Old Time Radio


RADIO SERIES: NBC. 4 July to 19 September 1951; 30 minutes. Cast: Jack Webb as Pete Kelly, Meredith Howard as Maggie Jackson. Pete Kelly’s Big 7: Dick Cathcart, Matty Matlock, Moe Schneider, Ray Schneider, Bill Newman, Marty Carb and Nick Fatool. Announcer: George Fenneman. Created by Richard Breen. Writers: James Moser and Jo Eisinger.

TV SERIES: NBC / Mark VII Ltd., 1959; 30 minutes. Cast: William Reynolds as Pete Kelly, Connee Boswell as Savannah Brown, Than Wyenn as George Lupo, and Phil Gordon as Fred. Music by Dick Cathcart. Additional Music by Matty Matlock, Gus Levene and Frank Comstock. Produced and directed by Jack Webb.

   Pete Kelly was born from Jack Webb’s love of jazz and survives because of the music. Pete Kelley’s Blues began as a summer replacement series on radio in 1951 (On The Air – the Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning (Oxford University Press, 1998. The radio series lasted just thirteen episodes but that was not the end for Pete Kelly.

   There was a film, a television series and the music. Besides the more famous film’s soundtrack there was music released from both the radio and TV series. Capitol Records released music from the radio series featuring Pete Kelly’s Big 7 led by Dick Cathcart with singer “Maggie Jackson,” including the song “Funny Man” (1951). An on the air credit announced the TV series music was available from Warner Brothers and featured the sounds of “Pete Kelly’s Big 7” (Dick Cathcart, Eddie Miller, Jud De Naut, George Van Eps, Moe Schneider, Nick Fatool and Ray Sherman).

   While the TV series had been planned to follow the radio series (more on that later), it would have to wait until 1959 when it aired on NBC as a summer series that lasted only 13 episodes.

   Both the radio series and the TV series focused on the daily struggles of Pete Kelly, a cornet player and leader of a Dixieland jazz band called Pete Kelly’s Big 7. All Pete wanted was to avoid trouble and play his music but it was the 1920s in Mob-run Kansas City, and even accepting the corruption was not enough to keep Pete out of trouble.

   Surviving TV episodes are a rare find. Thanks to the collector’s market I found one episode of the TV series, “Poor Butterfly Story.”

“Poor Butterfly Story.” Teleplay by Jack Webb. Based on Radio Play by Jo Eisinger. Produced and Directed by Jack Webb. Guest Cast: Whitney Blake, John Hudson, and Marshall Kent. *** Pete finds himself trapped, surrounded by a deadly romantic triangle involving Matty his record producer, Matty’s ex-wife Zelda and Zelda’s new husband gangster Johnny Angel.

   Zelda begs Pete to help her get a record back from Matty. The record featured the Pete Kelly’s Big 7 performing “Poor Butterfly.” Matty and Angel are not happy about Pete getting involved. Pete is not happy about his involvement either, especially when finding that record becomes a matter of life or death — his.

   While I have been unable to find any TV episode of Pete Kelly’s Blues available online to watch, the radio version is available. It was common during the fifties for TV series based on radio series to reuse the radio scripts. The TV episode “Poor Butterfly Story” was a remake of the radio episode “Zelda” that aired originally September 5, 1951 on NBC. The Great Detectives website has all six of the known surviving episodes of the radio series. Click on the link and scroll down for the episode “Zelda.”

   The story and most of the dialog from the radio show remained the same in the TV version. Different songs were used but in the same style, with Dixieland for Pete Kelly and the blues for Maggie Jackson (in radio and film) and Savannah Brown (in television). The most noticeable difference was changes in two characters. Pete’s friend “across the river” blues singer Maggie Jackson (on radio and film) got a new name Savannah Brown in the TV series. Pete’s other friend, the failed bootlegger and loquacious drunk Barney in the radio series was replaced by the band’s piano player, a Southern with a folksy sense of humor, named Fred.

   I preferred the radio version mainly because of the cast. Webb was the better Pete Kelly. When Angel confronts Kelly about Zelda, Webb’s voice in the radio version ranges in emotion from fear to anger while in the TV versions Reynolds failed to show those emotions. Known best for his role in The F.B.I (1965) as Special Agent Colby (1966-74), William Reynolds was a bland actor at best. Webb was visually limited in range as an actor, but his voice talent was among the best in radio.

   Webb’s former high school classmate, Meredith Howard as radio’s Maggie had the voice and acting ability to make you believe she lived on “the other side of the river” (the black side). Ella Fitzgerald made the character of Maggie her own in the film. Connee Boswell as Savannah had the voice but being white and shot in the pre-Elvis TV style (where the singer stands stiff and still as he or she sings) ruined the character. But it did allow Southern NBC stations to carry the series.

   According to TV Tango, TVGuide.com and IMDb the TV episode aired April 26, 1959, Sunday at 8:30pm. There is some confusion over dates the show aired. The NBC series premiere date is uncertain. Broadcasting (April 6, 1959) and Billboard (March 30,1959) claim Pete Kelly’s Blues premiered on Tuesday March 31, 1959 at 8-8:30pm. Yet today’s databases and books give the premiere date as Sunday April 5, 1959 at 8:30pm. IMDb has the skill to disagree with itself. The database gives March 31, 1959 as release date for TV series but the episode index list April 5, 1959 as the premiere’s airdate.

   Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh (Ballantine, Ninth Edition) claim the series debuted April 5, 1959 and aired on Sunday until July when it move to Friday at 7:30 pm until its final broadcast September 4, 1959. The episodes on Friday were probably reruns as the series lasted just thirteen episodes. TVTango.com agree with the Sunday and Friday time slots.

   It took jazz fan Jack Webb several years to get the TV series on the air. While the radio series aired first, there were plans for a TV series from nearly the beginning. In Broadcasting (December 22, 1952), details of the proposed TV version of Pete Kelly’s Blues was reported with shooting to begin in June 1953 and Webb as director, Stan Meyer as executive producer and Michael Meshekoff as producer. There was no mention of the cast.

   In July 13, 1953 Broadcasting, during a report about Dragnet starting syndication in the fall under the title The Cop (that would be later changed to Badge 714), the article mentions Webb’s plans to do a Pete Kelly’s Blues TV series in color with Webb as star.

   According to Hedda Hopper (Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1954), Webb had originally planned to follow the radio series with a TV series version, but “instead of which he’ll make it into a movie, playing the title role, a trumpet player.”

   Plans to make a TV series continued as the film version played in the theatres (Broadcasting, March, 28, 1955). Billboard (May 27,1957) reported Jack Webb and ABC were in talks for a Pete Kelly’s Blues weekly TV series with sixty-minute episodes.

   The December 16,1957 issue of Billboard claimed Bob Crosby was being considered for the part of Pete Kelly in the possible TV series. A few months later Broadcasting (February 17, 1958) noted that Bob Crosby would not star due to commitments he had with CBS. A new lead was been sought. The magazine added that Webb would supervise production with Harper Goff as producer and George Stevens Jr. and Joseph Parker also involved in production. Plans were to start shooting in May.

   In a Chicago Tribune (April 30, 1961) interview Webb said he thought the failure of the TV series was in part due to timing. He believed airing Pete Kelly’s Blues at the end of the season rather the beginning hurt and regretted it aired only a year or so before interest in the 20s music, fashion, and crime would explode among the public.

   I doubt timing was the problem. The more entertaining ABC’s Roaring 20s (1960) had the timing but lasted only a season and a half. The real problem with both the radio and television series was with the protagonist Pete Kelly, who lacked the qualities of the type of hero the audience at the time wanted. Joe Friday would have disapproved of Pete Kelly. I think the audience did as well.

Editorial Comment:   The video clip obviously comes from the movie version of Pete Kelly’s Blues, and more than likely the two photo images do, too. I apologize for that, but I thought it was more important to give you an idea of what the radio and TV series were like, in spite of the bit of inaccuracy involved.

by Michael Shonk

Radio: 30 minutes. Blue Network: April 10 – December 29, 1943. Mutual Network: July 3, 1945 – April 30, 1950. NBC: May 7, 1950 – September 14, 1952. Mutual Network: January 5, 1953- November 27, 1954. Cast: Michael Waring was played by Barry Kroeger, James Meighan, Les Tremayne, Les Damon and George Petrie. (Source: On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning, Oxford University Press, 1998.)

Television: 30 minutes. 1954, syndicated by NBC Films Division: A Bernard L. Schubert Production. Produced by Federal Telefilms Inc. Executive Producer: Buster Collier. Cast: Charles McGraw as Mike Waring.

   I have been unable to find an episode of the series with Barry Kroeger or George Petrie as Michael Waring, The Falcon. I have found a site that offers free episodes from the series and at least one example of James Meighan, Les Tremayne and Les Damon. Click on this link to find the episodes I mention here and more.

“Murder Is a Family Affair.” November 27, 1945; Mutual Network. Cast: James Meighan as Mike Waring, The Falcon *** The format of the series will remain the same for most of the series, from the opening phone call from a woman about their date that night to the epilog at the end explaining loose ends.

   The story has Mike and his girlfriend Nancy trying to protect the younger brother of a friend who had just been executed for murder.

   This is the only sample of Meighan I can find, but it shows the film’s influences on the series. Mike is described as a freelance detective but his dialog and actions are not far from Tom Conway’s Falcon. The relationship between Mike and Nancy sounds more than something that lasts one episode and more like The Falcon and Helen Reed (Wendy Barrie) from the films.

“Murder Is a Bad Bluff.” November 1, 1948; Mutual Network. Cast: Les Tremayne as Mike Waring, The Falcon. Produced by Bernard L. Schubert. Written by Jerome Epstein. Directed by Richard Lewis *** A woman hires Mike to check out the man she hopes to marry.

   As with most of the episodes, the mystery is weaken by a lack of suspects and logic. Nancy is gone and Waring is free to continue his alleged comedic womanizing ways, but now he is more likely than in the past to use his fists as well as his detective skills.

“The Case of Everybody’s Gun.” July 4, 1951; NBC. Cast: Les Damon as Mike Waring, The Falcon. Produced by Bernard L. Schubert. Written by Jerome Epstein. Directed by Richard Lewis. *** The Falcon is hired to check out a new charity. Shortly after Mike discovers it’s a con, his client is murdered.

   Damon’s Falcon would never make one think of George Sanders’ version in the films. He played your typical smart-ass radio PI complete with unfunny banter between him and the cops. The mysteries have not gotten any better. Check out spot 11:47 for a good example of 50s radio and TV product placement. Listen to Waring and the cop for the episode verbally spar as both discuss with announcer Ed Herhily the joys of Miracle Whip.

   The character’s continuity is a confused mess. The radio series credits Drexell Drake (Charles H, Huff) as the character’s creator. It also claims kinship to the films, the same films that give the character a different name (Gay Lawrence) and creator (Michael Arlen). Much has been written about this and I recommend you check out Kevin Burton Smith’s Thrilling Detective website for more.

   The radio version of The Falcon under producer Bernard L. Schubert would make one more major change.

“The Case of the Vanishing Visa.” June 19, 1952; NBC. Cast: Les Damon as The Falcon *** Weary of the PI life, Mike Waring retires. Mike had been a top intelligence agent during WWII and the Army decides he is just the man they need, whether Mike wants to volunteer or not. He is sent to Vienna to smuggle out a woman who had been working for our side.

   Becoming a spy didn’t mean there was not a crime or murder nearly every week for Mike to solve . The show, both on radio and TV, seemed determined to convince the audience there was little difference between the cases of a PI and an Army intelligence agent.

   The radio series producer Bernard L. Schubert would continue with the series as it moved over to TV. Schubert would also produce such TV series as The Amazing Mr. Malone and Topper.

   Broadcasting (June 15, 1953) reported Federal Telefilms Inc was finishing a TV pilot for The Falcon. It would be “presented by Bernard Schubert” and star Charles McGraw with script by Gene Wang and directed by George Waggner.

   Obviously the pilot sold, as Broadcasting (April 19.1954) would report about the new series: “Federal Telefilms Inc, Hollywood, this week (April 12) goes before the cameras at Goldwyn Studios with Adventures of the Falcon, a Bernard L. Schubert Production, which NBC Film Division will distribute under a recently signed contract, reportedly in excess of a million dollars. Buster Collier is executive producer on the 39 half-hour films starring Charles McGraw in the title role. Ralph Murphy is signed to direct the first two films and Paul Landres, the second two.”

   According to a full-page ad in Broadcasting (May 10,1954), Harry Joe Brown was another producer involved in the TV series. Brown is best remembered for his partnership with Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher in the “Ranown Westerns” films.

   The TV series continued The Falcon as an ex-PI turned Army intelligence agent. The casting of Charles McGraw turned Mike Waring into a more serious tough guy. As Army intelligence agent Mike took on cases all over the world from Western Europe to Macao to behind the Iron Curtain. One episode took place on the Atlantic Ocean. Mike would also take on cases all over the United States from Honolulu to New Jersey, from Chicago to New Orleans.

   Currently there are over 25 episodes of the TV series available to watch on YouTube. Here are three examples.

“Double Identity.”

Teleplay by William Leicester. Directed by Ralph Murphy. Guest Cast: Maralou Gray and Dan Seymour. *** Location: London. When the bad guys try to silence a freedom fighter by kidnapping his daughter, Mike poses as one of the bad guys in effort to rescue her.

   Predictable, but can be forgiven since the episode was filmed sixty years ago. The episode is a good example of TV’s Falcon’s womanizing side.

“Rare Editions.”

Teleplay by J. Benton Cheney. Directed by (name missing from video). Guest Cast: Nana Bryant, Charles Halton and Louis Jean Hexdt. *** Location: New York. A self-proclaimed helpless little old lady owns a bookstore that deals with rare books and illegal drugs.

   Entertaining episode with a nice ending.

“A Drug on the Market.”

Teleplay by Gene Wang. Directed by Paul Landres. Guest Cast: Suzanne TaFel, Kurt Katch and Fred Essler. *** Location: Vienna. Due to several hijackings, the black market is the only source for a drug that could save a little boy’s life and many others. Mike’s job is to find the drug and break the black market ring.

   Some unexpected twists highlight this episode.

   NBC Films promotions for the series compared McGraw and The Falcon to Jack Webb’s Dragnet that NBC Films was syndicating as Badge 714. In Broadcasting (October 4, 1954) NBC Films announced Badge 714 had sold to 172 stations, Dangerous Assignment was sold to 174, and Adventures of the Falcon was sold to only 34 stations.

THE NAKED JUNGLE. Paramount Pictures, 1954. Eleanor Parker, Charlton Heston, Abraham Sofaer, William Conrad. Based on the story “Leiningen versus the Ants,” by Carl Stephenson (Esquire, December 1938); first published in Germany in 1937 as “Leiningens Kampf mit den Ameisen.” Director: Byron Haskin.

   Fans and collectors of Old Time Radio shows will recognize the story this film is based on immediately. “Leiningen versus the Ants” must be among everyone’s all time Top Ten list of favorite episodes. It was produced at least four different times, on Escape 14 Jan 1948, 23 May 1948, 4 Aug 1949, and on Suspense, 29 Nov 1959. You can hear an MP3 version of the first of these here.

   The radio version follows the story itself quite faithfully, that of a stubborn bull-headed plantation owner in South America who refuses to move away from his land in the face of a swarm of deadly ants two miles wide and ten miles long. The only difference is that in the radio version the District Commissioner returns to Leiningen’s compound to see whether (and how) he can make good on his promise to prevail against the deadly horde. He also helps provide half of the necessary narration.

   The story can be read in twenty minutes, and it takes thirty minutes to listen to the radio show. How then is the running time of the movie some 95 minutes long? Easy. Add a preamble about an hour long, one introducing a mail-order bride to the tale, a lady from New Orleans previously unseen by Leiningen.

   Charlton Heston is of course the obvious choice to play Leiningen, a fellow as stubborn and ignorant of the ways of women as he was later on in his portrayal of Captain Colt Saunders in Three Violent People (1956), which I reviewed here not too long ago.

   Of course it could only happen in the movies that the mail-order bride would be as lovely as Eleanor Parker, but leave it to Charlton Heston’s character to reject her almost immediately, once he learns that she has been married once before. (He prides himself on having only new items in his house, including a piano, which of course the new Mrs. Leiningen is able to play, and quite well)

   All in all, it’s sort of dull romance, and you just know that once the danger is over, the two of them will find a way to sort things out between them, if not before. In my opinion, as long as you’re asking me, the time the romantic problems take up could have been shortened considerably, thus giving us more time with the ants. (Some of us, who know full well what is coming in advance, may even be squirming in our seats in anticipation.)

   The special effects are quite good, I hasten to add, and well worth the price of admission. So good, in fact, that I recognized some of the footage as being used again in an episode of the TV series MacGyver, “Trumbo’s World” (Season 1, Episode 6; 10 November 1985).

   And oh yes, one other thing. William Conrad, who played Leiningen in the radio show that I hope you took (or will take) the time to listen to, played the role of the District Commissioner in The Naked Jungle.

  Overall verdict: Medium well but no more.

by Francis M. Nevins

   While working on the last tedious chores in connection with ELLERY QUEEN: THE ART OF DETECTION, which will come out in January, I expected to devote my final column of the year to someone besides EQ. Almost anyone. But back in October Joseph Goodrich — a name you’re familiar with if you read this column regularly — emailed me a long document consisting of a large number of letters from Manny Lee to Fred Dannay that for space and other reasons he hadn’t included in BLOOD RELATIONS, his collection of the correspondence between the cousins whose byline was Ellery Queen.

   Many of these letters were undated, those that had dates were often out of chronological order, typos abounded, but — Wow! For the next few weeks I alternated between slogging away at the ART OF DETECTION index and working on the Lee document: reorganizing, trying to date the letters that were dateless, adding material in brackets to explain (where I could) who or what Manny was talking about, doing pretty much the same things Joe Goodrich himself had done so well in BLOOD RELATIONS.

   One item I discovered I was able to work into the text of my book at the last minute. The earliest letter in the document dates from very late 1940. Fred Dannay had recently been discharged from the hospital after suffering serious injuries in an auto accident. Manny’s letter mentions that among the people who had called asking about Fred was one Laurence Smith, whom he identifies as the ghost writer behind the then recently published novelization based on the movie ELLERY QUEEN, MASTER DETECTIVE (1940).

   Laurence Dwight Smith (1895-1952) has long been forgotten but a few minutes with Google brings him back to life. Under his own name he wrote four or five whodunits, several mystery/adventure books for young adults, and a few nonfiction books like CRYPTOGRAPHY: THE SCIENCE OF SECRET WRITING (1943) and COUNTERFEITING: CRIME AGAINST THE PEOPLE (1944). His short story “Seesaw” was one of the first originals to be published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (July 1942). What else he may have written under other bylines, or even whether he ghosted the other EQ movie novelizations, THE PENTHOUSE MYSTERY (1941) and THE PERFECT CRIME (1942), remains unknown.


   It’s long been known that Fred Dannay devised the plots for the Ellery Queen novels, stories and radio dramas and Manny Lee did the actual writing — and also that at a certain point in the nine-year life of the radio series Fred, whose wife had been diagnosed with cancer that eventually (on July 4, 1945) killed her, couldn’t perform his function any longer.

   Exactly when that happened would remain unclear today except for the Lee document. In a letter written on June 30, 1948, shortly after the Queen radio program was cancelled, Manny mentions that he had taken over the series “in January of 1944, when you dropped out of active work.” For most of that year, Manny reminds Fred, he made do by recycling 30-minute scripts from earlier seasons and condensing some of the original 60-minute scripts (1939-40) to half-hour length.

   Eventually, Manny says, he “began doing originals from bought material.” When? In October 1944, at the start of the program’s fifth season. Does this mean that every new weekly episode from then on was based on a plot synopsis by someone other than Fred? Not at all! Manny’s correspondence with Anthony Boucher informs us that Fred was several synopses ahead of schedule at the time he dropped out.

   These Manny squirreled away and fleshed out into scripts over the next two years, the last one (“The Doomed Man”) being broadcast late in August 1946. But most if not all of the new scripts for the fifth season were probably based on “bought material.”

   Bought from whom? For the first several months of the new regime, the plots were devised by a long forgotten scribe named Tom Everitt. Even in the age of the Internet almost nothing is known about this man, but we know a great deal about what Manny thought of him because his letters to Boucher are full of snarky remarks about Everitt’s competence and character. On May 24, 1945, he described himself as “hating [Everitt’s] smug, treacherous guts” and Everitt’s recent plot synopses as “sloppier…even than usual….”

   His letters to Fred Dannay in the Lee document offer more of the same. On November 4, 1947, he called Everitt “a son-of-a-bitch” who at the rate of $400 per synopsis got “tremendously overpaid” even though “the bulk of the creative work was done by me, out of sheer necessity….[Y]ou don’t know the things…that bastard has been saying and is still saying in the advertising business about his ‘part’ in the Queen show. There is no protection against his kind of conscienceless and unscrupulously shrewd self-propaganda….”

   Manny would love to have worked exclusively with Boucher but Tony was unable to come up with complex Ellery Queen plots on a one-a-week basis and Manny had no choice but to continue buying from Everitt until late in the program’s radio life.

   At least 33 of the Queen scripts between January 1945 and September 1947 came from Everitt raw material and are identified as such in my book THE SOUND OF DETECTION (2002). Most of the scripts between October 1944 and mid-June 1945, when the first episode based on a Boucher plot was broadcast, were probably derived from Everitt too. “Cleopatra’s Snake” (October 12 and 14, 1944) finds Ellery as backstage observer at a live production of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA for experimental TV when the genuine poisonous snake being used in the death scene (yeah, right) bites to death the actress playing Cleopatra.

   In “The Glass Sword” (November 30 and December 2, 1944) Ellery tackles the case of the circus sword swallower who died when the sword in his stomach broke while the lights were out. These concepts strike me as way too wacko to have come from the mind of Fred Dannay. Therefore they almost certainly came from Everitt.

   The vast majority of Everitt-based EQ episodes have never been published as scripts and don’t survive on audio. But it now seems quite possible that one of them was mistaken for a Dannay-based episode and published a few years ago — as the title story in the collection THE ADVENTURE OF THE MURDERED MOTHS (Crippen & Landru, 2005). The episode with that title was broadcast on May 9, 1945. The plot is nowhere near as off-the-wall as those of “Cleopatra’s Snake” or “The Glass Sword” and therefore might be one of those Fred completed before he left the series. We just don’t know. Maybe we never will.

by Francis M. Nevins

CARTER DICKSON Bowstring Murders

   The golden oldie I picked to reread last month was The Bowstring Murders (1933), the only John Dickson Carr novel ever published under the byline Carr Dickson. I wouldn’t rank it among Carr’s top ten or even the top thirty but thought it was on the whole satisfactory, taking place almost entirely in an eerie 15th-century Suffolk castle full of the Poe-like atmosphere that the young Carr loved to generate.

   Is it truly golden? According to Doug Greene’s biography The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995), Carr wrote Bowstring in New York “at white-hot speed” after his English wife Clarice discovered she was pregnant and also in order to finance a long visit to England for the family.

   Greene calls the novel “badly flawed .. John Gaunt [the criminologist who solves the murders] is sharply drawn, but the plot…is unconvincing.” He correctly describes the explanation of the seemingly impossible murder of Lord Rayle as “a creative variation of the solution in [Carr’s first novel] It Walks by Night…”

CARTER DICKSON Bowstring Murders

   He was surprised by “how many mistakes Carr makes about England” but the ones he cites strike me as trivial: the servants “all speak a strange sort of Cockney” and after Lord Rayle’s murder the Bowstring footman fails to address the dead man’s son and successor to the title as “Your Lordship.”

   Greene also mentions “some sloppy lines” in the book but quotes only one, from Chapter 12: “With one gloved hand, he dived behind the body.” Does that sentence rise to the lofty heights of an Avalloneism? Personally, I don’t think so.

   What bothered me most about the plot (am I giving away too much here?) is that, in order for the crucial gimmick to work, a cowled “white-wool monk’s robe” of the sort which the “more than half-cracked” Lord Rayle wore while wandering around Bowstring must be concealed by the murderer in an ordinary briefcase.

CARTER DICKSON Bowstring Murders

   S. T. Joshi in John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study (1990), is no fonder of The Bowstring Murders than Doug Greene. He calls the novel a “confused and shoddily written work” and both the book and its protagonist “spectacular failures.” (Greene, as we’ve seen, disagrees with Joshi about John Gaunt.)

   Joshi’s main complaint is that “the solution depends vitally upon our knowing the exact plan of the house, which is not provided.” Obviously there was no such plan in whatever edition Joshi read, and there’s none in the only edition I have (Berkley pb #G-214, 1959).

   But there are several references to the local inspector making a drawing of Bowstring Castle, and I have a hunch that the sketch does appear in the original hardcover edition. If someone reading this column can tell me whether I’m right or wrong, please speak up.

   If anyone decides to read the novel on the strength of this discussion, they should first go here and download the detailed diagram of the castle that Wyatt James, 1944-2006 (known to Internet mystery fandom as Grobius Shortling) kindly prepared for Carr fans who don’t have a copy of that first edition. And, if my hunch is wrong, even for those who do.


   In my mailbox recently was a book that was sent from Japan but has an English as well as a Japanese title: The Misadventures of Ellery Queen. This 400-page anthology, edited by Yusan Iiki and published by Ronsosha Ltd. Of Tokyo, brings together a huge assortment of parodies and pastiches of the immortal EQ, written by such authors as Jon Breen, Ed Hoch, James Holding, Josh Pachter, Clayton Rawson and, if I may be so immodest as to say it, me. (Anyone remember “Open Letter to Survivors”?)

   The most recent story in the volume, and probably the finest Queen pastiche ever written, is “The Book Case” (EQMM, May 2007) by Dale Andrews and Kurt Sercu, in which Ellery at age 100 proves that his body may be feeble but his mind is sharp as ever.

   Years ago Josh Pachter put together an anthology, also called The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, but could never find a publisher for it. The appearance of this new volume, coupled with the failure of Pachter’s book to find a home, provides an excellent demonstration of how tall Queen still stands in Japan and how deeply he’s sunk into oblivion almost everywhere else.


   Thinking about the role of genetics in mystery fiction, we at once conjure up the DNA testing scenes in countless TV forensic series. But the subject has also figured in the Golden Age of the whodunit. In the 60-minute radio drama “The Missing Child” (The Adventures of Ellery Queen, CBS, November 26, 1939).

   Ellery’s solution hinges on his assertion that it’s impossible for two blue-eyed parents to have a brown-eyed child. That was a common belief at the time, and was also crucial to the solution in an Agatha Christie story of the same decade (“The House at Shiraz,” collected in Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective, 1934).

   But it’s flatly not true, as Fred Dannay and Manny Lee must have discovered sometime in the ten or eleven years following broadcast of the drama. How do I know? Because the fact of its falsity is central to one of the later EQ short stories, “The Witch of Times Square” (This Week, November 5, 1950; collected in QBI: Queen’s Bureau of Investigation, 1955).

   Genetics mistake and all, the original script is included in that indispensable collection of Queen radio plays The Adventure of the Murdered Moths (Crippen & Landru, 2005).


   In a column posted back in 2006 I waxed nostalgic for a paragraph or two about Boston Blackie (1951-53, 58 episodes), starring Kent Taylor in perhaps the earliest and certainly one of the finest action-detective TV series, most episodes featuring one or more elaborate chase-and-fight sequences shot on Los Angeles streets and locations.

   Eighteen of the 26 segments that made up the first season were directed by Paul Landres (1912-2001), whose action scenes, brought to life by master stuntmen Troy Melton and Bill Catching, were of eye-popping visual quality, especially considering that each episode was shot in two or at most three days.

   Until recently it’s been next to impossible to find decent VHS or DVD copies of Blackie segments, all of which have long been in the public domain. Which is why I was delighted to discover recently that at least twenty episodes are now accessible on YouTube — and that many of them were digitally restored last year.

   I especially recommend the earliest segments like “Phone Booth Murder” (#2), “Blind Beggar Murder” (#5), “The Cop Killer” (#6), and “Scar Hand” (#11), all directed by Paul, whom I met when he was in his mid-eighties and who was the subject of a book of mine that came out about a year before he died.

   Paul would have been 100 this month, and to celebrate his centenary I’ve prepared a DVD tribute that will be presented at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland on August 11.

   In one of the tapes I made with Paul he vividly described an accident that took place while he was shooting the climax of “Phone Booth Murder.” His description is now preserved on my DVD, accompanied by the climactic sequence itself.

   If any readers of this column check out this episode and are interested in what went wrong and how Paul responded to the crisis, I’ll include his comments in my September column.

by Francis M. Nevins

   I spent a goodly chunk of April on the road, driving to the east coast with many stops along the way, then taking Amtrak from New York to Salem, Massachusetts, where I visited Bob Briney’s grave and conferred with the attorney handling his estate.

   He drove me out to Bob’s house, which I hadn’t seen in almost 22 years, and together we went through some of his files. Among them were several manila folders containing letters to Bob from me, hundreds of them, dating as far back as the late Sixties.

   Recently I received a huge package in the mail which turned out to contain those letters, returned to me by the attorney. Since then I’ve spent several hours re-reading them. A strange and sort of spooky experience, almost like going back in time to the decades when I was young and, judging from all the projects I was involved in, bursting with energy.

   After a few years of corresponding with Bob I got into the habit of passing along to him some of the dreadful lines I had encountered in my reading. Care to sample a few? Here’s one from Harry Stephen Keeler’s The Monocled Monster:

   “It was a dark and narrow corridor down which the nurse led Barry Wayne. Cork-paved, his feet and hers made no sound.”

   And another from the king of Malapropia, Michael Avallone:

   “Widows who see bachelors like you suddenly running around with women is the curiosity that kills all cats.”

   To commemorate the current celebrations in London I offer this exchange of dialogue from William Ard’s The Sins of Billy Serene:

   “Jesus Christ,” Gino said hollowly, “you’re a whore.”

   “And what’d you think I was — Queen Elizabeth?” she asked tartly.

   From John Ball of In the Heat of the Night fame:

   “The two blacks sprinted out of the store … running like maddened eels.”

   Finally a gem that would have bedecked my own novel Corrupt and Ensnare (1978) if I hadn’t caught it in time. Loren Mensing reflects that Incident A and Incident B “bore the earmarks of the same hand.” At the bottom of the letter in which I shared this gaffe with Bob I found in his handwriting: “And the handiwork of the same mind, no doubt.”


   More than forty years ago I copied for Bob the following paragraph, which is supposed to be the first-person narration of an educated woman. “Sweet, dear, impossible man. I wonder who he’s making love to now. I wish it were me. I have the education and breeding to appreciate a gentleman like he is.” Anyone want to guess who perpetrated it?


   I don’t usually go back to old columns of mine months later but a few weeks ago for some unfathomable reason I revisited one that was posted in January 2011. Part of it dealt with a radio director named Fred Essex, now in his nineties, who in a memoir talked about having directed an episode of The Adventures of Ellery Queen in which Ellery was played by Carleton Young, the guest armchair detective was comedian Fred Allen, and the murder “was committed in a radio studio that was supposedly rehearsing a crime program.“

   The problem, as I pointed out, is that there’s no known episode during Young’s tenure as EQ where Ellery solved a crime in a radio studio and no episode at any time where Fred Allen was the armchair sleuth.

   Among those who happened to read my column was Fred Essex himself, who insisted that his memory hadn’t played him false. In August of last year, Queen expert Kurt Sercu gave us the answer to this conundrum. What Essex remembered was not an EQ episode with Fred Allen as guest sleuth but an episode of The Fred Allen Show (June 6, 1943) which featured an EQ spoof skit with Carleton Young himself playing Ellery and Allen and a couple of his comedy characters as armchair detectives. Vielen Dank, Herr Sercu!


   When a writer trying to come across as an authority on the mean streets makes a mistake that his most sheltered readers catch, the egg on the guy’s face just won’t rub off.

   In putting together last month’s column I caught a classic howler of this sort in one of the earliest stories of Henry Kane. In “The Shoe Fits” (Esquire, ??? 1947; collected in Report for a Corpse, 1948) private richard Peter Chambers tells us about a gangster who had taken over a top spot “directing traffic from Old Mexico to California, hashish traffic, call it marijuana….”

   No, you did not dream you read that. Kane thinks hash and pot are the same substance! At least he did in 1947 when very few were drug-savvy.


JAMES ELLROY Brown's Requiem

   Among the treasures of my library are two signed mint copies of James Ellroy’s first novel, the paperback original Brown’s Requiem (Avon, 1981), which I first read back in the Eighties.

   Its protagonist and narrator is Fritz Brown, a lover of classical music (German Romantic composers exclusively) who after being kicked out of the LAPD became a repo man and occasional PI. The plot is a Chandleresque labyrinth — a beautiful cellist, a serial arsonist, golf caddies, corrupt cops, a welfare racket — but the style is closer to Bill Pronzini and, with its dysfunctional family and ceaseless journeys into the past, the mood is closer to Ross Macdonald.

   Anyone expecting the telegraphic non-sentences and epic bloodletting of the later Ellroy will be surprised to discover that Requiem is coherently written and minimally violent, although when it comes the violence is pretty gory.

   There are some laughably self-indulgent moments, as when Brown treats us to a farrago of irrelevant anecdotes about caddies (or, as they call themselves, loopers) and later — twice in five pages! — to a loony poem he’s composed in a dream.

   But it’s a powerful read, and offhand I can’t recall any other non-series PI novel that deserves to stand on the same shelf with Stanley Ellin’s 1958 classic The Eighth Circle. Which, thanks to the alphabetical proximity of their names, is just where it stands in my library!

JAMES R. McCAHERY – Grave Undertaking. Knightsbridge Bestseller Mystery #12, paperback original; 1st printing, 1990.

JIM McCAHERY Lavina London

   This book is bound to be a Collector’s Item, simply because it’s going to be so hard to find. Maybe things were different in your part of the country, but in the central part of Connecticut where I live, it never went on sale, and I know, because I was looking for it. Knightsbridge is a small struggling publisher, and they just didn’t have the oomph to push an author whose first book this is.

   The other question is, is the book worth looking for? I think it is, even though it has some problems, but it has some pluses too, the primary one being its lead detective, Mrs. Lavina London, an ex-radio actress in her 70s who finds that even at her age, one can still have her wits about her. Occasional bits of old radio shows are dropped here and there, but — you may be interested to know — they’re nowhere nearly as profuse and possibly underfoot as the mentioning of old mystery writers and their works are in Carolyn Hart’s books.

   The plot as to do with graveyards, ha ha, as you would probably have already gathered from the title. The first victim is a wealthy funeral home director who hasn’t made as many friends in this world as he thought he had.

   Besides the fact that I learned more about funeral directors, cemetery owners, and florists than I really wanted to — there is more backstabbing possible between funeral directors, cemetery owners, and florists than I ever dreamed there could be — I thought the book itself was rather uneven. It starts well, begins to fade in the middle (as many books do), picks up again to what seems will be a grand finale — and collapses in a final confrontation with the killer that seems to go on forever, although it’s gone on for only 18 pages when the killer says to Lavina: “Well, enough of this chit-chat, Mrs. L. … I don’t want to hang around here too long.”

   I also thought for a while that the author Jim McCahery hadn’t played fair with us, but after some consideration I decided that a reasonable amount of clues were there after all. (I probably wasn’t paying attention.) I’d still have trimmed the novel down some, if I’d had any say, but I also say that if you care for “little old lady” fiction at all, you should make a point of picking this one up, if and when you ever find a copy.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 28,
       February 1991 (slightly revised).

JIM McCAHERY Lavina London

[UPDATE] 05-31-12. Offhand, I don’t know how long Knightsbridge, the publisher of Grave Undertaking, was able to stay around, but I’ll look into it. I don’t think it was more than a couple of years. It was Kensington/Zebra who published Jim’s second book, What Evil Lurks, in 1995.

   The latter was also Lavina London’s second appearance, but if there was to be a third, it didn’t happen. Jim McCahery died in 1995, at the far too young age of 61. Although we met only twice, we were friends by mail and through an outfit called DAPA-Em, which until it recently disbanded, published stapled-together compilations of each members’ fanzines every two months for something like 35 years.

   We’ve gone digital instead. Many former members leave comments on this blog and/or have their own. Or contribute here from pages of old mailings, with Walter Albert, Dan Stumpf, Marv Lachman, Geoff Bradley and Stan Burns as prime examples.

   I possibly exaggerated the scarcity of Grave Undertaking, as there are 24 copies offered for sale on ABE, and considerably more of the second. I hadn’t known until looking just now that the second was published in hardcover before it appeared in paperback. I’m happy to know that.

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