Long-time writer and researcher William Harper shares his wealth of articles, comics, complete radio log and much more in this definitive work on the great Western radio show, Straight Arrow!
Radio Recall, 2007
Straight Arrow: The Definitive Radio Log and Resource Guide for that Legendary Indian Figure On the Trail of Justice
By William H. Harper
BearManor Media, 2007, 171 pp., $18.95
Reviewed by Maury Cagle
Few fictional characters-print, radio, or television-enter the vernacular of the day and stay there for 60 years. Such is the case with “Straight Arrow,” whose name is used today by millions to describe someone above reproach, but who have no idea of the term's origin.
Straight Arrowwas a juvenile western adventure show, which was popular with young listeners from May of 1948 to June, 1951. The show was the story of Steve Adams, a young man of Comanche descent, raised on a ranch as a white man.
Echoing an old Indian legend, in times of trouble Adams doffs his rancher's clothes, puts on Indian garb and war paint and becomes Straight Arrow. This transformation occurs in his secret cave, from which he rides on the magnificent golden palomino Fury in the cause of justice, urging his steed on with the cry, “Kaneewah, Fury!”
This book is the result of one man's fascination with a single show from the golden days of Old Time Radio. Bill Harper's dedication led him on a 20-year research project into every aspect of the Straight Arrowshow.
Harper clarifies a common misperception about the dual role of Steve Adams and the hero, Straight Arrow. It is not that white rancher Adams puts on an Indian costume, but rather that Adams sheds his assumed identity to reveal his true nature. His dual role is known only to his sidekick, Packy McCloud.
Adams/Straight Arrow was played for the entire run of the show by Howard Culver, who even changed his voice as the hero changed identities. All of the programs were written by Sheldon Stark, and Frank Bingman was the announcer-narrator. Milton Charles supplied the organ music, and created a distinctive sound that simulated an arrow in flight, which became an integral part of the show. All of the key personalities are profiled in detail.
The program began on the West Coast Don Lee network, then went coast-to-coast on Mutual. Throughout its time on the air, the program was sponsored by Nabisco Shredded Wheat.
In the beginning, Nabisco ran a contest to name Straight Arrow's horse, resulting in 50,000 boxtops and suggested names. Many Straight Arrowpremiums were offered, including “Injun-Uity” cards, separating the biscuits in packages of Shredded Wheat. Others were a headband with two red feathers, a war drum, golden tie clip, and a bandanna. All the premiums are described in dettail.
Harper also notes the comic book and newspaper comic strip versions of Straight Arrow, as well as the live promotions of the main character in some of the book's many interesting illustrations and photographs.
The heart of the book is a detailed log of all 292 radio programs in the series. This is a real service, since only nine audio versions are known to exist.
While the book needs editing to address minor problems, Harper has created the definitive volume on a very popular, but long overlooked OTR series.
Straight Arrowis available from BearManor Media, P.O. Box 71426, Albany GA 31708 for $18.95 plus $3.00 postage, or online at bearmanormedia.com.
Long Journey of Research Leads to New Book on OTR’s great ‘Straight Arrow’
A new book that chronicles the success of radio’s Straight Arrow, a series that saw rancher Steve Adams become an avenger who galloped “out of darkness to take up the cause of law and order throughout the West…[as] the legendary figure of Straight Arrow,” is the accumulation of 20 years research by William and Teresa Harper.
Straight Arrow was the property of Nabisco, i.e., the National Biscuit Company, and sponsored specifically by Nabisco Shredded Wheat as a way to introduce children to this breakfast cereal. The well-developed and coordinated promotional effort by McCann-Erickson, Nabisco’s ad agency, exceeded expectations. When the radio show aired over the Mutual nationwide system in February 1949 it rapidly became the top-rated kids show as well as moving into the eighth slot in the Nielsen’s Top Ten national ratings, which marked the first time ever for a juvenile show. The success of the show and aggressive marketing led Straight Arrow adventures to be published in a four-color comic book, a full array of merchandise items to sell in “five and dime” stores, and a comic strip in various daily newspaper. Nabisco also offered a variety of premiums for a few cents and a box top.
Much of the research gathered by the Harpers Straight Arrow: The Definitive Radio Log and Resource Guide for that Legendary Indian Figure on the Trail of Justice was originally published in Pow-Wow, a newsletter the couple published and edited from 1986-1997, and a special edition edited by William Harper and Jean Walton that was partially published in the pages of Alter Ego magazine in 2001.
William Harper grew up catching what he describes as the “tail end of the Golden Age of radio and comics.” He listened to the exploits of Bobby Benson and the B-Bar Riders, Tom Mix, Sky King, Captain Midnight, The Shadow, etc. and, of course, Straight Arrow. He faithfully ate Nabisco Shredded Wheat, saving the “Injun-Uity” cards, those cardboard dividers printed with Indian outdoor lore, packed three to a box separating the shredded wheat biscuits. Years later as manager of the Augusta Book Exchange in downtown Augusta, Harper happened on a small collection of Straight Arrow comics. Every issue of the comics’ title page bore the name of the artist, Fred L. Meagher, Harper undertook what he thought would be an easy chore; locate all 55 issues of the comic and the artist.
The search took many twist and turns, drawing, as it were, Harper deeper into the fascinating world of comic collecting. Teresa, an artist whose appreciation included modern comics, especially fantasy works such as Conan the Barbarian and Elf Quest, was drawn into the search through her comic interest and marriage. One of the turns involved the Tom Mix comics published by Fawcett that led directly to their editing a Fawcett comic collectors fanzine, FCA/SOB. The newsletter was primarily concerned with the great Fawcett icon, the original Captain Marvel. Editorship led to publishing and later a redirection as well as name change, FCA & ME, Too!, or Fawcett Collectors of America and Magazine Enterprise, the latter being the publishers of Straight Arrow. The Harper’s research on Straight Arrow soon filled a file cabinet drawer and thus was born, Pow-Wow.
In 1997 Teresa was diagnosed with breast cancer and FCA & ME, Too! was discontinued; however, it still continues today published in the pages of Alter Ego under its original title FCA with Paul Hamerlinck at the helm. Later the files emptied of Straight Arrow material, the decision was made to discontinue Pow-Wow. As the finishing touches were being made to the last issue, Gasoline Alley comic strip artist/writer Jim Scancarelli located a nephew to the elusive Fred L. Meagher. The last issue was sent with the promise of a Fred L. Meagher special edition. However, Teresa Harper died October 18, 1997, and William pushed aside any future plans for the special.
During this time Jean Walton of New Jersey offered to research Meagher, and several years later she mailed her efforts to Harper, which became the backbone of the Fred L. Meagher special, which was partially published in Alter Ego.
In 2004 William Harper bound the copies of Pow-Wow into a single volume. Looking back over the wealth of material he decided to work up a proposal for a book. There were some loose ends that needed to be gathered on personalities, so while he submitted his proposal to various publishers, he did some additional research. BearManor Media accepted the proposal.
Straight Arrow: The Definitive Radio Log and Resource Guide for that Legendary Indian Figure on the Trail of Justice, not only draws from the pages of Pow-Wow, but includes new material never published before.
The Harpers, as a team, worked as graphic designers at North Augusta Star newspaper, where they produced award winner ad designs. Their work in tandem or solo also appeared in The Spectator (Augusta), in Box-Top Bonanza, The Adventure & Mystery Series Review, Comic Buyer’s Guide and Near Mint, Bill Black’s Best of West #7, which was a western of Magazine Enterprises). Teresa as art/editor worked at The Weekend Gardener and Bill with the Tom Mix Original Art Catalogue, Alter Ego, and Tom Mix article for Under Western Skies. The Harpers have been credited in several books for their research on Straight Arrow as well as Tom Mix. Teresa was also the artist for the popular acclaimed children’s book, A Child’s Garden of Virtues, published by Dimensions for Living in Nashville in 1996.
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