Category: Golden Age Article

The Five Best Mutual Old Time Radio Detectives

In past parts of this series, we’ve looked at multi-network and ABC shows.  Now we turn to the Mutual Broadcasting Company. Mutual had many fine detective shows and with good-sized budgets.

There’s probably a good case that could be made that prior to  1948, Mutual had the best Mystery-Suspense line-ups in radio bar none.  Mutual had Sherlock Holmes for three years, and brought to radio the first adaptations of Hercule Poirot, Father Brown, Michael Shayne, and much later, Mike Hammer. They also had the iconic Shadow, and the often mysterious Superman on their network. Sadly, much of Mutual’s fine work has been lost.  What remains gives us an idea of what we’re missing.

Still, there’s some outstanding radio that’s available. Now it’s time to get into the list.

5) The Adventures of Michael Shayne starring Wally Maher

Aired: 1944-47

This is not the best known of the Michael Shayne adaptations. The syndicated hard boiled detective version starring Jeff Chandler was. However, Maher’s characterization of Shayne in the five surviving episodes from his era as the great detective is well-done, a bit lighter, somewhat more in the mold of Let George Do It with a much lighter feel than its hard boiled successor.  Cathy Lewis does a good job as a girl Friday.

These shows are particularly gratifying to listen to as Wally Maher spent much of his career playing the secondary detective who usually got it wrong such as in Let George Do It as Lieutenant Riley and in The Line-up at Matt Grebb, it’s gratifying to hear him in a program where he gets to solve the case.

Fan vote: 12%

4) Hercule Poirot starring Harold Huber

Aired: 1945
Harold HuberAmericans were interested in Hercule Poirot going back several years. Orson Welles first brought the character to the radio in a Campbell’s Playhouse presentation of “The Murder of Roger Akroyd.” In 1942-43, 3 Hercule Poirot Short stories were adapted for the Mutual program, Murder Clinic.

Poirot got his own show in 1945 with Harold Huber in the lead. The opening program from February of that year featured pre-recorded audio of Agatha Christie welcoming listeners to the program.

The mysteries were fairly good and Huber’s characterization of Poirot is wonderful. It’s not as perfect as David Suchet’s but was far better than many that would come in years to follow. His portrayal was as someone who was kind and charming, but also a very smart detective who outmaneuvers his opponents.

Some Christie purists are not fans of the series, partially because actual Christie stories weren’t used and partially because Poirot was transplanted to America. The first episode has him struggling to find an apartment in America. The humor in that is not at Poirot’s expense. America was already beginning to face a housing shortage during World War II. The message of the radio program seemed to be, “Housing is so hard to find, even the great Hercule Poirot couldn’t easily uncover the location of a vacant apartment.”

Poirot appears to have ended in 1945. I did stumble across a Billboard magazine report indicating stating that CBS did an evening serial of Poirot stories. However, like most 15 minute mystery serials, these episodes are lost to the ages, so we don’t know if they were ever aired.

Fan Vote: 19%

Beatrice said, “I voted for Hercule Poirot partly because it is so hard to find, making it a treasure to hear. Are there many episodes?”

There are actually nine 30 minute episodes in circulation as well as two audition recordings from 1944 for a 15 minute-a-day serial. That’s about one quarter of the show’s in circulation which, when compared to some of the other shows on this list, isn’t too bad.

3) The Casebook of Gregory Hood starring Gale Gordon and then Elliot Lewis

Aired: 1946-47, 1948-49

Gale GordonThe Casebook of Gregory Hood began as a Summer replacement for Sherlock Holmes with Gale Gordon as San Francisco-based antiques dealer Gregory Hood.

Despite being set in the 1940s, the show had a lot in common with the Holmes program that preceded it. The show had the same sponsor (Petri Wine), the same announcer (Harry Bartel), and the same writers (Dennis Green and Anthony Boucher.) The show’s feel was somewhere between that of Sherlock Holmes and Nick Carter, but much more in the gentleman detective tradition.

Mutual signed Basil Rathbone to play in Scotland Yard when he wasn’t interested in playing Holmes, and kept the Casebook of Gregory Hood, changing the lead to rising young radio star Elliot Lewis (picture courtesy of the Digital Deli).

Both portrayals are interesting in  that Gordon, while a talented character actor, was best known for his comedic roles particularly as a foil to Eve Arden in Our Miss Brooks and Lucille Ball in The Lucy Show on television. In the Casebook, Gordon got to show his versatility.

The Lewis episodes are interesting in that this was his only lead role in Elliot Lewisa detective series. Lewis did the most portrayals of Hood, however only five of his programs survive. The Casebook of Gregory Hood shut down in May of 1947 and Lewis starred in Voyage of the Scarlet Queen until March 1948 when he resumed his role as Hood over the Don Lee Mutual Broadcasting system. This entire 52 episode 1948-49 run is missing, as is ABC run that ran from 1950-51.

Still, what we do have in circulation are 15 episodes featuring two of radio’s most noted actors in the role of the suave and always clever amateur detective from the less seedy side of San Francisco.

Fan Vote: 2%

2) Nick Carter starring Lon Clark

Aired: 1943-55

*Knocks  at the door*

A woman opens the door. “What’s the matter? What is it?”

A male voice says, “It’s another case for Nick Carter, Master Detective!”

Que the organ music.

This early opening for Nick Carter was one of radio’s best, as was the program it followed. “Master Detective” may sound kind of old fashioned, but the character was actually older than Sherlock Holmes, having debuted in 1886.

Lon ClarkNick Carter had his origins in dime novels, and the show reflected that with cases that included not only mystery but adventures with often unusual perils, and titles such as, “Body on the Slab” and “Nine Hours to Death.” In the pre-hard-boiled era, there was no detective on radio who was as tough or as resourceful in a jam as Nick Carter.

While the supporting cast changed throughout the run, Lon Clark continued to star throughout the entire run. 125 episodes are in common circulation, but that’s only a fraction of the more than 700 episodes that were produced. The show was enduringly popular and so was the character. Nick Carter continued to appear in movies and novels until the 1990s, with the character regeared towards cold war spying.

Fan Vote: 7%

1) Let George Do It starring Bob Bailey

Aired: 1946-54?

Bob BaileyThe story of Let George Do It is the story how one of radio’s weakest comedies became one of its finest detective shows. Let George Do It began in 1946 as a detective comedy that took its comedy way too far.  Shows like Leonidas Witherall, The Thin Man, and Mr. and Mrs. North included comedy in their mysteries. None of them thought of including a laugh track.

The show began featuring Bob Bailey as George Valentine, a World War II veteran returned from the war who puts out an ad to take any difficult including wife-spanking (a popular comedic trope of the day). He’s assisted by his secretary, Claire Brooks and her brother and George’s assistant, Sonny (played by Eddie Firestone, Jr.) The first two cases involve George trying to find a wife for his hayseed cousin who is a pig farmer and wants a wife who likes pigs, and then George needing to fill in for a movie cowboy who has become afraid of horses but fears disappointing an orphanage.

Due to the fact that only one episode between November 1946 and April 1948 is an existence, no one knows quite when it hits stride, but the show had already begun to right a little bit, by the 1946 episode, “The Robbers” with a real to goodness mystery. But that would be nothing compared to what the show became.

Let George Do It by 1948 was one of the best detective programs. There was still endearing bits of humor, but the show also featured:

  • Dangerous situations that would make Sam Spade sweat.
  • Baffling mysteries that were on occasion worthy of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Real human dramas that are mixed in with the mysteries.
  • The best-written and best developed female assistant on the radio who provided the show with plenty of romantic tension.

These would be sprinkled throughout the episodes. Each episode of Let George Do It is a surprise. You never know what exactly you’re going to get, whether it will be  an exciting murder mystery that borders on the hardboiled, a psychological thriller, or a lighter story. Regardless of what it is, nine times out of ten you’re going to get a great story.

The writing on this show was superb with David Victor  teaming up with Herbert Little, Jr. and then the great Jackson Gillis (who later wrote for Columbo and Superman)to create some of the most memorable  radio mysteries ever produced.

Bob Bailey was fantastic in the lead, creating the perfect d detective characterization that would later make him a success on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Both actresses who played Brooksie were superb, as was Wally Maher in the supporting role of Lieutenant Riley.  Even the show’s commercials for Standard Oil are pleasant and informative to this day.

The show is less known because it only aired on the West Coast, but thanks to the Internet, many people are discovering the show, and are quite happy to listen and find out what happens when they “Let George Do It.”

Fan Vote:  60%

Timothy Dunning summed the reason this show garnered so much support, “Let George do it” survived a shaky first season as an ill-conceived comedy to become one of the best (and long-lasting) OTR detective shows. It had consistently good writing, performances, and production values.”

Enough said.

Next week, we turn to NBC-based shows.

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The Five Best ABC Old Time Radio Detectives

Continuing our series from last week where we began with radio detectives who crossed networks, we turn to radio detective actors whose performance stuck to one network. Examining the four networks that were prominent during the Golden Age, we’ll begin with ABC.

Of course, finding a great detective show on ABC was a challenge. ABC was originally the Blue Network of NBC and was formed as a result of an FCC ruling. It was slow starting out. Many of its programs were really bad including the obnoxious Danger, Dr. Danfield and the low-budget Deadline Mystery with a seemingly non-existent sound-effects budget. In addition, with less stations and less listeners, this also means that even of the good programs, there are less available transcriptions.

Some of the biggest shows to air on ABC were revivals of other networks cast offs such as Richard Diamond, Michael Shayne, Rogue’s Gallery, and The Casebook of Gregory Hood. With the exception of Diamond, all of these shows had zero or one episode in circulation and starred a different actor than the one most commonly associated with the role.

How bad were the available ABC shows and the selection of potential shows? Abbott and Costello regularly did a detective parody for the last half season on the air called, “Sam Shovel.” It almost made the list.

Like last week, we ran a poll on Facebook.  This week, 68 listeners voted for their favorites. One listener Sue commented on the poll, “Never heard of any of them.” Sue’s not alone. While there’s a show or two that wouldn’t be considered if they’d aired on CBS or the Mutual Broadcasting System, there were some unheralded gems on ABC. With that, here are the top 5 Old Time Radio detectives from ABC:

5) William Gargan as Bob Dolan in,  “I Deal in Crime”

Aired: 1946-47

William GarganThis is a show that wouldn’t have made my list had it aired on any other network.  Academy Award Nominated Actor William Gargan on screen had been invited time and time again to play police officers and detectives, even playing Ellery Queen in three movies.There was good reason for that Gargan had been a real life private investigator spending a year of his life as a store investigator, and then as a private detective.  At six foot tall and more than 200 pounds, Gargan also looked the part. He was a natural to become one of radio’s first hard boiled private eyes and give the fledgling ABC network a leg up on the rush to the hard boiled detective shows.

However, the role of hard-boiled private eye was relatively new over the new radio. Dick Powell had just brought Richard Rogue to the  radio in a portrayal that featured a tongue in cheek treatment of the private detective genre. In I Deal in Crime, Gargan went way over the top with his initial portrayal of Bob Dolan.  However, the show did get better. The three transcriptions that survive, one from January, one from April, and one from September showed steady improve.  The September one showed Dolan as a more laid back private detective that had much more in common with Gargan’s Martin Kane and Barrie Craig. In fact,  I Deal in Crime was probably  vital in Gargan’s career in helping him develop the type of detective character that would keep him in demand for years to come.

While the show may not be a great, it was a pretty good for an ABC show.

Fan Vote: 1%

4) Tom Conway as  Sherlock Holmes

Aired: 1946-47

Tom ConwayWith Basil Rathbone’s decision to leave the Sherlock Holmes franchise and strike out with another (ultimately unsuccessful) radio series, “Scotland Yard,” Sherlock Holmes faced change. Both the show’s sponsor and its network opted to continue the Summer Series, The Casebook of Gregory Hood. This led to a coup for ABC picking up the series and retaining Nigel Bruce as Watson, with Tom Conway from the Falcon pictures taking over as Sherlock Holmes.

There are certainly ways that the ABC’s Holmes could be seen to be a downgrade from the Rathbone episodes, including the decline in commercials from Petri Wine to Kremel Hair Tonic, the drop in chemistry from amazing  to only good, and that Rathbone was more charismatic and a better actor.

That said, given that the previous series was one of radio’s finest, being a notch or two below that isn’t too shabby, particularly for ABC.  The show maintained remarkable quality thanks in part to the continuity in writing and Conway did a decent Holmes voice that seemed almost a Rathbone imitation at times. Basil Rathbone left huge shoes to fill and Conway did as well as anyone could in filling them, and the world got 39 more episodes with Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, with 38 surviving to this day. Definitely worth a spot on the top 5.

Fan Vote: 44%

Fans who voted for Sherlock Holmes tended to be huge fans of literature’s greatest detective, and think if Holmes is done well, it just can’t be beat.

Tim said, “As much as I love the Pat Novak banter, Sherlock is always top dog in the detective’s pack.”  Walter said, “Like ’em all but Sherlock and Dr. Watson reign supreme.”

3) Mercedes McCambridge as Marsha Ellis Bryant in  Defense Attorney

Aired: 1951-52

Mercedes McCambridge Orson Welles called Mercedes McCambridge the world’s greatest living radio actress.  High praise indeed. It was no wonder that she was one of the few women to serve as a lead in a detective series.

In 1951, NBC prepared a pilot for The Defense Rests with a plot similar to the Jimmy Stewart movie, Call Northside 777. The show didn’t make the cut at NBC and was not aired.  One advantage of being ABC was that the network had little to risk by giving an unusual show a shot, so in the fall of 1951, Defense Attorney came to ABC. The show featured McCambridge as Marsha Ellis Bryant.  The show shared some similarities with Murder and Mr. Malone in that Bryant was rarely in the courtroom, and solved her cases usually on the street with the aid of her reporter-boyfriend (played by Howard Culver.) The three episodes of Defense Attorney that survive in circulation are well-done mysteries, with McCambridge’s solid acting carrying the show. From the last episode, we know that the show did better than many other ABC shows in that it garnered a sponsor. Not only that, but McCambridge was named best dramatic access by the Radio Television Mirror magazine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to save the show which was canceled after one season. Truly this one show where I’d love to see more episodes come into circulation.

Fan Vote: 1%

2) J. Scott Smart as Brad Runyon in the Fat Man

Aired: 1946-51

J.Scott SmartThe Fat Man was by far ABC’s longest running and most successful series. The character was created by Dashiell Hammett, although Hammett had nothing to do with writing the show.

The Fat Man was unique for the time. Unlike Nero Wolfe, Brad Runyon was active and hard boiled. He was as tough as other any hard boiled eye and as popular with the ladies. He also possessed a great mix of toughness and compassion, mixed with only a little bit of sensitivity to his weight.

“Nobody loves a fat man.” he lamented.

Audiences disagreed as the Fat Man was a hit for five seasons. The show’s signature opening with our hero stepping on a scale, and his pronunciation of “murderrrr” became famous.

The show was so popular that Smart got to bring Brad Runyon to the silver screen. The Fat Man was the first radio detective show to be made into a motion picture with the original star. The movie was well-received and even modern viewers who see it would like to see a sequel. Unfortunately, a combination of radio’s decline and the Communist ties of the show’s absentee creator Hammett brought the show to an end.

It’s influence did not end, however as the idea of a chubby PI kept resurfacing. In the 1970s, William Conrad starred as tough gourmet private detective Frank Cannon.  Cannon and every rough and tumble pudgy action hero owes a debt to the Fat Man for showing how it was done.

In the mid-1950s, Fat Man reached a new audience overseas when Grace Gibson purchased the rights to re-perform 52 scripts with an all-Australian cast. There are more of these Australian episodes in circulation than there are the American canon.

Fan vote: 9%

Speaking of the American Canon,  Tamara comments, “I wish more shows had been made of the Fat Man.”

Tamara raises a good point. There are only 13 U.S. episodes of the Fat Man in circulation, which, while better than Defense Attorney and I Deal In Crime is still very low. Of course, the problem is not so much that not many shows were made, but that most didn’t survive.  One log suggests that 289 episodes of “The Fat Man” aired over radio, which suggests that nearly 96% of them were lost.

Pat Novak1)  Pat Novak for Hire starring Jack Webb

Aired: 1949

Pat Novak for Hire is a show that was all in the execution and delivery of the show’s star, Jack Webb. The plots were very similar and can be boiled down to a simple formula as we do on the Pat Novak for Hire page.

The show followed Pat Novak, the owner of a boat rental store who also took on other’s trouble as a profitable sideline, routinely taking jobs he knew better than to accept that put him on the wrong side of San Francisco Homicide Inspector Hellman. Every episode he’d beat a murder rap with some last second deduction and some help from ex-boozer and doctor Jocko Madigan.

The plots were formulaic, but Pat Novak for Hire wasn’t popular for its highly original plots but for its rich dialogue, and Noirish poetry.  As Novak, Jack Webb spins similies faster than a politicians press secretary during a scandal. These There’s Novak’s descriptions:

The street was as deserted as a warm bottle of beer.

There were his encounters with John Law (in the form of radio’s worst cop not on the take, Inspector Hellman):

Your men couldn’t follow a moose through a revolving door.

And then there were his descriptions of San Francisco (definitely not approved by the Chamber of Commerce) that made it one of radio noir’s darkest settings:

You can dress it up to look honest, but that doesn’t do any good; because down on the waterfront in San Francisco, if you had to eat morals, you’d have bone rattle in three days.

In voting for Novak, Tim shared two of his favorite quotes, “She was at least 50, because you can’t get that ugly without years of practice.” and “She sauntered in, moving slowly from side to side like 118 pounds of warm smoke.”

In addition to this, there’s the wonderful monologues of Jocko Madigan. More Pat Novak quotes are here.

While the show ran for two years down in San Francisco (with Actor Ben Morris playing Novak after Webb left in 1947 for Hollywood), it’s national run over ABC lasted only 20 weeks, ended not by lack of popularity but by ABC’s decision to put the show on Summer hiatus and Webb beginning a Summer replacement for NBC radio called, Dragnet.

The 18 episodes of Pat Novak that have survived are dynamite. (Indeed, given all the problems that all the shows on our listen other than Conway’s Holmes had with having episodes in circulation. That 90% of the Novak episodes survive says something about the show.

I have to admit I debated myself on this one. The Fat Man had huge influence with the power of Cannon all the way to Paul Blart, Mall Cop. They all owe something to the original Fat Man.

However, I give the nod to Novak as it really continues to fascinate equally new listeners and OTR superfans, and has inspired both a Graphic Novel and a recent stage production in Seattle, which is a sign of a show that’s got staying power.

Fan vote: 46%

Next week…Mutual Detective shows

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The Five Greatest Detectives No Radio Network Could Hold

I had the great idea of doing a series of articles, ranking the top five radio detectives by Network (i.e. ABC, NBC, CBS, Mutual, and the syndicated shows.)

There was only one problem with the plan. Many radio programs didn’t just stay on one network. In some cases radio actors regularly jumped from network-to-network.

If actor’s change, it’s easy to differentiate between (for example) the 1947 NBC Summer replacement series, “The Adventures of Philip Marlowe” with Van Heflin and the 1948-50 and 1951 CBS Series, “The Adventures of Philip Marlowe” with Gerald Mohr. However, the problem was that several shows jumped networks with the exact same actors, and many of the shows where the star and show changed networks are among the absolute favorites that I’m sure to be asked about.

Thus our first top 5 list will look at Detective Series that played across multiple networks. In addition, I ran a poll on our Facebook page to see who listeners to the program thought was the best. 75 people took part in the survey. The fan results including the percentage of the vote that went for each Detective follow my thoughts on the series:

5) Herbert Marshall as Ken Thurston in, “The Man Called X”

Series Run: 1944-48, 1950-52

Networks: CBS (Summer 1944, 1947-48), The Blue Network (1944-45), NBC (Summer 1946, Summer 1947, 1950-52)

Herbert MarshallMarshall starred in this iconic role, as an international troubleshooter who faces danger, mystery, and adventures the world over. The British-born Marshall’s debonair performance gave the show class and style.

Unlike Dangerous Assignment, The Man Called X dealt more directly with America’s actual enemies. This gave Ken Thurston’s adventures the highest stakes in radio. While other mystery series were worrying about a plot to steal a $10,000 diamond necklace, Thurston was trying to stop someone from blowing up NATO.

The Man Called X came to television in a 1957 ZIV TV series with Barry Sullivan in the lead. The title also inspired the creators of the feature length Flintstones film, The Man Called Flintstones.

Fan Results: 3%

Fan Comments: Amanda who actually voted for the Saint shared, “I like a Man Called X, too. I suspect it’s not getting a lot of votes because not many people have heard of it..”

My response: This is true enough. Many of the spy dramas from the Cold War are considered “dated.” In addition, there were some poorly produced espionage shows, particularly those that appeared on television that gave some of the truly good programs a bad name. Hopefully, we’ll get to share some of the good ones in coming years.

4) The Saint with Vincent Price

Series Run: 1947-51

Networks: CBS (1947-48), Mutual (1949-50), NBC (1950-51)

Vincent PriceVincent Price played many villains in his career, most famously horror movies and on the 1960s Batman TV series as Egghead. He also did several roles in inspirational television shows and movies.

The Saint presented Price in a different role: that of detective hero. Price was not the first actor to play the Saint over the radio (there had been two 13-episode series aired in 1945 starring Edgar Barrier and Brian Aherne respectively). However, Price made the role of the Saint his own.   While, the Saint was hardly a hard boiled private eye, the Saint’s quick wit and smart mouth were the equal of any detective on the radio.

Price’s style was a perfect mix of witty banter, charm, intelligence and toughness that makes each episode of the Saint with Vincent Price a pleasure to listen to.

During the Summer of 1951, Tom Conway took over the role until the series ended in the Fall. In the 1960s, future James Bond Roger Moore brought the Saint to British TV. In more recent years, a movie with Val Kilmer and a BBC radio adaptation have been made

Fan Vote: 5%

3) Howard Duff as Sam Spade

Series Run: 1946-50
Networks: ABC (1946), CBS (1946-49), NBC (1949-50)

Howard DuffDuff’s Spade is one of radio’s most memorable characters. Spade was tough, sarcastic, a ladies man, and definitely not a boy scout.

Stories were often tongue in cheek with plenty of humor throughout, as Spade would even occasionally mix in a reference to another detective, most notably the San Francisco-based Pat Novak and Johnny Madero. The highlight of each show was when he explained the case to his neurotic secretary Effie (played to perfection by Lurene Tuttle in her most memorable role.)

Two months after Duff’s last episode, Spade was brought back with Steve Dunne in the lead. The series folded after 24 episodes.

Fan Vote: 15%
Fan Comments: Dorothy who voted for Sam said, “It’s really a tie between Sam Spade and Richard Diamond for me but Spade’s taken my heart.” Score one for Howard Duff.
2) Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Series Run: 1939-42, 1943-46

Networks: Blue Network (1939-42), Mutual (1943-46)

Basil RathboneBy far, Rathbone did more radio work as Holmes than any other actor: 217 episodes spread out over six seasons. The Rathbone-Bruce episodes are so sought after as the duo were Hollywood’s definitive Holmes and Watson, partially as a result of the radio programs. Without the radio programs, it’s doubtful that Universal would have revived the pairing.
The series featured the personal chemistry between Rathbone and Bruce which had made the series such a winner on screen. The series included fine writing by Edith Meiser and later the Dennis Green and Anthony Boucher. The Green and Boucher episodes were noted for serious research and educational value, whether it was Guy Fawkes or the Blarney Stone, you’d most often learn something along the way. The episodes often included moments of culture with more than an average share of violins and beautiful singing voices popping up. In addition, they also worked into the plot scenes where Rathbone would be able to show his incredible talent for dialect or  read from a famous play.

During the three seasons on the Blue Network, 74 episodes were done. Over Mutual, the production pace was more frentic, with the show broadcast 107 weeks in a row before taking a Summer break before coming back for a 39 episode season. Despite continuing sponsor interest and chance to continue pull in lots of money, Rathbone had had enough and went back to Broadway.
Of course, Sherlock Holmes went on, but most actors since then have been stuck in Bruce’s shadow. In particular, the next two actors to take the role tried to follow Rathbone’s lead and sound like him to an extent. After all, that was what Sherlock Holmes was supposed to sound like.

Fan Vote: 56%

Fan Comments: While the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes show won by a landslide, not everyone is a fan. Dorothy, who voted for Spade, complained of the disrespect for Dr. Watson, “I know they had their reasons for doing that but really, it lessens the impact of Holme’s brilliance to be placed next to an albeit lovable but blustering fool.”

1) Dick Powell as Richard Diamond
Series Run: 1949-52, 1953 (Reruns)

Networks: NBC (1949-50) ABC (1951-52), CBS (1953 Reruns)

Dick PowellUp until 1949, Dick Powell could be divided into periods. Prior to his 1944 break-out performance as Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet, Powell had played in romantic comedies, often of the musical variety, as the light-leading man. After Murder My Sweet, Powell played a series of hard-boiled Noirish Characters in films such as Johnny O’Clock. Now, if only these two halves could be combined…

And they were in Richard Diamond. The first half of the show, Diamond would be on the trail of desperate figures, there would be gun play, violence, and then lots of hardboiled smarting off. Then, after the bodies were carried away, he’d steal a few moments with his girl and sing her a song.

Houston, we have synergy.

It’s a fun show, with a great mix of action, comedy, and romance, the direction and writing talents of a young Blake Edwards, and the charisma of Dick Powell at the center of it all.
Richard Diamond ended as Powell focused more on television. In 1957, Richard Diamond came to television with David Janssen in the lead as Powell thought it was time for someone new. The series ran until 1960. Also, series creator Blake Edwards adapted an episode of Richard Diamond for his Peter Gunn series, “Let’s Kill Timothy.”
Fan vote: 21%

Honorable Mentions: Dick Powell in Rogue’s Gallery, Alice Curtain and Joseph Frost in Mr. and Mrs. North, and Claudia Morgan in The Thin Man.

Next week: ABC shows. Become a friend on Facebook to participate in this week’s poll at

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Broadway’s My Beat in the 21st Century

Many old time radio shows made their way to television. In the 21st Century, are we ready for one more?

Broadway’s My Beat was one of the finest radio detective dramas and an underrated one at that. It aired from 1949-53, and again in the Summer of 1954. It was written by Mort Fine and David Friedkin. Friedkin and Fine went on to produce the 1960s TV hit, I Spy. Broadway’s My Beat has remained little more than a forgotten gem in radio history.

Fast forward to 2010 and Gregory Friedkin (David’s son) produced a pilot for a television adaptation of, Broadway’s My Beat with the series transported from New York to Los Angeles, with references to “Broadway” rewritten as references to “The Boulevard,” which is also the title of the new series, set in 1953. The episode was posted online, so I got a chance to take a peak.

The pilot episode that’s been released has a very noirish feel to it as Danny Clover (played by Jon Jacobs) searches for the kidnapped wife of a bank teller before the case becomes a murder investigation.

The music helps to establish a fittingly haunting mood for the story and they manage to make most of the scenes look old enough to be in the 1950s. Jon Jacobs was far older than I imagined Clover to be. Larry Thor, who voiced Clover on the radio was 33-38 during the show’s run. Jacobs appears to be in his 50s.

Jacobs, does however do a solid performance as Clover. His voice is perfect for the part. If anything, his age tends to add a bit of credibility to the world-weariness of Clover.

If the pilot has a weakness, it was the performance of some of the supporting actors. Michael Wayne James was too hammy in the role of the missing woman’s husband. Give Friedkin and Jacobs a good cast and I think this could be a solid program.

Of course, whether it will make it remains an open question. If the writers keep to adapting Broadway’s my Beat episodes, it will most likely end up a half hour TV-PG rated period cop show. They don’t make them like that anymore. Still, over the years I’ve learned is that there’s a demand for this type of program.

Of course, Friedkin may want to write new Danny Clover cases that could be stretched to an hour. It could be done with actual Broadway is My Beat episodes being mixed with originals. It could definitely work.

Whether Friedkin can a right network and get them to realize the potential for this show t is an open question. Either way, I wish him well.

Father Brown Returns to Radio

Many people, while enjoying old time radio, would like to hear new radio dramas produced. However, the U.S. has very few producers of new radio dramas. One of them is the Colonial Radio Theatre. The Colonial Radio Theatre in Boston has been producing new radio dramas for the past sixteen years. Recently, they’ve begun to make some of their material available through Audible, giving me an opportunity to, for the first time, sample their wares. I chose their Father Brown Mysteries Volume 1 download from Audible.

Father Brown is a challenging character to adapt for two reasons. First of all, Chesterton didn’t really write the stories to be dramatized, they were intended more as puzzles than as plays. Thus the stories often require a little bit of tweaking to even fit be suitable drama. Then, there’s a temptation to change the Father Brown character to make him more in line with current social trends, an irritating thing the BBC did with many of the episodes in its 1970s adaptation.

 What the Colonial Radio Theatre managed to do in this set was to produce sold radio dramas that were faithful to Chesterton’s vision. Colonial Radio Theatre has recorded sixteen episodes, of which their first set contained four. They were:

The Blue Cross: Perhaps, one of my favorite mystery stories of all time. A French detective is on the trail of an International Thief named Flambeau. He figures out that Flambeau is attempting to steal a priceless relic from a seemingly comical priest. The story then takes several turns on the way to a conclusion that was probably quite startling for the original readers. On this one, I couldn’t help but feel the Colonial Theater drug out the ending too much and took away some of its punch. However, their ending helped me appreciate the connection between this story and the next one.

 The Secret Garden: Father Brown is in the background at a dinner party, but that all changes when a headless corpse is found. This one is a very solid detective story as Chesterton wrote it, and I think the adaptation was nearly flawless. The mystery is slow starting, but is truly a mind-bender heading towards it conclusion. Keeping up with Brown and the Detective, Valentin as the identity of the murderer, and even the identity of the corpse becomes a question.

 The Queer Feet: This story features another audacious crime by a master criminal and Father Brown is on the case before the crime is even discovered. This story includes a little bit social commentary by Chesterton, which the adaptors handled pretty well. This particular story gives you an idea of why William Link reportedly drew from Father Brown in creating a detective that occasionally irritates others, Lieutenant Columbo.

 The Arrow of Heaven: This one was a very fine murder mystery. A millionaire is found with an arrow through his heart standing by window where no one possibly could have fired the arrow without a lot of help. This was perhaps the most entertaining adaptation on the set. Though, I admit, it may have been that unlike the other three, I hadn’t read this one before. There is plenty of wild speculations that Father Brown plays with, leading up to a solution that will have the reader  slapping his head and saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

 One thing the Colonial Radio Theatre did change, actually covered a mistake by Chesterton in writing the original story. Chesterton took a long break from writing Father Brown and when he wrote this story, he stated that Father Brown hadn’t been to America before, apparently forgetting that a short story appearing in the Wisdom of Father Brown, “The Mistake in the Machine.”  The CRT was aware of the other short story and so they had Father Brown state instead that he’d only been to America as a prison chaplain.

Even knowing of Chesterton’s mistake shows the understanding and respect they have for the source material. The first set of the Father Brown Mysteries are faithful, fun, and well-done adaptations of a classic. Not only am I excited about the Colonial Radio Theater’s next Father Brown set due out in August, but I can hardly wait to listen to the Zorro and Perry Mason sets I’ve recently purchased.

The Colonial Radio Theatre of the Air offers first run programming over Sirius-XM on the Book Radio Channel.  Details are available on its website.

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