It has been several months—nearly a year, actually—since we last tuned in to The Adventures of Superman. So here I am, on this chilly January day, cappuccino by my side, to bring us up to speed before digging into the continuation of “Donelli’s Protection Racket.”
The story so far
Episode 1 of “Donelli’s Protection Racket” marks the debut of Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen, the Daily Planet‘s 14-year-old copy boy. Jimmy confides in Clark Kent that his mother’s candy store is being shaken down by local racketeer, Chip1 Donelli, for protection money. After hiding in the store when Donelli’s collector, Spike, arrives (and getting a punch on the jaw for his pains), Clark changes to Superman and follows Spike back to Donelli’s hideout. Superman beats Donelli until he hands over all the protection money the Olsens have paid, then leaves.
In retaliation, Spike and another goon ambush the Olsens in a dark street after they close the store and go home. Superman arrives just in time to rescue them, As Clark, he promises to expose Donelli in the newspaper, and calls Lois Lane to sit with Mrs. Olsen, who passed out during the attack. After he leaves, Donelli calls the house posing as Clark, luring Lois and Jimmy out of the house . . .
Episode 29: Donelli’s Protection Racket, Part 3 (1940/04/19)
Clark informs editor Perry White what is going on, and White heartily approves of his exposé on Donelli’s extortion racket. Amusingly, he launches into a rather jingoistic tirade about how people like Donelli don’t deserve to live in a democracy, and are more deserving of life under a dictator with concentration camps. You can almost hear “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” playing in the background if you listen closely enough. (Historically, of course, World War II had then been raging for nearly 8 months, and although the United States would not get directly involved in combat for another year and a half, clearly the scriptwriters had some strong opinions about Hitler and friends.)
Just then, Jimmy rushes in and reports that Lois Lane has been captured by Donelli’s men, though he didn’t fall for the ruse and escaped. Clark quickly makes himself scarce, and jumping out of a handy window (yay!), streaks away to Donelli’s house to try and rescue Lois. In Donelli’s office, he grabs an unfortunate goon and tries to beat Donelli’s location out of him, but before he talks, the goon dives out a third-story window to his demise. Noticng a crowd gathering, Superman escapes out the back.
One of these days, I’m going to throw together a sort of damage tote board for Superman: running up his body count, number of crimes he commits, and so forth. When you were raised on the Silver Age or later incarnation of the character, it’s quite surprising to hear these old programs and realize that Supe wasn’t always the Big Blue Boy Scout. And, it bears repeating: This is a kids’ program, too.
Clark reports back to Perry White that Lois wasn’t at Donelli’s hideout. “How do you know?” demands White? “I, uh, just have a hunch,” Clark backtracks. Perry wants to notify the police, but Clark talks him out of it in case something bad happens to Lois. Why is it, again, that no one manages to catch on that Clark Kent is really Superman? Although later characterizations portray him as a super-genius, here he just doesn’t seem all that swift. He’s been on earth for all of two months (in radio time), during which he’s obviously managed to get a job and forge an identity for himself, but he still can’t lie too convincingly. (Kids’ program, kids’ program.) Fortunately for Clark’s alibi, the phone rings. It’s Chip Donelli calling for Clark: “Is this Clark Kent of the Daily Planet?” he asks. “No, this is Clark Kent of the Gotham Gazette. You must have dialed the wrong newspaper,” Clark doesn’t answer. Superman is surrounded by morons. That must be how he gets away with such a transparent disguise.
Donelli threatens harm to Lois if anything about him gets printed in the paper, then hangs up. White, eavesdropping on another phone, has traced the call to a drugstore in the town of Little Falls. Clark makes a move to leave, but White and Jimmy both insist on going as well, thus putting the kibosh on any immediate Super-escapades.
At midnight, in a forest cabin outside Little Falls, Donelli and Spike wonder what’s happened to someone named Tony, who should have been with them by then. I guess Tony is the goon who took the swan dive into Donelli’s driveway. “Maybe he had a flat,” suggests Spike. Ha ha, macabre dramatic irony! They have Lois tied up in a back room, but Spike unwisely left a briefcase full of incriminating paperwork in the room with her. They discover that Lois has managed to escape out a window, and taken the briefcase with her. Spike accidentally knocks over a kerosene lantern, setting the cabin and the woods on fire.
Will Lois survive the fire with the incriminating briefcase?
Can Clark, Jimmy, and Perry White get to her in time?
Will we ever hear from Lois, or will she be in the third person for the entire serial?
The answers to these questions, and more, coming soon!
Episode 30: Donelli’s Protection Racket, Part 4 (1940/04/22)
While their cabin and the surrounding woods burn, Donelli and Spike escape in their car. To make sure no one can put out the fire, which will destroy all the evidence of their crimes, Donelli has blocked the road with a large tree, booby-trapped with explosives. Then they are stopped by a tire blowout. At that moment, Perry White pulls up in his car (with Jimmy and Clark along for the ride) and asks directions to Little Falls. Donelli, recognizing Clark, decides to head back to Little Falls hoping to “knock off” the whole lot of them.
White and company pull up at a gas station to ask further directions, and the curmudgeonly attendant is able to give them the exact location of Donelli’s cabin, inform them that the road is blocked, and confirm that Lois was with them (though they apparently left her behind at the cabin. Clark decides to walk to the cabin and rescue Lois, while White drives off to the nearest phone to call the police, and Jimmy stays at the gas station to watch the road in case Donelli and Spike come back. Clark instructs the gas curmudgeon to fire his gun into the air if Donelli’s car comes back.
Clark changes to Superman and flies to Donelli’s roadblock—a three-foot-diameter, 70-foot-long tree. Trying to throw it clear, he accidentally triggers Donelli’s booby trap (which, fortuitously, throws the tree clear of the road).
As three gunshots boom out, Perry White pulls up in his car, and asks Clark (now back in his civvies) if he has seen Jimmy, who has left the gas station to follow Clark to the cabin. They realize that he has probably gotten lost in the woods, and with the fire spreading and Donelli on his way back, Perry and Clark start searching for him . . .
Will Perry and Clark rescue Jimmy in time?
Will Perry and Clark rescue Jimmy in time to rescue Lois?
Will Lois ever put in a personal appearance, or is “Donelli’s Protection Racket” a juvenile fantasy adventure version of Waiting for Godot?
These two episodes present the Man of Steel at his most boneheaded since the North Star Mining Corporation story, in which he basically saved the day by accident. Most notably, he allows a goon to fall to his death rather than give up information that, as it happens, Perry White was able to get by tracing a phone call. Also, we are now four episodes into this serial—one hour of airtime, with commercials—and the co-star, Lois Lane, is still being only spoken of rather than heard, despite being a crucial part of the plot. I can only guess that Helen Choate, the actress who portrayed Lois for most of 1940, was on holidays that week.
Next week: The exciting story of Chip Donelli’s protection racket concludes. Find out if Lois and Jimmy die!
1 Upon a repeat listening of this story, I’m becoming convinced that Donelli’s actual first name (or nickname) is “Gyp,” rather than “Chip.” In the interests of political correctness, I’m going to stick with “Chip,” for consistency. These Superman stories have enough bad ethnic stereotypes without adding to them. (Besides, “Roma” Donelli doesn’t really have quite the same mellifluence.)