If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to try out another old time radio program, I have some recommendations for you. While I love detectives such as Johnny Dollar, Sherlock Holmes, and Philip Marlowe, there’s more to old time radio than great detective stories.
Here are four heroes who are good guys from Comedy to Westerns, here are great programs with some memorable and enjoyable characters, in no particular order:
1) Luigi Basco-Life with Luigi
Luigi Basco (J Carroll Naish) was brought to America from Italy by Italian restaurant owner Pasquale in the hopes that Luigi would marry his daughter Rosa. Luigi has little interest, but Pasquale isn’t easily dissuaded and manages to complicate every event in Luigi’s life so Luigi is only left with one solution–marry Rosa so Pasquale will bail him out .
What defines Luigi is a good natured curiosity, a love for his adopted homeland, and a desire to do the right thing. However, Luigi’s character did get revised from early episodes. In those, he was a foster parent to a young boy and knew more about American history than most Americans despite being new to the country. Always, Luigi has a sunny optimism and eagerness to help that’s infectious as he tries to be a good citizen.
He dealt with serious challenges later in the show. In one episode, he writes a school play that features a role for a Black student over the concerns of people at the school that it would cause an uproar. In another episode, he didn’t get a job because he refused to change his name to “an American name” and he insisted that Basco was a fine American name.
Some of the accents are a bit stereotypical, and the plots are formulaic, particularly in the early seasons, but the show’s heart is in the right place and Luigi is a wonderful character to follow through the 100+ episodes in existence.
See: Full review here.
2) Doctor Christian:
In the mid-1930s, Danish Actor Jean Hersholt took on the role of Doctor John Luke, Doctor to the Dionne Quintuplets in two movies. He was so good in the role of the kindly Doctor, he was given a series he could play it without the famous Quintuplets.
The result was Doctor Christian, who practiced his gentle brand of medicine for sixteen years over radio and in six films. Doctor Christian is the ideal physician: caring, wise, and selflessly dedicated to others. His biggest ambition is to build a hospital for the people he serves in the small town of River’s End. His attitude was summarized in the first episode when a worried woman apologized to him for not paying a $10 bill.
He said, “You can go ahead and forget $5 of that bill.”
She agreed to this.
He replied by saying, “Good, and I’ll forget the other $5.”
River’s End is a town full of decent but flawed people who often require a bit of gentle help from River’s End’s leading citizen. While Doctor Christian isn’t perfect, he holds high a standards of kindness, goodness, honesty, and neighborliness that is noble and exemplary. The show had a fine cast. Like many 1930s dramas, the plots could be over the top. But still, Doctor Christian is a wonderful character. He’s a great person to aspire to be like when you grow up no matter how old you might be.
3) The Mayor from Mayor of the Town
The Mayor of the Town became a much more lighthearted comedy drama in the vein of Doctor Christian. But at the start, America was at war, which led to a serious footing. In the opening episode, Tom Williams, son of the Mayor’s best friend Judge Williams, wants to enlist. The Mayor encourages Tom to over his father’s objections. When Tom is killed in action, he faces the anger of both the Judge and Tom’s young pregnant widow.
It’s pretty gripping stuff for a premier episode and future episodes would continue the trend. It would have the Mayor taking in a traumatized war orphan. He would encourage the career of a local tomboy as a military nurse and help a musician who was going deaf as a consequence of Axis bombing. It was a tough time to be the Mayor of the Town, but he handled it well. However, he’d much rather handle problems such as being named the winner of the “Papa Dear” contest or helping misunderstood young people. Throughout it all, he remains lovable, wise, and fun. (See full Review)
4) Captain Lee Quince-Fort Laramie
Captain Lee Quince is second in command at Fort Laramie in the 1870s. Raymond Burr played the role before he took on the iconic part of Perry Mason over television. Fort Laramie was a memorable series aired at the height of the popularity of the Adult Western, it is one of the most realistic series ever written.
Quince is a fantastic character to listen to. He’s an experienced and tough Army officer who knows the lands and the peoples of a still very wild west. He’s gruff but possesses the wisdom that comes from years of experience. He’s not preachy but he maintains a strong moral core throughout the series as he deals with all sorts of challenges from Indian attacks to rogue soldiers and Indian agents.
It’s a fascinating series that manages to have a few lighter stories such as an episode where the men are out of payroll and another where they receive some clueless visitors from Back East. Still, there are other far more serious stories such as one dealing with Indian massacring settlers, an episode in which a woman loses her soldier husband on a patrol, and another dealing with a fanatical soldier committing genocide on Native Americans.
Throughout, Fort Laramie is brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, and Burr is at his best as Lee Quince. (See Full Review)
Please feel free to share any of your favorite old time radio programs and heroes in the comments below.
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