1932 – Doc Savage, Supreme Adventurer

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. Henry Ralston and John Nanovic are listed as the authors.


The Shadow
February 25, 1932 – Street & Smith editor-in-chief F. E. Blackwell contacts Lester Dent about doing some lead stories in The Shadow Detective Monthly magazine.  Blackwell’s letter has a handwritten note on it, “This is the start of Doc Savage, Mrs. Dent.”   Dent’s address is listed as 1132 South Quincy, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Source: WHMC Folder C3701_f3

March 4, 1932 – Lester Dent writes back to F. E. Blackwell at Street & Smith expressing his interest in the offer.  Dent’s address is listed as 4333 46th Street, Long Island, New York.  Source: WHMC Folder C3701_f3

March 10, 1932 – F. E. Blackwell at Street & Smith writes a letter telling Dent to call and make an appointment to see him.  Dent’s address is listed as 4333 46th Street, Long Island, New York.  Source: WHMC Folder C3701_f3

March 30, 1932 – F. E. Blackwell at Street & Smith writes to Lester Dent and mentions Dent’s letter of the prior week.  Blackwell explains that his brother died at that time, and he has been handling the affairs.  Blackwell criticizes Dent’s synopsis of “Golden Vulture” as disjointed.  Blackwell requests Dent to submit three chapters.  Dent’s address is listed as 4333 46th Street, Sunnyside, Long Island, New York.  Source: WHMC Folder C3701_f3

Dent’s story was eventually revised by Walter Gibson and published in the July 15, 1938 issue of The Shadow under the title “The Golden Vulture.”

Doc Savage
Al Tonic wrote an article in The Pulp Collector #2, Fall 1985, titled “John Nanovic, Editor.” This article reported on a Question-and-Answer session which featured John Nanovic at PulpCon 11 in Dayton, Ohio. John Nanovic was the first editor of Doc Savage Magazine. 

Nanovic explained that Bill Ralston, who ran the operations at Street & Smith, came to him with the idea for a magazine featuring “science adventures.”  Ralston was talking about the character that would become Doc Savage.  Nanovic notes that Ralston had  done considerable development of the character and had some sixty to seventy percent of the character already worked out.

Lester Dent had previously been contacted by Street & Smith editor F. E. Blackwell around February 1932, about the possibility of Dent writing some stories about The Shadow.  Lester Dent and F. E. Blackwell exchanged letters during March. Dent submitted a synopsis for a story on The Shadow titled “The Golden Vulture.” Blackwell criticized this effort and asked Dent to submit three chapters.  This was Dent’s test to see if he could write well enough to take over the planned Doc Savage magazine.  Dent passed the test.

Nanovic stated that Lester Dent was called into the Street & Smith offices to talk about Doc Savage. Dent liked the idea of Doc Savage.  Nanovic told him to come back in a week. During that time, Nanovic wrote a 30-page outline for the first story. This was “Doc Savage, Supreme Adventurer.”  Dent came back and received the outline. He then asked for a deadline.  Nanovic told him two weeks.  Dent turned the story in just ten days later.

Note: Dent created a synopsis on index cards for his first sixteen Doc Savage stories.  The card for “The Man of Bronze” states is was written on December 23, 1933 and he was paid $500 on December 24, 1933 (WHMC C3071 f2087, page 1). Folders f2095-2097 contain details on the Doc Savage characters and an item that states “This Thing Started December 10, 1932.”  Nanovic said he gave Dent two weeks.  The dates on the index card for “The Man of Bronze” are close to this mark.  It should also be noted that in “No Light to Die By,” which appeared in the May 1947 issue of Doc Savage, Dent uses a date of November 12, 1932 for the beginning of the writing.  Nanovic said he told Dent to come back in a week which is when he wrote “Doc Savage, Supreme Adventurer.”  Perhaps it was four weeks and that is where Dent got the November date.  Anyway, it was 1985 and Nanovic was referring to events that had transpired over five decades ago.

This is a condensed version of “The Man of Bronze” written in 1932 by John Nanovic and Henry Ralston.  This was used by Lester Dent when he started writing “The Man of Bronze” on December 12, 1932. 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. His description is that of a superb civil engineer who provided valuable service to the government during the war. The term “puritanical” is first used here to describe Renny’s facial expression.

Long Tom got his nickname from using an old cannon of the same name during one of their prior engagements.

Johnny is described as not only a great archeologist and geologist but also a great physicist. Johnny can go “three days on a half slice of bread and a canteen of water.”

Monk has the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. It is explained that he realized this measure in large part due to his immense 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 interesting in light of Philip 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.

Ham had the rank of Brigadier General during the war. His nickname comes from the disappearance of some hams from his kitchen unit. He achieved his high military rank from his ability to rapidly analyze a situation. This ability had saved the lives of many soldiers.

Doc Savage is a surgeon but has a vast and deep knowledge of many other subjects. His medical ability saved many lives during the war.

The basic idea of a “fortress of solitude” appears although it is not named as such.

The letter from the elder Savage to his son is complete. It reveals the existence of an ancient Mayan gold mine along with the location in Hidalgo.

The letter explains that Hubert Robertson’s medical knowledge put them in good with the natives.

The letter notes that when the two men left the Mayans a large body of natives accompanied them for the first hundred miles.

Savage, Sr. notes that when they got back to the capital and applied for mining rights, they had unexpected opposition from unknown parties. The final agreement gave them rights for ninety-nine years with the government taking twenty-five percent interest.

Someone shoots an at the men using an elephant gun. Doc notes that they are on the eighty-sixth floor.

Doc Savage makes his signature trilling sound.

The men work out the direction of the shot and determine it came from an unfinished skyscraper several blocks distant.

 The men make plans to go to Hidalgo. Johnny researches the available maps and mineralogy of Hidalgo. Ham uses his legal knowledge and review the legal aspects of the mining grant.

Doc and his crew arrive at the capital of Hidalgo named Mangato. There is no mention of their travel route or what method they traveled by.

Doc meets with the government officials to verify his mining grant. The officials are reluctant to reaffirm the rights but finally do so in the end.

Doc and Ham head back from this meeting in the dark. They are attacked by a man with a knife.

It takes Doc and his men four days to reach the “valley of gold.”

Upon entering the valley, they met a large group of natives who take the men to the tribal leaders. Doc’s vast knowledge of languages allows him to communicate with the people and establish friendly relations.

After a few days, Doc notices trouble brewing from one of the tribe’s factions.

Suddenly, an unusual illness strikes down many of the natives. Doc Savage’s vast medical knowledge allows him to heal the sick. Monk collaborates with Doc and the pair develop a treatment using local plants. Long Tom also makes a lamp that has healing powers.

Several months transpire during this time.

The Mayans plan a great ceremony to honor the gods and recognize the friendship of Doc Savage and his men.

The day of the ceremony comes. Well into the proceedings, one of the native chiefs protests the honors Doc and his men are receiving. This chief’s name is Morning Breeze. His outlandish behavior during the sacred ceremony shocks the Mayans.

The ceremony proceeds but before completion, Morning Breeze and his followers attack the group with firearms. The tribe did possess some guns, but Morning Breeze and his men have weapons from an unknown source.

The Mayan high priests call the tribe members to the top of the temple. A large stone door opens revealing a large room in the pyramid’s interior.

The Mayans begin another ceremony inside the pyramid. Doc Savage remains nearby while Monk and Johnny explore the ancient mine. It does take them long to realize they have all the ingredients necessary to make gunpowder. They proceed to do so and use some of the golden vessels inside the mine to make bombs.

The priests show Doc Savage another secret way out of the mine.

The group goes to work making bombs during the night.

Doc Savage and his men leave the mine via the secret exit and attack Morning Breeze and his followers. After the battle, one of the dead men is recognized as one of the government officials in Hidalgo who was reluctant to recognize Doc’s claims.

The ceremony resumes with the adoption of Doc and his men into the tribe.

Doc Savage reaches an agreement with the tribe to mine the gold using the secret entrance situated away from the pyramid. The treasure will fund the good works of Doc and his men around the world.


Doc Savage – Doc

  • No military rank listed
  • Surgeon
  • Medical ability saved many lives during the war
  • Vast and deep knowledge of many other subjects
  • Basic idea of a “fortress of solitude” although not named as such
  • Bronze eyes with flakey gold flecks with a hypnotic quality
  • Deep bronze skin tone and slightly darker hair
  • Trilling

John Renwick – Renny

  • Colonel
  • Six feet and four inches tall weighing 250 pounds
  • Comes from a wealthy family
  • Estate manager taught him boxing
  • Superb civil engineer provided valuable service during the war
  • “Puritanical” facial expression
  • Drive fist through wooden door panels

Thomas J. Roberts – Long Tom

  • Major
  • Fair haired, blue eyes, physically small
  • Nordic type
  • Electrical genius
  • Nickname from using an old “Long Tom” cannon

William Harper Littlejohn – Johnny

  • No military rank
  • Archeologist
  • Geologist
  • Physicist
  • Previously taught at a famous university
  • Can go “three days on a half slice of bread and a canteen of water”

Andrew Blodgett Mayfair – Monk

  • Lieutenant Colonel
  • Chemist
  • Immense strength
  • Arms longer than legs

Theodore Marley Brooks – Ham

  • Brigadier General
  • Lawyer
  • Nickname linked to the disappearance of some hams from his kitchen unit
  • High military rank from his ability to rapidly analyze a situation
  • Saved the lives of thousands of soldiers.
  • Harvard graduate