August 5th, 2012 13:42 EST
The Man of Bronze: Remembering Doc Savage
Remembering Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze by Tony Piazza
Comic book heroes have garnered big box office receipts for a number of years, and still are, as evidenced by The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman. But what most fans do not realize is that publications known as pulps led the way for these latter heroes. Starting in 1896 through the 1950s, an inexpensive magazine was published for the masses with pages of cheap wood pulp, hence the name.
These were the successors to the 19th century`s dime novel, or penny dreadfuls and descendants to the comic books and graphic novels of today. Many respected writers, such as Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G.Wells, and others cut their teeth writing stories that were serialized in these pulps, and many of their great novels were assembled from its pages. It was a pool of original imagination and wonder, and why I base my own novels on them.
Many characters such as The Shadow and The Green Hornet began on radio, and then transitioned with various levels of success into other mediums such as the pulps, movies, television, comics, and finally graphic novels. Doc Savage " on the other hand started at the beginning from the pages of these action packed thrillers. He was the product of Street and Smith Publishers, with a run from 1933 to 1949, and authored (for the most part- about 150 of the 181 issues) by Lester Dent under the house name, Kenneth Robeson. Doc Savage (created in `33) was the forerunner of Superman (`38). Many interesting comparisons can be made like Doc`s full name, Clark Savage Jr., his near superhuman strength and abilities, and even more telling, his retreat, The Fortress of Solitude!
Doc Savage made a comeback in paperback during the 1960s, reprinted under the banner of Bantam Books with highly imaginative covers by artist James Bama. Unlike its successors, Superman and Batman, Doc Savage`s transition to other mediums were not wholly successful. Its radio dramas had minimal impact (although the superior NPR radio production was excellent) and movies and television about him barely caused a ripple. This is really such a shame because Doc blazed the trail for all the successful super and not so super heroes to come.
Artist James Bama cover
A bit About Doc
Clark Savage Jr. was the perfect man, both physically and mentally. He was tutored from birth by a team of eminent scientists under the direction of his father, Clark Savage. They trained Savage Jr`s. mind and body to near superhuman abilities. Doc was a scientist, explorer, martial arts expert, inventor, surgeon, researcher, and physician all wrapped up into one. His life`s ambition was to right wrongs and his oath pretty much explains it;
Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.
Walter Baumhofer illustration of Doc for the pulps
Doc wasn`t alone in his quest; five brilliant men assisted him in his adventures- Monk, a chemist, Ham, an attorney, Renny, a construction engineer, Long Tom, an electrical wizard, and Johnny an archeologist and geologist.
Doc and his men : left to right: Johnny, Ham, Renny, Doc, Monk, and Long Tom.
(Doc Savage: Man of Bronze (1975)
Their villains were colorful and the adventures they had fantastic beyond measure!
Here`s just a sampling of the titles:
The Land of Terror, Quest of the Spider, The Polar Treasure, Pirate of the Pacific, The Red Skull, The Lost Oasis, and Brand of the Werewolf- from 1933, 34. Now is it obvious where my novel, The Curse of the Crimson Dragon may have been influenced with regards to title.
In 1975 George Pal brought Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze to the screen. It was received poorly by Savage fans and film critics alike, and ultimately performed badly at the box office. In spite of the reviews I saw the film back then and liked it. I`ll admit that the campy screenplay did not work well, nor its characterizations of the major and minor villains. However, what was successful was the casting of Doc and his men. Ron Ely did a wonderful job with what he had to work with, and all five of the actors looked and acted their parts with relish. Small details of characterization was present - from Johnny`s one magnified lens, to Renny`s big fist smashing through wood panel doors, and Ham`s sleep inducing tipped cane. The comradery between these men and their leader was also evident, even with Ham and Monk`s constant (but, good-natured) bickering. It was these elements that worked for me, and one could only wish that such detail could have been taken with the storytelling. If so, I believe it could have been as successful a series as Indiana Jones did become later.
Ron Ely as Doc Savage
While working at the studio on an episode of The Streets of San Francisco just shortly after the release of the Doc Savage movie, I got to meet Eldon Quick, the actor who played Johnny in the film. Between takes I talked with him at some length, and expressed my enthusiasm for the film. At the time there was some discussion that a sequel, Doc Savage: The Arch Enemy of Evil may be made. I asked about its progress, and Eldon expressed with obvious regret that the project wasn`t going forward. The reason of course were those I`ve previously mentioned. It was a shame, because with that great cast and a new, improved story (learning from their previous mistakes) I know it could have become a series. Production of Doc Savage: The Arch Enemy of Evil could have made the difference- but then when it comes to risks Hollywood is notorious in not taking them. The bean counters are gods!
Eldon Quick as Johnny
Let`s hope there`s one risk taker out there that will give Doc another chance- although in this economic atmosphere it would have to be something near a miracle... or one of those tricks that Doc usually has up his sleeve.
Ron Ely (Doc) and Pamela Hensley (Mona)
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, Anything Short of Murder, " which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, The Curse of the Crimson Dragon " was released early 2012 and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book "Bullitt Points" is an in depth look at the making of "Bullitt" from a person who was there. Look for it where fine books are sold, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the BoysRepubliccharity: www.bullittpoints.com.