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 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.

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