Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Frankie Lyman & The Teenagers, from 1956.


Well, this sure is a misnomer.  As this comic book repeatedly informs us, there is no thing as a perfect crime.  Any kid in the early 50s who was looking for a blueprint for a criminal career would be very disappointed.

"All stories in THE PERFECT CRIME are based on fact -- but in consideration of innocent persons involved, the names of all characters used in this magazine are fictitious for obvious reasons.  Any similarity to names of people living or dead is entirely coincidental."

Get that?  These are FACT.  Sorta like fake news stories on the internet are fact.  Just another way to tell kiddos that there no such thing as a perfect crime, so you'd better stay on the straight and narrow.

To further emphasize this, there are banners running across the top of the pages in this issue:
















It may just be me, but I think there's a message there.

The cover illo, btw, has no relation to the stories here.

Anyway, what about the stories?

We begin with "When Killers Return," featuring Steve Duncan.  ("Official Record Perfect Crime No. 10836; Completed March 11, 1952 by Fate!")  Someone's willing to kill to gain access to a cabin owned by Steve's Friend.

Next up:  "The Most Impossible Heist" ("Official Record Perfect Crime No. 10280; Completed September 28, 1951 in Prison" -- no exclamation point here for some reason)   A gang steals an armored car (with a machine gun turret!) carrying over a million dollars but neglect to count on the police  and the treacherous nature of one of their own gang.

Then there's "Old Pals...and Murder" ("Official Record Perfect Crime No. 10905; Completed April 3, 1952 by Death!")  Two newly-released cons force an old acquaintance to allow them access to rob an estate.  They are undone by dogs, but not before murder most vile.

That's followed by "Death at Lover's Leap"  (Official Record Perfect Crime No. 10935; Completed April 10, 1952 by Fate!")  We all know the bad guys should look before they leap.

Finally, there's "The Meter Thieves" ("Official Record Perfect Crime No. 10877; Completed March 25, 1952 in Prison!")  Robbing parking meters can be a deadly business.

There's many other goodies in this issue in the advertisements, from Arthur Godfrey's biography to live baby turtles that can be sent to your house.  Most interesting is the back cover advertisement for the "New Figure Mold French Waist" -- a "3-in-1" (no explanation of what three in what one) girdle.
The ad features what might actually be a photo of a nude woman's torso.  Her somewhat distorted arm is covering a full view of her right breast.  Her head is hand-drawn in a vary that gives her a very disturbing giraffe neck.  She's wearing a hand-drawn girdle (no panties!) with straps to hold up her hose.  A chilling effect, but for just $2.48 I might send for one.


Friday, December 30, 2016


Robert Mitchum.


The Mucker by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1921)

Edgar Rice Burroughs was far more than Tarzan and John Carter.  He also wrote western, mystery, adventure, and historical stories.  All of his books feature overblown prose, stilted dialogue, incredible plots, and coincidence piled upon coincidence piled on coincidence, seemingly ad infinitum.  At his best, ERB was a page-turner.  At his worst, he was still a page turner.  That, plus his great imagination, is what made him one of the greatest literary successes of the Twentieth Century.

Like a polished circus act, Burroughs managed to juggle a dazzling display of thrills and threats effortlessly.  And if a few balls happen to go missing in mid-air, who's to notice?

Billy Byrne is The Mucker, a physical giant of a man and a low-born thug and minor criminal from the slums of Chicago.  A product of his environment, Billy knows no rules and has no respect for anything but himself.  He has a deep-seated hatred of society and the law, and he especially despises anyone not of his remarkably low social status.  A man who has no friends is one who also has enemies.  When one of Billy's enemies is arrested for a robbery in which a kindly storekeeper was killed, he uses the opportunity to pin the murder on Billy.  Billy, who had nothing to do with either the robbery or the murder, is forced to flee.

He makes his way from Chicago to San Francisco, where he is drugged in a waterfront dive, waking up at sea on a ship whose crew consisted of brutal men avoiding arrest and of fellow shanghaied victims.  The ship's mission:  piracy and kidnapping.

The kidnapping victim is beautiful Barbara Harding, the cultured daughter of a New York City millionaire.  By this time, Billy is embracing violent life at sea.  Harding's yacht of captured and disabled, with its crew and passengers left to die.  While Barbara is taken, Billy leaves the man who was protecting Barbara for dead.

What happens next is predictable.  Barbara hates the vicious thug who murdered her friend and Billy hates the girl for her social standing and fancy ways.  A sudden typhoon cripples the ship and pushes it to an unknown Malaysian island where it is torn apart on the rocks.  Billy uncharacteristically grabs Barbara and swims to shore, saving her.  There is a handful of other survivors, including the Captain and his two mates.  Two sailors are sent to a high location to scout for water but never return; later their headless bodies are found.  In short order we discover a lost race of Japanese Samurai who have interbred with Malaysian headhunters.  There are chases, rescues, and misunderstandings as Billy and Barbara are forced to run, hiding out in a desolate part of the island for months.  Slowly, Billy realizes he is in love with the high-born lady and tries to improve his character to please her.  Because Billy is at heart a noble sap, he misunderstands Barbara's feelings, thinking she loves someone else.


Let me interrupt this synopsis to give you a flavor of ERB's writing:

"An American girl of the highest social caste in the arms of that most vicious of all social pariahs -- a criminal mucker of the slums of a great city -- and defending them with drawn revolver, a French count and soldier of fortune, while in their wake streamed a yelling pack of half-caste demons clothed in the habiliments of sixteenth century Japan, and wielding the barbarous spears of the savage head-hunting aborigines whose fierce blood coursed in their veins with that of the descendants of Taka-mi-musu-bi-no-kami."  (Just one sentence from pages 132-3!)


Now back to our regularly scheduled synopsis.


Love remains unrequited as Barbara, thinking Billy dead, is rescued from the island.  Billy is rescued three months later.  A year passes and Billy is now a professional boxer, working his way up to the championship.  Barbara, he knows from newspaper accounts, is engaged to another man.  When he reads that the engagement has been broken, he goes to Barbara (who all this while thought him dead) and virtually forces her to reconcile with her fiance -- a man of her social standing and not a mucker like Billy.

Billy then exits.



Thus ends Part One, which originally appeared as a serial in October and November 1914 issues of  All-Story Cavalier Weekly as "The Mucker."  A sequel, "The Return of the Mucker," ran as a serial in June and July 1916 issues of All-Story Weekly (sorry, Cavalier).

Open Part Two.

Billy, having given up Barbara to be married by another man, is still determined to be the kind of man that Barbara had taught him to be.  He returns to Chicago to give himself up for the murder of the storekeeper which had started his adventures.  He is sure that the justice system would prove him innocent.  Our naive hero did not reckon with the influence of politics on the justice system and Billy is found guilty when he goes to trial and is given a life sentence.  Of course Billy escapes.

While on the run, he meets and is befriended by a hobo called Bridge -- an educated man with an unknown past.  There are adventures while running from the law.  The two eventually find themselves in Mexico where Pancho Villa and various gangs and armies are fighting for control of the country.  Billy finds himself in an outlaw gang vows to kill every gringo in Mexico.  Coincidences pile up and soon we find Barbara in Mexico.  And in danger.  Did I mention there were also unfriendly Indians?

All's well that ends well, I guess.  A few dei ex machina are thrown in.  Billy never furfills a vow he made to a Kansas farmwoman and we never learn the secret of Bridge.*  Oh, well.

The Mucker is a rip-snorting yard that is thoroughly entertaining.  For those willing to suspend disbelief and literary judgment, this one's a winner.

*  Bridge's tale is continued in "The Oakdale Affair," which was published in Blue Book Magazine in 1918, although it did not receive book publication until 1937 when it was paired with another Burroughs novella, "The Rider."

Thursday, December 29, 2016


Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo Muir, & Ed Trickett.


2016 has been a rotten year with death claiming so many celebrities -- with Debbie Reynolds' passing last night being the latest in a long line.  In my mind's eye I consider this week to be Death's Irene perfecta.  That 1973 musical featured Debbie Reynolds (in her Broadway debut), George Irving (in a Tony-winning performance), and a 15-year-old Carrie Fisher -- all taken this week.  **sigh**

This week's old-time radio program features a June 20, 1952 appearance with Debbie Reynolds as the guest on The Mario Lanza Show, brought to you by Coca Cola.

She will be missed.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


This one seems appropriate for today.


Over the past week I've been covering selected Christmas music (some more obsolete than others) covering the last century.

But now It's Christmas Day -- time for one of the greatest pieces of Christmas music ever written.

Here is the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis.

May you all, no matter what creed or circumstance, have a joyous day and a prosperous and healthy new year.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


"Grown-Up Christmas List" by Amy Grant (recorded in1992):

"Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart" by LeAnn Rimes (recorded in 1996):


He's coming tonight!

But before he comes and before you dream of sugar plums, Walt Kelly and others ply their talents to put you in the Yule mood.


Friday, December 23, 2016


"Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid (recorded in 1984)

"Last Christmas" by Wham! (recorded in 1984)


Collected Stories by Roald Dahl (2006)

Long before he won fame as an author of children's books, Roald Dahl was noted for his short stories for adults.  Biting, acerbic, and macabre, the stories --many of which were televised -- brought wide acclaim.  Persnickety and opinionated, Dahl led an amazing life that might have come out of one of his stories.  A World War II fighter ace, diplomat, spy, Dahl was also one of the developers of an important piece of medical equipment. He won three Edgar Awards.  He wrote and hosted his own television show, Way Out; the television show Tales of the Unexpected was based on his short stories; he wrote the screenplay for a James Bond film; many of his children's books have been adapted as movies, from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to this year's The BFG.   He refused an OBE in 1986.  The Times named him one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.  Personal tragedy seemed to follow the 6 foot 6 inch Dahl:  when he was three, his older sister died from appendicitis to be followed weeks later by his father's sudden death from a heart attack; his third child, Theo, then just four months old, suffered from hydrocephalus after his baby carriage was struck by a taxi cab; his fourth child, Olivia, then 7, died from measles; and his first wife, the actress Patricia Neal, suffered from three devastating cerebral aneurysms while pregnant with their fifth child -- Dahl's efforts to help his wife re-learn to wake and talk was the subject of a film, The Patricia Neal Story.

Collected Stories is a new edition of 1991's Collected Short Stories.  It's what George Kelley would call a "big fat book" at 850 pages with 51 stories, from his early flying stories, to his shocker "twist" stories, to his sardonic sexual-themed extravaganzas, and beyond -- each marked by a mannerly and gently flowing ease of writing.  

Collected Stories reprints all but two of his adult stories -- those two had been included in his 1986 book Two Fables and were left out at the request of the Dahl estate.  Many of Dahl's stories were repackaged with newer stories for various collections.  I've sorted them out below to indicate what Dahl collection in which they first appeared.

From Over To you (1946):
  • An African Story
  • Only This
  • Katrina
  • Beware of the Dog
  • They Shall Not Grow Old
  • Someone Like You
  • Death of an old Old Man
  • Madame Rosette
  • Piece of Cake
  • Yesterday Was Beautiful

From Someone Like You (1953):
  • Nunc Dimittis
  • Skin
  • The Man from the South
  • The Soldier
  • The Sound Machine
  • Vengeance Is Mine Inc.
  • The Wish
  • Poison
  • Taste
  • Dip in the Pool
  • The Great Automatic Grammatizator
  • Claud's Dog (containing four shorter stories:  The Ratcatcher, Rummins, Mr Hoddy, & Mr Feasey)
  • My Lady Love, My Dove
  • Neck
  • Lamb to the Slaughter
  • Galloping Foxley
From Kiss Kiss (1960):
  • Edward the Conqueror
  • The Way Up to Heaven
  • William and Mary
  • Parson's Pleasure
  • Georgy Porgy
  • Mrs Bixby and the Colonel's Coat
  • Royal Jelly
  • The Champion of the World
  • Genesis and Catastrophe
  • Pig
  • The Landlady
From Switch Bitch (1974):
  • The Visitor
  • The Last Act
  • The Great Switcheroo
  • Bitch
From Tales of the Unexpected (1979)
  • The Hitchhiker
  • The Umbreller Man

From More Tales of the Unexpected (1980)
  • Mr Botibol
  • The Butler
From Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life (1989):
  • Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life
From Collected Short Stories (1991)
  • The Bookseller
  • The Surgeon
A marvelous collection.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


"Ring Out Solstice Bells" by Jethro Tull (recorded in 1976)

"Mary's Boy Child/Oh my Lord" by Boney M. (recorded in 1978)


From December 23, 1948, here's a Christmas story conveniently titled "Christmas Story" from the Red Ryder radio series.

Red Ryder began as a comic strip by Stephen Slesinger and Fred Harman in 1938, lasting for 26 years.  At it's height of popularity the strip ran in 750 newspapers and had a readership of 14 million.
 From Wikipedia: Slesinger "embarked on a successful campaign of merchandising and licensing with a seemingly endless parade of comic books, Big Little Books, novels, serial chapters, radio programs, events, rodeos, powwows, commercial tie-ins, and licensed products such as the Red Ryder BB Gun, which remains the longest-continuous license in the history of the global licensing industry.  There were more than 35 movies and serials featuring the character.  Two television pilots were unsold, though.

At the beginning Red Ryder topped its radio rival The Lone Ranger in the ratings.  That success was short-lived.  The NBC Blue Network sold the show to the Mutual Broadcasting Network, which placed the program with its Don Lee Network which only broadcast on the West Coast.  Sic transit gloria.

Red Ryder, "America's famous fighting cowboy," rode the range on his horse Thunder, accompanied by his young Indian sidekick Little Beaver and his horse Papoose.  Like The Lone Ranger, Red Ryder toned down the violence, never killing a ne'er-do-well, instead shooting the guns out of villains' hands.

The Christmas episode below features Brooke Temple as Red Ryder and Johnny mcGovern as Little Beaver.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016


"Sock It To Me, Santa" by Bob Seger & The Last Herd (recorded in 1966)

"Merry Christmas, Baby" by Otis Redding (recorded in 1967)


A honest politician, a kind lawyer, and Santa Claus were chatting on a street corner when a gust of wind blew a $20 bill their way and landed right at their feet.  Which one picked up the money?

Santa, of course.  The other two are mythological.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


"Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" by Oscar McLollie & His "Honey Jumpers" (recorded in 1954):

"Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)" by Elvis Presley (recorded in 1957):


What's the worst Christmas movie ever made?  My money is on Santa Claus (Versus the Devil), a 1959 Mexican flick from the less than capable hands of director Rene Cardona, who has gifted the world with such films as Night of the Bloody Apes, Blue Demon y Zovek en La Invasion de los Muertos, Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy, and so many other laughable films.

From a user review:  "Y'see, the reason this movie was made was to bring the concept of Santa Claus to Mexico.  At the time, Mexico had its own Christmas celebrations which were more religious than secular.  The idea was that if Santa Claus was [sic] introduced to Mexico, it would help toy marketing and increase sales.  And it worked!"

And from another review: "The same year this film came out in Mexico (1959), it won the Golden Gate Award for Best International Family Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival.  [K.Gordon] Murray released the dubbed version in 1960.  And it made so much money that it was periodically re-released in theaters during the 1960s and 1970s.  So, what might be cheesy now wasn't so cheesy back then."

And from one more user review:  "Avoid this mind-bending piece of trashlike you'd avoid a sex-starved whale during mating season."

How can any connoisseur of bad movies resist this?

Santa faces the Devil, aided by his assistant Pitch and three Naughty Boys, as Santa tries to help a girl from a poor family and a boy who is being ignored by his rich parents.  ** Spoiler Alert!**  Merlin the Magician pops up to help save the day.  **End Spoiler Alert!**

So come with us "[a]way up in the heavens, far out in space, in a beautiful gold and crystal palace right above the North Pole, [where] lives a kind and jolly old gentleman, Santa Claus."

Bur first, how about a cartoon from 1947, Santa's Surprise?

And now for our main feature.


Monday, December 19, 2016


"White Christmas" by Bing Crosby (recorded in 1942)

"When You Trim Your Christmas Tree" by Les Brown & His Orchestra (recorded in 1946)


  • "Tabor Evans" (house name; not sure who wrote this one), Longarm and the Bandit Queen.  Number 17 in the long-running adult western series about U.S. Deputy Marshal Custis Long -- .  The popular series began in 1978 with the first book being written by Lou Cameron and has run to over 450 books.  "The notorious Belle Starr is holed up with a nest of desperadoes.  And it looks like some crooked marshals are in cahoots with her.  For a price -- the law won't touch the robbers.  Till Longarm rides into the fugitive camp, posing as one of them.  Longarm has to cross the law -- to round up the raiders and their velvet queen."  "Desperadoes" and people in "cahoots," oh my!
  • George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, editors, Old Mars.  SF anthology with fifteen stories, harking back to the good old days of science fiction when Mars was a planet with breathable air and strange races, societies, and even stranger creatures.  Edgar Rice Burroughs never had it so good.  Authors in the stellar line-up include "James S. A. Corey," Michael Moorcock, Howard Waldrop, Mike Resnick, Joe R. Lansdale, and Allen M. Steele.  This one is going to be fun.  

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Noah Zandan explains how to spot a lie while inadvertently telling people how to lie better.

Then. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, explains the science of deception.  Something to keep in mind over the next four years.


The Bessemer Sunset Four.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


"Silver Bells" by Shep Fields & His Orchestra (from 1931):

"Does Santa Claus Sleep with his Whiskers Over or Under the Sheet?" by Jack Johnson & his Orchestra (from 1934):


As we get older we tend to forget all the trauma and the disservice our parents inflicted upon us and we remember childhood as an innocent, halcyon time.  Parents are not really to blame for this; they really have their child's best interests at heart.  It's my considered opinion that, for people my age at least, it was easier being a boy than a girl.  Boys were expected to be boys, and girls...well, girls had their own stereotypical roles to play.  While boys could easily be Dennis the Menace, girls were typically expected to be either Margaret (the smart, ladylike one) or Gina (the attractive, semi-tomboy one), and parents often idealized their daughters as a combination of the two:  an attractive, smart, ladylike, feminine child who could play girls athletics of be cheerleaders.  And girls were interested in clothes, cooking, sewing, giggling, and other womanly arts.

Perhaps I'm laying it on a bit thick but perhaps not. Case in point:  Polly Pigtails, a magazine aimws at grammar school girls (roughly age 7-12) put out by the publishers of Parents Magazine in the late Forties.  Polly Pigtails spawned all sorts of merchandising and an untold number of Polly Pigtails Clubs and was a marketer's wet dream.  After a few years, the magazine's title was briefly shortened to Polly and eventually morphed into Young Miss, and then YM, but it was Polly Pigtails who started the ball rolling.

The magazine is often referred to as a comic book, but it was actually a general interest publication that had a few comic stories in it.  There were articles with a lot of pictures, advertisements disguised as articles, some clean-cut fiction, profiles of current child actors, craft projects, advice columns, cooking instructions (in the issue tagged below, we learn that a "mock chicken casserole's"main ingredient is tunafish), articles on fashion, puzzles, clean living, a sometimes healthy disregard for boys, and a sometimes healthy regards for boys.

And there were pigtails.  Lots and lots of pigtails.

This link shows you a number of the magazine's covers:

And this link shows you how society and Polly Pigtails did much to screw up the young girls of seventy years ago:

And this link takes you to a discussion of what Polly Pigtails and her ilk spawned (while focusing on a magazine that went in a slightly different direction):

And, finally, here's issue #27.  An issue worth reading with a critical eye.

(And I know that many women have fond memories of magazines aimed at young and teen-aged girls.  And that many feel these magazines were harmless juvenile fare.  But were they?  As a representative of the Y chromosome, I don't have a dog in this fight, but as a cantankerous geezer, I'm not happy with pigeon-holing more than half the human race.)

Friday, December 16, 2016


"Savoy Christmas Medley" by the Debroy Somers Band (recorded September 17, 1929) and "The Birthday of a King" by the Trinity Choir (recorded October 28, 1925)


Dead Midnight by Marcia Muller (2002)
Six-Gun in Cheek:  An Affectionate Guide to the "Worst" in Western Fiction by Bill Pronzini (1997)

Marcia Muller, a MWA Grand Master and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, has sometimes been called the mother of the modern female private detective novel.  Her most famous creation, Sharon McCone, first appeared in 1977's Edward of the Iron Shoes, five years before Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and Sara Prestsky's V. I. Warshawski.  (And, yes, G. G. Fickling's Honey West had ended her entire career of eleven novels the year before Sharon McCone came on the scene, but Honey was never a "modern" private eye -- just an often unclothed one.)

Besides the thirty-three books (thus far) in the McCone series (including one short story collection), Muller has given us three books about art security expert Joanna Stark, three books about museum director Elena Oliverez, four books (with a fifth coming out next month) about 1890's detectives Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon (co-written with husband Bill Pronzini), three books in a loosely-knit series about the fictional Soledad County, one stand-alone novel, and six collections.  With Pronzini, she has edited eleven themed anthologies and the highly regarded 1001 Midnights, a massive exploration of the mystery field.

I met her once, many years ago, at a book signing.  She was personable, intelligent, and witty -- everything one would want a favorite author to be.  She showed very good taste when she mentioned that she had read most of her husband's book but she absolutely refused to read one titled Duel at Gold Buttes.  More on that book later.  (Full disclosure:  I read the book and enjoyed it -- a fact that says more about me than it does the book.)

Somewhere along the line I fell way behind in Muller's books (something I will definitely correct), so I came fresh onto Dead Midnight, the 22nd book in the Sharon McCone series.  When the series began, McCone was an investigator for San Francisco's All Souls Legal Cooperative.  Over the years she struck out on her own and now is the owner of a successful detective agency.  Her past history of romances with ill-fitting men has ended and she is now in a long-term relationship with a prominent security expert.  Her family has expanded with the discovery that she was adopted and now includes a passel of half siblings and parents of one type or another.  Her close friends and associates have formed relationships with each other to the point where it seems that once you know Sharon you are fated to have an affair with someone else who knows Sharon.  Throughout all this, Sharon doggedly holds onto a dedication to the truth despite the occasional danger that comes with it.

When Dead Midnight opens, Sharon is reeling from the suicide of her brother Joey.  A sense of guilt has control of her thoughts.  Her first reaction, then, when asked to take on a case involving the suicide of a young Japanese-American man is to refuse.  Eventually, Sharon's dedication to the truth wins out and she takes the case.  Roger Nagasawa, a twenty-six-year-old underachiever, was a staffer at InSite, a trendy online regional magazine.  The working conditions at the magazine were brutal:  low pay, long hours, broken promises, physical and emotional abuse.  In Japan, there is phenomena called karoshi, literally dying from overwork.  Recently, in a first of its kind, a large Tokyo company lost a lawsuit from the family of one victim.  Roger's family felt that he was a victim of karoshi and wanted to sue InSite for being liable in their son's death.  Sharon was asked to document the case.

Things at In-Site were more than they seemed.  Soon Sharon is embroiled in a high-stakes game of corporate greed, sabotage, and murder, all the while trying to come to grips with her brother's death.  At the same time there's turmoil in her office as a lover's spat affects its normally smooth operation.

Dead Midnight is a quick and interesting look into a workplace from Hell, with a cast of characters who each have their own agenda.


Bill Pronzini is also a MWA Grand Master, making him and Marcia Muller the only living husband and wife to have that honor.  (Margaret Millar and Ross MacDonald were the only other couple to be so honored.)  Pronzini also has received the PWA Lifetime Achievment Award.  He is best known for his Nameless Detective series, with some 45 books and counting.  Nameless (who we eventually learned has the first name "Bill" and an Italian-sounding last name) is in his forties when we first meet him -- overweight, chain-smoking, somewhat morose, and a collector of pulp fiction magazines.  Over the years, he has lost the weight, quit smoking due to a cancer scare, has had a relationship sour, has had a partnership sour, has been shackled and left to die, has met his true love, has turned his one-man agency into a successful enterprise with a savvy, young, and high-tech partner, has adopted a teen-age daughter, and is contemplating retirement but has not found the will to cut the cord.  Nameless remains one of the most likable and influential private detectives in fiction.  The stories are well-written, varied, and often ingenious.  You can't go wrong with a Nameless Detective story.

In addition, Pronzini has published more than 83 other novels and collections (at least, I've counted 83; I know there are more) under his own name and as "Jack Foxx," "Alex Saxon," "William Jeffrey,"  "Robert Hart Davis" (a house name), "William Davis," "Roger Grayson," "Peter Jenson," "Ashton Marlowe," "Richard Mountbatten," "Grant Roberts," "Mark Townsend," "R. Van Dorne," "Elizabeth Watson," and "Agnes Williams."*  A number of those names were collaborations with Jeffrey Wallman, including "William Jeffrey," under whose by-line Duel at Gold Buttes appeared.  Pronzini has also authored more than three hundred short stories, some under some of the pseudonyms listed above and a few under the house name of "Rohmer Zane Grey."  As an editor, he has published well over 90 anthologies, mostly in the mystery and western fields, and co-edited 1001 Midnights with his wife.

He has a distinct fondness for "alternative" classics, poorly written and over written genre books that were often published by lending-library publishers in the 30s, 40s, and 50s -- the B movies of genre literature.  As with B movies (and train wrecks), these books have a distinct fascination all their own.  Pronzini channeled that love into two books about the mystery field:  Gun in Cheek:  An Affectionate Guide to the Worst in Mystery Fiction (1982) and Son of Gun in Cheek:  An Affectionate Guide to More of the "Worst" in Mystery Fiction (1987), which included examples from such "alternative" writers as Harry Stephen Keeler, Sidney Horler, Amelia Reynolds Long, James Corbett, and Michael Avallone, as well as more traditional writers as Gladys Mitchell and the (non-Davis Dresser pseudonymous) Brett Halliday.  Highly recommended books, both.

But something was missing.  Pronzini was a great fan of the western, and surely there are some choice "alternative" western (a.k.a, bang bang horse opera) goodies out there.  Of course there are and it took a few years of coaxing from Crossover Press honchos Bruce Taylor and Steve Stilwell to convince Pronzini to find the time to write Six-Gun in Cheek:  an Affectionate Guide to the "Worst" in Western Fiction.  This "plethora of flapdoodle" (as Pronzini calls it) was published in 1997, giving all lovers of true literature a chance to celebrate.

Let's have a small taste of the alternative western.  This is the back jacket copy from George C. Henderson's greatly titled Whizz Fargo, Gunfighter:

     Whizz Fargo, a two-gun, fighting waddy, sees three men slain before his eyes -- one by Ed Slocum's desperadoes, one by the armed vigilante band know as the Black Sombreros.  The third dead man is the father of Caroliner Dermody. whose lips are red as gunfire and whose eyes are blue as the desert sky.

Wow.  Later in Six-Gun in Cheek, Pronzini mentions Henderson's 1936 short story "Quick-Finger Luck" which boasts the most evil-sounding villain's name ever -- Viper Snarl!  You have to love anyone who names a villain Viper Snarl.**

George C. Henderson is just the tip of the iceberg.   Pronzini covers other great and near-great writer such as Ed Earl Repp (although it's hard to say how many stories published under his name were actually written by him), Archie Jocelyn, Tom Roan, Chuck Martin, and Walter A. Tomkins, and many others.  There's Saul Anthony, a pseudonymous author of one story that Pronzini calls "wonderfully bad" and of a "short novel" that Pronzini categorizes as "a howling blue-whistler."

Pronzini also takes to task a story from the Leo Margulies revival of Zane Grey Western Magazine, "The Raid at Three Rapids," featuring Arizona Ames, who immediately accepts an assignment to work undercover from the Arizona Territorial governor.  "[H]e didn't have to know the reason; it was sufficient that he had been asked.  His nickname, after all, was Arizona."  In the story, Ames faces a nightrider posing as a ghost:

     There, framed in the doorway, was a hideous, grinning specter.  A glowing skeleton, topped by a death's head with fire brand sockets for eyes, its fleshless mouth ripped back in a wild, demonically fiendish grin.
     And from the depths of whatever hell had spawned the rose rose a hollow, chilling laugh that curdled the marrow.

It's almost as if the authors were in a contest for the most purple prose.  The authors by the way were Pronzini and Jeff Wallman, hiding behind the Rohmer Zane Grey house name.

Speaking of Pronzini and Wallman, remember Duel at Gold Buttes?  Here's a sample:

     She came over to the bed, looking fine and sweet in a calico dress with her auburn hair fluffed out over hershoulder, and sat beside him.  He reached out, took her hand, held it tightly in his own big calloused one.  There were no words between them and none needed.  Her eyes told him everything he needed to know, and her lips confirmed it seconds later.
     There would be no more fiddlefoot drifting for Jim Glencannon, no more lonely nights beside a string of long and lonely trails.  He knew at last what it is he wanted, what he had always wanted deep down inside.  And now that he had it, he was never going to let it go.
     Laurie's hand would remain clasped in his for the rest of their days.

I suspect those clasping hands might get in the way some time in the future, but no matter.  It was a happy -- albeit totally unrealistic -- ending.  But it's not the ending of Pronzini's exploration of bad western writing.  The book is chock full of delights, presented as only someone who loves westerns -- both good and bad -- could.

This one, and the two Gun in Cheek books, could not come more highly recommended.


For more reviews of books by Marcia Muller and/or Bill Pronzini, check out where our fearless leader will have links to these reviews and others.

* A number of these are pseudonyms used for softcore paperback novels that Pronzini wrote early in his career, from 1968-1970.  The first book published under his own name was The Stalker, a 1971 mystery, shortly before the first Nameless Detective book.
**I am definitely going to adopt Viper Snarl as my new patronus.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


"Nazareth" featuring Frank Croxton, recorded on October 4, 1912, and "The Star of Bethleham" featuring Evan Williams, recorded on March 24, 1910.


Robert Sheckley burst onto the SF publishing scene with the short story "Final Examination" in the May 1952 issue of Imagination.  He followed that story with a torrent of inventive and carefully crafted short stories that cemented his early career.  Though some of his novels and stories work were not as cohesive as his early work had promised, Sheckley remained an important and readable author to the end.

One early story was "Skulking Permit," appearing in Galaxy Science Fiction for December 1954.  It describes a world in which some form of criminal element was deemed necessary, leading a man reluctantly employed to be the criminal.  It was adapted for NBC Radio's X Minus 1 program on February 15, 1956.  Directed by Daniel Sutter from a script by Earnest Kilnoy, it featured Dick Hamilton, Wendell Holmes, Joe DeSantis, Joseph Boland, Alan Hewitt, Bill Quinn, Mandel Kamer, and a 29-year-old Ruby Dee.  Jack Costello was the announcer.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Giraffes may be insincere, but not Simon and Garfunkel.


Our neighbors named their dog after her mother but they just call her "After" for short.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


The Kinks.


The Three Stooges.  People either love them or hate them.  This is one of their best.  Will you love it or hate it?

Monday, December 12, 2016


Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer with Child Ballad #39.  The ballad dates back to at least 1549.  The story itself, about a handsome man rescued by his true love from the queen of Fairies, has been retold many times in many forms and has haunted generations for almost 570 years.



  • John Connolly, Bad Men and The Unquiet.  Thrillers both, each with a dash of supernatural.  Bad Men is a standalone that has some ties to Connolly's Charlie Parker series, while The Unquiet is a Charlie Parker novel.  I'm a huge Connolly fan and these are two that I've been looking for for a while.  (My local public library, while not world-class, appears to be third-world-class and does not offer inter-library loans.  There's also a paucity of decent thrift stores in my area and the nearest books store is about 30 miles away and the nearest used book store is about 40 miles away.  Lately, getting books I want to read has been a hit or miss process.  End of rant.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016


This may be preaching to the choir.  To my mind, if one does not accept evolution or climate change as real things, everything else you say lacks validity.  I doubt if the incoming administration agrees.

Award winning journalist Michael Specter's book Denialism:  How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, which received the Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking, was published in 2009.  This 2010 TED Talk he covers much of the same territory.


Lara Herscovitch, with a great rendition of a Carter Family classic.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Johnny Cash.


Kids of a certain age (and by "certain" I mean old) may remember the syndicated television show Ramar of the Jungle, starring Jon Hall.  The show ran for two seasons, 1953-4, and produced slightly over 50 half-hour adventures.  Hall played Tom Reynolds, a doctor who returns to the African jungle to practice medicine.  Reynolds is known as "Ramar," a term meaning "white medicine man."  His assistant was Professor Howard Ogden, played by Ray Montgomery.  Africa (and for a number of episodes, India) was played by Ray Corrigan's California film ranch.  Despite its White Man's Burden attitude, the show was -- as one reviewer put it -- big on human relationships, tolerance, kindness, and justice for all men.

You know a show like this just had to spawn a comic book.

It lasted for five issues, although Ramar did make an additional appearance in an issue of The Further Adventures of Nyoka the Jungle Girl.

Ramar of the Jungle #3 features three adventures of the white medicine man:  "Tyranny of Hama," "The Witch Doctor's Dolls," and "Green Doom," as well as a fourth jungle story and some cartoon humor.


Friday, December 9, 2016


Kay Kyser and His Orchestra with a Billboard number 7 song from 1939.  Boop-boop dit-tem dot-tem what-tem chu!


Sister Wendy's Odyssey:  A Journey of Artistic Discovery by Sister Wendy Beckett (1993)

Perhaps one of the most cogent art critics of the day, Sister Wendy Beckett lives the quiet contemplative life of a hermit under the protection of a Carmelite monastery in Norfolk, England -- a somewhat incongruous background for one who has gained world-wide popularity by way of a number of television shows.  Sister Wendy's Odyssey is a companion volume to a BBC series that recorded her brief emergence in 1992 to visit a few art collections in six British series.  In the book she details her impressions on 33 paintings and one sculpture she encounter on this "odyssey."  The pieces range from the Fourteenth to the Twentieth centuries and cover a variety of topics.  One of the paintings, from 1966, does not excite her, arousing her intellect, but "not my heart."And another, by Stanley Spencer ("hailed as the greatest religious artist in Britain") is not a religious painting, rather it portrays the artist looking looking at a sensuous nude, his disinterested lover who talked him into marrying her and spent just one night with him and milked him for his possessions.  Sister Wendy cuts to the core of this powerful, sad painting.

Someone unfamiliar with the author might expect strong Catholic (capital C) leanings in her essays.  They are there, of course, but the thrust of the book is a catholic (lower case c) viewpoint, emphasizing a universal humanity and dignity.  The very first painting discussed is Simone Martini's Christ Discovered in the Temple (1342) which depicts the astonishment and hurt of Mary and Joseph when Jesus left for three days without a word.  Mary is pictured on the left, clearly trying to understand the actions of her son, who is pictured on the right.  Joseph stands in the middle and we can see how how he is trying to broker peace between his wife and his child.  Sister Wendy describes Jesus as "daringly truculent" (I would have said, "pissed').  She lovingly details the intricacies of the painting and concludes, "This is such a witty picture, despite its seriousness, with the man who matters least in the story given the central position, lost in the drama, earnestly trying to reconcile what cannot be reconciled:  two different ways of looking at the world, which remain individual no matter how much they share the same principles."

I look at that picture again and I realize it is witty and there is a dimension that I have never noticed before.  This is the genius of the book.  Time after time, Sister Wendy provides a depth of understanding that heightens our experience and allows us to look at things with both a universal and intensely personal point of view.

Each of the works of art discussed is gloriously reprinted in color.  This is an absolutely beautiful, affirming book.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Kitty had to pick a few things at the dollar store yesterday so the three of us went in -- Kitty, myself, and Jack.  We told Jack that we were no going to buy him anything on this particular trip but that sort of admonishment takes a while to get through to his 4-year-old mind.  He asked to go down the toy aisle, "Just to look," so he and I sauntered off for a look-see.  He saw a red toy motorcycle and got excited, asking if we could buy that.  I explained that we were not buying him anything this time but that we will tell Mommy and Daddy about the motorcycle and they will decide whether they want to buy it for him.  Then he saw a pair of plastic "binoculars" and got excited, asking if we could buy that.  I explained that we were not buying him anything this time but that we will tell Mommy and Daddy about the binoculars and they will decide decide whether they want to buy it for him.  Then he saw something else, and then something, else, and so on.  Pretty soon it became clear to him that we were not going to buy him anything this time.  Once the light dawned, Jack seemed to take it very well.

Forget the snips and snails that little boys are made of -- I can vouch that little boys are at least 90% lightning.  I turned around and Jack was gone.  I looked through the aisles for the wandering lad and found him at the checkout line where a woman was buying him the red motorcycle.  I ran up and she explained that she wanted to buy the dollar toy for Jack and that Jack did not ask her to buy it.  It seems that Jack went to the checkout line with the toy, found a sympathetic-looking woman, went up to her and said, "I've been a good boy all year."  She told me that since Jack had been such a good boy, she wanted to reward him with the toy, adding that he was sooo cute.

So the three of us (Jack, myself, and the newly-purchased motorcycle) -- and after thanking the woman -- went of in search of Kitty, who was somewhere in the store loading up the cart with gew-gaws and jimcracks.  I told her what had happened and we were both feeling somewhat embarrassed when we noticed that Jack (he of the lightning feet) was gone again.  He was back at the checkout counter with another strange woman who was buying him the toy binoculars!  On top of that, she added a four-inch lollipop!  Again, he had not asked her for anything.  By the time we got there she was telling him that she was proud he had been so good and that he should try to continue being good all the way to Christmas.

We hustled him out of the store before he could hustle another customer.

And then I remembered an incident from a year ago.  Jack (then three) and I were sitting on a bench near the registers at Wal-Mart, waiting for Kitty who was buying gew-gaws and jimcracks.  Jack was busy waving and smiling and saying hi to everyone, when a stranger came up and asked me if he could give Jack something, explaining that Jack just looked sooo cute and was sooo well-behaved.  He gave Jack a large red toy truck and gave me the receipt and walked off.  It was a $14 toy.

This stuff only seems to happen when I'm with Jack.

Now, at four years of age, Jack has discovered the secret to success and I'm sure his future career as a panhandler will be a stellar one.  

I just don't know if Jack's parents will ever forgive me.


Sleepy LaBeef, the great rockabilly artist, was born in Slackover, Arkansas, the youngest of ten children raised on a melon farm.  If that isn't quintessential rockabilly, I don't know what is.  Known for having a standard repertoire of over a thousand songs.  At age 76, he still performs over 200 shows a year and (I can testify) his shows crackle!


Gay Stanhope Falcon, freelance adventurer and troubleshooter, was created by Michael Arlen in his 1940 short story "Gay Falcon."  The character was picked up by the movies and starred in a long series of films beginning in 1941 and featuring first George Sanders, then his brother Tom Conway, in the title role.  In 1943, Arlen's Falcon came to radioa ten-year radio run...sort of.  This time the Falcon is named Michael Waring, an insurance investigator based on the character created by Drexel Drake.  (The producers of the radio show were quick to point that this Falcon was based on Drake's character, but they weren't above hinting that he was also the character from the RKO film series.  These producers would have have a great career in today's politics.)  this Falcon spawned three low-budget films and a short-lived television series in which the Falcon was now a "famous undercover agent."

From December 17, 1950, here's "The Case of the Baby Brother".


Wednesday, December 7, 2016


On his blog today, George Kelley looked at Tenderly:  The Rosemary Clooney Musical.  It's been a while since I listen to her great voice.  So...


What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches?

A nervous wreck.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


The great Roy Orbison, back up by...well, pretty much everyone!


Leigh Brackett was a talent of many parts.  As a writer she was the queen of planetary adventure, a mentor of Ray Bradbury, a Spur Award-winning western author, a ghost for actor George Sanders, creator of nuanced classic science fiction, and exemplar of the hard-boiled mystery.  As a screenwriter she wrote the 1946 classic The Big Sleep (with William Faulkner [!] and Jules Furthman), as well as writing (or co-writing) Rio Bravo (and its red-headed stepchild Rio Lobo), Hatari, The Long Goodbye, and The Empire Strikes Back, among others.

Brackett's first film was The Vampire's Ghost, co-written with veteran pulpster and B-movie scripter John K. Butler, from a story by Brackett.  

Webb Fallon runs a bar in a backwater port in the small African county.  Unknown to the natives, Fallon is a world-weary 400-year-old vampire.  Four hundred years of living alone can have a toll on a person and Fallon is seeking a bride.  And who better than young Julie Vance to add a bit of eye candy to this vampire/voodoo mashup?

The Vampire's Ghost was a low-budget Republic flick, complete with painted backdrops, African natives with cafe au lait-colored skin. and an Africa that strangely looks like California.  But this one rises far above the crowd with its innovative touches, unusual plot, and great acting.  John Abbott (The Jungle Book, Gigi, Mrs. Miniver) plays Fallon, the evil and somehow sypathetic vampire.  The lovely Peggy Stewart (The Tiger Woman, Son of Zorro, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw -- and the former wife of Don "Red" Barry) is the lovely Julie Vance, with Emmett Vogan (San Quentin, The Mummy's Ghost, The Mummy's Tomb) playing her father.  Also in the cast were Charles Gordon as the stalwart boyfriend, oft-time western "heavy" Roy Barcroft as the missionary priest, Sexy blonde singer/dancer/pin-up girl (and future Mrs. Roy Huggins) Adele Mara does a dance designed to stir teen-age libidos.

An unsung gem and a great start to Brackett's film career.


Monday, December 5, 2016


Stray Cats.


  • John Barnes, Finity.  Alternate worlds SF novel.  "Lyle Peripart's world is coming apart.  Up to just a few days ago he was an obscure professor, quietly unenthuisiastic about the Riechs that have dominated the world since the Axis victory over a century ago --but not looking for a fight with anyone.  The Lyle was recruited for private industry by the mysterious industrialist Geoffrey Iphwin -- and that's when everything stopped making sense."  I love the industrialist's name:  "If...When."
  • Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy's Odyssey:  A Journey of Artistic Discovery.  Art book, a companion to the television series Sister Wendy's Odyssey.  Reflections on various paintings.  Marvelous art accompanied by well-thought out commentary.  A treasure.
  • Gordon R. Dickson, creator, Harriers, Book One:  Of War and Honor.  Shared world SF anthology with three novellas by Dickson & Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Steve Perry, and S. N. LeWitt.   In the future, the Magnicate is "a league of all the human worlds in the galaxy.  At the center of the Magnicate is the Hub, a huge artificial world from which control of Human Space flows.  The Hub government is in the main an instrument for progress and social good, but even so control sometimes requires force -- enter The Harriers."  Packaged in 1991 by Bill Fawcett and Associates, this series lasted for only two volumes.
  • John Eric Holmes, Mahars of Pellucidar.  SF novel in the Pellucidar series created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and authorized by the Burroughs estate.  Pellucidar, you will remember, is a world located at the Earth's core.  Burroughs published six books in the series in his lifetime and a seventh, posthumous book was published in 1963.  Mahars are the master race of Pellucidar and resemble Jurriasic pterosaurs.  Holmes wrote a follow-up novel, Red Ax of Pellucidar, but publication was reportedly blocked by the Burroughs estate and the book did not see print (?) until 1993, supposedly in a limited small press edition but ISFDb makes no mention of it.
  • John Wagner, Predator Versus Judge Dredd.  Graphic novel mash-up with Wagner's Judge Dredd takes on the savage alien hunter in Mega-City One.  (In other mash-ups from Dark Horse, Predator takes on Magnus Robot Fighter, Tarzan. and Warrant Officer Ellen  Ripley's Aliens.)  Art by Alcantena.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


A TED talk by biologist Richard Dawkins.


Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Rosco Gordon with an early release from the legendary Sun Records.


The long-lasting comic strip Rex Morgan, M.D. first saw the light of day in 1948, the brainchild of Dr.  Nicholas P. Dallis using the pseudonym of "Dal Curtis."  Dallis also went on to create the popular Apartment 3-G and Judge Parker newspaper strips.

Rex Morgan came to Glenwood to take over the practice of a friend who had died.  Aided by his nurse/office manager June Gale (later -- much later -- to become Mrs.Morgan and to bless the doctor with two little Morgans), Rex tackled the many and varied health problems of the community.  Dallis saw the strip as a means to convey medical information in an easy and palliative manner, often tackling controversial medical and social issues.  The readers didn't mind:  the strip has appeared in over 300 U.S. newspapers and in 14 foreign countries.

The Rex Morgan, M.D. comic book reprinted the newspaper strips and did not attempt any original stories.  The publisher, Argo, issued only collections of newspaper strips, including Alley Oop and Boots and Her Buddies.

There was a time when cancer was not discussed in much of America and was referred to as "the dread disease."  This conflicted with the general post World War II medical opinion that cancer education among laypersons was vital in fighting the disease.  (This was a 180 degree turn from the approach of Britain's cancer "elite" which held that cancer education was not important.)  Nonetheless, cancer was a rare topic for American newspaper comic strips.  But not for Rex Morgan, M.D.

In this issue, Rex has a patient whom he has diagnosed with cancer.  The good news is that it is in its early stages and can be cured with surgery.  (Okay, so Rex is a little bit cocky and says that the patient will be totally cured with the surgery.  Today's litigation-avoiding medico would never issue such a blanket decree.)  When June calls to schedule the surgery, the patient's husband said that she instead will be seeing another doctor -- a doctor that Morgan knows is a cancer quack interested only in milking his patients and offering no real hope or treatment.

Morgan's efforts to expose the quack go nowhere, as does his efforts to convince his patient to undergo proper treatment.  Determined to get rid of this pesky Dr. Morgan, the quack devises a plan to eliminate him.  (This is where the plot gets a little iffy.)  The quack rewires a piece of electrical equipment he uses in his phony "cures," so that the "patient" will suffer a fatal heart attack.  Of course the quack does this when he is drunk so he shambles off to take a nap.  Then who should show up but Morgan's former patient.  The quack's assistant/stooge/fellow con artist hooks the woman to the machine and inadvertently gives her a fatal heart attack.

Can Rex Morgan bring the scheming phonies to justice?

Is the Pope Catholic?

A well-drawn, fast moving story line hampered somewhat by printing a daily strip as a comic book story without editing the day-to-day continuity.


Friday, December 2, 2016


Here's a little bit from Maynard G. Krebs' favorite musician, Thelonius Monk.


The Spear by James Herbert (1978)

Harry Steadman, formerly of the British military intelligence and more recently an agent for Mossad, is now a partner in a successful London detective agency, having left the spy guy game several bloody months after his lover had been killed.  He left bathed in blood and vowing never to return.  So when a Mossad agent attempts to hire Harry to investigate a wealthy arms manufacturer, Harry turns him down flat, even after he learns his former lover's brother has gone missing while investigating the same person.  His agency made its reputation on taking any case -- no matter how big or how small and while Harry is away for a week on another assignment, his partner decides to take the case.  The night he returns there is a pounding on his door.  He opens it to discover his dying partner:  her tongue had been torn out and she had been nailed to the door.

In an adventure reminiscent of James Bond, Harry then thrusts himself into the case and soon discovers a neo-Nazi cult that worships Heinrich Himmler and a plot to bring the world to war that involves the Spear of Longinus -- the legendary weapon that pierced the side of Jesus.

Real-world and supernatural horror combine in this fast paced tale of ambition, power, and the supernatural.  I had a hard time putting the book down, despite several glaring plot holes.  I mentioned the James Bond-like feeling of the novel; the last few chapters add a Indiana Jones-like aspect to this thriller.  (Note that The Spear was published three years before the first Indiana Jones film was released.)  These two iconic characters come to mind because The Spear is written as though it were a movie -- not a coincidence, I suspect.  This was was the fifth novel Herbert had published and two of the earlier four were about to be filmed.

In a career that lasted more than 35 years, Herbert published 25 best-selling novels, in addition to one graphic novel, two nonfiction books, and a handful of short stories.  Certainly not the greatest writer around, he had the power to grab the reader by the throat and propel him into his intensely readable books.  This visceral ability allows the reader to suspend belief and enjoy the ride.

And enjoy it I did.  Recommended.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


The Charlie Daniels Band.


Here's William Conrad as Matt Dillon, Parley Bear as Chester, Howard McNear as Doc Adams, and Georgia Ellis as Miss Kitty.  Well, not quite, as you will see.

It all began because CBS head honcho William S. Paley was a big Philip Marlowe fan and decided that the time was right for an adult western.  Paley asked that a hardboiled western featuring a Philip Marlowe-type character be developed.  A script -- "Mark [sic] Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" -- soon materialized, based on a script for the Michael Shayne radio series.  Two audition scripts were used and one, featuring actor Howard Culver, was given the go-ahead.  A contract problem arose with Culver and the script was shelved for three years when Norman Macdonnell and John Meston discovered it while creating a series of their own.  Macdonnell, a producer, and Meston, a writer, were looking for an alternative to such juvenile western fare such as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid*.  Gunsmoke premiered on April 26, 1962 in the episode "Billy the Kid," scripted by Walter Newman.

Cast as Matt (not Mark) Dillon was veteran actor William Conrad, who did much to develop Matt Dillon's character.  In the first episode, Chester was an unnamed "Townsman."  Conrad saw the possibilities of the character and Chester was born.  Baer gave Chester the last name of Proudfoot during an early rehearsal.  (Chester's last name in the television show was Goode.)  Chester soon developed into Matt Dillon's "assistant," and later to "deputy."  Charles "Doc" Adams began as a somewhat dark character and had several conflicting backstories, the most interesting of which had the character originally named Calvin Moore, a Boston educated doctor who fell in love with woman in Richmond, Virginia.  A rival for the woman's hand forced Moore into a duel in which the rival was killed.  Although it was a fair duel, Moore was a Yankee who had killed a southerner in the South and Moore was forced to flee.  The girl followed him and they were married in St. Louis.  Two months later, Moore's wife died of typhus.  Moore spend seventeen years wandering about, finally settling in dodge City and taking the name "Charles Adams."  The Charles Adams name, by the way, was suggested by Conrad as a nod to the famous New Yorker cartoonist Chas. Addams.  (Doc's first name was changed to Galen for the television show.)  Georgia Ellis was not Miss Kitty in the first episode.  Instead she played Francie Richards, an old girlfriend of Dillon.  Miss Kitty soon appeared, though, first as a dance hall girl at the Long Branch, and later as the owner of the saloon.  Implied but never stated was Kitty Russell's background as a prostitute.

Gunsmoke stayed on the radio until 1961.  The television version ran from September 10, 1955 to March 31, 1975, and used many of the scripts from the radio show.  Conrad was given a token audition for the television show but his stocky body spoke against him. The role was given to James Arness on the recommendation of John Wayne.  (Raymond Burr had been briefly considered but he, too, was too bulky.)

No matter the format -- radio or television -- Gunsmoke remains an important part of broadcast history.  This is where it started, with "Billy the Kid."


*  Not that there anything wrong with those shows, IMHO.