Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Day Silver Rescued The Lone Ranger (March 19, 1937)

Jerzy Kosinski once wrote, "The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke." No better example can be found than The Lone Ranger radio broadcasts, scripted by Fran Striker. While many fiction writers formulate basic tenants about each character -- outward description, personality traits, disposition and temperament -- it comes as no surprise that once in a great while Striker chose to reveal a darker side of The Lone Ranger in his radio scripts. On the evening of March 19, 1937, The Lone Ranger radio program presented a broadcast focusing on Silver, the great white stallion of the masked man, and his effort to rescue The Lone Ranger from a horrible fate.

The Beasley Gang rode into Durango and shot up the town, killing a man in the streets. The gang aimed to head into the San Juan Mountains, fearing the masked rider who sought to apprehend them in recent weeks. The Lone Ranger, however, was ambushed and shot, falling into a ravine, leaving the great white stallion at the mercy of the outlaws. Before his fall, The Lone Ranger told his steed to "play dead" while his fall into the ravine would -- hopefully -- convince the outlaws to pursue the masked man, not his horse. But his efforts were in vain; the outlaws quickly discovered the stallion was not dead and attempted to apprehend the beast. The gallant stallion fought like one possessed of super strength and fury. The long legs lashed out again and again, and the silver shod hoofs brought down a second man. A rope thrown over the powerful white neck was jerked from the hands of the man who held it, and Silver bared his teeth as he fought against the fiends who shot his master. Finally, Butch was forced to let go of the reins he held, and then every ounce of the great strength of Silver was put in one frantic leap. The horse broke free and ran off. For a long time the Beasley Gang followed Silver up the dangerous rocky trail through the San Juan Mountains, a trophy prized by Beasley himself for having pulled the trigger that shot and killed the famous masked rider of the plains. Silver kept a good distance ahead of them and looked back from time to time to see that they were still following. The gallant stallion seemed to know what was in their minds. Though he felt in his horse mind that his place was back at the side of The Lone Ranger who had fallen into the ravine, he kept on, dodging and evading and keeping away from the outlaws.

The sheriff’s posse, meanwhile, had done its best to trail the Beasley gang, but had finally been forced to give up the search and return to Durango. They were a tired, travel worn group of men, seeking vengeance for old Jake, their friend who was shot and killed in the streets of Durango. Silver walked into town, past the sheriff’s office, where a horse with no rider was discerned. Despite his struggles, Silver was roped in a stable for the night. In his mind, he did not know that morning would be too late for help to reach his master. He only knew that he was tied, and helpless while the masked man whom he loved was suffering and in grim peril. He struggled against the hard rope. He tugged until the rope bit into the flesh of his neck, then he squirmed and wriggled, and the proud head shook in fury at the confining lashes, but the rope held firm. Then Silver tries another means of escape. He turned until the rope was slack and then he gripped it in his teeth and chewed. Then with the rope weakened he tugged again, disregarding the pain and checking and finally the strong rope parted. Silver gave a whinny of defiance and charged through the door of the stable. The sheriff and deputy were outside when they saw the horse race toward them. Observing the horse shod with silver, the sheriff realizes who owned the stallion and rallied his men back into saddle. Following Silver like a bloodhound chasing a fox, the sheriff and his men take off for the San Juan Mountains, with Tonto now joining the posse.

Up in the mountains, The Lone Ranger was painfully wounded and badly bruised at the bottom of the ravine. Throughout the night he lay there, with no thought of himself. His only interest was in the safe escape of his great horse Silver. Dawn brought a gray light into the ravine, and he looked through the slits of his mask at hard-faced men who climbed through the underbrush to reach him. Beasley was anxious to see the face behind the mask. With guns in hand, feebly the masked man ordered them to stand away. He shot the gun out of the hands of one gang member, then threatened: “I still have some bullets in these guns. Though I’ve never shot to kill… I’ll do so now! You’ve killed Silver! The next shot won’t be for your hand! I’ve one thing to tell you men! Your kind has never gone uncaptured for very long. The hangman’s rope will get you in the end.” 

Butch sneaks from behind to disarm the masked man and moments before the vigilante can be unmasked, the sheriff and his men arrive. A member of the posse shoots and wounds Beasley while down into the steep ravine the great horse Silver charged. He led the way for Tonto, the sheriff and the posse. Into the midst of the outlaws he lashed with hard shod hoofs, and struck down the leader, Beasley! The lawman closed in and the fight was short and hard, but the outlaws had no chance. They were roped and disarmed and then Tonto helped the masked man to a sitting posture. The law takes the gang members back to town, leaving The Lone Ranger in good hands to heal from his wounds.

A recording of this broadcast is not known to exist but according to internal records this particular broadcast was recorded a week prior, on March 12, and broadcast on March 19. The reason for this remains unknown (we are presently digging into the "why") so there is a remote possibility that a recording of this monumental broadcast may be found. Until then, the plot summary above is here for your enjoyment.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Janis Joplin, Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills

They proved to the world that they were not just a garage band when their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival secured them a record contract. Big Brother and the Holding Company, sporting the female vocals of Janis Joplin, recorded two albums before Joplin went solo with a more successful career, but it was their second (and final) album that reached a milestone: topping the Billboard album chart for eight consecutive weeks. Cheap Thrills was released in August of 1968, which means the album just celebrated the 50th anniversary. Now, five decades later, a two-CD set featuring 25 unreleased tracks is released and just in time for Christmas. Sure, you can buy a CD of Cheap Thrills for just a few bucks; it has been re-released multiple times. But for fans who thought they heard it all, this new set is spectacular.  

Many times alternate tracks are released alongside the original album, in the hopes of intriguing a new generation of listeners. I would like to state that if you do not have the original 1968 Cheap Thrills, you may want to get it. This two-disc set does not include the original album, just alternate takes.

Among the earliest surviving recordings of Janis Joplin are amateur performances of her singing gospel songs in a coffee house. I kid you not. But as one revisits her four albums, you can clearly tell she sported a love for jazz and blues, including inspiration from the vocals of Billie Holiday. And when Joplin went off on her own without Big Brother and the Holding Company, her work was a beautiful cross between jazz and blues. (I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama was the first of her two solo albums without Big Brother, and perhaps her best album -- ever.) Sadly, her recording career was cut short after succumbing from a heroin overdose at the age of 27. As a result, new recordings are rarely made available.

This two-disc set is more of a jazz reissue, and like any talented artist that strives to improve themselves, she never sang the same song the same way twice. There are renditions of the classic songs we grew up with that are raw and unrefined -- a reminder that they truly were a garage band. There is laughing between takes but you can feel the strain between Joplin and producer John Simon. Listen hard and you will feel the tension. But regardless, you could tell Joplin never cared if they were out of tune. She knew they were striving for perfection. 

The original title was Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but someone at the recording studio rejected the proposal and against the band's wishes was released in 1968 simply as Cheap Thrills. For this two-disc set, the original title was replaced and thankfully this will allow the newbies discovering Janis Joplin to differentiate between the original 1968 album and this 2018 release. (The 1968 album is not included. I point this out because many 2-disc releases with alternate tracks oftentimes come with the original album.)

Live at Winterland '68,
the other recommended album.
Among the highlights is her rendition of "Ball and Chain" from the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in April of 1968, psych-blues as only Joplin could sing it. 

Also included is a recording of "Harry," which originally opened the second side of the album, but removed at the request of the President of CBS Records. It is a crazy, abstract, free-jazz-freak-out that the band sometimes opened or closed with during their live performances. Now you can hear that recording. 

If you are not a Joplin fan, this two-disc set may not be for you. But as a time capsule embodiment of the San Francisco, psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s, look no further. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Life and Career of Actor Arthur Anderson

Arthur Anderson was a child actor who made a career of acting out the role of dragons, dwarfs and knights in shining armor during the height of the depression. The long-running radio program, Let's Pretend, offered a weekly fairytale for juvenile listeners. The highlight of the program was that the roles were played on the air by children -- which naturally appeared to children who tuned in every Saturday morning to listen.

He was among the cast of The Metropolitan Opera in the mid-thirties, worked with Orson Welles on many of the Mercury Theater of the Air broadcasts, and also worked with Orson Welles on Broadway. Anderson was a regular staple at the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention throughout the 1990s and wrote a book thoroughly documenting the history of radio's Let's Pretend. The children's radio program was the platform that launched a number of actors into a life-long career including Anne Francis, Dick van Patten, Donald Buka, Jackie Kelk and Skip Homeier.

On television Anderson made guest appearances on Route 66, Dark Shadows, The Defenders and Law and Order. Beginning in 1963 he voiced the cartoon character of Lucky the Leprechaun in those Lucky Charms television commercials you grew up with as a kid.

Arthur passed away in 2016 and all of his paperwork was mailed to me. I took the time to scan everything into digital format and assembled a PDF file. In short, this is a digital scrapbook of the career of Arthur Anderson including photographs, newspaper clippings, convention program guides and other materials.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

How You Can Help Save Popeye the Sailor

In July of 2007, fans of Popeye, the Sailor cheered when Warners released a four-disc set containing the first 60 animated cartoons, in chronological order, from 1933 to 1938. Restoration from archival 35mm negatives, and loaded with bonus extras, we were treated with the promise of future volumes -- also in chronological order. As a fan of Popeye, having grown up with the cartoons on local television (pre-cable TV days), I rushed out and bought my set. In 2008 we were treated to volumes two and three -- the latter of which included the last of the black and white classics. 

And then there was silence...

Where is volume four? many asked. The fourth entry would have started with the color cartoons... But alas, there was no volume four. Now, exactly ten years later, we learn that Warners gave the green light for a fourth volume -- but with one catch. If sales do not exceed expectations, there will be no further restoration or releases.

Now titled Popeye, the Sailor: The 1940s, Volume 1, this DVD continues where volume three left off. Transferred from the original Technicolor three-strip negatives, complete and uncut. But animation fans need your help. The studio will gauge the sales of this particular release (pictured here) based on the first 60 or 90 days of sales. So click the links below (both BluRay and DVD provided) and grab your copy today. The future of Popeye will depend on you.

As for myself, I bought five. Four of them were used as Christmas gifts.

DVD Release

Blu-Ray Release