Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gang Busters

The American idiom "came on like gang busters" supposedly comes to us from a 1930s CBS radio serial. To quote
To come on like gangbusters (c.1940) is from radio drama "Gangbusters" (1937-57) which always opened with a cacophony of sirens, screams, shots, and jarring music.
Gang Busters was a radio serial aimed at teens. It claimed to be "the only national program that brings you authentic police case histories." It premiered originally under the name " G-Men" and was sponsored by Chevrolet. The title was changed to Gang Busters January 15, 1936, the show had a 21-year run through November 20, 1957 Wednesday nights. The new sponsor was Palmolive Soap. has a few dozen of their programs here free.

The program debuted in 1935. It's writers worked with the FBI so that they could use case files as script material. All scripts based directly from actual police records and had to be approved by the Bureau first. As much as that sounds like hype, it has some basis in fact. Show #287 is based on the case of James Otis Meredith and John Couch, a couple of young Missouri ex-cons who went on a burglary spree in 1938. Gang Busters used the real-life story line November 13, 1942.

Following every episode the program listed off recent reports reports of wanted criminals and suspects, received from the police and the FBI. Kind of like John Walsh today. By 1942 at least 277 criminals were caught because of tips that came from the programs listeners.

It's creator, Phillips Haynes Lord was a script writer, radio voice actor and screen performer. He debuted in 1929, on the NBC program "Seth Parker's Singing School" which he also wrote. His Seth Parker Character was syndicated and rolled over into books, a few gospel records, and several different radio programs. Mr. Lord learned how to syndicate, and synergize. He switched form wholesome religious programming to action very suddenly and never went back.

The program was so popular it was reinterpreted for every other media imaginable. In 1942 Universal movie serial based on the radio series. Then in the 1950s it made the jump to television with a serial produced by Universal. DC Comics ran a Gang Busters series that lasted for 67 issues.