Dick Purcell: the first Captain America of the movies

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Will Dockery

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Jun 15, 2011, 9:40:57 PM6/15/11
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Dick Purcell: the first Captain America of the movies

http://www.wikinfo.org/index.php/Dick_Purcell

Dick Purcell

Born August 6, 1908
Greenwich, Connecticut
Died April 10 1944 (aged 35)
Hollywood, California
Nationality American

Dick Purcell (August 6, 1908 - April 10, 1944) was an American actor
best known for playing Marvel Comics' Captain America in the 1943 film
serial, co-starring with Lorna Gray and Lionel Atwill.[1] Purcell also
appeared in films such as Tough Kid (1938), Heroes In Blue (1939),
Irish Luck (1939) and King Of The Zombies (1941).

Purcell was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, an only child, full name
Richard Gerald Purcell, Jr., a Roman Catholic, he attended Catholic
grade school and high school, before enrolling as a student at Fordham
University in The Bronx in New York City.

Theatre and Early Film Work
While in New York City, Dick Purcell began his acting career in
theatre, appearing in at least three plays: Men in White, Sailor,
Beware! and Paths of Glory. During his time acting in Paths of Glory,
a talent scout spooted Purcell and this led to a small role in the
film Ceiling Zero (1936). His next film was Man Hunt in which Purcell
had a larger role as a newspaper reporter. Amazingly, Purcell appeared
in eleven films in 1936 alone.

[edit] Captain America
Captain America (1944) is a Republic serial film based (loosely) on
the comic book character Captain America. It was the last Republic
serial made about a superhero. It also has the distinction of being
the most expensive serial that Republic ever made.

The serial sees Captain America, really District Attorney Grant
Gardner, trying to thwart the plans of The Scarab, really museum
curator Dr. Cyrus Maldor - especially regarding his attempts to
acquire the "Dynamic Vibrator" and "Electronic Firebolt", devices that
could be used as super-weapons.

Dick Purcell won the role as District Attorney Grant Gardner and
Captain America. Purcell was cast as the hero despite supposedly
appearing a bit overweight and average.]].[2]

Tragically, the role that made Dick Purcell famous turned out to be
his last, and in fact he died before the film serial was released, to
enormous success: Captain America. The strain of filming Captain
America had been too much for his heart and he collapsed in the locker
room at a Los Angeles country club on the 10th of April 1944, shortly
after playing a round of golf, Purcell died a few weeks after filming
was completed.

The Captain America serial is said to have been "...the hugely popular
15 chapter Saturday matinee serial", and better made than other
superhero films of that time period.

The old movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s have been likened to
television limited series of modern times, in that weekly chapters
would appear, thus elevating the actors in these films to a highly
iconic level among audiences, although they were overshadowed by so-
called A-List performers. There were a total of 15 episodes in the
Captain America serial, which meant that the film and story stretched
across the entire summer:

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http://youtu.be/ZGUZmzvqRP4

Ray Faiola

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Jun 16, 2011, 8:40:30 AM6/16/11
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And, of course, he was Mackley Q. Green, a man very much beset by
trouble in THE BANK DICK. On location in Lompoc filming a one-reel
bupke!

Madara0806

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Jun 16, 2011, 11:12:50 AM6/16/11
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He shares my birthday. He was upstaged by Mantan Moreland (everybody
was!) in KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941).

Will Dockery

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Jun 16, 2011, 12:18:07 PM6/16/11
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Sounds like some memorable performances, I haven't seen either of
these films.

Tim Turnip

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Jun 16, 2011, 1:03:39 PM6/16/11
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Thanks for the bio, Will. It's a shame Purcell didn't live long
enough to even enjoy the relatively meager successes of the Captain
America serial. I've always kind of wished for a comics story which
somehow introduced Grant Gardner into MU continuity as an alternate
Cap (oddly, as you mention, he was a D.A. in his civilian identity)
but there's probably enough alt-Caps running around at the moment.

Pjk

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Jun 16, 2011, 1:32:33 PM6/16/11
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> >across the entire summer:- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -

Wasn't that Dick Purcell singing in an Irish brogue in She Wore a
Yellow Ribbon?

Pjk

Madara0806

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Jun 16, 2011, 2:02:06 PM6/16/11
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No, he was dead by then. Dick Foran sang an Irish song in FORT APACHE.

Darci

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Jun 16, 2011, 2:29:45 PM6/16/11
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There's also the story that the script was originally created for Mr.
Scarlet (District Attorney Brian Butler) and was re-purposed for
Captain America.

Perhaps we'll see Grant Gardner again, since Simon & Kirby seem to be
regaining the rights to Steve Rogers?
Thanks,
Darci

Will Dockery

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Jun 17, 2011, 10:24:38 PM6/17/11
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Google losing posts again, are they?

On Jun 16, 1:03 pm, Tim Turnip <timtur...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Thanks for the bio, Will. It's a shame Purcell didn't live long
> enough to even enjoy the relatively meager successes of the Captain
> America serial.

Yes, it really is, since some items I've read on Captain America seem
to suggest the serial as really very popular that summer, which no
doubt would have gave Purcell some measure of fame, although not on
the level of maybe Adam West or George Reeves... just as it had to
have spike the sales of the comics.

I'm still looking around for details of that type, but the fact that
Purcell was already dead had to limit just how far things might have
gone, as the kids caught on to him as an actor...

I've always kind of wished for a comics story which
> somehow introduced Grant Gardner into MU continuity as an alternate
> Cap (oddly, as you mention, he was a D.A. in his civilian identity)
> but there's probably enough alt-Caps running around at the moment.

That would be interesting, although I've read Marvel has dealt with
the serial as an actual serial in the MU, it would be interesting to
see Grant Gardner's CA involved on another level.

> On Wed, 15 Jun 2011 18:40:57 -0700 (PDT), Will Dockery<will.dock...@gmail.com> wrote:

--
New Will Dockery poem set to music by Brian Fowler & Brian David
Vaughan for T.O.T.M. (Theatre of the Mind)...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGUZmzvqRP4

Will Dockery

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Jun 17, 2011, 9:59:47 PM6/17/11
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On Jun 16, 1:03 pm, Tim Turnip <timtur...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Thanks for the bio, Will.  It's a shame Purcell didn't live long
> enough to even enjoy the relatively meager successes of the Captain
> America serial.

Yes, it really is, since some items I've read on Captain America seem


to suggest the serial as really very popular that summer, which no
doubt would have gave Purcell some measure of fame, although not on
the level of maybe Adam West or George Reeves... just as it had to
have spike the sales of the comics.

I'm still looking around for details of that type, but the fact that
Purcell was already dead had to limit just how far things might have
gone, as the kids caught on to him as an actor...

 I've always kind of wished for a comics story which


> somehow introduced Grant Gardner into MU continuity as an alternate
> Cap (oddly, as you mention, he was a D.A. in his civilian identity)
> but there's probably enough alt-Caps running around at the moment.

That would be interesting, although I've read Marvel has dealt with


the serial as an actual serial in the MU, it would be interesting to
see Grant Gardner's CA involved on another level.

--

Will Dockery

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Jun 19, 2011, 6:22:35 AM6/19/11
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Wow, that's an interesting possibility.

Bill Steele

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Jun 20, 2011, 1:41:08 PM6/20/11
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> > There's also the story that the script was originally created for Mr.
> > Scarlet (District Attorney Brian Butler) and was re-purposed for
> > Captain America.

That's weird. I wouldn't think Mr. Scarlet was an A-list character that
a studio would want to pick up.

Anim8rFSK

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Jun 20, 2011, 4:20:25 PM6/20/11
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In article <ws21-544568.1...@newsstand.cit.cornell.edu>,
Bill Steele <ws...@cornell.edu> wrote:

Well, the Cap script was apparently based on something else since it
didn't have squat to do with Captain America. He's not Steve Rogers,
but he's not Brian Butler either. He *is* a DA but his name is Grant
Gardner. You'd think if you had a Brian Butler script and changed the
character name you'd change it to the right name, but then I've worked
with plenty of screenwriters more lazy and less competent than that.

--
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Shego on "Shat My Dad Says"

Bill Steele

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Jun 21, 2011, 2:37:11 PM6/21/11
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In article <ANIM8Rfsk-B4DED...@news.easynews.com>,
Anim8rFSK <ANIM...@cox.net> wrote:

Perhaps The Whisperer. He was the police commissioner in disguise. (For
the children here, The Whisperer was a pulp magazine character, sort of
second-string to The Shadow.)

Will Dockery

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Jun 21, 2011, 4:56:08 PM6/21/11
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On Jun 21, 2:37 pm, Bill Steele <w...@cornell.edu> wrote:
>  Anim8rFSK <ANIM8R...@cox.net> wrote:

> >  Bill Steele <w...@cornell.edu> wrote:
>
> > > > > There's also the story that the script was originally created for Mr.
> > > > > Scarlet (District Attorney Brian Butler) and was re-purposed for
> > > > > Captain America.
>
> > > That's weird. I wouldn't think Mr. Scarlet was an A-list character that
> > > a studio would want to pick up.
>
> > Well, the Cap script was apparently based on something else since it
> > didn't have squat to do with Captain America.  He's not Steve Rogers,
> > but he's not Brian Butler either.  He *is* a DA but his name is Grant
> > Gardner.  You'd think if you had a Brian Butler script and changed the
> > character name you'd change it to the right name, but then I've worked
> > with plenty of screenwriters more lazy and less competent than that.
>
> Perhaps The Whisperer. He was the police commissioner in disguise. (For
> the children here, The Whisperer was a pulp magazine character, sort of
> second-string to The Shadow.)

You may have already seen this, but the Wiki gives some reasons why
Mr. Scarlet might have been the character the script was first written
for:

http://www.wikinfo.org/index.php/Captain_America_(serial)

The reason for the differences appears to be not that Republic
arbitrarily "changed" the character, but that the script for the
serial was originally prepared to feature an entirely different
licensed lead character to begin with who it was later decided would
be replaced by another. So it appears it was actually this original
character, not Captain America, who was the one that was "changed" by
Republic into someone else.

Film historians Jim Harmon and Don Glut speculated that the script was
originally written as a sequel to 1940's Mysterious Doctor Satan,
which featured the masked hero The Copperhead.[cn] This character was
himself a substitution for DC's Superman, after Republic's bid for
that character's film rights lost to Paramount, who had a series of
cartoon shorts made by the Fleischer Studios. This idea, however, is
highly questionable considering that Republic owned the Copperhead
character and could have done as they pleased with him without any
licensing issues.[5]

Based on the facts that Republic had adapted other Fawcett Comics
characters (Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher), that the lead is a crime-
fighting district attorney, aided by his female secretary who knows
his identity, and that the serial includes a chapter entitled "The
Scarlet Shroud" in which nothing scarlet appears, film restoration
director Eric Stedman has stated that it seems more likely that the
script was originally developed to feature Fawcett's comic book hero
Mr. Scarlet, secretly D.A. Brian Butler, whose comic book appearances
had proved unpopular and who had actually disappeared from comic book
covers and been relegated to being a backup feature between the time
the serial was planned and the final film produced.[cn]

Writer Raymond William Stedman believes that the differences between
the comic-book and film versions of Captain America were "for the
better" as, for example, the hero did not have to sneak out of an army
base every time he needed to change identities.

Will Dockery

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Jun 22, 2011, 8:40:58 AM6/22/11
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An interesting thing I noticed that the 1940s Captain America of the
movies has with the new one of this summer, and I think, the 1970s one
with the motorcycle helmet, is that the little wings on his temples
are again missing... they seem painted on from the art I've seen in
the toy section of Wal-Mart, but... weird, no wings again.

Bill Steele

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Jun 22, 2011, 1:12:01 PM6/22/11
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In article
<9f48f362-c74b-4641...@fr19g2000vbb.googlegroups.com>,
Will Dockery <will.d...@gmail.com> wrote:

And for the worse in that he lost his supersoldier abilities and had no
reason to call himself Captain America.

The above makes sense though, if Mr. Scarlet was a cover character at
the time they started (He got bumped back by Mary Marvel). For that
matter, I don't think Spy Smasher was ever a front cover guy.

I wish they'd stuck with the Copperhead. Some of his stunts were
amazing. (Probably David Sharpe?)

Will Dockery

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Jun 23, 2011, 5:09:30 AM6/23/11
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On Jun 22, 1:12 pm, Bill Steele <w...@cornell.edu> wrote:
> In article
> <9f48f362-c74b-4641-82e3-c46490b41...@fr19g2000vbb.googlegroups.com>,

And the fact that the studio seemed to favor Fawcett characters.

Will Dockery

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Jul 19, 2011, 6:00:25 AM7/19/11
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Excellent review about what was /right/ about the first film
incarnation of Cap:

http://blogs.indiewire.com/spout/archives/2011/07/18/captain_america_serial/

"...Taking the Super-Serum out of the Captain and dropping him into a
District Attorney’s finely pressed suit turns out to be a fantastic
decision. Sure, it’s occasionally a little bit odd when a dude in
striped spandex suddenly shows up in a classic crime serial style
heist, yet somehow that makes it even more compelling. Grant Gardner
gets his strength from being a determined, strong guy who knows how to
punch and use a gun [...] It’s also pleasantly escapist, which closer
reproduction of the comic books might not have been able to achieve. A
year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor “Captain America” sold like
mad with a cover image of the hero punching Adolf Hitler right in the
jaw. In 1944, with real Americans off in Europe fighting real Nazis
and the country three years into its wartime ordeal, sending the
Captain after the SS might not have served as light entertainment.
Wily mad scientists building a “dynamic vibrator” or an “electronic
firebolt” are more fun for the home front audience, and this serial
delivered..."

Will Dockery

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May 25, 2020, 6:56:39 PM5/25/20
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"I still think this is still one of the great serials. The action is non-stop and the stunt players put everything they have into the many, many fight scenes..."

http://marvelsilverage.blogspot.com/2016/01/captain-america-cartoon-star-of-small.html
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