It took me a while to discover the brilliant radio drama, Tales of the Texas Rangers. I inferred from its name that it was a juvenile Western — possibly a derivative of The Lone Ranger. Even though The Lone Ranger provided my childhood introduction I have never been a fan of white hat vs. black hat shoot ’em ups. The fact that the Ranger Reid and his taciturn buddy, Tonto, are once again galloping onto the screens of multiplexes does absolutely nothing for me besides lodging Gioachino Rossini‘s William Tell Overture into my head on a loop.
Luckily for me, Tales of the Texas Rangers is almost completely unlike The Lone Ranger beyond the fact that the protagonists of both are (or were, in the Lone Ranger’s case) members of the Texas Rangers. Tales of the Texas Rangers isn’t even a Western, really, any more than Bottle Rocket, Office Space, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, or any other film that happens to be set in Texas of the present day. Tales of the Texas Rangers is actually a police procedural, having more in common with Dragnet and the similarly-technology-fetishizing CSI franchise than even radio noir adult westerns like Gunsmoke. Like Dragnet, the episodes were supposedly based on actual cases handled by the rangers from the late 1920s to the then present. Also like Dragnet, after the apprehension of the criminal, the announcer would state the outcome of the case — usually a sentence at Huntsville in place of San Quentin.
The program debuted on 8 July, 1950, on NBC. It was directed and produced by Stacy Keach, Sr, who’d initially tried to develop the idea into a film. Technical assistance was provided by retired ranger Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzuallas. Barney Phillips, Ed Begley, Frank Martin, Herb Vigran, Ken Christy, Lurene Tuttle, Parley Baer, Reed Haley, Tony Barrett, and Wilms Herbert frequently appeared in guest roles. The announcer was Hal Gibney, who began each episode by animatedly proclaiming, “Texas! More than 260,000 square miles! And fifty men who make up the most famous and oldest enforcement body in North America!”
The tone was measured and suspenseful and the detailed descriptions of crime scenes and forensics were more lurid than anything on TV at the time. Joel Murcott‘s (The Adventures of Frank Race, M Squad, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Bonanza) writing was consistently quite good and Monty Fraser‘s vivid sound effects are first rate. Of 95 episodes there are at least 92 episodes currently in circulation.
It starred Joel McCrea as Jace Pearson. South Pasadena-born McCrea was both a film actor and actual cowboy who operated three ranches and reportedly viewed acting as a hobby. In films he rode his own horse, Dollar, and chose his own wardrobe, disliking the distressed look favored by wardrobe departments.
McCrea was sometimes criticized for his supposedly limited range due to the fact that he refused not only to play villains or even less-than-perfect heroes. The only shade of gray associated with Jace Pearson was the fact that his horse was named Charcoal. He also refused to act in anything sponsored by cigarette or alcohol companies. For the first two months Tales of the Texas Rangers was sponsored by the suitably wholesome breakfast cereal, Wheaties. After that it was unsponsored.
Only a moderate commercial success, it ended its run on 14 September, 1952. From 1953 till 1959, Dell Comics ran its comic, Jace Pearson’s Tales of the Texas Rangers. The series moved to TV (and CBS) where it aired on Saturday mornings from 1955 until 1958. Predictably the TV series was firmly oriented toward a young audience and offered standard cops ‘n’ robbers thrills. Less predictably it bounced around the Rangers’ then roughly twelve decade timeline without explanation. One week Jace and company would find themselves chasing robbers in the 1950s, another week they’d be fighting Native Americans in the 19th century.
Although the TV series is probably fine for young or nostalgiac audiences, the radio program holds up for and fan of well-made procedurals. Radio dramas can be found in Amoeba‘s Spoken Word section. Click here to connect with other Tales of the Texas Rangers fans on Facebook.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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