The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

31Jan/110

EP0331: The Abbotts: The Burnt Copper Powder

Claudia Morgan

A Hollywood starlet comes to Pat admitting she'd committed murder and offering Pat $100,000  to cover it up.

Original Air Date: February 27, 1955

1957 AFRTS Transcription

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29Jan/110

Harold Perry’s Honest Mistake

Has a career decision so backfired on a star as Harold Perry's decision to leave The Great Gildersleeve?

Perry debuted in the role of Gildersleeve in 1938 as one of many side characters on Fibber McGee and Molly. However, the popularity of the character led to one of radio's first successful spin-offs and one of the most enduring sitcoms of the golden era.

However after the 1949-50 season, Perry left NBC for CBS, and as his sponsor, Kraft refused to allow the Great Gildersleeve to go with him, so Perry left the role of Gildersleeve. There are many reasons that have been given behind why Perry left. For example, he wanted to sing more on the show than Gildersleeve's production team would allow. This was also during the famous talent raids where CBS was snatching up talent from NBC by paying higher contracts, a tactic by which they'd landed Jack Benny and his good friends, Burns and Allen. So for more money and more creative control, Perry was off to a new network.

The new show Perry created had him starred as "Honest Harold" Hemp, a local radio host with a bunch of whacky friends. It was called simply, The Harold Perry Show. The show was not a huge success in terms of ratings and all but one of its episodes were sustaining. While the shows weren't uniformly bad or weak, it's 37-week run was an uneven mess that suggests that Perry should never have left Gildersleeve.

The Good

There were some good points to The Harold Perry Show. First was the performance of Perry himself. He always did the best he could with the material that was wrote for him. In addition, he did have a beautiful singing voice and his crooning was a highlight of most episodes.

Then there was the Joseph Kearns as Old Doc Yancy (aka Old Doc yak yak), an elderly vetrinarian. His delivery and character were perhaps the most consistently funny part of the show.

It also has to be acknowledged that some touches were funny such as the musical chimes at the house of one of Harold's girlfriend who was a dance teacher, and their take off on tupperwear called Warbleware, which were dishes that sang.

Finally, the show did have  heart. Perry went to entertain the tropps at a Veteran's hospital and asked the audience to help supply gifts. However, the show's most moving moments came towards the end when Cousin Marvin came to live with Harold and Perry used the show to raise awareness for the Boys Club of America and read the now classic Alan Beck piece called, "What is a Boy" in two seperate episodes. Also, towards the end of the run, Perry recognized one boy or girl across America for acts of Honesty.

The Bad

The show lacked consistency. While the supporting cast that stayed through the show's run, including Parley Baer as Pete The Marshall, was okay. The show kept adding and removing cast members throughout the show's run. There were at least three love interests for Harold in the series.  There were the episodes where Cousin Raymond were staying with him and the Cousin Marvin episode towards the end.

In addition, to the constant rotating carasoul of side characters, it was kind of hard to get a beat on who Perry's character was. In early episodes, the focus of the character was that he was always honest and civic minded. The honest part doesn't last long in the world of sitcoms as people being less honest gets people into more comic trouble. As for the civic minded part, that took a downturn during the Mayoral campaign episodes.

The first five episodes of the show were fun to listen to. However in episode 6, the show began to go downhill a bit. But in Episode 7, it hit bottom and stayed there for some time. After the focus of the first seven episodes was on Honest Harold's run for Mayor against his self-centered rival, Stanley Peabody. When Harold discovers that running for mayor is a hard job, he tries to sabotage his own campaign and then casts thd decisive vote for Peabody to avoid the responsibility.  Even in a sitcom, that doesn't make us think a lot of the character.

The show stayed at bottom through most of the next ten episodes which featured Haorld's lazy cousin Raymond, who was little more than a stereotypical slacker. The show then clunked along until it got quite a bit better when Haorld's little orphaned cousin Marvin came to live with him, promting some fatherly episodes that were charming and funny

These paternal episodes were far more fun and entertaining than many previous episodes which focused on unfunny romantic subplots with women we cared little about. Had the show began with this sort of focus, it might have made it.

The Aftermath

Harold Perry billed the final show as the last show of the season. In reality, the show would never return. After more than a decade playing one of radio's most recognizable characters, Perry found his career in decline in 1951, even while Gildersleeve would continue on for four more seasons with Willard Waterman playing Gildersleeve.

On The Harold Perry Show, a constant joke was that all was on television was old movie, but it was television that would hold the key to Perry's future. Perry guest-starred on a wide variety of shows including Perry Mason, Red Skelton, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Public Defender. He only landed three recurring roles on TV: Herb Woodley on Blondie, Mayor LaTrivia on the unlamented Fibber McGee and Molly (which featured neither of the stars who made those roles famous) and as the voice of Fenwick Fuddy in a series of 1970s Hanna Barbara cartoons. He never approached the star status he enjoyed as Gildersleeve.

When The Great Gildersleeve came to television in 1955, the series lasted only one season with Waterman in the lead and is panned by many fans. I can't help but wonder if Perry could have made a better go of it and enjoyed long television success as William Bendix did in bringing his great radio show, The Life of Riley to television.

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28Jan/110

EP0330: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Jackie Cleaver Matter

Edmond O'Brien

Johnny Dollar is hired to find the benficiary of a life insurance policy, but is the case legitimate?

Original Air Date: December 9, 1950

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27Jan/110

EP0329: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Genuine Gunarius

Tom Conway

Sherlocks Holmes helps a famous singer who is being blacmailed. When he shows up to collect his fee, he finds his client dead.

Original Air Date: November 2, 1946

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26Jan/110

EP0328: Let George Do It: The Problem with Joe Martin

Bob Bailey

George is dispatched by a South American insurance to pay a $10,000 settlement to a man who doesn't respond to the company's request. When George gets to the town, he finds betrayal and madness on the loose, and murder in the air.

Original Air Date: August 15, 1949

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25Jan/110

EP0327: Nero Wolfe: The Girl Who Cried Wolfe

Sidney Greenstreet

A woman tries to enlist Wolfe in finding a missing employer. She then disappears and the employer turns up dead.

Original Air Date: December 15, 1950

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24Jan/110

EP0326: The Abbotts: The Yellow Chip

Claudia Morgan

Pat Abbott goes to Las Vegas at the request of the government to find a secret formula.

Original Air Date: February 20, 1955 (AFRTS Rebroadcast.)

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22Jan/111

The Top 10 1970s Columbo Episodes, Part Three

Part One is here, Part Two is here.

3) A Friend in Deed (1974)

This episode has a good twist in it. For starters, the primary villain is none other than the Deputy Commissioner of Police (played by Richard Kiley). For another, he didn't commit the initial homicide.

The story begins with a friend of the Deputy Commissioner meets him at a bar and tells him he just killed his wife in a moment of rage and doesn't know what to do. The Commissioner assures him he'll take care of it and carefully re-arranges the crime scene to make it look like it was the work of a burgular who had been hitting local homes and arrange an alibi for his neighbor.

Then the Commissioner murders his own wife and uses the occasion of the wake for the first man's wife to enlist the help of the first killer in covering up his own murder.

This case presents a unique challenge to Columbo. There are several cases when the prominent murderers he hunts will use their connections to pressure Columbo to back off, but this time Columbo is facing off against corrupt superior with more direct authority and control over the investigation. Even as Columbo produces more inconsistencies with "the burgular did it" story, the Commissioner pushes him towards that one answer.

The Commissioner is one of Columbo's chilling villains, combining his sociopathic nature, an intimidating personality, and the raw power of a high police official.

In the end, Columbo has to get very creative and enlist the help of the real burgular to solve the case in one of Columbo's memorable endings.

2) Now, You See Him-1976

This episode is the second Jack Cassidy episode on the list. This is perhaps the Columbo episode I enjoyed the most. Cassidy is fantastically believable as the Great Santini, a clever magician with a past that he must keep secret at all costs which leads him to kill his employer who is blackmailing him.

Even though, the music and style of the Great Santini are totally 1970s, there's a certain edge of coolness even watching this episode 30 years later, and Cassidy plays the murderer with a great deal of charm throughout the episode.

This episode saw the return of Sergeant Wilson (Bob Disky). Wilson had appeared in the 1972 episode, "The Greenhouse Jungle" as a young by the book police sergeant who chafed against Columbo's unorthodox methods, only for Columbo to be proven right after Wilson arrested the wrong man. In, "Now You See Him," Wilson has grown a bit and actually is helpful to Columbo on the case. It should be noted that this is the only time that giving Columbo a sidekick worked out well.

With a solid denouement featuring Columbo's own magic trick with some key help from Sergeant Wilson, this is a fun way to spend 75 minutes.

1) A Stitch in Crime-1973

This episode begins with a fairly clever murder plot in which a Dr. Barry Mayfieldplans to murder his partner by putting temporary sutures where permanent ones ought to go, which will lead to the doctor's death. A nurse finds out and the Mayfield kills her to stop her from spilling the plan.

As Nimoy is most famous for playing Spock on Star Trek many reviews will reference this as Spock v. Columbo. The comparison is not entirely without merit. Nimoyis cold, calculating, and throughout most of the episode, detached and unemotional. He's the picture of a perfect sociopath and very menacing. The scene right before he murdered the nurse is perhaps the most startling in the series. 

Like with "A Friend in Deed," what makes Mayfield a particularly dangerous killer is not just that he's a heartless murderer, but his position. In this case, as he's a doctor who is supposed to be a healer, it adds another dimension to the character.

In this episode, Columbo has to work to prevent the original murder that Dr. Mayfield set out commit. This adds some additional tension to the episode that isn't your ordinary episode of Columbo. This episode is also notable for being one of the occassions where Columbo gets mad at a killer and shows it:

The ending to this episode just can't be beat. As we get to the end, it does look like Columbo may have lost or more accurately, got a split decision that will leave Dr. Mayfield free. It's only in the last forty-five seconds that Columbo pulls it out. 

Of course, other fans have their favorites. And it's a hallmark of Columbo movie reviews that on nearly every 1970s episode, some fans will insist it was one of Columbo's best and others will insist it was one of the weakest. Your feedback is always welcomed.

The entire 1970s Columbo Series is available on DVD from Amazon, along the 1989 and 1990 Mystery Movies series. The 1991-93 Mystery Moviesseries will be available on DVD February 8th. Episodes of Columbo are also available on DVD and Instant Watch from Netflix.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post.

UPDATE:

Linked by the Rap Sheet where folks are discussing their own favorites and suggesting substitutions.

21Jan/110

EP0325: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Woodward Manilla Matter

 

Edmond O'Brien

Johnny Dollar goes to the Philippines to investigate the theft of $75,000.

Original Air Date: November 25, 1950

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20Jan/110

EP0324: Sherlock Holmes: The Singular Affair of the Dying Schoolboys

Tom Conway

A man hires Holmes to investigate the death of his young brother at an exclusive boarding school run by an odd doctor.

Original Air Date: November 9, 1946

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