Saturday, 29 October 2016

A Brief History of Trick-or-Treating

A vintage Coca-Cola "Trick or Treat"ad
Perhaps no other custom is as closely identified with Halloween in the United States and Canada as trick-or-treating. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 41.2 million children went from door to door asking for treats in 2014. An estimated $3 billion is spent on candy alone each Halloween. Given how strongly identified trick-or-treating is with Halloween in the United States and Canada, one would think it had always been a part of the holiday. That having been said, while Halloween is a fairly old holiday, trick-or-treating itself only goes back as far as the 20th Century.

Of course, this is not to say that there were not customs similar to trick-or-treating that pre-date the 20th Century, although often they were associated with holidays other than Halloween. In England wassailing was a practice that dates back to the Middle Ages. It was observed at Twelfth Night and involved people going from door to door singing and offering a drink of wassail (generally a hot mulled punch) in exchange for gifts.  In many ways it was a forerunner to carolling. Mumming is another Yuletide custom that dates back to the Middle Ages. It involves people going from door to door asking for food or money in exchange for a performance of a mummer's play.  Allhallowtide (Halloween, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day) had its own equivalent custom in the form of souling. Souling was a custom observed in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales on All Souls' Day whereby individuals would go from door to door singing and praying for those who have died in exchange for soul cakes. At least from the 16th Century a similar custom was observed in Scotland on Halloween itself. Guising consisted of groups of young men setting about in costumes and singing in exchange for nuts, apples, or money.

While these customs are quite similar to today's trick-or-treating, a direct line cannot be traced from trick-or-treating back to any of them. The first book-length history of Halloween, The Book of Hallowe'en by Ruth Edna Kelley, was published in 1919. Ruth Edna Kelley was very extensive when it came to the many customs, tricks, games, and other forms of revelry with which Halloween was observed in United States at the time. She makes no mention of trick-or-treating or any ritual even resembling it.

A still from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Of course, while trick-or-treating might not have existed (or at least was not widely practised) in the United States in 1919, tricks were a well established Halloween tradition.  Playing pranks while wearing costumes on Halloween dates back to at least the 18th Century in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Irish and Scottish immigrants quite naturally brought the tradition of Halloween tricks to the United States. Among the stranger pranks described in Ruth Edna Kelley's The Book of Hallowe'en is bags of flour being dumped on passers-by. This odd custom is also referenced by Sally Benson in her semi-autobiographical vignette "October, 1903", one of the vignettes in her series 5135 Kensington. First published in the November 1 1941 issue of The New Yorker and included in the 1942 book Meet in St. Louis, the vignette describes a custom whereby individuals are hit with flour and said to be "killed". This custom would later be portrayed in the musical based on the book, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

From ringing doorbells and hitting people with flour there would not seem to be too much of a leap from threatening people with pranks (that is, "tricks") if they do not hand over treats.  Quite simply, at some point in the early 20th Century perhaps some enterprising child or group of children realised that they could use the threat of the typical pranks performed at Halloween as a means of getting treats in return. Don't want your windows soaped or your outhouse turned over? Then hand over the goodies!  Indeed, this would explain the origin of the phrase "trick or treat" quite easily. Of course, here it must be pointed out that we really don't know how or why trick-or-treating came about at all.

The historic first mention of "trick or treat"
While trick-or-treating is often thought of as an American custom, the first known use of the phrase "trick-or-treat" in print came from Blackie, Alberta in Canada. In the November 4 1927 issue of the Herald (published in Lethbridge, Alberta) there appeared an article entitled, "'Trick or Treat' Is Demand." After mentioning the usual, harmless pranks pulled at Halloween, the article states, "The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word 'trick or treat' to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing."

Curiously, while the phrase "trick-or-treat" is first mentioned in Canada in 1927, it is not until 1934 that it is first mentioned in the United States. In fact, 1934 seems to be a bit of a banner year for the custom, with no less than two newspapers referencing trick-or-treating and another describing what would seem to be trick-or-treating, even though the phrase "trick-or-treating" is not used. The first article, "Halloween Pranks Keep Police on Hop", was from the November 1 1934 Oregon Journal (published in Portland). There it was reported, "Other young goblins and ghosts, employing modern shakedown methods, successfully worked the 'trick or treat' system in all parts of the city." The second article, "The Gangsters of Tomorrow", from the November 2 1934 issue of the The Helena Independent in Montana, described how a child would "...give a citizen every opportunity to comply with his demands before pulling any rough stuff." The article gives an unusual variation of the now traditional exhortation, "Madam, we are here for the usual purpose, 'trick or treat.'"

While both the Oregon Journal and The Helena Independent characterise trick-or-treating in terms suggesting a form of extortion, the November 3 1934 "Front Views and Profiles" column by June Provines in The Chicago Tribune treats the young custom slightly more positively. Although neither the terms "trick-or-treat" or "trick-or-treating" appear,  it would seem the author is clearly describing the custom. Quite simply, Miss Provines writes that the children of Aurora, Illinois "..have a unique way of celebrating Halloween. Instead of soaping windows and ringing doorbells they get into costume and go from door to door asking for handouts." She notes that if "...no contribution is forthcoming they soap the windows in revenge." Although the words "trick-or-treat" never appear, the "Front Views and Profiles" column is clearly describing trick-or-treating.

Much like the earliest articles in the Herald from Lethbridge, Alberta, the Oregon Journal, and The Helena Independent, various accounts of trick-or-treating in American newspapers in the Thirties tended to describe the custom in terms that bring to mind extortion or other rackets associated with gangsters. The title of an article from the November 1 1938 issue of The Reno Evening Gazette in Nevada was simply, "Youngsters Shakedown Residents". An article from the October 30 1938 issue of The Los Angeles Times, "Halloween Pranks Plotted by Youngsters of Southland", refers to groups of trick-or-treaters as "diminutive Halloween goon squads". While many articles couched trick-or-treating in such terms, there were also many articles on the custom  from the Thirties that seem sympathetic to the trick-or-treaters. Much of the reason that trick-or-treating was treated sympathetically by many adults at the time could be that with the adoption of trick-or-treating there appears to have been a reduction in the usual sorts of vandalism that had characterised Halloween in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. For example, the aforementioned article from The Reno Evening Gazette noted that it was "... one of the quietest Halloweens on record."

Gloria DeHaven bobbing for apples
As to the treats children "extorted" from adults in the Thirties at Halloween, they were not always the candy that is usually handed out today. The aforementioned Oregon Journal article notes, "Many women have some apples, cookies or doughnuts for them." The aforementioned "Front Views and Profiles" column from The Chicago Tribune reported that the children are "..given pop corn balls, apples, or candy." The aforementioned Los Angeles Times article notes trick-or-treaters "...are bought off with cookies, candy, tickless alarm clocks or the price of an ice cream cone." It would appear in the Thirties that treats often varied and many times (such as the popcorn balls) they were home-made.

Of course, from the very beginning trick-or-treating has involved children dressing up in costumes. In the early days of trick-or-treating Halloween costumes would often be home-made. As might be expected, such traditional Halloween favourites as ghosts, witches, devils and skeletons were popular in the Thirties.  Also popular were clowns (although not of the creepy kind), cowboys, police officers, and assorted other occupations as choices for costumes. That having been said, even as trick-or-treating took hold in the United States and Canada in the Thirties, children's choices in costumes were beginning to change. Such companies as Ben Cooper, Collegeville, and Halco had entered the Halloween costume industry in the Twenties. By the Thirties they had started manufacturing costumes of licensed characters. From 1935 to 1938 Halco made costumes based on the characters from the comic strip Thimble Theatre, including Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy. Starting in 1937, Ben Cooper produced costumes of various Walt Disney characters under F. S. Fishbach, Inc.'s "Spotlight" label. During the Thirties Collegeville manufactured a "Lone Ranger" costume.

Today it is not unusual for trick-or-treaters to be accompanied by adults, but in the Thirties this does not seem to be the case. Indeed, from the earliest articles it would appear that trick-or-treating was instigated by the youngsters themselves (The Chicago Tribune's "Front Views and Profiles" column from November 3 1934 being an example). The earliest articles about trick-or-treating do not mention adults accompanying trick-or-treaters on their rounds What is more, it appears from the earliest articles children had to actually explain the whole concept of "trick-or-treating" to adults.

It would also appear that from the first references to trick-or-treating in the United States that it was originally a phenomenon in the West and the Mid-West. The three earliest references to trick-or-treating in the United Statse are from Oregon, Montana, and Illinois. As the Thirties progressed, reports of trick-or-treaing began to appear further and further east. There was a story in The Hammond Times in Indiana on October 31 1938. There was a story on trick-or-treating in The Oil City Derrick in Pennsylvania on October 29 1939. By the late Thirties or early Forties trick-or-treating appears to have reached the East Coast. There was an article on trick-or-treating in The Cumberland Evening Times in Maryland on October 24 1942.

It was in 1939 that the first reference to trick-or-treating occurred in a national publication. It was in the article "A Victim of the Window Soaping Brigade?" by Doris Hudson Moss in the November 1939 issue of The American Home. The article detailed her success over the past few years in hosting trick-or-treaters. Another early reference from a national publication occurred in a 1941 issue of the magazine Gleanings in Bee Culture, wherein it included "some toothsome recipes for some honey goodies that you can hand out to these would-be pranksters."

A 1946 Curtiss Candy ad
Not only would national publications take greater notice of trick-or-treating as the Forties progressed, but it was not long before the candy industry took notice as well. In the 1942 annual report for Brach's it was noted, "As one of the three biggest candy occasions of the year, Halloween found Brach's ready with a full line for the Trick or Treat set." By the mid to late Forties candy manufacturers were taking full advantage of trick-or-treating to sell their products. The advertising of Curtiss Candy Company, Mars, and other candy companies in the mid to late Forties often referenced trick-or-treating. It would not be long before candy would be the chosen treat given out to trick-or-treaters.

Candy manufacturers weren't the only advertisers to capitalise on trick-or-treating. A 1946 advertisement for the soft drink featured a couple greeting trick-or-treaters at their door with bottles of 7 Up. A 1950 ad for Coca-Cola featured a jack o'lantern filled with bottles of Coca-Cola and the slogan "Treat 'em right with Coke!"

It should perhaps not be surprising that the earliest references to trick-or-treating in pop culture stem from the Forties. What might possibly be the first reference to trick-or-treating in film occurred in the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). Although the film was shot in 1941, Warner Bros. delayed the release of Arsenic and Old Lace until the stage play (upon which it was based) finished its run. Early in the film there is a scene in which Aunts Abby and Martha give trick-or-treaters at their door two carved pumpkins. Following the war trick-or-treating would also be referenced on popular radio shows. Trick or treating was at the centre of the plot of November 1 1946 episode, "Halloween Show", of The Baby Snooks Show. Trick-or-treating also played a role in the plots of the episode "Jack Goes Trick or Treating"  of The Jack Benny Programme (which aired on October 31 1948) and the episode "Haunted House" of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (which also aired on October 31 1948).

By the late Forties and early Fifties trick-or-treating had become an established custom that was observed nationwide in the United States. It was in 1950 that the fundraising programme Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF began. It was in 1949 that  Mary Emma Allison, a pastor's wife, observed a UNICEF booth taking a collection for funds to send powdered milk to malnourished children around the world. It occurred to Mrs. Allison that children could collect for UNICEF while trick-or-treating. She then enlisted both her own children and the children in her community to collect money for UNICEF on Halloween in 1950. It was in 1953 that the United States Committee for UNICEF began actively promoting the campaign. The campaign had spread throughout the nation by the Sixties, and in 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson declared October 31 to be "UNICEF Day" in the United States. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF would play a central role in the plot of the Bewitched episode "To Trick-Or-Treat or Not to Trick-Or-Treat" that aired on October 30 1969.

Given the prevalence of trick-or-treating in the Fifties, it should come as no surprise that it was referenced in the popular culture of the era. The October 31 1952 episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, "Halloween Party", portrayed the Nelsons as besieged by trick-or-treaters. It was that same year that Walt Disney released the classic Donald Duck animated short "Trick or Treat". As might be expected, the candy industry continued to exploit the holiday. A 1953 ad for Dubble Bubble Gum featured  a cartoon of a woman handing out treats to youngsters with the slogan, "Treat the kids on Halloween with Fleer's Dubble Bubble Gum." A 1955 Mars ad stated, "When 'TRICKS OR TREATS' is the question, here are two perfect answers: Mars 6-Packs--Mars '24s'."

From the Fifties into the Sixties there would be a shift in the sort of costumes children wore while trick-or-treating. Following the end of World War II costumes of licensed characters manufactured by Ben Cooper, Collegeville, and Halco became a popular choice for many youngsters. The shift from children's tastes in costumes from the traditional ghosts and goblins to the latest television heroes was significant enough to be noted in an Associated Press article by Sid Moody published on October 31 1960. In the article, Harry Mirsky, a representative for J. Halpern Company (better known as Halco), is quoted as saying, "Oh, we still sell devil suits, and witches and hobgoblins, but we're getting away from those weirdies. Television did it. Nowadays kids don't want to be skeletons. They want to dress up like the characters they see on TV." Ben Cooper and Collegeville would continue to dominate the Halloween costume market into the Nineties.

As prevalent as trick-or-treating had become in the Fifties, it was perhaps inevitable that urban legends surrounding the custom would arise. Namely, the early Sixties saw the emergence of rumours of poisoned candy being handed out at Halloween. It is difficult to say why these rumours came about, although they may have originated in 1959 with a California dentist named William Shyne. That year William Shyne handed out 450 laxative tablets to trick-or-treaters. About thirty of them ate the tablets and became sick. Dr. Shyne was charged with "outrage of public decency" and "unlawful dispensing of drugs".  It seems possible that the tale of William Shyne distributing laxative tablets to trick-or-treaters could have gotten misconstrued as poison candy being distributed. Regardless, urban legends of poisoned candy persisted from the Sixties well into the Eighties. Despite this, according to sociologist Joel Best of the University of Delaware (who did an in-depth study of the phenomenon), there appears to be nearly no evidence of strangers randomly handing out poisoned candy to children on Halloween.

Of course, the urban legends regarding poisoned candy were probably helped greatly by a murder case in Houston, Texas in 1974. On October 31 1974 eight-year-old Timothy Marc O'Bryan died from eating Pixie Stix laced with cyanide. As it turned out, the young boy was given the Pixie Stix by his own father, Ronald Clark O'Bryan, who also gave cyanide-laced Pixie Stix to his daughter and three other children. Fortunately none of the other youngsters ate the Pixie Stix. The police soon figured out that Ronald Clark O'Bryan was the culprit as none of the houses visited were handing out Pixie Stix. Sadly, it seems that Timothy Marc O'Bryan's own father had murdered him for insurance money. Ronald Clark O'Bryan was executed by lethal injection on March 31 1984.

It was around 1967 that urban legends of sharp objects in trick-or-treat candy (needles, pins, razor blades, etc.) began to overtake the urban legends of poisoned candy. While these urban legends about sharp objects in Halloween candy would be prevalent throughout the late Sixties and into the Eighties, according to Joel Best every single instance of such candy tampering since 1959 had proven to be a hoax. Not only does it seem that there are not people randomly handing out poisoned candy to children at Halloween, there aren't people randomly handing out candy filled with needles or pins or razor blades either.

Unfortunately in 1982 trick or treating would feel the impact of a real life case of product tampering, although it had nothing to do with Halloween. On September 29 1982 a twelve year old Illinois girl died after taking a capsule of Extra-Strength Tylenol that had been laced with cyanide. Over the next few days six more people in the Chicago area died from cyanide laced doses of Tylenol. On October 5 1982 Johnson & Johnson issued a nationwide recall of Tylenol products.

As the first major case of product tampering in American history, not only would the Chicago Tylenol murders result in pharmaceutical companies developing new, tamper resistant packaging, but it would have a serious impact on the holiday of Halloween as it was celebrated in 1982. Many parents, concerned that similar product tampering might occur with regards to candy, refused to take their children out trick-or-treating that year.  Cities in New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Massachusetts outright banned trick-or-treating. Stores across the nation reported that candy sales had dropped 20 to 50 percent. The Tylenol scare even affected Halloween costume manufacturers, such as Ben Cooper and Collegeville, who saw their sales drop precipitously.

Fortunately Halloween and trick-or-treating would recover from the Tylenol Scare. In 1983 eight different Halloween costume manufacturers and the Toy Manufacturers of America formed the Halloween Celebration Committee in an effort to save the holiday. The Halloween Celebration Committee published a pamphlet entitled "13 Great Ways to Celebrate Halloween" in an effort to revitalise the holiday. Candy sales rebounded in 1984 and trick-or-treating resumed as it had in previous years.

That is not to say that trick-or-treating would not continue to change and evolve.  The Eighties would see a trend towards latex masks of the sort Don Post Studios had made since 1938 and a concurrent trend towards more realistic, more sophisticated costumes. Ben Cooper went out of business in the early Nineties. Collegeville was bought by younger rival company Rubies Costume Company at auction in 1996. The Nineties saw a return to people making their own costumes, and those costumes manufactured by costume companies were generally more realistic than the plastic masks and plastic smocks of the sort made by Ben Cooper, Collegeville, and Halco in the mid-20th Century.

My brother's car trunk
decorated for Trunk or Treat
There also developed a variant on trick-or-treating known as trunk-or-treat. Trunk-or-treating is a community event wherein children go from car to car in a parking lot, usually that of a school, church, city hall, or other community building. It is not known precisely where the first trunk-or-treat event was held, much less who came up with the idea or how they came up with it. It does seems as if it was a particularly attractive alternative for those churches that regarded Halloween as a "pagan" festival and trick-or-treating with it (at such churches children are encouraged to dress as characters from the Bible). Regardless, trunk-or-treating appears to have developed sometime in the mid-Nineties and exploded in popularity in 2006. Since then many communities in the United States and Canada have held their own "trunk-or-treat" events, even though trick-or-treating often continues to take place in those communities as well.

It has been 89 years since the phrase "trick-or-treat" first appeared in print. While trick-or-treating has changed over the years, there is little sign that it is declining in popularity. The American Retail Federation estimated that Americans would spend $2.1 to $2.6 billion on Halloween candy and $2.5 billion on costumes in 2015. Trick-or-treating is nearing its 100th anniversary, but it shows no sign of going out of style.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Beistle Company: Maker of Classic Paper Halloween Decorations

Chances are good that if you are a member of the World War II generation, the Silent Generation, the Baby Boom, or Generation X, you remember the paper decorations popular with schools and homes for most of the 20th Century. There were jointed skeletons, jointed black cats, napkins, signs, and many others. During the 20th Century chances were good that those decorations were made by the Beistle Company, the top manufacturer of seasonal paper goods.

While it would become a major company in paper goods for holidays, the Beistle Company had very humble origins. It was founded by Martin Luther Beistle in the basement of his Pittsburgh home in 1900. Mr. Beistle originally planned to manufacture calendars and various items for the home made from wood and other goods. As the company grew it expanded into seasonal goods such as napkins and invitations. It was in 1920 that the Beistle Company first started making Halloween decorations. These paper decorations not only helped make decorating for Halloween popular in the Twenties, but helped increase the popularity of the holiday itself. Starting in 1928 the Beistle Company would even manufacture games for the holiday, such as those that involved fortune telling.

So successful was the Beistle Company with its decorations that it was able to survive the Great Depression with little trouble. In fact, it was in the Thirties that the Beistle Company began making one of their all time most popular decorations: a jointed skeleton. The Beistle Company is still making Halloween decorations and is still owned by the Beistle family. In 2012 they opened Vintage Beistle, which is dedicated to selling many of the classic Beistle Company designs from the decades between the 1920s and 1950s. As the largest producer of Halloween decorations for much of the 20th Century, one has to suspect they will be open for many years to come. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The 50th Anniversary of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

It was fifty years ago today, on October 27 1966, that the Halloween special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown debuted on CBS. It was actually the third of the Peanuts specials to air, after A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965 and Charlie Brown's All-Stars earlier in 1966. Alongside A Charlie Brown Christmas it would arguably become the most popular of the Peanuts television specials. Along with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman, it is one of the very few holiday specials that has aired every single year since the Sixties.

As anyone familiar with the comic strip Peanuts knows, the Great Pumpkin is a mythical figure associated with Halloween (not only like Santa Claus and Christmas) in whom Linus is his only believer. The first reference to the Great Pumpkin was in the Peanuts comic strip for October 26 1959, almost exactly seven years before the TV special debuted. In the comic strip Lucy catches Linus writing and asks him what he is doing. Linus informs her that he is writing to the Great Pumpkin and telling him what he wants for Halloween. He goes onto say that the Great Pumpkin loves children and he could see the Great Pumpkin now rising from the pumpkin patch with his bag of toys. The Great Pumpkin proved to be a rather popular, recurring joke in Peanuts, with Linus the only person who believed in him over the years. When it came time to produce a Peanuts special for Halloween, it should not have been surprising that the Great Pumpkin would play the central role in its plot.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown would not only be historic as the first time in the Peanuts TV specials in which the Great Pumpkin was referenced. It was also historic as the first TV special that portrayed Snoopy's recurring fantasy of fighting the Red Baron, a running joke that had been introduced only a little over a year before the special aired (on October 10 1965).

One of the most memorable comic bits in the special would also enter popular culture--Charlie Brown receiving rocks in his trick-or-treat bag. Charles Schulz had wanted Charlie Brown to receive a rock at one of the houses he visited.  Bill Melendez thought it would be better if it happened three times. Executive producer Lee Mendelson didn't approve of the idea at all. Ultimately Lee Mendelson was outvoted and the special portrays Charlie Brown getting a rock in his trick-or-treat bag three times, each time exclaiming, "I got a rock." Viewers were very sympathetic to Charlie's plight. After the special's first airing candy came in from around the world just for Charlie Brown.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown aired on CBS for 34 years. It was in 2001 that ABC got the rights to the Peanuts specials. Ever since then it has aired yearly on ABC. In both 2014 and 2015 ABC aired the special twice. It is airing twice again this year. 

Given its enormous popularity, it should come as no surprise that It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is frequently referenced in popular culture. In 2005 the stop motion animation sketch comedy show Robot Chicken featured a parody titled "O Great Pumpkin" as part of their episode "Vegetable Funfest". The Simpsons also included a parody of the Great Pumpkin, "It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse", as part of their annual "Treehouse of Horror" in 2008. The Great Pumpkin has been referenced in everything from the TV show Adam-12 to the sitcom Roseanne to the horror series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Earlier this month Lee Mendelson told the Washington Post, "Of the 50 prime-time specials we created with Charles Schulz, I believe It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is Bill Melendez’s animation masterpiece." It would seem that many TV viewers might well agree with him. As mentioned earlier, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has aired every single year since its debut in 1966. It was released on VHS and is available on DVD. After airing annually for fifty years, it seems that it will probably still be aired fifty years from now.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Horror on the Radio

Among the most popular genres on Old Time Radio was the suspense/horror anthology. Suspense/horror anthology shows emerged very early in the history of Old Time Radio and, what is more, they remained popular for much of that history as well. Such shows as Lights Out, Inner Sanctum, and Suspense remain remembered to this day. What is more, all three of those shows would make the transition to television in the late Forties and early Fifties. Horror dominated Old Time Radio in a way that it never quite has television.

Given that it was not unusual for local radio stations to produce their own shows early in the days of Old Time Radio, it may well be impossible to determine what was the first suspense/horror anthology in the history of the medium. Certainly one of the earliest was The Witch's Tale. The Witch's Tale debuted on May 21 1931 on WOR in New York City. It aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System and later in syndication.

Adelaide Fitz-Allen, Alonzo Deen Cole,
and Marie O'Flynn of The Witch's Tale
The Witch's Tale was the creation of Alonzo Deen Cole, who also wrote and directed the show. Alonzo Deen Cole would go onto write scripts for such well known shows as The Shadow and Gangbusters. The Witch's Tale introduced an innovation that would be adopted by other suspense/horror radio shows, not to mention one that would be adopted by such media as comic books and television. Quite simply, The Witch's Tale had a host in the form of Old Nancy, the Witch of Salem. Old Nancy was originally played by stage actress Adelaide Fitz-Allen. When Adelaide Fitz-Allen died in 1935 at the age of 79, the role was taken over by Miriam Wolfe, who was only 13 years old at the time. Martha Wentworth also provided the voice of Old Nancy. Old Nancy had a cat named Satan, who was voiced by Alonzo Deen Cole himself. Old Nancy was the forerunner of all suspense/horror hosts to come, from Raymond of the radio show Inner Sanctum Mystery to Alfred Hitchcock of the TV show Alfred Hitchock Presents. It was Old Nancy on The Witch's Tale that inspired the use of hosts in E.C. Comics' classic horror comic books, including the Vault-Keeper of Vault of Horror, the Old Witch of The Haunt of Fear, and The Crypt-Keeper of Tales From the Crypt.

Aside from the actresses who played Old Nancy over the years, the cast of The Witch's Tale included Alonzo Deen Cole himself, his wife Marie O'Flynn, Mark Smith, and Alan Devitte. The Witch's Tale proved fairly popular, inspiring a magazine entitled The Witch's Tales that ran for only two issues in 1935. The Witch's Tale ended its run on June 13, 1938 after seven years on the air. In 1958 plans were made to film a pilot for a television version of The Witch's Tale, to be produced by Leon Fromkess for Television Programs of America, with scripts by Alonzo Deen Cole. Nothing apparently ever came of the planned TV series. Unfortunately, very little of The Witch's Tale survives, as Alonzo Deen Cole destroyed the recordings in 1961 when he moved from New York to California.

It was on January 3 1934 that another extremely popular suspense/horror radio show debuted. Lights Out was the creation of Wyllis Cooper, who would go onto write several of the "Mr. Moto" films, as well as Son of Frankenstein. According to an article in the November 28, 1933 issue of Variety, Mr. Cooper developed the idea of  "...a midnight mystery serial to catch the attention of the listeners at the witching hour." He soon dropped the idea of a midnight mystery serial, but kept the idea of a series which would air at the witching hour, namely a horror anthology series. That idea would become Lights Out.

Lights Out debuted on January 3 1934 on WENR in Chicago. It started out as only being 15 minutes in length, but the show proved so successful that it expanded to a half hour in April 1934. Very much in demand as a writer, Wyllis Cooper's workload grew as he worked on Lights Out. With more than work than Mr. Cooper could handle, Lights Out was then cancelled in January 1935. So popular was the show that listeners demanded its return. Lights Out then returned to the airwaves after only a few weeks. It was in April 1935 that Lights Out went nationwide on the NBC Red Network.

Wyllis Cooper eventually left Lights Out, after which  screenwriter and playwright Arch Oboler took over the show in 1936. On radio Lights Out was marked by often grisly plots laced with tongue in cheek and more often than not dark humour. If anything, under Mr. Oboler Lights Out became even outré. Indeed, among the most famous radio plays of all time was the Lights Out episode "Chicken Heart", in which a chicken's heart grows to enormous size and devours everything in its path. Eventually Arch Oboler grew tired of of fighting with NBC's Broadcast Standards over the content of the show and decided he wanted to write plays as well. He then left Lights Out in 1938. Lights Out would continue without Mr Oboler until 1939, when it was cancelled.

It was in 1942 that Arch Oboler revived Lights Out on CBS. It lasted until September 1943. NBC would revive Lights Out from July to September 1945 and again from July to August 1946. ABC revived the show from July to August 1947. From 1970 to 1973 episodes from the 1942 to 1943 run were syndicated under the title The Devil and Mr. OLights Out even made it to television. In 1946 NBC-TV aired four Lights Out specials. In 1949 Lights Out became a regularly scheduled television programme and ran until 1952.

The next major suspense/horror anthology show to debut would be The Hermit's Cave. The Hermit's Cave debuted on WJR in Detroit, Michigan in 1935. Like The Witch's Tale it also had it own host, namely an elderly character called the Hermit. Starting in 1940 a separate version of The Hermit's Cave aired on KMPC in Los Angeles. The Hermit's Cave ultimately lasted until 1944. Sadly, only a few episodes survive.

The next major suspense/horror anthology to debut would be Inner Sanctum Mystery, better known simply as Inner Sanctum. The series debuted on January 7 1941. It was the creation of creation of prolific radio writer and producer Himan Brown, who worked on radio shows from The Adventures of the Thin Man to CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. The title was taken from an imprint of Simon and Schuster for a series of mystery novels. Not surprisingly, then, like Lights Out before it and Suspense after it, Inner Sanctum Mystery was an anthology of suspense, horror, and mystery tales.

The show was originally hosted by Raymond Edward Johnson, who introduced himself as "Your host, Raymond." Raymond introduced the episodes with black humour, including morbid jokes and puns, all delivered in a mocking voice. Like Old Nancy on The Witch's Tale, Raymond was the forerunner of such anthology hosts as Alfred Hitchcock of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone. While Raymond's introductions may have been tongue in cheek,the episodes themselves were serious tales of horror and suspense. Raymond Edward Johnson joined the Army in 1945, whereupon he was replaced by Paul McGrath, who hosted the show for the remainder of its run. Inner Sanctum Mystery debuted on NBC on 7 January 1941 and ran until 5 October 1952.

Not only was Inner Sanctum Mystery run many years on radio, but it was also such a success that it was adapted to other media. From 1943 to 1946 Universal Pictures produced six Inner Sanctum Mystery movies. Like Lights Out, Inner Sanctum would find its way to television. On January 9 1954 the TV series Inner Sanctum debuted in syndication. It lasted only one season.

Inner Sanctum Mystery would be followed in short order by arguably the most successful and most famous suspense/horror anthology radio show of all time. Suspense ran from 1942 to 1962. Not only was it one of the most successful radio shows of all time, but it also became regarded as one of the most prestigious as well. It should come as no surprise, then, that its origins owe a debt to the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. In July 1940 CBS debuted a summer replacement show simply entitled Forecast. Forecast was essentially a radio show that each week would present an audition show (the radio equivalent of a television pilot) for a prospective new radio show. It was on  July 22 1940 that Forecast featured the audition for a prospective new show called Suspense. To direct the audition show for Suspense CBS was able to get none other than Alfred Hitchcock himself. An agreement was struck with producer Walter Wanger and the director that he would direct the show on the condition that Mr. Hitchcock could plug his latest film, Foreign Correspondent. The audition show was an adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1926 film The Lodger, and starred Herbert Marshall and Edmund Gwenn. The following week Forecast would air the audition show for what would become another successful radio show, Duffy's Tavern.

The audition show for Suspense received a good response from radio listeners, with letters and phone calls pouring into CBS regarding the programme. Despite this Suspense would not be added to the CBS schedule for quite some time. Fortunately, two events occurred that would guarantee that Suspense would become a mainstay of CBS Radio for twenty years. First, in 1941 the NBC Blue Network debuted the aforementioned Inner Sanctum Mystery, an anthology series that delivered mystery, suspense, and horror with a dose of humour. Inner Sanctum Mystery proved to be an enormous success. Second in the summer of 1942 CBS needed a summer replacement series for their radio show Random Harvest. With Inner Sanctum Mystery a hit at the NBC Blue Network, CBS thought a suspense anthology would be a good idea. Fortunately, Suspense proved successful enough as a summer replacement series that it won a spot on CBS's schedule as a regularly scheduled programme.

Unlike its predecessors Lights Out and Inner Sanctum Mystery, Suspense was promoted as a prestige programme. It was writer and producer William Spier who largely shaped Suspense, supervising every single script. Quality was not simply expected from its scripts, but every other aspect of the show as well. Suspense also featured top name stars from film and stage, including Anne Baxter, Humprey Bogart, Ronald Colman, Jospeh Cotten, Henry Fonda, Judy Garland, Agnes Moorehead, Orson Welles, and many others. Bernard Hermman composed the theme to Suspense. While Lights Out and Inner Sanctum Mystery tended to feature more horror, Suspense spanned genres with episodes that could be considered spy thrillers, mysteries, or tales of horror. Suspense adapted The Thirty Nine Steps as well as H. P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror. It adapted The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie as well as Donovan's Brain by Curt Siodmak.

Suspense proved enormously successful. In 1949 the radio show expanded from a half hour to an hour in length. It was that same year that a television version of the show debuted on CBS-TV. The television show lasted until 1954, but the radio show Suspense would continue until the very end of Old Time Radio. Its final episode aired on September 30 1962. It was the last prime time radio drama CBS ever aired.

Wyllis Cooper, creator of Lights Out, would eventually return to the horror genre with the fantasy/horror radio show Quiet, Please. Quiet, Please emerged from Wyllis Cooper's work on Campbell Playhouse. Mr. Cooper became friends with the announcer on the show,  Ernest Chappell, and became convinced that Mr. Chappell should be the star of his own radio show. Wyllis Cooper then developed Quiet, Please for Ernest Chappell. Quiet, Please debuted on the Mutual Broadcasting System on June 8 1947. In September 1948 it moved to ABC.

Although created by the same man, Quiet, Please was a stark contrast to Lights Out. While Lights Out emphasised gruesome, often downright bizarre tales, Quiet, Please utilised a slower pace and a quieter (no pun intended) approach. Unfortunately, although Quiet Please is highly regarded today, it failed to attract a sponsor or a large audience. Its last episode aired on  June 25 1949. Sadly most of its episodes are lost, although 12 have survived.

While it was short lived, it is worth noting Starring Boris Karloff, also known as The Boris Karloff Mystery Theatre and Boris Karloff Presents. The series was both a radio show and TV show, with the radio show airing on Wednesday followed by the television broadcast on Thursday.  As its title indicates, Starring Boris Karloff featured the famous horror actor in stories of suspense of horror. Despite being attached to a big name, Starring Boris Karloff only ran from September 21 to December 15 1949.

The era of Old Time Radio ended on September 30 1962 when the final episodes of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Suspense aired. That having been said, there would be one more radio show that would at times delve into the suspense and horror genres. CBS Mystery Theatre was created by legendary radio producer Himan Brown, who had earlier created Inner Sanctum Mystery. In many respects CBS Mystery Theatre could be considered a cross between Suspense and Inner Sanctum Mystery. Like Suspense, CBS Mystery Theatre only made occasional ventures into the horror and suspense genres. Like Inner Sanctum Mystery, CBS Mystery Theatre opened with a creaking door and its own host (E. G. Marshall for most of its run, followed by Tammy Grimes in its final season).

In many ways CBS Mystery Theatre was a by-product of the nostalgia craze of the mid-Seventies. It debuted only about five months after American Graffiti had been released. While it was originally meant to appeal to older listeners, CBS Mystery Theatre attracted a good number of younger listeners as well. While the primary focus of CBS Mystery Theatre was mystery, it also featured episodes that could be considered horror, suspense, and even science fiction. Among its horror episodes were an adaption of Guy de Maupassant's short story "The Horla", an adaption of Dracula, an adaption of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and others

Given the fact that it aired many years after the era of Old Time Radio had ended, it might be surprising that CBS Mystery Theatre proved to be something of a success. It debuted on January 6 1974 and aired every week night. It ended its run on December 31 1982 after nearly nine years on the air.

The aforementioned radio shows were hardly the only ones to delve into the horror genre. There were yet horror anthologies, including The Haunting Hour, The Sealed Book, Stay Tuned for Terror (with scripts by Robert Bloch), and The Weird Circle, among others. Additionally, yet other anthology shows as Escape, The Mysterious Traveller, Mercury Theatre on the Air, and many others occasionally  featured shows in the genre.  Suspense/horror anthologies predominated radio in a way that they never have television. In fact, perhaps no other genre would be as dominated by horror as radio was, except perhaps for comic books in the late Forties and early Fifties.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The 75th Anniversary of Wonder Woman

It was 75 years ago today that All Star Comics #8, December 1941 hit newsstands. This particular issue is memorable in that in the lead story, "Two New Members Win Their Spurs", Doctor Mid-Nite and Starman joined the legendary Justice Society of America. That having been said, what made All Star Comics #8 truly historic was the backup story, which was simply titled "Introducing Wonder Woman". This story marked the first appearance of Wonder Woman and told her origin story. Today then marks Wonder Woman's 75th anniversary.

Although many people believe she is, Wonder Woman was not the first superheroine.  Several other female superheroes predate her, including Fantomah, Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, Miss Fury, Phantom Lady,  Black Cat, and Nelvana of the Northern Lights, among others. She was not even the first female superhero published by one of the companies that would become DC Comics (namely, All-American Comics). Granted The Red Tornado was not to be taken seriously (she was one of  the first superhero parodies), but she was one of the earliest female characters to don a costume and fight crime. While Wonder Woman was not the first superheroine, it seems likely that she is the most popular. Indeed, Wonder Woman is only one of three superheroes to be published continuously from her first appearance in the Golden Age to the present day (the other two are Superman and Batman). Over the years there has been a plethora of merchandise bearing her image, everything from coffee mugs to t-shirts to notebooks. This month her image even graces United States postal stamps.

William Moulton Marston
Wonder Woman was created by psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston. With his wife Elizabeth, he invented the systolic blood pressure test, one of the parts of the modern day polygraph. He also developed the DiSC theory, a theory that the expression of emotions can be classed as belonging to one of four types: Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance. He was also an early feminist with rather unique living arrangements. In 1915 he married Elizabeth Holloway. In 1925 he met Olive Byrne, the niece of birth control activist Margaret Sanger. Miss Byrne later became his research assistant and still later his lover. William Moulton Marston lived with both his wife Elizabeth and Olive until his death in 1947. Afterwards the two women would live together until Olive died in 1990.

Having developed an early "lie detector" (as mentioned above, the systolic blood pressure test) and written books, William Moulton Marston had a small degree of fame in the late Thirties. Olive Byrne developed a fairly good career as a freelance writer using the pseudonym "Olive Richard" She was a regular contributor to Family Circle. Not surprisingly, many of her articles dealt with Dr. Marston, although she always pretended they were mere acquaintances. In fact, her first article for the magazine dealt with him and his lie detector. It was one of Olive Bryne's articles (published, as always, under the name "Olive Richard") that would lead directly to the creation of Wonder Woman.

The October 25 1940 issue of Family Circle featured an article by Olive Richard entitled  "Don't Laugh at the Comics"  in which "Olive Richard" interviewed William Moulton Marston about the relatively new medium of comic books. Dr. Marston defended comic books, as well as discussed their untapped potential. The article attracted the attention of M.C. Gaines, publisher and co-owner (with Jack Liebowitz) of All-American Comics, one of the companies (along with Detective Comics and National Allied Publications) that would become the modern day DC Comics. M.C. Gaines asked Dr. Marston to join the advisory board shared by All-American Comics, Detective Comics, and National Allied Publications. The advisory board consisted of prominent educators, child study experts, and psychologists. Unlike other members of the advisory board (such as Josette Frank of the Child Study Association and psychometrician and educational psychologist Robert Thorndyke), William Moulton Marston actually pitched a new comic book character to M. C. Gaines.

Dr. Marston's idea for a superhero was one who would not use violence to defeat evil, but love instead. It was reportedly his wife Elizabeth's idea that this new superhero should be a woman. Dr. Marston then developed the idea for a new superhero, Suprema the Wonder Woman. She was equipped with a golden lasso (later called "the Lasso of Truth")  that could compel anyone roped with it to obey her. She also wore a pair of bracelets (the "Bracelets of Submission") with which she could deflect bullets and other projectiles. If her bracelets were chained together, she would lose her powers. Both the golden lasso and the bracelets were rooted in Dr. Marston's theories on submission, which he felt was superior to dominance. He felt that submission, the willingness to give oneself over to others, was the path to happiness, love, and a healthier psyche. Of course, Suprema the Wonder Woman also had strength comparable to Superman at the time.

It should come as no surprise that Dr. Marston most likely drew upon the women in his life as inspiration for Wonder Woman. Elizabeth Marston not only had a masters degree in psychology, but a law degree as well. She worked  at Metropolitan Life Insurance for 65 years, continuing to work after she had her first child at 35. Like Elizabeth Marston, Olive Byrne was also an independent woman. She had a fairly lucrative freelance writing career. Dr. Marston took inspiration for the Bracelets of Submission from a pair of bracelets that Olive Byrne owned.

An early H. G. Peter cartoon
As the artist for the new character William Moulton Marston looked to H. G. Peter. In some ways Mr. Peter might have seemed like an odd choice for Wonder Woman, given he was in his sixties at the time. That having been said, he had already worked in comic books, most notably for the comic book packager Funnies Inc. He had begun his career in the early 1900s creating "Gibson Girl" style art for magazines. More importantly, like Dr. Marston, he was an early feminist. With his wife Adonica, a fellow artist, he supported the suffragette cause and both of them drew editorial cartoons supporting suffrage that appeared in such magazines as Judge.

In consultation with Dr. Marston, it was H. G. Peter who designed Wonder Woman's costume. While the United States had not yet entered World War II, patriotic heroes such as The Shield and Captain America were all the rage, so it was quite natural that Wonder Woman's costume would have a patriotic theme. Her bodice boasted an eagle, while her culottes were blue and spangled with stars. The culottes would soon be replaced by shorts.

M. C. Gaines approved William Moulton Marston's new character, although All-American Comics editor Sheldon Mayer dropped the name "Suprema" in favour of simply calling her "Wonder Woman". Wonder Woman made her debut in All-Star Comics #8, December 1941. The story that appeared in that issue, "Introducing Wonder Woman", essentially told how Princess Diana of the Amazons became Wonder Woman. Steve Trevor of U.S. Army Intelligence crashed on Paradise Island, home of the Amazons. Nursing Steve back to health, Diana fell in love with him. Having learned of the threat of Nazism, Queen Hippolyta  of the Amazons decreed that an Amazon should accompany Steve Trevor back to the United States to help fight the Nazis. Unfortunately, Hippolyta also forbade her daughter, Diana, to participate in the tournament that would decide who should go back to the U.S. with Steve Trevor. Diana then donned a mask in order to take part in the tournament. Winning the tournament, Diana then won the right to accompany Steve Trevor back to the United States. She was then given her patriotic costume and the name "Wonder Woman".

Wonder Woman's next appearance was not long in coming. She was the lead feature in the anthology comic book Sensation Comics. Sensation Comics #1, January 1942, told of how Diana returned Steve Trevor to the United States. It also told how Wonder Woman adopted the identity of "Diana Prince." It was in Sensation Comics #1 that Wonder Woman's invisible plane first appeared. The reasoning behind the invisible plane was that it could avoid detection and thus not be shot down. The invisible plane was also much faster than other planes of the era, being able to travel  2000 miles per hour.

In writing Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston used the pseudonym "Charles Moulton", a combination of his own middle name and that of M.C. Gaines. While Dr. Marston wrote Wonder Woman using a pseudonym, it was fairly well known to the general public that he was the creator of the character.

Much like Superman or Batman, Wonder Woman had her own supporting cast, including Steve Trevor. Both Diana Prince and Steve Trevor's commanding officer was General Phil Darnell (initially a colonel in his first appearance, he was later promoted). Wonder Woman's best friend and sidekick was Etta Candy, an overweight college student and member of the Beeta Lambda sorority at Holiday College. Etta was pretty much the leader of the Holiday Girls, who often helped Wonder Woman on cases. Although Etta was often used for comedy relief, she was an independent, intelligent, and resourceful young woman who could pretty much hold her own in most situations.

Wonder Woman proved extremely popular from the very beginning. It was only six months after Sensation Comics #1 hit newsstands that she received her own magazine. Wonder Woman #1 was cover dated June 1942. She appeared as a special guest in All-Star Comics #11, June 1942, participating in a case with the Justice Society of America. She continued to appear in All-Star Comics afterwards, although she only served as the secretary for the Justice Society of America and did not take an active role in cases for many issues. On the surface this might seem to be a typical example of 1940s sexism--Wonder Woman stays at headquarters while the men go on an adventure. In truth, there was a very simple reason Wonder Woman did not take an active role in the Justice Society's adventures for quite some time. William Moulton Marston was not particularly happy with the idea of someone else writing Wonder Woman besides himself. Since Dr. Marston and H. G. Peter were busy creating Wonder Woman's adventures in Sensation Comics and Wonder Woman, they really didn't have time to write for All-Star Comics. Making Wonder Woman the secretary of the Justice Society of America was then a means of All-American Comics keeping their most popular character in All-Star Comics. Following Dr. Marston's death in 1947, Wonder Woman would start taking part in the Justice Society's adventures with All-Star Comics #38, December 1947/January 1948.  She also appeared in Comic Cavalcade as one of the lead features alongside The Flash and Green Lantern. From 1944 to 1945 Wonder Woman appeared in a short lived newspaper strip syndicated by King Features.

While Wonder Woman was popular, she would also be a source of controversy. In March 1942 the National Organization for Decent Literature (essentially the literary equivalent of the National Legion of Decency) placed Sensation Comics on its list of "Publications Disapproved for Youth". The reason was quite simply that in their opinion Wonder Woman was "not sufficiently dressed". M. C. Gaines was able to get NODL's decision overturned. That having been said, there would be controversy over Wonder Woman within All-American Comics itself.

In February 1943 Josette Frank of the Child Study Association of America, a member of All-American Comics, Detective Comics, and National Allied Publications' advisory board, and one of comic books' staunchest defenders, sent a letter to M. C. Gaines telling him of her concerns regarding "the woman's costume (or lack of it), and partly on the basis of sadistic bits showing women chained, tortured, etc." Josette Frank was not the only person at All-American Comics with concerns about the sheer amount of bondage in the Wonder Woman feature.  Dorothy Roubicek (better known today as Dorothy Woolfolk) was an editorial assistant and the first female editor at what would become DC Comics. She is widely credited with the creation of Kryptonite in Superman comic books. In a memo from the same month as Josette Frank's letter to M.C. Gaines, she expressed concern about the number of times in which Wonder Woman is chained up or tied up. She also suggested that perhaps Wonder Woman should not be allowed to return to Paradise Island where some of the kinkiest situations occurred, as well as a more modest alternative to the costume Wonder Woman currently wore  Dr. Marston refuted Josette Frank's charges regarding the Wonder Woman feature and dismissed Dorothy Roubicek's concerns.

Dorothy Roubicek then talked to Dr. Lauretta Bender, neuropsychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital, associate professor of psychiatry in New York University, and a member of All-American Comics' advisory board. Dr. Bender reassured Miss Roubiceck stating that she did not think the Wonder Woman feature tended towards either sadism or masochism, that she thought well of the way William Moulton Marston was dealing with feminism in the feature, and that she thought the Wonder Woman feature should be left alone. Lauretta Bender would later testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 in defence of comic books.

Even today it is easy to understand Josette Frank and Dorothy Roubicek's concerns over Wonder Woman. Anyone who has read even a few Wonder Woman stories from the early to mid-Forties will soon realise one thing: there are many scenes in which Wonder Woman or others are chained up, tied up, or otherwise incapacitated. In the book Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine author Tim Hanley estimated that on average 27% of the panels in Wonder Woman depicted bondage scenes. While today it might be tempting to chalk this up to kinkiness on the part of William Moulton Marston, there were more likely two reasons that bondage played such a significant role in Wonder Woman's early adventures. First, the iconography of the suffrage movement made frequent use of chains as a symbol of the oppression of women. Imagery of women breaking free of chains was frequently used to symbolise breaking free of that oppression. In having Wonder Woman chained or tied up and then breaking free, Dr. Marston was then simply using the same symbolism employed by early feminists. Second, the bondage was a metaphor for Dr. Marston's theories regarding submission.

The years following World War II would see changes regarding Wonder Woman. While superheroes had been enormously popular during the war, they saw less success once the war ended. Several superhero titles were cancelled as they were overtaken by other genres such as Westerns, crime, and, still later, horror. While Wonder Woman remained popular, some of the titles in which she appeared would be affected. With #30, December–January 1948, Comic Cavalcade switched from being a superhero comic book to one devoted to funny animals.With #107, February 1951 Sensation Comics shifted to a mystery/supernatural format. All-Star Comics became All-Star Western starting with #58, May 1951. Wonder Woman, once appearing in as many as four titles regularly in the Forties, was down to her own magazine, Wonder Woman.

Far greater changes would be in store for Wonder Woman once her creator died. In 1944 William Moulton Marston contracted polio and lost the use of his legs. Still worse, he later developed skin cancer and died on May 2 1947. Robert Kanigher would take over writing Wonder Woman with issue #22, March–April 1947. Mr. Kanigher would change the Wonder Woman feature dramatically. He utilised Etta Candy and the Holiday Girls much less frequently than Dr. Marston had. He also somewhat domesticated Wonder Woman, with Steve Trevor playing a bigger role as a love interest. In the Fifties Wonder Woman would often be more concerned with marrying Steve Trevor than combating evil.  Starting with Wonder Woman #23, May 1947, there would be adventures featuring Wonder Woman as a teenager (Wonder Girl). Still later there would be adventures featuring Wonder Woman as a toddler (Wonder Tot, who first appeared in Wonder Woman #122, May 1961). As to the bondage scenes so common in Dr. Marston's stories, they largely disappeared.

Strangely enough, even as Robert Kanigher domesticated Wonder Woman, he endowed the feature with a rather strong lesbian subtext. While one has to suspect that William Moulton Marston realised the potential for lesbianism on Paradise Island, Robert Kanigher was as blatant about it as one could be in comic books in the late Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. Wonder Woman's exclamation, "Suffering Sappho!" was first used in Wonder Woman #20, November 1946. While the issue is usually credited to Dr. Marston, given his illness it seems possible it might have been rewritten or written entirely by either Joye Hummel or Robert Kanigher. Regardless, from 1948 to 1958 Robert Kanigher had Wonder Woman exclaim, "Suffering Sappho!" very frequently. Of course, Sappho was a Greek poet known for her works devoted to the love of other women (she lived on the island of Lesbos, from which our modern term lesbian is derived). Not surprisingly, Robert Kanigher would later say in interviews that he thought all of the inhabitants of Paradise Island were lesbians.

At least one person who saw a lesbian subtext in Wonder Woman in the Fifties was Dr. Fredric Wetham, the author of Seduction of the Innocent and a psychiatrist who crusaded against comic books in the belief that they were harmful to children. Today many of Dr. Wertham's views would be considered both misogynistic and homophobic, which should perhaps not be surprising given homosexuality was still listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders issued by the American Psychiatric Association. In Seduction of the Innocent Dr. Wertham states bluntly, "The homosexual connotation of the Wonder Woman type of story is unmistakable." He concludes that Wonder Woman is "anti-masculine" and that the relationship between Wonder Woman and the Holiday Girls was essentially homoerotic. Curiously Dr. Wertham fails to mention the bondage content in Wonder Woman's early adventures, although given he began his campaign against comic books in 1947 he might have missed it entirely. Amusingly enough, Dr. Wertham wrote in Seduction of the Innocent, "For boys, Wonder Woman is a frightening image." During the Golden Age it was estimated that as many as 90% of all readers of Wonder Woman were male.

Ultimately the controversy over the content of comic books that peaked in 1954 with the publication of Seduction of the Innocent would result in the creation of the Comics Code Authority, a self-regulating body created by various comic book publishers. The Comics Code was overly strict even by the more conservative standards of the Fifties, and it saw changes in comic books across the board. With regards to Wonder Woman, it was perhaps much of the reason that Wonder Woman would spend much of her time the next several years pining for Steve Trevor and thinking about marriage (although that had actually begun before the CCA was established). Still later such romantic interests as Mer-Boy and Bird-Man would be introduced.

The comic book industry would see a more positive change in 1956 with the publication of  Showcase #4,  October 1956. It saw the introduction of a new version of The Flash, which would lead DC Comics to create new versions of other Golden Age characters, such as Green Lantern and Hawkman. It also marked the beginning of the Silver Age, a time when superheroes were once again popular. There were still many readers who loved the heroes of the Golden Age, so that eventually it would be established that the Golden Age characters lived on an alternative Earth, Earth Two (this was in The Flash #123, September 1961). The Flash #129, June 1962 established that there was a Wonder Woman on Earth Two as well.

With the Silver Age Wonder Woman would see yet more changes. H. G. Peter, the original artist for Wonder Woman, retired in 1957. His last issue was Wonder Woman #97, April 1958. He died not long afterwards at the age of 78. The following issue Wonder Woman #98, May 1958 would see some revisions to her origin. It also introduced a new power for Wonder Woman. She was now able to ride air currents so long as there was some wind or the air was not completely still. The Silver Age would see Wonder Woman develop yet more powers. Her earrings allowed her to breathe in outer space and underwater, while her tiara could be used as a thrown weapon. It was also with the Silver Age that Wonder Woman would become one of the founding members of the Justice League of America with the group's first appearance in The Brave and the Bold #28, March 1960.

It would be 1965 that Wonder Woman would see yet other changes. In Wonder Woman #158, November 1965 in a story entitled "The End--Or the Beginning!" Robert Kanigher himself (yes, he appeared as a character in the story) would retire such characters as Wonder Girl,Wonder Tot, Bird-Boy, and yet others from the late Fifties and early Sixties. Wonder Woman #159, January 1966 retold the origin of Wonder Woman. These two issues marked a shift in the tone of Wonder Woman from an emphasis on romantic interests and a return to superheroics. In many respects this change was perhaps overdue. The Silver Age that had begun in 1956 saw superheroes once more enjoying widespread popularity. At around the same time second wave feminism emerged in the early Sixties. With superheroes once more enjoying popularity and second wave feminists arguing for women's rights, it was time for Wonder Woman to once more become an independent, strong female superhero.

This revival of Wonder Woman would not last long. In Wonder Woman #179, December 1968 it was revealed that the Amazons had to move to another dimension in order to restore their magic. Wonder Woman then decided to give up her powers in order to remain with Steve Trevor. Unfortunately, Steve Trevor would be killed off in Wonder Woman #180, February 1969. This did not mean an end to Diana Prince's crime fighting career. She trained in martial arts under I Ching, who became her new mentor. To make a living she opened a mod boutique. Diana Prince over the next five years would owe a good deal to Emma Peel of The Avengers, wearing the comic book equivalent of late Sixties and early Seventies fashions. With I Ching  her adventures involved everything from fighting supervillains to mythology. Although Diana Prince no longer had super powers, in many respects "the new Wonder Woman" of the late Sixties and early Seventies incorporated more feminist messages than had been in the comic book for years.

It was in 1972 that Wonder Woman appeared on the cover of the first issue of Ms. magazine, accompanied by an essay on the character by Gloria  Steinem. Gloria Steinem was not particularly happy that Wonder Woman no longer had her powers and no longer wore the iconic costume, even though Wonder Woman probably had more feminist content than it had since the Golden Age. It was ultimately because of this that in Wonder Woman  #204, January–February 1973 her  powers were restored and she once more began wearing her classic costume.  Eventually Steve Trevor would be brought back from the dead by the goddess Aphrodite. He assumed the name "Steve Howard".

With the popularity of the TV series Wonder Woman, the first season of which was set during World War II, Wonder Woman # #228,  February, 1977, saw the focus of the magazine shift to the Wonder Woman of Earth Two and her adventures during World War II. This would last for the next fifteen issues. The late Seventies would once more see Wonder Woman appear in multiple titles. Starting with World's Finest #244, May 1977 Wonder Woman appeared as a back up feature in that magazine. Unlike Wonder Woman, World's Finest centred on the Wonder Woman of Earth One with her adventures set in the present day. Once her run as a back up feature in World's Finest ended, starting with Adventure Comics #459, October, 1978 she appeared as a back up feature in that magazine for the next five issues.

It was an insert in DC Comics Presents #41, January 1982 that saw the first major change to Wonder Woman's costume in years. While Wonder Woman's costume had varied through the years (for a short time in the late Fifties to the early Sixties she wore sandals instead of boots), it had basically remained the same as it had for much of the Golden Age. DC Comics Presents #41 saw the eagle on her bodice replaced by a stylised "WW". The reason for this change was practical rather than aesthetic. Quite simply, DC Comics could much more easily trademark the "WW" emblem than they could the original eagle.

The Eighties would see dramatic changes at DC Comics, as well as some dramatic changes to Wonder Woman. The limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths merged the multiple Earths of DC Comics into one, single Earth, which meant major changes for most of the characters DC published. Wonder Woman was then rebooted in 1987 by writer Greg Potter and writer/artist George Pérez. Wonder Woman was returned to her roots as a feminist character, and Mr. Pérez incorporated much more mythology into the feature than there had been before. The alter ego of "Diana Prince" was dropped, with Wonder Woman having no secret identity. Steve Trevor appeared once more, although this time there was no romance between the two. Etta Candy was also revived, although this time as a military officer.

Since Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics has rebooted several times and each time has seen some slight alterations to Wonder Woman. Among the changes was a new costume. Wonder Woman #600, August 2010 saw Wonder Woman now outfitted in a jacket and black trousers. This new costume was not particularly popular with fans and by 2011 she was wearing something closer to her original costume in design. The New 52, DC Comics' controversial relaunch of their titles, would bring more changes to Wonder Woman, including a controversial romance with Superman. This year saw the end of the New 52 with yet another relaunch, this one called "DC Rebirth". Her new costume somewhat resembles the original, although with notable differences. As part of DC Rebirth, writer Greg Rucka announced that Wonder Woman is "canonically bisexual."

Surprisingly enough given her popularity, Wonder Woman did not receive a lot of exposure in media outside of comic books for about the first quarter century of her existence. There was no Wonder Woman radio show, nor a Wonder Woman serial. She did appear in the aforementioned, short lived newspaper comic strip that ran from 1944 to 1945. Wonder Woman's first appearance in a medium outside of comics books and the newspaper strip was in a five minute presentation film entitled "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?", produced by Batman producer William Dozier for a prospective "Wonder Woman" TV show. Unfortunately, in "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?" Wonder Woman is played strictly for laughs. Diana Prince (played by Ellie Wood Walker) is portrayed as a shy plain Jane whose mother (who is not Hippolyta of the Amazons) nags her about not having a boyfriend. When she dons the Wonder Woman costume, she sees herself in the mirror as being more attractive than she really is (the Wonder Woman in the mirror is played by Linda Harrison, later of Planet of the Apes fame). That Diana Prince isn't entirely delusional is borne out by the fact that after preening in the mirror she flies out the window. She then at least has the power of flight. "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?" was never broadcast nor did a Wonder Woman TV series emerge from it. Much of the reason may have been that by 1967 the superhero fad was in decline. The ratings for Batman had dropped and The Green Hornet was not doing well in the ratings. I have to suspect most of the reason that the proposed Wonder Woman series was not picked up was simply that "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?" was not very good.

Fortunately, "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?" did not put an end to Wonder Woman on the small screen and the Seventies would see Wonder Woman on television very often. Wonder Woman made her television broadcast debut in an episode of the Saturday morning cartoon The Brady Kids (a spinoff of the prime time, live action sitcom The Brady Bunch) entitled "It's All Greek to Me". It aired on December 2 1972. The plot involved the Brady kids travelling back in time to ancient Greece at one of the times the Olympic Games were held. Starting in 1973 Wonder Woman was a regular in every incarnation of the Saturday morning cartoon Super Friends, which ultimately ran until 1986.

Not only did Wonder Woman appear in cartoons in the Seventies, but in live action shows as well. One of her stranger appearances was on the February 28 1973 episode of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in the recurring sketch "Vamp". The sketch had Wonder Woman (played by Cher), Superman (played by Sonny), and Batman (played by Don Adams) all trying to use the same phone booth to change into their superhero identities.

A more important live action appearance for Wonder Woman would be a 1974 television movie and pilot for a proposed TV series titled Wonder Woman. The pilot was very loosely based on the comic book character and owed a good deal to the late Sixties and early Seventies run of Wonder Woman in which Diana Prince had no powers. Cathy Lee Crosby played Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, who had superhuman agility and athletic skills. Her costume was a far cry from the original, consisting of a red top with blue sleeves and blue trousers. The pilot did respectively well in the ratings, but was not particularly well received by critics. Ultimately ABC passed on the proposed TV series. It aired on March 12 1974.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman
This did not mean the end of Wonder Woman in live action television. On November 7 1975 there aired another TV movie and pilot for a proposed TV series entitled The New, Original Wonder Woman. Unlike the 1974 telefilm, it was extremely loyal to the comic books. The New, Original Wonder Woman was essentially a somewhat faithful retelling of Wonder Woman's origin. It was even set during World War II. Not only did the TV movie feature a fairly accurate reproduction of the classic Wonder Woman costume, but arguably actress Lynda Carter looked exactly like the comic book character as well. The New Original Wonder Woman did very well in the ratings, and ultimately Wonder Woman was picked up for the 1976-1977 season by ABC. Like the movie, the TV series was set during World War II.

Unfortunately ABC would not do well by the series. The network moved it all around their schedule throughout the season. Despite this, it still received fairly decent ratings. Unfortunately Fred Silverman, then president of ABC Entertainment, thought the superhero cycle on television had run its course. As a result Wonder Woman was cancelled at the end of the season. The series was the picked up by CBS. It was retitled The New Adventures of Wonder Woman and updated to the present day. Ultimately the series would run for two more seasons.

Wonder Woman would later guest star in a 1988 episode of the animated series Superman. In 2001 she was one of the regular characters on the animated series Justice League. She would appear in various Justice League TV series and animated films afterwards.

In 2011 there was another television pilot for a proposed Wonder Woman series, ordered by NBC. It was written and produced by David E. Kelley, best known for such legal dramas as The Practice and Ally McBeal. Adrianne Palicki starred as a corporate executive who also fights crime as Wonder Woman. Adrianne Palicki wore a costume that was a cross between the classic costume and the one from Wonder Woman #600 with blue trousers. She also had the traditional Bracelets of Submission (although they are never referred to as such) and the golden lasso. NBC never broadcast the pilot, nor did they pick up the proposed series. It was perhaps just as well, as the pilot was not well received by either critics or fans.

In 2012 there was news of another potential Wonder Woman TV series in development by the CW, Warner Bros., and DC Comics. Amazon would essentially detail the origins of Wonder Woman. It was in January 2014 that it was announced that the CW has passed on a second script order and it was unlikely the network would revisit the project.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
While another Wonder Woman TV series does not appear to be in the offing, the Amazing Amazon does have feature films ahead of her. Gal Gadot played Wonder Woman in this year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It marked the first time Wonder Woman ever appeared in a live action theatrical release. While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice did not receive the best reception, Gal Gadot received very good notices for her portrayal of Wonder Woman. She is set to reprise the role in next year's Wonder Woman and Justice League.

In many ways the lasting popularity of Wonder Woman is remarkable. Even before the television series of the late Seventies, she was the one superhero besides Superman and Batman that the average person, who may have never read a comic book, could name. What makes this all the more remarkable is that, unlike Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman received very little exposure in media beyond comic books. Until the Seventies outside of comic books Wonder Woman had only appeared in a short lived newspaper comic strip and a rejected television presentation film that no one outside of the television industry ever saw. While Superman and Batman had serials, TV shows, a radio show, and animated cartoons to bolster their popularity, Wonder Woman's popularity was entirely dependent upon comic books.

As to why Wonder Woman has remained so popular for the past 75 years, much of it may be tied to the feminism that William Marston Moulton infused the early comic books stories with. In the early 20th Century suffragettes had fought for the right to vote. During World War II, with many men in the United States fighting the war overseas, many women found themselves doing jobs traditionally assigned to men. Wonder Woman appealed to many who favoured women's liberation. After all, here was a superheroine whose strength matched that of Superman and who was entirely self reliant.

Yet another reason for Wonder Woman's lasting popularity is probably due to the fact that, even in the Golden Age, she was a very complex character. During the Golden Age many comic book heroes tended to be very simple in nature. Sometimes the source of their powers was never even explained, as in the case of Miss Victory (a superheroine who appeared about five months prior to Wonder Woman). With Wonder Woman's first appearance in All-Star Comics #8 she was given a fairly sophisticated origin, complete with an explanation of where her powers came from. Over the years Wonder Woman's mythos would expand and grow yet more complex. It is worth noting that the complexity of Wonder Woman is something she shares with the other two big name superheroes of the Golden Age and Silver Age, Superman and Batman. All three characters were much more complex than many of their Golden Age compatriots. As a result, they also maintained their popularity over the years.

Of course, another reason for Wonder Woman's continued popularity may be the fact that over the years she has adapted to the times. During the Golden Age, when many women were doing what was traditionally considered men's jobs, Wonder Woman was a strong, independent woman. During the Fifties, when an emphasis was placed on the traditional roles of women, Wonder Woman became much more focused on marriage and romance. In the Sixties, with the advent of second wave feminism, she once more became a strong, independent woman. Much of the reason Wonder Woman has remained popular is that she has been able to adapt to changing times.

After seventy five years Wonder Woman is still arguably the best known and most popular female superhero in the world. Since the Seventies she has appeared in everything from TV shows to animated cartoons to movies. There is a plethora of Wonder Woman merchandise still on shelves, everything from coffee mugs to t-shirts to action figures. One has to suspect that she will remain popular for yet another seventy five years.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Some Vintage Halloween Ads

Halloween has long been celebrated in the United States. It has also been commercialised for literally decades. Over the years advertisers have capitalised on the holiday, particularly in selling candy. Here are a few ads from a few decades in the 20th Century.

Here is a Crisco advert from 1936. Today it might seem odd for Crisco (which is a brand of shortening, for those of you who don't know) to have a Halloween themed ad, but in the Thirties many people still baked treats for Halloween rather than buying them in a store.

Here is a Curtis Candy Company ad from 1946. Trick or treating originated in the early 20th Century, spreading from western Canada and the northwest United States eastward. By the late Thirties it had reached the East Coast. Naturally advertisers were quick to take advantage of the newly established custom.


A Brach's candy ad from 1958. With improved colour photography, magazine advertisements changed dramatically in the Fifties. Where once adverts would have used illustrations, they now used photos in full colour.

Another Brach's ad, this one from 1962. To a degree this ad is a bit anachronistic. In 1962 instead of wearing home-made costumes, the kids might well be wearing store-bought costumes of the sort manufacture by Ben Cooper, Collegeville, or Halco.

And lastly, here is a Wrigley's Gum ad from 1974. Cartoon-style art was very popular in the Seventies, appearing in magazines, newspapers, and comic books.