Friday, June 3, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 6

The Day I Met George Trendle
       In my orange shirt and burnt-brown tie. Wore it all day. Not so fresh
       Sometime in the latter part of June 1970 I decided to interview George W. Trendel, co-creator of THE LONE RANGER, THE GREEN HORNET, and SGT. PRESTON OF THE YUKON.
       Appointment made for just after school, Grand River bus carrying me to that specific destination.
       Interview for school paper story.
Orange shirt and brown tie.
Hot day, muggy
       Bus ride.
Final destination.
       Grand Circus Park is where the city of Detroit converges. The major streets of the city, Jefferson, Woodward, Grand River, and others all spring from that hub. It was a place in downtown that had ornate statuary and a fountain in the center, though I never saw it flowing.  One of the jewels of the city, and pretty impressive to a kid who lived in a neighborhood where a two-story buildings was an impressive structure. Where movie-houses and churches were the only buildings that had that beat.
       Grand Circus Park was at the base of a ring a real skyscrapers. No foolin': our very own super-structures. Sudden towers concentrated within a one-mile radius. That could be seen well beyond the city limits down Grand River if you were looking straight down
Side note, Detroit is the flattest city west of the Mississippi, and skateboard action was very hard to find there. You could stand on the corner of Grand River, and Braile Street and get a clear bead into the city, from miles away. Not a bump.  At sunset it had that "Emerald City" in amber quality about it. God knew when I'd ever get to New York City, so for the time being Detroit was my Metropolis.
       The United Artist's Theater was a movie palace that ran high-class limited engagements, and I never got to go there. Always had a higher ticket price, but a cool place for the extra scheckles.
        I'd been downtown on several occasions doing everything from comics hunting, to movie going, to shoplifting sprees, but today it was something different. Today I had BUSINESS downtown, with a capital "B", on the bus, to the end of the line, in a tie no less. My tape recorder was in a bag so I wouldn't get it ripped off by the numerous thug-types around the city, I imagined. My written questions covered it all but as my first face-to-face interview I was concerned by the 3-D aspect of the Q&A. At a pint-sized 4’8 I was always an easy target. Little white kid. 1970 was still pretty close to the year of the riots. Not so worried by the interview, more worried by my White-faced reception downtown and my pit stink. I knew I’d get a lot of hard looks from a lot of Black men. Downtown was scary, and yet, a Mecca.
       As I passed under the United Artist's Marquee, I noted that the current film MANDINGO 3, was a far cry from the glory days the palace had once enjoyed.
       No movies today.  No, today I was a man with a JOB to do: a mission. Today I was going to interview George W. Trendell, Father of three icons.
       I was an aspiring researcher under two of the best: Dr. Jerry Bails and Jim Steranko. In one of my occasional phone conversations with Jim, the topic of THE LONE RANGER came up. Jim asked if I knew anything about George Trendle. I checked the phone book and came up cold. Out of nowhere, a week or two later, a school friend Judy Grasser, grandniece of the guy who played THE GREEN HORNET on the radio remarked that Green Hornet Inc. was still in business and still being run by Trendle himself. I don't remember how she knew but after school I looked up the number and dialed it, double quick. On arrival, I introduced myself to the receptionist and offered my high school newspaper/would-be comic historian-in-the-works credentials. She informed me that Trendle would be out of town for two weeks (mysterious) but she would give him my request when he returned. And she kept her word. Two weeks later she confirmed my appointment to interview the great-in-my-mind George W. Trendle.
       I read-up on THE LONE RANGER and TONTO and got a great deal of material from a paperback book THE GREAT RADIO HEROES which featured bios of radio characters, this book was good for THE GREEN HORNET, too.
       Had an Richard Amsel cover.      
       Finally there, through jeers from Black men, revolving doors announced that you had arrived at someplace special. Downtown stuff, for sure. Big buildings, like New York City.  I checked the register on the marble (impressive) wall to confirm the floor and was pleased to see my number come up “16.” My first register check passed, I enthusiastically moved toward my first business elevator, passed with expectation: a ride to a sixteenth floor. I'd been upstairs in Hudson’s, and some of the other bigger buildings, but “16” fercrissakes!
       How cool can you be when your pits stink and you know it, on a elevator?
       As I moved down the air-conditioned hallway it cooled the light sweat on my brow but not the underarm sweat I’d endured all day long. Popped my shirt numerous times to get the stink out but to no avail. It did little for my collar and pits, I was afraid that I might offend.
Back up sixty seconds.
The elevator bank was just ahead.  I moved near an elevator operator looked out for last-call and I hustled to make it. He closed the gate, actually closed the “gate” (That’s SO New York, or was) and we headed up. It took a deliciously long time, made several delightful stops, and was a memorable first high rise excursion.
       I got out on 16, lugging my portfolio and recorder in rarified air. This was as high as I’d been in my life and it was a glimpse of things  to come. I tried to look business-like, tried to air myself out in the air conditioning, and began to scout numbers. The doors to the offices were made of GLASS: the kind that the Three Stooges were always breaking. Each had ID numbers and some type of sign in gold leaf. I got a kick out of seeing GREEN HORNET, INC. painted and gilded on the door as I found my target. Superhero offices were pretty rare but what came next was unique in my experience.
       It was the Twilight Zone episode you never saw.
       I had been prepared to delve into the past. I was not prepared for a trip back in time. Nobody was in the room as I stepped in.
Stepped back.
       The reception room was about twelve feet square and about thirty-five years out of step with time. The entire contents of the room looked as though they'd been purchased yesterday, if yesterday happened to be 1935. A wooden rail with a swinging gate subdivided the room into about four feet of waiting area, and the balance for a small office. The waiting area was comprised of a vintage couch, dark wood detail work, and two bookcases filled with LONE RANGERS, GREEN HORNET, and SGT. PRESTON items. Unread copies of all of the of the Big Little Books:  Bound volumes of LONE RANGER COMICS; Pulps; Premiums; oil paintings of the heroes on the walls, and related brick-a-brack.  Two oriental maroon rugs covered portions of the polished wooden-slat floors. The phone on the receptionist’s desk had a cloth cord. Some kind of intercom system that I'd only seen in old movies.
       I had stepped onto a movie set, or I had stepped back in time. Nothing had changed in that room, seemingly, since 1935! Adding to the eerie effect was the lack of human presence. Nobody to confirm that I hadn't slipped into an ancient dream.
       Shortly, the also ancient receptionist arrived through a door, as old as the furniture, and soon after, I was ushered into the great man’s office.
Same as it other was, his office had fallen from some Great Depression black hole. Frozen in pre-historic ice. We shook hands and I sat before his great oak desk. I tried to collect myself, pulling paper questions and a tape recorder from my bag.
       “No tape-recorders!” he demanded, and who was I to say “No?”
       “The only time my voice is recorded is in memos to my secretary.”
       The frumpy, older woman who showed me in.
       And he actually showed me a cylinder-recording device from some Stone Age. I’d seen ‘em in the movies but less like on TV, and yet like the hand-lettered glass doors out front, I’d never seen ‘em in person. He even showed me a wax blank.
       “See, I put this into the machine, flip a switch, and it records my voice, through this speaker-phone.”
        Relegated to pencil and paper, which I probably borrowed from Mr. Trendel, I did my best to keep up, asking him the same questions he’d been asked for decades. The same pat answers. “Nothing to look at here, move along.
         I knew that my first interview had failed when an uncomfortable silence fell across the time-capsule. “Here, look.” He picked-up the uncomfortable ball, “Look at these paintings.”
The room was encircled by huge LONE RANGER Pulp cover paintings in great frames. I’d been impressed by them as I entered, but had other matters at hand.  George was cutting me a break and giving me a hand.
       Now, mind you, the day had been hot, I’d sweated a lot, and I stank in my orange shirt. Even I knew it.
       And every time he showed me a painting and explained it, stinking-and-knew–it, humiliated, I moved away to the next one, keeping a distance.
       Well, the creator of the LONE RANGER looked quizzical, so he didn’t smell my stink yet.
       And I kept my distance until it was time to go. George W. Trendel was used to a close, hearty hand-shake, and the best I could do, at the end, was a warm arms-length goodbye.
       Sweating, stinking, I left.
       First interview, slightly humiliated.
       Still, a pretty cool story.

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