Friday, April 5, 2024

The RED RYDER Book You Will Probably Never Read

I finished reading a book this week that you will probably never read. It concerns "America's famous fighting cowboy," the red-haired, red-shirted hero first seen in a series of short stories by writer-cartoonist Fred Harman. The comic strip was adapted into a cliffhanger serial, a series of movies, unsold television pilots, comic books, and a weekly radio program. Red Ryder was a two-fisted tornado who lived with his aunt, his sidekick Buckskin, and his ward, Little Beaver, in the western settlement of Painted Valley. In 2013, Bear Manor Media, publishers located in Albany, Georgia, published a 200 page book titled Red Ryder & Little Beaver: Painted Valley Troubleshooters

The book documents Fred Harman's newspaper comic strip heroes extensively. Having been a fan of Bernard Drew since he wrote two books about Hopalong Cassidy, you can imagine how pleased I was to discover he wrote a book documenting the history of Red Ryder. My curiosity motivated seeking out a copy to buy... and there lies the rub, as Hamlet put it. The book is already out of print and now established with an asking price at least three times the initial cover price. Initially I assumed the adage, "You snooze, you lose" applied here, but there turned out to be a back story behind all this. 

A short time after the book became available, the owners of the trademarked property contacted the publishing company issuing a formal "cease and desist" letter. Legally, anyone can write a book when the facts are presented encyclopedic in nature. And that is exactly what Bernard Drew did. But there is a difference between copyrights and trademarks and King Features Syndicate, Inc., for reasons unknown, decided the book was not in their best interests. Naturally, the publishing company offered a royalty for book sales, but the company refused them flat. A debate could have been exchanged between both parties -- possibly costing each side unnecessary expense in legal fees. The publishing company weighed the options and decided to pull the book from distribution. The adventures of Red Ryder pre-dates a baby boomer generation and combatting an aging fan base, book sales would not have justified legal expenses. Financially, this would have been a wash at best.

Intelligent reasoning could form the backbone of a debate coming from both sides, but the more important problem is evident: how necessary is it for accurate and thorough documentation for preservation sake? This book accomplished that very purpose. From a biography of Fred Harman, the origin of the comic strip, original stories in Red Ryder comic books, documentation about the radio program (more extensive than any write-up found in encyclopedias), how the character changed during World War II, public appearances in rodeo tours and parades, the reason why the television pilots failed to sell, Republic Pictures and the motion-pictures they produced, Little Beaver Town in Albuquerque, the Fred Harman Art Museum... it's all here.

Red Ryder Paint Book (circa 1952)
Which leads me to wonder why King Features Syndicate, Inc. would not want their property documented extensively? A number of literary pop culture heroes from the past have practically faded away with little -- if any -- interest. Who today can name the actor who played the title role of radio's The Adventures of Jimmie Allen? Who remembers the musical theme of Silver Eagle? Decades have passed with incorrect information about Straight Arrow, claiming he was an Indian masquerading as a white man, now relegated to semi-annual magazine articles to remind people that Straight Arrow was a Comanche Indian who dressed as rancher Steve Adams by day, and served justice against cattle rustlers as Straight Arrow... not the other way around as so many encyclopedias incorrectly state.

Sure, you can browse the internet and find historians offering bits of information ranging from details about the comic strips, including publishing dates, scans of the covers of comic books and movie posters. King Features is not making any profit from those websites. Bernard Drew's book could put a little money into the pockets of King Features. After all, isn't that the reason why they retained the trademarks? 

In another 20 years, The Adventures of Red Ryder will probably fade away and without a comprehensive treatment available at our fingertips, a future generation may know nothing about Fred Harman's much-loved character except what they read in minor write-ups in encyclopedias such as Wikipedia and John Dunning's On The Air (1998). A museum may even consider a display promoting the art and stories of Red Ryder, but exactly what will they have to pull from their reference library for consultation? 

Extremely few copies were printed and sold before the book was pulled from distribution, so if you are reading this take note: buy your copy today at the lowest price you can find. Five years from now you can brag that what you have on your bookshelf is extremely rare and value. It will certainly continue going up in price over the years. Someone is already offering one for $1,000; thankfully I paid a lot less than that! As for the author, his efforts were not in vain. Authors find amusement witnessing hefty price tags of their own books, after they go out of print. For Bernard Drew, this just happened a lot sooner than expected.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Return of DICK TRACY

DICK TRACY is making a return in a six-issue series of new comics this April, and with a new take. Prior comics reprinted the newspaper strip which had a style and format of its own. This time a group of talented artists and writers are involved with a completely new rendition, darker and more adult in tone. To be fair, Chester Gould wanted to make the character and his adventures hard-boiled and raw… but over the years the primary focus was on the colorful characters. So it comes as no surprise that new writers wanted to do their own rendition in a format that Chester Gould would have approved. 

"The world of Dick Tracy is rife with complex characters, twisted motives, and dangerous corners - and we really want to lean into the essence of what Chester Gould created without trying to imitate Dick Tracy's creator," said Alex Segura in a statement. "What Michael, Geraldo, Chantelle, and I are cooking up uses all the ingredients fans are familiar with - hopefully creating something that feels fresh and vibrant while honoring what's come before. We don't just want to tell a fun Dick Tracy story - we want to craft a great crime saga, too."


"Our goal in making a new Dick Tracy comic isn't to be kitsch or try to recapture what Chester Gould did so masterfully - I can't even presume to have that gift," added Michael Moreci. "Instead, we want to take the essence of what makes it work and recalibrate it for both new and old audiences alike."


"This isn't your grandfather's Dick Tracy - though it will absolutely have all the elements you know and love," said Chantelle Aimée Osman. "Having the opportunity to introduce Chester Gould's beloved character to a whole new generation of readers is an honor, and Alex, Michael, and Geraldo are absolutely the creators to bring Dick Tracy, Tess Trueheart, and all your favorite villains into the twenty-first century."

"Dick Tracy is definitely one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time with a unique rogues' gallery," said artist Geraldo Borges. "The story written by Alex, Michael and Chantelle allowed me to play with Chiaroscuro, a strong black and white contrast. And talking about contrast, it will be awesome seeing the yellow and bright Dick Tracy coat and his cartoonish villains, side by side, with dark streets and a grounded book." 


Dick Tracy #1 is published by Mad Cave Studios, in partnership with Tribune Content Agency and New Wave Comics, on April 24.


Thursday, March 14, 2024

WORLD OF GIANTS: The 1959 TV Series

During a secret mission behind the Iron Curtain, a freak accident involving an exploding rocket shrinks American secret agent Mel Hunter (played by actor Marshall Thompson) to the size of six inches. But instead of ending his career, “The Bureau” he works for takes advantage of the pocket-sized operative to infiltrate areas closed off to the average G-man. Hunter is aided by his full-sized partner, Agent Bill Winters (played by Arthur Franz). 


World of Giants was a short-lived TV series that lasted a mere 13 half-hour episodes, too few to warrant reruns on television. As a result, the series fell into obscurity except from fans of science-fiction TV programs that made this program – over a period of time – a Holy Grail. Finding 16mm prints of this series was few and far between. Some collectors of vintage television will confess that over the decades they could only come across one or two episodes.


All of which makes this new DVD release something to jump for joy. Thanks to a company called ClassicFlix, all 13 episodes have been restored from archival prints and now available in gorgeous quality. I just spent the last two weeks watching these episodes, rediscovering how much fun it is to watch standard 1950s television production for syndicated series like World of Giants


Touting a $4,000,000 budget (according to Variety), CBS tapped prolific production company Ziv-TV to produce World of Giants, which started shooting in early 1958—with an expected fall network debut. Production was later halted when CBS was unable to obtain sponsorship for World of Giants, causing the network to delay the series premiere by a full year. But when shooting wrapped in 1959, World of Giants was still without a sponsor and CBS scrapped the idea of network distribution entirely which allowed the program to go into first-run syndication starting in 1961.


With production halted at one point in time, the format of the series went through an overhaul – and somewhat better than the earlier entries in the series. The initial four episodes followed the same formula week in and week out. Bill Winters, six-feet tall, would usually be knocked out by the criminal and subjected to some danger – such as the building caught on fire. Mel Hunter, six inches tall, would have to phone in to the department to fetch a rescue party, but often found himself defending against a wild animal. In one episode it was a cat, in another a dog, in another a possum… you get the idea.


After production resumed, an overhaul was devised to the program. Actress Marcia Henderson was added to the weekly cast as Miss Brown, a secretary for both secret agents, who maintained a doll house for Mel, fetching him coffee and food three times a day, and adding a comedic-romantic element to the series. 


World of Giants might have promoted high production values, but the average cost of each episode was $27,000. The episodes were directed by such luminaries as Nathan Juran (20 Million Miles to Earth), Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds), even though they directed episodes of other TV programs. Production designer and art director Robert Kinoshita was involved. He was known for his creation of iconic sci-fi robots such as “Robby the Robot” (Forbidden Planet) and for art direction on Lost in Space.


Like many programs of the 1950s, supporting cast included the occasional surprise: Peggie Castle, Gavin MacLeod, Tom Brown, Berry Kroeger, Bill Walker, Pamela Duncan, Ziva Rodann, Douglas Dick, Maria Palmer, Narda Onyx, Edgar Barrier, Nestor Paiva, Gregg Palmer and Allison Hayes all make appearances. The episode with Allison Hayes was perhaps my favorite of the bunch. 


ClassicFlix went to considerable expense to gain possession of the 13 archival prints and then restore them to gorgeous quality and pay the licensing fees. For that reason, they deserve a boost in sales. Looking for a birthday gift to give a friend this year? Grab a couple of these from Amazon and help get those sales numbers up.


Thursday, March 7, 2024

THE LIFE OF RILEY (1949 movie)

For cinephiles, one of those hidden surprises comes in the form of a movie that turned out to be above average – and one the viewer was not expecting. A perfect example is The Life of Riley, a motion-picture produced in late 1948 and released in April of 1949. Based on the popular radio program starring William Bendix, Rosemary DeCamp, Lanny Rees and John Brown, who also agreed to reprise their roles for the big screen. 


Irving Brecher, who co-created the radio program in the early forties, and wrote most of the scripts, also directed this movie for Universal-International. The story concerns a well-meaning factory employee who is struggling financially and finding himself in scenarios that is embarrassing to his close friends. His career gets a lift when he receives a promotion, but this causes resentment among his fellow workers who believe it is due to the fact his daughter is engaged to the factory owner's son. When Junior, Riley’s son, discovers that the daughter’s happiness is at risk to the jerk of a wealthy son, Riley comes to the rescue. 


The Life of Riley radio program was originally conceived by Irving Brecher and Groucho Marx, a situation comedy originally conceived for Groucho to play the lead. The comedian went another direction, however, leaving Brecher to find another actor – William Bendix – to play the lead. 


At the time this movie was being produced, the television counterpart went up on NBC television with Jackie Gleason in the lead. The sponsor of the radio program, Pabst Blue Ribbon, wanted to expand the potential to television. Contracted for 26 weeks, Gleason played the role on television admirably, helping to boost sales for the beer company, while Bendix played the role on radio. A number of reference guides inaccurately claim Bendix could not get out of a studio contract at Paramount, but the real reason he was unable to play the role on television for that brief spell was because Bendix was busy filming the motion-picture. Following the completion of the 26 weeks, Gleason went off to do bigger, greater things, while Bendix made himself available for the television rendition, ultimately playing the role on both radio and television. 


The 1949 motion-picture has yet to be released commercially on DVD and this is a darn shame. The script is top-notch, not the type of story you expect from an adaptation of a radio situation comedy, with an ending that almost brings a tear to your eye. And, along the way, some radio in-jokes such as Howard Duff reprising his role as Sam Spade as Junior listens to a non-referenced radio detective program adds to the fun. If you can find this movie to watch, I recommend you make the effort. Your will be rewarded.


Interesting trivia: The screenplay was adapted into a hardcover novel, released in the same year as the movie, and is now a pricey collectible. 


Thursday, February 29, 2024

BOOK REVIEWS: Ray Danton, Herbert Marshall, Robert Horton, Arthur Penn

From time to time I receive a box of books from a publishing company for book reviews and the recent box from Bear Manor Media provided some entertaining reading in the past month. Biographies about Hollywood actors who cemented a legacy on celluloid on both the silver screen and small screen. I am pleased to say they are all great (the books that were not great I chose not to do a book review at all), so take a moment and check these out. 


By Joseph Fusco

I know Ray Danton more for his guest appearances on Warner Brothers TV programs such as Hawaiian Eye and Maverick, not from his LP records. But for others, he was a songbird of huge proportion. Ray Danton was an actor who exemplified a particular Hollywood period even though he was not famous. He was a contract player during the demise of the studio system, a precarious time for the grooming of stars. Like the big stars of his time, Ray Danton earned his share of press and publicity puff pieces announcing business deals, vacation plans, personal appearances, industry parties and movie and television contract signings. His name had its time in bold tintype, especially in the late 50‘s through the mid-60‘s: the Eisenhower-Camelot eras.


Danton’s heyday was the Hollywood of slick hair, cigarette smoking, hard drinking and two-fisted negotiations. His sharp-edged baritone matched dark chiseled features, making him a natural for his roles as suave heroes or venal hustlers. He had the look of a sly fox and the smooth moves of a dancing thief. Ray Danton’s confident attitude, serpentine movements, switchblade stare, and silver-tongued voice gave his characters a touch of menace and panache. This book documents his career both in front of – and behind – the camera. 




By Aileen J. Elliott

Robert Horton was born in Los Angeles, in July 1924. He came from a family peopled by professional men; lawyers, doctors and churchmen. His father was a highly successful insurance agent. The family was a large Mormon clan on both his paternal and maternal side, and Robert Horton never felt at home in it. From an early age he knew he was as unlike his relatives as chalk is to cheese. He rebelled against all its conformities and he only found his true vocation when he turned to the stage and decided to become an actor. Blessed with incredible looks, as well as a wonderful baritone singing voice, he pursued his dream with dedication and determination. His passionate drive was rewarded when he won the role of scout Flint McCullough on NBC’s fabulously successful Western series, Wagon Train. His portrayal of McCullough lasted for five years and brought international fame, making him one of the most famous stars on television.

When he walked away from Wagon Train to fashion a career for himself in musical theater, his fame gradually dwindled. There were many reasons for that, in and out of his control, but he subsequently claimed that the twenty or so years he spent treading the boards were as rewarding to him as he needed or wanted them to be. His marriage (fourth) to singer Marilynn Bradley lasted fifty-five years, until his death, and much was written in its early stages about their love and commitment to one another. After he retired in his mid-sixties, however, that changed, and though living comfortably in the suburbs of Los Angeles, the last years of his life were full of sadness, bitterness and remorse. Nevertheless, he continues to have a following of devoted fans and admirers and this book will help to inform them of his rich legacy, his life and his talents.


This is one of those tribute books that is worth reading if you are a fan of the actor, or a fan of Wagon Train




By Scott O’Brien

What better compliment can bestow a book than a foreword by Kevin Brownlow? Scott O’Brien wrote a great biography about Herbert Marshall, the character actor who rarely received top billing but certainly deserves more attention than he has received. Whether embracing the silky essence of Kay Francis in Trouble in Paradise (1932), or enduring the machinations of Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941), Herbert Marshall was the essence of smooth, masculine sensitivity. Dietrich, Garbo, Shearer, Stanwyck, and Hepburn eagerly awaited to be, as Shearer put it, “so thoroughly and convincingly loved” on screen by Marshall. While many knew that the actor had lost a leg in WWI, he preferred audiences to concentrate on his acting. Even so, he volunteered hundreds of hours to hospitals encouraging amputees during WWII. 


His legacy as a versatile actor, and morale booster is as compelling, as it is complicated. “Marshall’s personal story,” noted the late Robert Osborne, “is a fascinating one.” Herbert Marshall is Scott O'Brien's seventh biography of classic cinema legends and he continues with his high-quality and thorough research. 



ARTHUR PENN: American Director

By Nat Segaloff

First published to acclaim in 2011, Arthur Penn: American Director was the first biography of the acclaimed director of The Miracle WorkerLittle Big ManAlice’s RestaurantThe ChaseMickey OneThe Missouri Breaks, and, of course, the motion picture that fired the first shot in the film revolution, Bonnie and Clyde.


Born in Philadelphia to immigrant parents in 1922 and raised in Dickensian circumstances, Penn (and his older brother, Irving, who became the innovative fashion photographer) found himself behind the German lines at the Battle of the Bulge, a student in the formative years of Black Mountain College, in the director’s seat at the beginning of the Golden Age of television, and at the blossoming of the Actors Studio, all of which influenced his filmmaking. 


Arthur Penn: American Director charts his personal and artistic odyssey. Written with Penn’s intimate participation, it was completed days before his death in 2010. The book features interviews with dozens of his collaborators and is brought back into print by Bear Manor Media with an all-new Afterword containing tributes by his peers and a stunning revelation about the mysterious woman who educated young Arthur in the arts. As a fan of live television drama, this is one of those books that I personally thank the author for assembling. 

Thursday, February 22, 2024


In 1990, Warren Beatty made a movie based on the comic strip of Dick Tracy. In general, fans of the comic strip love the film. There are so many ways one could make a live action film based on a newspaper strip but with so many colorful villains, it was difficult to get all of the popular villains into one movie. The 1990 movie was spectacular on many levels. (If anything, the film’s publicity was overshadowed by the fact that singer Madonna was playing a role.) The movie also accomplished something of a grand feat – it reintroduced the newspaper strip, 1960s cartoons and 1940s movies to a generation that never grew up with the character and became lifelong fans afterwards. (Full disclosure: I was one of them.)

Sadly, the studio heads and copyright holder would not let Warren Beatty make a sequel, and the copyright holders even tried to do create a television show without him. Beatty took this personal and with the assistance of his lawyers, found a loophole in his contract by locking up the screen rights so the rights holder cannot produce additional movies. 

Under the contractual stipulation, every couple of decades, Beatty makes a no-budget 20+ minute television special where he plays the role of Tracy, in costume. The terms of the contract is that if he did not produce another film with himself as Dick Tracy (in costume), the rights would revert back to the Chicago Tribune. So, once again, Beatty made another television special where he complains to Leonard Maltin about making movies today, the new tastes of youngsters watching movies on their smart phones… and criticizes his 1990 movie. 

Last week, at 85 years old, Beatty premiered his new one, called Dick Tracy Zooms In. Beatty had himself filmed from his office and the editors assembled all the footage. And, yes, these productions were ruled in a court of law as sequels. Beatty does this solely so that no other studio can use the character for another movie.

As someone on Facebook remarked: “This is art. This is some A+ Andy Kaufman-level trolling. I will never watch either of these specials, because the whole point is that they are unwatchable, low effort, and awful enough to be a middle finger to some bean-counting whipper snapper who made Warren Beatty mad in the 90s. But I am so happy they exist. I'd rather know these bird flips by an old man taking a grudge to the grave are in the world [compared to] a Dick Tracy Disney+ show starring Chris Pratt.”


I am providing a link for this new 25-minute television special for you to view and judge for yourself. Take it for what it is worth.

And if you want to see the prior television special, the link for that one is below.


Friday, February 16, 2024

The Adventures of Oscar the Whale (1938)

Have you ever heard of the radio program, The Adventures of Oscar the Whale

Neither did I. 

But oftentimes, when browsing archives across the country, I stumble upon some oddity that was never documented and virtually unknown. Such discoveries generate mysteries that radio historians find themselves determined to unearth. But this one may remain a mystery. 

Obviously written in late 1937, and submitted for copyright in January of 1938, two radio scripts were produced with "M.A. Bross" listed as the author. To date, we have yet to figure out who M.A. Bross is. There are no references in the trades (Variety, Broadcasting, newspaper archives) about this radio program or the author. 

The general consensus among historians is that no such radio program was ever produced. More importantly, the theory now goes that someone heard the Christmas radio serial, The Cinnamon Bear, broadcast from November to December 1937, and decided to create their own radio program of similar nature. This would not be the first time historians found proposed children's serials that more than likely were inspired by The Cinnamon Bear radio program.

Enclosed is a link for two radio scripts, episode #1 and episode #7 for your entertainment.

Friday, February 9, 2024

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953) Movie Review

What should easily be on the top ten list of film noir classics is Pickup on South Street, theatrically released in 1953. Directed by Sam Fuller, this film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2018, by the Library of Congress for being, “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” If you have never seen this film, do yourself a favor and seek it out.


On a crowded subway, Skip McCoy picks the purse of Candy. Among his take, although he does not know it at the time, is a piece of top-secret microfilm that was being passed by Candy's consort, a Communist agent. Candy discovers the whereabouts of the film through Moe Williams, a police informer. She attempts to seduce McCoy to recover the film. She fails to get back the film and falls in love with him. The desperate agent exterminates Moe and savagely beats Candy. McCoy, now goaded into action, confronts the agent in a particularly brutal fight in a subway.


Shot in 20 days, Pickup on South Street makes it a point that there is nothing really wrong with pickpockets, even when they are given to violence, as long as they don’t side with Communist spies. The film’s assets are partly the photography, which creates an occasional tense atmosphere, and partly the performance of Thelma Ritter.


The screenplay was initially rejected twice by the Production Code Office for “excessive brutality and sadistic beatings” of both male and female characters, and one scene had to be reshot to minimize what could have been mistaken as adult groping.


After seeing a preview of the film, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover demanded a meeting with studio boss Darryl Zanuck and the film’s director/writer Samuel Fuller. He objected to the unpatriotic nature of Skip, even when he realizes he’s dealing with communists. Zanuck refused to make any changes to the film, backing Fuller. This ended the studio's close relationship with the FBI and all references to the agency were removed from the film's advertising, posters, and lobby cards.


Culturally significant? Yes. Entertaining film noir? A must-see. 


Thursday, February 1, 2024

The Columbus Moving Picture Show

You may not have heard of the Columbus Moving Picture Show, but you no doubt heard of the Cinevent Film Festival. After fifty years, the latter closed doors and the baton was passed on to Samantha Glasser, who re-christened the film festival and carried the tradition of bringing cinephiles together for four days. The contents of the program guide received a modern font, revealing little bits of trivia for each movie screened throughout the weekend. All of the movies were presented via 16mm masters, not digital, evident during the Saturday morning cartoon showing when a bulb burned out and needed to be replaced. (In fairness, no one in the screening room expressed complaint. A bulb burning out is just one of the factors that can happen during the weekend and is part of the fun of watching films by 16mm.) 

Among past year's offerings was the rarely-seen Behind the News, a 1940 crime caper starring Lloyd Nolan as a crusading newspaper reporter who needed a small jab to revive his interest to cover the arrest and murder of a notorious racketeer. Another rarely-seen film was the 1953 comedy, Marry Me Again, co-starring Robert Cummings and Marie Wilson. Fans of Frank Tashlin knew of this movie that has never been released commercially or screened on television in the past few decades. 

Alan K. Rode was among the celebrated authors throughout
the weekend signing copies of their books.

Perhaps the rarest film of the past year was The Little Cafe, a silent 1919 film starring comedian Max Linder has been elusive to many cinephiles who have been determined to see every movie Linder starred. No weekend would have been complete without a film noir so Samantha and her friends pulled out the 1948 Eagle Lion production, Canon City, with Scott Brady and Jeff Corey. These are just examples of what you can see at the annual film festival. 

Invisible Ghost was a late-night offering that provides no ghost
and nothing invisible... but who can deny the fun of watching
Bela Lugosi in a room full of film buffs who go so far
as to clap when "The End" appears on the screen?

If you are asking yourself where you can find these same films on DVD, the short answer is: you cannot. The majority of the films screened over the weekend are films not available commercially, offering fans of old movies a cocktail of classics worthy of the price of admission.

Jason Edgerly was among the vendors selling movie
memorabilia throughout the weekend. 

The different types of merchandise and collectibles
you can find in the vendor room.

More than five decades ago, Steve Haynes and his friends assembled what would become an annual tradition in Columbus, Ohio, every Memorial Day weekend. The tradition continues with a new spearhead and I am pleased to report to the skeptics that the film festival is in good hands. If you live within driving distance of the event, I recommend you check it out at

Friday, January 26, 2024

DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (1974) Movie Review

My wife is a tomboy. She loves hot rods and car chase movies. As a movie buff, I have introduced her to a number of films she never knew existed. As a car buff, she introduced me to a number of films I have never seen. But neither of us had seen Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) until recently, after spending a few days with actress Susan George, who co-stars with Peter Fonda. More interesting is the fact that the movie is clearly among the car chase genre but the film was adapted from novel classified as a crime caper. Richard Unekis wrote the novel in 1962, originally published in 1963 as The Chase, later reprinted under the title Pursuit. The New York Times reviewed the book as "a brilliantly detailed and breathless tale of pursuit."

Ten years later, a motion-picture with a more clever title and a ton of car chase sequences and verbal foreplay exchanged between the two leads. Two NASCAR hopefuls, driver Larry Rayder and his mechanic, DekE Sommers, successfully executes a supermarket heist to finance their entry into big-time auto racing. They extort $150,000 in cash from the supermarket manager by holding his wife and daughter hostage. In making their escape, however, they are confronted by Larry's one-night stand, Mary Coombs. She coerces them to take her along in their souped-up Chevrolet Impala. An unorthodox sheriff, Captain Franklin (played by Vic Morrow), obsessively pursues the trio in a dragnet, hoping to relive his youth. 

Almost immediately Larry demonstrates he is a true race car daredevil -- willing to risk his life for everything in stunts that are truly death-defying. Peter Fonda later recalled how there were only a few cars available for production, causing the mechanics to fix up the vehicles every night. "The film was shot pretty much in sequence," he remarked. "We had about 20 exciting stunts and about five minutes worth of acting."

The film was a surprise hit, incidentally, when released in the spring of 1974, becoming the most profitable film of the year. 

The movie is worth seeking out to view. Like Electra Glide in Blue (1973), which I saw for the first time last year, this is highly recommended for sheer entertainment.

Susan George and Peter Fonda

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry has a gruesome bit of trivia worth pointing out, incidentally. Vic Morrow, playing the sheriff, insisted on a $1 million life insurance policy before he would film any scenes involving the helicopter. The producer hesitated for a spell but eventually relented. Afterwards, Morrow said he would ride in the helicopter, not fly one. When asked why he strongly insisted on the policy, Morrow replied, :I have always had a premonition that I'll be killed in a helicopter crash!" Years later, Morrow was indeed killed when a helicopter was brought down by special effects explosions, during production of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).

Friday, January 19, 2024

Radio's LIGHTS OUT: "Bark of a Dead Dog" (1939)

In the summer of 1942, Sterling Products bought Lights Out to replace its current series, Board of Missing Heirs, for Ironized Yeast. CBS at that time had always banned horror stories, being more stricter than NBC in that regard, but the network decided to relax their position because playwright Arch Oboler was involved. Having made a name for himself as one of the top ten playwrights on network television, his stock in trade as a "stream on consciousness" style often first person singular applied. Oboler was scripting for weekly patriotic programs and wanted to return to his favorite genre -- horror. And because Oboler was already providing scripts for Everyman's Theater over NBC for Procter & Gamble, and just signed with NBC Blue for To the President, CBS wanted to compete.


The Continuity Department (the official name for the censorship department) at CBS looked at a handful of the radio scripts proposed and stamped them “acceptable” before the premiere on the evening of October 6, 1942. The series was contracted with the sponsor and the network for a total of 52 weeks. Many of the radio broadcasts that exist in recorded form originate from this 1942-43 series, which is one of the reasons why the playwright has been unjustly labeled as the creator of Lights Out


Lights Out premiered over NBC Chicago in January of 1934, created and scripted by Wyllis Cooper. NBC, under a specific term in the contract, owned the program and when it was decided to take the late-night horror series coast-to-coast in 1936, Cooper lost control of his own program. A number of authors began submitting radio scripts, including Arch Oboler, who was at that time writing brief sketches for such prestigious programs as Rudy Vallee and Edgar Bergen. Cooper had no objections; he still owned the rights to his own scripts and he was being lured to Hollywood. But with Cooper leaving in 1936, new writers were necessary. Enter stage left: Arch Oboler. 


For Arch Oboler to broadcast a weekly primetime horror series of the same name, he had to secure permission from NBC. Executives at NBC had no objection, considering they did not want horror programs and they wanted to retain first option on Oboler for future patriotic programs. CBS was delighted to have their first weekly program written and directed by Arch Oboler, described in the trades as “experimental drama.” The price tag was a reported $1,325 a week. Arch Oboler was able to get by with that figure by not only writing and directing, but hosting as emcee and confining himself to small casts and covering the absence of any music by elaborate sound effects. For many of the episodes, the cast consisted of only two people. 


Oboler always felt his Lights Out series was never horror, but was instead a “psychological chiller.” Wyllis Cooper, who created the program, always described his stories as “fantasy” (with a slight touch of horror). 

Cooper’s 1934-1936 concepts, incidentally, would be expanded from the 15-minute format to 30 minutes and a number of them repeated for some of the 1936-39 national run, then recycled for use on the 1945, 1946 and 1947 summer revivals of Lights Out on NBC, then again under a new format, Quiet, Please, from 1947-1949.


As for Cooper's Hollywood career... that was short-lived. After arriving in Hollywood in 1937, he found work at 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios, contributing for such classics as Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937), Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937), Mr. Moto Takes a Chance (1938), The Phantom Creeps (1939) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). His experience with brutal last-minute re-writes at Universal for Son of Frankenstein gave Cooper sour grapes – he promptly left Hollywood after production concluded and returned to script writing for radio. (He expressed his displeasure for Universal and production of that movie very specifically, including references to Boris Karloff, in the Quiet, Please episode, "Rain on New Year's Eve.")


Beginning in 1946, some of his Lights Out and Quiet, Please radio scripts were adapted for television for such programs as Quiet Please: Volume OneLights Out, and Escape.


Thankfully, the 1936-1939 radio scripts for the NBC national run of Lights Out was recently scanned into PDF. This allows us to enjoy such dramas as “The Blood of the Gorilla,” “Satan’s Orchid,” “Queen Cobra,” “The Legion of the Dead,” “Black Zombie” and “One Day it Rained Blood.”

Enclosed below is a link for you to download a copy of the February 1, 1939, broadcast titled “Bark of a Dead Dog.”

Thursday, January 11, 2024


Years ago I used a newspaper archive online to type "The Lone Ranger," "Tonto" and other variations to find articles, advertisements and news blurbs related to the radio and television program, The Lone Ranger. Over 40,000 hits and 27,000 photos later, I find myself now cropping the articles and photographs, cleaning them up and preparing them for inclusion of my second Lone Ranger volume, spanning the years of 1938 to 1942 (referenced in last week's post). 

Some of these are gems, others (like the last one) warrant questions for which we will never know the answers. Regardless, they are fascinating (especially for fans of The Lone Ranger) so I am including a number of them for your amusement. 


(Click to enlarge, use arrow keys to scroll through them.)

Thursday, January 4, 2024


Ever since our first volume was published a few years ago, The Lone Ranger: The Early Years, 1933-1937, not a week goes by that someone does not send me a text, e-mail or phone call asking when the second volume will be released. Well, I am pleased to announce good news for the start of this New Year. The second volume is almost done so we have something to look forward to in 2024.