Category: Golden Age Article

The Old Time Radio Show That Was Never Cancelled

“All good things must come to an end,” the old saying goes and in radio that was definitely true. Whether it was Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, the Bickersons, the Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, or Dragnet, they all bit the dust.

Well, almost all. One show that began during radio’s golden age continues to broadcast new dramas every week.  You can subscribe to the podcast online. 

Unshackled began broadcasting sixty years ago this year and has never stopped. I’d listened to Unshackled in the past, but hadn’t for a few years. When I pulled up one of the more recent episodes, I was reminded of how rare the show is. It was announced this was 3079th weekly edition of Unshackled. 

The number is mind boggling. More than 3000 weeks on the air and headed for the big “60” in the next few months.

Unshackled is a Christian Drama sponsored by Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. It tells a true to life story each week, usually revolving around someone whose life was somehow touched by the ministry of Pacific Garden Mission, which focuses on outreach to the down and out, but it may also talk about people who were impacted by similar organizations around the country.

The show can a bit preachy, and yes, there’s plenty of Bible-quoting in the episodes. But the show has endured because of the true-to-life quality of the stories told.

One great example is the Bob Saler story arch. Mr. Saler’s life and times included being a Prisoner of War during the Korean War, getting bit by a Cobra, and having his professional life threatened with a spurious lawsuit.  That’s some life.

And that’s what keeps Unshackled on the air. The show also still has a strong old time radio touch. The music is old school, with the same music playing now that the show has played for sixty years. You can even walk in and listen to a recording session, which occurs every Saturday Afternoon.

The show is the odd survivor of the Old Time Radio era. Having begun when radio drama was king and continuing on through the years, it can boast of being heard on 1,800 radio stations around the world in more than 140 countries, and in 8 languages.

What else can be said about radio’s longest lasting radio drama other than, “Happy 60th Anniversary!”

History, The Way It Wasn’t

Time for an inaccuracy rant. History.com posted this item for today in History for February 13, celebrating the debut of “Jack Webb’s first crime drama” on February 13, 1949 when Pat Novak began airing. 

The problem?

Webb had been doing crime dramas for nearly 2 1/2 years. He’d done an undetermined number of Pat Novak episodes in San Francisco in 1946-47 and then did 20 weeks of Johnny Madero on Mutual and 23 weeks of Jeff Regan on CBS before Pat Novak’s national premier on ABC in 1949. 

It’s great that history.com remembered Jack Webb. It’d be nice if they got their facts straight. I’d ask for the just the facts, but Joe Friday never said that either.

I Vote For The Mayor of the Town

I make it a policy not to discuss politics on this blog, but I did want to reccomend one politician worth voting for-the Mayor of the Town.

Mayor of the Town was a radio series that ran for 7 years and I first encountered it last weekend while researching the career of Bob Bailey who made a guest appearance in the 1942-43 season.

The Mayor was portrayed by Lionel Barrymore, and those who only knew Barrymore from It’s a Wonderful Life as Mr. Potter  should give this series a listen. Barrymore’s Mayor is a fascinating character. He’s less the modern understanding of a mayor, and more the picture of the town elder from centuries past, who is to every person in town a father and friend who offers wise counsel and encouragement. In the ten episodes I’ve heard, no plot centers around the Mayor expending taxpayer funds, making a law, or applying any government force.

The Mayor is kind, wise, and patriotic. He’s the type of person people could look at and say, “I’d like my son to grow up and be like that.”  Indeed, the Mayor, a childless widower helped to raise many children in the community.

However, this is during World War II, and the Mayor’s love of the people of his town can often be heartbreaking. A lifelong friend blames the Mayor when his son dies at war.  The Mayor faces a difficult decision as to whether to tell a young nurse to join the Nurse’s corps or to get married and stay home. He prays, “God, bring them all home safe” while knowing that prayer can’t be answered.

The Mayor encounters the victims of a war: A British war orphan who cringes in terror when a plane passes overheard, a polish musician who is slowly losing the ability to hear even the beautiful music he plays thanks to being near a bomb blast near Warsaw.

The Mayor  is the master of the great speech, exhorting people to courage and patriotism in the face of adversity. To the modern ear, the Mayor may sound too preachy in his patriotism, particularly to people facing difficult life decisions.

But in the 1940s, the words of the Mayor were something different. Real people were facing these real life and death problems. They were Blue Star widows and war orphans, and people who had to make the decision to leave all their hopes and dreams behind, not knowing if they would return. And maybe the Mayor’s words could give them the courage to do it.

The show is a piece of Americana, even the commercials for Rinso reminding people that there would be no washers made for the duration of the war spoke to the austerity and shared sacrifice of the time. The Mayor of the Town is a wonderful trip back to give you a window into what made the Greatest Generation so great.

Of course, the whole series was not “all about war,” there was the somewhat odd “Papa Bear” episode, as well as typical drama-comedy fare, but Lionel Barrymore as the Mayor the scripts take on a life of their own.

Unfortunately, the episodes are not in the greatest condition. Mostly not so great .mp3s. However, the show is so good, as is Mr. Barrymore and his co-star Agnes Moorhead that I’d reccomend people take a listen to The Mayor of the Town and recapture the spirit of ’42.

Click here to listen to the first ten episodes that are available on Archive.org.

Did Agatha Christie Inspire the Creators of Box 13 and Let George Do It?

The great Agatha Christie may have inspired the creation of two of vintage radio’s best mystery detective series.

In Box 13, Dan Holiday ran an ad to get his adventures, “Adventure wanted — will go anywhere, do anything ”

In Let George Do It, George Valentine got his cases through a similar newspaper ad. Throughout the series, the exact wording changed, but the most famous version was, “Personal Notice: Danger is my stock-in-trade. If the job is too tough for you to handle, you’ve got a job for me, George Valentine. Write full details.”

While doing some research regarding a listener question about Agatha Christie in Old Time Radio, I may have stumbled on what inspired both sets of writers.

Agatha Christie wrote a book in 1922, featuring two detectives Tommy and Tuppence, a young man and young woman that set out to find work after the first World War. They formed the Young Adventurers, Ltd. How did  they propose to make their business work? Advertising in the newspaper. And what did their advertisement read?

“‘Two young adventurers for hire. Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused.”

Sounds very close to what George Valentine and Dan Holiday offered, and given the popularity of Christie, it seems quite likely that she inspired the use of this particular device.

The Secret Adversary, in which the Young Adventurers was formed is one of only two Agatha Christie works in the public domain in the United States and is available for reading at Project Gutenberg.

Review: Radio Archives: Let George Do It, Volume 1

Let George Do It, starring Bob Bailey has more episodes in circulation than Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

Combined.

With the exception of one episode featuring Ken Peters, and another featuring Alan Soule, all the episodes star Bob Bailey as a detective that defies the traditional Hard-Boiled/Soft-Boiled division with his mix of solid action with incredible mind-blowing solutions to his cases.

However, the Great Detective’s adventures remain somewhat incomplete. Digital Deli estimates there were 420 episodes in Let George Do It’s 1946-54 run. While, its possible given what little we know about the last two years of the show’s run, that it could have been slightly less than that, what’s indisputable is that half of George Valentine’s radio adventures have been missing.

Radio Archives helps to fill this gap a little bit with its Let George Do It collections. As Let George Do It was winding down its main run on Don Lee Mutual, Harry Goodman productions was syndicating earlier episodes in Canada. Radio Archives has released these syndicated episodes and many of them are episodes that are lost from the Don Lee syndication and not in general circulation.

I received Volume 1 for Christmas and was quite pleased with the set. The audio was fantastic. While I have no problem sitting through crackily mp3s, the sound quality on these CDs is astounding and a nice bonus.

But of course, the big prize was the episodes themselves, fifteen of which are not in general circulation, and of the five that are in circulation, I’d only heard one previously. So, this was a real treat.

These are my favorite episodes:

  • What Became of Terry Cable?
  • Sucker Stunt
  • The Fearless Clown
  • The Ant Hill

However, every episode was a pleasure to listen to, and I can hardly get Volume 2.

My only complaints are that the announcer that Harry Goodman used to replace the Standard Oil announcer Bud Hiestrand was downright irritating for the first nine or ten episodes, though that is hardly Radio Archives fault. Their back cover copy also states George Valentine was a an ex-police officer when he was an ex-GI.

However, these are minor issues for such a great release.  I heartily reccomend this for high quality episodes that are out of circulation.

Book Review: The Innocence of Father Brown

Father Brown, as best I can tell is the second among the Great literary detectives, right after Sherlock Holmes. In some ways, Father Brown was a continuation of what Chesterton wrote in his classic Orthodoxy. 

The intellectuals of Chesterton’s time viewed the orthodox Christian as superstitutious, weak-minded. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy asserted his vision of orthodoxy was something entirely different: It was conscious, sensible, winsome, and wise. 

Two years after writing Orthodoxy, he rapped it in a Cossack, embodied it in the person of Father Brown, a physically unremarkable and humble priest, who uses his wisdom, common sense, and experience as a confessor to solve even the most baffling crimes.

It should be noted that contrary to what many people have said, Chesterton was not a Catholic at the time he wrote the first Father Brown stories from 1910-1914. That conversion wouldn’t happen until the 1920s. However, he already knew the priest who would facilitate his confession and Father John O’Connor was the basis of the character.

To enjoy Chesterton’s books, you have to appreciate a couple of things. First of all, many are unlik e any detective stories we read today.  While there’s plot and action, the main focus is the puzzle, not character development. Outside of Brown, most of the characters remain very flat. Either they’re stereotypical Frenchmen, Calvinists, Rich Men, or Atheists. They’re there to provide their piece of the puzzle and then get on with it.

 There’s also not any sense of danger or mayhem. There’s little violence onstage, although Chesterton can come up with some quite ghastly ways to kill a man. If you like your detective fiction hardboiled, well, I’ll be honest, this isn’t Pat Novak.

This is a battle of wits between you and Father Brown, and most of the time you’re going to lose quite badly. The plot unfolds to reveal the puzzle, Father Brown solves the puzzle and the story ends-often abruptly.

What carries the stories is Chesterton’s voice which I find delightful, even when reading a book one hundred years after the time. Chesterton uses his prose like a painter uses paint, true artistry that’s understandable to a modern reader.

Father Brown is an incredibly fun character, who when he speaks, he says something important. Brown was the first in a long line of unlikely detectives that would include heroes such as Charlie Chan and Inspector Columbo: the last person in the world that the criminal would be worried about finding them out. But somehow, he solves the case with a completely unexpected solution.

There are a total of twelve stories in the collection, each constituting a different mystery. Several were exceptional to me:

The Blue Cross: The first Father Brown story and perhaps his most iconic tale. When Chesterton originally published this short story in 1910, readers must have been shocked to see Father Brown emerge as the hero. As through the whole of the mystery, the focus had been on a police detective. But already, the makings of the great detective were in place. He would often hang back as a background figure until stepping forward to solve the case. When that first story was published in September, 1910, a literary star was born.

The Invisible Man: This was a fitting case, because it not only provided an extraordinarily surprising solution, but also an insight on how Father Brown surprised so many with his observations.

The Three Tools of Death: This is the first Father Brown story I heard an adaptation of, and after reading it, I appreciate it even more. The solution is a gigantic surprise. It’s also a reminder that many of the descriptions, Chesterton gives at the start of the story, he’s giving the readers what the popular view of a character is, not necessarily what the person is really like.  You may leave the story with an entirely different view from popular opinion.

The Sign of the Broken Sword: This had to be my favorite in the collection. To give you an idea of how different these stories are from modern mysteries, the entire case takes place on an entirely different continent from where the mystery occurred, and no witnesses are actually questioned. The story centers around a simple enough riddle. 

Where does a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. But what does he do if there is no forest?

From there, the case proceeds to a startling conclusion, all without leaving a forest,  an Ocean away from the scene of the crime.

On the negative side, I thought the Honour of Israel Gow was slightly absurd. I think Chesterton was trying to make a point about his perception of Calvinist legalism, but it fell a little flat. I also thought the solution in the Wrong Shape was not the right shape of Chesterton’s best Father Brown stories, but it was still passable.

Overall, I found the stories enjoyable and would encourage others to read them. You can read the entire book online or you can buy it on Amazon. (affiilate link.)

Pat Novak Doesn’t Swear

One of the great things about Old Time Radio is the lack of swearing on the shows. Many parents are thankful for this, and a lot of us would rather not hear it for whatever reason. However, I think the lack of swearing actually forced the writers to write better scripts.

When researching Pat Novak, I’ve found that’s he’s been twice published in modern books from Moonstone Books, which imagine him as an old man still kicking about, getting into trouble. As interested as I might be in these books, I’m almost willing to bet that the writers did something to Novak that would ruin the story. While I’ve not read the books (and maybe I could wrong), I’m willing to bet that in the updated version Pat Novak swears.

Of course, defenders of realism would say, Of course, Pat Novak swears. He swears like a tough waterfront boat operator, because he’s a tough guy waterfront boat operator.  

Realism has a point, but if you’re wanting realism, the private detective genre is where to come. Most private eyes live a far more boring live than Novak and other detectives. What makes Pat Novak fun is the dialogue and what makes the dialogue fun is that Pat Novak doesn’t swear.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Novak’s a goody good. He’s got a big time bad attitude and is a smart mouth. In a modern detective show, much of the dialogue used to insult Hellman would be cast aside for the ever-convenient curse words.

But without the ever-reliable “four letter dictionary” available in the 1940s, Novak has to be creative in taking on Inspector Hellman:

Pat Novak: I’m walking out of your jail, Hellmann. You got a broken down .38 that won’t fit anything but your thumbs. You can’t hold me on that.
Inspector Hellman: I found you over the body. I can hold you on suspicion of murder.
Pat Novak: But it will hurt tomorrow morning, Hellmann. The paper’s will be down here for a follow-up, and you’ll have to tell them what it looks like out in left field.
Inspector Hellman: I’ll handle them.
Pat Novak: You can’t afford to have them start laughing at you. People will get the idea it’s your face.
Inspector Hellman: You can save carfare if you stay right here, because I’ll have you back by noon tomorrow.
Pat Novak: You’re not that good, Hellmann. You couldn’t hold a moth with a searchlight. 

Pat Novak is the Poet Laurete of putdowns. The master of the stinging smart aleck remark. The show’s got a rythym, a certain poetry to it. No, it’s not realistic, but it’s better than realistic.  

A swearing Pat Novak wouldn’t have to be near as creative, near as smart, or near as good as the trash talking waterfront rat who couldn’t talk trashy. A swearing Pat Novak isn’t Pat Novak at all.