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“So, what’s a Murania, anyway?”

Posted in Murania Press on May 23, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

The first book published under the auspices of Murania Press was The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps, which came to market in the fall of 2007 (and which, by the way, is being revised and expanded for republication later this year). Since then, I’ve probably been asked a hundred times or more, “What’s Murania? Where did you come up with that name?”

The answer would come as no surprise to hard-core serial fans, who know Murania as a futuristic city located some 20,000 feet underground in the desert Southwest. Ruled by an evil queen who hoped to keep its existence secret from “those stupid surface people,” Murania figured prominently in The Phantom Empire, a 1934 Mascot Pictures chapter play that launched the starring career of singing cowboy Gene Autry. One of the most bizarre serials ever made, it was said to have been inspired by a dream that came to actor/writer Wallace MacDonald while under anesthesia at his dentist’s office. The Phantom Empire defied cliffhanger convention repeatedly, mixing Western, musical, comedic, and science-fictional ingredients into a surrealistic stew of daffy but endearing entertainment. The serial enjoyed considerable success during its two-year theatrical playoff period, prompting producer Nat Levine to put Autry into a series of feature films released by the newly formed Republic Pictures, which absorbed Mascot in 1935. The rest, as they say, is history. Autry went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest box-office draws; in the late Thirties his popularity was comparable to that of such superstars as Clark Gable and Shirley Temple.

The Phantom Empire became a staple of early TV and was still being aired in 1963, the year I first saw it. At the time I wasn’t particularly interested in old Westerns, but the chapter play’s science-fictional elements called to me. Goofy beyond belief, even more so than many serials of the period, it appeals to the sense of wonder in much the same way that pulps, comic books, and old-time radio melodrama appealed to Depression-era audiences. When I decided to publish books and magazines covering American popular culture of those halcyon days, Murania Press was literally the first title that came to mind for my new imprint. I registered the domain name long before I put this site together.

To me, The Phantom Empire still symbolizes everything that’s fun about the vintage fiction and film I not only enjoy and collect but study as well. The ten-year-old boy in me still wants to believe that Murania exists, and every few years I revisit the serial — which, by the way, is available in a handsome but inexpensive DVD  edition from VCI Entertainment.

2 thoughts on ““So, what’s a Murania, anyway?”

  1. The Phantom Empire is one of my favorite serials. I actually saw this in the late 1940’s in a local movie house that played many of the serials of the 1930’s along with ones from later. Goofy fun as you say, but quite satisfying.

  2. The Scientific City of Murania was beautifully conceived and executed. Queen Tika was lovely and regal. It’s a shame we lost them both.
    or did we? Perhaps at the last minute someone rescued the Queen and she yet lives…And who knows, in our unending quest for radium we may yet uncover another advanced, lost civilization.

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