Anitque Trader Weekly
May 1, 1996
reprinted in Radio Recall
The senior echelon of old-time radio (OTR) memorabilia collectors seem to be looking for the same things, essentially; the same premiums, prizes, programs and pop-culture artifacts the lost "Collier's Hour" episodes of Fu Manchu, earliest forms of The Shadow, the first incarnations of such comic characters as existed in the late '20s and early '30s... a sizable list. None of us have found transcriptions, for example, of the 1934 Doc Savage shows. There are scripts, signs, other proof the show existed but what happened to the programs themselves?
The king of the lost fantasies, not surprisingly, also dates from the mid-1930s. Many of us ask the same question: why are there no transcriptions from Og, Son of Fire?
Major OTR collectors from Don Maris to Jim Scancarelli, lifelong fans, have spent years looking for one recorded example of this intriguing juvenile adventure. How is it possible that a show popular enough to have been sponsored, a show that offered some of the best remembered premiums of its time, does not survive on at least one crumbling glass-based disc or acetate aircheck? The missing adventures of Og, Son of Fire have left a mysterious black hole in radio program collecting.
You may wonder what the heck is Og, Son of Fire, and why are so many collectors seeking it? If you're not into old time broadcasting, premiums, or similar pursuits, the character may not ring a bell. Like Alley Oop, Og was a prehistoric hero whose caveman shenanigans saw life in both print and broadcast form.
There was a 1930s Big Little Book (BLB) with that title, written by one Irving Crump, whom Buxton and Owen refer to as "author of the original Og stores." I hope that Mr. Owen, co-collaborator on the classic nostalgia research tome "The Big Broadcast," will read this and contact me with follow-up information as to how Buxton and Owen tracked down details of this vintage CBS show. One continues to look for Og, Son of Fire comic strips assuming there were some books, or other evidence of the stories. The BLB, naturally, followed the lines of the air show, as we believe it to be, based on surviving premiums.
How does one research these matters? One possible route would be through the archives of CBS Radio, to which Owen doubtless had full access, but another hitherto untapped source might be the show's early sponsor. Og was on the air in 1934, and (by 1935) Libby, McNeill & Libby was using the serial to sell Libby's Evaporated Milk. It would be great if some veteran hand at Libby's would be able to cast some light on these cobwebbed matters, but researching such things with contemporary companies requires deep pockets; gambler's luck, the tenacity of a loan shark, and the patience of Job. Most persons simply don't care, and sad to say that seems especially true with archivists, and some museum curators. (Anyone who has had a close encounter with the senior corporate lady at a certain Battle Creek milling company can so attest!) One supposes it's understandable, since these folks are charged with commercial matters of the moment, but suffice to say that research into a 1935 kid's radio show will leave the unprepared collector shaking. "Og? OG? What the heck is an Og? Anything like Egg Nog?"
What it is, what it was, was among the most charming, compelling, rich fabrics of fantasy woven from the ethereal thread of a man's imagination. We know this from the artifacts, and if we dim the lights, and turn on that static-prone cathedral radio we can see it with our mind's eye.
Og, Son of Fire, dressed in tiger skin top and black furry shorts, (ooh, that's gotta itch); lovely Nada in her alluringly torn lambskin cavewoman frock; Og's friend and fellow warrior Ru, always pictured with a weapon, such as a club or spear; Big Tooth, armed and dangerous, and just a step down the evolutionary scale; Three Horn, the pet dinosaur; and Rex my personal fave usually referred to as "Stalking Death" ...they first come to life on a masterpiece of a premium called the Libby Adventure Map: The Adventures of Og, Son of Fire
INFORMATION ON SERIAL
The pioneer radio research of Frank Buxton and Bill Owen provides us with some tantalizing data about the obscure serial: Alfred Brown was the actor cast as Og, Patricia Dunlap was Nada, Ru was portrayed on the air by James Andelin, and Reg Knorr played Big Tooth the archer. Jess Pugh and Karl Way were also in the cast, which included Red Beards a tribe of fierce war-like mountain-dwellers, and named characters such as Ak, Nada's father, Wab, Ab of the Cave People, Ipo, Chief of the Pygmies, Yang of the Dog People, Sud, Gar, and others.
Obviously, CBS Radio kept some record of the show in their archives, as Buxton and Owen were able to credit Herb Johnson and Louie Wehr with having provided some of the sound effects for this 1934-35 program. I phoned WCBS's Human Resources Department for more information, and spoke with several young women with accents I was able to identify as: Staten Island, Brooklyn, and I'm guessing here Bangladesh. No Bill Owen, much less, Og, however.
Why do we collectors spend so much time, money and effort pursuing tidbits about this show? Simple it was one hellacious magic carpet ride, back in its day. Listen to what we know of the serial's storyline:
The adventures of Og, whose vaguely Ice Age exploits place his clan somewhere after the dawn of the first homo erectus, begin in a primitive village at the foot of a great glacier. The first radio journey, as carefully delineated by "Cartographer Fred Boulton" on the Adventure Map, takes the clan through the Valley of Mist, beneath an active volcano, where Ak, father of Nada, dies. They survive a clash with a great wolf pack as they make their way through the mountains to a forest area, where they are captured by ferocious Tree People. They escape, only to meet Mountain-that-Walks, an enormous woolly mastodon. In the Valley of the Tree People, the bow and arrow is invented. Big Tooth will become especially proficient with this weapon. The new invention is used to kill a massive Sabre Tooth in the cave of tigers. They then enter Great Cave, where they meet Stalking Death for the first time. I believe this may be Rex, although the name appears nowhere on the Adventure Map.
Their next adventure finds them captured by Flatheads, another primitive tribe, but they escape on a log down Great River as the second radio journey gets underway. How long each journey took on the air a month or a week is unknown. But after rescuing Wab from the Flatheads, they journey down an underground river, where Big Tooth kills Thunderer. Remember that all of this was told in sound, and the CBS sound effects department, the same intrepid unit that gave listeners the Fu Manchu Mysteries in 1932, must have had a field day with this show. Imagine the impact on young ears when the sound effects engineers breathed reality into the depiction of each event.
"Big Tooth kills Thunderer on underground river" is a single line of type, but acted out, with all the grunts, groans, screams and thunderclaps, plus assorted magic supplied by the sound technicians, it translates into five minutes of high drama. When we couldn't see it on a screen, remember, we invented our own action; we brought more to the experience, therefore, and a kid's imagination was a big part of the creative process of "watching the radio."
Try to imagine how powerful such phrases as these would have been to a child of the radio era: "they are abducted by warlike Red Beards, who materialized out of the Land of Fog, and took them to an ice cave to await their fate." It must have been some show! Every exploit was pregnant with the stuff of high adventure: snowslides, wild mastodon herds and a glimpse of tantalizing insight into Og's world when they saw the Land of Fog "They thought this was the end of the world." This show has to sell beaucoup cans of evaporated milk.
Irving Crump, or whoever was involved in the structuring of the radio episodes, packed them with non-stop adventure from wall to wall. Listen to the pace of this sequence:Chased by Red Beards the clan flees into the den of a three-horned reptile, but succeed in killing their pursuers in the land of Little Horse. Sud, Gar and others are still in the Red Beards' clutches, so the Son of Fire mounts a rescue attempt, this time by raft. A huge crocodile tries to get aboard with them but they fight it off, and are carried out to sea. A giant sea serpent nearly gets them, but they're able to make it to a small island, where they find dense jungle and a great moa beach. Moving to the mainland, they save Nada from being devoured by a giant spider, and (soon after this event) Og saves Ipo, the Pygmy Chief, from a near-death experience. Stalking Tooth and the Great Rhino fight, and the rhino is killed in a pit. The last of this journey takes the clan into the Land of Fire Pits, through the Great Swamp of bird bats and thunder beasts, across a desert, up through the stronghold of the mountainous Dog People, near the perilous land of Red Beards and back down Great River to the falls, where Ru and Nada are lost.What a trip!
Libby's didn't stop there. They had Lincoln Logs, the folks who gave us those great toys back in the Golden Age, create a set of metal figures. With these we could invent our own adventures, or move them across the map as the radio serial unfolded. There were six figures, five of which Og, Nada, Big Tooth, Ru and Rex/Stalking Death, came in tubes. The rarest mailer is probably the small box that contained the three-horned dinosaur figurine.
The prize of all radio premium maps in original, mint condition: the Adventure Map from OG, Son of Fire ($1,100). In 1935, a silver coin and proof of purchase from Libby's Evaporated Milk could bring a radio listener even closer to the Unknown Land of Dragons and Red Beards, and Rex the Stalking Death!
It's doubly rare to find two perfect radio premiums from a show that didn't survive. Only a couple of the other top shows on radio issued statuettes such as Tarzan as well as a locale construction premium or map. Libby's knew its stuff when it came to the juvenile audience. Amazing that the show evaporated like the sponsor's milk.
Rare Big Little Book OG Son of Fire "based on the famous radio adventure series," reveals that Stalking Death is a giant lizard creature, not T. Rex, as posited. The Rex character, which exists as part of the Libby's premium figures, appears neither on the map nor in the BLB.
Those old enough to remember, or sufficiently young at heart to care, can look at the figures, the BLB and the map, and ponder the case of Og, who was the Son of Fire, and that unexplored piece of territory north of the Island of Boomerang Men, ("Very Savage"), marked Great Unknown Land of Dragons & Fire-Spitting Monsters, and imagine...
NOTE: This article originally appeared in the May 1, 1996 issue of ANTIQUE TRADER WEEKLY, P.O. Box 1050, Dubuque, IA 52004. It was re-printed in RADIO RECALL with the permission of Jon Brecka, Executive Editor of Antique Trader Publications.ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rex Miller has two current books available in retail stores, "St. Louis Blues", a crime novel published by Mackay & Associates in hardcover, and a horror fiction book in paperback, "Butcher", published by Pocket Books. Thanks to Jack French for a copy of this article!