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.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Kid Turns 74

The Kid Turns 74

Tom Johnson was born at 5 AM, Friday, July 26, 1940, at his grandmother’s home in Seymour, Texas, 74 years ago today. Darn, I feel old. The above picture was taken in 1944 at age 4, 70 years ago. I was cute then, and cute now at 74 (lol). I had medical problems when I was born, and the doctor told my mother I would not live past the age of 20, yet I joined the Army at age 18, and spent twenty years in the military, and I’m still around today. I’m thankful for all my friends, all those that I have known, and those no longer with us. It’s been a good life so far, and I hope I can be around for a few more years yet. Below is one of my many memories as a child. I hope you get a kick out of The Day I Fought Frankenstein.
The Kid Today

The Day I Fought – Frankenstein!
It’s odd how something insignificant can force your mind to wander into the past on occasion. Recently, while taking my wife to the hospital in Wichita Falls in preparation for surgery, a loud voice drew my attention to a gentleman my age in a wheelchair. He was instructing a person where to wheel him. The man’s voice, and his features triggered something in my brain, and I was again on the San Jacinto elementary school grounds.
Our memories of childhood often reflect on some of the more frightening moments of our life. Though we try to recall the good times, like our first date, first kiss, or even that first bicycle or Red Rider BB Gun. At times other things are brought to mind that may not be all that pleasant. My childhood was filled with many such unpleasant memories.
I attended San Jacinto elementary school in Wichita Falls between 1947 and 1953; sometime around 1951, when I was about eleven, we had a boy in school that was much taller than the rest of us. Being bigger, he tended to be a bully, and pushed the rest of us around on the playground. So we knew to stay out of his way. This kid always acted like he was the Frankenstein monster, walking stiff-legged, with his arms outstretched as if to grab one of us. He took pleasure in seeing us scatter. One day he even stuck something that looked like bolts on both sides of his neck! He was his own Frankenstein monster.
I had a good friend I’d known about four years, since we moved to Wichita Falls. He was a little bit fat, and maybe somewhat awkward, but he was my buddy. It all started at recess one day, when something happened – I don’t know what – but suddenly the kid we called Frankenstein jumped on my pal and was hitting him. Sometimes I do things without thinking. I jumped on the monster!
We had just started swinging when the bell rang, calling an end to recess. We headed for the school building. Frankenstein threatened, “I’ll see you after school!”
I said something like, “Good!”
Unfortunately, I had the rest of the day to think about what this monster was going to do to me after school. It wasn’t a good thought. He would look at me from across the classroom, and snarl.
Time cannot be halted, however, and eventually the bell ending the day finally sounded, and I knew it was time for me to die. Frankenstein was going to kill me. But instead of running home like a sane person, I stopped outside the door and waited for the inevitable. Maybe I had a slim chance, I thought. My heavyset pal was nowhere to be seen, he was smart and got away from school quickly. He wasn’t about to wait around for the monster to tear me from limb to limb, and then start on him!
Well, I waited, and I waited. Just about all of the kids had left the building, and was headed home, only a few stragglers remained. The longer I waited the braver I got. Frankenstein is scared of me! I thought. Well, it was worth thinking anyway.  Just as I was sure the last kid had left the building, a boy came out who remembered about the fight.
“Hey, Frankenstein is waiting for you on the north side of the building!” he yells. “I’ll go get him!”
The north side of the building! Of course, the San Jacinto school building was built in a square, with four sides, four exits! While I had been waiting on the west side, the monster was waiting for me on the north side of the building.
Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to think about my predicament. In no time at all, Frankenstein came running around the building anxious to dismember me. I don’t know who threw the first punch, but we were quickly swinging meaningful headshots; we weren’t skilled fighters, as you can imagine. But I was giving as good as I was getting, and the monster was starting to cry. Maybe I was too. But we kept on throwing those headshots with hard knuckles, and neither of us had gone down.
Suddenly, someone yelled, “The principal is coming.” That ended the fight. Everyone scattered, included Frankenstein. I raced for home also.
I don’t remember if I worried about the monster that night, or not. But the next day school was normal. Frankenstein didn’t approach me. In fact, he never bothered my buddy or me again. Like all bullies, once someone stands up to them, they become less aggressive. But it wasn’t bravery on my part believe me. I had merely acted instinctively, without thinking. If I had had a second to stop and think, I would never have jumped on the Frankenstein monster that day!
There is something of an addendum to this story. In 5th Grade art class one day, our teacher gave us an afternoon assignment. Each of us was to draw a self-portrait of what we wanted to be as an adult. After we finished, she picked up the drawings and glanced through them, and then selected mine and Frankenstein’s to hold up in front of the class. I had drawn a sheriff with a badge on his chest, and Frankenstein had drawn jail bars with him looking out. What she said kind of chilled me. She said, “What you have seen in these drawing is what you will become.”
I didn’t become a sheriff, though I did become a cop for twenty years. I wonder if Frankenstein ended up behind bars? I don’t remember his name, except for what we called him, nor did I ever see him again after leaving San Jacinto school. There were other fights, some even more violent than the day I fought Frankenstein, but few that I remember as vividly.
Was the old man in the wheelchair my Frankenstein monster? I don’t know. I would have felt foolish going up and asking him. From the wheelchair, he posed no threat today, if he was. I’m sure he would have had many fights over the years, so our little encounter at age eleven would not have been something he was likely to recall. I merely watched him a while and remembered other times in my childhood with fonder memories.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Western Comic Books

Comic books were essential reading when growing up. To be honest, they gave me the desire to read more. And if it hadn’t been for a comic book, which a teacher caught me reading, she would not have suggested I read a novel. The book was DOCTOR HUDSON’S SECRET JOURNAL by Lloyd C. Douglas. I was fascinated and wanted more to read. That began a 64-year reading spree that is still going on today.

The comic books offered everything a young boy or girl wanted in visual literature, action and adventure, science fiction, romance, super heroes, and even horror. With the Gem Theater showing double feature western fare most Saturdays, it wasn’t a surprise that I bought a few western comic books as a child; there were many great titles back then.

Favorites, I guess, were heroes from the cinema, like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Lash LaRue. But we had others that vied for our dime, like The Lone Ranger, Silvertip, and Kid Colt. My first piece of fiction was a comic book story when I was ten years old. No need to say more (ha). Since then I have written two western comic book stories, however, which were pretty good. Both were published in prose, though the comic book folded before the stories were published as visual stories. I’ve also written a number of westerns over the years, all due to my early interest in western comic books as a child.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Green Hornet Strikes Again

The Green Hornet Strikes Again: This 194o, 13-Chapter Play serial from Universal stars Warren Hull as Britt Reid/Green Hornet. Keye Luke as Kato, and Anne Nagel as Lenore Case. Warren Hull had the honor of playing both The Spider and Mandrake The Magician in serials, and was a lot of fun in the parts. Oddly, The Green Hornet Strikes Again follows closely on the heels of The Green Hornet, the first serial, but starring Gordon Jones as The Green Hornet, also from Universal. Great fun.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

More Pulp Heroes

More Pulp Hero

The Black Bat was a later pulp hero, beginning in July 1939 from the STANDARD pulp house, about the same time as Batman in the comic books. Very similar in appearance, there might have been a lawsuit to stop The Black Bat, but the pulp character was pretty well covered; they published a very similar version back in 1934, so DC couldn’t press them to cease, as they were first. Tony Quinn, blinded in the courtroom by criminals he was prosecuting, is forced to retire from law. Until a young girl brings him secretly to the Midwest, where her dying father has left his eyes to the New York attorney. Unknown to the world, the new eyes bring sight back to Tony Quinn, but he remains blind to the public, and battles crime now as The Black Bat. Very popular, the series lasted for 62 issues, ending with the death of the hero pulps in 1953.

Don Diavolo was a stage magician who also solved mysterious crimes that baffled the police, such as locked door mysteries or paranormal crimes. He only appeared in four issues during the 1940 & ’41 period from RED STAR MYSTERIES, and was a casualty of the war in Europe. Called The Scarlet Wizard, the stories were written by mystery author Clayton Rawson under the pseudonym Stuart Towne, who also wrote The Great Marlini novels.

Operator #5 was a fascinating series in its short run of 48 novels, from 1934 through 1939 at POPULAR PUBLICATIONS, under the byline Curtis Steele. Three authors wrote the series: Fred Davis, E. C. Tepperman, and Wayne Rogers. Jimmy Christopher was a Secret Service agent, code name Operator #5. He originally fought American criminals and foreign agents Under Fred Davis; then, with E. C. Tepperman begins the invasion of America. Known as The Purple Invasion, the Purple Army from Europe conquers America in 13 books; the 14th novel tells of our reconstruction after driving the enemy from our shores. No sooner have we beaten the Purple Invasion from Europe, Wayne Rogers brings Asian soldiers to our shores in the remaining novels, and in the last published novel, November 1939, drop an atomic bomb on America, almost six years before America drops the atomic bomb on Japan.  The series then ends, though an unpublished story remains untold.