The Phantom Empire at Ken’s Ocean Beach Store

December 1, 2009

by Mike Towry

When we first started working on Comic-Con back in 1969, we used to meet at Shel Dorf’s parents’ apartment in Clairemont. However, after we met Ken and the Woodchucks, Ken would let us get together some times at the Ocean Beach bookstore he co-owned with John Hull.

Ken’s bookstore definitely had more “atmosphere.” There were comics and science-fiction hardbacks and paperbacks in the front of the store, and it was a fun place to shop for such items. In the partitioned-off back area was the porno. We underage types didn’t shop there but somehow knowing that it was there just added to the “ambience.”

A memory from 1970 or thereabouts that has always stuck with me is of one night after the store was closed when we all gathered together to watch The Phantom Empire, which is a very strange 1935-vintage serial featuring Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, in a musical “science-fiction” western. (Actually, we probably watched the 1940 feature, which was cut and edited from the much longer serial.) There were no DVDs back then, or even VCRs for that matter, so we used a 16mm projector.

I remember Ken telling us to be on the lookout for a scene where Gene Autry’s character is thrown from his horse and goes tumbling down a hillside. Ken said that part of the way down, Autry’s stunt double, Yakima Canutt, can be seen to hold his cowboy hat on in order to conceal his bald spot.

What memories of Ken’s Ocean Beach bookstore do you have?

The video player below should jump to the scene in question (unless you’re viewing this via email or news reader, in which case you can just click on the following link:

You can also watch all twelve glorious chapters of the serial for free at

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