1933-03 The Man of Bronze

Cover Date: March 1933
Volume 1 # 1
Copyright Date: Friday, February 17, 1933
Author: Lester Dent, John Nanovic, Henry Ralston
Editor: John Nanovic
Cover Artist: Walter M. Baumhoffer
Bantam Edition #1, October 1964
Sanctum Edition #14

 

Synopsis: Doc Savage returns to his New York headquarters, located on the 86th floor of a prominent building, to learn that his father has died mysteriously. While conferring with his five associates, an assassination attempt is made on Doc.  Apprehending the shooter, Doc’s men are surprised to find that the man is a Mayan who speaks an extinct language.  Doc attempts to hypnotize the man and interrogate him but the native jumps to his death rather than reveal any knowledge. Doc Savage locates important papers his father hid before his death.  These documents reveal that Doc Savage has a land grant in the Central American republic of Hidalgo. Doc and his men travel to Hidalgo and from there into the remote jungle interior where the land grant is located.  They discover a lost tribe of the Mayan Empire.  Throughout their journey they encounter resistance and attacks from some unknown malefactor. These obstacles continue even in the remote jungle valley. The criminal mastermind utilizes a deadly disease as a weapon.  This is the same disease which was used to murder Doc’s father.  Doc Savage develops a cure and heals the sickened people.  Doc and his men are adopted into the tribe. They then learn that the legacy is an enormous golden treasure to be used by Doc Savage and his men in their quest against evil. The tribe is attacked by the villain who is using the Mayan warrior sect as his agents.  Events culminate with the defeat of the warriors and the death of the villain

An assassin uses a double-barreled elephant gun made by Webley & Scott in an attempt to kill Doc Savage.   The gun is described as a .577 caliber Nitro-Express rifle.

Remarks indicate the Fortress of Solitude is on an island inside the Arctic.

Monk is called a “Houdini of the test tubes” referring to magician Harry Houdini’s amazing abilities. Houdini was both a magician and an escapologist. As the Doc Savage stories progressed, Doc Savage was revealed to be a master escapologist finding himself in many situations that mirrored Houdini’s stage performances.

Even though this is the first documented adventure, the narrator implies the multitude of scars on Monk’s skin come from the group’s past adventures. Given the degree of scaring, the author seems to be indicating that many more adventures occurred prior to this story.

Barney Oldfield, a famous racer, is mentioned in the story. Oldfield was the first racer at the Indianapolis 500 to set a 100mph lap time. In 1917 he created a sensation with his streamlined racer, the Golden Submarine. Barney Oldfield also created a racial controversy. John Arthur “Jack” Johnson was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1908 until 1915. Johnson was also a fast car enthusiast. He was also black.  A race was proposed between Oldfield and Johnson to be held at the dirt track in Sheepshead Bay, New York. The AAU refused to issue Johnson a license due to his race. The July 9, 1932 issue of the Modesto Bee carried an article which mentioned this race and stated that Willie K. Vanderbilt was head of the committee at this time. A permit was eventually obtained through a little subterfuge and the race was held. Oldfield easily outdistanced Johnson and won the race.

Monk complains that someone pulled a whizzer on him when he is tricked.  In wrestling, a whizzer is also known as an overhook.

Hidalgo is a fictional country. In Spanish, the word refers to the nobility. Hidalgo is also the name of a state in Central Mexico.

The Hidalgo Trading Company is not mentioned.  Doc keeps his plane at the North Beach Airport.  The airport was originally named for aviator Glenn Curtis.  It is now known as LaGuardia Airport.

One of Doc’s planes is an autogyro.

Jackson Heights is mentioned in the story. The Dents lived in Jackson Heights in 1932. The application to add the Dent home in La Plata, Missouri to the National Register of Historic places states that the Dents lived at the following locations 1931 – 1932.

  • 1931 – 224 Brookside Avenue, Apartment D1, Mount Vernon, New York*
  • 1932 – 4333 46th Street, Sunnyside, Long Island, New York
  • 1932 – 8904 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights
  • 1933 – 101 West 55th St., New York, New York
  • *Source: 1931 Mount Vernon, New York City Directory

Doc Savage lands on a small lake north of Blanco Grande, the capital of Hidalgo. A close examination of a map of Central America reveals that no place in that local exactly fits the story’s description. A small lake, Lake Ilapango, lies to the east of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. The only other capital city with a lake is Managua, Nicaragua. Here lies Lake Managua and while it is north of the city it is not small. It is 40 miles long and 15 miles wide. Neither lake is shallow. Lake Ilapango is 750 feet deep while Lake Managua has a maximum depth of 65 feet.

The United States Geological Survey lists gold mining operations in all seven Central American countries. Production data for the years 1996 -2000 shows that Belize has the lowest production average 6 kilograms (kg) per year. Nicaragua has the highest average production level coming in at 2,974 kg per year. Panama comes in second with a production of 1,400 kg per year.

While current production levels do not reflect those of the 1930s they do make a statement about the availability of gold in a particular country. The legacy in The Man of Bronze is a fabulous golden treasure. Nicaragua makes a good candidate for the basis of the fictional country of Hidalgo.

Locations mentioned in the story are Biscayne Bay in Florida, Havana, Cuba, Belize (British Honduras), and Ambergris Cay.

The first thing that generally comes to mind after reading the expression “Red Death” is likely to be The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe.  So just what was the “Red Death” as described in the story?  The symptoms include red patches on the victim’s neck and fever.  Doc determines the disease is a version of Parrot fever.  In the story, Doc Savage comes up with a treatment for the “Red Death.”  Doc examines some of the sick natives before making a foray into the surrounding jungle.  He returns with a collection of plants with which he treats his patients.   The comments about an epidemic of Parrot fever a few years earlier was an actual fact.  The headline below is from 1930.

Spanish words and English meanings: Blanco Grande means “large white” while Rubio means “blond or fair-haired.” Avispa means “wasp.” Monja means nun.

The national flower of Guatemala is the White Nun Orchid which is called Monja Blanca in Spanish.

Monk refers to Don Rubio as a “gink.” This is an insulting term for a person.

The Mayans figure prominently in the legacy left to Doc Savage by his father. The leader of the Mayans is King Chaac. In Mayan mythology Chaac is the rain god.

Ethnicity: Another fascinating item is Dent’s description of King Chaac in The Man of Bronze. Kenneth Robeson describes King Chaac’s features as being nearly as perfect as Doc’s own. The description sounds like that of Doc Savage. Elderly King Chaac is again described exactly the same in They Died Twice. King Chaac also tells Doc that the elder Savage taught him English. Clark Savage, Sr. and the ruler Chaac must have spent many months together in order for him to later speak the language so well.

We also find that Princess Monja speaks excellent English and we are left to wonder who taught her. Either her father had learned it well enough to teach it to her. This implies a lengthy stay by Doc’s father or else Savage Sr. taught it on a subsequent return visit. Of particular interest is her name. Why is a Mayan princess named Monja, which means ‘nun” in Spanish?

A lot of evidence points to the Empire State Building as the most likely model for Doc’s headquarters. But the Chrysler Building was also influential. The building is named after Walter Chrysler who began his astonishing career as a simple railroad mechanic in the early 1900s. Working a variety of jobs in the railroad industry endowed him with an encyclopedic knowledge of mechanical devices while enabling him to achieve the respected status of master mechanic. His vast knowledge of mechanics prepared him for a career in the new automotive industry. By 1929, when he was named Time Magazine’s man of the year, he was a tycoon in the automotive business and enormously rich.

Construction on the art deco style Chrysler building began in September 1928. The structure was completed on May 28, 1930 and was the tallest man-made structure in the world at the time. It had 77 floors plus an elaborate spire that pierced the sky 1,046 feet. Chrysler had planned to move his automotive corporate headquarters from Detroit and install then in the new structure. This move never materialized but Walter P. Chrysler did keep a private apartment on the top floor.

In the end, Doc’s skyscraper headquarters is a hybrid on the two different buildings. Doc Savage maintains officers on the 86th floor but that is not the top floor. There are other offices above his. Readers are also told that Doc’s offices are in one of the tallest buildings in the city – not the tallest. The 86th floor on the Empire State Building is an observation deck. Another observation deck is on the 102nd floor but there are no offices above the 86th floor. The 102nd level was originally intended to be the landing platform for mooring dirigibles.

An aerial battle ensues between Doc’s plane and the blue plane used by Don Rubio.  Renny uses an aircraft type Browning machine gun to shoot down the other craft. Dent describes the weapon as having a rifle-like stock which sounds like a BAR (M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle). But the weapon is described as using cartridges in a metal link belt.  This would most likely make it a M1919 Browning Machine Gun.  While not standard, some M1919 Browning machine guns were fitted with rifle stocks.  This is likely the weapon Dent is describing.

There is another problem of sorts when the villain orders the Mayan warriors to bring him all the gold ten men can carry. That would be a lot of gold. Assuming a man could carry 150 pounds, there would be 1,500 pounds of gold. Unlike Doc Savage, the villain does not have a float plane. He walks home, and he cannot carry all that gold with him. That much gold would be worth a fortune. It would come to over 26,000 troy ounces. When President Roosevelt confiscated privately owned gold in April 1933, the going rate was $20.67 per ounce. At this price, the gold treasure above would tally up at $0.544 million. But that is a worth based on the forced sale price. Citizens were required to sell their gold to the government for $20.67 while the government had set an international price of $35 ounce. Don Rubio’s small gold hoard now has a valuation of $0.927 million.

Doc’s famous supermachine pistols make their first appearance although they are not named as such. Notorious bank robber John Dillinger may have provided some inspiration for Doc Savage’s supermachine pistol. There are several popular photographs of John Dillinger holding a Thompson sub-machine gun. But Dillinger also had a special machine pistol that was a modified version of the .38 Super automatic.

The stock automatic pistol was modified into a machine pistol using a kit made by the Monarch Gun Company of Hollywood, California. The machine pistol featured a longer barrel with an attached Thompson submachine handgrip. A 22-round magazine provided extra ammunition for the gun which now had a fully automatic rate of fire exceeding 700 rounds per minute. Use of this weapon was not limited to John Dillinger as it was a popular underworld weapon. George Nelson is also reported to have favored this weapon. Conversion kits were also available for the .45 auto.

Another famous hero had his own private source of gold bullion. Author Edgar Rice Burroughs started Tarzan of the Apes on a new adventure with the June 1913 issue of New Story Magazine. The story was titled The Return of Tarzan and introduced the lost city of Opar to the enthralled readers. Late in the story, Tarzan discovers a golden treasure within the secret treasure vaults of the city. Aided by his faithful Waziri, he removes one hundred ingots from the city for his own use. Tarzan returns again for more gold in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar which was published in 1916.

Gladiator by Phillip Wylie was published in 1930.  The story’s hero, Hugo Danner, possesses superhuman strength. Aside from being viewed as a prototype Doc Savage character, there is another interesting similarity.  Doc Savage finds fortune with the Mayans.  Wylie involves Danner with an archaeological expedition to Mayan ruins at the end of the story.

Another historic figure of extraordinary athletic prowess was Olympic champion Jim Thorpe. In the 1912 Summer Olympics, Thorpe won the gold medal for the pentathlon and decathlon. King Gustav V of Sweden awarded Thorpe his medals and told him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Indeed, Thorpe is considered to be the greatest athlete of the twentieth century by many authorities.

Western Historical Manuscript Collection: Lester Dent’s papers and his manuscripts are on file at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Doc Savage, Supreme Adventurer is the first folder in the section dealing with Doc Savage. It is attributed to Henry Ralston and John Nanovic.

When Lester Dent initially went to work for Street & Smith he was asked to submit a story on The Shadow. It was eventually published under the title of The Golden Vulture.

Thomas Gann published Discoveries and Adventures in Central America in 1928. Only 27 years old, Gann first came to British Honduras in 1894 as a medical officer and a vigorous interest in the countless Mayan ruins dotted throughout the countryside. Gann wrote over forty books detailing his experiences and was recognized as an authority on Central American archeology. Dent made use of some passages from Gann’s work in the Doc Savage series. Usage in The Man of Bronze is shown below.

Dent – …they could see tiny parakeets and pairs of yellow-headed parrots feeding off chichem berries that grew in abundance.

Gann- …were flocks of tiny parakeets, and pairs of yellow-headed parrots, dining off the chichem berries, and screeching in the process loudly enough to drown at times even the piam-piams.

Thomas Gann eventually returned to England and was an honorary lecturer at Liverpool University. Gann died in 1938. The Man of Bronze was not his only unattributed contribuiton to the Doc Savage series. More of his writings were folded into the November 1942 story, They Died Twice. A detailed analysis of these usages was printed in the Winter 2011 issue of Blood ‘n’ Thunder.

On March 18, 1933, Norma and Lester Dent took a cruise on the RMS Mauretania. Over the next ten days they visited the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, returning to New York on March 30. The ship’s registry showed Dent’s place of birth as “La Plata, Wisc” while Norma Dent’s was listed as “Carlton, Mass

  • March 18, 1933, Departure from New York City
  • March 22, 1933, La Guaira, Venezuela
  • March 23, 1933, Curacao, Dutch West Indies
  • March 24, 1933, Cartagena, Colombia
  • March 25, 1933, Colon, Panama
  • March 28, 1933, Havana, Cuba
  • March 30, 1933, New York, New York

Before The Man of Bronze there was Doc Savage, Supreme Adventurer written by Henry Ralston and John Nanovic. This is essentially a short version of The Man of Bronze written in late 1932 by John Nanovic and Henry Ralston. There are a couple of interesting tidbits here.

  • Doc has bronze skin from spending time in both the tropical and northern regions. He has the familiar gold-flaked eyes.
  • Renny comes from a wealthy family as he grew up on his father’s estate. The estate’s manager taught him boxing. He is described as a superb civil engineer who provided valuable service to the government during the war.
  • Ham had the rank of Brigadier General during the war. His nickname is explained as coming from the disappearance of some hams from his kitchen unit.
  • Monk is also credited with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army. It is explained that he realized this measure in large part due to his prodigious strength. Monk’s ability to “pull up twenty feet of barbwire entanglements with a single heave” is specifically mentioned as contributing to his rank. This is mighty interesting in light of Phylip Wylie’s novel, Gladiator (1930). In that story, the protagonist, Hugo Danner, achieves the rank of lieutenant due in large part to his amazing strength and physical ability.
  • The capital of Hildalgo is named Mangato.   
  • The idea of a “fortress of solitude” is mentioned although it is not named as such.
  • The letter from the elder Savage to his son is complete. The existence of the gold is revealed along with the location.

The letter explains that Hubert Robertson’s medical knowledge put them in good with the natives. The implication is that Doc’s father was not a medical doctor. In The Man of Bronze, President Avispa explains that is was the elder Savage’s medical knowledge that saved his life years earlier.

The Man of Bronze is a “lost race” novel. This particular type story mechanism is attributed to H. Rider Haggard who was an author from the time of his published work, King Solomon’s Mines (1885) until his death in 1925. Haggard also wrote a story published in 1895 titled Heart of the World. This story centered on a lost Aztec city, a golden treasure, and beautiful princess named Maya. The basic idea in Haggard’s story closely parallels that of the people of the Valley of the Vanished in The Man of Bronze. The lost civilization in Haggard’s story was located in the Tabasco region of Mexico.  This Mexican state is situated on the border with Guatemala.

NEXT: The Land of Terror