Category: Golden Age Article

Dante and Other TV Shows in Copyright Limbo

After Howard Duff hung up his fedora as radio’s Sam Spade, he took on the role of Willie Dante in the 1960-61 NBC series Dante. He played the operator of an illegal gambling room called The Inferno, who gets into all kinds of trouble, facing off against all sorts of characters in a series that was often described as charming. The series enjoys a solid 7.5 rating on IMDB among those who remember it, which is an exceedingly small number of people.

Classic television is a niche interest and knowledge of Dante and shows like it are even more niche. The series was created in 1960 and 1961, at a time when copyright lasted for 28 years and then needed to be renewed, and it was. So the series isn’t in the public domain. It’s also not legally available anywhere. Dante is currently only available from sellers of Gray Market DVDs and at the time of writing, there are a couple of episodes posted on YouTube. Those aren’t legal copies, but no one’s enforcing copyright law regarding Dante. However, businesses and streaming platforms are going to release high quality DVDs or stream a series that way

Duff’s successor as Spade, Stephen Dunne, also has a series from the same era in the same situation. He starred as one of two brothers (the other was played by Mark Roberts), who were also private detectives in a 1960-61 syndicated series, The Brothers Brannagan. The opening sequence of this one-season wonder is preserved on YouTube and should have been enough to make the series a cult classic, with the classy ’60s music leading into a voice calling, “Hey, Brannagan,” and one of them asking, “Which one?” before getting asked a question. From all appearances, they custom-filed every opening, but that wasn’t enough for them to avoid copyright limbo.

Of course, something doesn’t have to be obscure to find its way into limbo. Take The Thin Man. It’s a classic mystery novel. It’s one of the most successful film franchises of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Yet, the two-season, 72-episode run of the 1957-59 TV series starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk has been little-seen for decades. It’s not that no episode has been released, but only two have, and you have to hunt them. One episode was released as an extra as part of the out-of-print Complete Thin Man Collection.  Another, “The Robot Client,” was made available on the Forbidden Planet DVD because Robbie the Robot made a guest appearance.

And it’s not just the shows of the late 1950s or early 1960s that suffered this fate. Another Howard Duff-led vehicle, the 1966-69 series The Felony Squad, in which Duff plays Sergeant Sam Stone, is also completely unavailable by legal means. The series also featured Ben Alexander, who played Frank Smith in the the 1950s Dragnet series and wasn’t able to reprise his role for the 1960s revival because he was starring in this. The only legal purchasable footage of any character from this series is when Howard Duff makes a window cameo in the Season 2 episode of the 1960s Batman series, “The Impractical Joker.Of course, the joke in the scene is undermined for modern audiences, as we have no idea who Duff is portraying. Failing to release a Howard Duff TV series that also features Ben Alexander, while also ruining a window scene joke from the 1960s Batman series isn’t a felony but maybe it ought to be!

Solutions

We’ve just talked about TV series that are tied to Dashiell Hammett or to actors who played Dashiell Hammett-created sleuths. But there are many series that find themselves generally unavailable to viewers. In some ways, it’s understandable to do this. Even with the rise of print-on-demand DVDs and streaming sales on Prime or Apple that require no physical presence, there is a cost to TV studios for making shows available, and some programs and movies are unlikely to be profitable enough to merit the expense to get them to market.

Is there a solution?

In the past, some in Congress have pushed for laws that would allow some neglected works to become “orphan works” that could freely be used if notice were given and no one came forward. Yet, this has been resisted by many in the entertainment industry, who view it as a throwback to the era of copyright renewals, when media companies’ failure to file timely renewals led to episodes of programs like The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show entering the public domain.

One thing that occurred to me is the recent spate of stories of large media companies withdrawing works both released and unreleased in order to get a tax write-off. In effect, the tax code is subsidizing them destroying films. Whether such a write-off should exist is a political question far beyond my purview here. But it seems like if we’re going to provide that sort of tax breaks to corporations, it would make sense to give them to companies to release work into the public domain rather than destroying it. And when it comes to old TV shows and movies languishing in the vault, maybe some small tax write-off could be made available in the public domain. It certainly makes more sense than subsidizing the wholesale destruction of unreleased films.

However, such issues are not likely to be on the national agenda any time soon. Until they are, knowledge of these series will be limited to a select in-the-know clientele, much like those who showed up at Dante’s gambling rooms.

A Look at the Hardy Family

A big Hollywood studio grabs at a recently popular film franchise from the past, turns it into a series, and uses it as a centerpiece of a new package of programs. Sounds like the story of the latest Netflix/Disney/Paramount series.

It actually happened in 1949. MGM launched MGM Radio Attractions, a package of syndicated radio programs that would eventually land on the Mutual Broadcasting System. While there were some original series not based on any actual movies, and they would add the British-produced Black Museum in 1951, MGM leaned heavily into their film legacy. MGM played into its back catalog of film hits with MGM Theatre of the Air adapting old MGM movies as a sort of low-budget answer to The Lux Radio Theatre, and then it took its short film series, Crime Does Not Pay, and turned that into a radio series. It had Ann Sothern reprise her role in the ten Maisie films in The Adventures of Maisie. Lew Ayers and Lionel Barrymore were invited to pick up their stethoscopes and play their parts from the Dr. Kildare series. And to bring us to our subject, Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, and Fay Holden were invited to bring the Hardy Family of fifteen films to radio.

The Hardy Family first appeared in a 1928 play called Skidding, which was adapted to film in 1937, A Family Affair, and featured sixteen-year-old Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy, with his father played by Barrymore. It was decided to make a series centered around the Hardy family, with Stone cast to play Judge Hardy and Fay Holden to play his wife Emily. The series was popular, although the one public domain entry and final film, “Love Laughs at Andy Hardy” may be the best-known to non-fans. The series follows Hardy as he grows up and goes through the pangs of life and young adulthood and all the various misadventures that happen along the way.

Of all the major film tie-ins, this is probably the one that has fared worst in terms of serving episodes and quality of recordings, although they’re still listenable. There were likely 78 episodes made, but there are maybe a dozen that you could collect from various websites. The Internet Archive has a decent sample of what’s out there. In reducing Hardy’s adventures from feature-length films to half hour radio programs, the result is much more typical sitcom fare. The radio series didn’t feature the film character of Aunt Milly, and while some lost episodes might mention her, it appears that Andy Hardy’s sister went the way of Chuck Cunningham, as all dialogue seems to indicate that Andy is an only child.

Most of the episodes center on something happening to Andy which he views as magnificently stupendous and the most amazing thing to ever happen to anyone. Invariably it’s not, and there’s no chance for it to be. And the comedy ultimately centers on his over-the-top expectations and imagination meeting reality.

This is a series where the scripts are decent, but nothing amazing. What ultimately makes the series are the performances. Mickey Rooney brought massive, manic energy to the role. These stories had to be faced and he powered through each episode with one of the most energetic performances you’ll ever hear. Fay Holden plays Emily Hardy with a sort of eccentricity that’s reminiscent of a more low-key Gracie Allen. Lewis Stone’s Judge Hardy is a calm voice of reason that brings balance to the stories. With their work in film, they play off each other beautifully.

The series lacks a lot of the heart of films, which included some moments that brought heart and sentiment that the radio series lacks. But it also doesn’t undermine the films. If you want a decent sitcom with a talented cast who gives each script their all, or if you’re a fan of the Andy Hardy films, this series is worth checking out.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Great Gildersleeve, Volume 7

The seventh volume of The Great Gildersleeve from Radio Archives features twelve episodes that aired between November 29, 1942 and April 4, 1943. This stretch of episodes continues along the same lines as previous volumes, with its typical cast of characters including his niece Marjorie and nephew Leroy, the cook Birdie, and key characters from around town, such as Judge Hooker, Mr. Peavey, and Floyd the Barber. Gildersleeve’s budding off-again on-again romance with Leila Ransom takes center stage. It also introduces the bashful and easily manipulated boyfriend of Marjorie, Ben (played by future Dragnet co-star Ben Alexander.)

Highlights of the season including a lovely Christmas episode, less with a centralized plot but more with a series of vignettes that capture someone trying to celebrate Christmas with good cheer even while being patriotic and operating on a limited budget.

The series also has a formal crossover with Fibber McGee and Molly (Jim and Marion Jordan), with radio’s most iconic comedy couple traveling from Wistful Vista to Summerfield, which is a nice moment for fans, as the Gildersleeve character started on Fibber McGee. This crossover occurs after Gildersleeve and his nephew Leroy (Walter Tetley) appear on the post-Christmas episode of Fibber McGee and Molly, in which the Jordans had been unable to appear due to a health issue.

The episode “Income Tax Time” is a fine patriotic episode about the importance of everyone reporting their income tax, as Gildersleeve struggles with whether to report his interest income. The great part of the episode is that through all the sincere patriotism, the episode has a hilarious twist ending that’s comedy gold.

On the war front, there is also an episode warning about the danger of over-vigilance and assuming the worst and getting paranoid, as Gildersleeve accidentally starts spreading a rumor about sabotage and creates all kinds of problems.

There’s nothing wrong with this set in terms of its audio quality. It collects the episodes that Radio Archives was able to lay its hands on with the highest quality available. Missing episodes are a fact of life for old time radio listeners but they’re especially felt here. The collection covers 19 weeks but there are only twelve episodes available. This leads to some changes occurring perhaps in missing episodes or off-screen. For example, Gildersleeve’s super-competent secretary disappears without explanation, and is replaced by barely competent help whom Gildersleeve keeps meaning to fire but never gets the time. In addition, the engagement between Leila and Gildersleeve is called off in one episode but apparently things are patched by the time the circulating episode was released four weeks later.

Probably the biggest challenge for many modern listeners to enjoy is the Gildersleeve-Leila Ransom relationship. While Leila fits into a comedy trope of the time, she’s messed up. She uses flattery to get men to do what she wants and to keep them competing with one another for her affection. She’s prone to over-the-top jealousy, and any deviation of plans to do something else is met with a manipulative, pouty statement like, “Well, Throckmorton, if working late because you’re in a job that oversees infrastructure in the middle of the War is more than me, that’s fine.” Lelia is well-played by a really talented actress, Shirley Mitchell, who played many of these sorst of characters. She does her best with the material given. Still, a bit of Leila can go a long way, and some of these episodes have a little bit too much.

Still, despite Leila’s antics, this is an enjoyable set. Ben is fun, and the barbershop setting helps to give the show a sense of rhythym. The show in its second season is clearly moving in the right direction.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Film Review: Who Done It?

Who Done It? is a 1942 Abbott and Costello film in which Bud Abbott and Lou Costello play two soda jerks who aspire to become radio mystery writers. However, their efforts to pitch a mystery get derailed when an actual murder occurs in a program that they’re attending. They leap in to try and investigate like good amateur sleuths, but find themselves running through the station from the police while trying to clear their names, and stay alive.

Who Done It? is a fun Abbott and Costello film with a lot to commend itself for fans of old-time radio detective programs, as there’s a mystery involved and we also get to take a “behind the scenes” look at a radio stations during the Golden Age of Radio. Abbott and Costello had become massively popular thanks to the Who’s on First? baseball routine and they have a good time poking fun at their own success. The supporting cast was solid, featuring future Oscar nominee William Gargan and future Life of Riley star William Bendix, along with a fairly young Mary Wickes.

The movie is definitely one of their more fast-paced films, with the murder mystery serving as a ticking time bomb and also limiting the number of settings. Yet, it still delivers some great laughs, a satisfying solution to the mystery and one of great big over-the-top slapstick finales this early era of Abbott and Costello films was known for.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

Who Done It? is part of The Best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Vol. 1 or Abbott & Costello: Universal Pictures Collection.

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Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season One

A version of this article was posted in 2017.

The Red Panda Adventures by Decoder Ring Theater was one of the earliest of the new podcast audio dramas to be released in recent years. It launched for the first time in October 2005, with a new episode airing every two weeks until December, with the second half of the series airing every two weeks beginning in April 2006.

The Red Panda Adventures is set in the 1930s in Toronto (where the series was produced). The series is a mash-up between The Green Hornet and The Shadow radio series while adding its own unique improvements.

It’s like both series in that the hero is a wealthy young man, though it leans more towards The Shadow in that The Red Panda (Greg Taylor) has no active business concerns in his dual identity that we’re told about.

The Red Panda is like The Shadow in that he has strange hypnotic powers. However, unlikeTthe Shadow, he doesn’t limit his mind-control powers to a single trick of invisibility. He creates all manner of elaborate mental illusions, such as making the villain see multiple versions of himself. It’s a much more imaginative take on the idea. The villains also bear a strong resemblance to The Shadow’s big, over-the-top megalomaniacs.

The Green Hornet influences can be seen in the hero’s super-fast car and crime-fighting gadgets, as well as the suspicious attitude by which he’s viewed by police. However, unlike the Green Hornet, the Red Panda doesn’t try to pass himself off as a criminal mastermind.

Of course, the Red Panda goes beyond what the original mystery men of the 1930s did on radio, with a greater sense of superheroics, and the series intro actually refers to him as Canada’s greatest superhero.

Perhaps the most unique thing about The Red Panda is his sidekick, Kit Baxter (aka. The Flying Squirrel) played by Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor. She’s a very well-written and well-rounded character. She’s tough and more prone to using physical violence than the Red Panda, occasionally getting carried away with it.

Her relationship with the Red Panda is complicated. Like the female assistants of many golden-age heroes, she pines for him, while he feigns cluelessness about her feelings in this first season. Yet you also get a strong sense of the Red Panda being a mentor figure to her, and also being protective of her without being smothering. The dynamic between the two is probably the strength of the series.

In terms of the plots, this first series has a lot of standard, boilerplate stories. There’s the episode with someone impersonating the Red Panda, there’s the episode with a mysterious ghost ship, and the episode with the cursed house, and the one where a hunter decides to hunt the most deadly game of all: The Red Panda. Probably the most interesting and original episode is “The Devil’s Due,” where the Red Panda investigates a series of deaths where the victims sold their souls to the Devil, and he’s here to collect…or is he?  Even though most of the plots are well-worn, they’re also well-executed and the strength of the characterization helps the stories to work. While later seasons would be more innovative, this season serves to establish the characters and their world.

The tone of this first season is relatively light. While there are some scary moments, as well as a few violent ones, the series doesn’t try for the constant dark and foreboding feel of The Shadow. It also isn’t designed in such a way that you’re likely to forget that you’re listening to a production made in the twenty-first century rather than one in the 1930s, like many of the early episodes of Harry Nile. It’s a clear homage to the Golden Age of Radio, but it is also a modern production. At the same time, it’s not goofy or a parody like the original Red Panda Universe (a topic for another time).

If the first season had any weakness, it is the sound design, which on occasion doen’t support the show and the epic scale of the adventures portrayed. But doesn’t detract too much from the series because of the strong characterization and also because it played off Golden Age Radio Dramas, where the quality of sound effects and sound design really could vary.

Overall, this is a very strong start to a much-beloved Internet series.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The first season of the Red Panda Adventures is available for free on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season One

A version of this article was posted in 2017.

Black Jack Justice was produced by Decoder Ring Theatre in Canada. Like The Red Panda, it’s a period series. Black Jack Justice is set after World War II and is a detective series in the style of hard-boiled detective shows like Philip Marlowe and That Hammer Guy.

Unlike most narrated private eye series, Black Jack Justice features two detectives, and each takes turns narrating the story. The series stars Christopher Mott as Jack Justice and Andrea Lyons as Trixie Dixon: Girl Detective, his partner. Writer Gregg Taylor plays their recurring police foil, Lieutenant Sabien.

The format of the series works well. Both characters are hard-boiled, but their styles vary. Justice’s narration tends to be a bit more world-weary and sarcastic, while Dixon is lighter and more smart-alecky in her approach. It makes for interesting narration and also good banter between the characters.

There’s definite friction between them, and lots of sniping back and forth. Still, there’s a great amount of professional respect as well as a shared sense of right and wrong.

The first season features twelve episodes, unlike future seasons which would included only six. The episode titles in this first season employed many puns on Justice’s name, such as, “Justice Served Cold,” “Justice Delayed,” “Justice be Done,” and “Hammer of Justice.”

Almost every episode has a good mystery plot. The stories are intellectually engaging and often offer surprising solutions. Most have a tone and style that would fit into the golden age of radio. On some issues, particularly the role of women and domestic violence, it feels a bit more modern, but it doesn’t go overboard.

The music is great, particularly what’s used during the narration. It establishes the mood well.

The only episode that left me a bit cold was the series finale, “Justice and the Happy Ending.” The mystery was not challenging and the plot ultimately came down to how Justice would handle a temptation. However, it was somewhat predictable the way it played out.

Still, the season is overall quite strong. If you love golden age detective shows, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Season 1 of Black Jack Justice is available on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

YouTube’s Content ID System Can’t Handle the Growing Public Domain

 

At the start of a recent episode of The Old Time Radio Snack WagonI featured a clip from Nora Bayes’ performance of, “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)”. It was a record that was released in December 1918.

Which means it’s in the public domain. It used to be that all records prior to 1972 were set to enter the public domain in 2067. But in 2018, Congress passed the Music Modernization Act, which placed records before 1972 under Federal Copyright protection with additional time. Per federal law, all pre-1923 sound recordings would enter the public domain on January 1, 2022, and then records from 1923-46 would have their copyright expire after 100 years, so all records from 1923 would expire on January 1, 2024.

So, as my Old Time Radio Snack Wagon episode posted at the end of 2023, contained a 1918 recording whose copyright expired at the end of 2021, I was fine to post it. And then I got a copyright claim on the episode barring monetization. I filed a dispute, there was no response, and the claim was released after 30 days, on January 4. Then, just as I was getting ready to write this article, I got yet another claim seeking to split revenue on a public domain recording. Here we go again.

Of course, that’s not the only dispute I’ve got going. For New Year’s Day, I did a Public Domain Day Record Party featuring four records that entered the public domain at the end of 2023. Three of these, once again, have copyright claims:

My point is not to write a woe-is-me article. To paraphrase Casablanca, “The problems of one content creator don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Yet, I’m far from alone in having this trouble with YouTube, certainly not since the start of the year. The first appearance of Mickey Mouse, Steamboat Willie, entered the public domain on January 1st. Disney has continued to file copyright claims on Steamboat Willie, leading to demonetizing videos. In fact, one creator has already had his video demonetized, remonetized, and demonetized again. What’s going on? YouTube’s solution to one of its early problems, and its failure to adapt, is the source of its newest round of ongoing problems.

The Original Copyright Problem 

YouTube has been in existence since 2005, and quickly gained popularity as the go-to place for users to share their videos. Within two years of its founding, YouTube was bought out by Google, who sought to capitalize on the opportunity.

Google’s problem was that YouTube wasn’t just home to fun user-generated content. It also became a den of virtual video pirates. People posted copyrighted music videos, television programs, and movies on the platform without compensating creators. This led to lawsuits by large corporations wanting to protect their interests.

This was not an easy problem to solve. The vast amount of material uploaded every second of every day to YouTube made it impossible for a human being to monitor it all. To proactively fight piracy, YouTube introduced the Content ID system, which, after all these years, is still a bit of a blunt instrument to fight piracy. It’s an automatic system that checks videos for copyrighted content and, in turn, hands out copyright strikes, demonetizes videos, or requires sharing with content owners.

The system has worked to an extent. It has limited YouTube’s liability and it’s also resulted in billions of dollars in revenue distributed to creators (or large corporations that have purchased rights to their works). But it’s also led to problems. Fair Use has been an ongoing problem, particularly for YouTubers whose work is focused on critiquing pop culture such as movies, television, music, and video games, where using clips from a work is covered under the Fair Use exception of Copyright laws (if done appropriately). This led to the “Where’s the Fair Use” social media campaign against the excesses of Content ID.

A much newer problem is content that entered the public domain. In 2007, when Content ID was introduced, the public domain had remained frozen since 1998 thanks to The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act. It had extended all copyrights on works created after 1923. It was also widely assumed that Disney, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and all the big media companies were going to be back under some pretext or another to get their Congressional patrons to once again extend copyrights so they could continue to profit off characters, movies, and stories that had been created nearly a century ago. In addition to that, no sound recordings were expected to enter the public domain in the U.S. until 2067. So it was understandable that the idea of copyright expiring wasn’t a consideration at the time Content ID was created.

Yet somehow or another, the film industry didn’t try to extend copyright terms, and the public domain began to grow. And then the recording industry, eager to gain federal copyright protection rather than having their pre-1972 works covered by a patchwork of state laws, agreed to a schedule to let older sound recordings enter the public domain starting in 2022.

Congressional passage of the Music Modernization Act and the failure of any copyright extension to pass in 2018 should have put Google on notice. The public domain was going to expand. The initial works released into the public domain in 2019-2021 were going to be of little concern to YouTube: books, silent films, and sheet music don’t really translate to video. But 2022 and on would be a different story. Congressional action gave them fair warning. They had years to tweak Content ID before a flood of new works would enter the public domain and be free to use.

They didn’t do it.

YouTube’s Responsibility

The public domain is an important principle of copyright law. The artist creates work and, thanks to the protection of copyright by the government, the artist profits from the work. This protection is far-reaching as not only does the government provide domestic protections for work, but they will fight for the protections of U.S. intellectual properties in dealings with foreign governments. This says nothing of the benefits the artist enjoys from living in a society where taxpayer money provides a society where the opportunity to create isn’t unduly hindered by war, famine, or crime.

That’s why, after what the Constitution calls “a limited time”, copyright expires and a work enters the common culture, so that works can be freely enjoyed and also be freely available to other artists to adapt, or incorporate in their own vision.

The public domain is why Disney could make classics like Snow White, Pinnochio, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland and freely and expand upon those stories. It’s why Orson Welles could do Julius Caesar in modern dress. The public domain is a treasure trove of works that inspiring artists can access and use for their own creative ends. In addition to this, some works that enter the public domain find a new audience or gain new appreciation, as happened with It’s a Wonderful Life back in the 1970s.

YouTube has a big role to play in this process and right now it’s failing. In the previously mentioned “Public Domain Day Record Party”, I played these recordings that were newly added to the public domain and offered background on each song. A YouTube commenter suggested I start another podcast, “DJ Adam.” As fun of an idea as that is, I doubt there’d be enough demand for it to be worth it. But it would be great if someone did a podcast where they played public domain records and provided commentary on it.

The problem? Who wants to spend months fighting YouTube’s computerized Content ID system and the lackadaisical response of multi-billion-dollar corporations who are in no hurry to respond to your dispute so you can remonetize your little video?

Of course, you can create content off of YouTube. Audio-only content in particular can have great success off of YouTube. Less than 10% of my total downloads/views comes from YouTube. However, YouTube is trying to change that by capturing more and more of the podcast market. Indeed, there are many metrics that suggest that YouTube is the most-used podcast platform and it only means to get bigger.

YouTube has built itself a place as the world’s top video provider (outside of perhaps Tiktok). There are other video platforms, but YouTube is where creators who want to be seen and heard by a wide audience go. It’s a powerful platform, but, as the saying goes, that comes with great responsibility.

For the next two decades, an entire year’s worth of cinema and song will enter the public domain every year and YouTube is totally unprepared for it. Steamboat Willie is only the start. As the years go on, more enduring classic films from legends like Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock are going to begin their march into the public domain, along with records by legends like Bing Crosby. Creators are going to want to use these in their own works and legally they’ll have the right to do so. However, many creators are going to be caught in the web of YouTube’s outdated Content ID scheme, which will either send all of the money from their work to some multinational corporation with no right to it, or make them split their revenue with that company.

These types of horror stories are going to happen over and over again, and rather than exploring and being inspired by new public domain works, a lot of creators are going to be hesitant to use them. Particularly for popular YouTube channels that may release a video or two every week, getting hit with a Content ID claim can wreck a month’s budget for medium-sized YouTube channels that are dependent on ad revenue.

Due to its unique position in the marketplace, YouTube is able, rather than fostering the use of new-to-the-public domain materials, to stifle them. Its attempts to take revenue from creators and to give it to the former holders of expired ccopyrights is unfair and thwarts the intent of the law. It also serves to penalize and suppress the sharing of great cultural works that are part of our media heritage.

What Should YouTube Do

I’ll admit that I’m neither an engineer nor a YouTube insider. I’m just a podcaster with a YouTube channel that can tell that YouTube’s Content ID is broken. My ideas on how to fix it are basic, but I think have some sense.

First, disputes are sent to the claimants to respond to and only if they graciously refuse your dispute (or refuse to respond to it after 30 days) does the claim get released. The amount of time that claimants are given should be reduced to no more than 15 days. The idea that they need 30 days is absurd, particularly as more and more people’s livelihoods dependent on YouTube. It should also be easier to have someone from YouTube be able to get directly involved and research the case. Indeed, YouTube should probably retain a team of paralegals trained in copyright law for that purpose.

Second, the easiest way to avoid disputes over U.S. copyright is to have publication dates on the audio or video. Was the film released before 1929 or the sound recording before 1924? Then they’re in the public domain in the United States. If publication dates were added to Content ID entries, then on January 1, expired U.S. copyrights could be deleted from the system. This process could be something YouTube could ask of companies that have submitted Content ID or could be done by Google with the assistance of AI.

This gets a bit more confusing with International Copyrights which are often based on the year of the creator’s death. But I think if Google gets the copyright law right for the country its headquartered in, that would be a good start.

This would also be an expensive project, but Google has set YouTube as the world’s premier content provider. And there are serious responsibilities that go along with status. Not all of them can be met on the cheap. Google owes it to its creators and to the society that makes its existence and profitability possible to get this right.

A Look at the Radio Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett

Even when I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet had a certain reputation, as a somewhat bland brand of entertainment. Even though I watched a lot of reruns, Ozzie and Harriet were never on. The only time I saw them in a TV listing was for a PBS marathon that was way past my bedtime.

I watched a VHS release of their 1952 movie Here Come the Nelsons and found it pretty funny at the time. Whether I still would I don’t know as it was never released on DVD, and the entire TV series waited decades for an official DVD release, even as public domain episodes became available from various companies. The official DVD releases of the first two seasons came out in 2022, with the entire series landing on DVD in 2023. Now the entire series is available for streaming through Amazon – all fourteen, yes, fourteen seasons, adding to more than four hundred episodes. That’s more than stalwarts like Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. 

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett began airing on television in 1952, the year after I Love Lucy premiered over at CBS. By the time it left, The Andy Griffith show had been on the air for five seasons, and Get Smart had just finished its first. Yet its history was even longer than that, as Ozzie and Harriet had begun over radio.

Before The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

Harriet Hilliard (born Peggy Lou Snyder) was a singer when she met bandleader Ozzie Nelson. The two worked together on programs for the Bakers of America in the 1930s and were married in 1935. In 1941, they joined the Raleigh Cigarette program featuring Red Skelton. Ozzie led the band and Harriet served as vocalist and also appeared in the comedic sketches, most notably as the mother of Junior, Skelton’s “Mean Widdle Kid” character.

In 1944, Skelton was drafted, leading to the end of his radio program, but this would provide an opportunity for the couple. Ozzie wanted to find a way for them to spend more time with their children, and a radio sitcom proved the perfect opportunity to shift their careers from their more demanding schedule.

America’s Favorite Young Couple

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet premiered in October 1944, and was a domestic comedy based on the Nelsons’ home life. Ozzie and Harriet, aged thirty-seven and thirty-nine, were billed as “America’s Favorite Young Couple” and continued to be billed as such well into their forties (one of those things you could get away with over radio). The series was initially heard over CBS, but later switched to NBC, and finally ABC. The series was sponsored by International Silver and later by Heinz.

For the first five years, the Nelsons’ sons David and Ricky were played by child actors, until a 1948 guest appearance by Bing Crosby pushed Ozzie towards having their sons play themselves, starting in 1949.

John Brown was the most prominent supporting cast member. He played Ozziet and Harriet’s neighbor, Mister Thornberry, or “Thorny.” It’s worth noting that, for much of the run, Brown was also a regular cast member on the sitcoms My Friend Irma as Irma’s boyfriend Al, and on The Life of Riley as both Riley’s neighbor Gillis and Digby O’Dell, “the friendly undertaker.” Brown was therefore doing triple duty most weeks until the early 1950s, or perhaps quadruple if you count both Life of Riley roles.

The Circulating Episodes

The series aired 402 episodes over the radio, of which around eighty are in circulation. The various websites that post the series feature a lot of mis-dated and duplicate episodes. I tried to listen to every episode and ended up having to use three or four sources to find them all.

In general, the circulating episodes are spread throughout the series run, with a higher number of episodes coming from the last season, and only two episodes from 1946 in circulation. This is only because long-running comedy programs evolve, and the episodes of Ozzie and Harriet that were considered worthy of saving come towards the tail end of its run over radio, rather than the earliest years. I can only evaluate what I have, but it’s always possible that more episodes might alter the evaluation of the series.

Review of the Episodes

In some early episodes, Ozzie and Harriet did the sort of musical skits that they did on The Red Skelton Show, but this ended early in the series run. What remained was a style of comedy that stood out from its peers for what it wasn’t as much as what it was.

For one thing, there were no catchphrases. Old Time Radio comedies of the era relied on them. You’ll find no equivalent to, “Tain’t funny, McGee,” “You’re looking fine, very natural,” “What a revoltin’ development this is,”  “Well, now, I wouldn’t say that,” or “Hello, my fellow, pupil,” recurring lines that filled other sitcoms and earned the actors laughter and applause before an actual joke

The comedy felt more grounded than many of its old-time radio contemporaries  There were comic misunderstandings, a scheme or two, and a few lies told throughout the series, but it never reached a point where it stretched your disbelief. The series didn’t rely on characters being inordinately stupid, greedy, or out of touch with reality to make the plot work. In some ways, I think it’s less discussed than most other old-time radio comedies because it’s so different.

Most episodes center around Ozzie’s ill-fated ideas. Ozzie is written as the one person in the Nelson house most likely to get carried away with some new fancy gizmo, make a big bet, propose major changes to the family, and the one most likely to put on airs or to boast of something that reality won’t cash. The other source of comedy is the Nelson boys, acting like brothers and finding ways to pick at each other, with Ricky, especially, having some great lines. Harriet is likable, charming, and always seems to be a step ahead of Ozzie in the end.

The series has some fairly clever episodes. My favorite had to be the episode where Ozzie and Thorny try to boost the neglected small-town minor league baseball club, and get some help from a local used-car salesman (played by Gale Gordon), who has some ideas on how to improve the team. This is probably peak writing for the series, and also an interesting turn for Gordon, whose later career was defined by playing bombastic authoritarians like Osgood Conklin with a slow burn. This really showed some of his range as a performer.

If the series has one fault, it’s that it feels almost too domestic, particularly in some episodes where the action (such as it is) doesn’t leave the Nelsons’ home. Indeed, there are way too many circulating episodes where everything happens either at their house or immediately next door. Also, there’s a certain generic feeling to the series, with the lack of recurring characters in their generic (and never-named) suburban hometown, and Ozzie having a job that’s never specifically mentioned in the radio episodes, and even the local store that is known as “The Emporium”, rather than a specific name. That the episodes have a general feeling of things going wrong precisely when Ozzie tries anything new leads to a (perhaps unintentional) ethos of, “Do what you’ve always done. You’re a fool if you try to do anything different.” So, if you wanted to create some superficially pleasant 1950s sitcom world with a dark reality behind it, this would probably be what you’d base it on.

Also, I think Harriet is almost too nice and too understanding. While Ozzie isn’t at the extreme end of boneheaded radio sitcom husbands, he does some things that most wives would lose their cool over. I actually got a thrill from the one episode in which Harriet loses her temper with him when he tries to teach her to play golf.

Conclusion:

All in all, The Ozzie and Harriett radio program comes down to a matter of taste. For what it is, it works. It’s a light, mostly inoffensive family comedy that’s generally a bit more subdued than its contemporaries. If you prefer the more extreme situations of something like The Burns and Allen Show, or the characters that inhabit places like Summerfield in The Great Gildersleeve, this may not be for you. But if you’re in a mood for a comedy that’s a bit silly, and you can overlook the overly generic nature of the setting, this may be worth seeking out.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

 

Audio Drama Review: Paul Temple: The Complete Radio Collection, Volume 2

The second volume of Paul Temple Radio Adventures collects all of the surviving BBC’s Paul Temple radio serials from the mid-to-late 1950s. These all star Peter Coke as mystery writer Paul Temple, with Marjorie Westbury as his wife Louise (nicknamed Steve) as they solve mysteries in cooperation with Scotland Yard.

Each serial is made up of eight thirty-minute episodes, which allows for well-developed mysteries. The show’s writer and creator, Francis Durbridge, made the series because of his love of the mystery novel. And I have to say that I’ve never encountered a radio series that felt so much like reading a vintage mystery novel.

There are a total of five serials in this collection: ‘The Gilbert Case’; ‘The Lawrence Affair’; ‘The Spencer Affair; ‘The Vandyke Affair’ (the 1959 remake) and ‘The Conrad Case’. The series was such that if you like one Paul Temple mystery, you’ll enjoy them all. Listening to these, I never encountered one that I thought was a let-down, nor did I hear one that blew me away.

Each story is well-constructed and honestly, a bit formulaic. Each story features loads of polite questioning of witnesses and suspects. Drinks will be poured frequently, with some tea mixed in here or there. Eventually, someone’s going to plant a bomb that nearly takes out our mystery-solving couple, the villain will have the idea of trying to abduct Steve to get Paul Temple off the case, often by calling the house and impersonating Paul Temple, a trick that happens so much that Paul and Steve have worked out a code phrase for it. In the final episode, when the killer is revealed, the killer doesn’t come quietly but invariably ends up with a frantic and desperate chance to escape. Despite these repeated plot points, the stories never become predictable, as we’re always given more than enough suspects and motives to account for several murders.

Coke came relatively late to the role of Paul Temple. ‘The Gilbert Case’ was his first serial playing the role, sixteen years after the first Paul Temple series premiered. He’s the best-known Paul Temple actor in part because all but one of the serials he starred in survived. His performance in these stories is superb, bringing the right mix of humor, seriousness, and occasional moments of annoyance, plus his pitch-perfect delivery of Temple’s signature phrase, “By Timothy!” Marjorie Westbury wasn’t the first actress to play Steve, but she first appeared as Steve nearly a decade before Coke, and played the role opposite four different actors as Paul Temple. Her voice was perfect, conveying the wit, fun, vitality, and glamour that listeners associated with Steve. Together, the two are delightful to listen to.

The only individual production I’ll mention is ‘The Vandyke Affair’, which is actually a 1959 remake of a 1950 serial that happens to be one of the two pre-Peter Cook Paul Temple serials that exists and was released as part of Volume 1 (see Volume 1 review). In that 1950 story, Coke appears as one of the suspects. The script is essentially the same, so fans who own both volumes can compare the performances.

The set also includes a bonus feature with interviews of Coke, Westbury, and others involved in the production of the Paul Temple radio series, providing a little extra behind-the-scenes insight.

All in all, if you enjoy comfortable, well-crafted, upper-class British murder mysteries from the 1950s, this is a fantastic set to purchase. With more than eighteen hours of entertainment, this is a great value, particularly if you purchase the set with Audible credits. You’ll be sure to have a great time with Paul Temple and Steve.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Book Review: The Labours of Hercules

A version of this review as posted in 2011

One of my favorite Agatha Christie works is a short story collection called The Labours of Hercules, which was published in 1947.

So I decided to take a listen to this classic with not one, but twelve great Poirot mysteries as read by Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings from the ITV Series).

Poirot’s quest is begun due to an obnoxious guest who mocks Poirot’s name, and the amazing fact that Poirot knows little of the Greek classics given that he was named Hercules and his brother Achilles. Egged on by the professor, Poriot decides to read the classics, and is shocked by the lack of morality of the Greek gods and that his namesake was all muscle and no brain. Right then and there, Poirot vows to give the modern world something that’s truly admirable: his own labours of Hercules.  Poirot resolves to take 12 cases and no more, with each case corresponding to a labour of Hercules.

What follows is twelve well-crafted and fun thrillers.  Christie works elements of the Greek classics in a charming but unobtrusive way. One of the most amusing is in “The Apples of Hesperides.” In the original tale, Hercules received the help of Atlas; in Poirot’s version, he received the help of Harry Atlas, a local gambler. “The Capture of Cerberus” in Hercules’ story featured Hercules going to the underworld; in Poirot’s version, he goes to a Hell-themed nightclub.

My favoritie stories in the collection were:

  • “The Erymanthian Boar”: Poirot is retained by the Swiss to find a killer in a Swiss hotel which has an unusually high number of occupants for that time of year.
  • “The Horses of Diomedes”: At the request of a doctor friend, Poirot looks into the distribution of heroin that is apparently corrupting the daughters of an Indian Army veteran. A very solid and early story on the drug trade.
  • “The Arcadian Deer”: This story finds the great Hercules Poirot undertaking a commission for a garage mechanic to find a lost love. A very beautiful and sweet story.
  • “The Apples of Hesperides”: Poirot undertakes to find a golden goblet that was stolen from a rich man before he could take possession after winning it at an auction. Some great twists, including the character of Harry Atlas.
  • “The Capture of Cerebus”:  The last and probably best story in the collection, as Poirot renews an old acquaintance with a supposedly reformed female jewel thief who is running a nightclub called Hell. But the police suspect the den (in addition to being somewhat tacky) is also the center of the drug trade.

I could go on. There were so many great stories to love in this book. The character of Miss Carnaby, who appears in two stories, is a real treat.

All the stories were enjoyable in their own way, but if I had to pick two lesser ones, I’d choose “The Augean Stables” and “The Stymphalean Birds.”

Poirot’s analog to the “Augean Stables” is to clean up a political scandal that threatens to bring down the Prime Minister, whom Poirot admires because a respected friend told him the Prime Minister was a “sound man.”  What makes this story particularly odd is how Poirot cleans up the problem. The plot could very well have been the inspiration for the novel American Hero and the movie Wag the Dog.  It suggests that the world is fortunate that Poriot didn’t take up political consulting instead of detection.

The solution to “The Stymphalean Birds” seems a little too simple. Poirot becomes involved in this case when a young English politician approaches him with his problem while visiting Europe.  The truth is, I could have told the poor unfortunate guy what was going on.

However, even the weaker stories were fun. While Agatha Christie began to tire of Poirot by the 1930s, that fatigue doesn’t show in this great collection. This really has the feel of something the author enjoyed writing which gives the readers great joy as well.

When I first reviewed this book, I didn’t think the book would ever be adapted. It was adapted, sort of, although not faithfully. The telefilm version (review here) was a darker, more compressed mystery with dark undertones that foreshadow Poirot’s dark turn in Curtain. If you were put off by that, be assured the book is a much lighter and fun read.

On the positive side, Hugh Fraser does a great job narrating the audiobook version, with a wide variety of voices for different characters, so it’s close to a one-man dramatization. I heartily recommend the audiobook version for that reason. It’s probably the closest we’ll get to an adaptation. The odds of getting a faithful adaptation of these stories are small given the trends in entertainment today.

However you choose to read it, The Labours of Hercules is a wonderful collection of mysteries that will be no labor at all to read.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars.

 

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Audio Drama Review: Jimmy and the Star Angel

A version of this review was posted in 2017

In Family Time Audio Theatre’s musical Jimmy and the Star Angel, Jimmy and Samantha, a young brother and sister, are dealing with their first Christmas without their dad. On Christmas Eve, Jimmy destroys one of his father’s Christmas tree ornaments, which leads to them being shrunk to the size of ornaments. All the ornaments on the tree come alive. Jimmy and Samantha need their help to reach the top of the tree by dawn to ask the Star Angel for help, or risk being turned into Christmas ornaments forever.

If you like Babes in Toyland or the Wizard of Oz, Jimmy and the Star Angel is that type of journey, so you’re sure to enjoy it. This magical quest up a Christmas tree is full of imaginative and fun characters. It’s also an emotional journey for Samantha and especially Jimmy.

The music in this is great. The songs alone are worth the price of the purchase. They vary in tone, mood, and purpose, but they’re all fun. I loved the swinging “Snowman Spectacular” and the penultimate song “Star Angel” is still bouncing around in my head more than a week and a half after I listened to it.

While the plot is a fantasy, there’s an emotional throughline for  Jimmy and Samantha that’s moving. I also found the use of the Christmas trees to be interesting. Jimmy’s family has passed down ornaments for years. The idea that these ornaments serve as a family connection through the generations is well-presented, and it helps to serve as a solution to the problem.

The plot has minor issues that adult listeners will pick up on. The villain, the pirate Scrimshaw (Jerry Robbins), feels like he’s been written because these stories need a villain, which leads to the less-than-satisfactory way in which he’s dispatched, as well as the strained way he’s brought in. That said, though Scrimshaw is not necessary to the plot, Robbins (who wrote the play) is a lot of fun in the role. I like the idea of a Christmas Tree ornament seeking revenge against the boy who broke him.

Overall, this is a great production for the whole family. I recommend you try it out and see if it becomes a tradition like your favorite Christmas tree ornaments.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Disclosure: I received a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Old Time Radio 101: Popular Horror and Science Fiction Anthology Programs

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Inner Sanctum Mysteries

The Inner Sanctum Mysteries left a definite impression on its audiences. My father tells me stories about how, when he listened as a child with his siblings, they would try to scare each other as they listened to the show and its creepy tales of ghosts and the supernatural. It starred the best New York radio talent available, which at times included well-known stars such as Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. The series was also known for its signature creaking door sound effect.

As the Radio Hall of Fame explained in its commentary on the inducted radio program, it also offered a major innovation to the world of horror programs: “What made Inner Sanctum Mysteries unique among radio horror shows was its host, a slightly sinister-sounding man originally known as ‘Raymond’. The host had a droll sense of humor and an appetite for ghoulish puns, and his influence can be seen among horror hosts everywhere, from the Crypt-Keeper to Elvira.”

The series’ influence can be felt today, and is part of why it continues to remain a favorite of old-time radio horror fans.

Lights Out

Lights Out originated in Chicago during the 1930s and later moved to New York and Hollywood in the 1940s. The peaks of the series’ popularity came during the time of the show’s first two producers, Wylis Cooper and Arch Oboler. Both were talented writers. Oboler, in particular, wrote outside supernatural genres for many dramatic anthology series, and Cooper produced an additional popular horror series, Quiet Please, in the post-war era. The stories told were the stuff of nightmares for many who grew up listening to them, with episodes like “The Chicken Heart”, “Cat Wife”, and “The Dark.” The show was known for its combination of great acting, terrifying writing, and chilling sound effects. In John Dunning’s book On the Air, he recounts the tale of a woman who called the police in 1935 after hearing an episode because she was just that frightened!

During Oboler’s Hollywood run, the series began with this warning: “Lights Out brings you stories of the supernatural – and the supernormal, dramatizing the fantasies and the mysteries of the unknown. We tell you this frankly — so if you wish to avoid the excitement and tension of these – imaginative plays, we urge you calmly, but sincerely, to turn off your radio – now.” While it may have served as an effective warning to some who didn’t want to listen to something as intense for its day as Lights Out, it also served as an invitation to the show’s core audience. Most of the episodes that survive come from the 1940s, with the vast majority of Cooper’s work on the series lost to the ages.

Dimension X and X Minus One

Dimension X and X Minus One were two separate but related series. Both were New York-based dramatic series that mostly adapted science fiction short stories to radio while creating a few original stories written by staff writers Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts. Dimension aired 50 episodes over 17 months in 1950 and 1951. X Minus One blasted off in April 1955 and would continue on the air until it was cancelled in January 1958. Perhaps the most striking difference is the X Minus One opening, which begins with a rocket ship countdown. The stories adapted for both series came from best-selling science fiction magazines, and included stories by writers who’d become legends of the genre like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick, and Theodore Sturgeon. Both featured the finest New York radio actors bringing the episodes to life.

While there were other science fiction series during the Golden Age of Radio, these two series account for the best sources for adult science fiction.

And That’s Just for a Start

Of course, experienced fans of the Golden Age of Radio will have even more favorites that I’ve not covered. Many will express love  for The Sealed Book, Hall of Fantasy, or 2000 Plus. And of course, with each article, there are so many interesting series out there that are not as well known like, The Family Theater, Cavalcade of America, Life with Luigi, Fort Laramie, This is Your FBI, and Voyage of the Scarlet Queen. In writing these articles, I’ve not covered every possible series, but given the new old-time radio listeners somewhere to start their explorations into Old Time Radio. I hope these are only a starting point to discovering all of the amazing series that are available to enjoy.

Old Time Radio 101: Popular Dramatic Anthology Programs

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The Lux Radio Theatre

Did you ever wonder how people enjoyed previously released films in those days before television and home video? There were second-run theaters, plus it wasn’t unheard of for Hollywood studios to re-release old film, but one of the best ways people enjoyed films no longer playing in movie theaters was by listening to them on the radio. The Lux Radio Theatre is best known for adapting films into radio plays, cutting 75-90 minute films down to 45-minute radio dramas. Oftentimes, they got the lead film actors to reprise their roles for the radio, like  Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster in Sorry, Wrong Number, or Clark Cable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One NightOther times, different stars would perform the radio play. Some of these would seem to be kind of random casting choices based on who was available, but other choices would lead to alternate takes on film performances, like Edward G. Robinson starring in The Maltese Falcon in place of Humphrey Bogart.

Originally, Lux Radio Theatre was based in New York and adapted Broadway stage plays.  Eighty-two weeks were done this way (only one of these is in circulation). Starting in 1936 and continuing on for nineteen years, Lux was the premier source of Hollywood film adaptations, and the majority of these episodes are in circulation. It’s a great series to listen to if you want to experience a radio take on a favorite film, listen to a radio version of a film that you can’t find on home video, or maybe get a feel for what a film is like before deciding to watch it. It’s a great audio treasure trove direct from classic Hollywood.

Mercury Radio Theatre/Campbell’s Playhouse

The Mercury Radio Theatre is perhaps the best-known of all time Old Time Radio programs, but it’s not really well-understood. The Mercury Theatre is remembered for its historic Halloween Broadcast of The War of the Worlds that led many Americans to believe the Martians were invading, causing a national panic. It’s been the subject of TV specials, and YouTube videos. Everyone knows The Mercury Theatre.

Or everyone knows about that one episode. But The Mercury Theatre was more than that. It ran for nearly two years. It was network-sponsored as The Mercury Theatre, but landed Campbell’s Soup as its sponsor and became The Campbell’s Playhouse. During its nearly two years, it adapted great stories to radio in ways that were fresh and innovative. Orson Welles starred in most productions and maintained creative control throughout the series run, which told stories of classic literature, and then went into more modern works by authors such as Noel Coward and Eugene O’Neil. Welles was supported regularly by talented performers such as Ray Collins, Alice Faye, and Agnes Moorhead, in stories ranging from The Pickwick Papers to Private Lives.

While it lasted less than two years, it left a definite impact on radio, and stands out as the crown jewel of Welles’ radio career.

Suspense

During its twenty years on and off the air, Suspense was a lot of things. The series motto was that it served up, “Tales well-calculated to keep you in…Suspense”. The series had several show-runners, and each took it in his own direction. The series’s popularity led to sponsorships from Roma Wines and later Auto Lite, which allowed it to command the top talent in Hollywood, including stars like Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Edward G. Robinson, and Anne Baxter. Radio fixtures in light comedy like Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Ozzie and Harriet could appear in dramatic roles that saw them playing more serious but good characters, or going totally against type.

While much of the series output could be viewed in the mystery genre, a lot of Suspense falls into categories like true crime, westerns, science fiction, and adventure. Under show-runner Elliot Lewis, Suspense featured a two-part adaptation of Othello. The series is probably best known for it original play, “Sorry, Wrong Number,” starring Agnes Moorhead in a one-woman show about a woman who overhears two men planning a murder on the phone. The play was performed eight times on Suspense and Welles called it, “The greatest single radio play ever written.”

The series marked the times of network radio, beginning as a sustained program in New York, going to Hollywood and becoming a star-studded showcase, then as advertising revenue for radio dropped, the series began to rely on Hollywood character actors before the series returned to New York. Its final episode (along with Yours Truly Johnny Dollar) marked the end of The Golden Age of Radio.

Currently, there’s an ongoing blog called The Suspense Project, which has detailed daily regular blog posts on each episode of Suspense and includes links to the best available versions of each episode, as well as detailed information on stars and stories. It’s well worth reading and following for fans of the series.

Escape

Escape was another CBS anthology series that ran from 1947-54. It’s an anthology that has gotten less respect than Suspense. It bounced around the schedule and most often didn’t have a sponsor. Nevertheless, it earned itself a place in the hearts of Golden Age of Radio listeners.  Like many great programs, it developed a memorable opening line: “Tired of the everyday grind? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all? We offer you … ESCAPE!”

What would follow is a story of adventure. As with Suspsense, the sort of stories told ran the gamut from mysteries to science fiction and tales of horror and magic. The series tended not to feature the sort of huge stars that appeared on Suspense, but this allowed lesser-known actors and comers like Jack Webb and Edmond O’Brien to take on big roles over the radio and show what they could do, often with surprising results. Escape has several episodes that are well-beloved and were performed multiple times both on Escape and on Suspense, such as, “A Shipment of Mute Fate,” “Three Skeleton Key,” and “Leiningen Versus the Ants”

Next week: Horror and Science Fiction Anthology Programs

Old Time Radio 101: Popular Crime and Detective Programs

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The Shadow

Who knows what evil lurks in the mind of men! The Shadow knows….The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay!

By the time I was growing up in the 1980s and 90s, most specific old-time radio heroes were forgotten. This is one that hung around. The Shadow is iconic, and not just any version of The Shadow. The Shadow began on radio as a narrator of a series of mysterious adventures, and then in the pages of his own magazine as a mastermind behind a crime-fighting operation that worked mostly through a string of operatives. But that’s not what most people think of when they think of The Shadow. Nor do they think of the utterly forgettable film adaptations. They think of the heroic man of mystery who fought evil over the radio, aided by his ability to make himself invisible to his enemies by clouding their minds.

In fact, when I talk to people who were not alive during the Golden Age of Radio, but are fans, The Shadow is inevitably listed as a series they listen to.

Orson Welles’s performance of the character is iconic in pop culture, even though it only lasted about a year. His successors, Bill Johnstone and Brett Morrison, would contribute far more to The Shadow’s body of work. Regardless of which performance you’re a fan of, The Shadow is simply the most recognizable and iconic old-time radio program there is.

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet premiered in 1936. Like many mystery men of the era, he reflected skepticism about the competence of police. He operated outside the law. However, unlike The Shadow, or early takes on Batman and Superman, The Green Hornet didn’t rub the law the wrong way by hunting down criminals. He promoted the idea of himself as a criminal, to allow him some ability to operate in the underworld. In reality, he was wealthy newspaper publisher Britt Reid. The Green Hornet was joined by his Japanese valet Kato, whose nationality was changed to Filipino during World War II.

The Green Hornet also offered its listeners some imaginative equipment in the Hornet’s car, the Black Beauty, a sleek black car that could outrun both the police and criminals, and a gas gun to leave people unharmed but out of the way until the Green Hornet could work out his plans.

The equipment, the characters, and the setting would be the inspiration for comic books and multiple film serials during the radio series run. Afterwards, there’d be a television series, a movie, even more comic books, and an animated series promised down the line. While The Green Hornet spin-off material has been a bit more successful than spin-offs of The Shadow, the radio series is still the basis for where every creature begins their work on the character.

The Whistler

After a brief bit of whistling, a sinister-voiced character says, “I…am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, many secrets hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes… I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak!”

As a premise, The Whistler seems pretty similar to the original pre-audio drama The Shadow series. Yet, as no episodes of that series are in circulation, The Whistler is very much its own thing. In early days, The Whistler could have a variety of mystery stories that might seem to fit on series like The Inner Sanctum or Suspense. Yet The Whistler would establish its own style that would define most of its episodes. We meet a character who has a problem or a desire. They make a decision to get what they want by committing a crime, usually murder, and they think they’re clever enough to get away with it. It’s an unusual series, as it’s often waiting to find out how the protagonist ends up getting it in the end.  Does their plot fail, do they do the crime but get caught because of some ironic mistake or twist of fate, does their own trap spring on them? With The Whistler‘s tales, there are so many ways it could end up going wrong. And to keep it interesting, there are atypical episodes, where what you expect doesn’t happen.

Throughout most of its run, the series was heard only on the West Coast. It featured the cream of West Coast radio actors, many of whom got to play far darker roles than they typically landed over radio. The series is a perennial favorite of old-time radio fans, with a unique style that makes it stand out from all the Golden Age’s more straightforward crime programs.

The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

This is a series that’s popular for two reasons. First, there’s the enduring popularity of Sherlock Holmes in general and interest in all things Holmes. Second is the enduring popularity of the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films. Of the nearly 200 Holmes episodes in circulation, this duo appear in about a quarter of them, with Bruce also continuing as Watson in an additional thirty-eight episodes with Tom Conway as Holmes. Of course, the radio version features more actors than that. There’s the pre-Rathbone programs that featured forgotten stars like Richard Gordon and Luis Hector, as well as the 1947-49 programs starring John Stanley, as well as the syndicated episodes produced in the UK and starring Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson as Holmes and Watson.

Our Sherlock Holmes Page

The Adventures of Sam Spade

Like many other detective programs on the list, you can partially explain the enduring popularity of Sam Spade’s radio adventures by the popularity of the source material. The Maltese Falcon novel is a classic that is often assigned reading for book clubs. The film is a perennial favorite that earns honors whenever anyone makes an applicable film list. There’s also a dearth of material featuring Sam Spade. Dashiell Hammett only wrote The Maltese Falcon and three additional short stories featuring Spade and, until recently, there have been few modern spin-off stories.

Yet, there’s far more to the series’ popularity. Howard Duff’s take on Spade was iconic, as was Lurene Tuttle as his secretary, Effie. The relationship between the two really sells the series. The direction by William Spier was solid and he managed to have a sort of Rep company of actors who’d bring the superb scripts to life. More than any other series, Sam Spade was able to feature different types of stories and plot points. The series could be absolutely absurd in tales filled with over-the-top characters, at other times, the story could feature real heartbreaking dramatic moments. The ability of the series to do that without giving listeners tonal whiplash is an achievement in and of itself.

Our Sam Spade Page

The Adventures of Philip Marlowe

Like Spade, initial interest in Marlowe can be explained partially by his popularity in literature and film, although Marlowe had more books written about him, more films, and even two different BBC radio adaptations of the Marlowe novels.

The popularity of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe is also due to other elements. The star of the 1948-51 series (Gerald Mohr) gave a career performance as Marlowe. And the production choices were so important. The opening line of the series was absolutely iconic: “Get this and get it straight. Crime is a sucker’s road, and those who travel it wind up in the gutter, the prison, or the grave. There’s no other end… but they never learn.” It grabs your attention and then holds on with great writing. The series has its humorous moments but never goes for some of the truly silly (but often well-executed) stories done on Sam Spade. It maintains a noirish tone and uses the tropes of hard-boiled detective fiction but is never cartoonish about it.

Our Philip Marlowe Page

Richard Diamond, Private Detective

This is Dick Powell’s biggest radio role and it’s definitely a unique one. Powell’s career had had two parts through 1949: As a song and dance man and juvenile lead in 1930s romantic comedies, and then in the mid-1940s, he turned to hard-boiled roles crime films. What if you combined those?

That’s what you get with Richard Diamond, Private Detective, at least with the early seasons. An episode might begin with Diamond having some light romantic banter on the phone with his girlfriend Helen Asher. Then two thugs come into his office, and beat the living daylights out of Diamond. Then Diamond wakes, goes to the police station to ask for help, after doing comedy routines with both Detective Sergeant Otis (Wilms Herbert) and Walt Levinson (originally Ed Begley, Sr. but four actors would play the role during the series) finally gets some information and leaves. Then we get into some typical hard-boiled detective action for about ten minutes, perhaps ending with Diamond having to shoot down a murderer in self-defense. Then shortly after snuffing out a human life, Diamond makes his way to the apartment of his girlfriend, has some light banter, gets on the piano, croons out a romantic ballad and then has a closing joke.

The series can seem like tonal whiplash but it was entertaining from start to finish. The series could feature some of the most extreme radio violence for the time or be absolutely charming and delightful from week to week. It might seem an odd concept, but it’sone radio fans have come back to for decades.

Our Richard Diamond page

Dragnet

Dragnet premiered in 1949 and changed crime dramas forever. The series was created by and starred Jack Webb, and took a more realistic ground look at police work, introducing police phrases and language into the popular vernacular. The series offered a glimpse at how crimes were actually solved, and showed the difficult and tedious tasks that good police work required, without being tedious itself, which is a remarkable achievement. The series made groundbreaking use of sound effects and its third episode presented its iconic theme.

The series would air for six years on radio and would have two separate TV runs, from 1951-59 and 1967-70 as well as producing a theatrical film in 1954 and a TV movie in 1969. The series often took on hard topics that other shows couldn’t or wouldn’t touch, in a way that was never exploitative, while still being true to the core realism of the series. The radio program is not the best known part of the Dragnet franchise, but it is the foundation and a solid one.

Our Dragnet page.

Yours Truly Johnny Dollar:

Yours Truly Johnny Dollar began airing in February 1949 and aired 230 episodes between then and when it left the air in September 1954, with three actors playing the lead role. Each made their mark as the titular freelance insurance investigator. Yet, none of them are the key to the series’ continued popularity.

Jack Johnstone was hired as director of the series and chose Bob Bailey as his star. The series returned to the air as 15-minute daily serialized adventures and then transitioned to half-hour weekly episodes for Bailey’s four years in the series. Johnstone and Bailey’s take on Johnny Dollar was to create a more grounded human character and adding in real touches of continuinity and recurring characters, so that Johnny had a sort of “family” of supporting characters he was associated with.

The vast majority of the serials came into circulation during the boom of old time radio in the 1970s and was frequently replayed by hosts of radio nostalgia programs. Bailey’s characterization gained a following among many who hadn’t heard him the first time. While some dispute whether his take on Johnny Dollar was the best, it is without a doubt the reason for the series’ popularity.

This isn’t say to that Bailey serials or the Bailey era is all that Johnny Dollar has to offer. There were hundreds of episodes with the other five Johnny Dollar actors and each were talented and offered their own unique take on the character. One was an Academy Award winner and one was an Emmy Award winner. Edmond O’Brien, John Lund, and Mandel Kramer have more Yours Truly Johnny Dollar episodes circulating than most other old time radio detective programs and each has people who view them as the best actor to play the role. However, Bailey is the favorite of most fans and without the Bailey era, the series would not be nearly as popular as it still is.

Our Johnny Dollar page

Next week: Dramatic Anthology Programs

Old Time Radio 101: Popular Western and Adventure Programs

Previous Article: Popular Sitcom/Variety Programs Popular Sitcoms and Game Shows

The Lone Ranger

Probably, the most iconic old-time radio program of them all. It went to television and many might think of its eight year run on Television from 1949-57, it was during its 21 year run on radio that the Lone Ranger, a series that was targeted towards kids, became a popular pop culture hit with all ages. The Lone Ranger, the only survivor of six Rangers who were ambushed. The Lone Ranger set out to bring the guilty parties to justice and then continued on as the Lone Ranger, aided by Tonto. The series was a thrice weekly feature with more than 2,000 episodes in circulation including a long-running serialized story from 1941 where he takes on a mission from the President to fight the Legion of the Black Arrow and proceeds to do so over sixty-four episodes. In addition, the Lone Ranger met up with historical figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Billy the Kid. I asked Andrew Rhynes who posts episodes of the Lone Ranger (and also edits this podcast) and he suggested those who are new to the Lone Ranger may want to start with episodes from the 1950s as the writing quality improved.

Gunsmoke:

Gunsmoke is another program that made the leap to television and the 1955-75 TV show enjoys popularity even in the age of streaming. The radio series began three years before in 1952 and began radio’s last great trend, the rise of the adult western. Gunsmoke and the other adult westerns brought a more realistic look at the harsh realities of life in the Old West. William Conrad starred in the rad series as Marshall Matt Dillon and led a talented cast of the best radio performers in telling the stories of life in Dodge City. Throughout its run,t he series was known for its great writing, superb acting, and well-done sound design. The series would be the last surviving program from the Golden Age of Radio when it left the air in 1961.

The Old Time Radio Superman Show

In 1940, Superman came to radio less than two years after being introduced in the pages of Action Comics magazine. Superman was popular but very new. Radio would actually define the character in many: Jimmy Olsen was first introduced on the radio, so was kryptonite, and also the radio would be home to the first Superman-Batman team-up. The series originated from New York and starred Bud Collyer as Superman and Joan Alexander as Lois Lane. Superman had all sorts of adventures, on land (including some modern westerns), sea, the and even a few in space. A couple of storylines stand out as particularly memorable. There was the exciting Kryptonite Saga which would lead to Superman battling the Atom Man, a Kryptonite-power Ex-Nazi soldier. This serial became the inspiration for the Superman Movie serial Atom Man v. Superman. Superman battled the forces of intolerance in post-war America, most memorably in The Clan of the Fiery Cross, Superman would take on a thinly disguised version of the Ku Klux Klan. This serial became the basis for a recent graphic novel, Superman Smashes the Klan.(affiliate link.)

Next week: Popular Crime Programs