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Fun With Fender; or, The Saga of Rex O’Saurus

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My friends and I sometimes get carried away on Facebook, but we have a lot of fun doing it. This afternoon, I saw on Shorpy.com an 1898 photo of a government scientist looking at an enormous radio vacuum tube or valve; it may have been the first radio tube. It struck me as comical, so I cropped and sepia-toned a version of the photo on Facebook, with a mock serious caption. Then I found, cropped and toned an old photo of two guys with a giant speaker and put in a second mock-serious caption. Here’s some of the banter that followed:

Leo's Brother And Big TubeMe (original post): In this rare photo, Leo Fender’s older brother, Freddy, examines a newly developed power tube for the proposed Super-Duper-Quadruple Reverb amp, which never reached the production stage. During testing, Freddy and Leo inadvertently flipped the On and Standby switches at the same time, causing a power outage in the Fullerton, California, area that lasted for several days.

Big SpeakerMe (again): In another rare photo, two unidentified employees of the Fender Musical Instrument Company move one of the four prototype speakers for the proposed Super-Duper-Quadruple Reverb amp into Leo Fender’s test lab. Made by the Jenson Speaker Company, this 142″ speaker was remarkable not only for its size but also for its weight of 276 pounds. The bass response was said to be impressive.

Nutty Friend #1: Can you hear me now? Good!

Me (again): There is a long-standing but never confirmed story that a young Fender employee, Rex O’Saurus, was standing in front of this proposed amp when the first power chord was played through it, and was spontaneously vaporized by the resulting sound blast. It’s true that Mr. O’Saurus was not seen again after the incident, but it may be that he was merely disoriented and wandered away in a dazed condition.

Nutty Friend #1: He later turned up with Marc Bolan and T-Rex, playing cowbell.

Me (again): Jimmy, I’m not certain that is the same Rex O’Saurus, but a clue might be found in his reply when a magazine writer asked him about the incident. His response (“Pardon me? Did you say something?”) could possibly point to a severe hearing impairment earlier in his life. Who can say?

Nutty Friend #1: It’s all hearsay, methinks…

Nutty Friend #2: Huh? (cups hand behind ear)

Me (again): Tyrone O’Saurus, brother of the missing Rex, has said that he hasn’t heard from him since the incident happened in 1965.

Me (again): Mrs. Terri Dactyl, sister of the long-missing man, has said that her brother Rex was an unsung hero of the music world and should be honored as such. It is rumored that the Fender Corporation may retire from service the metal dustpan used to dispose of Rex’s possible remains and, in his honor, have it nickel plated and engraved with the phrase “Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust; We Fired Up the Amp and Rex Went Bust.”

Nutty Friend #3: So Terri Dactyl and Rex gave birth to T-Rex, Bang a Gong, I’m gone!

DustpanMe (again): Just received an email from Oswald Leonidas, historian at Fender, who proposes a contest for the best tribute poem to poor Rex O’Saurus. I will be the judge and remember the lines have to fit on this historic dustpan. My entry: “We’ll Miss Young Rex; He’s Gone, Alas; But You Must Admit; This Amp Kicks Ass.”

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

It’s all in fun and no disrespect is intended to Fender Musical Instruments or anyone else!

Rack ‘Em Up!

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In our last post, we showed a comic-book rack from 1945, with a young man reading one of the offerings on display. The photo we used was a portion of a larger photo from the Life magazine archives. Here’s the whole photo:

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Having little going this weekend, I decided to do some research and find the exact covers for all the comics shown on that rack. We’ll start at the top, and go from left to right.

Here’s the first comic, Exciting Comics #38 from April of 1945. Note the sensational cover art by Alex Schomburg. Schomburg was a Puerto Rican-born artist who came to the U.S. in the 1920s and began his ten-year comic-book career in the early 1940s. He worked for Nedor/Better/Standard Publications (as in this instance), and also for Timely Comics, which later evolved into the Marvel Comics Group. Schomburg had two distinct styles; the regular pen-and-ink style, shown here, and a later airbrushed style. For the pen-and-ink covers, he signed his name as Schomburg and for the airbrushed covers, he signed his name as Xela (Alex backwards).

The cover-featured heroes were the Black Terror and his kid sidekick Tim; together, they were referred to as the Terror Twins. Their uniforms or costumes were perhaps the most stylish of those worn by anyone in the Golden Age of Comics. We’ll see them again in this blog entry.

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Next on the rack is Captain Marvel Adventures #46, from May of 1945. Probably the best selling comic book of the 1940s, selling over a million copies an issue; CMA was published by Fawcett. Outselling Superman was quite an achievement, and for a while, Captain Marvel Adventures was published every other week instead of monthly, as most comics were.

The head artist for Captain Marvel was C. C. Beck, who later retired to Florida. I was lucky enough to correspond with him by letter in his retirement days and he was an entertainingly cranky and acerbic correspondent! His clean-line art style was perfect for comic books but deceptively simple; his rule, as he wrote to me, was never put in a line that didn’t further the story.

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Next on our rack, after a second facing of Captain Marvel Adventures, is Black Terror #10, from May of 1945. The Second World War had ended its European theater by that time, but since comics were written, drawn and printed months in advance, it took a while for them to catch up. In his fight against Nazi villains on this cover, the Black Terror faces a neatly labelled flame thrower; Schomburg was careful to label everything of importance on his covers. He’d have so much going on in his covers that a kid would study them for quite some time after plunking down his dime for the book.

As the comic-book publishers had many stories about WWII in inventory, they’d publish them after with war with Now It Can Be Told! added to the splash pages.

The Black Terror, who in real life was a pharmacist, was invulnerable to knives, flame throwers and bullets, but in almost every story he’d be knocked out by a blow to the back of his head. It confused me as a kid and still does. Maybe it was an Achilles’ heel kind of thing but they should have explained it better in the stories.

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Proceeding down the comic book rack, we come to Shadow Comics volume 5, issue 2. Street & Smith published the Shadow, who was later licensed and published by Archie Comics, DC Comics and others after S&S gave up on comics, which was always a sideline to their pulp magazine business. In these original comics, the Shadow was colored a pale blue when he became invisible by clouding the minds of his enemies. Street & Smith comics had a different look than most other comics, with unusual coloring and some painted covers. I suspect that I wasn’t the only kid annoyed by the way they numbered their product with a volume/issue numbering system; it was less straightforward than just the issue numbering. For teenaged boys, who bought most of the comics, having all the issues was a big deal and probably boosted comic book sales. Hillman Publications, who published the wonderful Airboy Comics, also used that volume/issue scheme.

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I can’t see enough of the cover of the next comic to identify it, but the one to its right is Red Band Comics, either number 3 or maybe number 4; both had the same cover art and interior contents! I show you the cover of #3 here.

This obscure and rather disturbing and unsatisfying comic was published by an outfit who only operated during 1944 and 1945 called Rural Home Publications. If DC Comics, Fawcett and Dell were first-string publishers, and Nedor/Better/Standard and Timely were second-string, then Street & Smith were third-string and Rural Home was barely in the running.

As you can see, the villain on this cover is quite horrific; the Bogeyman mentioned in the blurb was actually the hero, who’s shadow you see. Bogeyman was a swipe of Will Eisner’s Spirit charactor only drawn with a mustache. Neither Bogeyman or this ugly villain, who’s named Satanas, are in the comic book; covers were to sell the comic and often they promised more than they delivered.

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Captain Marvel Adventures #46 gets still another facing on the rack, but to its right is one of my personal favorites: Don Winslow of the Navy! This is issue #26. Don Winslow comics were well drawn and written and after Fawcett got out of the comics business in the early 1950s, they passed the rights to Winslow and a couple of other titles to Charlton Comics, who printed stories that Fawcett had in inventory for a couple of issues.

When I was a kid trying to break into comics in the late 1960s, I’d look for old issues of Don Winslow in second-hand magazine shops in New York City and try to copy the style of the guys who drew them. Great stuff!

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Another obscured issue and then we see Mystery Comics #3, published in 1944 (no month indicated). This great Schomburg cover features Wonder Man battling a mad scientist who’s built a human-sized pink robot who fires a Thompson sub-machine gun and glows, perhaps indicating that he’s radioactive or ultra-electrical or something. Covers sold the comics and what kid could resist a cover like that?!?!?!? This comic gets another facing at the bottom of the rack.

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Below this comic on the rack is another issue of Black Terror; this one is #9, from February of 1945. These war-time comics had covers that can make us cringe today; the enemy folks in this Pacific-theater-of-war cover are absurdly rendered to convey their evil qualities, and young Tim doesn’t hesitate to mow them down with another Thompson sub-machine gun, perhaps borrowed from the pink robot in the previous comic. Those Tommy-guns were all over comic book covers in those days.

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Our last issue is a whopper; the 194-page Everybody’s Comics from 1944. This giant-sized offering was published by Fox Comics, perhaps the sleaziest of all comic-book publishers (and that’s saying a great deal). What publisher Victor Fox would do was take the comic books returned by news dealers as unsold, bundle three or four random issues together and slap a new cover over whatever the contents were. There are examples of numbered issues of these giant comics that have totally different interiors; it was all very slapdash and shoddy.

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That’s all for this entry. As I mentioned in the previous entry, there are no DC Comics (or Dells, or Timelys, or MLJ/Archies) on this rack, which leads me to suspect there were other comic-book racks at this store not shown in the photo.

UPDATE:  I can’t resist showing you one of Alex Schomburg’s airbrush-style covers; this one is from Exciting Comics #66. Much different than the ornately detailed covers he did using his pen-and-ink style, wouldn’t you say?

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Look! Up In the Sky!!!

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Look!  Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

Yes, it’s Superman!  Strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.  Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands!  And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!

TAOS Title

That insistent intro to the mid-20th Century version of the Man of Steel came from the pen of Olga Druce, who wrote for the Superman series on the radio, before television was available to the average American. They had several variants of that intro on the radio show, and added the portion about the American way when the United States entered the Second World War.

American Way

To my generation, George Reeves, who played Superman and Clark Kent on the Adventures of Superman TV show from 1952 to 1958, was the real deal. He not only looked like Superman should look, but he was a wonderful Clark Kent. His version of Kent was better than what we’ve seen since, since his Clark Kent was really the focus of the show. He wasn’t particularly mild-mannered, as portrayed by Reeves, and he seemed like a genuinely good guy to have around. Superman was the guy who came on to wrap things up.

Clark Kent George Reeves

There are a lot of websites that provide an astonishing amount of info regarding this show, and I urge you to Google around and find them. The main purpose of my little blog entry today is to get one point across that has troubled me about the recent film and television versions of Superman: He’s portrayed by actors who are too young, in my opinion. They are excellent, but more Superboy than Superman.

Stern Superman

Reeves was 38 when the Adventures of Superman began airing in 1952 and he was 44 when the show ended; he died the next year, either by suicide or murder, depending on whom you’re listening to. He was a bit player in the movies prior to the Superman show; he was in Gone With the Wind and some more forgettable movies. Prematurely gray, his hair had to be sprayed black for the show. The legend is that a DC Comics executive spotted Reeves on the beach in California when they were casting for the show. The executive, Whitney Ellsworth, thought the muscular fellow looked like the comic-book Superman, and was convinced he was the one they were looking for when Reeves put on his sunglasses; he then looked like a great Clark Kent! I suspect that today, George Clooney could nail the part.

George Playing His Guitar

Reeves was disappointed at first in his role as Superman; he remarked to the actress playing Lois Lane that they had reached the bottom of the barrel in their acting profession. But he was by nature a cheerful person, and embraced the idea of being a hero to American kids. The first season had a hard-assed version of Superman; he’d tell crooks he’d break every bone in their body if they didn’t cooperate and he killed a few people, or at least put them in situations that led to their deaths. Since this was very early TV, the special effects were primitive and low-budget; they used stock footage over and over. None of us kids probably noticed that when Superman was shown flying from left to right, his “S” emblem was backwards because they just flipped the film. I notice it now but it’s kind of cheesy-cool.

Reeves On Set

When the Kellogg’s cereal company signed on to sponser the show to promote their line of kid cereals, they insisted the producers tone down the angriness and violence. George Reeves became a kinder and gentler Superman, and the show was a hit. It has never been off the air since; the 104 episodes are available on DVD. The first two seasons were filmed in black-and-white, and the last four were filmed in color, though originally broadcast in B&W; no one had color TV at that time! If you watch the shows, and you may believe me when I say you’ll greatly enjoy them, pay particular attention to Jack Larson, who played Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen, and Noel Neill, who was Lois Lane from the second season on. They add so much to the show, in their earnest portrayals, and both are still alive and going strong today!

Clark, be careful; Jimmy's right behind you!

Clark, be careful; Jimmy’s right behind you!

Kirk Alyn as Superman

Kirk Alyn as Superman

There had been an earlier film Superman, who made two serials or chapter-play Superman movies. The actor playing Superman/Kent was Kirk Alyn, who was a slender and graceful former ballet dancer. He looked great, but wasn’t particularly powerful in the roles. Reeves, a former boxer with the broken nose to prove it, was convincing as a brawler and made a more convincing Man of Steel. He looked good in his simple woolen costume, even though they had to pad his shoulders a bit, and though some folks today think he’s a tad pudgy, he was exactly what the kids of the early ’50s expected in their Man of Steel. I can vividly recall hearing, when I was in the second grade, that Reeves had died. None of us kids could believe it.

George Reeves At Home

There will never be a better Superman than George Reeves.

George Reeves Color

Today’s Mission: Save This Planet!

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Don’t worry; today’s entry has nothing to do with Al Gore. It’s all about something much more compelling, realistic and important: Comic-book covers!

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Mystery in Space, a DC-published comic that ran for 110 issues from 1951 to 1966, was one of my favorites. Edited by the amazing Julius Schwartz, it featured art by some of my favorite artists: Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, and Murphy Anderson.

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When I tippytoed into the world of professional comic-book production for a couple of summers while in high school, the first thing I learned was that the covers sold the books. It was no accident that the covers of comic books were printed on glossy coated stock using high-resolution screens while the interiors were tossed off on newsprint with coarse screens and muted color reproduction. The art on the covers was almost always much better than what was found in the interiors of the book. So what? It was a stricture of the art form, and covers were what sold the books.

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One of the leitmotivs of DC-comics covers, along with purple gorillas, Jimmy Olsen turning into something weird and Lois Lane in trouble, was perils to Earth. In the Mystery in Space books, editor Schwartz took this to a high level in the early days of the series. For pre- and early-teen American boys, this had resonance: we were just beginning the American space program, and who knew whether this might set off some trip-wire arranged long ago by aliens? It was worth staying up at night to worry about!!! Also, and even more unsettling, these covers indicated that it was the Northern hemisphere that these evil aliens were focusing on. They could care less about Europe, Asia, Africa; their eyes were on the U.S.A!!!

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Were aliens watching our every move? Probably! Were they thinking “Hmm; the primitive Earthlings have now reached the stage where they have both atomic weapons and the ability to rocket into space. We’d better smush them like bugs before they prove troublesome to us!!!”? What a burner for our species, huh?

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So we kids would look for, buy, read and re-read these comics. So what if this clarion cry came from a funny book? The guys who wrote and drew them were obviously smart; look at all the scientific facts crammed into these stories!

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Here are, for your enjoyment and amusement and so you can prepare for our destruction, some of the great Mystery in Space covers showing Earth in peril.

BE WARNED! THE ALIENS ARE OUT THERE AND THEY’RE WATCHING US!!!

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Yours Truly, Old-Time Radio!

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Family Radio

For those who have grown up listening to radio as it is today, what we fans call “old-time radio” (OTR) is a revelation. Radio before 1962 had many great series shows, and they included comedy, drama, horror, soap opera, detective and other offerings. Many, like Dragnet and Gunsmoke, later became television programs as TV became available in the early 1950s. I know of one series (Have Gun, Will Travel) that was a television show first and then became a radio show.

If you have a long commute to work, there is no better way to pass the time than listening to OTR and it needn’t cost you a dime.

While in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a couple of times recently, I was lucky enough to visit the radio studio in the Scranton Times Tribune newspaper building, which still looks like it did when it was used in the 1930s. Here’s a great photo showing a radio studio in the 1940s:

Radio Studio 1930s

If you have XM or Sirius satellite radio, discovering OTR is easy. Just tune to channel 82 and listen to the offerings hosted by OTR wizard Greg Bell (his website is gregbellmedia.com). Greg provides interesting commentary and the shows on his Radio Classics channel have superb-quality audio. His content provider, RadioSpirits.com, also sells classic radio shows on disc. Many folks I know say Greg’s channel is the main reason they subscribe to satellite radio, and my wife and I agree!

If you want to download OTR, there are many sites, both free and subscription; just Google Old TIme Radio and download the files. Please know that the audio quality on many of these, uploaded by OTR fans and collectors, aren’t what you’ll hear on Radio Classics.

Now that we’ve got that stuff out of the way, let’s look at one of the best of the OTR series: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. This detective show lasted a long time; there were over 800 episodes from 1949 to 1962. Johnny Dollar was “the man with the action-packed expense account,” and the premise of the show was that Johnny Dollar was describing the incident while compiling his expense account to whatever insurance company had hired him that week. Johnny’s file on each case was usually referenced as a “matter,” as in “The Silver Blue Matter” or “The Forbes Matter.”

Johnny Dollar was the last of the episodic OTR shows, and over the years there were several actors who played the hard-boiled insurance investigator. My favorite was Bob Bailey, who had a world-weary and somewhat sarcastic delivery perfect for the part:

Yours truly, Bob Bailey

Yours truly, Bob Bailey

Here are a couple of Johnny Dollar episodes for your enjoyment. The first stars Mandel Kramer as Johnny Dollar, and is a half-hour complete episode from the last couple of years of the show:

The Medium Rare Matter

Now, for comparison, here’s my favorite: Bob Bailey in an earlier version of the same show. This episode is part four of the five-part version of the show that ran for a while:

Part Four: The Medium Well-Done Matter

Those of you who remember the Firesign Theatre’s Nick Danger, Third Eye spoof of old-time radio will recognize a lot of Johnny Dollar in Nick!

A huge part of the attraction of these shows were the sounds effects, created by talented and inventive folks called foley artists, and here’s a YouTube video showing how these effects were created. It’s a hoot!

I’ll be discussing other great OTR shows in the days and weeks to come; be sure to TUNE IN!

My First Published Work!

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Sherman, please set the WABAC machine to 1962 and let’s look in on ten-year-old Jimbo Page, who’s family is spending that summer in Apalachicola, Florida.

His dad, who is a stern and unfriendly person, loves airplanes and little Jimbo decides that since his dad’s favorite magazine, Trade-A-Plane, publishes a little one-panel cartoon in the upper-right corner of every cover, he’ll draw something and submit it for their consideration and– maybe– they’ll publish it. They did!

As a fourth-grader, I was amazed to see something I drew in print in a national– if decidedly niche– publication!!! Trade-A-Plane is still being published, though I’m not certain if they still are a tabloid pub printed on canary-yellow newsprint, and I’m not certain they’re still published in Crossville, Tennessee.

My dad seemed astonished when the magazine came in the mail and my cartoon was on the cover. He soon got over that, I suppose.

A very gracious person at Trade-A-Plane was nice enough to find and scan my cartoon and send it to me this afternoon (thanks, Linda!!!). She’s even sending me a collection they published a few years ago of their best cartoons, and mine was one of the ones in the collection.

As I look at this effort now, I see stuff I didn’t see when I drew it. Being a kid, I didn’t realize that printers needed an inked, not pencilled, piece for printing (notice the signature of the person who kindly inked it at the publication for me in the bottom right of the cartoon). Also, I misspelled “Apalachicola.” The two people are drawn (from a World Book photo of Wright and a comic-book drawing as references) in two different styles. The microphone and reporter’s hand are awful. Most absurd is that I accidentally drew Wilbur instead of Orville Wright, which messes up the gag; Orville sported a mustache.

I guess I was just too excited and eager to mail it in to care about niceties, and I was just a ten-year-old kid.

As Conan Doyle once said, when someone pointed out a few mistakes in one of his best-loved Sherlock Holmes stories, “Sometimes one has to be masterful regarding details.”

Anyway, here’s the cartoon:

JamesPageCartoon

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