The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

26Aug/122

Radio’s Most Essential People Countdown: #100-#96

As I listen to radio in a wide variety of forms, I've noted that some people are essential. If they had not been involved, the Golden Age of radio would not have been the same. To me the 100 people on this list best defined this virtue.

Some of these are  lead actors, others are character actors-men and women who played (in some cases) Thousands of Roles with poise and professionalism, and others were hardly heard at all as their work was behind the scenes. Yet, they were all part of making the golden age of radio sparkle. They each brought something unique and wonderful to the table that made the golden age unforgettably.

Of course, any time you make a list like this, names get left off and in a few years, I may see some others who may be promoted to a higher spot, but based on what I've learned of radio over the last few years, this is a solid list. I hope you enjoy this series as we work our way to the top.

100) Vic Perrin

Vic Perrin's first radio appearance was in 1943 for Free World Theater. He'd quickly become one of radio's most vital character actors. He was a regular stock player for Jack Webb who was used constantly. He also appeared on programs such as Family Theater and Suspense. He continued to make radio appearances as the Golden Age headed to the twilight of its existence appearing regularly on Gunsmoke, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, and Have Gun Will Travel. He also took on a rare recurring role as Sgt. Goerss on Fort Laramie. He also played a key role in Radio Revival attempts in the 1970s appearing on Rod Serling's Zero Hour and the Sears Radio Theater. His voice work was also prominent in cartoons. He served a whole new generation of fans with his performance as Sinesto in the Super Friends, along with voicework for the 1978 Fantastic Four and 1983 Incredible Hulk animated programs

99) Jock McGregor

One of radio's great behind the scenes men:  Macgregor's writing, producing, and directing were behind some of radio's most significant programs from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s including Murder Clinic, Nick Carter, The Sealed Book, X Minus One, and most famously Mysterious Traveler

98) Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey BogartBogart was first and foremost, a movie star.and one of the greatest of his or any other time. However, he showed time and time again that he was able to perform with the best of them on radio when his busy film schedule allowed. He adapted several of his movies to radio including The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen,  and To Have or Have Not as well as many of his Gangster roles such as Petrified Forest and Bullets or Ballots. These radio films are a rare treat for fans. Beyond these appearances, Bogart also starred in Bold Venture. Bold Venture was far from the best written radio drama with the oft-recurring plot of Bogart's character Slade Shannon being played for a royal sucker by the underworld guest star of the week. That the show is so well-loved sixty years later is a testament to the sheer power of Bogart and Becall to overcome all odds, including those imposed by the writers.  

97) Dennis Day

Dennis Day made his first appearance on Jack Benny's show in 1939 with the character of a naive young tenor. A character he played throughout an association with Benny that would extend for more than 30 years. In addition to his association with  Benny, the charismatic Irish singer had his own comedy show, A Day in the Life of Dennis Day.

96) Barton Yarborough

Barton Yarborough had several key recurring roles he was remembered for: Clifford Barbour on Carlton Morse's long-running soap opera. One Man's Family, Doc Long in I Love a Mystery, and Joe Friday's first partner Ben Romero in Dragnet. Yarborough was the only person other than Jack Webb to narrate on Dragnet in the episode, The Big Ben which features Joe Friday being shot. At that point, Ben Romero takes over the narration. In addition to these feature recurring roles, Yarborough played countless character roles on radio. Most frequently he used his Texas twang to create a wide variety of characters who ranged from the amusing to the sinister.  Yarborough offered his services to equally wide variety shows ensuring his place as one of radio's most essential performers. Yarborough died all too soon at the age of 51 after filming the first two television episodes of Dragnet.

Next week: #91-#95

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20Nov/110

The Stuff Dreams are Made Of….

This past week, I had occasion to listen to the Lux Radio Theater version of The Maltese Falcon.  Humphrey Bogart and the rest of the original cast were not available, but the great Edward G. Robinson was chosen to fill Bogart's substantial gumshoes.

At the end of the hour performance, I was struck by how the Lux performance even with an "A" lead came off as a pale imitation when compared to the Bogart classic.  I then listened to the  half hour Academy Award Theater radio presentation with Bogart in the lead and Sidney Greenstreet and Mary Astor

I had the same feeling when I heard radio's attempt to create a made-for-radio sequel to the Maltese Falcon with Howard Duff as Spade. Duff had successfully created his own version of Spade, and played the famous hard boiled eye more often than anyone else. And the Khandi Tooth Caper is a fine radio play in its own right, but it couldn't come close to living up to the wonder of the movie.

The radio  adaptations are helpful to showing the true wonder of the movie and what makes it a great clasisc.  The biggest key is the dialogue with lines such as Kasper Gutman's, "I’m a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk." However, not just any actor can deliver these sort of lines.

I'd insist the magic of the movie comes back to the cast. While Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and even Elisha Cook, Jr. (who played Wilmer) turned in solid performances, they aren't irreplacable. In fact, neither the Lux or the Academy Award Theater version featured Lorre and the Lux version didn't feature Astor, and neither featured Cook. The only rule is if you don't have Peter Lorre playing Joel Cairo don't have an actor doing a bad Peter Lorre impression (as was the case with the Khandi Tooth Caper.)

The key to the greatness of the movie is found in Bogart and Greenstreet as Spade and Gutman. As Spade, Bogart delivers a spell-binding performance. Bogart's is tough, cynical, sarcastic and may seem mildly sociopathic at times as he tries to play both sides to square the murder of his partner.

And  Greenstreet's performance was a classic that would be imitated countless times on radio, in television, and screen. He served up a definitive template of the sophisticated, polite, and yet ruthless villain and earned an Oscar nomination.

Those two performances make the film a definitive screen classic that thankfully, no one in the modern era has tried to remake.

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13Mar/101

EP0100s: Screen Guild Theater: The Maltese Falcon

 

In this 1943 adaptation of the original hardboiled detective story: Miles Archer, the partner of Sam Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart) is killed while shadowing someone for a client ( Mary Astor.) When the man Archer was shadowing is killed, the police suspect Spade. Spade must find Archer's killer and to do it he has to match wits against dangerous international criminals (Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet.)

Original Air Date: September 20, 1943

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