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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Phantom Detective

The Phantom Detective

After the debut of The Shadow in 1931, pulp publishers were scrambling for a hero title to match The Shadow’s popularity with readers. The first to arrive on the stands was The Phantom Detective in 1933. At first, STREET & SMITH yelled lawsuit, as they thought the new character from STANDARD was a blatant rip off of their character. But before the ink was dry, POPULAR PUBLICATIONS had The Spider & Operator #5 and ACE had Secret Agent X as their leads. The pulp heroes were taking the public by storm and The Shadow was no longer alone.
Spinner Rack With Phantom Detective Pulps

Although The Phantom Detective did not have as many issues as The Shadow, it did outlast the Master of Darkness in number of years. The Shadow ran from 1931 to 1949, with 325 stories, a total of 18 years. The Phantom Detective only            had 171 issues, but lasted 20 years, from 1933 to 1953, and became the longest-running hero title in the pulp magazines.
Phantom Detective Paperback

Some even argue that The Phantom Detective actually lasted longer than the official record indicates. In 1932 STANDARD ran a serialized novel in one of their pulp magazines titled Alias Mr. Death by G. Wayman Jones (D.L. Champion). Mr. Death was merely retooled to become The Phantom Detective. If that wasn’t enough, researchers of also discovered numerous rejected Phantom Detective stories that were published as other characters, so the 171 may someday be altered. And it gets even murkier than this. One of the Doc Savage authors took his unpublished Doc Savage yarns and turned them into Phantom Detective stories. And one more curiosity, a final Phantom Detective author was also writing Shadow radio scripts, and in one of his Phantom Detective yarns he accidentally calls him The Shadow. Only in the pulps, right?
Phantom Detective Comic Book

The matinee serials, or chapter plays, at the local theaters drew upon the other media of the day for their popular cliffhangers. There were probably a dozen Zorro serials. Comic Books like Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and others, were made into exciting serials; the pulp characters also had their turn at celluloid fame. The Shadow, The Spider, Tailspin Tommy, G-Men, and many others were made into serials to attract kids to the matinees. So too did the comic strips, like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, The Phantom, and Mandrake, and many others. When too much money was asked for the Rights to a character, the producers of serials made up their own characters. Bidding for the first Superman serial in 1940 broke down because of the money Detective Comics wanted for the Rights, so the movie that had already been planned had to change the name of the hero. From Superman, he became The Copperhead, and the serial was The Mysterious Dr. Satan. Comic strips’ The Phantom (The Ghost Who Walks) made one serial and planned a second. The producers decided against the high fee on the second, so the character was changed to Captain Africa. And yes, negotiations were rumored for a chapter play featuring The Phantom Detective, but one never appeared. However, about the time everyone expected this one to show up, a very interesting serial did appear. It was titled The Black Widow, and had all the elements of The Phantom Detective, except for, yep, The Phantom Detective. Still, he was there, even if not in name and appearance. I saw the serial either at the Gem or Tower Theater around 1947.
The Black Widow Serial

The era of the Thirties and Forties was one of the most exciting times for children and young adults looking for escapism. Though the times were harsh, the entertainment was wonderful. Pulps, comic books, picture shows, and serials truly were at the zenith of their achievements for the youth of America. Today’s entertainment, with the sex, extreme violence, and gutter language can never match those simpler times, when the world needed heroes, and children needed someone to look up to, even if they weren’t real, they could be found in their favorite form of entertainment.
Friends of The Phantom ID Card

No comments:

Post a Comment