Friday, May 29, 2020

Mel Blanc, the Man of a Thousand Voices

“Mel Blanc is without question the greatest voice-man of all time. I’m not talking about impersonations, I’m talking about voice.”
        --- Rich Little

The new Mel Blanc book.
Mel Blanc was internationally famous as the hardest-working voice in show business history. He was as prolific in old-time radio as he was in advertising, and he will never be forgotten for creating the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester & Tweety, and most of Warner Brothers’ classic cartoon characters.

After ten years of research, Ben Ohmart recently completed a 700 page book documenting the career of Mel Blanc in a way that has never been done before. With first hand materials and Noel Blanc’s partial biography on his father, Ohmart was able to create one of the two best biographies published in the past year. Not only was it an enjoyable read but I really wish most people took a page from tomes like this one and apply the same format for their own projects. 

If I can offer a bit of criticism: a rash of biographies have been published recently that don’t really qualify as biographies. After reading two chapters I discover that the author did nothing more than compile 200 to 400 magazine and newspaper articles, stack them in chronological order, and type the information into book form. Masquerading as a biography, these books could easily have started every paragraph with “On such and such date, the actor appeared on the stage in such and such drama…” and “On such and such date, the actor then moved on to such and such movie…” All it took was a bit of time to maneuver the words to avoid repetition. I consider these works more of a timeline than a biography and while there is always a need for those books, I really wish people would not use the word “biography” on the cover of the book.

Mel Blanc
Thankfully, Ben Ohmart did what most biographies should do. Memories, recollections and stories about Mel Blanc are told through the words of Vincent Price, Gary Owens, Noel Blanc, Stephen Cox and many others who worked with Blanc during his professional career and those close enough to call him their friend. 

This book is not an animation book. As Ohmart explained in the introduction, “There are plenty of books on the history of cartoons, especially Warner Bros. animation, so I’m not going to waste space here replicating cartoon information readily available elsewhere. Read Leonard Maltin, Jerry Beck and Mark Evanier for the full story on animation history.” For that reason, this book is about Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc’s earliest documented role as a radio announcer at KGW in 1927, his childhood life at school, his parents… all documented in the first chapter alone.

The book documents the true origin of Foghorn Legghorn, including Kenny Delmar’s Senator Claghorn character from The Fred Allen Show, clearing up misconceptions that have been reported incorrectly in reference guides. The famed Woody Woodpecker lawsuit is also documented. And Mel’s preference voicing cartoons, “Because I can actually see what happens later, as I watch the cartoon, and it’s a great satisfaction to me to be able to see these things that I do and then wonder when the heck did I do ‘em, you know.”

One of Mel Blanc’s favorite voice people, and the one he felt closest to in radio, was Bea Benaderet (the original Betty Rubble on The Flintstones). He called Verna Felton, with whom he worked on The Judy Canova Show, “one of the most versatile of all radio actresses.” His least favorite radio actor was the prolific Gale Gordon. Al Jolson came in a close second.

There’s an entire chapter devoted to The Mel Blanc Show, a radio program that lasted one season and provided the voice actor the spotlight to prove how talented he was. I recall the episode when Mel broke Mr. Colby’s radio and in desperation hid in the radio and played various roles as Mr. Colby continued to flip channels. Hilarious and worthy of seeking out. 

I always loved this poster since it came out in 1989.
All quotes in the book came from Mel Blanc’s own mouth unless otherwise noted, generously supplied by Noel Blanc. Some of Mel’s words also came from Walt Mitchell’s extensive interviews, which were generous donated to this book. Thanks to Mary Lou Wallace, Walt’s partner-in-Blanc, the discography in the back of the book is truly extensive. 

Full disclosure: I supplied a appendix for this book, but this is not the reason why I am writing this book review or praising the book. Six months ago I bought a copy of Michael Hayde and Chuck Harter’s Harry Langdon book, which I also praise as an excellent biography. Like I said, I read two superb biographies this year. Both a model of success.

Mel Blanc’s personal life is also documented from near-fatal illness to charitable contributions. Noel Blanc, who I have chatted with a few times and has a strong heart for preserving the legacy of his father, contributed much for this book and helps ensure a personal touch that you do not see in most biographies written today. Rather than a month-by-month account of Mel Blanc’s career, we get an entertaining story of a man who voiced the characters we love and if Mel Blanc was alive today… he would probably be pleased. If Mel Blanc wrote another autobiography, this might be that book -- word for word.

The first 230 pages is the biography. The remainder of the book is a massive catalog of Mel Blanc’s radio career, his LP discography, television, feature films, commercials and cartoon voice work. But when I buy a book about Mel Blanc, hoping to read a true biography, such reference lists are also welcome with open arms. Together with Blanc's autobiography, you have everything you need to know about the man of a thousand voices.

Friday, May 22, 2020

G-Men: The 1935 Radio Program

In 1935, sensation surrounded the opening of Warner Bros’ newest film, G-Men. In the film, James Cagney did not play the “tough guy gangster” for which he was known, but rather a federal lawman. A press release for the event read: “Hollywood’s Most Famous ‘Mad Man’ Joins the ‘G-Men’ and Halts the March of Crime!” When Phillips H. Lord returned to New York that same year, he was flat broke. He had no idea what to do next. He was also heavily in debt. Walking up Broadway he happened to notice a big sign on a theater advertising the Warner Bros. movie 

1943 movie poster 
The gangster-hero of early Depression films – the self-made individual who defied an apathetic government and inept police in his quest for success – had previously enjoyed immense popularity in such films as The Public Enemy (1931) and the F.B.I.-endorsed movie You Can’t Get Away With It (1936). The latter film was a documentary-style short showing the inner workings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with permission from the Honorable Homer S. Cummings, Attorney General of the U.S., and with the cooperation of J. Edgar Hoover, appearing as himself, giving his G-Men orders to apprehend the criminals at large.

Puzzled, Lord asked, “What are G-Men?” Lord had been away for two years and the name G-Men was practically unknown when he left the U.S. After an explanation, he said, “what a great radio show that would make!” He walked up the street thinking it over. Cagney’s new role as a “government man” was a sign of the overall shift taking place in the minds of the public about law enforcement as well as the efficiency of the entire democratic system itself. Hundreds of thousands of others had seen that name, just passing by, and it took Lord who was broke and out of broadcasting to recognize the possibilities and do something about it. The next morning he called the Chevrolet/General Motors Company and went to see one of their officials. The outcome was that after three days of negotiations, he walked out of the National Broadcasting Company with a personal contract in his hands.

MUSIC: (Orchestral Chord Sustained) 
ANNOUNCER: Presenting the first of a new series of programs … G-Men! 
MUSIC: (Orchestra Plays … 15 seconds … music softens)
SOUND: (Woman’s Shriek)
MAN’S VOICE: Stop her!
SOUND: (Two quick shots)
SOUND: (Door Slams)
MUSIC: (Orchestra up full … 15 seconds … stops)
SOUND: (Two sirens fade in and out in succession)
SOUND: (Hollow-voiced police calls)
POLICE: Calling cars 42, 23, 56 report immediately – Police Headquarters. Calling all cars…cover all roads leading from the city for two black sedans. Calling (fade) all cars … cover roads from city.
THREE NEWSBOYS: Extra … Extra … All about the Dillinger gang … Read about Dillinger shooting way to freedom … Extra … Dillinger and Baby-Face Nelson!
SOUND: (Calling of newsboys fades)
ANNOUNCER: Chevrolet presents tonight the first program in its new series – G-Men – Every fact is taken from the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation United States Department of Justice, at Washington. Tonight’s program is not a story. It is an accurate account of the hunt for John Dillinger by our G-Men. And now I present Phillips Lord, the creator and director of this series.
LORD: Good evening. This series of G-Men programs is presented with the approval of the Attorney General of the United States and J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice. Every fact in tonight’s program is based upon information in the files of the department. I went to Washington, was graciously received by Mr. Hoover, and all of these scripts are written in the department building. Tonight’s program was submitted to Mr. Hoover, who checked every statement and made some very valuable suggestions.

Phillips H. Lord
The photo above is courtesy of the Phillips H. Lord family. This same photo has been adjusted and color tinted (a.k.a. altered) on a number of web-sites. The photo above is offered in its purity, with no alterations performed except for a clean tiff and jpg scan. 

In a press release dated July 14, 1935, it was clear that the G-Men were now a viable property appropriate for dramatic exploits: “A new weekly dramatic serial, G-Men, based on actual cases from the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, opens coast-to-coast Saturday night at 8 o’clock, EST. The continuity will be prepared by Phillips H. Lord, known on the air as Seth Parker. ‘If there are some who are still dazzled by the false glamour of the gangster,’ said a representative of the sponsor, ‘we hope these radio programs will show little glamour is left to the criminal, when he comes to the end of the road.’ The purpose of the broadcasts, it is pointed out, is to ‘holdup a clear mirror to the “G” man and his activities, and let the true reflection, as contained in the official records, speak for itself.’ By extending accurate workings of the department it is hoped, through these broadcasts, to ‘double the effectiveness of this arm of the government by increasing public cooperation in the war on crime’.”

G-Men premiered on July 20, 1935, with a crime dramatization about former “Public Enemy Number One,” John Dillinger. His daring escapades in crime, his brush with the law, and total disregard for society were highlighted on the program. A recreation of his death on the streets outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago was also dramatized, the climax of the premiere broadcast, emphasizing that “crime does not pay,” a moral that radio listeners would be reminded of for the next twenty years.

For the second broadcast, “The Case of ‘Baby-Face’ Nelson,” the needless killing of Special Agent G-Man Carter Baum was dramatized, revealing just how cold-blooded and heartless the week’s top villain was to the American public. Radio listeners paid careful attention to the Department’s methods of investigation, and its pursuit of Nelson toward Lake Geneva, where G-Men attempted to apprehend “Baby-Face.” Towards the finale, G-Men took a stand and shot it out with Nelson, who collapsed, having been shot 17 times.
Gang Busters comic book

The broadcast was as authentic and true to the facts as it could possibly be. Inspector Samuel Cowley, who was the chief investigator during the two broadcasts, was accurately depicted as the man responsible for the death of the two notorious figures. Although Purvis spent a lifetime claiming he killed Dillinger, the shots were fired by Cowley and other F.B.I. Agents. Cowley and another Agent, Herman Hollis, four after the death of Dillinger, shot it out with Nelson and a confederate, John Paul Chase. Bother agents were killed but had managed to wound nelson seriously and he died within days. Hoover himself (appearing by proxy) praised the fictitious Cowley for his bravery after the “Baby-Face” Nelson drama. “There’s your two kinds of men,” Hoover told the radio audience. “Cowley gave his life to protect others; he’s loved, honored, respected. Nelson hated, despised; even his body discarded into the mud of the gutter.”

Hoover’s actual involvement with the scripts was minimal, but it appears not a single script didn’t receive some change or suggestion, even if it was a  couple words. Case in point, “The Fleagle Fingerprint Case,” where on page 24 (second line of the teaser for next week’s program) read: “which will include the spectacular escape,” Hoover added “and eventual death.” These three words were inserted between the words “escape” and “of.” Hoover’s endorsement of the G-Men program was another example of how he loved publicity, and seeing his name in the papers.

G-Men receiving the distinction of having Hoover endorse the program was more or less a privilege. During the months G-Men gained popularity, Hoover returned a check for $1,500 to the American Magazine, which had sent him an article he had apparently allowed a writer to prepare and publish under his name. Having reviewed the article, he turned the offer down.

In late September of 1935, Dick Tenelly, radio columnist for the Washington Daily News, a local writer having no connection with the Associated Press, attempted to make a name for himself by the cynical “slamming” of new radio programs. His opinion was thought of very lightly by other critics as well as radio people. The article caught the eye of J. Edgar Hoover, who checked on Tenelly’s comment that the National Women’s Radio Committee thought of the series as “sissy,” and immediately composed a letter suggesting he withdraw all cooperation of the Department regarding the program.

On September 14, 1935, Phillips H. Lord wrote the following reply: “This series, Mr. Hoover, means more to me than anything else in the world. My whole future will be based on the success of this program, and there isn’t a stone I’ll leave unturned toward making it the finest thing in radio. If you can spare a few minutes next week to talk with me, I feel that I can save you the greater part of this worrying you have been through. Thus far, everything has been done through a third party and I have only gotten part of an idea of what you had in mind. Almost every radio program that goes on the air is severely criticized by the newspapers. The newspapers resent radio taking advertising from them, and, three years ago, there was quite a stiff battle between these two mediums. That has practically blown over, but the radio editors do pick on opening series. The reason for this is that, if they criticize programs which have been running for a long time too harshly, the fans of the program become incensed and make it very unpleasant for the radio editor. The result is that most of the severe criticizing is done of the new programs until the program gains its following; thereby establishing itself, as it were. In spite of this situation, however, we have had many times as many favorable comments as we have unfavorable.”

Phillips H. Lord. Photo courtesy of Joel Walsh. 
Phillips H. Lord found little cooperation from employees of the radio broadcasters because of his association with the Seth Parker incident, until the success of G-Men, claiming that “important people always had to put up with adverse notoriety from envious or otherwise disgruntled people.”

In the third broadcast of the series, the famed Osage Indian Murders were presented with a certain stark realism. Between 1921-23, several members of the Osage Indian Reservation died under suspicious circumstances. William “King of Osage” Hale was suspected of being involved in the deaths, and agents posing as medicine men, cattlemen and salesmen infiltrated the reservation and eventually solved the murders. Hale had committed the murders in an attempt to collect insurance money and gain control of valuable oil properties owned by the deceased, a true narrative that had the sound and fury of a wholly dramatized script for a competing radio detective series.

One script written about “Shoe Box” Sal was not approved by the Department. Their reason was because nothing in the script tied in any way to the Federal Agents. Scripts written to dramatize the exploits of Dutch Schultz and Ma Barker and her boys were composed, but neither of them were dramatized on the G-Men series. For the broadcast of October 12, 1935, G-Men presented “The Case of Eddie Doll.” Originally this was going to be a script about the O’Malley bank robbers and the August Luer Kidnapping, but when the facts of the case revealed that O’Malley had nothing to do with the Million Dollar Robbery, the notion to script the daring exploits of O’Malley got shelved. Besides, the trial for the double bank robbery was scheduled for the very day this broadcast took place, and it might have hurt the prosecution if too many facts were divulged prior to the trial. Instead, a script about Eddie Doll, who committed three daring bank robberies, a sensational mail robbery and a kidnapping, was dramatized.

“I’ll never forget the first broadcast I ever took part in one of Mr. Lord’s scripts,” recalled Helen Sioussat, Lord's secretary. “I was so careful about preparing, that every word was written and counted and rehearsed. We had been told that because an important sports broadcast had run over its time, our talk would be postponed half an hour, and we were sitting chatting happily – when all of a sudden someone told us that instead we were going on immediately. We rushed to the table mike and spread out our manuscript. As we went on the air, the production man whispered to me that we would have to cut two and a half minutes out of our talk! So there we were on the air, and I had to actually ad lib. This was my first broadcast and at the same time I had to reach over and cross out whatever M. de Chatillon had that I thought might be dispensed with, to keep continuity of thought and yet end on time. All I could do was hope he could follow my pointing. Somehow he did – somehow we finished – and I actually got my first fan mail, from a rather helter-skelter few minutes!”

On September 21, 1935, Dr. Tyler, Executive Secretary of the National Committee on Education by Radio, paid a visit to Lord’s office. Although he had never heard a broadcast of G-Men, he had received numerous complaints about the program, most of which he attributed as cranks, as they objected to the programs for the reason that they brought the subject of “crime” before the youth of the country. After an hour-long conversation regarding the purpose of the programs, how they were designed to supply an antidote, in order that they be given the right conception of which civil authority outweighed the pattern of crime, with the moral that “crime does not pay,” Dr. Tyler left the office satisfied as to the sincerity of the purpose of the G-Men programs. Mr. Linthecum, Fraternal Editor and Assistant Sunday Editor of the Star, simply raved about the realistic, thrilling programs of G-Men. He said he wouldn’t miss one for the world. Mr. Collier received several complimentary remarks made to him about the series by newspapermen, who, as a rule, were rather noted for their severe criticism. A brief in a September 1935 issue of the Sunday New York Mirror claimed that G-Men outranked The March of Time, in their estimation. 

During that same month, Braddock, the heavyweight champion, met with J. Edgar Hoover personally in Washington. As soon as Hoover met them, he brought up the subject of G-Men and how splendid were the last two programs. He even preferred the Kelly case. Dr. James A. Bell, President of the South Eastern University Law School, listened to the program for the first time, hearing the Kelly Case, and expressed his opinion to the folks at Lord’s office that he thought it was the best thing on the air. “My wife and I got so thrilled and excited,” he told them, “that we will never miss another program, and we are both sick to think that we have missed the preceding ones.”

On September 9, 1935, Sioussat wrote to John O. Ives from Washington, D.C.: “Just at this time the Department would start waking up to the fact that G-Men is a wonderful series and especially for them. It’s too bad they didn’t realize it before and save us all the headaches we’ve had since they started ‘cooperating’ with us.”

Early production notes suggest that Lord adhered to strict policies when it came to the content of the programs. “Every criminal mentioned must be killed or corrected,” was one of the rules. Agents of the Department, it was explained during one of the broadcasts, had no pension rights because they were not under civil service; hence when a G-Man was badly wounded, killed or retired because of age, his family must get along as best it could (remember, this was 1935). The program also reported that widows of men killed in the line of duty were offered employment at the Bureau to help aid in financial support and according to one report, there were at least four of them in 1934.

Phillips H. Lord owned a directory (issued February 1, 1935) of the Division of Investigation U.S. Department of Justice, Washington D.C. with all room numbers and telephone numbers and extensions of personnel involved (which included Tax and Penalties Unit, the Crime Laboratory, Training Schools, Mail Room, Personnel Files, Field Administration, Chief Clerk, Messengers, Notary Public, Rifle Range, Switchboard, Department Officials, and so on). This directory came in handy when, during the final stages of scriptwriting, technical details could be made accurate with the ease of a phone call. 

The following is an episode guide for all 13 "lost" radio broadcasts, the precursor to the famed Gang Busters radio program. According to Jay Hickerson's Ultimate Guide, none of the 13 radio broadcasts are known to exist. 

Broadcast on July 20, 1935

Script written and completed on July 13, 1935.
Plot: John Dillinger was known as Public Enemy Number One. Although he committed the most serious crimes, they were all state offenses and the Department of Justice did not have the authority to go to work until March 3, 1954 when Dillinger escaped from jail at Crown Point, Indiana, and stole an automobile at the prison gates, in which to make his escape. The stealing of that automobile and driving it across the state line was a Federal Crime and the G-Men went into action.

Broadcast on July 27, 1935

Plot: With the killing of John Dillinger, “Baby-Face” Nelson became Public Enemy Number One. “Baby-Face” killed a Special Agent, G-Man Barter Baum. Following Dillinger’s death, Inspector Cowley directed the hunt for Nelson, a former member of the Dillinger gang. On February 17, 1932, Nelson escaped custody of a guard on his way to the Illinois State Penitentiary. Inspectors Crowley and Hollis raced toward Lake Geneva, hoping to meet up with other Special Agents, in an attempt to apprehend “Baby-Face” Nelson. The police took a stand and the body of Nelson was identified, having been shot seventeen times. Cowley took his own life to protect innocent Americans.

Broadcast on August 3, 1935
Plot: During the roaring twenties, the northeast Oklahoma town of Pawhuska was known as “Osage Monte Carlo.” Oil tycoons were common visitors to the Osage Indian Agency in Pawhuska. They came to bid for oil and gas leases on land owned by the Osage Indians. As a result, ten members of the extended family of Lizzie Q. Kyle were murdered between 1921 and 1923 for their headrights to oil royalties. A headright provided each Osage landowner an equal share of all mineral income, and could be inherited but not sold. In all, 20 killings occurred during what has become known as a “reign of terror: among the Osages. In 1929, three non-Indians were charged in some of the murders, including William K. Hale, a cattleman who had gained the trust of Osages and this is his life of crime.

Broadcast on August 10, 1935
Plot: F.B.I. man Edward B. Shanahan had been assigned by J. Edgar Hoover to break up a stolen auto racket run by Martin Burkin, a well-known Midwestern operator. Durkin had a quick trigger finger, having wounded three policemen in Chicago, and one in California. Durkin, however, had worn his bulletproof vest, and the shots did him no harm. On January 20, 1926, a group of heavily armed agents in civilian clothing met at the train station before St. Louis. A G-Man knocked on the door and Durkin answered. They grappled with him, preventing him from reaching his gun. Thanks to the efforts of the G-Men on duty, Martin Durkin was finally captured.

Broadcast on August 17, 1935
Plot: This broadcast features the true events leading up to the F.B.I.’s investigation on known criminal Red Boyles, and his illegal activities. Thanks to cooperative citizens, agents of the Bureau were able to apprehend Boyles and have him sent to trial where he was found guilty and sentenced.

Broadcast on August 24, 1935 
Plot: Edward Bremmer, a banker, was kidnapped by the Ma Barker – Alvin Karpis Gang, who demanded a $200,000 ransom. The father of the kidnap victim, Edward Bremmer, Sr., was a friend and political donor to President Franklin Roosevelt, who mentioned the kidnapping in one of his radio fireside chats. Within a few months of the kidnapping, agents of the Federal Bureau shattered and destroyed the Barker-Karpis Gang.

Broadcast on August 31, 1935
Plot: Charles Urschel was an oil tycoon of the “Black Gold” era. Two armed men, Machine Gun Kelly and Albert Bates (who was already wanted by the F.B.I.), had broke in on the card playing couples at the Urschel home in Oklahoma City and kidnapped the wealthy host. As soon as word reached the Bureau that Urschel was being held hostage in Missouri, the F.B.I. joined the search. Agent Gus Jones (former Texas Ranger) had been pulled from a lead role investigating the Kansas City Massacre, to head-up the agency in this case. 

Trivia: The characters of Machine Gun Kelly and Albert Bates were not credited for the accomplished kidnapping during this broadcast. Instead, Harvey Bailey, commonly known as the “Dean of American Bank Robbers,” was dramatized as the guilty figure. Over the years, it has been discovered that Bailey was not involved with the Urschel kidnapping, making this broadcast historically inaccurate to date.

Broadcast on September 7, 1935
Plot: George “Machine Gun” Kelly was the bank robber and kidnapping desperado who gave the federal agents their colorful nickname, “GMen.” Kelly’s crime sprees would launch him to the prestigious status of “Public Enemy Number One.” In July of 1933, Kelly plotted the scheme to kidnap wealthy oil tycoon & businessman Charles Urschel for a large ransom. He became known as the mastermind behind several of the successful small bank robberies Kelly pulled off throughout Texas and Mississippi.


Broadcast on September 14, 1935
Plot: On September 29, 1934, Tri-State gang members Walter Legenza and Robert Mais shot their way to freedom from the Richmond City, Virginia Jail while being accompanied to see their attorney. They shot two guards and mortally wounded a police officer. Police were ordered “shoot to kill.” On December 20, Mais, along with a band of robbers, held up a branch of the Philadelphia Electric Company and took $48,000 in cash. Federal agents caught up with the two gangsters and captured them in New York. They were returned to Richmond, Virginia on January 22, 1935 and their executions were scheduled for February.

Broadcast on September 21, 1935
Plot: Brothers Ralph and Jake Fleagle were constantly coming and going to the family farm, convincing their family that they had done well in the stock market. What no one knew was they were really a gang of gunmen who were terrorizing the western states. Historians estimate that the Fleagles and their gangs were responsible for 60% of the heists in and around Kansas and California during the 1920s. Jake Fleagle made one fatal mistake. He left a single fingerprint on the car of Dr. Wineinger, one of their victims, and the print was identified as belonging to Jake, who had served time in the Oklahoma Penitentiary.

Broadcast on September 28, 1935
Script written and completed on September 16, 1935.
Plot: Special Agent Raymond Caffrey, Detectives Hermanson and Grooms, Police Chief Reed, and their prisoner, Nash, lay dead. It was the bloodiest massacre of officers of the law in the history of American crime. Director Hoover mobilized a special squad to devote all of its time to bringing the murderers to justice. Attorney General Cummings announced that the atrocious challenge to law was accepted by the government – that Uncle Sam would not rest until the slayers were punished. Richetti and Floyd were the triggermen. Floyd was killed by the G-Men, Richetti was tried by court, sentenced and hanged.

Trivia: The Pretty Boy Floyd script was originally scheduled for broadcast on October 5. The reason being, Adam Richetti, one of its main characters, was scheduled to be hung on Ocober 4.

Broadcast on October 5, 1935

Plot: One evening in 1933, as Charles and Anna Lou Boettcher returned home from a dinner party, they were accosted in their garage. Charles was held at gunpoint while another man passed a ransom note to Mrs. Boettcher. The kidnappers then sped away with Charles. The kidnapping was widely publicized locally and nationally. Charles was held for two weeks till the $60,000 ransom was paid. The tracing of the kidnappers through the underworld to a barber shop, and Mr. Boettcher’s extensive knowledge of flight patterns helped police locate the house in rural South Dakota where they were able to apprehend the kidnappers (Sankey and Banghart).

Broadcast on October 12, 1935

Plot: Orphaned as a boy, Eddie Doll grew up in a Chicago slum and started his criminal career as a car thief, before he went on to bootlegging, bank robbing and kidnapping. Doll was in company with “Machine Gun” Kelly on two crimes, the first was the kidnapping of Howard Woolverton, a South Bend, Indiana banker on January 27, 1932. Later, on November 30, 1932 Eddie Doll, along with a few other Chicago hoodlums (including Kelly), robbed the Citizen’s State Bank of Tupelo, Mississippi of $38,000.

Trivia: Knowing he had something special soon after the premiere of G-Men, Lord enjoyed the fame his program received. “The tables were turned all right,” Lord publicly explained. “For the first time the public was seeing gangsters as they really are – drab cowards! The color and dash now had been usurped by the daring government men. The G-Men were giving all the thrills now.” The G-Men series rescued Lord from the plight in which he found himself after the failure of his world cruise on the “Seth Parker.”

In Closing
The series, however, lasted only 13 episodes before going off the air. Although the program went up to a Crossley rating of 22.5 at the end of ten weeks, Chevrolet optioned to discontinue the program because William S. Knudsen, President of General Motors, insisted on sponsoring a musical program. As a result, G-Men was replaced by The Chevrolet Show, featuring Dave Rubinoff and his Orchestra. Hoover, however, was in favor of continuing with the series and a promise was made that there would be enough cases to satisfy the Lord office, even if they were closed case files rather than active ones. Lord could see that participation for the G-Men series was thinning out. Hoover couldn’t let well enough alone. He wanted to control the story lines. The only problem was that Hoover had no dramatic sense and substituted scientific sleuthing for action and adventure. 

Among Hoover’s suggestions for future programs was one about “A day or week in the life of an Agent.” For this parts of three or four good cases that have interesting sequences in them could be used and have the same Agent fictionalized as participating in all of them, thereby showing the diversity of crimes he is called upon to solve. Another suggestion Hoover made was “A Day in the Training of an Agent.” In the classroom, the training school, gymnasium, rifle range, crime-scene room (in which there is a body on the floor, for agents to examine, take fingerprints, etc.), and exposition of a fake kidnap raid. 

According to Helen J. Sioussat, “They are certainly liberalizing a lot, aren’t they?” Hoover wanted to leave an image of the all-powerful “G-man” who hunted criminals and sleuthed with the latest technology which obviously appealed to the nation’s need for a strong, active government during the Depression. Hollywood, radio, the press, and comic strips played on this new image of the government agent.

“During the last few weeks of the G-Men series,” recalled Lord, “I became aware there were not sufficient F.B.I. cases and so I decided to change the title of the program and alter its form sufficiently to include police cases, district attorney cases, postal cases and all cases of law enforcement officers. As soon as I decided to make this change, I went to Washington and explained to Mr. Hoover why I wanted to make it. He was friendly about it, discussed it with me and suggested I concentrate on police cases, bringing in the F.B.I. only indirectly.”

This article features excerpts from Gang Busters: The Crime Fighters of American Broadcasting, by Martin Grams Jr. 

For more information about the book, visit

Friday, May 15, 2020

Rod Serling's "The Good Fast Boys"

While scanning a ton of archival material these past months, in an effort to digitize all of the research files I accumulated over two decades, ultimately making better use of the filing cabinets that are going to be empty when the project is done, I came across a bunch of Rod Serling material that might be of interest to those who love the work of the prolific playwright. Serling's agent, Blanche Gaines, always reminded him to throw away four out of every five proposals he created, to ensure higher quality. What is reprinted below is a scan of a four-page plot proposal for the television series, STUDIO ONE. 

How this generally worked was that script writers would create a story proposal in a few pages, submitted to either the producers or the story editors. Then, if the story meets with approval from authorized parties, a first draft of a teleplay would be created. No professional writer would create a teleplay and submit it right off the bat -- which is one reason why amateurs that did so would find their teleplays returned, unopened, and rejected. Thanks to historian Nick Parisi, a letter from someone at CBS verified not only was this boxing story proposed (and ultimately rejected) for STUDIO ONE, but at the time Serling was also proposing "Patterns" for the same program. Intriguing when you consider that "Patterns" would ultimately be dramatized on KRAFT TELEVISION THEATRE, and would win Serling his first Emmy. Seems like the producers of STUDIO ONE should have accepted "Patterns" instead of rejecting it... 

Since "The Good Fast Boys" was never made into a teleplay or dramatized on television, Serling's proposal is featured below for your enjoyment.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Day That The Music Died

In 2008, a fire raged on the property owned by Universal Studios and within hours of the new breaking, films buffs began to shed a tear. CNN inaccurately reported that the studio masters for television's I Love Lucy were among the victims, but since that was not a program owned by Universal, it seemed unlikely. As fast as the flames spread, sparks flew with wild theories among film buffs of what movies went up in smoke. Celluloid was flammable, for sure, but there was no shortage of rumors as to which movies or television programs went up in flames. Some claimed "the only existing masters" went up in smoke. Other people reported "I know it for a fact..." 

Fires are inevitable, a reminder that not everything physical is immune to the ravages of time and mother nature. If anything, the occasional fire that breaks out at any archive, including University Libraries, should serve as a reminder that everything needs to be digitized and (just as important) an off-site backup to ensure preservation.

In June 2019, a decade after the fire broke out and destroyed the building housing unknown materials, the truth went public as a result of journalist Jody Rosen, in her report published in The New York Times. The blazing inferno was responsible for the destruction of tens of thousands of music recordings.

The list of destroyed single and album masters takes in titles by dozens of legendary artists, a genre-spanning who’s who of 20th- and 21st-century popular music. It includes recordings by Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, the Andrews Sisters, the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Clara Ward, Sammy Davis Jr., Les Paul, Fats Domino, Big Mama Thornton, Burl Ives, the Weavers, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Bobby (Blue) Bland, B.B. King, Ike Turner, the Four Tops, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, George Strait, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Eric B. and Rakim, New Edition, Bobby Brown, Guns N’ Roses, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Hole, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.

The link to The New York Times is provided below. I am posting this solely to help curb the myths that circulate regarding what movies were "supposedly" destroyed in the fire.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Lone Ranger Alumni, R.I.P.

We lost three old-time radio alumni in the past two months. Julie Bennett, a longtime voice-over performer and actress perhaps best known for her role as Cindy Bear in the Hanna-Barbera YOGI BEAR cartoons, died on March 31 from Corvid-19. Julie Bennett began her career on radio as early as 1947 on SuspenseThe Family Theater and the prestigious Lux Radio Theater. Among her other credits are The WhistlerThe George Burns and Gracie Allen ShowThe Great Gildersleeve and Crime Classics. She was 88.

Julie Bennett

Elaine Hyman passed away at the age of 85 at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Born on July 6, 1934 in Detroit, Michigan, she eventually became a regular on such radio programs as The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger. Elaine eventually made the move to New York City where she appeared on dozens of television programs including East Side/West SideLaw and Order: Criminal IntentThe Sopranos and
Dark Shadows. She was also a frequent guest at the Friends of Old-Time Radio convention. 

Photo on the left: Corrine Orr and Elaine Hyman at the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention. 

Another Lone Ranger alumni to pass away was Shirley Ann Russell, on April 9, of pneumonia. Like Elaine Hyman, Shirley was a child actress on The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, among other programs to originate from radio station WXYZ in Detroit. Until recently, before the libraries closed, Shirley worked at the Grosse Pointe Public Library. She still had a Lone Ranger radio script in her collection, from 1938, which she played a small role on. Shirley was 92.

Shirley Ann Mitchell with collector/historian Larry Zdeb.

Friday, May 1, 2020


Throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the covers of pulp magazines and comic books featured incredible paintings. Many of those illustrators have been forgotten, and their original canvases long ago consigned to garbage bins. The beautiful artwork would ultimately be discarded for cheaper options such as comic illustrations or photographs of the television celebrities in costume. The artwork has since become relished by numerous fans of The Lone Ranger, and of recent years reproduced for the Radio Spirits bookshelf albums containing licensed old-time radio shows.

One of the artists responsible for those oil paintings is Don Spaulding. In the summer of 1950, Norman Rockwell used an empty schoolhouse to create a studio for young promising art students. Among the six students was Spaulding, who was a member of the Art Students League when he had the opportunity to study with the great Norman Rockwell. 

“The entire thing was all gratis,” Spaulding later recalled for Charlie Roberts, “which was typical of the type of person Rockwell was. We had a place to live, but we provided our own food… But there was the feeling that I was imposing on Rockwell because I was living rent free and so forth, so I thought I should go home and get some more of the League under my belt.” After a few months of assignments and studies, Spaulding went back home. We went around to pocketbook (paperback) houses and magazines in the hopes of securing steady income from his talent. “They all smiled, said nice things, and I never heard from them again,” Spaudling concluded. “But then I took my samples to Dell Publishing. They were general illustration sampled. Mostly adventure type stuff. The art director I saw there was Ed Marine. He was art director for the comic books. He liked my work and took a chance on me. That was probably a year or so after art school.”

Spaulding’s first cover was of a cowboy standing in a stream and a Yaqui Indian sneaking up behind him. Marine liked it and Dell assigned him a Lone Ranger comic cover to do. That was the one where he was swinging on a rope, kicking the outlaw in the face.

This would ultimately lead to 16 Lone Ranger comic books, 15 Buck Jones, 18 Tonto, and a few Tarzan comic books. The oil paintings confirmed are listed below for reference:

Buck Jones (6 covers)
Full Color #500, Full Color #546, Full Color #589, Full Color #652, Full Color #773 and Full Color #850

Tonto (18 covers)
Issues #13 through 27, 29, 30 and 31

The Lone Ranger (16 covers)
Issues #62, 63, 64, 71, 74, 76, 79, 83, 86, 88, 89, 91, 97, 98, 110 and 111

For the role of The Lone Ranger, he consulted one of the models frequently used by Norman Rockwell, whom he knew from the schoolhouse summer. Don Spaulding asked Norman Rockwell to get in touch with James “Buddy” Edgerton, to see if he would like to model for the covers. “Being paid to model was easy money and I was a college student, so I jumped at the chance,” Buddy recalled. “I modeled for fifteen Lone Ranger comic book covers for Don. His process was very much like Norman’s – first, he took a photograph, then he worked from the photo to the final piece. It was easy to see Norman’s influence on Don’s work. It was a great experience to be able to model for The Lone Ranger. Though I had handled guns all my life, there sure is something different about holding two pearl-handled revolvers while you’re dressed up like a cowboy – no matter how old you are.”

“I usually wore a uniform of sorts when posing for the oil paintings, sometimes for photographs to be used if I was unable to pose for a few hours. I never wore a mask, tho. Don would add the mask later,” Buddy told me. “I recall being paid $5 per session. He would usually do two or three images each time and pick the best for use as an oil painting.”

The model to pose for Tonto was Don Spaulding himself. A friend would take photographs of Spaulding in pose, which the artist would then consult to produce the oil painting. But Buddy recalls another art student, Don Winslow, posing as Tonto for a number of the sessions.

“I only modeled for The Lone Ranger for twelve of the sixteen paintings,” Buddy explained. But James “Buddy” Edgerton has another claim to fame. In the Spring of 1943, Norman Rockwell, his wife Mary, and their three young sons moved into the farmhouse next door to thirteen-year old Buddy in West Arlington, Vermont. As a result, he found himself as the model for many of Rockwell’s paintings, some of which are featured below for reference. Who would have thought that the proverbial Boy Scout of magazine fame was also The Lone Ranger in the comics?

Buddy since co-wrote a book about Norman Rockwell, providing insight to the artist from a perspective few could ever provide. The Unknown Rockwell: A Portrait of Two American Families is available for sale on Amazon.