be tarnished on NBC-TV this Monday. The weekly science-fiction program, TIMELESS, tells the story of a mysterious criminal who steals a secret state-of-the-art time machine, intent on destroying America as we know it by changing historic events of the past. Our only hope is an unexpected team: a scientist, a soldier and a history professor who use the machine's initial prototype to travel back in time to those critical events. While they must make every effort not to affect the past themselves, the intriguing aspect is that the fugitive is following instructions written in a journal (get this) written by the very history history professor who is trying to stop him. It seems she has not yet written that journal but one day she will.

Actor Colman Domingo
The television series was created by Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan, the same men responsible for such programs as SUPERNATURAL, REVOLUTION and THE SHIELD. Every episode is a history lesson for school children: a visit to the Alamo, America's moon landing, Harry Houdini, and this Monday an episode aptly titled, "The Murder of Jesse James." The teaser for next week's episode provides us with a glimpse of Colman Domingo,  a talented actor who only recently is getting his due, playing the role of Bass Reeves. Also featured in the teaser is one of the three main characters making reference to "The Lone Ranger." (...this is where you hear the sound of a record scratching...) Whoa, did he just say that? He sure did.

Sadly, the myth of Bass Reeves being the inspiration of the fictional Lone Ranger has been debunked many times through archival documents and the origin of that myth admitting he was only "suggesting," with no archival documents backing his claim. But that has not stopped history revisionists who attempt to tarnish the images of American heroes by dominating the broadcast media. And the media, aware of such errors, will never let the facts spoil a good story. As a friend once said, let us not forget the two old maxims that Hollywood clings to quite tenaciously:

1. Never let facts get in the way of a good story.

2. When choosing between history and legend -- print the legend. 

With no other choice I took the time to write to the production company. Not that it would make any difference to the telecast but I felt it was necessary for them to be aware of their major blunder. I have no doubt the primary focus of the episode concerns the accomplishments of Bass Reeves but I fear they will be overshadowed by a false story that has no bearing on Reeves' achievements. 

Kripke Enterprises
Eric Kripke
1880 Century Park East, Suite 950
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Dear Mr. Kripke,

My name is Martin Grams, historian of numerous vintage television and radio programs, including THE LONE RANGER. I regret to inform you that your weekly NBC-TV series, TIMELESS, has made a major error and sadly, may have inadvertently re-written history itself much like the characters of your television program.

This coming Monday you plan to air an episode which your lead protagonists meet with Bass Reeves, one of the first African American U.S. Marshals in recorded history. In 2008, an author wrote and published a biography about Bass Reeves and featured a chapter claiming “uncanny similarities” including (and I am quoting the author here) “Reeves may have ridden a white horse during one period of his career.” Also quoting the author, “I doubt we would be able to prove conclusively that Reeves was the inspiration for THE LONE RANGER. We can, however, say unequivocally that Bass Reeves is the closest real person to resemble the fictional Lone Ranger.”

When the Disney motion-picture of the same name was released in theaters a few years ago, the author rode the coat-tails of the movie’s publicity by claiming Bass Reeves was the inspiration of THE LONE RANGER, failing to note publicly that his book only suggests. Numerous websites quickly picked up on this story proving the academic adage that "fifteen books can be wrong and hundreds of websites are wrong." Historians often avoid “suggesting” non-conclusive material in fear that it would be mistaken as the gospel and create the exact opposite of what they set out to do.

Having scanned thousands of archival documents from the Fran Striker and George W. Trendle archives, including inter-office memos and contracts, I can assure you that Bass Reeves had nothing to do with THE LONE RANGER. Every aspect of The Lone Ranger was created by multiple parties. The director, Jim Jewell, requested Striker to create an Indian sidekick. It was Striker who created the name “Tonto.” Trendle, the producer, suggested a Western and a masked-vigilante in the vein of Robin Hood and Zorro. Striker borrowed a masked vigilante story from a former radio program, COVERED WAGON DAYS, to create The Lone Ranger character. I and my co-author, Terry Salomonson, have posted hundreds of archival documents verifying this on blogs and magazine articles, revealing the step-by-step process of how THE LONE RANGER was created.

What the author set out to do was Transmedial Migration. That is, properties of fictional characters as they relate to real-life historical figures. Burton chose to find a connection from fiction to real-life, not the other way around as any real historian of American History will assert.

Even Bill O’Reilly, who lent his name to a book and documentary series about Wild West heroes, later confessed the connection between Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger was in error.

I know your time travel program is pure fiction, borrowing factual names and events for your stories, but your telecast on Monday evening will not only give credence to a fictional Lone Ranger connection, but take away the real accomplishments for which Bass Reeves should be properly remembered. And for that reason alone I can assure you that as a fan of your television programs (Tarzan, Supernatural, Revolution), I am deeply disappointed and expected better of you.

Martin Grams, Jr.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

TCM Pays Tribute to Debbie Reynolds

Turner Classic Movies pays tribute to Debbie Reynolds on Friday, January 27 with the following festival of films. This program will replace the previously scheduled movies for that day. This is not the first time TCM has revised their schedule to pay tribute to the passing of a Hollywood legend. The programming manager of TCM has made such arrangements half a dozen times a year, for many years. For a commercial free network to take time and pay homage to Debbie Reynolds with an all-day marathon of her classic movies is a tribute to the good folks who operate the station. 

The new schedule for Friday, January 27 will be: 
6:00 AM It Started With A Kiss (1959)
7:45 AM Bundle of Joy (1956)
9:30 AM How the West Was Won (1962)
12:30 PM The Tender Trap (1955)
2:30 PM Hit The Deck (1955)
4:30 PM I Love Melvin (1953)
6:00 PM Singin' In the Rain (1952)
8:00 PM The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
10:30 PM The Mating Game (1959)
12:30 AM The Catered Affair (1956)
2:15 AM The Singing Nun (1966)
4:00 AM How Sweet It Is (1968)

Entertainer Debbie Reynolds embodied the cheerful bounce and youthful innocence of the post World War II era, buoying the genre's good-natured hokum with her sincere charm and energy. One of a long line of girls-next-door like Doris Day and June Allyson, Reynolds was never as sultry as Day could be, and was more of a showbiz cheerleader and less of a tomboy than either. In her most successful films like Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) and Singin' in the Rain (1952), she was often cast as a sincere young adult in the throes of puppy love - never the virgin chased by rogues like Day or the placid housewife like Allyson. Her squeaky clean image came in handy when, in the biggest Hollywood scandal of the 1950s, her then-husband, crooner Eddie Fisher, left her and their two children - Carrie and Todd Fisher - for sultry screen goddess, Elizabeth Taylor. Not surprisingly, the public was more than on Reynolds' side as the jilted wife. Once that furor died down, Reynolds was left to reinvent herself. In the late 1960s, when new sexual mores suddenly rendered the docile suburban female image a thing of the past, Reynolds shifted her focus to nightclub and theatrical stages. She was absent from the big screen for decades but settled into a comfortable presence in the American fabric by returning to film in the 1990s with funny mom roles in films like Mother (1996) and In and Out (1997) and hysterical guest appearances as the over-the-top mother of Grace Adler (Debra Messing) on Will & Grace (NBC, 1998-2006). Reynolds brought both self-mocking and nostalgia to these and other well-received comedic outings, using her persona as a perennially perky throwback to mine genuine laughs well into her 70s. 

It used to be that when a Hollywood celebrity passes away, a number of companies would sent out an e-mail blast offering discounted prices on DVD movies starring or co-starring the recently deceased. Many felt this was distasteful... the attempt to cash in on the recent trending of a celebrity obit. But it turns out such offers allow cinephiles the opportunity to revisit those old classics or in many cases, expose such talents to a generation that never knew the celebrity by name.  Thanks to Turner Classic Movies, you can watch many of her greatest films for free. Naturally, most of the movies being screened are owned by Turner Entertainment which means her films from 20th Century Fox will have to be purchased to be seen. And the Paramount classic, THE PLEASURE OF HER COMPANY, still remains one of the few Debbie Reynolds films that proves a challenge to find and view.

Friday, January 6, 2017

CLASSIC IMAGES Celebrates 500

Later this month the February 2017 issue of CLASSIC IMAGES magazine goes out to subscribers, marking a milestone with issue number 500. You read that right... 500.

CLASSIC IMAGES was the brainchild of a furniture store owner named Sam Rubin. From his home in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Sam began publishing a fanzine he called “8mm collector,” in June of 1962, in order to serve classic film buffs who ran films in their homes. In an era before the Internet, the idea was to give film collectors a place to talk about their hobby, focusing especially on the problem of sorting out the best and the worst film prints that were being sold on the collectors market at that time. Film collectors responded enthusiastically and their feedback started a tradition that lasts to this day with reader input being an important part of the publication. 

Today, many of the articles focus on biographical retrospectives of Hollywood actors and actresses. About a year ago Tom Weaver began contributing monthly columns of interviews with Hollywood actors and documentaries focusing on classic movies. The November 2016 issue, for example, featured Tom's coverage of "The Making of Universal's The Black Castle." Laura Wagner provides a monthly column of book reviews, keeping geeks like myself in touch with current publications released to the market. Robert Tevis provides a column reporting screenings of rare movies not available elsewhere. Harris Lentz III provides a monthly list of Hollywood celebrities who have passed on in the past month. Ray Frieders provides us with a list of movies coming out commercially on DVD and their street dates. There are frequent reviews of film festivals, loaded with on-the-scene photographs. Best summed up, CLASSIC IMAGES keeps any movie buff current with the latest news in the hobby.

CLASSIC IMAGES evolved in the 1970s when Sam Rubin sold the publication to Blackhawk Films in Davenport, Iowa, with Sam staying on as Editor-In-Chief and moving his office to Davenport. With the advent of the video revolution in the late 1970s the name of the periodical was changed to CLASSIC IMAGES and as the publication grew it came to serve all areas of movie collectibles including posters, stills, autographs, books and the whole gamut of movie memorabilia. 

In 1991 Bob King came on as editor following Sam’s retirement. In 1995 King launched FILMS OF THE GOLDEN AGE magazine as a quarterly sister publication to the monthly CLASSIC IMAGES newspaper. Editorially, CLASSIC IMAGES and FILMS OF THE GOLDEN AGE focus on classic movies, and the enhancement of classic film preservation and appreciation. As the “voice of film fandom” both magazines take strong stands against such threats as banning classic films, for example, the misguided “Chan ban” against the classic Charlie Chan detective films. Both magazines also provide a platform for writers who research and write about films and filmmakers who now are mostly ignored or misunderstood by the mainstream media. I would also like to note that FILMS OF THE GOLDEN AGE will reach issue #100 a year and a half from now, also reaching a milestone.

Quoting Bob King, "After 55 years of service to the movie buff community, CLASSIC IMAGES and FILMS OF THE GOLDEN AGE salute all our readers, advertisers and contributors whose commitment to classic films has accomplished so much. Sam’s original aim in 1962 was to give the film buff community a measure of clout that they could not have alone. We plan to carry on his good works well into the future."

If you do not have a subscription to either magazine, you can visit their website (loaded with note-worthy articles and hours of reading) and subscribe within minutes. Back issues are also available for sale.