Category: Golden Age Article

50 Years of Yabba Dabba Do

It’s rare for a TV show that turns 50 years old to be remembered, yet alone to make the front page on Google, but that’s what happened to the Flinstones.

The show began in 1960 on ABC and has spawned numerous TV spinoffs, movies, and one-shot TV specials. Some of these efforts have been of dubious quality, but what keeps the remakes and spinoffs coming is that the show has so many fans that anything with the Flinstones in it will have an instant appeal.

The 1960-66 original TV run remains the bedrock (pun intended) for the Flinstones franchise. The show is in the same style of other classic “everyman” sitcoms such as The Life of Riley and The Honeymooners.  The show was lead by veteran radio and cartoon actors Alan Reed and Mel Blanc. It was strengthened by good writing that took advantage of the show’s fantastic setting and the opportunities presented by cartoon physics.

What has made the show so popular for so long?

The first key is animation. Parents introduce their kids to cartoons such as Looney Tunes and Disney’s gigantic cartoon collection.  They’re the type of shows that parents have no problem introducing their kids to. And the grown up nature of the Flintstones helps to keep kids fans after they’ve grown up, even if they don’t advertise it. They just buy the DVDs for the kids.

The second thing is the fantastic stone age setting. With pet dinosaurs instead of pet dogs, cars that move by the passengers and driver running, stone-age Television, and all the conveniences of living in Bedrock make the setting timeless, and help make the show as enjoyable and accessible today as when it first aired.

The Jetsons, which launched two years after the Flintstones, has endured, but with far fewer spin-offs and less prominence. The reason The Jetsons has enjoyed a lesser success is that it’s set in the future and its vision of the future often seems dated. After all,  2062 is only 50 years away and its unlikely to be the world the creators of the Jetsons imagined.

The other advantage that The Flintstones has is the relationship between the Rubbles and the Flintstones. The friendship and love between the classic characters makes the show speak to every generation.   

Shows about the present and the future become dated far more easily than shows about a fantastic past, and shows that feature great friendships will last the longest of all.

Links:

Watch the Flinstones at AOL Video.

The Overlooked Mrs. North

In the discussion of great female detectives of the golden radio era, one name is invariably left out of the discussion: Pamela North.

Part of the challenge may be that Mrs. North was a part of a detective team and a husband-wife team at that. There are at least four Couple Detective teams with a substantial number of episodes surviving including the Thin Man, the Abbots, It’s a Crime, Mr. Collins, and of course, the Norths. In most of the shows, the wife is the sidekick to the husband. In all three other shows, the husband is a licensed private investigator.

Pamela North is different. She and her husband, Jerry are both amateurs in the field of detection. Pam is a housewife and Jerry is a successful publisher. To stumble into one murder would be improbable, to stumble into 500 as they did in the era of Alice Frost and Joseph Curtain requires a suspension of disbelief to say the least.

On the radio, the Norths were often equally matched . Jerry was most helpful when there was obviously foul play afoot. If they were kidnapped by two mugs, this was right up Jerry North’s alley. However, cases that required more use of intuition and outside the box thinking were ones were Pam North thrived. Given the dearth of female detectives in radio, it’s hard to ignore Mrs. North.

The show hit the radio in 1943 with Joseph Curtain and Alice Frost in the title roles. Richard Denning and Barbara Britton from the TV version would take over on the radio in June, 1953 and stay with the show until April, 1955. The series began as a blend of comedy and mystery. A great many of the exemplars surviving from the war years are from the Armed Forces Radio Service’s Mystery Playhouse, which brought one mystery show a week to America’s servicemen around the world. The number of appearances by the Norths attest to their appeal to American servicemen. The charming Norths with their light mysteries and cute romance were good medicine for men thousands of miles from home and missing their own loved ones.

The show evolved over the time. In the middle-40s, it became a so more serious mystery show and towards the end of its run, it took what I view as an unfortunate turn towards crime melodrama. The vast majority of the episodes featured overacting by guest actors behaving badly for the great majority of the show, and Pamela and Jerry North showing up for a few minutes to solve a painfully obvious mystery.

Barbara BritonWhile the radio show was declining, CBS was bringing the North’s to Television with Richard Denning and Barbara Britton in the title roles. This version of the North’s would be quite different. In the premiere episode, The Weekend Murder, Pam solves the murder case while Jerry is sleeping. This was an indicator of how the series would go. Jerry North was the sidekick.

 Jerry had always been the more level-headed of the two, but on television, he was completely incurious and practical. 90% of the time, he either just wants to relax or is obsessing about the latest manuscript to come across his desk. Pam’s curiosity pulls the Norths into mystery after mystery and proceeds to solve them. In the episodes I’ve seen, Pam can also hold her own in a fight with another woman, though Jerry will usually rush in to save Pam when a dangerous man is about to kill her.

Pam North prepares to jump into action.

Britton’s portrayal combined this curiosity, quick thinking, and toughness with sweetness, feminity, and charm that made the TV version of Mrs. North a joy to watch. The TV episodes succeeded in recapturing the fun and charm of the original radio series.

CBS had a good idea in bringing Denning and Britton to radio to replace Curtain and Frost, as having the same actors on TV and Radio promotes both versions. But the quality of the radio show didn’t improve as the Norths continued through a series of dreary crime melodramas that Denning and Britton could only do so much with.

Mr. and Mrs. North was one of four shows that CBS tried as a five-day-a-week serial before opting to do Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, but the serial version only lasted for a few weeks in 195

Married Couples detective shows made comebacks in the 1970s and 80s with McMillan and Wife and Hart to Hart, however the subgenre seems to have waned in popular media in the 21st century. This may be the result of changes in society and society’s view of marriage. However, to the fan of good mysteries, there’s no question of the values of Mrs. North on television as well as in the 1940s radio version.

Additional resources:

Public Domain TV episodes of Mr. and Mrs. North

Old Time Radio Mr. and Mrs. North

It’s Another Case for Nick Carter or Nick Carter and the Case of the Missing Serials

There were few radio detectives with more endurance than Nick Carter as played by Lon Clark. It’s first airing was April 11, 1943 in the middle of World War II and it went off the air on September 25, 1955, 5 days after Dragnet aired its last episode. Clark made more than 722 appearances as Nick Carter, a detective character who predated Sherlock Holmes by 1 year.

Nick Carter’s radio adventures are usually some of the most cleverly written detective stories on the radio, with excitement, thrills, and taut cleverly written mysteries.

Carter, like many other radio detectives has a lot of lost episodes. However, unlike the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes episodes, missing Nick Carter stories aren’t mostly or entirely from the World War II era. Given the rare World War II episodes of Sherlock Holmes, The Thin Man, and Mr. and Mrs. North, Nick Carter has to have done well during World War II. About 50 World War II episodes of Nick Carter are floating about. These generally feature one of radio’s most distinctive openings:

(Pounding on the Door)

Woman: What is it? What is it?

Man: It’s another case for Nick Carter, Master Detective.

There are some missing war episodes and among the most curious are those from a 20-week period where Nick Carter went to a five day a week 15-minute serial format from April to September 1944. Outside of the 56 Yours Truly Johnny Dollar serials, the only intact radio detective serial stories are a 1936 Charlie Chan story and a 1954 Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Person story. The rest exist only in fragment and none of the Carter serials are in circulation.

However, it’s the post World War II shows that are in much shorter supply.  Particularly those shows after 1948. After episode 366, “A Clue Called X”, 354 of the next 356 episodes are missing including the last 312, with no Carter episode from the 1950s in circulation.

The number of Carter radio plays is circulation is somewhere between 85 and 135 episodes depending on whose set you’re looking at. There are a lot of duplicates and mislabeled shows, so it’s tough to say for sure. This is why Lon Clark as Nick Carter didn’t make my 100 club list  as I haven’t verified the episodes and there hasn’t been a clear independent audit of the Carter shows. That leaves near to 600 episodes missing from general circulation. The good news of this?

Many of these episodes may not be lost forever, but may only be out of circulation. The Radio Goldindex of radio shows usually tracks pretty closely to what’s in circulation, but on Nick Carter, Goldin has far more Carter episodes than are currently circulation. He catalogs 358 episodes or nearly triple what’s in circulation. Among the episodes Goldin lists are several of the Nick Carter serials which are either complete or complete enough to listen to. In addition there are more than 100 episodes from 1949-50 that Goldin has listed that aren’t in general circulation. This gives hope that the shows exist within collecting circles and will eventually become available to fans of the master detective.

The Immortal Detectives

Listening to vintage radio, you get a sense of how fleeting fame and popularity can be. There was a time when names such as Michael Shayne, John J. Malone, Philo Vance, Nick Carter, and Mr. and Mrs. North held a spot in the public imagination. Yet, today these names would be mostly unknown except to diehard fans of old mysteries.

On the other hand, if you mention Sherlock Holmes the recognition is universal. Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, ditto. So which detectives have been with us a long time and have come out from beneath the rubbles of historyfor their stories and characters to find new generations on a mass level.

The list of “immortal detectives” is short:

Sherlock Holmes

Father Brown

Nero Wolfe

The Hardy Boys

Nancy Drew

Poirot

 Miss Marple

Sam Spade

Philip Marlowe

Mike Hammer

Sherlock Holmes has survived so long because he’s definitively iconic reperesentative of what a detective is. He captures the imagination of writers who come up with new plots for him long after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stopped. And let’s not forget that the original stories were solid entertainment in their own right with no requirement of updating.

Father Brown survives because of the intellectual strength  of the puzzles, as well as the many devotees of Chesterton among Catholics and other traditionalists.

Nero Wolfe survives through the fact that Stout, like Agatha Christie wrote his books over the course of several decades, allowing them to seep into the culture. Both the character of Wolfe and Archie, as well as the original mysteries written by Stout arrest the public’s imagination. The most recent Nero Wolfe TV series ended in 2002, and I don’t expect we’ve seen the last of Wolfe. Of course, Wolfe may inspire writers andproducers more than it does a mass popularity.  There’ve been five Nero Wolfe radio shows, two movies, and two TV series, and the most successful version was the latest TV series.

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew continue to be introduced to boys and girls at a young age. While the characters have changed quite a bit since they were introduced in 1927 and 1930 respectively,  the never-ending supply of new books assures them a long life, and that movies and TV shows will emerge from time to time.

Poirot and Marple are the most enduring characters of the late Agatha Christie, and that has translated into numerous television adaptations that have been shown on PBS. Though, there have been other adaptations as well. Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple was a Manga and Anime adaption of the two characters’ adventures.

As to Sam Spade, he lives on as the prototype of hard boiled fiction. While there haven’t been any Spade movies since the Maltese Falcon and only one novel and a collection of short stories written by Dashiel Hammett, the character continues to live on through that film, a recent BBC radio production, and an even an authorized prequel novel, Spade and Archer. One big reason for Spade’s survival is that the Maltese Falcon is often read for its literary value in events such as The Big Read where a library group will read through the same book.

Philip Marlowe has inspired numerous film and television productions, the latest occurring in 1998 when James Caan took the role for Poodle Springs. The movies, the influence of Chandler, and the nature of Philip Marlowe as a “knight in tarnished armor” helps to keep him in circulation.

Mike Hammer’s survival is due to a combination of books, movies, TV shows, and the 1980s Television version which updated and iconisized Hammer for a new generation of fans. The success of doing that was in the longevity of Mickey Spillane, who was able to keep the character fresh through many years of change.

These ten have made it through at least 50 years of existence. Of course, it’s an open question as to how many of these will remain popular in 2060, and whether such detectives as Columbo, The Rockford Files, and Monk will still be remembered by the general public, or like so many other once-popular sleuths, be only remembered by the mystery superfans.

Better Living Through Radio

How effective can radio advertising be? Could a radio ad sell a product 75 years after it aired? The answer is a surprising yes.

Vintage radio ads often vary between enduring brands that exist to this day and continue to be brand name staples  such as Chevron Gasoline, Wrigley Gum, Camel Cigarettes, or Pepsodent to the brands you can’t find anywhere. There’s nowhere you can buy Petri Wine (at least not the Petri Wine by the original Petri family) and good luck finding a Clipper Craft suit anywhere.

Most radio ads are of value only for a nostalgic value, a recapturing of the values of the era in which it was produced, the music, the phrases, the culture. No one listening to an episode of Richard Diamond today is going to be more likely to find their way to a Rexhall Drugs. And of course, it should be noted that its quite easy for some radio ads to wear on listeners. Hearing about how its wise to smoke Fatimas week after week can be irritating and repetitive.

However, one radio ad was so effective, it sold me on trying on the product.

As I’ve written before, I’ve become quite the fan of Lum and Abner. One of the show’s early sponsors was Horlicks, a maker of malted milk. They sponsored Lum and Abner five days a week, and they did radio sponsorship right. Unlike other shows that would repeat the same messages, they included original ads in each episode, so no two ads were the same.

The announcer, Carlton Brickert would read an a testimonial, or occasionally, there’d be a little drama performed to illustrate the point. Some of the more powerful segments included testimonials from parents with sickly children who had given their children Horlicks.

In some ways, there seemed to be some contadictory claims in Horlicks in ads. The sponsors said that Horlicks could help the obese lose weight, while helping sickly babies gain weight, and sickly adults gain it. It said it could increase your energy in the daytime, while helping you sleep better at night.

While, Petri Wines may merit a passing curiosity, I had to learn more about Horlicks, and what I learned about it was that Horlicks is no longer sold in mass quantities in the United States. It was acquired by a British company and it was more popular in the developing world than anywhere else. However, I actually went to the trouble to find a bottle of Horlicks for sale on Amazon and I bought a copy.

I did find that Horlicks had changed since its radio days. They’d boasted that Horlicks was made from whole milk, not skim milk as other “inferior brands” were. But 21st Century Horlicks is made with skim milk.

Beyond that, I tried Horlicks and found it to be good tasting. The one claim I can confirm is that it will help you get to sleep. The first night I had some Horlicks before bed and I was out like a light and I’m not usually the sound-sleeping sort. Of course, I’m told there’s not a scientific basis for the conclusion, however I think perhaps science hasn’t explained it.

I finished my experiment with Horlicks and found I’d learned a little, but not a whole lot. It’s really hard to tell from a 300 mg container. I’d need to order more, but was reluctant. My wife asked if we were going to get more. She enjoyed the malted milk. I didn’t tell her about the Horlicks Order I’d put in and she picked up some Nesquick brand. Following the advice of the Horlicks ads, I teased my wife about having bought a lesser brand.

Of course, whether we contine the Horlicks experiment really depends. Even if it’s good, it’s still expensive to ship and to buy. I could be getting “inferior brands” for some time. Still, I have to tip my hats to the folks who made the Horlicks commercials. It takes talent to come up with an ad that makes your listeners curious enough to buy…seventy-five years  after the fact.