Schadow, appropriately, is a brilliant old-time radio history sleuth whose researching instincts mirror my own. His subsequent response to my request was seen in the Mystery of the Radio Spirit -- Solved! post that contained his initial discoveries.
Since then, Karl has soldiered on, digging and uncovering even more about the program. His findings were first published in the official magazine of the Metro Washington Old Time Radio Club, RADIO RECALL, late in 2012. At my request, Karl is graciously allowing me to republish his research here. Readers should note that this article was originally intended for old-time radio aficionados and as such, it contains information geared toward that audience.
I'd like to thank both editor Jack French of RADIO RECALL and Denis Kitchen for providing me with all the permissions and clearances that make this reprinting possible. And Denis would also like me to remind everyone that:
THE SPIRIT trademark is owned by Will Eisner Studios, Inc. and is registered in the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office.
So take it away, Karl! -- Ken Quattro __________________________________________________________
THAT'S THE SPIRIT
© 2013 Karl Schadow
For years it has been rumored that The Spirit, one of the classics of the comics, had its own radio program. Interest in this seemingly obscure venture was rejuvenated when R.R. King recently posted on the Old Time Radio Digest, a link to Ken "The Comic Detective" Quattro's blog with Ken's request for any information on this unique incarnation of The Spirit's exploits.
Unique and obscure it is. A radio program of The Spirit is not to be found in any OTR reference including: RADIO CRIME FIGHTERS by Jim Cox (McFarland, 2002) nor Ron Lackmann's COMIC STRIPS & COMIC BOOKS OF RADIO'S GOLDEN AGE (Bear Manor Media, 2004). Most compelling however, is that THE STERANKO HISTORY OF THE COMICS 2 (Supergraphics, 1972) is most often cited as the initial source which is reiterated in Ken's blog, for any existence of such a program.
For those of you new to The Spirit, he premiered in the publishing field with no advance publicity in the newspaper trade, on June 2, 1940 as part of a special free Comic Book Section (commonly known as The Spirit Section) insert of Sunday newspapers across North America. This project was the joint effort of Quality Comic Group (QCG) publisher Everett M. " Busy" Amold, the Register Tribune Syndicate (Des Moines, Iowa) and most importantly comic creator-extraordinaire, Will Eisner, brilliant innovator of the three crime-fighting characters of the Section: The Spirit, Lady Luck and Mr. Mystic.
The Spirit, former Detective Denny Colt thought to be dead, had been revived from a state of suspended animation to fight crime in Central City. Accompanied by his faithful African-American sidekick Ebony White, The Spirit, whose real identity was known only to Central City's Police Commissioner Dolan, operated from a hide-out located beneath Wildwood Cemetery, the supposed final resting place of Denny Colt.
His escapades in the Sunday Comic Book Section continued into the Fall, 1952. A much anticipated daily strip was added in October 1941, having a prosperous two and one-half year run closing in March, 1944. Over the past few decades, those original stories have been reprinted, predominantly by DC Comics and Kitchen Sink Press In addition to new series of adventures being published. IDW Publishing is soon to release a new compendium of Will Eisner art. The Spirit was produced for TV in a brief 1948 series, with a made-for-TV movie in 1987. A feature film of the character was seen in movie theaters in 2008. More on The Spirit and Will Eisner may be found elsewhere in this issue of Radio Recall, at www.willeisner.com and www.deniskitchen.com.
The Steranko History had purported a short-lived program of The Spirit in three Mid-Atlantic cities: Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., with scripts penned by Enid Hager On his blog, Ken informs us that Miss Hager had been associated with THE PHILADELPHIA RECORD (morning and Sunday newspaper). Thus, my current research commenced with the perusal of the broadcasting, newspaper, advertising and amusement trade periodicals. In addition to the vast pages of THE RECORD and its competitors. Although THE RECORD had been promoting frequently the new Comic Book Section in its daily pages, there was no indication that a sister radio program was soon to hit the airwaves.
The November 1, 1940 issue of BROADCASTING reported a swap between THE RECORD and Philadelphia's station WFIL of the three crimefighters comprising the Comic Book Section in THE SUNDAY RECORD. Each was to be featured on a rotating basis in a weekly 15-minute drama adapted from this Section. Readers of THE RECORD on Saturday, October 26, 1940 were pleasantly surprised that Mr. Mystic (a magician with supernatural powers) was going to be aired at 7:00 that evening on WFIL, with The Spirit slated for next week. On the radio page of THE RECORD the next day (October 27th), The Spirit was affirmed for the upcoming broadcast.
Whether or not the story of Mr. Mystic and his entanglement with Shanghai dope peddlers garnered the initial stanza awaits further study as there was no follow up to confirm which story was actually presented. A preview in THE RECORD the following Saturday (November 2nd) indicated that The Spirit was to be featured that evening but the publicity tacked a plot summary.
With this night's episode, The Spirit had joined his fellow characters, from the well·known Blondie and Dick Tracy, to the even more obscure Lew Loyal as comics who had their founding in the newspaper strips, and who had made the transition to the medium of radio. To date, episodes featuring Lady Luck, that dashing debutante sleuth of the Section have not been identified.
With each succeeding week, a brief story synopsis was published in THE RECORD, usually printed on a page other than that carrying the radio logs. Moreover, in Friday's issues of THE RECORD, the Comic Book Section and its radio companion were promoted with bold, one-line statements at the top of individual comics which probably did not appease the syndicates distributing Alley Oop, L'il Abner or The Phantom. Subsequently in early 1941 these one-liners were reduced to a single comic which varied from week·to-week and featured just The Spirit on WFIL. Though The Spirit was listed in the radio logs of THE PHILADELPHIA EVENING PUBLIC LEDGER,other sheets merely indicated the program as 'Dramatization' or refused to print any WFIL programs at the designated time.
This conundrum illustrates a classic point for all OTR researchers in that all available newspapers in a given market should be consulted when seeking information on programs, especially those locally produced. Amusingly, issues of MOVIE-RADIO GUIDE which included WFIL programs (Edition 2, MidAtlantic versions) listed the program as 'Dramatization' for several months before finally giving the program its official title.
With the episode of November 30th, readers of THE RECORD were encouraged to listen so that they could learn how to receive a mask similar to what The Spirit wore in the comics ... and get it FREE! The offer was also plugged on a different page than that of the weekly plot summary thus culminating in publicity for The Spirit on three individual pages of the issue. A Spirit mask is mentioned in THE STERANKO HISTORY and also in Hake's and Tomart's toy/premium guides. However, no direct tie-in with a radio program is stated. It is unknown if other premiums were offered during The Spirit's stint on WFIL.
Ironically, the radio program was not promoted anywhere in the 16-page, Comic Book Section, an interesting absence of cross-promotion as the basic premise of the radio program was to entice listener's to purchase THE SUNDAY RECORD.
During the first season which ended in May, 1941, The Spirit encountered a potpourri of criminals from gangsters to dictators and even a few femme fatales, all while having to rescue on occasion the romantic interest of the strip, Ellen Dolan, daughter of the police commissioner.
There is no current explanation as to the reason behind the hiatus as the Comic Book Section continued throughout the summer in THE SUNDAY RECORD. The Spirit returned for a second season Saturday, September 6, 1941 at 7 pm on WFIL. THE RECORD continued to promote the program both on the radio page and elsewhere with a short synopsis. The scripts were again adapted by Enid Hager from stories of the Sunday comics. In September, 1941, THE BILLBOARD reported that each episode could now be heard twice each Saturday on a regular basis, now that a rebroadcast was slated for Philadelphia station WHAT.
THE RECORD indicated on September 27th that a transcription of The Spirit was to be aired that evening at 9 pm on WHAT. According to this source, this is the only occasion in which a repeat performance was scheduled either in the radio logs or other publicity. Had THE RECORD encountered technical, contractual or copyright difficulties in procuring and airing a transcription each week? Nevertheless, this situation presents a fascinating scenario that a recording of The Spirit was made and that one may still exist.
As of February 14, 1942, The Spirit was being promoted at a new time of 6:30 pm as the result of a new program, This is War, directed by Norman Corwin to be broadcast on all network stations across the country at 7 pm.
Continuing the promotion in March, THE RECORD was still alerting new readers of The Spirit's 6:30 pm airtime.
Also in March, accompanying the short plot summaries were such episode titles as: "Mr. Hush Runs an Election" (March 7th), "The Men Who Time Forgot" (March 21st) in which The Spirit clashed with Seventeenth Century Spanish explorers, to "Dr Jekyll & Mr. Ebony" or "Dr. Ebony & Mr. White" (March 28th), where Ebony exhibits some bizarre behavior after ingesting a noxious, blue liquid found in The Spirit's lab. In one of his last radio adventures (May 9th), The Spirit foiled Nazi spies in their attempt to sabotage a coastal artillery base.
During The Spirit's tenure on radio, the program received favorable reviews from Philadelphia critics, as both Maurie Orodenker [THE BILLBOARD, December 14, 1940] and Si Shaltz [(VARIETY, February 4, 1942] praised the program's writing, acting and overall production. Orodenker commented that each episode was complete. Does this imply that that the entire story of the Sunday comics was told in contrast to the cliff-hanger style Shaltz reported the following season? Or, did both series' stories leave listeners pondering The Spirit's fate and that Orodenker was informing his audience that The Spirit was not a serial with a continuing plot from week·to·week?
The advantage of the cliff-hanger of course, was to entice listeners to purchase THE SUNDAY RECORD with accompanying Comic Book Section so that one could obtain the solution to the mystery. As no scripts or audio have been located of The Spirit, this and many other questions regarding the program remain unsolved. In his review, Orodenker mentions the names of the two prominent cast members, Sam Serata as The Spirit (likely a misspelling of long-time Philadelphia entertainment personality and executive, Sam Serota) with Salvatore Benigno as Ebony.
It is unknown if these individuals were credited at the end of the broadcast, or if their voices were recognized by Orodenker who gave them the proper acknowledgement. Serota would have been a choice candidate for the lead, as he had previously amassed a great following impersonating the comics as 'Brother Bill' on WIP, a rival of WFIL in Philadelphia. It is unknown if Serota continued as The Spirit in the second season and who assumed the role of Ebony when Benigno was inducted into the Army in March, 1941.
THE RECORD noted that Private Salvatore Benigno was to make an appearance in the episode of December 21, 1941 portraying Private Chuck Magoo, a former gangster encouraged by The Spirit to join the Army. This was one of the rare instances in which individual cast members of the program were identified in THE RECORD. The other two names cited in THE BILLBOARD review, were author/producer Enid Hager and WFIL organist Mil Spooner who provided the music. One name not mentioned in the review, but who was included in those of other WFIL programs was sound effects expert Jeff Witt. If not directly involved in each episode, he supervised those performing The Spirit's physical battles, especially the ferocious punches.
Noteworthy is that The Spirit program also received high praise from Will Eisner, though he only had scripts sent to him by Enid Hager which to critique. In a November 29, 1941 letter (transcribed copy available on Ken's blog) to Miss Hager thanking her for the scripts, Eisner states that, " ... the dialog is great and the continuity positively absorbing ... ".
Was this the first time that Eisner had intimate knowledge of the program (he was unable to receive the program on his set in New York City)? Had The Spirit's creator not been consulted over a year earlier when a radio program had been initially proposed?
Other interesting admonishments are illuminated in the letter. There was no mention of Eisner in the scripts as he had informed the program's author of this situation. He firmly suggested as a favor to himself that she include the by-line "Will Eisner" following The Spirit in the show's opening. Moreover, was Eisner alluding to any possible copyright infringement?
On the front page of each of the weekly Sunday Comic Book Sections was found in tiny print, copyright credited to Everett M. Arnold. It would be years later before Eisner actually acquired the full rights from the Quality Comics publisher. Furthermore, to what extent Arnold was involved in the radio program awaits additional documentation.
In his letter, Eisner was optimistic that, " ... we can spread this idea far and wide ...". Perhaps this is when the program was developed in other markets yet to be discovered. Finally, it is unknown if Eisner was provided with any recordings. And, what of the fate of those scripts he received? There are none in his collection at The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
Why The Spirit did not return for a third season in Philadelphia remains a mystery. In March, 1943, Enid Hager departed THE RECORD for a position with Philadelphia's WPEN. Later that year she deservedly achieved the position of manager of the newly-formed radio department of Qualiy Comics. According to Mike Kooiman, who with Jim Amash, completed a comprehensive history of QCG entitled QUALITY COMPANION [TwoMorrows, 2011], virtually nothing is known regarding the endeavors of this ancillary Quality component.
Although The Spirit was technically not a QCG product, there may have been attempts by Enid Hager and colleagues to promote the radio program in the mid 1940s. In the Program Producer section of the 1944 RADIO ANNUAL, Quality elevates their entity to the Radio & Motion Picture Department, still headed by Enid Hager. Unfortunately, the seemingly lofty aspirations of QCG may have not come to fruition as no further projects have been identified. However, the popular Blackhawk, a major QCG title did make a brief run on radio in the early 195Os. This author encourages his fellow researchers in both fields to continue to investigate the obscure radio tenures of such pertinent comics.
So how did The Spirit find its way to THE RECORD and subsequently WFIL? One thought is that THE RECORD was not limited to comics from a single syndicate, as titles from seven such firms graced the pages of the daily and Sunday issues. The Register & Tribune Syndicate was a newcomer to those already supplying comics to the newspaper and the Sunday Comic Book Section was evidently an admirable addition.
THE RECORD had much experience in promoting itself on the airwaves. Prior to The Spirit, the newspaper had solidified relations with WIP for its Nine o'Clock Scholars program and also WFIL for the musical quiz, Sound Your A. These programs expanded the usual time-for-space agreement in that live productions were utilized instead of the banter going for spot announcements.
WFIL had a top-notch promotional campaign and was on its way to winning the 1940 annual exploitation award from THE BILLBOARD in the Regional Station Division when The Spirit was launched in October 1940. The station had been at the forefront in producing local dramatics since its founding in 1935; the result of the merger of stations WFI and WLIT More on the history of WFIL and Philadelphia radio may be found at the Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers website www.broadcastpioneers.com.
George Lilley, radio editor of THE RECORD in his December 22, 1940 column, echoed the praise for WFIL and its program director James Allan for their efforts in developing the current array of programs not only The Spirit, but also Drama Laboratory, Mystery History and the daily serial, The Ghost of Thunder Island. The extensive exploitation of WFIL included: ads, merchandising, billboards, school bulletins. and cards in cars, subways, busses, trains and even windows.
There is no doubt that The Spirit was afforded his share of such publicity in addition to the newspaper copy illustrated above. Moreover the discovery of such items is crucial to further chronicling The Spirit on WFIL and other stations. Furthermore, this exploitation may have been a major factor WFIL was selected rather than WHAT, a station which had been purchased by THE RECORD just months prior to The Spirit making its radio debut. WFIL was a full-time station rated for 1000 Watts, but was soon to be upgrading its signal strength to 5000 Watts. This is compared to the 100 Watt, part-time status of WHAT On his blog, Ken also suggests that general program format of WHAT precluded The Spirit from airing on the station.
Enid Hager who had previously been a member of the WFIL production staff before engaging in her current position as radio promotion chief of THE RECORD, took on the added task of script author in addition to her duties as producer of The Spirit. During the course of researching OTR, one may find a major source of pertinent material to be located in various advertising and ad agency archives. In the case of The Spirit however, this potential resource is not available. THE RECORD had negotiated directly with WFIL, thus no agency was employed, ultimately saving THE RECORD a tidy sum. This author does not imply, however, that correspondence, publicity, a script or even a transcription of the program would not have eventually made its way to any such archive.
Additional leads on The Spirit are being pursued at Temple University, and other academic institutions along with collections of The Free Library of Philadelphia and The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Spirit is still being elusive in Washington, Baltimore and in other markets but attempts are ongoing to remedy this situation. Thus, as of this writing, The Spirit can be classified as a local and not syndicated program.
Readers may contact Karl Schadow at firstname.lastname@example.org.