Month: December 2011

EP0566: Barrie Craig: Kitchens Come with Knives

William Gargan

Barrie is hired to find out if a man is selling information from his business to a rival firm, but he  begins to suspect that he’s been hired under false pretenses when everything begins to point to a domestic investigation and when the subject of his investigation is murdered.

Original Air Date: September 22, 1953

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Three Forgotten Old Time Radio Christmas Traditions

Television has its Christmas traditions. A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas survive through the wonder of reruns and videos.

The Golden Age of Radio also had its Christmas traditions, some things that for years were part of what Christmas was in America. Thankfully, through the power of MP3, we can step back in time and rediscover some of the best:

1) Christmas in Pine Ridge

The recurring Lum and Abner Christmas special in the 1930s was somewhat of an odd show. There wasn’t any comedy to speak of. The plot centers around Lum, Abner, and Grandpappy Spears helping out a young couple that’s gotten stranded in Pine Ridge, where the mother is giving birth. The family is clearly met to parallel the Holy family travelling to Bethlehem.

The episode’s theme shows Pine Ridge at its best and in its fifteen minutes, it’s poignant, thoughtful, and even philisophical as Lum reflects as well on the old year ending and the New Year coming.

Lum and Abner Christmas Special-December 25, 1940

2) Lionel Barrymore as Ebeneezer Scrooge

While most people living in the 21st century have no idea who Lionel Barrymore is. Mention, “Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life” and people will have no problem remembering the distinctive voice of the wheelchair bound adversary of Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey.

One key contributor in Barrymore playing Potter was that Barrymore had a lot of experience in the role of miser.  From 1934-53, he played the Role of Ebenezer Scrooge for 18 of 20 Christmases. He relinquished the role once to his brother John in 1935 and in 1938, Orson Welles took the part. However, in 1939, while Welles was still the boss at the Campbell Playhouse, Barrymore was Scrooge once again. This time in an hour long adaptation that showed off the amazing talent that was Lionel Barrymore with Welles’ narration making the show a must-hear. Listen and you’ll find out why, for an entire generation, Barrymore was definitive Scrooge.

Listen to The Campbell Playhouse: A Christmas Carol: December 24, 1939

1) Bing Crosby singing Adeste Fideles

If you say, Bing Crosby and Christmas, the first song that will undoubtedly come to mind is, White Christmas. However, this was not the song most common to Crosby Christmas Special. It was Adeste Fideles, which is commonly known as Oh Come All Ye Faithful.

Whether Bing Crosby was hosting the Kraft Music HallPhilco Radio Time, or the General Electric show, Adeste Fidelis would lead off. Crosby would first sing the song in Latin, and then everyone on stage and at home was invited to sing the song in English.

While less people understand the Latin version now than in Crosby’s day, the performance is quite powerful and was simply a great way to begin another great Crosby Christmas.

December 20, 1953 episode of the General Electric show.

William Shatner as Archie Goodwin?

William Shatner as Archie Goodwin

This fascinating casting choice has come to light on several blogs via a March 14, 1959 article in the New York Times that wrote of CBS signing Shatner to play the role of Archie Goodwin with Kurt Kasznar as Wolfe.

Information has been added to Wikipedia about the series including an article purportedly from the Baltimore Sun TV critic Donald Kirkley who suggested that the pilot had been a tad too successful:

Everything seemed to point to a sale of the series. A facsimile of the brownstone house in which Wolfe lives in the novels … was found in Grammercy Square. But when the film was made and shown around, it was considered too good to be confined to half an hour. There was a new shuffle and deal, and in consequence, an hour-long, new pilot is now being photographed in Hollywood.

This new information raises a couple of interesting points. First of all, it exposes that one myth newer Nero Wolfe fans have been told repeatedly is bunk. The myth is that after the failure of the last radio episode of Nero Wolfe in 1951 that Rex Stout foreclosed the possibility of any other English-language adaptations of the great detective. Clearly, this is false as he’d given CBS the green light for the TV series. I’ll have to make some corrections to a few things as a result of this new information. Hopefully, others who have written about Nero Wolfe will do the same.

Secondly, it raises an interesting question in terms of what type of Archie Goodwin William Shatner would have made. Shatner, at this point is a known quantity, most famously from his role on Star Trek.  His style in Trek has been parodied for its occasional hammyness. This reputation has been furthered by Shatner’s interpretations of songs such as Mr. Tambourine Man and Rocket Man have furthered this reputation, as perhaps has Shatner’s starring roles as supercop TJ Hooker and his Emmy Award winning performance as egomaniacal Denny Crane.

In 1959 though, all of this was in the future. Shatner was a much sought-after young talent, who made his first big splash on television in a two part Studio One episode that became the basis for the Defenders. When beginning the film of Nero Wolfe, he was only 28 and six years away from his first TV series, “For the People.”  In the interim period, he remained in demand as a TV guest star on a variety of shows including The Twilight Zone,  77 Sunset Strip, and The Naked City.

For my part I’d definitely love to see how the young Mr. Shatner handled the role of Archie Goodwin. If the TV Pilot ever becomes available, I’ll be first in line to see it.

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EP0565: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The LaTourette Matter

John Lund

Johnny is hired to look into an arson that led to the death of the owner’s wife after the first investigator was killed in an apparent hit and run.

Original Air Date: February 20, 1953

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EP0564: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Christmas Bride

Sherlock Holmes is invited to spend the holidays with a family that needs him to assure a wedding occurs.

Original Air Date: December 21, 1947

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