Friday, April 7, 2017

New Books, Old Subjects: Book Reviews

Don't you hate it when good books fall under the radar and we almost miss a good thing? That happened last month when I picked up two books about passionate subjects of mine: The Shadow and silver screen cowboys. With today's technology print-on-demand opens the door for good reads that might otherwise be rejected by major publishing houses. The con here is that publicity is trimmed down to a point that one has to shoot a cannon in a crowded street to promote a book. With that in mind I would like to light the fuse and bring to your attention two good books that warrant mention -- books that otherwise might have gone overlooked. 

Ed Hulse, editor and publisher of the award-winning Blood 'n' Thunder magazine, wrote a book extensively covering the cinematic world of The Shadow, a.k.a. Kent Allard, a.k.a. Lamont Cranston. After a thorough retrospective of the pulp rendition, The Shadow Magazine, Ed explores every film short, television pilot and movie rendition of The Shadow. Starting with the Universal film shorts of 1931 and progressing to the 1994 Alec Baldwin movie, the various incarnations of The Shadow are explored: the haunting voice of conscience that doubled as a horror host, the radio announcer who turned detective, the cloaked figure from the 1940 Columbia Pictures cliffhanger serial, the often-comedic rendition from Monogram, the two television pilots (invisible crime fighter and mystic mind-clouder) and plot summaries from un-produced screenplays from the 1980s.

If Ed Hulse was delivering a slide show about the history of The Shadow in cinema, Flickering Shadows: How the Master of Darkness Brightened the Silver Screen would be a transcription from his presentation. Ed provides commentary and opinion about each of the films, trivia regarding budgets and production dates, and sprinkles his work with photographs from promotional posters, press books and glossies.

While there have been books published on the subject of The Shadow, pulps and old-time radio, which incorporated briefs about the motion-pictures, it was great to see a book devoted solely to the motion-pictures under one cover, even if the book comes just under 100 pages. 

You can purchase a copy of the book here:


For many people, the mention of names like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger bring to mind images of good-guy cowboys of TV's Old West, riding famous horses to chase bad guys across a small black-and-white TV screen. Those same western heroes are also remembered for their iconic status as role models -- heroes who embodied a sense of fair play and standing up for what it right as they championed the cause of the oppressed. As a friend of mine once described, "We had real heroes then. People to look up to and aspire, and every story taught a moral."

Matthew McKenzie wrote Creeds, Codes and Cowboy Commandments, exploring the moral compass that assisted our heroes and icons, which paved the way for a generation of baby boomers who today still live out the values of decent living. As with organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, cowboy heroes established safety clubs that were approved by Parent-Teachers Associations. There was the Roy Rogers Safety Club, for example, with such codes as "Study hard and learn all you can," "Always obey your parents" and "Love God and go to Sunday School regularly." Roy himself, in those film shorts syndicated to theater chains, reminded children that the best members were those who lived up to the values on the back of their membership card. Roy opened those film shorts with a quick prayer to the Lord.

"Roy never passed up an opportunity to do good work," author Bobby Copeland once remarked. "He visited children's hospitals whenever he could, he gave money to lots of charities; he didn't like to talk about it though, he just did these things. He was very concerned about being a good model for kids."

It seemed every cowboy hero had their set of creeds and codes from Buck Jones, The Lone Ranger and Bobby Benson. Such creeds were carefully selected to represent passages of the Holy Bible, pleasing to any concerned parent looking over the shoulder of their little one. Wild Bill Hickok (Guy Madison) had nine rules in The Wild Bill Hickok Deputy Marshal's Code of Conduct, from "I will be neat and clean at all times" to "I will protect the weak and help them." God and country were also included: "I will respect my flag and my country" and "I will attend my place of worship regularly." 

Anyone who took the time to revisit those old telecasts of Howdy Doody know what I am talking about. How many times did Buffalo Bob close the broadcast reminding children: "Don't forget church and Sunday School."

Matt dedicated one chapter for each of the major cowboy heroes, documenting not just the safety clubs, Cowboy Code of Honor and the rules, but also reprinted the collectibles that children received in the mail after writing to the stations and networks. Biblical connections that were the initial inspiration for many of the creeds and codes is unraveled, along with storylines and dialogue from selected episodes. Matt did a great job reminding us that our favorite cowboy stars lived their lives setting a good example. As William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy) said in an issue of TV-Radio Mirror,  he never drank or smoked because "I'll never willingly disillusion one person who believes in Hoppy."

Matt's book can be purchased here:

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