Month: April 2012

EP0656: Barrie Craig: Sneak Assassin

William Gargan

While on vacation in Florida, Barrie investigates the disappearance of an old friend.

Original Air Date: November 21, 1954

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Radio Review: The Fire Chief Show with Ed Wynn

Ed Wynn

Ed Wynn didn’t find film and television success until 1949, by which time he was 63 years old and would continue to take on memorable film and television roles in the twilight of his life.  His most famous roles included being the voice of the Mad Hatter in Disney Alice in Wonderland and Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins.  His guest starring work on television would include The Twilight Zone, General Electric Theater, The Red Skelton Show, and 77 Sunset Strip.

However, this all occurred after Wynn’s 63rd birthday. However, Wynn had been performing since 1910. In the early 30s, Wynn began his career over the radio on the Texaco Fire Chief Program. His character was the perfect fool (a.k.a. The Fire Chief.)

The program was the first of three shows to be named after Texaco’s Fire Chief Gasoline. The gasoline was so named because it was certified by the government for use in emergency vehicles and Texaco’s selling point  to the public was its safety and reliability.

The product had little to do with the content of the show, which was pure Vaudeville.  Using announcer Graham McNamee as a straight man, Wynn fired off silly joke after silly joke in his oft-imitated voice. The show’s signature feature was Wynn “re-enacting” a famous opera like Carmen or HMS Pinafore. This would become Wynn’s long term gag and as his telling of Carmen had little bearing on the actual plot, he could re-enacted Carmen every week in later years. Another favorite spot was at the end, Wynn would answer (mostly likely made up) listener questions to hilarious results. In between, Donald Voorhees and his orchestra provide some wonderful musical bridges.

Wynn’s original Fire Chief Program, in my opinion, was not as good as many of the later radio comedy variety show, the Fire Chief of Program is worth listening to for historic reasons.

Most of the circulating episodes are from 1932 and early 1933, with a few from 1935. Old Time Radio from pre-FDR era is pretty rare and earliest episodes of the Fire Chief were recorded in the middle of Prohibition. In the opening of one show McNamee asked Wynn if he’d kept the Commandments this weekend.  Wynn replied, “Don’t be silly Graham, I always keep the commandments. My problem is with the Amendments.” (referring to the 18th Amendment.)

Secondly, Wynn’ s act is pure vaudeville.  Wynn insisted on performing before a live studio audience. Wynn was a consummate entertainer and performer. His son Keenan made the point that Wynn was not a comedian, but a clown, and that distinction shows. Thus, we shouldn’t compare to comedians like Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope, or Burns and Allen.  However, as a clown, Wynn was one of the best there ever was. His radio years in the 1930s show him in his prime as a performer and pioneer,which makes this show worth a listen.

Rating 3.5 out of 5.0 stars.

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Book Review: Black Orchids

Nero Wolfe had twice as many novels published as Sherlock before he ever broke into short fiction. However, author Rex Stout would create some of his most memorable stories in the Wolfe novellas. The first two of these are collected in Black Orchids.

Black Orchids

The title story for the collection was originally published as Death Wears an Orchid. Archie has found himself assigned to flower show duty to watch a new Black Orchid bred by Lewis Hewitt to see whether it wilts or not. Wolfe finally makes a trip down in person to see it. But then fate takes a hand when Archie triggers the murder when he picks up a stick, triggering a Rube Goldberg style murder, which is the least practical part of the story.

The stick that served as the trigger belonged to Hewitt. Wolfe offers to solve the case and protect Hewitt in exchange for all three of the black orchid plants, insisting on them in advance.

To hold on to his plants, Wolfe has to not only sift through blackmail and jealousies of orchid growers, but he has to endure not one, but two women living under his roof, all while keeping his client’s name out of the press. Wolfe has a clever and somewhat shocking way of doing this that makes for a great twist ending.

Rating: Satisfactory

Cordially Invited to Meet Death

New York’s Premier party planner, Beth Huddleston, engages Wolfe to stop malicious letters that are threatening to ruin her business.  Wolfe has her entire household under suspicion and sends Archie out to investigate. Archie finds a virtual mad house with a Chimp that blocks his way in unless he plays tag with him as well as bears roaming around. Their investigation is cut short when Huddleston dies of a tetanus infection with Wolfe only having learned one key thing: the secret to preparing great Corned Beef hash which Wolfe achieved through a precedent-breaking decision to  allow a woman suspect into the kitchen to help him.

However, her brother is convinced its murder. When Archie and the brother both get the same idea and proof is found that the death was no accident, Wolfe has little reason to be engaged as he has no client. However, when Cramer insults Wolfe by taking a dinner guest downtown for questioning, Wolfe not only resolves to solve the case. He plans to rub Cramer’s face in it.

Within the story, Archie offers a mystery as to why Wolfe sent some of the rare black orchids to Huddleston’s funeral and never answers the question. The question is left open though Archie offers readers their choice of potential theories. Archie confesses there may even have been some past association between Wolfe and Beth Huddleston, but that much of Wolfe’s past remains a mystery to him.  And the puzzle of the black orchids only adds to Wolfe’s mystery.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

Collection Rating: Very Satisfactory

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EP0655: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Shayne Bombing Matter

 John Lund

Johnny is dubious when he investigates a case where a man has been accused of murdering his brother with a bomb.

Original Air Date: July 14, 1954

 

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EP0654: Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Everblooming Roses

A minister calls Holmes in to investigate the case of the ghostly repeated blooming of roses.

Original Air Date: May 16, 1948

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