word craft


Story Behind the Story #26: Who Was That Masked Man Anyway?

Who Was That Masked Man Anyway?It will no doubt date me when I reveal that one of the key influ­ences on my writ­ing life was radio.  I am not ref­er­enc­ing music here, but radio dra­ma, in par­tic­u­lar those shows sent out over the air­waves (as they were called) to young peo­ple like me.

If I was home sick there were the soap operas such as The Guid­ing Light.  Far bet­ter were shows (start­ing at 5 PM) like Jack Arm­strong, Super­man, Sky King, In the evening, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hor­net, The Shad­ow, Sus­pense.  The com­e­dy of The Jack Ben­ny Show. There also was Edward R. Mur­row’s You Are There. These were his­tor­i­cal reen­act­ments of great moments of his­to­ry, as if report­ed by the mod­ern news­men. “Richard the Third is now rid­ing down Bosworth hill. He has been cut off from his own sol­diers. Hen­ry Tudor’s sol­diers are sur­round­ing him! Great Scott, the king … . ” Great stuff.

If you know what I’m talk­ing about, you’re prob­a­bly my age.

These dra­mas were all (to me) ter­rif­ic. It very much guid­ed me to the­atre (my first writ­ing goal) and to the exten­sive use of dia­logue in my books.

Years lat­er I was attend­ing an old movie with Dick Jack­son and his wife, Nan­cy. At some point he leaned over to me, and said, “I’d like to see you try a book with just dia­logue. I’ll give you a cou­ple of “he said, she said.”


The result was Who Was That Masked Man Any­way? my homage to those radio days. It is one hun­dred per­cent dia­logue. Not one “He said, she said.” Even the title is dialogue.

I also think it’s my fun­ni­est book.

My research was all fun, lis­ten­ing to those old shows. I was sure I could remem­ber par­tic­u­lar shows. Some of those shows are in the book.

In the orig­i­nal book there was an excerpt from a Super­man script.  The com­pa­ny that owned those rights said it could not be used. They even told me to take out one of the fun­ni­est lines in the book. In it, my hero pro­vides the rev­e­la­tion that Super­man’s female side­kick and the Shad­ow’s female side­kick must have been sisters.

If you can fig­ure out that gag, you are right there with me.

In one instance-because of the plot, I had to write a brief radio script. As I wrote it I had this thought: I missed my true writ­ing career. I should have been a writer of radio serials.

Oh, well …

2 thoughts on “Story Behind the Story #26: <em>Who Was That Masked Man Anyway?</em>”

  1. As pres­i­dent of the Long Island Radio & Tele­vi­sion HS, I play a major part in the acqui­si­tion of items for our com­ing radio & TV exhib­it room at Suf­folk Coun­ty Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege, Selden Cam­pus Col­lege, also our study library in the Sayville Library. With both we have many of the old shows on tape and CD’s. When TV gets bor­ing, I put on the Jack Ben­ny Show, Baby Snooks, The Great Gilder­sleeve, etc. Remem­ber the won­der code rings, etc. That you could send for with so many box tops from whatever?

  2. I was born after radio shows were in their hey­day but I’ve always lis­tened to record­ings every chance I get. I enjoy the smart, snap­py, sus­pense­ful, and often hilar­i­ous dia­logue the writ­ers of these shows craft­ed … so much so that I often “lis­ten” to tele­vi­sion now with­out watch­ing. With the pop­u­lar­i­ty of pod­casts and This Amer­i­can Life, I believe we’re ready for this kind of sto­ry­telling again. And Who Was That Masked Man Any­way? IS one of your fun­ni­est books.


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