Friday, May 31, 2019

The Adventures of Bill and Bob

Before he was known as Bob Steele the prolific Western cowboy star had his first screen experience at the age of 14 in the Pathe production of The Adventures of Bill and Bob, a series of film shorts. In these mini-adventures the young brothers, joined by their loyal dog Rags, explore and enjoy the wilderness, tracking and trapping animals. Each short was directed by their father Robert North Bradbury.

There was a series of 16 film shorts featuring Bill and Bob and while they are certainly not on the level of the Our Gang comedies, their shorts are brief in length and somewhat addicting the more you watch them. Having reviewed half of the shorts the other day I found Capturing a Canadian Lynx addicting in that the brothers convince a local zoo keeper that they could capture one for the zoo in return for a small fee. In the process, the boys impressed their neighbor, Ina May.

Sadly, these film shorts fell into obscurity but Bob Bradbury Jr. certainly did not. He continued to play juvenile roles in silent films until 1927 when he changed his name to Bob Steele for The Mojave Kid. From there he appeared in scores of films during the thirties, rising to B-western stardom at Supreme Pictures, later a solid position at Republic before the popularity of Roy Rogers. 

Bob Steele played supporting roles after his career as a screen cowboy and film buffs often spot him playing small roles (sometimes as a barfly on TV westerns such as Maverick and Cheyenne), and in such classics as The Big Sleep (1946) and Shenandoah (1965). Desperate for money he accepted the role of Trooper Duffy in F-Troop in 1965, but it is his westerns at Supreme Pictures that have popped up on numerous public domain labels that have created a minor resurgence among cinephiles.

With years of product releases behind them, Jack Hardy of Grapevine Video acquired the material from seven whole film shorts (ranging from 12 to 15 minutes each) and one fragment (about four minutes), providing us with an opportunity to once again enjoy watching these rare films. The primary transfers were completed before they launched a Kickstarter early in the year. While the fundraiser never truly met the $2,000 they hoped for (which would have given them the extra funds to pay a musician to create a special music score for these), the company did raise enough to produce a finished product on both DVD and Blu-Ray. 

The films are now available on their website, so if you are inclined to help support the company and their continued endeavors, check out their site and consider purchasing The Adventures of Bill and Bob.

A direct link to the DVD to purchase can be found here:

This September three of the shorts will be screened at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, with permission from the good folks at Grapevine, so you can preview a sampling on the big screen in the movie room should you be tempted to buy the DVD later this year.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

THE LONE RANGER: The Early Years Preserved

Big Jim Kendrick operated a gang of hard-faced men who schemed to rob a wagon train along the Santa Fe trail. Gang members, with stealth and cat-like prowl, slipped into camp at night and made off with the two guides. Unbeknownst to them, the guides were none other than The Lone Ranger and Tonto, who momentarily put up a fight. Roped and thrown unconscious on horses, our heroes were outnumbered and subjected to a horror of the elements; the outlaws raced across the plains to drop them in the middle of nowhere to die of thirst and hunger. 

Shortly after the sun rose in the East, the pioneers discovered they were without human compass. Panic arose until Kendrick, passing through and claiming to be a miner, asked to join up with them. As he knew the land well, he was quickly tasked as a guide. The pioneers, praising Divine intervention, had no suspicion that they were being led to their destruction by the newly employed guide. Through the afternoon, meanwhile, The Lone Ranger and Tonto struggled against the ropes that bound them hand and foot but found themselves unable to get free. By evening they were weak with thirst, suffering exhaustion from the hot sun. Silver showed up, having broken free from his captors, and the masked man quickly retrieved a knife from his saddle bag. With knowledge of the outlaw’s plan to lead the wagon train off track so his men, masquerading as Indians, would attack the group with murder in their eyes and plunder in heart, The Lone Ranger relinquished his dehydrated condition in favor of riding to the rescue. 

Unbeknownst to the pioneers, the wagon train crossed the border of the badlands by afternoon. Tonto rode to the rescue to warn old Eben Henry, to whom the pioneers looked up to more than any other, even shooting the gun out of Kendrick’s hand in the same manner as his masked friend. Fearful of all Indians, through the warnings of Kendrick, the pioneers persecute and branded the redskin a traitor, who was forced to flee for his life.

Sunset found the wagon train deep in the badlands, drawing to a circle to make camp for the night. The riotous Indian attack quickly proved to the gallant pioneers they had been double crossed by the leader they trusted. Outnumbered, they gave all their attention to the battle, firing carefully at their attackers, making sure every one of their precious shots counted. But the outlaw band was seasoned to battle and the end was sure to result in victory for them. When the ammunition ran out, the pioneers prepared to club the attackers with their guns. But as hope seemed lost, the sound of a cavalry bugle emanated from a distance... well-trained men from the army garrison raced to the rescue, led by a masked man on a great white stallion, shouting the cry “Hi Yo, Silver!” The Kendrick gang had no chance; every survivor of the battle was captured. 

Captain Luther comforted the band of intrepid explorers, now embracing the lesson they learned, as the captain reassured them of the gospel they would spread throughout the land... that “no man ever made a mistake trusting The Lone Ranger.”

Such was the thrilling adventure broadcast on the radio on the evening of November 8, 1937. A recording of this particular Lone Ranger radio broadcast is not known to exist in recorded form but the exciting adventure survives courtesy of the radio script attained on microfilm at the Library of Congress. The only thing more discerning than knowing this is a “lost” adventure is knowing that almost every broadcast before February 1938 does not exist in recorded form. (There are less than a dozen exceptions and most of them are half-shows.) The Lone Ranger radio program premiered in January of 1933, but it was not until February of 1938 that the radio broadcasts were recorded on a regular basis. Consequently, very little has been documented on the first five years of The Lone Ranger, herein referred to as “The Early Years.” 

In those early years Tonto was a short, shriveled old Indian who preferred to kill than seek justice by the white man's law. Tonto knifed Mexicans and Gypsies while The Lone Ranger sought justice through the law of a silver bullet -- even shooting an escaping villain in the back in one instance before riding off into the sunset.

It was not until 1938 that the radio program became a national sensation through a silver screen cliffhanger serial produced and released theatrically by Republic Pictures, and producer of the radio program, George W. Trendle, was convinced by business associate H. Allan Campbell to record each and every radio broadcast for the purpose of syndication. In short, The Lone Ranger never truly became a franchise until 1938, with Trendle underestimating the value of premiums and collectibles until the royalty checks started to pour in that year. It truly was a business decision that led to the program’s unintended preservation on 16-inch electrical transcription discs. Over 3,400 radio broadcasts aired from 1933-1954, and though only 75 percent of them were recorded, less than 300 are still elusive among collectors. 

It is difficult to claim the recordings from 1933-1954 are “lost” since they were not authorized to be recorded and to be “lost” indicates they would have been recorded and therefore misplaced but since they were never recorded, the term "lost" should not be used interchangeably with "never recorded." As such, the only information regarding the plot summaries of the pre-1938 radio broadcasts exists in script form.

The good news is that script writer Fran Striker started recycling some of his earlier scripts in late 1937 and we have started to connect the dots. Existing recordings contain recycled plots (and dialogue) from those early years, giving us an opportunity to enjoy what was among the early adventures. For example:

Episode #414, Broadcast September 25, 1935  
This radio script was recycled with very slight differences such as the inclusion of a savvy old woman for the broadcast of June 24, 1940, and again as “Black Arab” for April 2, 1947.

Episode #466, Broadcast January 24, 1936  
This radio script was recycled for broadcast on June 22, 1938.

Episode #541, Broadcast July 17, 1936
This radio script was recycled for broadcast on October 19, 1938.

Episode #589, Broadcast November 6, 1936
This same episode was recycled for use as “Black Sheep,” broadcast December 31, 1945.

It puts a smile on my face to announce that as of today, out of the 769 radio broadcasts from 1933 to 1937, there are only 23 episodes that remain elusive. Crossing fingers, we will have access to those radio scripts and fill in the gaps. Thus, no missing plot summaries in the 21-year history of the program. As someone once told me how positive news like this provides hope for collectors and fans of The Lone Ranger, this should put a smile on your face.

Examples of such plots being composed:

Episode #769, Broadcast December 31, 1937
Copyright Registration #54,273, script received at Registration Office January 4, 1938.
Plot: Old Dan Calloway lives alone in a humble cabin in the mountains with young Buck Simmons. Buck’s parents were robbed and killed up in the Snake River section, after being forced at gunpoint to sign over their gold claim to a couple crooks named Ned Slaven and Vince Norton. After watering and resting their horses at Calloway’s cabin, The Lone Ranger and Tonto extract the details behind the Golconda Mine. The direct, frank manner of The Lone Ranger won Dan Calloway over and he was eager as the masked man to see young Simmons ride a trail toward retribution for the murderer of his parents. Late the next day, Buck is found by the crooks with a fake gunshot wound and in possession of a letter from Sheriff Kirkland, ordering him to get a job working for the mine so he can nose around and locate the deed. For several days the boy worked steadily, as Ned and Vince needed the labor, all the while Ned and Vince purposed a planned cave-in. A few days later the sheriff arrives and Ned and Vince take the law officer to the mouth of the mine, hoping the sheriff will witness the “accident” and avoid suspicion. When they call for Buck to exit, confirming he was inside, dead silence from within motivates the sheriff to suggest they go inside. Each man, believing the other might rub the other off and flee with the gold, start to panic, and hesitate entering the mine. It does not take long for a fallout among thieves as a result of this scene, where each blames the other of killing Buck’s parents. 

Episode #770, Broadcast January 3, 1938
Copyright Registration #54,274, script received at Registration Office January 4, 1938.
Plot: Deputy Bob Forsyth enjoys spending time with Sally Granger, against stiff competition from young Bert Allen, who worked hard at the Box Kay ranch and was saving up enough to buy himself a home. When Sally’s father vents over losing cattle, he starts to suspect someone is stealing from his stock, with all eyes looking down against Bert. Windy Darwin, wanted for robbery and murder back in Abilene, is blackmailed by the crooked Sheriff Burley to rebrand the Box Kay stock and make it appear Bert was stealing cattle. Bob catches Bert with evidence in hand, not Windy, and the perfect frame-up puts Bob under arrest on charges of cattle stealing. Late the next evening, Sheriff Burley displays heart by letting Bert out of jail to spend a few hours with Sally, if the prisoner promises to be back in the morning, and “suggesting” that while out on temporary freedom he put a gun to Bob’s ribs and force a confession while Bob himself is making a play for Sally. Bert is unaware that the generosity is a trap in disguise – Windy is off the trail waiting to ambush Bert. The Lone Ranger keeps close tabs on the proceedings and intervenes, saving Bert’s life. The sheriff rides out to order Windy to leave town quick, before the ruse is discovered, only to be apprehended by a U.S. Marshall who was witness to the entire discussion. Bob Forsyth, angry at the sheriff for trying to pin the crime on him, incriminates the lawman with proof of his guilt and all three guilty parties are taken in.

Episode #771, Broadcast January 5, 1938
Copyright Registration #54,434, script received at Registration Office January 7, 1938.
Plot: El Paso is in an uproar as a herd of longhorns stampede through Main Street. The distraction provided ample time for three outlaws, Lefty Riggs, Smokey Brown and Mush Barton to rob the bank. The Lone Ranger and Tonto, riding east towards El Paso, come across the body of Jack Lovejoy – shot in the back. Lovejoy’s father, emotionally distraught for his son turning into a stage coach outlaw, shoots and kills Lefty, but not before the old man took a bullet himself. Smokey and Mush, in town to avoid suspicion since the posse rode out of town in search of the bank robbers, allow The Lone Ranger to take Lefty’s place, after the masked man used a letter of credentials found on Lovejoy’s body. The bank robbers mistakenly assume The Lone Ranger is Jack Lovejoy. Aware that convincing the robbers to grab the cash and flee to the boarder would not prove guilt of murder, just possession of stolen cash, and with the possibility of throwing blame on Lefty as a result, The Lone Ranger devises a scheme to create a falling out among thieves. Mush ultimately exchanges gunfire with Smokey, killing his partner in crime. The Lone Ranger shoots the gun out of Mush’s hand and wounds Mush's shooting arm, giving the masked man the advantage of turning him over to Sheriff Wilson… especially since the sheriff was their next intended victim.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Jordan Peele's TWILIGHT ZONE on CBS All Access

The new rendition of The Twilight Zone, launched 60 years after the premiere of Rod Serling's immortal classic (1959), is not what you would expect when compared to the original classic. While the entire first season of this new series has not yet finished airing all of the episodes, with one episode added to the CBS All Access streaming service every Thursday, the majority have since been posted and I can now provide an overall review of the finished product.

Jordan Peele, the writer/director of Us and Get Out, ensured us that there would be no remakes, but numerous concepts and characters would be revisited with a modern-day take. Thus "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which initially starred William Shatner as a schizophrenic who witnesses a gremlin tearing the engine apart on a passenger airliner, is now refined to "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet" and concerns a schizophrenic who listens to a podcast predicting the demise of the airplane he is presently flying. Throughout the episode the bigot profiles potential suspects who might have plans to sabotage the flight. Needless to say, the person responsible for the crime succeeds -- and it is not a "foreigner" as suspected. His sojourn into paranoia, fostered by racial aggression, only leads him to damnation in the end. 

But this, and "The Comedian," are perhaps the best episodes of the series. The majority of what remains plays out more like Outer Limits episodes. In "Six Degrees of Freedom," a group of astronauts launch from Earth, bound for Mars, moments before nuclear war commences, they have to not only deal with each other's fallacies but question reality: could this all be a test of endurance under such a scenario? Are they really heading to Mars? There is evidence to suggest but who wants to put it up to the test? In another episode, "Not All Men," small remnants of meteorites crash into the Earth, polluting the water, causing all the men in town to relieve their aggression -- with murder and death to follow. But the plague proves to women that not all men can suffer from the effects when exposed to the water -- it is simply a matter of decision.

As much as fanboys might criticize Jordan Peele, he captured the original essence of the original. Back in 1959, when the program first premiered, Rod Serling discovered how he could have aliens from outer space provide the commentary that would have been censored if spoken by people. Though the first four episodes focus on racial tension and racial divide (which starts to get old after the third episode), the series began showing promise by focusing on other social issues we face today. The scenario of an ordinary person thrown into an extra-ordinary event, patterned with an element of science-fiction, is certainly reproduce here. But with schemes so far out that I would have expected to see them played out in a modern-day Outer Limits episode, I certainly hope the second season can fit closer to the roots of the original. Yes, CBS renewed the series for a second season.

Make no mistake, this is not Rod Serling's Twilight Zone. This is Jordan Peele's Twilight Zone.

Friday, May 3, 2019

What do Tim McCoy, Charles Starrett and Roy Rogers have in common?

Bobby Copeland and his books on display.
"In my research, I found the cowboy heroes had warts and scars just like the rest of us."
-- Bobby Copeland

During the good old days when cowboys would serenade the beautiful daughter of a rancher, sidekicks were really funny and the heroes always stood up for the little man... there was always one man you could turn to... Hopalong Cassidy! No, wait. I meant Bob Baker. No, scratch that. Tom Tyler. Yeah! Tom Tyler was always there. Come to think of it, so was Johnny Mack Brown, Tim McCoy, Buck Jones, Eddie Dean, Monte Hale, Tex Ritter and any other cowboy hero.

If you love cowboy Westerns, especially the old classic ones, you'll find some of the assorted trivia of amusement.

*  Bill Elliott's middle name was Ami.
*  Ray "Crash" Corrigan still does not have a grave marker.
*  Johnny Mack Brown is in five Halls of Fame.
*  Andy Devine once weighed 348 pounds.
*  After 3 to 4 years in Hollywood, Allan "Rocky" Lane was still in good enough shape to play semi-pro football.
*  Fuzzy Knight was a cheerleader at the University of West Virginia and wrote one of the school's fight songs.
*  Despite what we were led to believe, Roy Rogers did not purchase ownership of Trigger until 1943.
*  Tex Ritter and his wife, Dorothy Fay, are buried in different states: Tex in Texas and Dorothy in Arizona.
*  Eddie Dean was the seventh son of a seventh son.
*  Monte Hale once presented Gene Autry with a walking cane made of a petrified bull's penis.

Allan "Rocky" Lane book
Okay, maybe that last trivia was a bit too much but the fact remains: reading about the cowboy heroes is sometimes more fun than watching the movies. (My favorite are the Universal Johnny Mack Brown Westerns and Hopalong Cassidy.) Many talented individuals reign supreme when it comes to researching about our favorite cowboys and a quick glance of my book shelf reveal David Godwin, Tinsley Yarborough, Boyd Magers and Gene Blottner to name a few. Perhaps the largest output comes from Bobby Copeland of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. To Bobby, Roy Rogers was more than a cowboy movie star. "To me, he was father figure, pastor, Sunday school teacher, hero -- all rolled into one," Bobby remarked. 

Bobby moved to Oak Ridge when he was 10-years-old in 1945, quickly developing a life-long interest in and love for Roy Rogers, whose movies he saw in local theaters. That interest and love never left him, as Bobby over the next 50 years read and clipped everything he could find, not only about Rogers, but about all the cowboys who rode across the silver screen, in movie theaters across America, in the 1940s and '50s.The result was a series of informative books worthy of purchasing.

Charles Starrett, a.k.a. The Durango Kid
Recalling the good old days of the Saturday matinee, when double feature cowboy Westerns included a Three Stooges film short, a cartoon and other film shorts. Armed with 10 cents, his childish imagination and his keen devotion to the film cowboys, Bobby watched Roy Rogers, Bill Elliott ("Red Ryder"), Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and others. Kids migrated to the theater in droves, starting at 11 on a Saturday morning, Bobby recalled. "The kids would start to line up at 10 for the show; there'd be long lines," Copeland reminisced. The movies cost 9 cents, which left a penny for treats. "In those days, youngsters couldn't make any money," Bobby said. "Family men cut their own grass and did their own chores.So, you had to beg for that dime to go to the movies. There were penny vending machines, and for that penny, you could get candy, gum or peanuts."

Bobby recalled that the kids would crowd to get in and get the best seats. "There was a real scramble for the front row seats," he recalled with a chuckle. "The kids had to be close to their cowboy heroes, and the front row, that's as close as you could get!"

During the early 1950s, Western heroes like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry made the transition to television with half-hour programs. The silver screen was left with Whip Wilson, The Durango Kid and Johnny Mack Brown, mostly from Columbia Pictures and Monogram Studios. Post-war America changed and by the late fifties, Westerns were all the craze on television. A weekly dose of cowboy Westerns was now a daily offering -- sometimes six times a night!
Fuzzy Knight Rides Again!
Today, more than 50 years later, Bobby Copeland can create a resume citing more than 150 published articles on cowboys and their movies, and more than a dozen books about the subject. His house is a virtual treasure trove with filing cabinets and crates filled with clippings, Xeroxes, folders of information on every film cowboy, recording the details of his life and his films, magazines, books and pictures, reference works and autographed photographs.One of the autographed photos shows Roy and his wife Dale Evans with Bobby, who had gone to see him to show him an article he'd written about the legendary cowboy. (See photo).

Of all the cowboys, Bobby loved Rogers best. Of them all, Roy was truly the king, Bobby explained. "Roy never passed up an opportunity to do good work. He visited children's hospitals whenever he could, he gave money to lots of charities; he didn't like to talk about it though, he just did these things. He was very concerned about being a good model for kids. He liked to drink a beer now and then, but he stopped doing it, because he didn't want to set a bad example to children."

Roy Rogers book
"Cowboy movies were great because they were bearers of moral tone and the cowboys always did what was right," Bobby explained. "The good guys didn't drink, they didn't smoke, they wore white hats. A kid could get a good lesson in morality every time he went to the movies. I don't mean it was a substitute for church, but it certainly complemented church."

"The B-Westerns had simplistic and repetitive plots, ad there was never a mystery about the identity of the hero or the villain. Everyone knew that there would be a rip-roaring climax, where good would triumph over evil and that the hero would ride off into the sunset ready to fight another day," Bobby romantically described. "The cowboy hero had the fastest horse, quickest draw, fanciest clothes, sang the sweetest song, and he possessed a heart of purest gold. Even on his worst day, he could beat the daylights out of the meanest bad guy and clean up the most wicked town in the West without even getting dirty."

Tim McCoy Book
So who cares how many bullets fly out of a six-shooter? Who's counting? Or the movies where Springfield Rifles are introduced a few years before the history books report? B-Westerns rule and five annual Western film festivals in the United States prove the popularity still reigns supreme. Bobby attends a few of those festivals and it's where attendees (myself included) purchase his latest books. It seems one or two new books come out every year. The latest is Allan "Rocky" Lane and Charles Starrett. (Thanks to the latter, a future blog post will list the "lost" Durango Kid movies in the hopes that a few will turn up in the future.)

Bobby's books are not expensive. You don't have to pay $75 to McFarland Publishing or $65 to Scarecrow Press. Usually the cost is $20 for a book and they are worth every dollar. But since he passed away a few years ago his books are becoming difficult to find. If you come across any of his books, do yourself a favor and grab it.