Friday, December 27, 2019

Nat Brusiloff and His Orchestra, 1930-1934

Nat Brusiloff, violin virtuoso and dance band conductor, was among the earliest "personality leaders" on network radio. At the peak of his fame, in the early 1930s, he was musical director for Kate Smith's radio program and led hot dance ensembles that broadcast coast-to-coast over the CBS and NBC radio networks. Because he made almost no commercial recordings, his name has slipped into undeserved obscurity. In fact, his name is known primarily to researchers of old-time radio and Kate Smith historians. There has been little written about him in magazines and old-time radio club newsletters and unless I am mistaken, there is no book or biography about Nat Brusiloff (expect for a possible Spanish language biography that may or may not have been published in the U.S.). Yeah, his name has become a tad obscure.

Thankfully, Brusiloff did record several dozen 12-inch 78s for distribution to radio stations, and those extraordinarily rare discs form the basis of this first-ever Brusiloff collection titled NAT BRUSILOFF AND HIS ORCHESTRA: "Out of a Clear Blue Sky" 1930-1934. Scheduled for release in January 2020 (pre-orders now accepted at, I received a complimentary CD set from David Sager, a research assistant in the Recorded Sound Research Center at the Library of Congress, who himself is a Grammy-nominated jazz historian and jazz trombonist. David also happens to be the grandson of Nat Brusiloff, who provides us with a loving tribute and biography in a 48-page illustrated booklet. Not only is the booklet entertaining but provides us with information not available in any reference guide or magazine article. The ultimately tragic story of the musical prodigy makes the recordings on this two-CD set all the more valuable. 

The recordings, by the way, have been lovingly remastered by renowned sound engineer Doug Benson for the best possible sound. The sixteen Judson sides transferred for the first CD were not from commercial master pressings, but transcription discs meant for broadcast.  Restoring audio is complex and time consuming, as any audio engineer will tell you. The condition of some of the original discs were often not good. Pitch drift and double layers of hum were common problems. Some had vocals that were too loud or solos that were too soft in the mix. Overall volume levels often changed throughout the song. Needless to say, as engineer Doug Benson remarked, "it was a balancing act worthy of cirque du Soleil to massage these into a cohesive, presentable package."

Honestly, I found myself enjoying these recordings and not from a historical perspective. Such hot dance numbers of the times are remnant of the type of music that accompanies silent comedy film shorts and the second CD provided a rare treat: a composite of three radio programs from 1931, The Shuron Musical Showmen, which makes me want to seek out the complete broadcasts of that series and listen to them. 

Looking for vintage 1930s music that you will be certain to enjoy? Grab a set today from Amazon or Rivermont Records direct at the link provided below. You can even sample some of the music at this website.


Friday, December 20, 2019

Yesterday USA Gets an Upgrade

Since launching in 1983, the Yesterday USA radio network has been a successful Internet radio station providing old-time radio programs to the masses, 24 hours a day. Radio hosts Larry Gassman and John Gassman (hosts of Same Time, Same Station) and Walden Hughes continue to broadcast weekly with authors and celebrity guests. Sadly, as a result of the recent passing of Bill Bragg, the founder of Yesterday USA, the radio station's future was in temporary jeopardy. 

But wait! Do not fret! A solution has been found! With the blessing of Kim Bragg, Bill’s widow, Walden and the Gassmans plan to move the home base of Yesterday USA from Texas to California (which will also provide a savings of approximately $1,000 a month in operating costs). To accomplish their mission, they need to replace the outdated computer equipment with new software and hardware, especially because radio hosts Walden, Larry and John are totally blind. On Kickstarter, they provided a breakdown of what they need to accomplish their goal and continue broadcasting old-time radio shows through an automation system.

Breakdown (Justification of Costs)
Two Window 10 PCs ($1,380.84) to be located in John and Larry's office.
Two Station Playlist Software Pro version and special software ($998).
Two Station Playlist tutorials and JAWS screen reading software scripts ($150).
Linksys eight-port Metallic Gigabit switch ($40.67).
AB switch ($38.78)
A desk for Larry and John to operate from ($40).
Two versions of Live Web DJ Broadcast Software ($19.95 per month for each, for a total of $478.80). This software will allow us to broadcast live.
Broadcast board and two phone systems ($1,402) for producing live broadcasts.

(L to R) Radio hosts Michael Biel, Walden Hughes, Larry and John Gassman.

Presently you can listen to their programming at While we can listen to old-time radio through CDs and other venues, it is always comforting to know there are dedicated radio hosts who provide interviews with celebrities, authors and historians on a weekly basis, live on the air. 

If you want to help contribute, visit their Kickstarter campaign here.

Friday, December 13, 2019

HBO's WATCHMEN is Daring and Explosive

Retaining the "deconstruction of the hero" theme from Alan Moore's 1986 graphic novel, originally published as a series of 12 comic book issues titled Watchmen, and with subtle nods to the motion-picture based on the same novel, Damon Lindelof brought back the concept faithfully with a brand new story. Watchmen, in my opinion, is one of the ten best reads -- ever. The 2009 motion-picture was as faithful as it could be from the printed page but I noticed over the years that everyone who read the book loved the movie. Everyone who never read the book, hated the movie. With that in mind... if you never read the graphic novel, the new HBO mini-series will not be your cup of tea. But having watched all nine episodes of this new mini-series, it is fantastic.

Moore initially conceived of the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and satirize the superhero genre, emphasizing that the majority of heroes fighting crime were masked vigilantes -- until the spawn of Doctor Manhattan. Considered one of the 100 greatest reads of the 20th century, the 12 comics were later combined to form a graphic novel which has gone into more than two dozen printings and the estimated sale of more than two million copies. Moore himself was against the 2009 motion-picture, claiming there were certain aspects that could only work in a comic book and never translate to film. DC Comics and Warner Bros., however, have since produced a number of spin-off comics based on the characters from Watchmen, including this new HBO mini-series (consisting of nine episodes).

As a fan of Damon Lindelof, the same man responsible for Lost and The Leftovers, I was excited by the prospect.

This rendition takes place in an alternative 2019, 34 years after the end of events from Alan Moore's Watchmen, now primarily set in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Due to liberal policies set by President Robert Redford to provide reparations to those affected by racial violence, including massive wholesale slaughter in the streets in 1921, white supremacist groups following the writings of Rorschach (a character from Watchmen for whom his story went to print after the climatic cover-up) attack the police that enforce the law, leading to controversial laws requiring police to hide their identity and wear masks. Yes, if the identity of policemen were publicly known, they would become targets for domestic terrorists. This has allowed new masked vigilantes to fight alongside the police to combat the supremacists, with permission from law enforcement, since they were banned from service decades ago. Along the way we have a murder that might have been created to set off a chain of events, using the most deadliest of weapons known to mankind -- fear. 

Moore's love for the Silver Age of comics was dominant in his story, a love of superheroes who fought for truth, justice, and the American way. His heroes, however, presented a darker side of justice where lollypops and rainbows is nothing more than a mask for what happened behind closed doors. They lied, conspired, committed adultery, and beat up bad guys when there was no cause simply because they had to adhere to a code. This HBO mini-series clearly establishes the question of law and order -- not everything is black and white. And yet, the subplot that builds tension in the new America is about black and white. You know that little grey area where law and order involves third-degree methods by police and wholesale slaughter of domestic terrorists that is never questioned by a higher court? Welcome to Watchmen.

Some of the characters from the original comic appear in person such as Silk Spectre, now an official agent for the FBI. Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, now known as "Lord of a Country Manor," is seen briefly in each episode working on some project that means he is up to his old tricks again. What he is planning now will be revealed at the conclusion, I have no doubt. Doctor Manhattan is due to arrive in some shape or form based on previews, but we will have to wait to see the arrival of the superhero deemed by many as a God. (Not a spoiler but episode eight is entitled "A God Walks Into a Bar.")

HBO reported the premiere of Watchmen was the largest in the network's history. Good news for those hoping for a second season, which would also include an entirely new self-contained story arc. Lindelof reported this season is self-contained and concludes with episode nine. So if you are a fan of Watchmen and were on the fence about watching this, make the effort. Lindelof captured the spirit, feel and content that made Alan Moore's graphic novel a fantastic read.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Abbott and Costello's Overdue Preservation

Thanks to Bob Furmanek, the same man responsible for the preservation of numerous motion-pictures including September Storm (1960) and The Bubble (1966), one of Abbott and Costello's most widely-seen motion-pictures is about to receive a facelift.

Having starred in a number of motion-pictures for Universal Studios, and three for MGM, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello agreed to a joint venture producing their own movie, Africa Screams, which was ultimately distributed through United Artists. Filmed from November to December 1948 at the Nassour Studios in Los Angeles, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made a tidy profit from the production, later selling ownership in 1953 to Robert Haggiag, an independent distributor in New York, who quickly re-released the movie to theaters to get a return on his investment. Haggiag failed to renew the copyright registration in 1977 and as a result the movie fell into the public domain. This meant anyone can duplicate and sell the movie on any format. Sadly, many prints of the film were slightly edited, many transferred from 16mm, and duplicated in second and third-generation copies. In short, Africa Screams has been subject to hundreds of VHS and DVD releases but never in superior picture or sound. 

In the late 1980s, film preservationist Bob Furmanek contacted Haggiag to obtain the original nitrate stock. Most of the original camera negatives had decomposed but the nitrate fine grain was still serviceable and promptly transferred to 35mm for preservation. Since October 2015, Furmanek's 3-D Film Archive successfully restored 17 vintage 3-D features for presentation, most released commercially on DVD and BluRay. With his track record for film preservation, Furmanek decided to take the plunge and utilize Kickstarter, a crowd-funding opportunity for fans to make financial pledges to ensure the surviving nitrates safely transferred to digital format to enable him with financial flexibility to do 4K digital scans of all the surviving elements, and a meticulous frame-by-frame digital clean-up of all dirt and damage, flicker reduction, image stabilization and grading to assemble a fully-restored final 4K composite master.

Keeping in mind that all of Abbott and Costello's movies have received 35mm print transfers from the major studios, Africa Screams (1949) remains the only full-length motion-picture needing a major restoration. Fans of the screen comedians can donate any funds beginning with a single dollar, but for $25, fans can receive a DVD of the restored version (estimated release date June 2020).

Bob Furmanek went into detail on Kickstarter about the necessity of having the film restored, with a financial goal of $7,500 to be reached within 30 days. And the good news? Fans came to the rescue and he reached his goal within three days. You can still contribute to the cause until the end of December, which would also get your name on the website and in the DVD/BluRay credits, as well as pre-purchasing the DVD or BluRay in advance. Link provided below.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Christmas Radio Station

Any flat disc record, made between (circa) 1898 and 1959 and playing at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute is referred to today by collectors as a "78." The materials of which these discs were made and with which they were coated were also various; shellac eventually became the most common of materials. Generally 78s are made of a brittle material which uses a shellac resin (which is why collectors also refer to them as shellac records). During and after World War II when shellac supplies were extremely limited (used for the war cause), many 78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac.

In 1948, Columbia Records unveiled the 33 1/3 RPM long playing record. It played for about 20 minutes per side. Then came the battle of the speeds. RCA in 1949 began offering records (and record players) that played at 45 revolutions per minute.

If asked how much these discs are worth, there really is no set guide to determine the value. Anyone with the correct record player can play these recordings and they are a dime a dozen at antique fairs and eBay.

After two months of cataloging more than 3,000 of the old 33s, 45s and 78s to CD format, and separating those with a holiday theme, I loaded more than 300 Christmas songs onto a streaming playlist for you to enjoy. In the spirit of of mixtape from years gone by, I found a modern way to bring these songs to the masses for the holiday season, without having to burn hundreds of CDs. 

If you are like me, every holiday you tune to a local radio station that traditionally plays the same Christmas songs over and over and over... and yeah, it gets tedious hearing the same recordings every year. Christmas is a time to establish a fond look back through nostalgic vocals and my frustration grows knowing that Gene Autry's rendition of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Bing Crosby's White Christmas is going to play on rotation... again and again.

What you will hear on this streaming radio station (accessible with a simple click of a button on your computer, iPad, tablet, iPhone, etc.) are vintage Christmas offerings all dated pre-1960 and chances are you haven't heard these renditions. Examples include:

I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas (1954, Betty Johnson)
Frosty the Snowman (1950, Guy Lombaro and his Orchestra)
Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop (1954, Art Carney)
I Want You for Christmas (1937, Mae Questel as Betty Boop)
All Around the Christmas Tree (1940, Raymond Scott and his New Orchestra)
Barnyard Christmas (1952, Spike Jones and The Bell Sisters)
The Birthday of a King (1949, Judy Garland)
Jingle Bells (1935, Benny Goodman and his Orchestra)
It Happened in Sun Valley (1941, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra)
Christmas in Killarney (1950, Dennis Day with The Mellowmen)
The First Noel (1942, Nelson Eddy and Robert Armbruster's Orchestra)
Let's Start the New Year Right (1942, Bing Crosby)
Hello, Mr. Kringle (1939, Kay Kyser)
Jingle Bells (1934, Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra, and Harriet Hilliard)
All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth (1949, Danny Kaye and Patty Andrews)
Yah, Das Ist Ein Christmas Tree (1953, Mel Blanc)
Silent Night (1921, Florence Easton)
Silver Bells (1938, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys)
Christmas on the Plains (1949, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans)
The Night Before Christmas (1952, Gene Autry and Rosemary Clooney)
O Come, All Ye Faithful (1938, Frances Langford)
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus (1950, Patti Page)
Happy Little Christmas Friend (1953, Rosemary Clooney)
Ol' Saint Nicholas (1949, Doris Day)
A Ride in Santa's Sleigh (1953, Judy Valentine)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934, Harry Reser)
Santa Claus is on His Way (1941, Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra)
Silent Night (1940, Kate Smith)
Suzy Snowflake (1951, Rosemary Clooney)
Auld Lang Syne (1939, Erwin Bendel with Tiny Till and his Orchestra)
Baby, It's Cold Outside (1949, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan)
Christmas Day (1952, Eddie Fisher)
Meet Me Under the Mistletoe (1941, Dick Roberston)
Merry Christmas Polka (1949, Guy Lombardo and The Andrews Sisters)
I'll Be Home for Christmas (1947, Eddy Howard)
Five Pound Box of Money (1959, Pearl Bailey)
The Man with the Whiskers (1938, Hoosier Hot Shots)
March of the Toys (1939, Tommy Dorsey)
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing (1938, Kenny Baker)
I Want You for Christmas (1937, Russ Morgan)
The Kissing Bridge (1953, The Fontane Sisters and Perry Como)
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952, Molly Bee)
Here Comes Santa Claus (1949, Doris Day)
I Believe in Santa Claus (1955, The Mills Brothers)
Little Sandy Sleighfoot (1957, Jimmy Dean)
The Man with the Bag (1950, Kay Starr)
Merry Christmas Waltz (1949, Gordon MacRae)
Christmas Alphabet (1954, The McGuire Sisters)
Let It Snow, Let It Snow (1946, Bob Crosby)
I Saw Mommy do the Mombo (1954, Jimmy Boyd)
The Mistletoe Kiss (1948, Primo Scala and The Keynotes)
My Christmas Song for You (1945, Hoagy Carmichael and Martha Mears)
Christmas Night in Harlem (1934, Todd Rollins and his Orchestra)

Among the highlights you will hear "I Want a Television Christmas" by Mindy Carson (which happens to be a 1949 RCA sales promo), the 1953 Christmas Dragnet spoof with Daws Butler and Stan Freberg, a 1953 commercial recording of Amos and Andy's popular "The Lord's Prayer," Basil Rathbone narrating a musical rendition of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (1942), Bing Crosby's 1942 version of "White Christmas" (not the 1947 re-recording you commonly hear on radio today), Jerry Colonna's 1953 take on "Too Fat for the Chimney," the 1934 version of "Winter Wonderland" performed by Richard Himber (the first recording ever made of that song), and other rarities.

Of the 300 plus recordings, you will no doubt hear the same song (such as "Winter Wonderland" and "The First Noel") performed multiple times but each rendition with a different singer.  

Many familiar songs but with unfamiliar renditions from your favorite singers. (Believe me, I will have this radio station playing all day at home, and streaming through my iPhone when I travel during the holiday season.) The radio station will expire January 1 so enjoy this while it lasts. And I hope this musical yule log not only suits your palate, but many of these songs become a favorite of yours. My Christmas present to you.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Crime Thrillers on DVD (Reviews)

Two new DVD releases are now available commercially that may have fallen below the radar and should be brought to the attention of film buffs. 

ClassicFlix just released all five Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) mysteries featuring Michael Shayne. Lloyd Nolan starred as private detective Michael Shayne in seven features made at 20th Century Fox in the early 1940s. The first four were released in a box set, two additional released as singles. (Sadly, with the Disney purchase of the Fox library, that seventh Michael Shayne film may only be available through private collectors.) After the studio dropped the license, PRC brough Brett Halliday's ace crime-solver over to "Poverty Row" in 1946 for a series of five fun, action-packed whodunits starring Hugh Beaumont as the famed fictional detective. Yes, the same Leave it to Beaver Hugh Beaumont. 

While these films are not up to the polish of the Lloyd Nolan entries, the low-budget feel provides shades of film noir. You are best to watch the films in chronological order since Cheryl Walker plays the role of loyal and longing Phyllis Hamilton, later replaced with Trudy Marshall. Paul Bryar plays the reporter and sidekick Tim Rourke for three movies. Whether the mystery takes place at the Santa Rosita Race track, San Francisco or Los Angeles, or whether Chief Detective Pete Rafferty attempts to implicate the private eye in the crime, these five classics are finally available from studio masters in top-notch quality. 

Film Chest released an obscure television crime program titled Deadline, which was lost and forgotten in a garage in New Jersey for over 50 years. Televised from 1951 to 1961, the half-hour television program dramatized stories drawn from actual newspaper headlines of the 1950s, reminding us of a time when newspaper reporters were revered as heroes and guardians of truth and justice. Fans of the long-running radio program, The Big Story, are familiar with the format and Deadline was the filmed continuation (and, sadly, closing chapter) of the same series. 

Supporting cast includes Peter Falk, Diane Ladd, George Maharis, Robert Lansing, Paul Stewart, Larry Haines, Joanne Linville, Joseph Julian, Ralph Bell, Simon Oakland, Malachi Throne, Telly Zavala's, Don Hastings, Edgar Stehli, Robert Dryden, William Johnstone, Andrew Prine and many others. Filmed on location in New York City, the cast rarely includes actors from the West Coast, providing fans of the radio program an opportunity to watch the radio actors of New York to play roles. 

All 39 episodes were transferred for this 3-DVD release in gorgeous quality. My only gripe is the booklet in the set that focuses not on the history of the television program (or The Big Story) but rather the Journalistic Code of Ethics, a brief essay on the Dominance of the Internet and "Fake News," principal cores of journalism, and other material that is clearly padded and unnecessary. I really would have loved to read a history of the program rather than a journalist code of ethics. But then again, the set includes all 39 episodes so regardless of the inferior liner notes, this is a set worth grabbing now. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Thanksgiving and The Three Stooges

FDR preparing for one of his fireside chats.
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a lot to think about in 1939. The world had been suffering from the Great Depression for a decade and the Second World War had just erupted in Europe. On top of that, the U.S. economy continued to look bleak. So when U.S. retailers begged him to move Thanksgiving up a week to increase the shopping days before Christmas, he agreed. He probably considered it a small change; however, when FDR issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation with the new date, there was an uproar throughout the country.

As most schoolchildren know, the history of Thanksgiving began when Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered together to celebrate a successful harvest. The first Thanksgiving was held in the fall of 1621, sometime between September 21 and November 11, and was a three-day feast. The Pilgrims were joined by approximately 90 of the local Wampanoag tribe, including Chief Massasoit, in celebration. They ate fowl and deer for certain and most likely also ate berries, fish, clams, plums, and boiled pumpkin.

On October 3, 1863, Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation that declared the last Thursday in November to be a day of "thanksgiving and praise." For the first time, Thanksgiving became a national, annual holiday with a specific date.

FDR Changes It
For 75 years after Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, succeeding presidents honored the tradition and annually issued their own Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring the last Thursday in November as the day of Thanksgiving. However, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not. In 1939, the last Thursday of November was going to be November 30. There were five Thursdays in the month of November. Retailers complained to FDR that this only left 24 shopping days to Christmas and begged him to push Thanksgiving just one week earlier. In August 1939, Lew Hahn, general manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association, warned Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins that the late calendar date of Thanksgiving that year (November 30) could possibly have an adverse effect on retail sales. At the time, it was considered bad form for retailers to display Christmas decorations or have "Christmas" sales before the celebration of Thanksgiving. It was determined that most people do their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving and retailers hoped that with an extra week of shopping, people would buy more. So when FDR announced his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1939, he declared the date of Thanksgiving to be Thursday, November 23, the second-to-last Thursday of the month. In short, this is why Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of every month -- not the last Thursday.

The new date for Thanksgiving caused a lot of confusion. Calendars were now incorrect. Schools who had planned vacations and tests now had to reschedule. Thanksgiving had been a big day for football games, as it is today, so the game schedule had to be examined. Political opponents of FDR and many others questioned the president's right to change the holiday and stressed the breaking of precedent and disregard for tradition. Many believed that changing a cherished holiday just to appease businesses was not a sufficient reason for change. Atlantic City's mayor derogatorily called November 23 as "Franksgiving."

The plan encountered immediate opposition. Alf Landon, Roosevelt's Republican challenger in the preceding election, called the declaration "another illustration of the confusion which [Roosevelt's] impulsiveness has caused so frequently during his administration. If the change has any merit at all, more time should have been taken working it out... instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler." While not all critics were political opponents of the president, most parts of New England (then a Republican stronghold relative to the rest of the nation) were among the most vocal areas. James Frasier, the chairman of the selectmen of Plymouth, Massachusetts (the commonly alleged location of the first Thanksgiving holiday) "heartily disapproved".

Before 1939, the president annually announced his Thanksgiving Proclamation and then governors followed the president in officially proclaiming the same day as Thanksgiving for their state. In 1939, many governors did not agree with FDR's decision to change the date and refused to follow him. The country became split on which Thanksgiving they should observe. Twenty-three states followed FDR's change and declared Thanksgiving to be November 23. Twenty-three other states disagreed with FDR and kept the traditional date for Thanksgiving as November 30. Two states, Colorado and Texas, decided to honor both dates. This idea of two Thanksgiving days split some families, because not everyone had the same day off work.

Did It Work?
Though the confusion caused many frustrations across the country, the question remained as to whether the extended holiday shopping season caused people to spend more, thus helping the economy in a state of depression. The answer was no. Businesses reported that the spending was approximately the same, but the distribution of the shopping was changed. For those states who celebrated the earlier Thanksgiving date, shopping was evenly distributed throughout the season. For those states that kept the traditional date, businesses experienced a bulk of shopping in the last week before Christmas.

In 1940, FDR again announced Thanksgiving to be the fourth Thursday of the month. This time, 31 states followed him with the earlier date and 17 kept the traditional date. Confusion over two Thanksgivings continued. 
Lincoln had established the Thanksgiving holiday to bring the country together, but the confusion over the date change was tearing it apart. On December 26, 1941, Congress passed a law declaring that Thanksgiving would occur every year on the fourth Thursday of November. Problem solved.

In the 1940 Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon Holiday Highlights, directed by Tex Avery, the introduction to a segment about Thanksgiving shows the holiday falling on two different dates, one "for Democrats" and one a week later "for Republicans."

The competing dates for Thanksgiving are parodied in the 1942 film Holiday Inn (and the inspiration for this blog post when I questioned what the joke was in reference to). Many segments of the film are preceded by shots of a calendar with a visual symbol of the given holiday. For November, an animated turkey is shown running back and forth between the third and fourth Thursdays, finally shrugging its shoulders in confusion.

In the 1940 Three Stooges comedy No Census, No Feeling, Curly makes mention of the Fourth of July being in October. When Moe questions him, Curly replies, "You never can tell. Look what they did to Thanksgiving!"

Friday, November 15, 2019

The History of Time Travel

"If you think Hitler with an atomic bomb is bad, imagine Stalin with a time machine."

In 2014 The History of Time Travel was released, a fictional documentary about the creation of the world's first time machine, the government's Indiana Project, the men who created it, and the unintended ramifications it had on world events. Created by Ricky Kennedy, then a student filmmaker at the Stephen F. Austin State University, this independent film was brought to my attention from a friend who said, "If you love time travel movies, this is one you might find amusing." 

Presently streaming on Amazon Prime for free, this documentary is a novel approach by taking a few moments to clarify (and simplify) the various theories of time travel. From the multiverse theory to the paradox theory, every potential consequence of traveling through time is explored -- all of which are featured prominently through the documentary through show and tell. As questioned by author Kevin Ulrich in the documentary, "We experience time as we perceive it. But if time could be altered and was being altered, would we perceive that?" Apparently not so to the individuals who are portrayed in this documentary, adding to the fun.

What made this documentary unique is the execution -- as Dr. Richard Reenactor creates the breakthrough that allows him to travel through time, the repercussions are evident with subtle changes as the documentary progresses. The moon rock in the glass case is replaced with a historic newspaper, the scientific equations on the chalkboard have changed, and other unique twists and turns that are better left unrevealed for fear of spoilers. Basically, as time is being altered, so does the documentary itself. The History of Time Travel did not disappoint. If you have Amazon Prime, this 72 minute documentary comes recommended. Just keep your eyes and ears glued to the screen...

And as if the novel approach is not enough, the film even provides us with a moral: "The Indiana Project teaches us what is truly important about time, and that is making every second count."

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Return of BLOOD N' THUNDER Magazine

Between 2002 and 2016, BLOOD 'N' THUNDER was the premier journal for devotees of adventure, mystery and melodrama in American popular culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This award-winning magazine, written by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, eventually expanded its readership to include casual fans of vintage storytelling mediums: pulp fiction, motion pictures, and Old Time Radio drama.

BLOOD 'N' THUNDER, moribund for three years, has now returned in a new format but with the same excellence of writing and research. The articles and essays are scholarly without being dry or academic in nature; no publish-or-perish hackery here.

This revival issue (promoted as Volume Two, Number One) is now available on newsstands and and covers a variety of subjects, all related to pulp fiction. Most notably in the recent issue is recent archival digging from Brian Hochberg and David Kalb. David documents the history of the long-lost 1941-42 radio series featuring Street & Smith's The Avenger; he compares recently uncovered scripts to the novels from which they are adapted. 

David Saunders, whose father Norman was among the most prolific painters of lurid pulp covers, profiles the forgotten publisher J. Thomas Wood. Novelist and pop-culture historian Will Murray weighs in on pulp pulchritude—an appreciation of artists whose covers sported alluring women. Indefatigable researcher Rick Lai offers a detailed chronology of the Jimgrim saga, a multi-novel series penned by pulp-fiction giant Talbot Mundy. BLOOD 'N' THUNDER editor Ed Hulse celebrates the Zorro centennial (he first appeared in a 1919 issue of the legendary ALL-STORY WEEKLY) with a behind-the-scenes account of the making of Douglas Fairbanks' 1920 swashbuckling hit THE MARK OF ZORRO. Ed also supplies a look at HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS, a 1938 cliffhanger serial adapted from the popular imitation-Tarzan novels that appeared in the venerable pulp BLUE BOOK.

The second issue was released this week and should be available now.

You can also order a copy of the recent issue and all back issues from Murania Press at

Friday, November 1, 2019

Amazon is Not Stealing Your Business

Full disclosure: I am not a full-time marketing consultant, nor do I claim to be an authority on the subject. But I read much through the years about marketing and business to know more than the average consumer. Twice in the past month local businesses closed doors and on the evening news, on both instances, the owners of said stores publicly claimed "Amazon killed our business" and "Amazon stole our customers." For the record, this statement is an opinion and not a fact. For the record, no one at Amazon phones customers to encourage them to stop buying from the competition. Fact: Many companies give customers a reason to stop shopping with them and instead go to Amazon. I see this all the time. Every day.

This is the book I wanted to buy and read.
I recently paid a visit to Barnes and Noble, that national chain responsible for selling books -- especially for the relatively smallest of percentage who do not have any other options to buy books because they are not on the Internet. 

As expected, you can tell when you first walk in that they want the customer in and out as quick as possible by having the hottest titles displayed right at the front, with discounted (and damaged) books closer to the check-out line. Worse, half the books I looked at were out of date. One book focused on the future of marketing on the Internet and mentioned Yahoo would become the biggest (and only) search engine, Apple would file bankruptcy if they continued to sell smartphones and not stick with computers, and My Space was supposedly the latest trend. After checking the copyright page I discovered the book was published in 2006 and revised in 2010. Why on earth was that book still being offered for sale in Barnes and Noble? At that point I started browsing the books on that same shelf and discovered half of the books were seriously out of date!

Skimming through the pages of multiple books and spot-checking bullet points to determine whether it was a book I wanted to read, excitedly I found one. At the check-out register, however, I was shocked to discover that they would not price match Amazon. The book retailed $24 and Amazon had the book for $12. "We do price match our own website," the cashier told me. Barnes and Noble's price on their website was $21. I asked why they would not price match the competition and it was explained to me, "That is corporate policy." This might explain why there were only four customers in the entire store at the time. (The coffee shop next door had more customers.) Do not get me wrong. If the book was $14 or $15 at Barnes and Noble, I would have paid for it solely for the convenience.

When I was in the publishing business, I used to sell books to Barnes and Noble. Twenty years ago it was a different market. For every book Barnes and Noble sold, Amazon sold ten. A few years later the numbers had changed. For every book Barnes and Noble sold, Amazon sold a hundred. At present count, I never sold a book to Barnes and Noble in the last twelve years. Today, Amazon buys books by the case, shipped to their warehouses. Seriously, Amazon is truly the 400-pound gorilla in the industry.

Where am I going with all this? Stay with me...

Twenty years ago I religiously visited Borders Books in Towson, Maryland, every Saturday morning to get a cup of hot tea and relax with a book. Their employees were always eager to help assist. I romantically loved the atmosphere. Borders Books truly was my "third place." And for a couple hours once a week I was able to self-educate with whatever subject matter I wanted to read and learn that had my interest at the time. I spent untold amounts of money on books with Borders and even today I have no regrets. [sigh...] How I long for those days again... 

For the record, I had three hours to kill while my car was being worked on and decided to revisit my youth by walking over to Barnes and Noble to buy a book and sit down on a sofa to relax and read. That was the recent trip I referenced above and the same visit to their store that they surprised me with their price-match policy.

What puzzles me is why corporate executives at Barnes and Noble will not price match the competition. I agree that Amazon has low overhead and huge purchasing power, while Barnes and Noble has overhead to deal with such as employee labor and lease agreements. True, Barnes and Noble has a website but they are clearly operating a 20th century business model in the 21st century. It remains a mystery why, at this late date, a company dependent on retail sales has yet to even price match Amazon just to retain repeat customers. One of these days an executive at Barnes and Noble will do what those two local shops cried foul on the evening news, and claim Amazon stole their customers, putting them out of business. But shed no tears for the book store that will one day (probably sooner than later) close doors or sell out to another company.

As for today's scenario, I returned the book to its proper place on the shelf and consulted my iPad (which I happened to have at the time) to purchase the Kindle version of that same book from Amazon for $11.

As you can see by the photo below, I am now sitting here in Barnes and Noble (having never stepped out of the physical four walls of their store), relaxing with that cup of hot Earl Grey tea, reading a book I bought from Amazon (their competition), using Amazon's Kindle app. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

Scripts from the Crypt

Those of you familiar with the old Magic Image script reprints, which oftentimes reprinted early drafts of film scripts for Universal Studios horror movies such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man, which included lengthy production history of the movies, you will be pleased to know that while the publishing company ceased over a decade ago, similar efforts have been in production courtesy of Tom Weaver and Bear Manor Media. Now known under the byline "Scripts from the Crypt," a series of books have been published (and continue to be published) to provide a similar service. Avoiding repetition of the prior Universal Studios offerings, Tom has been devoting his time preserving the more obscure and lesser known gems of vintage horror/science fiction.

"The series was born after the number of times I stood in front of my file cabinets of monster stuff -- clippings, photos, scripts, arranged alphabetically by title -- and I kinda idly wondered what will happen to it all after I am gone. Not that I am overly concerned, my files do not contain a lot of one-of-a-kind stuff. But then I realized, 'Oh yes they do. I've got a bunch of scripts of indie movies that might be the only copy in the world.' So I thought I could give them to a New York library or a university, they they would probably end up in the basement for fifty years and then get thrown away. Maybe a California library or university? Nah, the Big One would hit and the collection would all be at the bottom of the ocean. The only things in my collection that I figured would die with me were those scripts."

With understanding that when someone passes away, a library burns, Tom Weaver began pulling out the film scripts and organizing a project that has grown into a monster (no pun intended). "I thought the series should start with a bang so the first one became Robert Clarke's The Hideous Sun Demon, because I had two scripts for that movie. One was an early draft that was nothing like the eventual movie, and the second script that is like the movie. I thought that those two scripts, with a lot of stills and bonus material, it might be a fun project. So I went the extra mile on that one and filled it with a lot of still nobody had ever seen, and a production history of the movie. I went out and interviewed several behind-the-scenes personnel I otherwise would never have talked to and I got one of the female leads, Nan Peterson, to write something for it. Gary D. Rhodes wrote a piece about the movie's Texas world premiere and even transcribed an interview that Robert Clarke and Nan Peterson did in front of the drive-in audience that evening. The book became a behemoth."

The book sold so well that it became the first in an on-going series of books reprinting film scripts not available anywhere else. Tom Weaver, however, is not the only author who has become victim of the "cleaning the files" syndrome. Many authors who were responsible for dozens of books over the last three or four decades have, over the past few years, found either the well running dry or a necessity to clean out the house. Decades of research will always accumulate in filing cabinets and banker boxes, leading to an excess of material that puts good folks like Tom into a situation: how to get the information out publicly and avoid a trip to the dumpster. Many libraries have established a reputation for burying their donations -- not enough interns and little (if any) budget to accommodate. Collections tend to gather dust for lengthy periods of time until they are finally processed for scholarly access. Thanks to Bear Manor Media, who ensured a reasonable price to cover the cost of printing and production, Tom's project has reached its ninth volume. And there appears to be no signs of stopping.

The second book was one of Tom Weaver's favorites, The Indestructible Man. "The production history was interesting because the movie mysteriously went in and out of production, and the first ending they shot was mostly junked. I was never able to solve the mystery of why so much of it had to be re-shot. The people I'd interviewed over the years only remember that was what happened. I even found out that the movie might have been inspired by a true story." The third book, Bride of the Gorilla, gave Tom an excuse to write about the history of Realart Pictures, and Greg Mank an opportunity to write about Lon Chaney, Jr.'s career.

Gary D. Rhodes jumped back on board with Bride of the Monster, then provide some lost scripts of his own: a pair of scripts that Ed Wood wrote for Bela Lugosi that never went into production. That became Ed Wood and the Lost Lugosi Screenplays, reprinting "The Vampire's Tomb" and "The Ghoul Goes West." Fans of Plan 9 From Outer Space and Bride of the Monster will enjoy that book, which also contains some background material about these films that never existed.

One afternoon Tom Weaver's phone rang and he found himself talking to a woman who explained that her father was the producer of a short-lived TV production known as The Veil, which starred Boris Karloff. Only 12 half-hour episodes were produced but never telecast. She explained that her father had since passed away but she had a bunch of scripts from the series. Naturally, this formed another book of scripts and during an archeological digging Tom found someone who had scripts for The Veil that were never filmed. 

Among the highlights is a book reprinting a script for The Brute Man, the final film starring Rondo Hatton. He made the Universal backlot his personal prey ground and attained B-movie stardom at the very end of his life playing The Creeper, a character that appeared in Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl of Death (1944), House of Horrors (1946) and The Brute Man (1946). Physically deformed, he found himself employed at the studios as a hideous-looking murderer and has since gained stardom with an annual award named after him. Besides production and theatrical release information about Hatton's last film, and a wonderful tribute by George Chastain on other "brute men" in the movies, there is an 80-page Rondo Hatton biography that will knock your socks off.

At the last two conventions I attended, I could not help but observe how people passed these volumes by without a second glance. For the very few that paused to smell the roses and looked closely, flipping through the pages and reading the back covers, it was obvious that they were both surprised and pleased. It is my hope that this blog post helps a number of people avoid overlooking these treasures (and if you are reading this, you now know about them). You can find all of the "Scripts from the Crypt" books on and at, but keep an eye out for additional volumes as they get published. These are the type of books that keep fans of classic horror and science-fiction movies looking forward to year after year.