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.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Couple Pulp Ladies

A Couple Pulp Ladies

Although most women in the pulps fell under two categories: one, they were pretty damsels to be rescued, or two, they were Mata Hari’s or femme fatales.  A few exceptions do come to mind. Back in 1921, Johnston McCulley's serialized short novel, The Masked Woman was originally published as a serial in The Washington Post; this is another of McCulley's early costumed characters, appearing nearly two decades before The Domino Lady and The Black Cat. Like her future protégés, she brought beauty, brains, and sex appeal to the female vigilante long before they were popular. Calling herself Madame Madcap, she wears a sexy evening gown, long black cloak with hood, and a black mask to cover her features. Appearing mysteriously, she recruits a gang of hoodlums to do her bidding, demanding complete loyalty. Then she sets them up for a fall, handing them over to the police with enough evidence to convict. This was an interesting story from the very first. As with most of McCulley's stories, his characters are heroes who act outside the law, but for the good of society - or for a purpose, like Zorro. Though there are no gun battles or sword fights, we see plenty of fisticuffs. Madame Madcap's chauffeur and bodyguard is a huge, muscular black man, and her right hand man is a professor of anthropology, who is studying the criminal element of society.

The Masked Woman was the forerunner of The Domino Lady, a masked crime fighter that appeared in 1936. Truth is, many of Johnston McCulley’s characters were the influence of the pulp heroes of the 1930s. Like The Masked Woman, The Domino Lady was a beautiful woman in a mask. Criminals had murdered her father, and she was after them, and any that got in her way. She wears a gown of either black or white satin, daringly cut and backless. The halter-neck of the negligible bodice revealed a gleaming expance of faultless white bosom and creamy shoulders. She drew a cape of black silk around her shoulder, then a shiny black domino mask over her eyes. Her adventures appeared in SAUCY ROMANTIC ADVENTURES and MYSTERY ADVENTURE MAGAZINE.

Sheena, Queen of The Jungle, first appeared in comic books, but was so popular she moved over to movies and pulps. Wearing a leopard-skin, she is a golden-haired beauty. Slim, tall and bronzed, with blue eyes. Unfortunately, she was short-lived in the pulps; only two issues were published. Fiction House released SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE in 1951, with three novelettes; then a final story was published in JUNGLE STORIES in 1954.

Lady super heroes fared much better in the comic books, as the men seemed to dominate the pulp magazines, which to me is a surprise.  I’ve never been able to figure out why this was so. Of course boys were probably the majority readers of the pulps, and I’m sure they wanted to read about characters they could connect to. Still, boys were also fascinated with girls and they read comic books that featured them.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

More Pulp Heroes

More Pulp Hero

The Spider was dated October 1933, and was pretty much a copy of The Phantom Detective for the first two issues. Long-time author R. T. M. Scott created the series, rewriting his characters from Secret Service Smith into the more violent Spider. Smith had already appeared in numerous novels and short stories in the 1920s. The Spider actually came into his own with the third story, December 1933, when Norvell Page took over the series under the Grant Stockbridge house name. Though very popular, the series only lasted 118 issues, ending in 1943 when the war paper shortage put an end to many magazines. The Spider was in reality Richard Wentworth, wealthy man-about-town, and amateur criminologist, until he put on the black slouch hat and cape, and became the nemesis of the underworld. New York is virtually destroyed in every story, as some menace releases deadly viruses and vermin among the people, and mobsters run wild in the streets.

Captain Satan was a fun series, and not quite as violent as The Spider. Written by William O’Sullivan, it lasted but 5 issues in 1938, and then was dropped. Very possibly influenced by Johnston McCulley’s The Rollicking Rogue in the December 1930 issue of ALL STAR DETECTIVE STORIES, about a young man whose family had been ruined by a group of millionaire businessmen, he’s now out to remove their ill-gotten gain, wearing a devil costume to do so. Captain Satan, on the other hand, is a master criminal with a squad of assistants, consisting of safe crackers, and other specialists. A gentleman, he only goes after other crooks (another gimmick used by Johnston McCulley). Extremely rich already, Cary Adair divides the spoils with his men, and keeps them in line so that no innocents are harmed.

The Masked Detective was one of the latecomers to the pulp hero class. Likely due to the success of Superman in the comic books, between 1938 and 1940 the pulps quickly came out with a long string of new pulp heroes to attract more young readers to the pulps. Ned Pines’ STANDARD pulp line brought out several to compete with the growing comic book super heroes. One such was The Masked Detective, a reporter like Clark Kent, he was Rex Parker, a poorly paid crime reporter for a rag newspaper who had a secret: a martial arts expert – in savate – he donned a mask and went after the bad guys. A lot of fun, though a lot of the pulp heroes was using la savate and judo at the time. Again, the war paper shortage ended many new characters during this period too soon. The Masked Detective only lasted 12 issues in his own magazines, from Fall 1940 to Spring 1943, and then a 13th story was printed in the back pages of THRILLING MYSTERY in Fall 1944, probably shortened from novel length. The series was written under the house name of C. K. M. Scanlon, created by prolific author Norman Daniels, and then turned over to a variety of other scribes.

An added treat is a 1945 shot of Diane Arbus, a professional photographer in front of a magazine rack. Her husband later played Dr. Freedman on the TV series M*A*S*H*.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Pulp Heroes

The Pulp Heroes

From 1931 through 1953 the single character pulps dominated the newsstands. I’ve already mentioned Doc Savage and The Shadow in previous posts. They were undoubtedly the most popular of the pulp heroes. But they were not the only ones. Fanzines, like BRONZE SHADOWS, were the first to introduce the “other” heroes to a new generation in the 1960s, a decade after the character magazines ceased publication. Nick Carr was the first to chronicle many of them in essays in his book, THE PULP HERO in 2001. I will talk about a few of these this week, and more in the future.

The Phantom Detective was the second single character hero pulp to hit the stands, following close behind The Shadow. His first issue was dated February 1933, but likely appeared in December 1932. It would become the longest running of the pulp character titles, ending in the Summer 1953 issue, with 171 novels. The Phantom, as he was more commonly called, was Richard Curtis Van Loan, a millionaire man-about-town, who was bored with his idle lifestyle and wanted excitement in his life. His friend and mentor, Frank Havens suggested he try to solve a vicious crime that was baffling the police. Van Loan, a WWI pilot, was familiar with danger, and within a few days walked into the police station with the killer in custody. Not knowing who he was, the police called him the “phantom detective”, and the title stuck. He became a master of disguise, and the police or Frank Haven’s, publisher of a string of newspapers, soon began calling on him for difficult cases. His stories were bylined originally G. Wayman Jones, then Robert Wallace, but his exploits were written by the major pulp writers of the day, many stories have yet to be identified by author.

Secret Agent X came out a year later, dated February 1934, but probably released December 1933, the Agent was an ex WWI intelligence officer, and now worked for a mysterious government official known as K-9. His job was to uncover and battle domestic crooks and foreign spies. Unlike the Phantom Detective, he did not have police approval; in fact they considered “X” a master criminal. Extremely popular today, he may not have been in the ‘30s. His run ended in 1939, with only 41 novels. There was no name associated with him, and he was always in disguise. A war wound in his side, the scar resembling a crude “x”, gave him the code name of Secret Agent X. The house name given to the author was Brant House, but Paul Chadwick created the series, then numerous writers took over after his contract expired.

The Ghost Super Detective, later changed to The Green Ghost was a latecomer to the character pulps, the first issue dated January 1940, but probably released in late ’39. The novels were originally narrated by the main character, George Chance in first person, but were later changed to third person. Chance was a master magician, raised in the circus, and taught many things, including knife throwing. He seldom carried a gun because he couldn’t hit the side of a barn – from the inside. He usually used magic tricks to catch the killer. The author was G.T. Fleming-Roberts, a popular writer of the pulps. Sadly, the series only lasted 7 issues in his own title, and then relegated to THJRILLING MYSTERY and THRILLING DETECTIVE for another 7 issues, and then ended. But the paper shortage due to WWII caused many magazine cancellations, so this may not have been due to a lack of popularity for the series. The character just drew the short straw, and was dropped.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book Signing

Book Signing

Seymour, Texas, June 7th, 2014. What can one say about Seymour? What comes to mind is the comedian that used to say, “I get no respect.” Remember him? Now I’m not him. I do get respect, just not from Seymour (LOL). Let me tell you about a few of my book signings and see if you don’t agree. Several years ago, during the Fall Festival, I was booked for a signing at the county library; they put my table outside by the north door, on a cold windy day. Can you say, pneumonia? (brrr). Last year, also during the Fall Festival, I had a table, again outside on a cold, cold morning. Remember that pneumonia? See the picture below.

Haskell, Texas, lets me sign inside. See Below.

So does Books A Million & Hastings In Wichita Falls. See Below. Yes, I finally decided to shave off the gray hair, so please no comments (G).

Even The Senior Citizens Let Me Sign Indoors. See Below.

Now June 7th, the day the Whiteside Museum of Natural History has its Grand Opening, I requested a table to sign books; not just any books, my books about dinosaurs and prehistoric reptiles. After all, I am the Author in residence, and these are subjects that coincide with the Museum of Natural History. Guess where they put me? Yep, you guessed it, outside again. This time I sat at a table in over 100-degree temperature. Now, if I just don’t get heat stroke this time. Anyone want me to come to their town to sign books? I believe I’ll forget about Seymour next time. Ah, maybe I should have been a comedian after all. Enjoy the pictures from the museum.

Thankfully, we were in the shade, and had a nice wind. The heat never became much of a problem, though we did get a little hot. The sudden wind gusts did prove a problem, however, as my books went flying several times. Not a great day, but not a bad one, either. TREASURE OF JUR sold best, as people liked the tiger head on the cover. I didn’t have any new edition copies of PANGAEA: EDEN’S PLANET, but I did have the poster on hand.

Ginger went through the new museum first, while I sat with the table, and she took the pictures. I went after she returned, but my blood sugar took a sudden dive while inside, and I had to get out to my jellybeans before someone called an ambulance. I barely made it back to the table before collapsing.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

These Alien Skies

“These Alien Skies” by Tom Johnson is now available on Kindle for $2.99 Features a great cover by Teresa Tunaley.

UFOs have been an enigma to people for centuries, but in the 20th Century they made their presence felt worldwide. MSgt Edwards experienced them first hand in the Air Force, when lights in the sky took control of a nuclear missile complex in North Dakota. After retiring, he joined AIM - Alien Intelligence Monitors, and now investigates sightings; is it possible an alien from outer space guides him with a message for Earth?

Eddy Edwards is tough, he has to be; government agents and local toughs often want him dead. Pulpy action combined with aliens and UFOs mix for lots of fun.