One of the best remembered Serial Heroines, Joan Barclay, born Mary Joan Elizabeth Greear, (Sullivan was her third and last married name) was born August 31, 1914, in Minneapolis, MN. The gorgeous green-eyed beauty came to California with her mother when she was 10. A script girl friend of her mother’s was Joan’s entrance into pictures when she was 12; “The Gaucho” with Douglas Fairbanks in 1927. At this time she used the name Geraine Greear. By the time she was 16 she was well established as a model, including the cover of COSMOPOLITAN and a 24 sheet Budweiser Beer billboard.
Her two serials were for Sam Katzman’s Victory Pictures, “Shadow of Chinatown” (‘36) as a newspaper reporter investigating strange happenings in Chinatown and “Blake of Scotland Yard” (‘37) as Blake’s niece, Hope Mason. She also co-starred in dozens of B-westerns opposite Bob Steele, Rex Bell, Tom Tyler, Tim McCoy, Tim Holt and others.
Of Katzman, Joan told me for our book WESTERNS WOMEN, “He was a very nice man. He had a wife that…somebody called her a bitch on wheels…she had red hair and an awful temper, but she was nice to me. I did a lot of little pictures with Sam. I went on a couple of trips with the Katzmans; down to Caliente with them. Somebody got kind of fresh with me, so I told the little bitch on wheels. She said, ‘Well, you should expect that.’ So I got out, got on a bus and went home.”
“Shadow of Chinatown” (‘37) gave another B-western heroine, Luana Walters, a chance to be evil, portraying Eurasian Sonya Rokoff. Joan remembered Luana as, “…quite attractive, but aggressive.”
Joan died at 88 November 22, 2002, in Palm Desert, CA.
“High atop one of the hills that ring the teaming metropolis of Gotham City,” intones narrator Knox Manning, “a large house rears its bulk against the dark sky. Outwardly, there’s nothing to distinguish this house from any other. But deep in the cavernous basement, in a chamber hewn from the living rock of the mountain, is the strange dimly-lighted mysterious secret Bat-Cave, hidden headquarters of America’s number-one crimefighter, Batman! Yes, Batman, clad in the somber costume which has struck terror into the heart of many a swaggering denizen of the underworld; who even now is pondering a new assault against the forces of crime, a crushing blow against evil in which he will have the valuable aid of his young two-fisted assistant, Robin, the Boy Wonder. They represent American youth who love their country and are glad to fight for it. Wherever crime raises its ugly head, to strike with the venom of a maddened rattlesnake, Batman and Robin strike also! And in this very hour, when Axis criminals are spreading their evil over the world, even within our own land, Batman and Robin stand ready to fight them to the death!”
“The Batman” was Columbia’s first true comic book serial adaptation in 1943, after being created for DC’s DETECTIVE COMICS in 1939. Certainly, Columbia had previously brought pulp (The Spider), comic strip (Mandrake, Terry and the Pirates) and radio (The Shadow, Captain Midnight) heroes to the serial screen, but this was their first of many comic book characters. (Republic had beaten them to the punch with three Fawcett characters—Captain Marvel in ‘41, Nyoka in ‘41 and ‘42 and Spy Smasher in ‘42.)
As the mysterious Batman, and as his alter ego, playboy fop Bruce Wayne, Lewis Wilson does a credible job. Columbia’s notoriously low budgets worked against Wilson in a costume that could have been a bit more tailored. Wilson came to Hollywood in ‘43 from the New York stage as a young Columbia contract player. According to Frank Hunt, a longtime friend of Wilson, “Lew had read the comics. In fact, he was interested in cartooning as a young man. He enjoyed working on the serial but felt the production was greatly underfunded.”
Wilson made a few other films at Columbia before being drafted into the Army for WWII. He served in Europe and in the front lines at the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he failed to re-ignite his career and returned to the East Coast for stage work. Eventually, he came back West and was second billed in the low-budget Adrian Weiss produced ‘52 TV series, “Craig Kennedy, Criminologist” starring Donald Woods. Often reported dead over the years, Wilson actually didn’t die until age 80, on August 9, 2000, in San Francisco of an aneurysm. Wilson’s son, Michael G. Wilson, co-wrote five James Bond pictures, was exec producer on three and co-producer on another. “Batman” was Lewis Wilson’s only serial.
Robin, the Boy Wonder, with too much curly hair was played by Douglas Croft, then 16, having been born Douglas Wheatcroft August 12, 1926, in Seattle, WA. He came to film as a teenager in ‘41, catching plum roles as a young James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (‘42) and a young Gary Cooper in “Pride of the Yankees” (‘42). After “Batman” his career went nowhere and by ‘47 he vanished. Croft died October 24, 1963, in Los Angeles.
Canadian born Shirley Patterson played Bruce’s girlfriend, Linda. “In one chapter,” Shirley once told me, “I had to wear a glass helmet on my head which gave off sparks. It made me sick to my stomach. I don’t know what they shot into that helmet…it might have looked effective on screen, but it made me quite ill.” Born in Winnipeg December 26, 1922, her druggist father moved his family to Los Angeles when she was three. After winning a Miss California pageant, Max Arno, head of casting at Columbia, signed her to a contract. Shirley made several westerns, at Columbia and later PRC with Eddie Dean, before leaving to get married. Later, when her son was five, she returned to the screen under the name Shawn Smith. The beautiful actress died of cancer April 4, 1995.
J. (for Joseph) Carroll Naish, born January 21, 1900, in New York City, the great-great-great grandson of a Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was an actor of many nationalities, actually coming from Irish heritage. In “Batman”, Naish portrays the evil, traitorous Japanese spy Dr. Tito Daka to the hilt. Naish enlisted in the Navy during WWI. After the war, he roamed around Europe, acquiring a knowledge of several languages and accents which afforded him well when he came to Broadway in ‘26 and later Hollywood in ‘30. He starred as Dr. Daka the same year as he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor in Bogart’s “Sahara” (‘43). In “Batman” he isn’t just Japanese, he is the stereotyped epitome of “a sinister, shifty-eyed Jap” (as stated in Ch. 1), our sworn enemies at the time the serial was released.
Columbia let us know the Japanese were Axis criminals, hurling dozens of racial epithets throughout the action packed 15 chapters. Incidentally, when acquiring this terrific piece of serial history for your video library, do not buy the pre-record by Sony, a Japanese corporation. Fearful of stirring racial offense, Sony severely edited the serial, removing all racist epithets, but, in so doing, changed filmic history. “Batman” deserves to be viewed in the wartime context in which it was made, understanding as we do, this is the way it was then.