REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:
THE WHISTLER. Syndicated, 1954-55. – CBS Television Film Sales Inc – Lindsley Parsons Production (first 13 episodes) Joel Malone Associates (final 26 episodes). Cast: William Forman as The Whistler. Music by Wilbur Hatch. Produced by Joel Malone.
THE WHISTLER began as a radio anthology suspense drama featuring unexpected twists. It aired on the West Coast CBS radio network. While attempts to succeed on the East Coast were failures, the radio show proved very popular on the West Coast to Chicago and lasted between 1942 and 1955. You can listen to over 400 radio episodes at Archives.org.
The radio program would lead to eight films from Columbia Studios: THE WHISTLER (1944), THE MARK OF THE WHISTLER (1944), THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER (1945), THE VOICE OF THE WHISTLER (1945), MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1945), THE SECRET OF THE WHISTLER (1946), THE THIRTEENTH HOUR (1947), and THE RETURN OF THE WHISTLER (1948).
Here on YouTube is MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER, starring Richard Dix and directed by William Castle, for as long as the link lasts.
In February 1954 CBS TV Film Sales had three programs in early development to become a possible TV series. The three were ESCAPE, ROMANCE, and THE WHISTLER. (1)
In April CBS TV Film sannounced plans to bring the radio series THE WHISTLER to television through syndication. (2)
September 1954 Lindsley Parsons Production (FILES OF JEFFREY JONES) was signed to produce twenty-six episodes of THE WHISTLER. (3) (4)
“Billboard” reported (5) there were production problems on THE WHISTLER over cost and length of shooting. Joel Malone, who was the show’s producer and who “Billboard” called the “originator” of THE WHISTLER TV series, formed his own production company Joel Malone Associates to take over production from Lindsley Parsons Production.
“Broadcasting” (6) interviewed Joel Malone (CRIME BY NIGHT, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH). Malone had edited and written THE WHISTER radio series since 1946. He had written or helped write around two hundred THE WHISTLER radio scripts.
Malone made changes in production methods. Shooting took place six days a week, taking off only Sunday and a major holiday such as Thanksgiving. Starting in November, Malone and company filmed thirteen episodes in little over a month. An article (7) about the cost of filming syndicated TV series included a photo of the cast and crew of THE WHISTLER shooting on the streets of Los Angeles at 3am.
The article (6) noted the shooting day of November 24, 1954, when filming of the episode “Kind Thought” ended, by 1pm the same day the next episode’s cast was ready at the studio to begin work on “Roark Island.”
The stories were the main attraction for THE WHISTLER in all its forms. Joel Malone wisely used his co-writers from the radio series, Harold Swanton (ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENT, WAGON TRAIN and PERRY MASON) and Adrian Gendot (DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT, SKY KING and PERRY MASON).
No doubt helpful in maintaining the speed of production was the reuse of the radio scripts to make the TV episodes. Sadly, the budget and the restrictions of 50’s television against violence and true visual horror prevented the TV episodes from reaching the suspense of the radio versions.
Most of the TV episodes were directed either by Malone, Will Jason (SHOTGUN SLADE), or William F. Claxton (TWILIGHT ZONE and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE). I found the Claxton episodes the most creative visually.
The music and famous opening stayed much the same through all the formats. The iconic theme song written by Wilbur Hatch and performed by Dorothy Roberts remains recognizable today. The Whistler himself remained a character of mystery, a shadow drifting through the world observing and commenting on the story and characters. While others including William Forman played the character in other formats, Forman was the only one to play it on the TV series.
The acting was an important selling point for the TV series as it was for the radio version. The TV series attracted such talent as Howard Duff, Marie Windsor, and Linda Stirling. It often reused actors in more than one episode, actors such as Martha Vickers, Craig Stevens, John Ireland, Nancy Gates, John Howard, Robert Hutton, Marshall Thompson and many more.
Most likely shooting began with the hiring of Lindsley Parsons Production in September 1954.
We do know it was on the air in October 1954 when the series major sponsor Signal Oil had it in 28 markets (8). Signal Oil was the West Coast part of Standard Oil. This limited the area Signal Oil would sponsor THE WHISTLER. The series other major sponsor, Lipton also did so in only some markets. Both sponsors limited their support to alternated weeks. (4)
The series lasted one season of thirty-nine episodes, thus leaving enough episodes for THE WHISTLER to be sold over and over for many years. The extra cost of producing an anthology series, plus the lack of a national weekly sponsor probably played important roles in the decision to stop shooting new episodes.
Considering the shooting schedule of thirteen episodes a month, shooting for the series most likely ended in January 1955. By February 1955 (9) Joel Malone was busy with NAVY LOG for CBS-TV network where it would appear in primetime in 1955-56 for CBS before moving to ABC where it remained on air until 1958.
THE WHISTLER TV SERIES EPISODE INDEX
Twenty-six of the thirty-nine episodes can be viewed at Archive.org. (Scroll down to zip files and the TV episodes begin at 18 and ends with 30.) The episodes are also available on YouTube. Below I have linked to two of my favorite episodes.
EPISODES BY LINDSLEY PARSONS PRODUCTIONS
“Search For An Unknown.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Barton MacLane, King Donovan and Jean Howell. *** Businessman hires a PI to find who is threatening to kill him and three other people – four people without any connection.
“Backfire.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Frank MacDonald. Cast: Lon Chaney and Dorothy Green. *** Ex-con chauffer falls for the wife of his rich employer. When she dumps him he thinks of revenge.
“Cup O’Gold.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Tom Brown and Barbara Wooddell (sic). *** A corrupt member of the D.A.’s office turns to murder. A woman sees him run from the scene, but fails to identify him as the killer to the police.
“Letters From Aaron Burr.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Howard Duff and Martha Vickers. *** When he leaves prison Ernie finds a persistent beautiful young woman representing a rich old lady who wants to help him.
NOTE TO PROOFREADERS: William Claxton on-air credit in Lindsley Parsons Production episodes used the middle initial H but it would change to F for the Joel Malone Associates episodes.
“Fatal Fraud.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Patric Knowles and Marie Windsor. *** Marie Windsor plays a femme fatale who uses two men to help her steal a quarter of a million dollars.
“Grave Secre.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Miriam Hopkins and Murvyn Vye. *** Harriett has kept her secret about her killing her employer, but it is another secret she will regret.
“Lady In Waiting.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Nancy Gates and Craig Stevens. *** A mobster’s love for a nice girl causes her a great deal of trouble.
“The Big Jump.”. Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: John Ireland and Tina Craver. *** A crook in New York fakes his death and escapes to San Francisco where he goes straight. He has a new life as a happily married man until one of his fellow thieves from New York spots him.
EPISODES BY JOEL MALONE ASSOCIATES
“Cancelled Flight.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Richard Arlen and Barbara Woodell. *** Two partners fall out when the police get too close to their smuggling operation.
“The Blank Wall.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Wallace Ford, and Philip Van Zandt. *** A respected bank employee is proud when his daughter agreed to marry the Bank’s owner son. But her happiness is threaten when a man from his hidden past as an ex-con tries to blackmail him.
“Sleep My Pretty One.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Ruth Bourne. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Martha Vickers, Paul Langton and Linda Stirling. ***A doctor may have the cure for a sick patient but the drug must be tested first. He turns to his fiancee for help.
“The Pattern.” . Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Robert Ellenstein, Ellen Corby and Ken Tobey. *** A bookstore owner tells his detective friend that he had found a pattern of suspicious deaths and that the next death would happen on his street.
“The Jubilee Earring.” Written by Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy and Art Gilmore. *** A successful female executive is heading to a 10 year reunion with her two closest College friends, one a professional football player who has always wanted to marry her.
“The Glass Dime.” .Teleplay by Ellis Marcus and Harold Swanton. Based on a Radio Play by Adrian Gendot. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Robert Hutton and Eve Miller. ***On the run from the cops a desperate con man steals from his rich uncle.
“Lovely Look.” . Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Mary Ruth Funk. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Murvyn Vye and Pamela Duncan. *** An unhappy husband falls for the new housekeeper.
“The Other Hand.”. Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: John Howard, Dorothy Green and Angela Greene. *** A businessman checks himself into a sanitarium for rest when the stress of work and his relationships with two women get too much for him.
“A Case For Mr. Carrington.” . Screenplay by Harold Swanton. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Patric Knowles, Paul Dubov and Reginald Denny. *** Gordon prepares a plan to murder with the help of a book written by the local Police Inspector.
“Man Who Ran.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Tommy Tomlinson and Harold Swanton. Directed by Charles F. Haas. Cast: Les Tremayne and Dorothy Patrick. *** A bored accountant seeks to escape his routine existence.
“Death Sentence.” . Written by Fred Hegelund and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Marshall Thompson, Dani Sue Nolan and John Doucette. *** Told he has three months to live Martin confesses, for money to take care of his family, to a murder he didn’t commit.
“Dark Hour.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Charles F. Hass. Cast: Robert Hutton and Nancy Gates *** Young lawyer believes in the innocence of his client despite the arguments of the DA, the Uncle of his girlfriend.
“The First Year.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Virginia Field, Craig Stevens and John Hoyt. *** A disapproving Uncle sets up his will to punish his niece for marrying a playboy. To receive his fortune they need to stay married and together for ten years.
“Meeting On Tenth Street.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Robert Ellenstein, Peggy Webber and Willis B. Bouchey. *** A rejected suitor hires a hitman to kill his romantic rival.
“Silent Partner.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Charles McGraw and Hugh Sanders. *** Matt, the original owner of a large ranch finds himself being pushed out by his partner.
“An Actor’s Life.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Gene Fromherz. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Arthur Franz and Margaret Field. *** Julie is a successful singer in Hollywood with problems. She fears her boss who is forcing her to marry him, and now an ex-boyfriend arrives needing her help to get an acting job in Hollywood.
“Trigger Man.” Screenplay by Adrian Gendot. and Harold Swanton. Story by Robert and Beatrice Gruskin. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Marshall Thompson, and Dani Sue Nolan. *** Dave, a promising young lawyer, is warned by those around him that there will be a price to pay if he continues to work for a mobster.
“Marriage Contract.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by George & Gertrude Fass and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Charles Winninger and Tom Brown. *** Eddie becomes a rich man’s lawyer and friend to get into the old man’s will. He succeeds until a twenty-four year old woman with no interest in the money agrees to marry the old man.
TV EPISODES NOT VIEWED
“A Friendly Case of Blackmail”
“Incident at Scully’s Key.’ 16 mm film print: Lindsley Parsons Production, directed by Will Jason, written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot, cast: Audrey Totter and Carleton Young (10)
“A Trip To Aunt Sarah’s”
“Roark Island” (aka “Murder At Roark Island”)
“Favor For a Friend”
“Stranger in the House”
BILLBOARD – March 6, 1954 (1)
September 11, 1954 (4)
November 27, 1954 (5)
February 4, 1955 (9)
BROADCASTING – April 12, 1954 (2)
September 6, 1954 (3)
November 8, 1954 (7)
January 10, 1955 (6)
September 19, 1955 (8)
TV OBSCURITIES. http://www.tvobscurities.com/spotlight/the-whistler
ON THE AIR: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OLD-TIME RADIO. (Oxford University Press, 1998) by John Dunning
OCLC World Cat. http://www.worldcat.org/title/whistler-incident-at-scully’s-key/oclc/60373830 (10)