“THE CRIMSON GHOST”
To this day I’m still not certain why “The Crimson Ghost” so unnerved me. Growing up, I was practically weaned on Chaney’s Wolfman, Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster and Lugosi’s marble-mouthed Count, but in truth considered them more old pals than legitimate threats to my well being. I loved horror films, the scarier the better, and never once recall experiencing nightmares over them like a lot of other kids I knew. So, why did “The Crimson Ghost” who, let’s face it, is pretty hokey looking (the late Clayton Moore once stated the most difficult thing about making the serial was keeping a straight face when he was in the same scene with the title character) with his dime store skeleton mask, cowl and bony gloves, make me, a guy who laughed at Godzilla and snickered at the Mummy, so uncomfortable? Like I said, after all these years I’ve never made sense of it anymore than why the lead witch in TUBBY comics also gave me the creeps. Go figure.
Republic’s 1946 “Crimson Ghost” deals with the pursuit of a remarkable counter-atomic device called the Cyclotrode, designed to short-circuit all electrical rays it’s brought into contact with. Naturally, for a lot of nefarious reasons, the Ghost wants to get his gloved mitts on it, but the ethical inventor, Professor Chambers, refuses to cooperate until, employing a deadly mind-controlling collar, the Ghost makes the powerless scientist his slave.
Opposing his mad scheme are ace criminologist Duncan Richards and Diana, a member of the scientific university staff which includes, unknown to all, the Crimson Ghost himself.
“The Crimson Ghost”, even more than a lot of other serials, is low on logic but very high on thrills and excitement. Perhaps, as some serial critics have suggested, by the post war period, cliffhangers were getting a bit past their prime; ideas were presented over and over again, they were overly predictable and lacking the imaginative robustness that characterized earlier productions. But I still think a handful, this one included, still delivered enough of the goods with which to have a great time.
Cast-wise, Charles Quigley is okay as the heroic Richards, although there is something a tad reserved, almost pompous about the actor that has always kept him from being among my favorite serial heroes. Linda Stirling, beautiful, elegant and as believable as anyone could be (given the material) is always a welcome addition to any chapterplay. Also on hand are dependables I. Stanford Jolley (who supplies the voice of the Ghost but actually portrays an entirely different part—confusing? Perhaps it was meant to be so.), Kenne Duncan as Prof. Chambers, Forrest Taylor, Fred Graham and, both acting and doing their usual great stunt work, the unbeatable team of Tom Steele and Dale Van Sickel.
However, my favorite character in the serial is Clayton Moore’s Ashe, the Crimson Ghost’s lead henchman. Despite his legendary association with the Lone Ranger and other heroic figures, I have to say I always found Moore to be most effective as a bad guy (he more or less repeated this role in Republic’s “Radar Men From the Moon”). He’s tough, vicious and a most worthy opponent for Richards. That famous raspy voice, while soothing and comforting when he was the Ranger, seems quite threatening and unpleasantly menacing here.
What I also enjoy about the later Republic serials, which often employ science-fiction slants, is all the scientific gadgetry the studio craftsman put together, and “The Crimson Ghost” has more than its share. This, coupled with William Witney and Fred Brannon’s spirited helmsmenship, the Lydecker miniatures and a prevailing sense of the ominous and the mysterious, which nicely compliments the Ghost’s bizarre persona, makes this cliffhanger a lot of fun, even if I think a villain as intimidating and offbeat as this one deserved a more grandiose demise (if you haven’t seen the serial, I won’t give the ending away).
“The Crimson Ghost” might not get under my skin the way he once did when I was nine, but he still has the power to entertain and amuse me. Like they say, old friends are the best.
If you watched a serial or western during the ‘40s and ‘50s, or have seen some of those serials and westerns recently, chances are very good you’ll see a very familiar face, the same familiar face seen in many of the ‘50s TV western and adventure series. Seen in over 20 serials and almost 400 westerns was veteran bad guy Kenne Duncan. There were a few notable exceptions where he was on the side of the good guys, but almost always if you saw that familiar face in a serial, western or TV series, you knew immediately there were problems and trouble ahead.
Kenne Duncan was born in 1902 and grew up in Chatham, Ontario, Canada. He was trained in the Canadian Royal School of Infantry and did some stage work before his first motion picture appearances in the late ‘20s, including a role in the silent serial “Police Reporter” (‘28 Weiss Bros.) w/Walter Miller.
Several other movies were made before his first sound serial appearance in “The Clutching Hand” (‘36), the beginning of his work in 24 serials that lasted through 1946. During the ‘43 to ‘46 period, he had a Republic term contract making appearances in many serials and westerns. He also did many of his own stunts in several of the serials and westerns he was in.
Actor Frank Coghlan worked with Kenne in “Adventures of Captain Marvel” and “was glad I could get out of any of his traps by saying, Shazam!”
Kenne continued making westerns from the late ‘40s into the middle ‘50s and, with the popularity of the new medium of television starting in 1950, he appeared on many popular TV westerns including: “Lone Ranger”, “Gene Autry”, “Cisco Kid” “Wild Bill Hickok”, “Annie Oakley”, “Sergeant Preston”. He also made some westerns in Japan in the early ‘50s and, on one trip, was photographed riding the famous white horse of Emperor Hirohito.
In the late ‘50s and ‘60s, Kenne worked in some B-films for the notorious Ed Wood Jr. and appeared in a Don Glut student film in the ‘60s with his close friend, Roy Barcroft.
Kenne passed away in 1972 and, although there are several accounts of his death, one of his life long close friends believes his death was accidental, since Kenne loved life and was looking forward to the future.
Most of us are only familiar with the characters he portrayed on screen, so the following is a glimpse of the real person. Kenne was about 5' 11", neat in his appearance, always combed his hair, dressed nice and worked out regularly at an L.A. gym. Although he never married, he dated a lot including actress Jennifer Holt frequently, although they never were engaged. Kenne had one younger brother and was very devoted to his Mother who lived in Southern California. Calling her “The Duchess,” he would call her almost every night. He was very frugal, watched his money and saved as much as he could. He was not the type to play practical jokes on his friends, but was normally a serious person. Kenne was good friends with Jack Ingram, who had one of the ranches where movies were filmed, and would frequently go out to Ingram’s ranch.
Close friend Dale Berry knew Kenne from ‘47 to ‘72 and stayed with him some in L.A. when they weren’t making road appearances together with Kenne doing his trick shooting act as Dale played his guitar and sang songs. Dale recalls many times having a “jam session” at Kenne’s apartment, with close friend Roy Barcroft coming over to play either clarinet or saxophone while Dale played guitar. Although Kenne didn’t play a musical instrument, he enjoyed the music sessions of his friends.
Roy Barcroft and Kenne also spent time riding their motorcycles together. Kenne collected guns, rifles and western items. Dale was given some of Kenne’s collection after he passed away.
Bandini was a fertilizer company in Southern California and Dale recalls Kenne kept a “Bandini List” on a memo board and put people’s names on the board when they got on his “wrong side”. Dale remembers seeing his name on the “Bandini List” along with Roy Barcroft, Ed Wood and Tom Keene at various times!
During the ‘40s, Kenne had some race horses. Dale remembers Kenne buying a new ‘46 4-door Ford woody station wagon used for touring during ‘46-‘48 and having the name of his horse stables painted on the door. During the ‘50s, Kenne also bought oil leases and made money doing this. Kenne loved all kinds of fishing, went out as frequently as he could and bought a boat which he promptly named, “Oil-Ken”. Dale recalled that for many years Kenne lived in the old Edgemont Arms Apartments in Hollywood.
Although Kenne Duncan has been gone for many years, he’s left us with many lasting character portrayals from his hundreds of serials. Chances are, when you’re watching that next serial or western, you’ll see the familiar face of Kenne Duncan! (Thanks for assistance with this article to Frank Coghlan, Jim Shoenberger and especially Kenne’s long time friend, actor and musician Dale Berry.)
Serials of Kenne DuncanBilled as: Kenne Duncan, Ken Duncan and Kenneth Duncan.
1928: “Police Reporter”
1936: “Clutching Hand”
1938: “Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars”; “Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok”; “Spider’s Web”
1939: “Buck Rogers”
1940: “Deadwood Dick”; “Green Archer”
1941: “Spider Returns”; “Adventures of Captain Marvel”; “King of the Texas Rangers”; “White Eagle”
1942: “Valley of Vanishing Men”; “Perils of Nyoka”; “Secret Code”
1943: “Daredevils of the West”; “Batman”; “Captain America”
1944: “Tiger Woman”; “Haunted Harbor”
1945: “Manhunt of Mystery Island”; “Purple Monster Strikes”
1946: “Crimson Ghost”; “Phantom Rider”
Q: For Louise Currie in “The Masked Marvel”. What was Tom Steele like to work with? I became interested in this great stuntman when I learned he was the Masked Marvel (behind the mask) but received no credit for the role.
—Jerry Zavadil, Grosse Ile, MILouise Currie: “Tom Steele was a very handsome, energetic person—so charming, so pleasant and interesting to talk with. I enjoyed his company on the set! A really nice, nice, nice man. I played a secretary who tells people what to do—I enjoyed that part of the serial! In ‘Adventures of Captain Marvel’, Tom Tyler was always rescuing me and carrying me off. (Laughs) Tom Steele, however, never did that. I didn’t have those cliffhanger hazards on ‘The Masked Marvel’. Tom Steele and I just had dialogue together, and, as a result, I didn’t get to see his stuntman prowess at work! I frankly thought all the young men favored each other (David Bacon, Rod Bacon, Richard Clarke, Bill Healy); all of them were very attractive—and they were hired because of their resemblance to one another. Therefore, you were supposed to have trouble figuring out which one was the real ‘Masked Marvel’. They were trying to mix you up. But, Tom Steele was much slimmer than David Bacon, who was supposed to be the Masked Marvel. Their physiques didn’t match at all. (Laughs) On a sad note, David Bacon was murdered just after we completed the serial. He had picked up a hitchhiker who stabbed him in the back and robbed him. The first few chapters were playing in the theaters, but he never got to see the ending. He was gone before the final chapters were sent to theaters!”