Category: Box 13

EP2967: Box 13: The First Letter

Dan Holiday tries to jumpstart his writing career through an ad in a newspaper. His first letter is from a woman who tells Dan she’s being blackmailed.

Original Air Date: October 17, 1947

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Audiobook Review: Box Thirteen: Adventure Wanted

Box 13 was one of the best syndicated radio programs of all time and was one of the first five programs I did on the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio. It was a syndicated series starring Alan Ladd which ran for fifty-two episodes. In it, reporter-turned mystery writer Dan Holiday finds plots for his stories based on responses to his ad that he runs in the Star Times, “Adventure wanted, will go anywhere, will do anything. Write Box 13 C/O Star Times.”

Box 13 ended only because there had been a large enough number of episodes produced for a syndication package. The number of plots that could be produced from the idea were virtually unlimited. Radio Archive has presented an audiobook read by Nick Santa Maria containing six new short stories featuring new adventures with Dan Holiday based on letters he received from Box 13.

“The Mystery of the Menacing Manuscript” has Dan Holiday going to a mystery weekend with a house full of jealous mystery writers at one of the premier publishing houses in the nation. The story has a fine setup and a nice atmosphere but the final twist turns it into a bit of a lecture and is disappointing.

“The Horror of the Plague Doctor” has an investor turning to Dan for help as an investor’s meeting he attended tends to turn to a blood bath at the hands of a man dressed like a plague doctor. It’s atmospheric and the sort of yarn that would have worked great on the radio. My only problem is that this one felt like it was re-purposed from a more traditional, period, hard-boiled story with the way Dan talked to Suzie in a couple places and also all the guns around his office.

“The Out of this World Affair” has a conspiracy theorist turning to Holiday for help as he believes in a conspiracy including little green men. Not really a story they would have done on radio, but that was because of the times. It’s very quirky and has some nice twists worked into it with a somewhat ambiguous ending.

“Room 13” is one of the more intriguing episodes. Dan is asked to share his soul with an android. However, there’s more than a crazy experiment going on with a robot as there’s also a beautiful lab assistant and a mobster mixed up in it. The story’s has some great twists and manages a noir story with potential science fiction elements.

“The Game’s Afoot, Mr. Holiday” has Dan Holiday receive a note challenging his detective skills and threatening a murder if he doesn’t solve it. He goes to the police for help and in one of the great moments of realism, the police can’t help with such a vague clue. The story has its good moments, but it also a lot of problems including some leaps in logic and an unsatisfying conclusion that adds up to the fact that the criminal really wasn’t all that great.

In “Kalidescope” Dan Holiday is sent eight five dollar bills with a request for help and ends up stumbling into an incredible web of intrigue with twins, lookalike wives, insanity, and a mysterious circus playbill. This is a superb story and I’d love to see it expanded into a novel or done with a full cast.

Overall, the stories were pretty good. My main criticism was it wasn’t necessary to explain the premise of Box 13 in every single story. Still, this was a decent effort. While they weren’t perfect, for listeners who’ve been waiting more than sixty-five years for more Dan Holiday adventures, Box Thirteen: Adventure Wanted is a welcomed release.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Box 13 in the 21st Century

I recently received a listener question from Kathleeen about Box 13:

I had a thought; what do you think the “Box 13” ad would look like if it were on CraigsList?

The question is easy enough to answer but raises another one that’s a little more complex, How would a modern day Dan Holiday make a Box 13-type scenario work in the 21st Century?

Dan Holiday (played by Hollywood legend Alan Ladd) was a reporter who decided to try his hand at writing mysteries. He had a unique idea to come up with plots for his stories. He put in ad in the Star Times saying, “Adventure Wanted, will go anywhere, will do anything. Write Box 13.” That simple premise made Box 13 one of the greatest radio adventure mystery series ever made and it was actually our first series. (See: Archives.)

In the time of Dan Holiday, newspapers were king. They were the cheapest way to communicate a message to the general public. Not only did Dan Holiday use newspapers, so did George Valentine of Let George Do It, and the legendary Nero Wolfe placed newspaper ads for a variety of purposes. In In the Best Families he announced his retirement with a newspaper ad, and in Might as Well be Dead, he used an ad to search for the missing Paul Harrell.

Newspapers worked for Dan Holiday with his little ad run repeatedly because people saw it over and over again. In fact, in many episodes, the correspondents mentioned that they’d seen the ad several times which gave them the idea to write to Box 13 when they had a need for a freelance adventurer.

The Box 13 situation gave Holiday a suitable cloak of mystery. It allowed him to keep secret the source of his novel ideas and to protect himself from cranks with the notable exception of the adventure, “Find Me, Find Death.”

The 21st Century is different.  The internet has overtaken newspapers  as the top source of news and information. So how would a modern Dan Holiday make this work?

He may be able to get away with newspaper ads for a while. Many of Holiday’s adventures came from letters from older people who would be more likely to still be reading newspapers. But how would Holiday communicate with the Internet generation?

The Craig’s List ad would probably be the same as his newspaper ad with a notable exception (the inclusion of a website):

Box 13-Craig's List

(Note: At the time of writing this post, the domain was not registered by anyone. I’m not responsible what might be there when you’re reading this post.)

Including the website would not be strictly necessary. As readers could respond to the Craig’s list post by clicking on a link in the ad.  The big challenge with something like Craig’s list (other than the fact that I don’t know under what category you’d even advertise as a freelance adventurer) is that there’s no way to stand out the same way Dan Holiday’s repeated newspaper ad did in the original series.

In the 21st Century, Holiday would need to do something else. He’d have to take the Box 13  thing and make it go viral to get the type of response he wanted. His publisher would probably insist on it. Holiday would probably have all the blogging and social networking stuff going and it’d only be a matter of time before he had a legion of followers and fans.

Imagine a guy who could write tweets like:

Good news: got my first response on Box 13. Bad news: She’s trying to frame me for murder.

In Louisiana, fighting alleged voodoo curse.

I don’t think he’d have any problem getting followers.

The BBC Series, Sherlock, which imagines Holmes in the 21st Century makes full use of modern technology including text, email, and the Internet.  These elements don’t make the show successful. Rather, they serve to establish this Holmes firmly in his time. What makes the show work is the strength of the chracters and the stories.

The same thing is true of Box 13. A 21st Century Dan Holiday might carry an Android Phone, but if he’s still a daring adventurer who will charge in where angels dare to tread to help someone, his story would still work if it’s done right.

Ed Note: It should be noted that David Gallaher, a listener to the program, wrote a graphic novel which imagines a 21st Century Dan Holiday. However, Gallaher uses Box 13 in a different way. 

If you have a question about classic radio, television, or movies that you’d like me to write about, I’d welcome your suggestions. You can email them to me on our contact form.

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EP0256: Box 13: Round Robin

Alan Ladd

A letter to Box 13 puts Dan Holiday in the middle of a complicated blackmail scheme.

Original Air Date: December 22, 1948

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The Best of Box 13

After 52 episodes, the last Podcast of Box 13 will be released. It’s been a good run with some of the best writing and acting in radio. While there were a few clunkers such as, “Actor’s Alibi” this was the exception rather than rule.

Holiday’s plan to find mystery plots by receiving letters sent to Box 13 at the Star Times has paid off. It’s attracted all kinds: damsels in distress, criminals looking for unwitting accomplices, and people who were just plain crazy. Below are five of my favorites:

5) Book of Poems

A great mystery where Dan tries to find out what a disabled young man who can’t talk meant by sending him a book of poems by Sir Walter Raleigh. Features Ladd’s fantastic reading voice.

4) Hare and Hounds

This is a very tense and suspenseful story as Holiday finds himself framed for murder, with the local police hunting for him, along with the real killer. His job is to stay alive. It’s one of Holiday’s cleverest adventures.

3) The Philanthropist

Dan Holiday answers a letter from a homeless man, and goes undercover as an indigent as he tries to find out who’s behind the disappearance of several homeless men. The answer is shocking.

2) Find Me, Find Death

Dan Holiday got plenty of crazy letters, but this one took the cake. The letter writer informed Holiday that he would kill him in 4 days and that if he went to the police, he’d kill Holiday sooner.  Holiday’s challenge is to find the madman–without finding death.

1) The Treasure of Hang Li

Dan Holidays follows the instructions in a letter to purchase “the Hang Li” piece. The shop owner gives it to Holiday and insists he not pay for it.  It’s a very surprising story, and perhaps the most profound of the series.

And there are many other great episodes, all of which are available on our Box 13 page.