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

12Jun/110

The Man Who Asked, “Why Me?”

A good autobiography requires a truly interesting life and a willingness to share it. By both accounts, William Gargan's, 1969 memoir Why Me is a masterful example of how an autobiography ought to be written.

I knew Gargan for his TV and radio detective work with I Deal in Crime, Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, and Martin Kane, Private Eye. The Martin Kane series was Gargan's best known role. Along with Ralph Bellamy's Man Against Crime, it was one of the first successful TV private eye shows, enjoyed by fans if for nothing else than the novelty of doing a live TV detective series.

However, Gargan's life was a lot more than TV and radio glitz.  Gargan's acting career included stage work in the 1920s and movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Gargan's varied life included  assisting his bookie father when he was a kid, being thrown out of high school, working as a store investigator/collector and a private detective, and being a bootlegger during prohibition.

In Why Me, Gargan shares inside stories in Hollywood: How his best-supporting actor Oscar  nomination for They Knew What They Wanted came out of a frustrating shooting experience with the hammy Charles Laughton. He tells a more fond story of actor hammyness when he and John Barrymore staged an epic battle with Lionel Barrymore to stop Barrymore from stealing a scene. You'll also run into fun stories about James J. Corbett, Leslie Howard, Bing Crosby,  John F. Kennedy, and others.

Gargan's life included meeting both famous and infamous people, some thanks to his father's connections.  Gargan tells the story of a man operating a protection racket in Chicago who was shaking him down for $10 a week. He called his father. One of his dad's friends contacted him about it. A friend by the name of Al Capone.  Gargan was never bothered after that, but did worry about what had happened to the wildcat shakedown artist.

Gargan knew there was a "dark side" to his father's life and underworld connections, however in his youth, Gargan was mostly shielded from that side and had mostly fond memories of his father and mother. Gargan was endowed with an incredible love of family and zest for life. One of my favorite stories was about his mother's funeral. The funeral director told him they planned a slow procession from the church to the cemetary. Gargan rejected the idea of a slow mournful procession, telling the undertaker, "She was a spirited woman. Go like hell."

Gargan wrote, "Every morning to this day, I say a prayer for my parents. God love them. I love them."

Gargan's life included many ups as he made his way to a comfortable living making a lot of "B movies."  and television. The title, "Why Me?" references the great turning point in his life. At age 55, while playing a dying ex-president in the stage version of The Best Man, he began to have pain in his throat.  He was diagnosed with cancer of the Larynx, which required surgery that would remove his larynx, silence his voice, and put an end to his acting career. When Gargan was brought home from the hospital, their TV repairman was fixing their set, and turned on the TV, and one of Gargan's old films came on and he slammed his hand down on the table, wanting to scream to have it turned off, as pain and self-pity overwhelmed him for the moment.

Why Me is not a self-pitying book, rather it tells how Gargan came to answer the question.  It's Gargan's story of how he learned to talk again through esophagael speech and then began to work with the American Cancer Society: raising funds, making personal appearances, and helping scared patients as they prepared to go through the same process as Gargan did. It was in this that Gargan found an answer to the question, "Why me?" He'd gotten the cancer, so he could help others.

The book revealed the view that Gargan had taken of cancer as he listed one by one, every friend, and every great person who got lost to cancer. Cancer was an enemy and Gargan and the ACS were at war with it. Gargan, a former two pack-a-day smoker for more than thirty ended the book with an appeal for people to stop smoking cigarettes. Perhaps, the most surprising part of the book for twenty-first century Americans is that Gargan didn't have any thoughts on how Martin Kane promoted tobacco use. Gargan took personal responsibility stating that even as a teenager, they'd referred to cigarettes as "coffin nails."

Gargan's faith also plays a part in the book. While he writes about his involvement with the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and meetings with Pope Pius, the more interesting passages are those that show how his faith grew stronger through tragedy and helps him find new purpose in his 60s.

Mixed with honesty about his falings, and a fascinating life story, Why Me is an inspirational tour de force by Gargan. It is sadly out of print, but I was able to get my copy through an interlibrary loan and used copies are available on Amazon and Half.com.

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11Jun/110

14 Carat Dramas

The mid-30s was an era in radio of forgetable and forgotten 15 minute syndicated radio programs. They were produced, put on transcription disks, and sold to a small number of stations with no name stars. Even those who research the shows may have little information as to where they actually originated or who starred in them.

While some shows are easy to forget, there are some good programs from this era that have survived as Diamonds in the Rough. (Pun Intended.)

I first learned of the Diamond Dramas series from the Digital Deli's definitive log. It was  a series of twenty-six programs produced between 1926 and 1927 and first aired in 1934 over KDYL in Salt Lake City.

Each installment included a diamond as part of the plot and was based on actual events in the history of great diamonds including the Mogul Diamond. The stories were tightly packed with a mix of romance, intrigue, and drama. Each 15 minute episode contained 4 minutes of Music (meant for local commercial fills) and an eleven minute self-contained story. The majority of the stories involved royalty: Kings, Queens, Empires, and a mix of love, hatred, and the lust for power. The program had a tremendous scope with episodes set in Russia, India, France, Hungary, and England.  Among those historic personages featured are Napoleon, Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette, the Marquis De Lafayette, a couple of King Louies, and Catherine the Great.

Some of my favorites in this series:

The Mighty Akbar:

The Mighty Akbar rules India and possesses the great mogul diamond.Despite his best efforts, his wife doesn't love him and would like to leave him. She plans to escape to her father's people with Akbar's diamond. The story takes a surprising turn

The Queen's Diamond Charm:

Mary Queen of Scots is in France where Charles reigns but is a weakling controlled by his mother. Can Mary outsmart Charles' mother to save the life of a kinsman as well as her own?

The King's Astrologer:

The cynical astrologer of the superstitious and ruthless King Louie XI tries to get the King to surrender a valuable diamond to him. Louie decides have the astrologer killed instead. Another great twist ending to this one.

The Diamond Necklace:

Napoloeon III offers a young woman diamonds and jewels, and everything but marriage.

25 of the 26 episodes of the Diamond Dramas are available at the Internet Archive.

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10Jun/110

EP0425: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Alonzo Chapman Matter

Edmond O'Brien

Johnny investigates the murder of a philandering salesman.

Original Air Date: July 4, 1951

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9Jun/110

EP0424: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Tolling Bell

Tom Conway

While on vacation in a rural village, Holmes investigates the disappearance of a local woman's son.

Original Air Date: April 7, 1947

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8Jun/110

EP0423: Let George Do It: Juniper Lane

Bob Bailey

Instead of a letter requesting his help, George receives a thank you note for wristlets by mistake. George figures out a mixup was made, and goes to find the woman who got the thank you note. She finds her dead.

Original Air Date: January 16, 1950

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7Jun/110

EP0422: Rogue’s Gallery: Murder with Muriel

Dick Powell

A man who owes Rogue $500 sends him and another man he owes money to, each half of a treasure map. Rogue hasn't received his half and the other creditor  is killed for his.

Original Air Date:  October 25, 1945

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6Jun/110

EP0421: Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator: The Judge and the Champ

William Gargan

Barrie Craig is hired to guard a columnist who has been hinting that a former champion threw a fight. When Craig hears his client murdered, he needs to find out who did it.

Original Air Date: October 17, 1951

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5Jun/110

Video Theater 017: Martin Kane: The District Attorney Killer

A murderer who  pledges to get even with the District Attorney kills him in open court and implicates his defense attorney as the one who provided the gun. Martin Kane goes to work.

From the 1949-1951-run.

5Jun/110

The Zeck Trilogy: A Review

 

Holmes had Moriarty, but who did Nero Wolfe have?

For three books, crime boss Arnold Zeck served as an antagonist for Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

And Be a Villain

A man who writes a horseracing tip sheet is poisoned on a radio talk show while drinking the sponsor's product. Wolfe is hired to solve the case by the sponsors and the show's star.

On the positive side, this mystery had many twist and turns as to who was even the intended victim. At one point, Wolfe gets so disgusted with the show's staff for lying to him and wasting days of his time that he turns a key piece of information over to Inspector Cramer in hopes that Cramer will find the killer and earn Wolfe's fee for him. When this plan fails, Archie executes a daring move to get Wolfe back on the case.

This particular volume had a few moments where it became a tad tedious. It takes until Chapter 4 for an exact agreement to be reached as to who will be paying Wolfe and how much. Then we have pages consumed by detailing when the staff came in to be interviewed in what turned out to be pointless and fruitless and interviews because they had all agreed to conceal a vital fact. Perhaps, this helps us sympathize with Wolfe when he walks off the case as we're tempted as well.

But, no one ought to walk away. The book's look at the world of 1940s radio is worth the read for fans of old time radio. Also, when Wolfe does get back  on the case, the mystery continues to twist and turn as we wrestle with who was the target and who had opportunity commit the crime.

In And Be a Villain, Zeck plays a minimal role. He threatens Wolfe to be careful where he treads in investigating the case. Wolfe figures out what Zeck's role in the crime the lead to the murder he's investigating, but as the fact isn't essential to the police investigation, he leaves Zeck out of it.

Perhaps, this is the one of the great challenges with the Zeck trilogy. While Holmes and Moriarity were driven by ego and intellectual vanity ever closer towards a fatal confrontation,  Wolfe would rather not deal with Zeck if he had to and all things considered, Zeck would rather not rid the world of Wolfe because it would make the world less interesting. Not, that they're not willing to do what they have to do, but as I finished listening to the audiobook of  And Be a Villain. I knew it was going to take something big to get this rivalry off the ground.

Rating: Satisfactory

The Second Confession

Something would come in The Second Confession. Wolfe takes a case for a rich industrialist who suspects his daughter's girlfriend is a communist. Zeck calls Wolfe and makes it clear that he doesn't want the case investigated and punctuates his demand by shooting up Wolfe's plant room and destroying thousands of dollars in plants.

However, when the young man is murdered, everything is reversed. Zeck wants the man's killer caught and brought to justice. Wolfe begins an investigations with plenty of caveats offered to everyone involved. Along the way,  Wolfe takes on the American Community Party to get information needed to seal his case. The Second Confession shows both the anti-communist leanings of the Montenegrin-born Wolfe as well as Stout. With plenty of twists and a nice bit of political intrigue thrown in, this was a fun and multi-faceted Wolfe story.

Wolfe begins to realize that a confrontation with Zeck may be unavoidable and so he begins to make preparations just in case. However, all things being equal, he'd still rather leave Zeck alone.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

In the Best Families

As The Second Confession ended with Zeck congratulating Wolfe on solving the case and Wolfe once again reiterating his independence, readers have a sense that this can't go on forever.  In The Best Families things at last come to a head. Wolfe agrees to help a woman who merely wants to know where her husband gets his money. Zeck shows his disapproval of Wolfe taking on the case, by intercepting a package of expensive sausages and putting tear gas in its place.

After yet another menacing phone call from Zeck, Wolfe and Archie confer on what to do. Archie figures that since their last encounter with Zeck, they'd taken 40 cases, and Wolfe thinks that running in Zeck every forty cases is quite likely. Wolfe and Archie had to decide whether to oppose Zeck or to acquiesce to him and back off whatever case he didn't want them on. Archie thought that without the other, either one of them might have given in to Zeck, but neither wanted to be seen as cowardly by the other. So their course was set, though Archie didn't know what that course would entail.

Archie goes to spend a weekend with the client and her family to get a feel for her husband, and while he's there, the client is murdered. He calls up Wolfe and fills him in. True to that old saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going," Wolfe got going, fleeing the Brownstone, setting up alternate arrangements for his orchids and servants, placing the house on the market, and ordering Archie not to follow him. as he leaves his old friend Marco as Power of Attorney.

The next few chapters after Wolfe's disappearance are fascinating for fans of the Wolfe stories as we get an idea of what the characters would be like in Wolfe's absence. Theodore sulks, Fritz shows almost maternal concern, and Cramer shows up to offer some friendly advice.  Cramer's appearance is noteworthy as it begins with Cramer showing that he's a smart cop and ends with him taking a swing with Archie when the latter suggests Cramer is on the take.

Archie takes center stage in these chapters. Wolfe's disappearance in a bad spot as the DA believes that Wolfe knows who committed the murder and that Archie knows where Wolfe is. Due to Archie's reputation as  a skillful liar, no one believes him when he insists he has no idea where Wolfe has disappeared to.

In addition to this, while Archie is allowed to collect his salary and  stay in the house until a sale occurs, he has been left with nothing to do other than follow up on unfinished cases and collect payments from clients on payment plans. Wolfe left instructions for Archie with Marco that are incredibly vague, "You are to act in the light of experience as guided by intelligence."

Archie is clearly miffed by Wolfe not leaving him holding the bag. He also  misses working with Wolfe. However, unlike a more modern assistant, Archie follow Wolfe's command not to search for him.

The Zeck series does a good job showcasing the complexity of the Archie-Wolfe relationship, with its various elements that are understood by the two, even if they are never spoken.  At times, the relationship seems close to Father-Son or a Mentorship.

Wolfe can be protective of Archie. Indeed, when Archie first learned of Zeck in And Be A Villain, Wolfe ordered Archie to forget he'd heard the name. And there's a sense that Wolfe was continuing that protective behavior by leaving Archie out of the loop during the dangerous preliminary stages of his plan against Zeck, only bringing Archie in when it was absolutely necessary.

Archie doesn't care for being protected, nor was Nero Wolfe's legman meant to sit around for months waiting for Wolfe to make a move.  So, therefore Archie stops taking a salary from Wolfe and opens his own private detective agency.  He hopes his first case will be to solve the murder of Wolfe's last client. When he fails to get cooperation, he drums up business and prides himself on clearly more than Wolfe paid him. Still, when Wolfe comes back, there's no question of staying on his own.

Given that there were 25 years of Wolfe books after In The Best Families, it's not a spoiler to say that Wolfe returns and triumphs over Zeck.  However, I will say that the final showdown is anti-climatic after the fascinating character drama that drives the middle of the story. The final showdown between the two (if we can even call it that) is disappointing.

In the final analysis, Zeck disappoints because he is really not equal to the task in going against  Wolfe. To be sure, he is a dangerous technocrat, but he's  still a technocrat. Zeck builds systems that keep him safe: a network of B, C, and D operatives that shield him while turning a profit. The original racket that incited the murders in And Be a Villain.It seems that nearly every racket that Zeck is involved in is one where Zeck thinks he's figured how to avoid any danger.

In the midst of his foolproof systems, and risk-free crimes, Zeck seems weak at anticipating human behavior, expecting it to fall into neat patterns. Zeck handles Wolfe with typical mafioso style and forces a confrontation that he can't win. Wolfe's understanding of human behavior and his ability to see the flaws in Zeck's systems assured the outcome as soon as Wolfe stepped out of the Brownstone.

The actual mystery of who killed Wolfe's client is relatively simple. And indeed, it's surprising that it remained a secret for so long as the police and was given the key clue early in the book.   Readers could be excused as Stout directed our attention to the character driven story and Wolfe's dealing with Zeck.

So on one hand, In the Best Families had  a weaker mystery and a disappointing villain, but it also offered some insights into Archie and the characters in Wolfe's world. The middle part of the book is interesting enough to carry the rest of the book. So, overall I'll give the book:

Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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3Jun/110

The Five Best Syndicated Old Time Radio Detective Shows

We've already looked at detective shows on every major network including multi-networkABC, CBS, NBC, and Mutual Detective shows.  Now we turn to programs that were aired in  syndication.

Syndicated programming allowed radio stations to fill blocks of programming not filled by network shows and allowed local and regional businesses that couldn't afford to sponsor network programs.

While network shows were aired once and often lost, syndicated programs aired in different markets for decades after their original creation date which explains why many syndicated shows survive with almost entirely complete runs.  One challenged with syndicated programs is that it's very hard to determine when shows were first aired, as any number of radio stations may have been the first to play the program.

As always, I asked our Facebook friends to vote and forty-eight  shared their favorites.

5) Mystery is My Hobby

Produced: 1947-49

Glenn LanganMystery is My Hobby starred Glen Langan as Barton Drake, a mystery writer who solves crimes. Each episode was a lighthearted whodunit aided by the upbeat suave performance of Langan as the sleuth. Langan was practically the opposite of Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled sleuth. You can't get much further opposite of "Trouble is my business" than "Mystery is my Hobby." At the end of each episode, Barton Drake would remind us that "mystery is my hobby."

The show was originally called, "Murder is My Hobby" but while the staff thought the original name was funnier, the sponsor who paid for the show's national run didn't. The sponsor was Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company of Omaha.

The show features perhaps the most compliant police officer assistant for a sleuth in Inspector Noah Danton who is apparently allowed by his department to serve as the nearly full-time sidekick of Barton Drake. The two are rarely apart and Danton even accompanies Drake when he's out of town.

Sixty-five years later, the episodes still make for fun and relaxing listening as for twenty-five minutes, mystery becomes our hobby.

Fan vote: 4%

4) The Adventures of Frank Race

Produced: 1949

Paul DubovThe war changed many things - the face of the earth and the people on it.

This exciting syndicated series focused on an Attorney whose World War II service brought him into the O.S.S. After the war, rather than returning to the practice of the law,  he became a freelance troubleshooter. The cases that Race took on ranged from insurance cases to international spying. Thus, Frank Race's adventures were  a mixture  of Johnny Dollar and the Man Called X.

The show was well-written with a fantastic theme by Ivan Ditmars. Frank Race was played first by Tom Collins (Eps 1-21) and then by character actor Paul Dubov (22-43). Tony Barrett throughout the series provided the voice for Cabbie Marc Donovan, one of radio's most able sidekicks.  The show also featured some of radio's best players as guest stars including Gerald Mohr, Frank Lovejoy, and Virginia Gregg.

Fan Vote: 0%

3)The New Adventures of Michael Shayne with Jeff Chandler

Produced: 1947-48

Michael ShayneAfter the Mutual Network's comedy mystery version of Michael Shayne ended, Bill Rouseau took his turn with the character. The result was one of the most sterling of the hard boiled detective shows.

While in the novels, Shayne lived in Miami, Rouseau placed Shayne in New Orleans, a city full of mystery and a perfect place for a Noirish radio series. Jeff Chandler played the role of the two fisted tough guy private eye. The show was also noteworthy, featuring Jack Webb in the recurring role as Lieutenant LeFevre, Shayne's policeman foil.

The mysteries would never win an Edgar, with often simplistic solutions. However, during its 26-episode run, the show offered plenty of first fights, excitement, Mickey Finns, and femme fatales.  The New Adventures of Michael Shayne continued to be resold and resyndicated well into the late 1960s.

Fan Vote: 4%

2) Boston Blackie with Richard Kollmar

Produced: 1945-50

Richard KollmarBoston Blackie was an epic character for around half a century with silent films, talkies, radio, and finally television. In 1944, Boston Blackie first came to radio with Chester Morris playing Boston Blackie,  the role he was most remembered for in films.  A syndicated version was launched by Frederick Ziv with Richard Kollmar, who was otherwise best known for the live morning radio show he did his wife, Breakfast with Dick and Dorothy.

When Boston Blackie made his first appearance, he was a thief. But by the mid-1940s, Blackie had abandoned his life of crime and was completely law-abiding.  He was "enemy to those who had no enemy and friend to those who had no friend." Blackie's problem was that someone hadn't let Inspector Farraday of the police force in on the development. Practically every week, Inspector Farraday tried to arrest Blackie for a crime, usually murder, only for Blackie to escape  and present Farraday the real criminal, thus clearing his name and guaranteeing his freedom until next week. Over the years, Farraday does begin to ease up and have a more cordial relationship with Blackie. Hearing this development in the relationship between the two characters is one of the noteworthy characteristics of Boston Blackie.

Kollmar played the character as smooth, suave, and wise-cracking. Blackie could handle himself with a gun or his fists, and was a tough man for either the police or criminals to hold onto.

The show's mysteries are a mixed bag of clever stories and somewhat obvious ones. The score uses a relatively light organ score which fits the mood of the show. It also didn't have the high profile guest actors that other programs did, but it was still very popular with listeners.

While it wasn't unusual for a syndicated show to have a second season of episodes, there were nearly 300 individual episodes of Boston Blackie produced, and if you have any doubts as to why the show lasted that long, you only need to take a listen to find out why.

Boston Blackie came to television for two seasons, in a mostly forgotten TV series that didn't make anyone forget the movies or the radio show.

Fan Vote: 33%

1) Box 13 starring Alan Ladd
Produced: 1947-48

Dan Holiday, a reporter turned mystery writer comes up with an original way to come up with plots his stories, placing an ad in the paper, "Adventure Wanted: Will go anywhere, will do anything. Write Box 13 c/o of the Star Times."

With Alan Ladd as both star and producer,  Box 13 became one of radio's most exciting shows. As Ladd was not a professional detective, writers had a free hand in writing adventures for Holiday. His many adventures included infiltrating a car theft ring, going to the bayous of Louisiana to help a man who believes he's under a voodoo curse, intrigue with a jewel thief in Paris, and encountering a murderous psychopath who has chosen Holiday as his next target.

Ladd's acting was spot on and his resonant voice was perfect for radio. Ladd was able to draw some of the finest guest actors in radio including Gerald Mohr, Frank Lovejoy, and Alan Reed. Sadly, the program didn't include credits, so for many guest appearances, we can only take educated guesses.

While the show had numerous writers, the scripts were usually good, though occasionally uneven.

Box 13 continued to be resyndicated into the 1990s. The program also helped Ladd to increase his popularity with the American public with Box 13 being a fantastic showcase for his talent. In 1954, Land reprised his role as Dan Holiday on television,  adapting the radio episode, "Daytime Nightmare" as an episode of the G.E. True Theater, "Committed."

Fan Vote: 58%

Honorable mention:

Dr. Tim, Detective: This was one of the few mystery shows made for kids. The 13 episode serial is a pleasant mix of education and entertainment and education as Dr. Tim's medical mysteries educated kids about such interesting facts as the uses of blood in vaccination and the treatment of tuberculosis. These 15 minute shows are well-done for both kids and adults.

This concludes our series. Thanks so much for following along.

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Below is a recap of both my rankings  in each category as well as how fans on Facebook voted:

ABC

My Pick Facebook Pick
Pat Novak for Hire Pat Novak for Hire
The Fat Man Sherlock Holmes
Defense Attorney The Fat Man
Sherlock Holmes (Tom Conway) I Deal in Crime
I Deal in Crime Defense Attorney

CBS

My Pick Facebook Pick
Adventures of Philip Marlowe Johnny Dollar
Yours Truly Johnny Dollar Casey
Adventures of Rocky Jordan Philip Marlowe
Broadway’s My Beat Rocky Jordan
Casey Crime Photographer Broadway’s My Beat

Mutual

My Pick Facebook Pick
Let George Do It Let George Do It
Nick Carter Hercule Poirot
Casebook of Gregory Hood Michael Shayne
Hercule Poirot Nick Carter
Michael Shayne (Wally Maher) Gregory Hood

NBC

My Pick Facebook Pick
Dragnet Dragnet
Night Beat Nero Wolfe
Dangerous Assignment Dangerous Assignment
Barrie Craig Night Beat
Nero Wolfe Barrie Craig

Multi-network

My Pick Facebook Pick
Richard Diamond Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) Richard Diamond
Sam Spade Sam Spade
The Saint The Saint
A Man Called X A Man Called X

Syndicated

My Pick Facebook Pick
Box 13 Box 13
Boston Blackie Boston Blackie
Michael Shayne (Jeff Chandler) Michael Shayne
Frank Race Mystery is My Hobby
A Man Called X Frank Race

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