Friday, July 8, 2022

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon: A Novel

In the early 1950s, Fran Striker wrote an inter-office memo to his boss, George W. Trendle, asking for the opportunity to write a novel based on the popular radio program, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. The radio program was created by Tom Dougall in late 1938, but it was Striker who, in 1951, wrote an origin story for Preston and his wonder dog Yukon King. Striker then wrote a backstory for what would have been used had Trendle licensed the rights to a publishing house. Alas, no such novel was ever written or published. Striker, the co-creator of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, did write a number of Lone Ranger novels for Grossett & Dunlap, which are well-written and a lot of fun. All of which is a long-winded way of saying how much of a darn shame it is that Striker never had the opportunity to write a novel.

I would be amiss if I did not take a moment and use my blog to mention that a Sergeant Preston novel is now available, the first ever. I would like to state this was 70 years in the making, but a history of the program is essential for the understanding of what this novel contains.

The radio program was originally entitled The Challenge of the Yukon when it first premiered over radio station WXYZ, Detroit, in January of 1939, but only those listeners to the locally-based Michigan Radio Network were privileged to hear those early action-packed adventures. It was not until 1943 that the radio program was transcribed in recorded form. It was not until 1947 that the program was heard coast-to-coast. As a result, the first four calendar years of the fictional adventures of Sergeant Bill Preston and his wonder dog, King (later known as Yukon King), have gone virtually unexplored. 

While much has been written about the radio and television, almost nothing has been documented about those early years. It was not until 1951 that the title of the program was changed to the more familiar Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. In 1956, the radio program went off the air, but fans could watch further adventures because the series made a successful transition to television. 

During this period, the program would also spawn a popular series of comic books from Dell Comics. 
Historically, what remains of those early years referenced above (1939 – 1942) is preserved only in the extant radio scripts written by series creator Tom Dougall. It was Dougall who wrote each and every radio script for the first three and a half years. He was a staff writer who also doubled as an announcer and sometimes as a cast member for many radio broadcasts that originated from the Detroit station.
Dougall had been responsible for a daily soap opera, Ann Worth, Housewife, and, after the demise of Renfrew of the Mounted (which had aired coast-to-coast over CBS radio), producer George W. Trendle asked Dougall to create a radio serial in a similar vein. In Trendle’s eyes, no one was more up to the challenge of creating a fictional Canadian Mountie program than Dougall.
Dougall certainly seems to have done his homework. A careful review of the radio scripts suggests that he read multiple books on the subject—many written by Jack London—and likely a number of the many Canadian Mountie pulp magazines. When Dougall went into the service during the war, a new scriptwriter was being mentored for the craft: a woman named Betty Joyce. In later years, Fran Striker, of The Lone Ranger fame and another staff writer at the radio station, would script what would become an origin for Sergeant Preston, and another for Yukon King. Those two origin stories would be dramatized on the radio program more than once, as well as being adapted into children’s records for commercial resale.
But after careful review of the first 16 radio scripts, from January through April 1939, an epic was discovered that not only introduces us to Tom Dougall’s original rendition of King’s origin, but also the backstory of Pierre LeRoux, a French-Canadian who would become the sidekick to Sergeant Preston for at least two years of the radio program. On a personal note, I prefer Dougall’s 1939 rendition of King’s origin compared to Striker’s 1951 rendition. 

The novel that was published a couple months ago is an adaptation of the first 16 radio scripts from 1939, along with an early 1940 episode that had a dynamite story, and Striker's origin of Sergeant Preston as he combatted Spike Wilson. 
Since no one has yet constructed a feasible time machine that would allow us to travel back to 1939 to record those now-lost radio broadcasts, what follows should serve as the next best thing.
Grab your parka. It’s treacherous country!
You can purchase the novel from the website below. To ensure the book remains a collector's item, sought after by fans of the program, it will be available only for this calendar year. Starting January 1, the book will no longer be available.