You’ve all heard of The Saint... but whatever happened to his buccaneering contemporary The Falcon? Author Ian Dickerson remembers…
Even James Bond’s adventures don’t span as wide a timeframe as those of Simon Templar, the eponymous ‘Saint’. He’s best known as played by Roger Moore in the classic 1960s TV show, but decades before that he appeared on the silver screen in the form of handsome George Sanders.
And the The Saint wasn’t the only buccaneering adventurer Sanders played. In the 1940s, when RKO was seeking a rival to challenge Simon Templar’s cinematic success, they cast the self-same George Sanders as ‘The Falcon’, an achingly similar character best known for “keeping his mouth shut and engaging in dangerous enterprises.”
And thus began the weird parallel life of Gay Stanhope Falcon (sometimes Laurence.) The Falcon nipped at Simon Templar’s coattails throughout the 1940s, to the point that the Saint’s creator, Leslie Charteris, even sued RKO for plagerism, and accused him of being “a bargain-basement imitation” of his famous hero in 1943’s Saint novel The Saint Steps In.
If we were back in the 1940s, the chances are you’d have been equally familiar with both characters – kind of like how most comic book geeks are aware of Slade Wilson, DC Comic’s Deathstroke, and his parallel from Marvel, Wade “Deadpool” Wilson.
But as The Highlander warned, “there can be only one” and over the course of the last sixty or seventy years, only The Saint remains (barely) in the public eye. For most, The Falcon has been relegated to obscurity.
But that could be about to change, as author Ian Dickerson is set to release a book shortly that addresses the mystery of Gay Stanhope Falcon, and asks: Who is The Falcon?
I reached out to Ian for some information about the book, slated for release on December 9th. Here’s what he had to say:
Ian! You’re best known as “The Saint Guy” – chairman of The Saint Club and advisor on all things Saintly. Since we’re used to you writing about The Saint, we have to ask you the question posed by your book – Who is The Falcon?
That’s a good question and indeed, pretty much the point of the book. If you’re like me and discovered The Falcon first through the films then he’s a gentleman detective with a certain style and swagger that’s somewhat reminiscent of The Saint. But if you meet the Falcon through his various radio shows or even his TV exploits, then he’s your typical American gumshoe detective from the 1940s and 50s.
What inspired you to write this book?
A combination of things. I think the seed was planted when I first heard the radio adventures of The Falcon and realised that this Falcon was drastically different to the one I’d been watching on TV. I wanted to try and find out why. That seed was fed and watered over the years as I began to appreciate the incredibly long run The Falcon had on radio—over four hundred and eighty episodes–and then discovered his TV exploits as well.
But over the years, as I’ve dipped in and out of his adventures, I’ve just found myself wanting to know more, more about the character and more about those who created his adventures. Even now, in the content-rich twenty-first century it takes a special sort of hero to sustain the interest of fans through sixteen films, a handful of books, thirty-nine TV episodes and a radio show that aired for most of a decade.
So, so The Falcon sounds kind of interesting… Where can we read or see more of him?
The original books are long out of print but author Mark Ellis published a Falcon novel, The Falcon: Resurrected a couple of years ago which is well worth checking out. The movies have been released on DVD on both sides of the Atlantic and still crop up periodically on TV channels around the world. The excellent Radio Spirits have released a collection of the radio shows (available here) and I hear rumors that a collection of the Australian shows may be forthcoming soon.
Some very well worn copies of the TV episodes have been in circulation for some years – there’s never been any official release. You can buy copies privately but be warned they’re low quality off-air recordings most of which can be found on You Tube.
How come there are so many similarities between The Saint and The Falcon?
During the early years of The Saint’s adventures the success of the books spawned many imitators but when The Saint in New York—which it’s worth noting was the fifteenth Saint book—became a transatlantic best-seller in 1935 that really became an inspiration for authors keen for success. The very first Falcon book was published in September 1936 and critics of the time noted that it bore a certain resemblance to The Saint.
The cinematic Falcon owes a lot more to Mr Templar. As you’ll read in the book Leslie Charteris, The Saint’s Creator, was increasingly unhappy with RKO’s series of Saint films and was very vocal about what he thought they were doing wrong. Plus they were paying him a hefty license fee. Sanders was very popular in the role and the studio heads wanted to continue with that so some bright executive suggested they buy the rights to Michael Arlen’s short story ‘Gay Falcon’ and adapt it to suit Sanders’ onscreen and at the time somewhat Saintly persona. RKO discovered the Falcon films were remarkably popular whilst Leslie Charteris discovered the films were remarkably Saintly…As for what happened, well, it’s all in the book.
The Saint might be back on our screens soon. What is destined for The Falcon?
Sadly I don’t think there’s much of a future for him. I keep hoping Mark Ellis will make good on his promise and write more books but Mark’s a busy man.
Radio Spirits have the rights for the old radio shows and have done a lovely job in releasing a collection of them. I gather Grace Gibson Productions in Australia are working on releasing some of the old Australian shows, which should be well worth listening to.
I’d love to see RKO exploit the rights they have and have made some suggestions as to how they should do it but they don’t seem to be interested.
Thanks to Ian for answering these questions – and you can pre-order Who is the Falcon? here.