Thursday, December 19, 2019


Recently, I've been enjoying collecting and reading TV tie-in novels connected to Western TV shows from the fifties and sixties. This was a golden age when Westerns dominated the small screen—one season having a record 39 Westerns on the air scattered among the the three major networks.

During this era, toys and lunch boxes associated with popular shows were common. However, tie-in novels were oddities as the commercial draw and advertising benefits were yet to be established. Shows such as Rawhide, Wagon Train, The Deputy, and Have Gun Will Travel were popular enough to justify a publisher taking a chance on an original novel tied to the show, but they were still considered nothing more than a second thought.

Most of the TV tie-ins to the Western shows of the day were original novels incorporating the characters from the associated show. However, in the case of the popular half-hour show Tales of Wells Fargo, the tie-in paperback was a collection of episodes from the show, which were novelized by Frank Gruber, a recognizable name in Western fiction, from scripts he originally created for the show. Novelizing scripts was both the fastest and cheapest way to get the stories into book form.

The strange thing about these early Western TV tie-ins was the apparent reluctance on the part of the publishers to emphasize or capitalize on their connections to the shows. Instead of sporting photos of the heroes of the shows or dramatic scenes from the shows on their covers, inferior artwork was used. These illustrations did depict the main character or characters from the shows, but in a barely recognizable manner. Cover copy might mention the connection to the TV show, but in small print. 

Sometimes the title of the actual show was used, but other times (as in the case of the three Wagon Train tie-in paperbacks) innocuous, non-specific titles were used. It was as if the publishers were hoping if a potential reader didn't like the show, they might pick up the book anyway not realizing the connection.

TV tie-ins would become more prominent in the seventies. By this time television had changed it's focus from Westerns to crime and secret agent shows. TV tie-in novels had changed as well. Garish photos from the shows were now pasted across their covers in full color. Big fonts were used to highlight the TV title, making sure potential readers didn't miss the connection to their favorite show.

By this time, tie-in novelizations and original novels connected to TV shows were recognized as a valuable part of raising a show's profile. As a result even mildly successful shows, and sometimes shows that proved to be disasters in the ratings upon airing, had tie-in novels on the spinner racks and bookstore shelves of the day.

Because of the plethora and continued demand for TV tie-in books, the interior prose was often slapdash, produced by hacks looking to make a quick buck in the work-for-hire market, where a one time immediate payment for a manuscript was paid—with no future royalties—and the copyright remaining with the publisher and not the author.

This could result in lopsided returns. One such example is Ace books tie-ins to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. A number of good pros, including solid writers like Michael Avallone and Harry Whittington, were paid a one time work for hire fee of $1,000 for their original novel efforts. However, because of the phenomenal popularity of the show,  their books went into numerous printings—selling millions of copies, in multiple languages worldwide—making a substantial fortune for the publisher, but no further income flow for the authors.

Not all of these TV tie-ins were poorly written. Authors who were reliably able to complete a tie-in manuscript under the pressure of short deadlines where journeymen scribblers—many transitioning from writing for the pulps, where the speedy production of words meant food on the table.

I recently found a copy of the F TROOP original tie-in novel The Great Indian Uprising by William Johnston—considered to be not only the king of tie-in writers, but also arguably the best. He was certainly the most prominent tie-in writer, always managing to catch the nuances of a show's characters and tone. This was certainly true of his nine original tie-ins for the spy spoof show Get Smart. The tie-in was published by Whitman in their traditional line of juvenile novels. Physically, the Whitman books were distinctive with their slightly larger size and art or photos directly printed onto the hardboard covers.

In the case of Whitman's F-Troop, the cover displays a stock publicity shot from the show featuring Sgt. O'Rourke (Forest Tucker), Corporal Argan (Larry Storch), and Captain Parmenter (Ken Berry). Most of the books published by Whitman are considered collectibles today. While nominally aimed at a youthful audience, Whitman novels were often solid stories from noted writers, which an adult reader could also enjoy, and Johnston's F-Troop tale is no exception.

Sgt O'Rourke and Corporal Agarn are not making enough money selling Indian-made trinkets through O'Rourke Enterprises. So they decide to re-negotiate their contract with the Hekawis. Meanwhile, Chief Wild Eagle and Crazy Cat have decided they too need to make more money on their souvenirs. With big bucks at stake, the disharmony increases when a general from Washington arrives at Fort Courage determined to do bloody battle against the Hekawis.

Naturally, the good natured, but goofy Captain Parmenter is stressed out trying to stop the proposed war. However, due to ordered confidentiality, he can't share his problems with his paramour Wrangler Jane. This makes him goofier than ever, and not knowing what is going on, Jane is worried Parmenter is mentally losing it. Johnston does a fantastic job of capturing not only the flavor of the show, but also the specific voices of the actors portraying each of the characters. There is not a false note anywhere, so while reading it's easy to visualize the story as a bonus F Troop episode.

Dell Comics (and later Gold Key Comics) also saw the profit potential in TV tie-ins, publishing numerous TV related tie-in comics. Some of these were only single issues while others ran for a number of issues of varying length. These too pull high prices in today's collector's market. Issues with a cover price of 12¢ can go for $40 or $50. Between 1966 and 1977, Dell published seven F-Troop comics. These were written by D. J. Arneson with art by Tony Tallarico. For whatever reason, the comics added a hyphen between F and Troop in the title of the show.

Don't Cross Your Bridges: In the main story, F-Troop is assigned to test a newly designed, pre-made bridge across the river from the Shug's hunting ground. 
The Buffalo Hunter: A buffalo hunter ruins the picture taking business of the Hekawi Indians. 

Frantic Fireworks
What Goes Up...

Off the Track: F-Troop is assigned to bring a train to a station thru hostile Indian country. The Camel Corps: F-Troop is assigned to test camels for possible reconnaissance and patrol work. The Devilish Divining Rod.

The Wind Wagon: F-Troop is assigned to test Wind Wagons, which may serve to move cavalry rapidly. They are wagons with a mast and a sail blown by the wind. The Nightmare Night March: F-Troop goes on a night march to surprise General Withers. 

The Hekawi Rent-A-Horse: The Shugs steal F-Troop's horses forcing the Calvary to rent horses from the Hekawi. 
Happy Birthday Hekawis: O'Rourke enterprises set up a carnival to honor the Hekawis. 
The Captives:The Shugs capture Agarn and O'Rourke. 

The Attack
The Salt and Peppered Mine
Survival Course

Clown Prince's Visit: Crown Crown Prince Munster visits Fort Courage. Camouflage Dodge: Fort Courage gets camouflage paint and everything turns invisible. 
Special Delivery: Carrier pigeons may be the solution to faster official communications with Fort Courage. 

For a short-lived amiable, but ultimately silly show (which would be considered horribly un-PC by today's woke generation), F-Troop generated a number of other tie-ins, including games, figurines, and several iterations of Fort Courage play sets. It also generated more than it's fair share of TV Guide covers.

Some may remember a Fort Courage tourist attraction along Route 66 in Arizona. Today, it is abandoned and dilapidated. During its heyday, however, unsuspecting visitors were not 'discouraged' from believing it was a real U.S. Army fort and the location where F-Troop was filmed. 

Visitors were also duped into thinking all of the F-Troop memorabilia sold in the mockup of Wrangler Jane's Trading Post were officially licensed. This was not true in the least. The tourist trap Fort Courage had absolutely no connection to the show. However, it's existence was a scam worthy of O'Rourke Enterprises and the Hekawis.

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