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.