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SECRET AGENT K-7

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Full Name: Secret Agent K-7
Nationality: American
Organization: American Intelligence
Occupation Agent

Creator: George F. Zimmer
Time Span: 1934 - 1941

ABOUT THE SERIES

       Secret Agent K-7 is an agent with American Intelligence.
       Now, who he really is remains largely unknown and that most definitely fits into the mold of a "secret agent". He is an agent and his identity is a secret.
       There is a fair chance that he is really Vincent "Lanny" Landers, a "special agent" who has traveled all over the country and the world fighting bad guys of one sort or another for many years. It could be a coincidence that two members of the government have mysterious jobs and have the same identification but I lean more towards K-7 being Landers than not.
       What we do know is that K-7 was for some time a world-traveling government agent, "America's number one adventurer, K-7, former United States secret agent who operated in 22 countries, on land, on sea, and in the air". This description comes from the radio program that related tales in which an older, now retired from the field, operative directed the actions of several other agents.
       This K-7 is decidedly the man of experience who knows the dangers to the American way of life from foreign forces who would rather see war than peace and who would use any provocation to cause conflict on all parts of the globe. As he tells the listening public, there are dark dangers awaiting everyone if dedicated people like his agents were not ever vigilant.
       Exactly how many people K-7 has working for him is never said but we do know from those radio broadcasts that he has at least three pair of operatives. Each of these pairs consist of a senior male agent and a more junior female assistant. The men are all similarly strong and serious. The women are each equally somber and dedicated and quite willing to head out on their own. While the real name of the men is never divulged, the identity of the women is readily stated. Also interesting is that while the women work in the same manner as the men and get put in danger just as often, they are not given codenames.
       Agent Z is teamed up with Patricia Norwood.
       Agent M has as his assistant Yvonne Durrell.
       Agent B-9 is aided by Rita Drake.
       There is also mentioned a time or two Agent L-6 but if he had an assistant, it is not said.
       
       As mentioned, when K-7 is dispatching these other agents to hot-spots needing attention, he is himself retired. There was a time, though, when he was not and several of those adventures in those "22 countries" are detailed in the pages of a comic book. In those missions he is aided by the same woman who would, likely later, work closely with Agent M, Yvonne Durrell.

BOOKS

Number of Books:1
First Appearance:1934
Last Appearance:1934

YOUNG ADULT BOOKS

Number of Books:1
First Appearance:1940
Last Appearance:1940

       In the 30s and 40s the business of book tie-ins was in full swing. Leading this was Whitman Publishing, a company renown for its young adult line of books called the Big Little Books, big because they had a full-length story in them and little because they were considerably smaller in width and height than normal books, even the nascent paperback industry. Whitman made a very good living licensing comic strip, movie and radio series and creating adventures in the BLB format.
       But Whitman was not the only one getting into this line of work. Saalfield Published was one of Whitman's main competitors and it, too, went into the miniaturized publishing act. They came up with the incredibly original name of Little Big Books for their line. Who would ever mix-up LBB for BLB, especially when the dimensions were similar as were the content.
       It was Saalfield that got the license for Secret Agent K-7. It approached Gene Stafford to pen the (what would be) only adventure. Stafford's books was "adapted from the radio scripts" which made sense since Stafford's main job was writing radio scripts for various programs, including that of K-7.

1 Secret Agent K-7 Secret Agent K-7
Written by Gene Stafford
Copyright: 1940

The introduction reads:
       "The stories in this book are told by a former member of the United States Secret Service, known as K-7.
       His adventures in the air as well as on land and sea in many countries are thrilling documents of the intrigue and espionage that exists today among the nations of the world.
       Modesty compels the hero to disguise himself under another name, K-7; but only the principal actor in such gripping dramas could report them in such detail."

       In the book, each adventure concerns the action of the same man, Secret Agent William Malone, although he does mention working with K-7 on a couple of instances. Malone is assisted by an old teammate, Joan Randall, in the first mission and by Yvonne Durrell in the others. [In the radio programs from which these are said to have come, none of the "special agents" are identified other than by codename but Agent M was the one who always worked with Yvonne.]

Six stories are told:
Saving the Suez - Secret Agent Bill Malone teams up with an old assistant, Joan, as he works to find who is planning on blocking the Suez Canal and how. He quickly learns it is an old adversary, a spy names Ostov.
Invisible Ink - [plot unknown - my copy had missing pages]
Sealed Orders - Malone is working with Yvonne to find out who was behind the car accident that put a leading naval officer carrying vital secrets in the hospital.
Enemies Within - Malone is asked by a high ranking cabinet member of a friendly nation to find out who is smuggling guns to arm rebels in his land. Yvonne is on hand to lend aid.
Secret Airfields - Malone is working again with Yvonne to locate those who have been building secret airfields near the Panama Canal to make destroying it easier.
The Code Book - The heartbroken love of a young officer convicted of stealing secrets and executed has offered her services to his spy boss. Malone has Yvonne go undercover as another woman with access to classified intel.

MOVIES

Number of Movies:1
First Appearance:1936
Last Appearance:1936

       Is Special Agent K-7, aka Lanny Landers, the man in the movie mentioned below, the man we would later hear on the radio identified as Secret Agent K-7? The "K-7" part matches, of course, but no one had a monopoly on the moniker. Comments in the one movie about him would indicate that he was abroad a lot doing secret sort of things (though he talked of mountain climbing) but no one specifically said he was either a spy or spy-hunter.
       The movie poster does point to the connection because it clearly states it is "from the famous radio secret service sensations" and as mentioned in the Radio section, NBC Radio had a Secret Service Spy Stories in 1932-33. The plot and some of the dialogue would indicate that K-7 was fighting crime rather than spies but there is no getting around the tag line in the poster nor the mentions of overseas operations.
       Most telling, though, is the fact that George Zimmer, the man who is credited for creating the radio program, was, according to IMDB, the man who created the character. Add to that the fact that two before the movie came out, a book of "true spy stories" as told to Burke Boyce by George Zimmer was released.
       So Zimmer either was a spy during WWI or knew them enough to learn a lot of their stories. He created a radio program using that knowledge and using the fictitious Secret Agent K-7 as the character. He then told some of these stories for the book. The question is whether he meant Lanny Landers, Special Agent K-7, to be the same man as the radio spy OR just really liked the codename.

1 Special Agent K-7 Special Agent K-7
Director: Raymond K. Johnson
Writers: Phil Dunham, Leslie Spiller, George Zimmer
Actors: Walter McGrail as Vincent 'Lanny' Landers (Special Agent K-7), Queenie Smith as Ollie O'Dea, Irving Pichel as Lester Owens, Donald Reed as Billy Westrop, Duncan Renaldo as Tony Blank
Released: 1936

Special Agent K-7 is pulled into the investigation of a murder at a swanky nightclub run by a notorious gangster.

RADIO / AUDIO


Number of Episodes:78
First Appearance:1939
Last Appearance:1940
Network:NBC/CBS

REGULAR CAST

       According to the terrific website Digital Deli, in 1932, NBC Radio presented a radio program called "K-7". How many episodes were aired is unknown - well, virtually anything else is unknown and no copies of the show nor any scripts are available.
       Spy Television expert Wesley Britton has made mention of NBC Radio's Secret Service Spy Stories which ran from 1932-1933. It is possible (my supposition) that the two were related but who knows!

       What is known is that in 1939, a new radio series presented a good number of 15-minute spy adventures named Secret Agent K-7 Returns. The exact number is somewhat suspect - I have seen it listed as 78 and 79. If it were that many, there are a dozen which have vanished or there were a dozen repeated.
       Several excellent websites dealing with Old-Time-Radio broadcasts have catalogued the "known" episodes. These lists have some differences caused probably by the fact that there is no clear record. Exactly which episode was aired when is debatable.

       One thing that I feel is not really debatable (and therefore likely to be argued) is that the episodes fell into two basic groups. Each group would have a tale recounted of the work of one of K-7's agents. Each episode started with a Morse code radio signal followed by the announcer telling the listeners the name of the show. The void would then let the audience know that "America's number one adventurer, K-7, former United States secret agent who operated in 22 countries, on land, on sea, and in the air, brings you another story of today. Here is K-7 ..."

       In the first group, numbering around 31, at this point a very somber sounding individual, speaking slowly and methodically and in a voice that clearly showed the speaker was not a young man, gave a brief description of the sort of trouble that the night's adventure would concern. This man was K-7 and his manner showed how dire things were getting and how lucky the country was that men and women like those under his command stood up to fight those who would hurt the nation.
       In these earlier episodes he would then pass the mic to "my old friend" John Holbrook who would finish setting the scene for the adventure to be told. Mr. Holbrook would talk of these cases as those of fellow agents of K-7.

       In the second group, running from around #32 to the end of the series, would take a different style.
In these later stories, the story would start with K-7 in a secret office communicating either in person or by phone or radio to one of his agents what the assignment was. K-7 did not actively take part in these cases but he would be called on occasion with updates and would supply instructions or dispatch help.
       The audience would hear him buzz on the intercom, be answered by a female voice, and then order an agent into his office "for orders". The agent could be heard "reporting for duty" and then K-7 would set the mission dynamics and send the agent on his way with the concluding directive to "keep me informed".
       During these missions, K-7 apparently traveled around the world because he would often tell which ever agent he summoned that "we are in this country" and that country might be in Europe or the Far East or just at an unspecified location.
       It is interesting that when K-7 pushes the intercom to talk to his assistant, he always announces that "this is Secret Agent K-7 speaking ...". (Who else would it be? Wouldn't the assistant, the same female voice each time, likely recognize her boss's voice after so many such buzzings?) However, he always refers to the man he wants sent in for assignment as "Special Agent".

       Another thing I spotted was the fact that each of the three main Special Agents (M, Z, and B-9) call their female assistant by her first name but never do we hear the women call the agent anything but his codename. Do they know it? That seems odd. Oh, well.

       The episodes listed below are the ones that I found on these excellent OTR sites I mentioned. Again, the numbering system is suspect so the order I present them in, and the number I have assigned, is currently my own and is BY NO MEANS authoritative. The year is just what I am guessing based on these sites. The titles I have given them ARE the titles I have seen most often used by these sites, though. The plots are my take from having listened to them.
{{items}}

COMIC BOOKS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Number of Stories:4
First Appearance:1940
Last Appearance:1941

       Hillman Periodicals was an American publisher of magazine and comic books started by Alex Hillman in 1938. While it was never a big name in the comic industry, it did manage to last until 1953, no small feat.
       Hillman did not have, from what I could find, a large portfolio of titles. They tried for an assortment of genres with romance, western, and airplane stories leading the list. Two concerned superheroes. One of those was Miracle Comics which lasted but 4 issues, and it was in this comic that the K-7 stories appeared.
       As was common in the early comicbook days, Miracle Comics was an anthology. Sky Wizard, Master of Space was the lead. He would last all 4 issues along with Secret Agent K-7, Dash Dixon, Man of Might, The Scorpion, Terror of the Underworld. Blanda, the Jungle Queen survived for three issues. Pinky Parker, the Kid Cop and Dusty Doyle, the Circus Cyclone would appear in two issues. Other one-shots graced each issue.
       Unlike many of the spy comic series of the time, and anthology series in general, the length of those in Miracle Comics were of a decent length to tell a better story. Secret Agent K-7 had each tale lasting 8 pages. This gave a bit of time for the plot set-up, a good deal of action and suspense, and then a decent, believable (well, allowing for comic book 'reality') conclusion.
       The experienced comicbook writer, Emile C. Schurmacher, was the man who penned all 4 of the tales. It was reported that he was also the artist but comments on the excellent Comic Book Plus website details how the man himself stated otherwise, saying he was a writer, not an artist. So who did the artwork is unknown.
       
       As mentioned in the Radio section, Secret Agent K-7 was, for all the adventures in the Secret Agent K-7 Returns group, the head of the organization who assigned missions to his agents. He was no longer in the field.
       In the four comic adventures, however, it is K-7 himself taking part in the action. He had as his assistant the quite resourceful and helpful woman named Yvonne Durrell. The K-7 represented in these stories is a middle-aged man who is obviously still in good shape as shown by his occasional fighting and has good marksmanship.
       His assistant, Yvonne, is noteworthy for several reasons.
       One, in the radio adventures she is the assistant to Agent M, not K-7, though she was every bit as good with M as she was with K-7.
       Two, she is by no means a damsel in distress character always needing saving. She does get herself captured once but under circumstances that could easily have happened to her boss.
       Three and final, she apparently has fun with hair dye. In the first comic adventure, she has black hair with lots of white (?platinum?) streaking. In the second, she starts out the day with the same style but switches to a brunette during a car chase. In the third, it would appear she has become a blonde. In the last story, she is back to black hair but without any streaks. [Petty of me to note, I know, but it was fun.]
{{items}}

MY COMMENTS

       Wow, what a history. As mysterious as the man himself. Since I have never listened to or read any of the scripts from the first K-7 series, I can say nothing about its quality but of the Return I can say a fair amount.
       The preambles to each tale are, well, different. Two different styles - one lecturing and the other administrative. I really have no preference as the lectures were interesting while hearing him act as spymaster made it feel like the agents (M, Z, and B-9 as well as their assistants) were part of an organization rather than freelancers.
       The tales themselver were quite entertaining and I appreciate the fact that so many sites have made the tales available for listening. The writing was of good quality and the presentation was darn good - ten minutes each of fine story-telling.
       The comics were good stories as well though at odds with the radio broadcasts. The book was more in keeping with the shows but that just made sense since the former's author was one of the latter's writers (if not the only one).

GRADE

My Grade: C+

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