Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Saturday, March 26, 2016


What do you get when you take an all-American boy and put him in cowboy hat and boots and transplant him to the West?  You get Bobby Benson, the young titular hero of a popular radio drama that ran from 1949 through 1955.  Benson was a 12-year-old lad who inherited a working ranch, the B-Baar-B, from his parents.  With the help of his ranch hands, Bobby's ranch prospers while he encounters all sorts of bandits and owlhoots.

Bobby Benson actually began on the airwaves in 1932 on a fifteen-minute radio show aired on a network of four stations in Buffalo, New York.  The show was created by Herbert C. Rice, a transplanted Englishmanwho had a long and successful career in radio.  (Rice is also sredited with discovering an 11-year-old local musician named Robert Emil Schmidt, who later went on to become Howdy Doody's Buffalo Bob Smith.) At that time the ranch was named the H-BAR-O because the sponsor was the Heckler H-O Company, the producer of H-O Oats cereal.  All of the characters except Bobby were also different.  The show moved to New York after a successful first year and the entire cast and crew were replaced.  The character of Buck Mason (Bobby's foreman and guardian) was renamed Tex Mason and ranch hands Windy Wales and Harka the Indian were added to the cast.  Billy Halop (later of Dead End Kids fame) played Bobby.  A young Tex Ritter played occasional roles on the show.  This first incarnation of Bobby Benson ended in December 1936.

Moving on thirteen years, Rice is now a Vice President at Mutual Broadcasting and decides to resurrect Bobby Benson.  The Ranch is now named the B-Bar-B and the cast is whittled down to five regulaar characters:  Bobby, Tex Mason, Windy Wales, Harka, and the newly added Irish.  Young Ivan Curry plays Bobby and -- in a bit of casting magic -- Don Knotts plays the comic relief character Windy.  In less than to years Curry leaves for greener radio pastures and is briefly replace by Bobby McKnight, who had been making personal appearance as Bobby in Europe because Ivan Curry's mother refused to let him travel there.  But McKnight turned out to be unsuitable for radio and was soon replaced by British youngster Clive Rice (yep, Herbert C.Rice's nephew).  A few diction lessons to give young Clive an American accent and he joined the cast in April of 1951.

The claim that Bobby Benson was the longest-lasting children's adventure drama on the radio is true -- if you are squinting real hard in an unlit room at night with out your glasses.  The show was the last of its type to go off the radio, outlasting Superman, The Green Hornet, Sky King, and others. But even if you included both incarnations, Bobby had only nine years on the radio; Superman had sixteen and The Green Hornet had a total of fifteen.  Nonetheless, Bobby Benson was a phenomenon.  There were all sorts of product placements, two short-lived television shows (one of which gave away a live pony in a contest), and a comic book from Magazine Enterprises which lasted for twenty issues.

All issues of the comic book book were written by Gardner F. Fox, a comics legend wrote more than 4000 stories for the comics and created many well-known characters and devices (such as Batman's Batarang).  Artwork in the early issues is by Bob Powell; Frank Frazetta did the later issues.

Bobby's adventures took place in a modern-day 1950s west, comic book style.  That meaant that characters wore the stereotyped B-movie western outfits, carried guns in their holsters, rode horses, and held up express companies.  Once in a great while you'd some sort of modern device.  Bobby's early adventures pitted him against various outlaws; later adventures included spies, mad scientists, Communists, and super villains.  In issue #6 we are still in mundane villain territory.

In "Trial by Night," Bobby and Tex interupt a bank robbery.  They manage to capture one of the robbers but the other gets away.  Two weeks late Bobby and Windy are returning from the big city on a bus where they meet a nice elderly couple who are traveling to Cactus City to see their son, who haad ran away from home several years before but now (they said) has settled down and has a nice job on a nearby ranch.  Bobby and Windy recognize the son as Lefty Samson, the owlhoot who was captured in the bank robbery.  Bobby is afraid the truth will break the old couples' hearts, so he and Tex convince the sheriff to release Lefty into their custody where Lefty will pose as a B-BAR-B ranch hand.  Lefty's parents are proud that Lefty has made something of himself, but will Lefty actually redeem himself?

While riding his golden palimino Amigo on a far corner of his ranch, the horse trips over a miner's pick that had been mysteriously buried vetrically in the ground.  As Bobby investigates the old pick, he is shot at.  Pick in hand, he hops on Amigo and Skedaddles away.  Thus begins "The Mysrery of Juan Garcia's Pick!"  Turns out the pick is part of the key to discovering a Spanish treasure of gold and three ne'er-do-wells are determined to get the treasure by any means necessary.  Before you can say, "Golly, that's an impressive plot point," Bobby finds himself trapped in a cave with the gold.  Fear not, Bobby wins the day and donates the gold to the local library while keeping the pick as a souvenier.

Amigo proves he is the fastest horse in the county when Bobby beats all comers, including Sheriff Dodds, at the races at the County Fair.  This draws the attention of a couple of crooks, one of whom figures that if he has the steed he could commit a robbery and get clean away -- not even Sheriff Dodds' fast horse could catch him.  After couple of attempts, they succeed in "The Capture of Amigo" but do not count on bobby's cleverness.

The one-page text story required by the Post Office was probably also written by Fox.  It's the story behind the cover which has Bobby rescuing Windy from a stampeding steer,

Rounding off the issue is a tale of the Lemonade Kid, a western hero whose adventures were often included in Bobby Benson's B-BAR-B Riders.  The Lemonade Kid is kind of interesting because he is really Tex Mason, the foreman of the B-BAR-B.  As The Lemonade Kid he wears mask and a yellow and lime-green outfit, but for some reason the mask is missing in this story.  Mason wears normal cowboy outfits for the Bobby Benson stories and The Lemonade Kid is never mentioned in those stories, although the B-BAR-B is referenced in the Lemonade Kid stories.  Somewhat confusing compartmentalization there.

Anyway, in "Brain Storm" the area is plagued by a frightening gang of robbers led by The Brain, who  plans their robberies in such great detail that the law is flummoxed.  With the aid of the Indian ranch hand Harka, The Lemonde Kid infiltrate the gang's lair and puts and end to their reign of terror.  To do this they knock out a couple of sentries and wear their clothes over their own, fooling the gang long enough to bring them to justice.  For a fearsome gang, these dudes are rather dim bulbs.

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