Thursday, January 29, 2015

Challenge of the Yukon

 Challenge of the Yukon was a radio series that began on Detroit's station WXYZ (as had The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet), and an example of a Northern genre story. The series was first heard on February 3, 1938.

The title changed from Challenge of the Yukon to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon in November 1951, and remained under that name through the end of the series and into television. The program was an adventure series about Sergeant William Preston of the North-West Mounted Police and his lead sled dog, Yukon King, as they fought evildoers in the Northern wilderness during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. Preston, according to radio historian Jim Harmon, first joined the Mounties to capture his father's killer, and when he was successful he was promoted to sergeant. Preston worked under the command of Inspector Conrad, and in the early years was often assisted by a French-Canadian guide named Pierre.

 Preston's staunchest ally, who was arguably the true star of the show and indeed often did more work than he did, was the brave Alaskan husky, Yukon King. Typical plots involved the pair helping injured trappers, tracking down smugglers, or saving cabin dwellers from wolverines. Sergeant Preston's faithful steed was Rex, used primarily in the summer months, but generally Yukon King and his dog team were the key mode of transportation (as signaled by Preston's cry of "On, King! On, you huskies!)."

There is some confusion regarding King's actual breed. The writers seemed to use malamute and husky interchangeably. At least once, Preston answered "malamute" to the question from another character. In one radio episode Preston indicates King's mother had been a wolf, which would make him a wolfdog. In the early radio shows, the cry of "On, you huskies!" would alternate with "On, you malamutes" from show to show.

The theme music was Emil von Reznicek's overture to Donna Diana a now long-forgotten opera, though the overture remains a concert staple to this day. The show's episodes ended with the official pronouncement, Well, King, this case is closed.

Following the success of Lone Ranger and Green Hornet, George W. Trendle, the station owner, asked for a similar adventure show, but with a dog as the hero. According to WXYZ staffer Dick Osgood, in his history of the station, Trendle insisted that it not be "a dog like Lassie because.. this must be an action story. It had to be a working dog." Writer Tom Dougall, who had been influenced by the poems of Robert W. Service, naturally chose a Husky. The dog was originally called Mogo, but after criticism by Trendle, Dougall re-christened the canine King. Dougall likewise created Sgt. Preston and the French-Canadian guide. Fran Striker, who wrote for The Lone Ranger, also contributed scripts.

However, Trendle's criticism of Dougall may have had another reason behind it. Shortly before the two Trendle series aired (Lone Ranger and Challenge of the Yukon), popular author Zane Grey had a book in circulation (Lone Star Ranger) about a Texas Ranger like the Lone Ranger and a comic book series in circulation (King of the Royal Mounted) about the adventures of Sgt. King, a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman like Sgt. Preston. It could be that Trendle borrowed both ideas from Grey's work and wanted to retain the name "King" as a tribute to Grey, who died after a long illness one year following the first airing of Challenge of the Yukon.

Challenge of the Yukon began as a 15-minute serial, airing locally from 1938 until May 28, 1947. Shortly thereafter, the program acquired a sponsor, Quaker Oats, and the series, in a half-hour format, moved to the networks. The program aired on ABC from June 12, 1947, to December 30, 1949. It was then heard on The Mutual Broadcasting System from January 2, 1950, through the final broadcast on June 9, 1955. In November 1951, the title changed to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.

 Radio cast:

  Sgt. Preston – The part of Sgt. Preston was played by different actors over the course of the long run. Jay Michael, who had often played villain Butch Cavendish on The Lone Ranger, originated the role, and played the brave Mountie from 1938 through the mid 1940s. Former movie actor Paul Sutton took over the role, followed briefly by Brace Beemer when The Lone Ranger ended in 1954. Sutton took over again, however, by the time of the final broadcast.

Yukon King – The barks, whines, and howls of Yukon King were supplied by one of the station's sound effects men, Dewey Cole, and following Cole's death, by actor Ted Johnstone.

Narrator and supporting players – The original announcer/narrator was Bob Hite, also a narrator for the Lone Ranger, Green Hornet and The Shadow. Hite was replaced by former star Jay Michael when Sutton took over. Lone Ranger narrator Fred Foy also filled the role from time to time. John Todd was heard occasionally as Inspector Conrad, and Frank Russell played Pierre. Episodic performers came from the same talent pool as the other WXYZ shows.

From 1951 to 1958 Dell Comics published 29 issues of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. The first four issues appeared bi-annually, then quarterly, in the weekly catch-all series, Four Color Comics (#344,373,397,419), then assumed its own numbering with issue #5, most-often as a quarterly but also bi-monthly. All issues were written by Gaylord Du Bois (creator of Turok), and illustrated by Alberto Giolitti (best known as the long-time illustrator of Turok). The Dell comic book covers were paintings portraying drama or action, featuring Yukon King and Sergeant Preston in exciting scenes. Once the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon television series premiered, the comic book featured photo covers of the TV series star in character as Sergeant Preston.

 In 1955, the same year the radio show ended, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon premiered as a television series. Richard Simmons starred as Sgt. Preston, and was supported by Yukon King and Rex, now played by real animals. The dog cast as King was not a husky, however, but a large Alaskan Malamute. Charles Livingstone, who had worked on the radio version, directed several episodes. Though no plotlines seem to have been re-used from the radio show, they were generally built upon the same themes. The same few buildings were regularly seen as part of many settlements in the shows. The additional visual component of the snowy Yukon, however, did give the television version a different feel but like all such films when filmed on a stage set, the frosty breath of people in Arctic conditions could not be simulated. Generally, however, there was an outdoor feel though a few times shadows on the skyline could be seen. Genuine outdoor scenes were added to give the show some reality though the viewer could not help but notice a sameness to them as they were all filmed in the same area and reused at times.

Mainly filmed at Ashcroft, Colorado, the series was telecast on CBS from September 29, 1955, to September 25, 1958. The first two seasons were produced by Trendle-Campbell-Meurer, and the show was broadcast in the same time slot as ABC's The Lone Ranger. In its last season, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon was purchased and produced by the Jack Wrather Corporation.

In 1955, the Quaker Oats company gave away land in the Klondike as part of a promotional tie-in with the television show. Genuine deeds each to one square inch of a lot in Yukon Territory, issued by Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc., were inserted into Quaker's Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice cereal boxes.

Sergeant Preston comics online!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Box 13

Box 13 was a syndicated radio series about the escapades of newspaperman-turned-mystery novelist Dan Holliday, played by film star Alan Ladd. Created by Ladd's company, Mayfair Productions, Box 13 premiered in 1947. In New York City, it first aired December 31, 1947, on Mutual's New York flagship, WOR.

To seek out new ideas for his fiction, Holliday ran a classified ad in the Star-Times newspaper where he formerly worked: "Adventure wanted, will go anywhere, do anything -- write Box 13, Star-Times." The stories followed Holliday's adventures when he responded to the letters sent to him by such people as a psycho killer and various victims.

Sylvia Picker appeared as Holliday's scatterbrained secretary, Suzy, while Edmund MacDonald played police Lt. Kling. Supporting cast members included Betty Lou Gerson, Frank Lovejoy, Lurene Tuttle, Alan Reed, Luis Van Rooten and John Beal. Vern Carstensen, who directed Box 13 for producer Richard Sanville, was also the show's announcer.

Among the 52 episodes in the series were such mystery adventures as "The Sad Night," "Hot Box," "Last Will And Nursery Rhyme," "Hare And Hounds," "Hunt And Peck," "Death Is A Doll," "Tempest In a Casserole" and "Mexican Maze." The dramas featured music by Rudy Schrager. Russell Hughes, who had previously hired Ladd as a radio actor in 1935 at a $19 weekly salary, wrote most of the scripts, sometimes in collaboration with Ladd. The partners in Mayfair Productions were Ladd and Bernie Joslin, who had previously run the chain of Mayfair Restaurants.

 At least one attempt to convert the series for television was tried when Ladd appeared in an adaptation of "Daytime Nightmare" (retitled "Committed") on CBS' General Electric Theater (December 5, 1954). Box 13 was also re-imagined (rather than a straight adaptation or continuation) as a comic book series in 2010 by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis and published by Comixology. It is published digitally by comiXology and published in print by Red 5 Comics.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Crime Classics

Crime Classics was a United States radio docudrama which aired as a sustaining series over CBS from June 15, 1953, to June 30, 1954.

 Created, produced, and directed by radio actor/director Elliott Lewis, the program was a historical true crime series, examining crimes and murders from the past. It grew out of Lewis' personal interest in famous murder cases and took a documentary-like approach to the subject, carefully recreating the facts, personages and feel of the time period. Comparatively little dramatic license was taken with the facts and events, but the tragedy was leavened with humor, expressed largely through the narration.

The crimes dramatized generally covered a broad time and place frame from ancient Greece to late 19th-century America. Each episode in the series was co-written by Morton Fine and David Friedkin, in consultation with Lewis, although the scripting process was more a matter of research, as the stories were "adapted from the original court reports and newspaper accounts" or from the works of historians.

The cases ranged from famous assassinations (of Abraham Lincoln, Leon Trotsky, and Julius Caesar) and the lives (and often deaths) of the likes of Cesare Borgia and Blackbeard to more obscure cases, such as Bathsheba Spooner, who killed her husband Joshua Spooner in 1778 and became the first woman tried and executed in America.

The only continuing character was the host/narrator, Thomas Hyland, played by Lou Merrill. Hyland was introduced by the announcer as a "connoisseur of crime, student of violence, and teller of murders." Merrill's deadpan portrayal of Hyland provided the welcome note of tongue-in-cheek humor to the proceedings. Unlike the ghoulish weird storytellers of The Whistler and The Mysterious Traveler, Hyland was an ordinary fellow who, in a dry, droll manner, would present a tale from his files, his wry comments interspersed between dramatized scenes. The episodes would typically begin with Hyland inviting the audience to listen to a sound, from drops of rain to horses' hooves, and then introducing the main players and events of his report.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Saint

Simon Templar is a British fictional character known as The Saint. He was featured in a long-running series of books by Leslie Charteris published between 1928 and 1963. After that date, other authors collaborated with Charteris on books until 1983; two additional works produced without Charteris’s participation were published in 1997. The character has also been portrayed in motion pictures, radio dramas, comic strips, comic books and three television series.

 Simon Templar is a Robin Hood-like criminal known as The Saint — plausibly from his initials; but the exact reason for his nickname is not known (although we're told that he was given it at the age of nineteen). Templar has aliases, often using the initials S.T. such as "Sebastian Tombs" or "Sugarman Treacle". Blessed with boyish humor, he makes humorous and off-putting remarks and leaves a "calling card" at his "crimes", a stick figure of a man with a halo. This is used as the logo of the books, the movies, and the 1960s TV series. He is described as "buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for-leather blue eyes and a saintly smile..."

 Several radio drama series were produced in North America, Ireland, and Britain. The earliest was for Radio Eireann's Radio Athlone in 1940 and starred Terence De Marney. Both NBC and CBS produced Saint series during 1945, starring Edgar Barrier and Brian Aherne.

Many early shows were adaptations of published stories, although Charteris wrote several storylines for the series which were novelised as short stories and novellas. The longest-running radio incarnation was Vincent Price, who played the character in a series between 1947 and 1951 on three networks: CBS, Mutual and NBC.

Like The Whistler, the program had an opening whistle theme with footsteps. Some sources say the whistling theme for The Saint was created by Leslie Charteris while others credit RKO composer Roy Webb. Price left in May 1951, replaced by Tom Conway, who played the role for several more months. His brother, George Sanders, had played Templar on film. The next English-language radio series aired on Springbok Radio in South Africa between 1953 and 1957. These were fresh adaptations of the original stories and starred Tom Meehan. Around 1965–66 the South African version of Lux Radio Theatre produced a single dramatization of The Saint. The English service of South Africa produced another series radio adventures for six months in 1970–1971. The next English-language incarnation was a series of three radio plays on BBC Radio 4 in 1995 starring Paul Rhys.