Thursday, August 31, 2023


These are the types of books that win awards. Larry Zdeb, a private collector of all things CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT has finished a two-volume set documenting the history of the radio program, comic books, 1942 cliffhanger serial, and television program. Both volumes are aptly listed as "The Definitive Guides" and I can say while there are other books about CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, these are the definitive volumes. 

The title character, originally Captain Jim "Red" Albright, was a World War I U.S. Army pilot. His Captain Midnight code name was given by a general who sent him on a high-risk mission from which he returned at the stroke of twelve. When the radio program began in 1938, Albright was a private aviator who helped people, but his situation changed in 1940 when the program was taken over by a new sponsor, Ovaltine, and the origin story explained how Albright was recruited to head the Secret Squadron, an aviation-oriented paramilitary organization fighting sabotage and espionage during the period prior to the United States' entry into World War II. The Secret Squadron acted both within and outside the United States, combatting spies, saboteurs, mad scientists and repeated combats with the stock villain, Ivan Shark.


Radio premiums offered by the series (usually marked with Midnight’s personal symbol of a winged clock with the hands pointing to midnight) included decoders. These Code-O-Graphs were used by listeners to decipher encrypted messages previewing the next day’s episode, usually broadcast five-days-a-week. Other premiums included rings, telescopes, and World War II items. 


The program aired for a decade until 1949. But that did not restrict the franchise potential just to the radio speakers. The popularity of the Captain Midnight character expanded in 1942 with a cliffhanger serial film, a syndicated newspaper strip, and a series of comic books. In 1954, a short-lived television program starring Richard Webb was produced by Screen Gems. For that rendition, Captain Midnight (now a veteran of the Korean War) heads the Secret Squadron as a private organization.


The show was known for the imaginative use of exciting technological advancements to create narrative thrills, inspiring young audiences to dream of future advances. 

What makes these two volumes amazing is the fact that Larry has what is the largest collection of CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT radio scripts so he provided an episode guide with plot summaries for the radio broadcasts. It was fun reading some of the adventures as they unfolded in serial format, breath-taking cliffhangers, and the types of foes he went up against. As a kid I listened to a few episodes of radio's CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT but found them to be dull. Thanks to these two volumes, I went back and listened to a few. 

If you love the radio, cliffhanger serial, comic books or TV version of CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, these two volumes are worth grabbing. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023


I would be remiss if I did not use my blog to mention that my latest book was published last week. Clayton Moore and the Legend of the Lone Ranger, 1970-1984. As you might surmise from the title, the book not only is a day-by-day documentary of the making of the 1981 motion-picture, starring Klinton Spilsbury and Michael Horse, but also the "battle" between the producers of the motion-picture and the actor, Clayton Moore.

In 1981, it was a new motion picture, told in the old Lone Ranger tradition... Numerous gun fights, satisfying explosions, and a dandy climatic fistfight. The production design was meticulous and elaborate. More than five people were credited for crafting the screenplay and some of the best talent in Hollywood was involved in all phases of production. "The Lone Ranger" was a name that brought back memories of radio serials and film matinees, and now he was back in a $15 million dollar movie. What could possibly go wrong?


To be clear, The Legend of the Lone Ranger is a fantastic film in my opinion, and the only reason why a lot of baby boomers criticize the movie is because of a negative stigma among a generation who grew up watching The Lone Ranger television program (1949-1957). Circa 1979, fan boys took offense when their hero, Clayton Moore, was told by the courts that he could not wear The Lone Ranger's trademarked black domino mask in public. This resulted in a minor (and unjust) boycott against the 1981 movie. 

Let us leave it to the rocket scientists and bean counters to decipher and debate how damaging that boycott was. But, according to most reports, the effect was minor -- almost inconsequential.  Still, the movie lived up to the title and the story behind the actors, the script writers and the producers have since become a legend. Over the years I have heard variations of the same stories, many told from a romantic or emotional point of view, avoiding the facts. Worse, as I dug into the archives and went directly to the source, I was shocked to diver there was another story behind-the-scenes. 

Today, fans of The Lone Ranger may be surprised to learn there was another side to the story.

Because Terry Salomonson and myself have been assembling a series of books documenting al things involving The Lone Ranger, and because we have been publishing the books in chronological order in increments and not as volume numbers, we felt it unjust to sit on this manuscript until all of the others were completed. What would technically amount to "Volume Six" is now available covering the years of 1970 to 1984, the majority of which documents numerous attempts to bring The Lone Ranger to television via live action series and made-for-TV movie proposals, a day-by-day making of the big screen production, and the true facts regarding what went on behind the scenes that led to the movie's negative publicity. Even if you are not a fan of the movie, and consider yourself "Team Clayton," this book is one you will find fascinating.



Thursday, August 17, 2023

CHESTER GOULD, Resident of Woodstock, Illinois

On a recent trip to Chicago for a book signing at a convention, I stopped over at Woodstock, Illinois, the home town of Chester Gould, the man who created Dick Tracy. There used to be a museum dedicated to Dick Tracy but the museum since closed up. Regrettably, there are only a few remnants to Chester Gould and Dick Tracy that remain in town. Enclosed are photos from the trip with a few captions for your enjoyment.

The local police station had a display in their lobby.

The playground named after Dick Tracy also had art work of classic characters.

Chester Gould's home in Woodstock, Illinois. This is where he drew the comic strips.

Thursday, August 10, 2023


The character of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, made her debut in comics in 1938. A vine-swinging female rendition of Tarzan, the Ape Man, the character appeared in multiple forms of media including four novellas beginning in 1951, a short-lived TV series in 1955, a big-screen movie starring Tanya Roberts in 1984, and recently a revived TV series in 2000. But few knew that in 1951, Sheena managed to get her own pulp magazine. It lasted all of one issue, now a collector item for those who love the character. Each rendition from comic book, big-screen movie, TV series and pulps were authored by different people and are therefore different renditions of the character.  

When the novellas were printed in 1951, the prose of each story clearly suggested different writers for each – but under the publishing house pseudonym. The first three were published in that one pulp magazine, and then a fourth story in a issue of JUNGLE STORIES in 1954. 


In 2008, Altus Press published a 200-page paperback reprinting those four stories, including a brief history of the character and the novellas. (Each of the stories is about 50 pages.) 

The first story in the collection, "The Slave Brand of Sleman Bin Al"i, has Sheena intervening to save her adopted tribe, the Abamas, from both the machinations of Arab slavers and Portuguese exploiters. In the middle of the action, we find her love interest, Rick, trying to save both himself and her. 


In the second story, "Sargasso of Lost Safari", Sheena is forced to deal with sinister hunters and rebellious spirit men. A prince of the Abama people seeks her out to stop a cabal of shamans who are trying to overthrow the hereditary tribal rule. At the same time, two white hunters, Ferdinand Lavic and Countess Narcissa, are trying to discover the lost valley of the elephants. 

In the third story, "Killer's Kraal," we learn how Sheena fits into the tribal scheme of things in Africa: She's regarded as the Mateyenda, or Queen Mother. While her love interest Rick Thorne is busy helping the Abama people transport a shipment of ivory to the coast, a pretender to the throne of the ancient warrior king Yama Galagi rises to power. He tries to use Sheena as a pawn in his attempt to seize control of the other tribes, but the jungle queen thwarts him too.

The final story, "Sword of Gimshai," is the weakest of the collection but if you read the book chronologically, by this time you want to be a completist and read the last one. Sheena intervenes to save a safari from enemy tribes once again. It is the third story in the book that is the best – great plot, great prose.


If you love SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE, I recommend you grab a copy of the book. A more adult approach versus the comic book rendition and, if you are like me, you envision the Irish McCalla rendition of the 1955-56 TV series.



Friday, August 4, 2023


A few years ago I had the rare opportunity to review and scan thousands of photographs from the Phil Harris and Alice Faye archive. The bandleader/comedian saved everything from scrapbooks to radio scripts, and it seemed prudent to digitally preserve everything for a potential book documenting the history of the radio program. 

That trip was extremely memorable as I had the opportunity to interview people who worked with Phil Harris, including a number of his personal friends. The preservation of those photos, including restoration and touch-ups is underway. (Some of these photos, as you can see, have not yet been restored, revealing the necessity of restoration.) I wanted to randomly grab a handful of those photographs to share. Fans of the radio program may find some of these amazing.