The WriterJack Archives


Jack has written hundreds of columns over the years, on scores of topics. Here in the archives, we will present you with selected works that were previously published.

From 12 years ago, March 2006: We present a wonderful column Jack wrote about the films and radio programs of his youth. Do you remember these programs?

Returning to the Days of Yesteryear?

They were wartime thrillers for young and old radio listeners and for kids, who were growing up with fathers serving in the military or working in defense plants, they created mesmerizing images and scenarios.

The titles were attention-getters, but it was music (typically lifted from symphonic classics) that built and sustained the mood, along with sound effects that heightened the suspense and drama. Who could forget the creaking door on The Shadow?

For scores of would-be writers and cartoonists, they spawned the dreams of one day putting words on paper or making pencil drawings permanent in ink. The dramas evolved from serial films which were low budget action stories that followed similar plots; heroes battling villains and rescuing women in distress. They were called "cliffhangers" because scenes were continuous action especially scripted for the eye and the ear. They were produced as chapters.

Like many pre-teens in the years of World War II, I remember Saturdays watching at least one serial, cartoons and a newsreel (20th Century Fox or Pathe) and possibly a feature film or two a week in a downtown theater if my allowance could afford it. At least three hours or more of fun. I remember wartime film and radio versions of the Green Hornet, Flash Gordon, Captain Marvel, Smilin' Jack, Batman, the Phantom, the Shadow and, in the post-war, Superman (1948). Batman resurfaced with Robin in 1949. That's in addition to the westerns and our regular thrillers with the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

My favorite? Captain Midnight.

My father, who had a subtle humor that rarely surfaced especially during the war years, coined his own labels for some. Jack Armstrong: The All-American Boy became 'Joe Legwheat' and Captain Midnight, to my father, was 'Major Daylight'. Dad should have thought about his own series with such creative titles.

Captain Midnight, which began in 1938 and ended in 1949, never made it to the big screen or television, but it had a radio audience of millions and about half were adults. A film was produced in 1942 which was loosely based on the program and a newspaper comic strip and a comic book were also produced. Had I kept my Captain Midnight comic books...I'm convinced I would be a multi-millionaire today!

It was a syndicated radio show, first sponsored by Skelly Oil, later Ovaltine (I kept telling my mother WE HAD to have Ovaltine in our house to be patriotic Americans) that kept me glued to Mutual Radio Network.

I was by the radio daily as the show shifted shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor to wartime episodes. The protagonist, Jim Albright, a World War I pilot with a code handle 'Captain Midnight', was sent on all kinds of adventures where he battled such Darth Vaders of the time as Ivan Shark, Baron von Karp, Admiral Himakito and von Schrecker. We didn't give a thought to the fact that he was working on both sides of the world to fight America's enemies seemingly at the same time. I remember how proud I was when my Code-O-Graph, a clever deciphering device, came in the mail and I was able to 'decode' the messages at the end of the show.

It broke with tradition too. It depicted young women as equally courageous in fighting our country's battles. Joyce Ryan, for example, was also a member of Captain Midnight's Secret Squadron, and she went on commando raids and dueled in aerial dogfights.

Nothing today in an era of television soaps and serials can top my vivid memories of those exciting shows. It certainly influenced my decision to become a writer.

Copyright - John Behrens - 2018