Friday, December 25, 2020

Hollywood, Christmas Style

For those of you hoping I would continue with the annual tradition of featuring holiday glamour photos of Hollywood eye candy, you won't be disappointed. Randomly selected from the archive.... here you go!

June Haver caught kissing Santa Claus!
Leslie Brooks
Judy Garland
Olive Thomas
Diana Dors
Harry Langdon... okay, I thought it was funny.
Diana Lynn (I'd like to be that snowman.)
Jane Greer says, "Well, I can ask for it, can't I?"
Louise Brooks
Delores Del Rio

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Little Rascals Preservation & Restoration Project

Our Gang, also known as The Little Rascals, continue to air on television decades after they first premiered in theaters back during the silent era. Released commercially on VHS and DVD multiple times, fans of the comedies are fully aware of how the original nitrates have been decomposing. What continues to get re-released on DVD and screened on television are the same 1980s print transfers, slightly fuzzy and with occasional defects. Finally, almost 90 years later, the comedy shorts are being digitally restored and you have the option to help make that happen.

Created by studio executive Hal Roach, the same man responsible for those Thelma Todd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy comedies, the shorts are today noted for showing children behaving in a relatively natural way. Those raw nuances apparent in children make the gems touching and comedic. They also broke ground by portraying white and black children interacting as equals -- even though on rare occasion someone crawls out of the woodwork to express otherwise.

Classic Flix, through a licensing agreement with Hallmark, who owns the rights to the comedy shorts, was hell bent on preserving and restoring the first 22 sound shorts. The budget, set at $70,000, could easily have been twice as much ($140,000) because of the truly horrible condition of the film elements. In most cases, the elements themselves are on nitrate film stock, almost 90 years old. The company has a track record for restoring films from original elements, with superior results. The sound would also be restored.

Regrettably, the crowdfunding platform was not a success and only 45 percent of the funds were raised. As a result, the restoration project was cut in half and only the first 11 shorts will be contained on volume one, featuring shorts from 1929 to 1930. 

Thankfully, a second volume may happen if the first volume sell enough copies. The company has a link where people can pre-order the first volume now to continue supporting the cause:

Friday, December 11, 2020


Beginning in 1955, Karel Zeman began work on what would become six significant motion-pictures combining animation and live-action for science-fiction classics, half of which were based on the works of Jules Verne. The first was Journey to the Beginning of Time, inspired by Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, which tens of thousands of children remember watching in the 1950s on a Chicago regional children's television program. The film was screened in segments in serial format.

This was followed by Facing the Flag (1958), emulating the original illustrations for Verne's novels, also known as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne. This was followed by three Verne escapes that science-fiction fans are always seeking out to watch: The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962), The Stolen Airship (1967) and On the Comet (1970). Filmmakers Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam credit Zeman's work as a partial influence on their craft. 

Very little has been documented about Zeman and his work until the recent issue of Filmfax (issue #157) was released on newsstands this past month. Woodson Hughes put together a fabulous magazine article containing numerous behind-the-scenes photos and historical perception of the films he produced. His films were recently restored from archival elements and released on DVD. And in 2015 a documentary was released about Zeman. It seems his work was always appreciated and now brought to the attention of mass media for rediscovery. I recommend you subscribe to Filmfax magazine, and be sure to grab the recent issue with Woodson Hughes' article. 


Friday, December 4, 2020


The Lone Ranger radio program premiered in 1933, broadcast from radio station WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan. By 1934 the program extended coverage beyond Michigan, reaching as far west as Chicago and as far East as New York City and Connecticut. Beginning in February 1938, producer George W. Trendle commissioned every radio broadcast of The Lone Ranger be recorded on transcription disc for syndication. By April 1938 the radio program could be heard across the nation courtesy of these transactions, under local sponsorship. In Atlanta the program could be sponsored by a local bakery and in Houston the program could be sponsored by a furniture store. 

But regardless of what fans mistakenly insist, not every radio broadcast was transcribed. The Christmas Eve broadcast of 1939 was never recorded, as verified by a notation on the radio script, "Not for Transcription," to the consecutive sequential order on the disc labels. It is assumed that the reason for this radio broadcast not being transcribed is because local radio stations airing the programs via transcription discs might have difficulty airing a Christmas episode during a non-festive time period such as April or June. Thankfully, the radio script exists so reprinted below is the plot summary for the Christmas 1939 broadcast, filling in the gap that will never be fulfilled in recorded format. 

Broadcast December 24, 1939 
Plot: John Lambert is forced to take in his two grandsons, Bruce and Tim, when he learns that their mother is dying and needs someone to care for. In the day preceding Christmas, separated by their mother, the boys are unable to spend a joyous holiday. To Lambert, it was merely an inevitable nuisance. But to Martha Lambert, John’s wife, the approaching holiday ranked with those of her own son’s childhood. During a blizzard, the boys learn the truth and run away in the hopes of rejoining their dying mother, who lives three days’ travel south of the Lambert ranch. The two boys fought their way through the blizzard hand in hand. The snow blinded them… the fierce cold was agony. To keep Tim occupied, Bruce tells him the story of the Nativity. When the Lone Ranger discovers what has happened, he races to find the boys and rescue them. John, meanwhile, feels sorry for the scornful way he treated his son when he married Laura, then despised Laura when his son died. The Ranger finds the boys and brings them back to the Ranch, where they discover their grandpa doesn’t hate them. And their mother is also at the ranch, thanks to Tonto and his wonderful methods of healing the sick.  

Monday, November 30, 2020


Charles F. Summers, III, age 64, of York, Pennsylvania, died peacefully on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 at UPMC Pinnacle Harrisburg. Known by family and friends as Chuck or Charlie, he worked for many years as an equipment operator for the York City Parks Department. He also owned and operated his own computer IT business and was the administrator of the Old-Time Radio DigestAt a time when the hobby needed communications and a transition to new collectors in the digital age, who was there? Charlie. He filled the need when others did not, would not, or could not even detect that there was a need. Remember radio scribe Elliott Lewis once had a coffee mug that said, "Where were you when the page was blank?" It was Charlie who picked up the baton when no one else did. That is the legacy he left behind. 

Charlie was a great guy and a technical and digital pillar in the hobby of old-time radio. In the late 1990s and the turn of the new century, everyone in the hobby heard of Charlie Summers before they met him. And that was the irony that we later found out. Whether you knew Charlie Summers as the administrator of the OTR Digest or the coffee drinker who hung out at old-time radio conventions, we all benefited from his contributions.  

In 1998, Charlie created the Old Radio Digest (which would be affectionately known as the OTR Digest  and the OTR Roundtable), a listserv providing Internet users with a platform to communicate and exchange information regarding old-time radio programs. Primitive as "listserv" and dial-up may seem in today’s social media world, this was difficult and dedicated work. Charlie confessed once that the internet served as a communication medium for personal relationships, which meant everyone with an opinion was bound to be more critical than praising. Such criticisms could be detrimental to the hobby so the role of an administrator meant extinguishing fires and serving as both judge and jury – which was bound to disappoint many users over the years and Charlie, sadly, took the heat by virtue of office. 

Through the OTR Digest, fans of vintage radio programs who had access to the Internet were able to learn about clubs, newsletters, fanzines, the discovery of lost radio programs, and get contact information for collectors who bought, sold, and traded old-time radio. When Bill Pfeiffer, the maintainer of Digest, died as a result of an auto accident in September 1999, a number of people cooperated to move the Digest to Charlie’s personal website. He reveled in the joy of old-time radio, and it was his desire to use the Internet to expose old-time radio to the masses.

In an era before Facebook and Yahoo Groups even existed, the OTR Digest was the most popular discussion platform for anything related to old-time radio. Subscribers shared information and opinions, reviews and the latest news from the hobby. The OTR Digest is credited for having contributed to the ongoing success of the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention and the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio Convention. It was in the OTRDigest that people learned about the annual fan gatherings, OTR clubs, newsletters, and discoveries from radio’s Golden Age, thus widening the perspective of the hobby itself.

Hal Stone (left) and Charlie Summers (right)

Charlie began listening to and collecting old-time radio in the late 1960s. He grew up watching 1960s television (especially Star Trek), relished the 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, enjoyed listening to The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, shared a deep appreciation for independent coffee shops, considered himself a guru with computers, disliked blog spammers, and embraced the prose of radio commentator Bob Edwards. For years Charlie insisted he maintained the largest collection of Bob Edwards radio broadcasts in the United States. There is no reason to doubt his claim.

It was his presence at the annual fan gatherings where we all came to know the “ol’ curmudgeon” as he often referred to himself. With a jovial wit, wicked sense of humor and infectious laugh, no one could resist the charms of Charlie Summers. At one of the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio Conventions, Charlie bragged that he knew every George Carlin routine by heart and when challenged to recite one verbatim, he did so flawlessly. As a frequent attendee at old-time radio conventions, Charlie became good friends with radio actors Harry Bartell and particularly Hal Stone, with whom he formed a close bond. For years Charlie debated going to conventions after the untimely death of Stone, questioning whether it was worth the travel to visit a hotel empty on friendship, in what he once remarked, “resembled a mausoleum.” But Charlie still went to conventions afterwards to see his friends and share some laughs.

For many years, at the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention, Charlie could be found in the panels/seminar room handling the camera equipment to capture the events for preservation. More than once, he dismissed the notion that anything he did for the hobby was monumental, firmly believing that acting as an administrator for the Digest was merely a laborious, but happy, job. His work was acknowledged on more than one occasion as a recipient of both the Parley E. Baer Award and the Allen Rockford Award. But no greater acknowledgement can one bestow Charlie Summers than one particular year when he paid a visit to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. “We decided to have lunch together,” recalled Fred Berney. “Just walking from the dealer’s room to the hotel’s restaurant he was stopped by a number of people who treated him like a celebrity. I doubt if there are too many people in the OTR hobby who didn’t know the name Charlie Summers.”

Anyone who knew Charlie personally would attest that old-time radio came third in his list of accomplishments. His wife, Annie, and his daughter, Katie, were the center of his world. Annie was the handlebars to his bike and Katie was their proudest accomplishment. Together with his daughter they co-hosted their own Internet radio program and contributed entries for Radio Rides the Range (2014, McFarland Publishing).

For Charlie, the computer and the Internet was his universe. The brightest star in the digital sky may be gone forever, but his efforts to widen our perspective will never be forgotten. The Old Radio Digest was his legacy to the hobby, and we will forever be grateful.


Friday, November 27, 2020

Vintage Christmas Music You May Have Never Heard

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.) I hope this musical yule log not only suits your palate, but many of these songs become a favorite of yours. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020


Great out the candy canes! If you are looking for something to read this holiday, check out Mark Voger's hardcover book, Holly Jolly, recently published. This is a 192-page full-color glossy book covering so many aspects of Christmas from the by-gone era as it pertains to retro pop culture. 

As described by the official press release, "Holly Jolly is a colorful sleigh ride through the history of Christmas, from its religious origins to its emergence as a multimedia phenomenon." In short, the book covers LP records, old 78 releases, Christmas comic books, children's books, vintage toys, advertisements, and the history behind them. The section about 1950s silver aluminum trees was fascinating and I never realized Santa was a superhero in a healthy run of comic books. Sample pages can be found below but you can also find more samples from the link below, where you can also place an order. Mark Voger wrote two other appreciations, Groovy and Monster Mash, which also come with my recommendation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Bear Manor Media Holiday Sale

For anyone who is not familiar with Bear Manor Media, the publishing house responsible for probably more books about retro television, classic Hollywood, celebrity biographies and old-time radio than any other publishing company, you may want to check out their website at

The publishing company has a 25 percent off sale going on right now which is applied automatically during checkout. Even if you cannot purchase books right now, browsing their website is like window shopping at your favorite book store. But with winter coming, who couldn't use a few books stacked to the side to read on a cold winter night?


Friday, November 6, 2020


Over 150 of the 221 television episodes of The Lone Ranger were adapted from radio scripts. This meant a large handful of original stories concieved for the visual medium. (The fifth season, shot in color, only featured one adaptation from radio while the remainder of the productions were original stories.) With story selection and controlling oversight, George W. Trendle and Fran Striker reviewed each teleplay multiple times (at least three times according to an inter-office memo) to ensure quality. Regrettably, five original teleplays were rejected, detailed below for your amusement.

Herb Meadow’s “The Goldmaker,” dated May 12, 1954, was intended as a fourth season production. "Proud Bear" is the leader of a peaceful band of Indians who have been abused by white men. The Lone Ranger fears that if Proud Bear is cheated by one more trader or if one more outlaw molests any of his tribe, he will go on the warpath. Along comes professional magician and conman Joe Phoenix, who convinces Proud Bear that he can "grow gold" (using a magic trick to double the size of existing gold). HIs plan is to ambush the Indians when they bring their entire gold supply to him to be doubled.  Unable to convince Proud Bear that he is being tricked, the Lone Ranger and Tonto catch the ambushers in the act and, with Proud Bear's help, capture the conman so he can be turned over to the local sheriff.

Robert Schaefer, Eric Freiwald, and Charles Larson wrote an original, “The Baron of Black Rock,” dated December 4, 1954, also rejected and never filmed. “Baron” Stevens hates the West, but has settled near Black Rock and is buying cattle at above market prices. His scheme involves getting a bill of sale for the over-priced cattle and having his ranch hand Curly murder the cattle sellers and retrieve the money from the cattle sale. Rancher Howard Bishop is a friend of the Lone Ranger and is skeptical of any buyer who is paying prices like those offered by the “Baron.” The Lone Ranger convinces his friend Bishop to sell some cattle to the “Baron” in order to trap him. When the “Baron” learns of the Lone Ranger's trap, he gets the jump on the masked man and it is Tonto who comes in and saves the day.

Trendle wrote to Chertok, criticizing the latter: “Mr. Striker and I had quite a conference on the script for ‘The Baron of Black Rock’ because, after reading it, I still say it is not a Lone Ranger script. I am sorry that they tried to fix it up; because it is still full of thing I do not like in a Lone Ranger story.” Among his criticisms was the unnecessary killing of Elaine’s father. “We have had quite a bit of comment about too many murders in Lone Ranger stories.”

David P. Sheppard, who contributed ten episodes for the television series, attempted to write an original titled “Death of an Outlaw,” teleplay dated July 30, 1952, which was harshly criticized by Trendle who wrote to Jack Chertok: “I have come to the conclusion that the fellows would save you a lot of money and do a much better job for us if they would follow some of our own radio stories, instead of attempting to do original plots. They do not seem to get the right viewpoint and they become highly illogical and very unsatisfactory.” The original story, never telecast, concerned Sam Binnian and his gang of outlaws who have a plan to rob the Saguaro National Bank while the town is distracted at the annual rodeo. Sam doesn't realize that the Lone Ranger has infiltrated his gang, disguised as a Mexican bandit named Rodriguez. Word reaches Binnian just before the robbery that the real Rodriguez died three months earlier. Alerted to the imposter in his gang, Binnian manages to capture both the Lone Ranger and Tonto while robbing the bank. Not wanting to kill the imposter until he knows who infiltrated his gang and why, Binnian takes his two prisoners to his hideout, where they turn the tables on their captors. Binnian gets impaled on his own knife in the struggle and the rest of the gang, as well as the loot, are returned to Saguaro.

It should be noted: Sheppard recycled the plot for use on Steve Donovan, Western Marshal, in the episode “Comanche Kid,” whereupon Marshal Steve Donovan and his deputy, Rusty Lee, go undercover as saddle tramps to try to smoke the outlaw into the open. 

Kathleen Seller’s “Dispatch of Death,” dated September 9, 1952, was never filmed. The Lone Ranger and Tonto travel to visit an old friend, Amy Linden, who runs a smalltown newspaper, "The Dispatch". Amy is in the middle of printing a big story about a near-by gold strike on property owned by Ben Stark and Ace Burrows, but Amy is suspicious that things aren't on the up-and-up and has sent her assistant to investigate the gold mine. When the Ranger and Tonto find the murdered body of Amy's assistant, they take over the investigation and learn that Ben and Ace have salted their mine and are partnering with a local judge to sell the property for a fortune.  The Ranger and Amy work together to get Ben, Ace, and the judge to expose their fraud and the three blackguards get their comeuppance in a showdown in the office of the Dispatch.

“Jane’s Jewels,” based on Fran Striker’s radio script and adapted by Robert Halff, was also rejected and never filmed. Dated July 15, 1952, the teleplay dramatized the story of two cantankerous old gold prospectors love the same woman, Jane Weatherby, who has been looking after them both for the past twenty years. Two corrupt local deputies conspire to get the two old prospectors to fight over Jane and perhaps reveal where their stash of gold dust is hidden. When Jane receives a (fake) diamond necklace as a gift, sent secretly by the deputies, the fight between prospectors begins. The Lone Ranger and Tonto have their hands full trying to sort out who sent Jane the necklace and why, while at the same time trying to keep the prospectors from killing each other.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Halloween, Hollywood Style

Once again, it's time for our annual Halloween photos!

Audrey Ferris

Betty Grable

Joyce Holden

Anne Shirley, Carol Stone and Rosina Lawrence

Judy Garland

June Lang

Leila Haymes

Lillian Wells

Friday, October 2, 2020


Anyone who grew up in New York City during the late fifties would recall John Zacherle as the ghoulish host of late-night horror movies, providing dark humor between the commercial breaks much in the same manner as Raymond on radio’s Inner Sanctum Mystery. As part of the Shock Theatre package, those movies included the likes of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Peter Lorre. So it may come as no surprise that on the evenings of February 25, March 4 and March 11, 1959, Zacherle tried his hand as a ghoulish host on late-night radio with a short-lived series titled Beyond the End.

Advertised as “a three-program mystery series with a comic twist,” through an NBC press release, the program aired from 10:06 to 10:28 p.m. Certain newspapers listed the program on radio logs as “World’s Literature,” with no reference to the horror host or what specific dramatic readings were scheduled. The horror dramas consisted of Nelson Olmsted’s dramatic readings from commercial LP records released in 1956. Among the spooky dramas presented were Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat.” As for Zacherle, his gig as a radio horror host was short-lived. 

Zacherle was a celebrity guest at the Friends of Old-Time Radio convention many years ago but sadly, no one was apparently aware of the radio program and asking Zacherle myself about the program he could only remember going to the radio station to do his spiel before the microphone. Nothing memorable to recall.

Since the programs aired over NBC radio live, the closest we can come to hearing any rendition of his spook-tacular radio performance are his LP records issued from 1960 to 1963, Spook Along with ZacherlyMonster MashScary Tales Featuring John Zacherly and Zacherle’s Monster Gallery. It seems unlikely whether we will be able to verify whether or not his 1958 top-ten novelty rock and roll song, “Dinner With Drac,” was featured on any of the three broadcasts, quite possibly as the program’s theme song? 

Special Thanks to Steven Thompson, Michael Biel and David Lennick for their assistance.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Lone Ranger Fan Club

Did you know there is an official Lone Ranger fan club?

I did back in 1990 when I signed up and became member #10. Today the club has over 5,000 members and four times a year they mail out a newsletter concerning all things Lone Ranger. Past issues of The Silver Bullet are available to read online when you are a member of the club. They give you a Username and Password when you sign up to become a member.

The website is listed below.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Return of Renfrew of the Mounted

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Laurie York Erskine was in the forefront of living authors who reached a wide audience. He was also incredibly prolific: 20 full-length novels, over a hundred short stories in such magazines as Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post, articles in the New York Herald-Tribune and Life, eight motion pictures, major network radio broadcasts, a number of stage plays for boys, texts for United States Armed Forces Institute courses in citizenship for enlisted personnel, and a war memoir selected for the Library of the Imperial War Museum in London.

There can be no debate that his greatest success was Renfrew of the Mounted, the dramatic series of a Canadian Mountie who was more than a match for the wiliest and most hard-boiled of criminals. The cry known as the Renfrew call — which children all over America imitated, heard daily on the long-running radio program — echoed through city streets and alleys. In an era when brutality and bloodshed seemed to be exerting a baleful influence on young and old, Renfrew was unusual in that he dealt with his enemies without stooping to torture, dishonesty, and third-degree methods. In consequence, a greater strain was put on his courage and moral behavior, and he was respected, even revered, by the underworld. At the peak of his popularity, the followers of Erskine’s stories, books, and radio programs could be counted in the millions.

The Renfrew novels were written and published partly out of necessity; Erskine donated the profits from his handiwork to the funding of a private boys’ school. The school needed what money Erskine could chip in — far more than it needed his presence — which kept him busy at writing, and often took him away for prolonged absences. He always came back, and everyone on campus recalled his writing always played second fiddle to his interest in the educational influences of the school. It was this financial responsibility that sustained unceasing production of Renfrew of the Mounted adventures in both short story and novel form.

For a few short years Renfrew of the Royal Mounted reigned supreme as the top Canadian Mountie in both popularity polls and as a nationwide pop culture franchise. Such adventure stories of a frozen Northern territory in which Mounties replaced the heroic sheriffs and gunslingers of the American Western, exoticized locales such as the Yukon, offering the local color of dogsleds, fur thieves, trappers, drunk gamblers, and foolish gold prospectors. With the majority of the Canadian Mountie novels written prior to 1920, and the first Renfrew novel published in 1922, his stories were (historically speaking) belated entries in the sub-genre that proliferated in the early 20th century.

Although it has been said that Canada had no Wild West because the Mounties got there first, the truth is that before their heralded arrival Canada’s frontier was as wild as any Wild West dime novel. Native murders and whiskey traders were so common that such vandalism could never be depicted accurately on screen. Erskine made sure to apply a realistic approach with his Renfrew stories, choosing to incorporate romantic prose for the natural beauty of the Northern wilds, with nature a harsher enemy of the Canadian Mounties. Extremely well-written and highly treasured among aficionados of adventure fiction, the novels are still in demand among collectors — with greater demand for the fragile dust jackets that outlived the books themselves.

By the late 1930s, every movie studio in California attempted to cash in on the popularity of the Canadian Mounties. Cowboy stars Kirby Grant, Russell Hayden, and Charles Starrett swapped riding chaps and six-guns for scarlet coats with shiny brass buttons. As multiple film critics pointed out, Saskatchewan might as well have been in Texas. Laurie York Erskine, however, continued to write for the magazines, mapping out the plots for future Renfrew novels, and found continued success with Renfrew on radio for three separate incarnations over two different networks.

Soon after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Erskine found himself in the service of his country. Therein lies the sad countenance of this tale. Upon his return he discovered Renfrew of the Mounted was no longer sought after by the major radio networks. If anything, radio broadcasting made way for the growing trend of private detectives and children’s westerns. The sub-genre of the American Western, that of the Canadian Mountie, was passé. Worse, Mountie stories diminished throughout the 1940s as Canadian publishers lost interest with the country’s growing independence, and a hero who embodied a discarded myth of empire that was by then an embarrassment — a political hotbed of coals for some.

To add to Erskine’s troubles was Challenge of the Yukon (later re-titled Sergeant Preston of the Yukon) which was syndicated across all 48 states. There was room for only one Canadian Mountie in a market that was oversaturated with cowboys and private detectives. Summed up, Erskine’s contribution to the war cause resulted in the demise of Inspector Douglas Renfrew, as well as any and all future income from the franchise.

To add insult to injury, the fictional Mountie was left largely to Hollywood. By the late fifties, Mounties in Canada were rarely portrayed from historical studies but rather ironic or satiric sketches on radio and television. Today the Royal Canadian Mounted Police remains the federal and national police service of Canada, but not (in general) an active provincial or municipal police structure for local policing. Few today can tell you who Inspector Douglas Renfrew was, but many can instantly picture the comedic efforts of Dudley Do-Right.

Sadly, despite multiple attempts to revive the franchise from the 1950s through the 1980s, Renfrew of the Mounted fell victim to hard times. Fewer than a dozen of the almost 400 radio broadcasts are known to exist in recorded form. Erskine himself bequeathed the rights to his character to a university who chose not to renew the rights or trademarks, as did a defunct low-budget movie studio that (in the late 1930s) produced a series of eight Renfrew motion-pictures. As a result, the franchise fell into orphaned status and — until publication of this book — was bound for obsolescence.

It is my hope that this reference will rectify that oversight and, at the very least, preserve what remains of Renfrew of the Royal Mounted. After consulting a number of archives across the country, reading all of Erskine’s printed prose, and reading all of the radio scripts and thus documenting the plot summaries for your convenience, this book should plug in a gap that sorely needed to be filled. Look at it as an act of preservation, so to speak, which provides a major one-stop reference to all things related to Renfrew of the Royal Mounted, and to Laurie York Erskine.

I launched a Kickstarter to pre-sell copies of the book, with a special "thank you" gift for those to pledge to buy a book -- a CD with 13 "lost" episodes of the radio program (including two unaired audition recordings) that have never been heard since their initial broadcasts (from 1936 to 1957). 

You can click the link below to make a pledge. And in advance, I thank you.

Friday, September 4, 2020


Through the month of February 1953, someone named C.C. Cook of the Indian Theatre, at the Mission Village in Los Angeles, a four-acre resort with an American Indian theme, mailed two letters to George W. Trendle. Cook was supposedly representing Robert E. Callahan, author and showman. Having read an article in a magazine providing a brief background to the origin of The Lone Ranger radio program, Cook took it upon himself to accuse Trendle of plagiarism; promptly denied and dismissed by Trendle.

The first letter indicated no intention of a lawsuit, just a suggestion that Callahan himself should receive some financial due for injecting the germ of an idea into Trendle’s mind for a radio Western. The details behind the accusation, repeated in each of the two letters, were similarities between The Lone Indian and The Lone Ranger, varied enough to give historians today cause to suspect Callahan was writing the letters using the alias of C.C. Cook, with faded memory of the details from 1933, exercising professional jealousy for the financial success of The Lone Ranger.

July 1934

In 1926, advertising man Robert Callahan, an actor who appeared in numerous silent and early talkie pictures, was such a fanatic of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, Ramona (1884), that he wrote a sequel in 1930, Daughter of Ramona. Considered by many as a fanatic of the times, he built a theme park in Culver City called Ramona Village, where he was accused by one critic of creating a “jazz commercial version” of California’s past. The park was built in 1927 and was open for some time in the summer of 1929, but the idea did not go over, with the buildings and equipment only half finished. As a result of a court case questioning the sale and ownership of stock used to raise capital for construction, the four-acre parcel suffered economic setbacks before construction could be completed. It was supposedly reopened for a short time in 1930 to help promote the sale of his novel. The theme park was influenced by the popularity of Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel, Ramona, which spurred his fascination with Spanish mission and Native American life. Callahan, a self-proclaimed authority of authentic American Indian history, decided to construct a new park on the same site, rechristened Mission Village.

The story took a turn in 1930 when Callahan wrote and created The Lone Indian, a radio program broadcast six-times-a-week over the Warner Bros. radio station in Hollywood, for nearly four years (1930 to 1933). It was sponsored by Walker’s Department Store in Los Angeles, where an Indian Lodge was built on the fifth floor, and from which various prizes were given to children who listened to The Lone Indian broadcasts. It is estimated that half a million of the Lone Indian buttons were made and distributed throughout Los Angeles circa 1931, given to children who faithfully followed the radio broadcasts. During the Warner Bros. run, the program was serialized with Callahan ostensibly at a ranch telling an eastern visitor stories of Indian lore, backed by singing Indians. In 1937, Callahan recorded The Lone Indian for syndication, an Electro-Vox transcription, each with a self-contained story narrated by “The Old Trapper,” played by Callahan, possibly inspired by “The Old Ranger” from radio’s Death Valley Days.

Indian Village (KTM in Santa Monica, 1930 to circa 1931); Indian Stories (KFWB, owned by Warner Brothers, three times a week, 1932 to November 1933); The Lone Indian (1932 to 1934); Lone Indian Theater, a.k.a. Indian Theater – Santa Fe Trail, a.k.a. Santa Fe Trail (KFAC, March to June 1935); and Indian Trails, retitled Indian Village most likely to promote his theme park (KMTR, circa December 31, 1936 to 1937, sponsored by The Forman Loan Company, and another run in 1939). 

KFAC Radio Premium from The Lone Indian program.

At the Mission Village, during The Lone Indian’s radio tenure through syndication, a staff member would dress up like the title character and attend evening campfire circles for children, telling stories and providing good morals for them to live by.

In late 1932, literature was composed to make The Lone Indian a nation-wide broadcast through syndication. Reportedly among the literature were selections from The Lone Indian book of short stories (published in 1933), all adapted from radio scripts. As producer, writer and director of the program, Callahan prepared three wax recordings for nationwide transcription release, made by Radio Recorders. According to Callahan, one of these audition records was mailed to George W. Trendle in 1932, answering an advertisement in a trade paper, asking for audition platters and details. Trendle kept them for several weeks; finally writing back saying the price was too high to consider purchase. No agreement was made at the time both men exchanged communication. 


A few months (or a few years) later, a lawsuit was prepared against George W. Trendle for stealing the basic concept of The Lone Indian, but Callahan’s wife suddenly passed away (and Callahan himself went to South America for two months both for health and relaxation) causing him to think twice before filing the lawsuit, which he never did.

Callahan insisted the black horse was changed to a white horse, Callahan’s second lead – a Texas Ranger – was made into the hero instead of an Indian. “They carried out the entire program as sent in the literature and as contained in my book, a definite steal,” Callahan claimed. Actor Victor Daniels – whose Indian name was Chief Thundercloud – played the role of “Lone Indian” for two years on the air. Callahan claimed another common denominator between the two radio programs was Daniels playing the role of Tonto on The Lone Ranger for a short time, but Callahan was incorrect in his statement – Daniels played Tonto in the second of the two Republic Pictures cliffhanger serials, not the radio program.

Another of Callahan’s claims was that The Lone Indian also exemplified high morals by the title character. Callahan’s version introduced Indian philosophy and prayers, including a policy not to drink or smoke. Always appearing in time of need, The Lone Indian provided assistance for the meek through cunning and action.

Theme park post card from 1929.

As a lawyer who was with The Lone Ranger since the beginning and handled many Lone Ranger cases, particularly in the Federal Courts, this claim of plagiarism was not uncommon in the eyes of Raymond Meurer, who instructed Trendle to “just forget about this crackpot and not be drawn into a contest. I’d suggest we just drop the thing right here and, if anything happens, we’ll take care of it at that time.” Cook ceased sending letters after Meurer stopped responding. (There is nothing found to suggest Callahan sent more than two letters. Mission Village was destroyed in 1962 to make way for the Santa Monica Freeway.) *

* Besides The Lone Indian, Callahan produced a number of radio programs for syndication, all of the Western genre, including Wife WantedThe Santa Fe Trail, Tommy Gale of the Box-T Ranch, and The Singing Bandit – the latter of which aired on selected stations across the country and was certainly closer to The Lone Ranger than The Lone Indian, even though the hero was not masked and whose trademark was singing.