Downtown Wichita Falls, Texas, in the mid 1940’s was a bustling metropolis for a boy of 7 just away from the farm and ranch community where he was born. My father, a cook and cowboy by trade, had just started as one of the first cooks for the Casa Manana restaurant in 1947. He moved us to an apartment on Ohio Street, right across from the Gem Theater, between 7th and 8th Streets. It’s here that we would stay for the next three years. The Gem Theater became a magic palace for a young mind. But it had to share that distinction with the rest of the magic that was Wichita Falls. I attended San Jacinto and Carrigan elementary schools, as well as Reagan Junior High, and belonged to the Boys Club on 6th Street. Please join, and share your stories and pictures through a Guest Blog, of early Wichita Falls - or your home town. Contact me at or leave a comment. We could use old pictures of movie houses, drive-in theaters, and other nostalgic pictures related to our youths.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Uncle Scrooge

Uncle Scrooge

I remember in school at least one classmate could talk like Donald Duck. It used to make me mad because I couldn’t even come close. Boys appeared to like the Disney comic book. I don’t know about girls, were they just reading Betty and Veronica in Archie Comics? For years I wondered what the appeal was of Disney’s Donald Duck series, then one day it dawned on me – it was the artwork.
Carl Barks Art

Although I wasn’t a big fan of Donald, I preferred Uncle Scrooge. Scrooge and his money always seemed to demand the best art scenes in the series. One of my favorite covers was of Uncle Scrooge sitting in his vault tossing his money in the air. What was not to love about that drawing? I don’t have that cover any more, but one cover by Don Rosi (or is it Rose?) pretty well captures the issue I had.
Don Rosi (or Rose?) Art

            In an age when super heroes like Batman and Superman ruled the comic book racks, Disney’s Uncle Scrooge vied strongly for my dime. I just wish I still had those wonderful comic books today.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Media And The Shadow

The Media And The Shadow

As a child, one of my favorite radio dramas was The Shadow, the mysterious man who could cloud men’s minds and thwart evildoers in a thirty-minute broadcast. The Shadow had an odd beginning. An announcer on Street & Smith’s Detective Hour began calling himself The Shadow, and listeners ran to the newsstands looking for Street & Smith’s Shadow magazine. It didn’t take Street & Smith long to copyright the character by introducing a pulp magazine featuring The Shadow.
The Pulp Shadow by Walter Gibson

Walter Brown Gibson created and wrote the original stories under the Maxwell Grant house name. The pulp Shadow was quite a bit different from the radio Shadow that appeared afterwards. The first novel appeared in 1931. He was a mysterious personage who wore all black – patterned somewhat after Dracula, and could fade into the shadows. He didn’t ‘cloud the minds of men’. But radio was a theater of the mind, while pulp novels presented printed text for readers.
The Comic Book Shadow

         Street & Smith got into the comic books when they saw Superman selling millions of copies. Pulps were lucky to sell 7 or 8 hundred thousand copies, and that was their more popular titles. So in the 1940’s The Shadow made his appearance in comic books and newspaper comic strips. Since 1973, there have been several comic book adaptations of The Shadow, each apparently losing much of the true background of the original character, until modern comic book versions only visually resemble the character created by Walter Gibson in 1931.
         But that wasn’t the end of it. There was a 15-chapter serial from Columbia in 1940 starring Victor Jory. Several minor movies were produced early on, but three late 1940's from Republic proved successful, though somewhat comedic. Even a TV pilot was shot, which thankfully didn’t make it. The 1984 movie starring Alec Baldwin proved fairly successful, though it was a mixture of the pulp and radio Shadow.
Paperback Shadow Novels

         Although the pulp Shadow ran for 325 novels, and was highly popular during the pulp era, for some reason paperback publishers failed to reach out to the character. In 1963, Belmont Books brought out a new series of The Shadow, updating the character to the popular spy rage of the time. Walter Gibson was brought in for the first issue, then Dennis Lynds wrote eight more stories, and the series ended. In 1969, Bantam reprinted the first pulp novel in a new series to run along side their extremely popular pulp hero, Doc Savage. Unfortunately, The Shadow only lasted seven issues. Some blame the covers for its failure. A final paperback series was again brought out in 1974 from Pyramid/Jove, lasting for 23 issues, with some great covers by comic book artist, Steranko. There were some hardback editions that also appeared, but overall, the series just didn’t seem to catch on to modern readers. Tony Tollin, of Sanctum Books, has done better. He has reprinted over 150 Shadow novels in his double novel series, reprinting the novels in facsimile format, including illustrations, and reaching new fans of the character. His goal is to release all 325 Shadow novels.
         The Shadow has reached all media formats, and has been considered one of the most iconic characters ever created in fiction. Yet he appears to remain mysterious to the modern generation.
         A shame.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon

Buster Crabb had the honor of portraying at least three iconic characters on the Big Screen: Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Tarzan. I have no doubt that if Doc Savage had been brought to movie serials, Buster Crabb would have played Doc.  Curious enough, when William Shatner was cast to play James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise on Star Trek, he looked a bit like Buster Crabb. I wonder if that was just a coincidence?
Buster wasn’t a great actor, but he had the heroic looks, and was a great action star. Although his Tarzan portrayal is forgettable, his role as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon remain popular among fans long after those serials played at the local movie houses.
There were three Flash Gordon serials: Flash Gordon, 1938, a 13 chapter serial from Universal, staring Jean Rogers as Dale Arden, and Charles Middleton as the villain, Emperor Ming; Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars, 1938 from Universal, a 15 chapter serial with Jean Rogers as Dale Arden, and Charles Middleton as Emperor Ming; and finally, Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe, 1940 from Universal, a 12 chapter serial with Carol Hughes as Dale Arden, and Charles Middleton as Emperor Ming. Buster Crabb played Flash Gordon in all three serials.
Buck Rogers & Buddy Wade

         In 1939, Universal took a break from Flash Gordon, and brought Buster Crabb over to play Buck Rogers in a 12-chapter serial. Constance Moore played Wilma, and Jackie Moran played Buck’s sidekick, Buddy Wade.
         These were thrilling Saturday Matinee serials, though special effects at the time was lacking, and rocket ships and ray guns looked exactly like what they were – toys, and monsters were men in rubber suits. But for young kids watching each chapter at their local theater every week, they were real.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Wall

I think this picture says it all. God Bless our Veterans!
Tom (Nov 1958 to Feb 1979)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Memorial Auditorium & Serials

I’m just getting over a cold, but still a bit weak. Sorry it’s been awhile since my last post on the Blog. I thought I would include a couple items today.

First up is a 12-chapter serial from 1943, “The Masked Marvel.” This was one of the war period’s fun action serials about Japanese sabotage, with a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. As always, there are lots of exciting action sequences, and the required fistfights per chapter as only Republic could produce them. The hero wears a mask, and you don’t find out his identity until the very end.
I have collected about 100 of the greatest Saturday Matinee serials over the last twenty years, and though they may be a bit dated today, they are still a lot of fun to watch.
And second, when I lived across the street from the Memorial Auditorium, I enjoyed the many stage shows they brought in. I’ve already talked about the evening I went to see Lash LaRue and Fuzzy. But there were other shows that peaked my interest as a young boy. We had a hypnotist send about a week (maybe five days, I’m not sure). On the first night he hypnotized a woman, and left her in a casket until his last night’s performance, at which time he brought her out of the hypnotism. Supposedly. I’ve never been so sure she was kept in that coffin all week. But it was his gimmick. He also performed the regular acts most hypnotists do, like making the audience make sounds like a chicken or pig.
Tom At Ten

One week there was a Christian Science speaker, and his poster proclaimed that at the end of the week he would stand on a platform with thousands of bolts of electricity dancing over his body. Wow, we all wanted to see that. Well, at the end of the week, he broke the sad news; the Memorial Auditorium would not allow him to perform the dangerous act due to liability. Ho hum. Then my Sunday School teacher took me to see Billy Graham. Well, Mr. Graham wasn’t really there, but they were showing his movie, “World Aflame,” I think it was.
Tom at 73

I would visit the Memorial Auditorium even after I left the area. As a teenager, I went to see a Rock & Roll show (was it Alan Freed’s Summer Spectacular, or something like that?), with Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Laverne Baker, Carl Perkins, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, maybe others, around 1957. Then, about 1968, my wife and I went to see Loretta Lynn, Bill Anderson, and their C&W show. The Memorial Auditorium could always be counted on to bring great entertainment to Wichita Falls. A shame they didn’t keep all those wonderful posters.