Old Time Radio


SPECIAL AGENT K-7. C.C.Burr Productions / Puritan Pictures, 1936. Walter McGrail, Queenie Smith, Irving Pichel, Donald Reed, Willy Castello, Duncan Renaldo, Joy Hodges. Based on the radio series character created (or played) by George Zimmer. Director: Bernard B. Ray (as Raymond K. Johnson).

   The espionage adventure radio series referred to appeared on the NBC network between 1932 and 1934, as I understand it. This is a long time ago, and information is hard to come by when it comes to radio this old. No copies of any of the episodes are known to exist. This movie was made in 1936 or 1937, and another radio series came along in 1939, one called Secret Agent K-7 Returns.

   This second series was carried by CBS and starred Jay Jostyn, an actor best known by OTR fans for his long-running lead role in the program Mr. District Attorney. The second series of K-& adventures lasted for 78 episodes, many of which are generally available and in circulation. See The Digital Deli website for more details.

   Any resemblance between the movie and the second radio series is next to none. In the movie, agent K-7, by name “Lanny” Landers and played by Walter McGrail, is not a spy of any kind, but an undercover agent for the FBI. Home from abroad, he’s asked to help crack down on organized crime in a city filled with hoodlums, gamblers and gangsters of all sorts.

   Most of the activity in the film takes place in and around a nightclub owned by Eddie Geller, who has just been the beneficiary of a hung jury. When he is killed in his office, it is the fiancé of reporter Olive O’Day (Queenie Smith) who is the primary suspect. She, of course, asks Landers for help.

   The detective story that follows is a complicated one, with lots of suspects and false trails, as many as can be squeezed into a cramped 70 minutes worth of running time, which also includes a song by one Joy Hodges, later known for helping Ronald Reagan launch his acting career. The killer is obvious, though, from the very first moment he appears on the screen, taking the sheen off most of what follows. There are glimpses of what otherwise could have been, but “could have been” never counts for very much.

THE OLD TIME RADIO HOST/ANNOUNCER
by Michael Shonk


   One of old time radio’s (OTR) characters most fondly remembered is the series host/announcer. Radio programs needed a way to introduce the series and episode to the listener. Limited to just words and sounds radio created the host role.

   Perhaps one of the appeals of listening to radio drama was how often the fourth wall was ignored. It began with the host/announcer who would talk directly to the listener. It gave the program and the listener at home a personal connection, as if the story was being told directly to you.

   There were several basic types of host/announcer. It could be an announcer or famous celebrity or a fictional character. He or she could exist separate from the story or be a fictional character narrating the story or a real celebrity who introduces the story and at times joins the cast and performs as one of the characters in the story, or in rare cases a real announcer could interact with the fictional characters (usually to promote the sponsor).

   One of the earliest radio series to have a fictional character as host was the 1930 CBS anthology DETECTIVE STORY HOUR. The character with the strange eerie voice was The Shadow, a character that has had a long successful career. For those who wish to learn more about the pulp/radio icon I recommend the book SHADOW SCRAPBOOK by the character’s creator Walter B. Gibson (with Anthony Tollin).

   Here is the first episode from the Mutual Network version of THE SHADOW. “Death House Blues” aired September 26, 1937 and introduced him to the Mutual audience. In the story The Shadow played by Orson Welles works to save an innocent man from the electric chair.


   Characters such as Philip Marlowe, Rocky Jordan, and Archie Goodwin for Nero Wolfe would break the fourth wall to talk to the audience, set the mood and begin narrating the story.

   LIVES OF HARRY LIME was a BBC production and syndicated in America, airing various places including Mutual radio network. The series was based on the character from the film THE THIRD MAN, star Orson Welles would return to play Harry Lime in this prequel to the 1949 British film.

THE LIVES OF HARRY LIME “Too Many Crooks” (Mutual, August 3, 1951), It begins when Harry receives a letter asking for his help rob a bank in Budapest. As zither music sets the proper THIRD MAN mood, Harry profits from the plans of some very untrustworthy bank robbers.


   The Shadow’s spooky voice fit radio well for establishing mood. Hosts for series such as LIGHTS OUT began to warn the listeners of the terrors to come. Some of the more entertaining hosts would go beyond the spooky voice to the rantings of an insane lunatic. Among the better ones were GUEST OF DOOM, DARKNESS, WITCH’S TALE, STRANGE DR WEIRD, WEIRD CIRCLE, HERMIT’S CAVE, and BLACK CHAPEL.

   Forgotten BLACK CASTLE remains one of the best examples of the madman host. BLACK CASTLE featured host The Wizard and his pet raven Diablo. Don Douglas not only played the host but he also did all of the voices.

   A warning about the episode “Jungle Adventure,” it was done during WWII and has a un-PC attitude about the Japanese and island natives.

BLACK CASTLE “Jungle Adventure” (Mutual, September 25, 1943). Two American airmen crash on a small Pacific island.


   Some hosts could be downright judgmental towards the fictional characters in the story (THE WHISTLER) or some hosts were notably uncaring to what happened to the people of the story (THE CLOCK, DEVIL’S SCRAPBOOK and THE CROUPIER).

   One who was judgmental and uncaring was Fate in DIARY OF FATE, played by Herbert Lytton.

DIARY OF FATE “The Entry of Tyler White” (ABC, April 6, 1948). Tyler White is about to be executed for a murder he did not commit.


   Not all hosts were scary some were quite friendly such as in WORLD ADVENTURERS CLUB, and THE CASEBOOKS OF GREGORY HOOD.

   The CRIME CLUB host The Librarian (Barry Thomson) was always eager to help us with that book or manuscript we wanted. Many of the stories were adaptations of actual books published by Doubleday’s Crime Club imprint .

CRIME CLUB “Mr. Smith’s Hat” (Mutual, January 22, 1947). Gilbert Shannon calls Inspector McKee to report his own murder. A few moments after he hangs up the Inspector gets a call from Shannon’s daughter who has discovered her father’s dead body. Witty dialog highlights the story based on a book by Helen Reilly and adapted by Stedman Coles.


   Celebrities were popular choices to host drama anthologies, such as radio producer Arch Oboler (LIGHTS OUT), writers such as John Dickson Carr (MURDER BY EXPERTS) and actors such as Peter Lorre (MURDER IN THE AIR).

   CREEPS BY NIGHT aired on the Blue network with Boris Karloff as host and actor. The series was done on the West coast. When the series moved to the East coast with episode #13 “The Walking Dead (May 16, 1944) Karloff stayed behind and the mysterious Dr. X took over as host. The name of the actor who played Dr. X was never revealed.

CREEPS BY NIGHT “The Final Reckoning” (Blue network, May 2, 1944). George Miller is out of prison after serving 20 years for a murder he did not commit. George feels his life has been wasted and is obsessed with revenge against the man who framed him.


   One of the most important roles for the host/announcer was to promote the sponsor. Series such as MYSTERY HOUSE would take a comment made by the characters to remind everyone about the sponsor. INNER SANCTUM Mr. Host enjoyed his creaking door and pun filled introductions but then he would turn to Mary to discuss the perfection and joy the sponsor’s product would bring to the listener’s life.

   But no host/announcer was more interested in the sponsor than the host of a kid’s show, radio serials such as CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, JACK ARMSTRONG ALL AMERICAN BOY, DICK TRACY, and endless others push their promos like maps and code rings and nagged kids to get their Mom or Dad to buy the sponsor’s product.

TOM MIX RALSTON STRAIGHT SHOOTERS “The Green Man” (Mutual, June 30, 1944). A swami arrives and tries to buy Longwind Wilson house that keeps disappearing because of a former cactus now anti-social Green Man. Not the most PC but still fun. In this episode Tom Mix was played by Joe “Curley” Bradley.


   Not all serials were aimed at kids and their parents’ bank account. There would be soap operas for Mom (ROMANCES OF HELEN TRENT and BACKSTAGE WIFE), adventure (ADVENTURES BY MORSE and SHADOWS OF FU MANCHU), mysteries (CHARLIE CHAN and I LOVE A MYSTERY), and spies (ANN OF THE AIRLINES).

   But no matter the type of radio serial all of them needed the host/announcer to keep the audience up to date on the continuing story that usually aired three to five times a week.

   Here is an episode from PERRY MASON, a radio series that would evolve into TV soap opera EDGE OF NIGHT.

PERRY MASON “The Case of the Puzzled Suitor’ (CBS, June 7, 1944). A rich scientist wants Mason to write his will, but a woman had early warned Mason that the scientist was being coerced.


   One of the things the Internet has given us is access to the past unlike ever before. You can listen to OTR at YouTube, Internet Archive (archive.org) and various other places on the Internet. Whether you remember when the shows first aired or you are listening for the first time, OTR offers a variety of wonderful entertainment, shows more often than not introduced by a host/announcer.

SOURCES::

RadioGOLDINdex     http://radiogoldindex.com/

ON THE AIR THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OLD-TIME RADIO (Oxford University
Press, 1998) by John Dunning

MY FRIEND IRMA GOES WEST. Paramount Pictures, 1950. John Lund, Marie Wilson, Diana Lynn, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Corinne Calvet, Lloyd Corrigan, Don Porter, Harold Huber, Kenneth Tobey. Screenplay: Cy Howard & Parke Levy. Director: Hal Walker.

   Marie Wilson, who made a career of playing ditsy blondes, will be remembered best for her portrayal of Irma Peterson, the impossibly vacuous New York City secretary with a mind the size of a paper clip. This was the second film to feature Irma, who began her career on radio in 1947, but as usually the case, of all the people who were in the cast on the radio program, only Marie Wilson managed to make the transition into the movies.

   And even though creator Cy Howard was also involved in the movie production, much of the magic her character created in her original form is gone. In fact, Irma is on the screen far less than the up-and-coming comedy team of Martin and Lewis. Incidentally, they also appeared in the first Irma picture as well — their screen debut, no less.

   The plot is simple enough — Dean Martin, who plays the boy friend of Irma’s friend Jane, gets a shot at Hollywood, or so he thinks, and the whole gang goes along. It;s to bad that, unknown to them, the boys in the white suits come along afterward to pick up the “producer” who hired him. (But what about the French actress with eyes for Dean?)

   Irma continued on the radio for four more years, until 1954, but there weren’t any more movies. It’s no wonder why. When writers lose the roots of their own creations, chances of a successful transplant are next to none.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #24, August 1990 (very slightly revised).


REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


BRIGHT STAR. Syndicated, Frederic W. Ziv Company; September 24, 1951. Voice Cast: Irene Dunne as Susan Armstrong and Fred MacMurry as George Harvey. Announcer: Harry Von Zell.

   Syndication studio Frederic W. Ziv Company is best remembered for its several low budget syndicated TV series such as Sea Hunt and Highway Patrol. The company also had its successes in radio, and many of those series would continue their success in TV, shows such as Boston Blackie and The Cisco Kid.

   Despite the falling popularity of radio in the 1950s due to the rising interest in TV, Ziv found a way to convince famous movie stars to star in transcribed radio series. Their first success was with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Bold Venture (reviewed here and its TV version reviewed here ).

   Next Ziv convinced Irene Dunne and Fred MacMurray to star in the radio series Bright Star. This was Ziv’s first comedy. Unlike many other Ziv’s radio series, Bright Star apparently was never adapted for television.

   So how was Ziv able to convince such famous movie stars as Bogart, Bacall, Dunne and MacMurray to star in a weekly radio series? They gave them a huge amount of money.

   According to Broadcasting (August 13,1951) Dunne and MacMurray each were paid $300,000 for a 10 year radio contract with an opt-out clause after 52 episodes. Three episodes were taped each week with a budget of $12,500 per half-hour episode. Broadcasting claimed this was the second highest budget in radio next only to Bold Venture. Billboard (August 18, 1951) claimed Bright Star was higher than Bold Venture by $2,500.

   Both Broadcasting and Billboard reported writers were to include Milton Geiger, Carl Gass, and Richard Powell. Henry Hayward would direct. Broadcasting added that additional cast members would include Elvia Allman and Michael Miller.

   Bright Star was about the daily operation of the small town newspaper, the Hillsdale Morning Star. Susan Armstrong voiced by Irene Dunne was the paper’s publisher and editor. George Harvey voiced by Fred MacMurray was the paper’s top reporter. As required by romantic comedy rules the two constantly argued when not trying to romance the other.

      George and the Informer:

   George was getting increasing attention due to a series of articles he was writing exposing a mob leader. Susan began to worry when George refused to tell her his source.


   This was one of the better episodes but still far from great radio. The soft character humor ruled over any realism in the plots. Not surprisingly after fifty-two episodes were transcribed the two stars opted out of their contract and the series ended.

   According to Broadcasting (September 10. 1951) Ziv claimed Bright Star that was due to debut in two weeks had been sold in 183 cities including 21 of the 63 television cities in the United States. While not the success of Bold Venture, which was in 427 stations when it debuted in March 1951 (Broadcasting April 2, 1951), the transcribed episodes of Bright Star would remain on the air for years.

   It was the fifties and the networks were turning their attention from radio to television. As Billboard examined in its October 16, 1954 issue, this left the local radio stations searching for programming. Ziv’s transcribed radio series became popular with stations and local advertisers. Shows such as Bright Star would continue to air on the radio at least into the mid-50s.

DANGER ON THE AIR. Universal Pictures, 1938. Nan Grey, Donald Woods, Jed Prouty, Berton Churchill, William Lundigan, Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher, Edward Van Sloan, Lee J. Cobb, (Peter) Lind Hayes, Louise Stanley. Based on the Doubleday Crime Club novel Death Catches Up With Mr. Kluck, by Xantippe. Director: Otis Garrett.

   Despite too many characters and too much plot to be crammed into a 70 minute running time, this proved to be an enjoyable little murder mystery. This is, of course, what happens when a full length detective novel is the basis of a film — “crammed” is exactly the right word.

   As perhaps the title would suggest, most of the movie takes place in a radio studio, setting that movie audience in 1938 would have little chance seeing for themselves on their own. Dead is one of the biggest sponsors the Cosmopolitan Network has, an obnoxious micro-manager and lecherous old goat named Caesar Kluck. He’s someone who people take objection to at first meeting, so the killer could be almost anyone.

   Teaming up to solve the case are a studio technician (Donald Woods) and a girl production assistant (Nan Grey). They’re somewhat of a mismatched couple. He’s studious and dull; she’s vivacious and very pretty. There are loads of veteran character actors on the scene as well, but the film also includes some relative newcomers such as Peter Lind Hayes (who does voice imitations of then current radio stars, including Bing Crosby) and Lee J. Cobb, who at a very young age played an aged ethnic janitor with considerable ease.

   Because of the short running time, the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, zigzagging this way and that so that everybody in the studio is shown as a possible suspect, and worse, the killer’s motive comes right out of some magician’s hat. Bear with it though, and you may enjoy this one as much as I did.

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL, PART TWO:
HORROR RADIO
by Michael Shonk


   Welcome to part two of a three part series on horror and suspense for Halloween. Part One can be found here.

   Horror is at its most terrifying when it exists in our own imagination. This is why the genre works so well in radio. Few radio series did not attempt a scary story or an episode with a horror theme. From BABY SNOOKS to PHILIP MARLOWE, the comedic or the typical whodunit, all took advantage of the success of horror in radio.

   A good example is this episode from my favorite radio series ADVENTURES OF SAM SPADE (reviewed here ).

“The Fairly Bright Caper.” (CBS, October 31, 1948) Written by Bob Tallman and Gil Doud. Directed and Produced by William Spier. Cast: Howard Duff as Sam Spade and Lorene Tuttle as Effie.

   Sam is hired for a Halloween high society engagement party that is spoiled by murder. What does the Witch really know?

   It is radio’s version of Sam Spade, so jokes are as common as clues and the character of the witch gave it a perfect Halloween feel.


   The most common form of the horror radio series was the anthology. Many of these series are still fondly remembered today, shows such as INNER SANCTUM, LIGHTS OUTS and SUSPENSE. So of course I will ignore them and turn to some forgotten ones.

   MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER aired on Mutual Network between 1943 and 1952. Each week you the listener would board a train only to have the Mysterious Traveler approach you and tell you a story.

   The series was created, written, produced and directed by the team of Bob Arthur and David Kogan. Arthur and Kogan won the Edgar award for this series as the best radio drama in 1953.

   Mysterious Traveler was also adapted for comic books and a Mysterious Traveler magazine that featured short stories for the radio show as well as stories from such writers as John Dickson Carr, Craig Rice, Dorothy L. Sayers, Brett Halliday, Ray Bradbury, and Lawrence Blochman. The magazine lasted five issues and was edited by Bob Arthur.

“Locomotive Ghost.” (Mutual Network, July 6,1947) Written, directed, and produced by Bob Arthur and David Kogan. Voice of Mysterious Traveler: Maurice Tarplin.

   To steal a large payroll carried by train two robbers destroy the train. They get away with the money but can they escape the Judgment Special?


   While fictional characters hosted many of the radio anthologies, other anthologies used an announcer or the writer/producer or a famous star to introduce the story. The host star often acted in the episodes.

   MYSTERY IN THE AIR featured the talents of Peter Lorre as each week the series would adapt some of literature’s best horror stories such as Edgar Allen Poe’s THE BLACK CAT, Alexander Pushkin’s QUEEN OF SPADES and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. The sadly neglected series was on NBC as a summer replacement (July – September 1947) for ABBOTT AND COSTELLO SHOW.

“The Horla.” (NBC, August 21, 1947) Based on short story by Guy de Maupassant. Cast: Peter Lorre, Peggy Webber and Lorene Tuttle. Announcer: Henry (Harry) Morgan.

   Lorre plays a man who slowly becomes convinced an invisible monster is stalking him.


HALL OF FANTASY (KALL, Salt Lake City, 1946-47; WGN 1949; Mutual 1952)

   Richard Thorne was the creative force behind HALL OF FANTASY. The series began in 1946 on Salt Lake Utah station KALL and produced by Thorne and Carl Greyson. The series ended in 1947. In 1949 Thorne (with Greyson in some accounts) revived the series for WGN and by 1952 HALL OF FANTASY was airing nation-wide on Mutual Network.

“The Judge’s House.” (April 6, 1947) Based on story by Bram Stoker, adapted by Bob Olson. Directed by Richard Thorne. Produced by Thorne and Carl Greyson.

   A young student comes to a small town to find a quiet place to study. Despite the locals warnings he rents a house where an evil judge had lived fifty years ago.


   While it is common belief that original dramas for radio died when TV took over, that is not totally true. Shows such as SUSPENSE and YOURS TRULY JOHNNY DOLLAR hung on until 1962.

   CBS tried to bring back radio with CBS RADIO MYSTERY THEATER (1974-82). While many talented artists from radio’s glory days contributed to the series, the writing was never able to recapture the magic of old type radio. Perhaps the focus was misplaced in trying to recreate the magic of the past instead of bring radio up to the present.

   Radio drama continues today at the BBC. Canada has shown success with radio series such as JOHNNY CHASE: SECRET AGENT (1978-81), THE MYSTERY PROJECT (1992-2004), and the anthology series NIGHTFALL (1980-1983).

   Created by Bill Howell the series NIGHTFALL remains best known for its scary episodes such as “Porch Light” (not on Youtube), but tried nearly every genre in fiction, even adapting a folk song by Stan Rogers for an episode.

NIGHTFALL (CBC, 1980-1983)

“Fatal Eggs.” (April 17, 1981) Written by Arthur Samuels. Based on a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov. Produced by Bill Howell. Cast: Douglas Campbell, Neil Dainard and David Calderisi.

   Russian scientists develop a red ray that can grow animals in size. But things go bad when the communist bureaucrats take over the project.


NEXT: PART THREE – TELEVISION.



SOURCES:

ON THE AIR: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Wikipedia

The Digital Deli http://www.digitaldeliftp.com

Old-Time Radio catalog http://www.otrcat.com

Radio Horror Hosts http://www.radiohorrorhosts.com

OTR Plot Spot http://www.otrplotspot.com/mainMenu.html

THE NIGHTFALL PROJECT http://www.thenightfallproject.org

A OLD TIME RADIO REVIEW
by Michael Shonk


BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT. Syndicated, 1939-1940. Associated Recorded Program Service (part of Associated Music Publishing Inc). 15 minutes; 3 x weekly. Cast: Nick Dawson as Steven Moore

   This radio series about defense attorney Steven Moore is so forgotten I have been unable to find any mention of it at any current OTR radio research or any other research site or book dedicated to old time radio. There are a few sites than have two episodes available to hear, but none has much information and those even get the year for the episodes wrong.

   Moore was the typical defense attorney, brilliant, quick witted, the enemy of authorities, and willing to save the guilty for a fee. The announcer informed us the series stories were based on some of the “most dramatic criminal cases of the past decade.”

   The New York lawyer was assisted by his “man-of-all-work” (think Runt in the Boston Blackie films), loyal devoted ex-con sidekick, that Moore had gotten out of Sing Sing prison. Without any written record available the actor who played the character sadly must remain uncredited. My ears can’t be sure what the character was called in the episodes (Cuba?) but feel free to add your guesses in the comments below.

   The series was a murder mystery serial with each episode 15 minutes long minus about a minute or so of organ music in the beginning and end. I believe the following episode “Meet Steven Moore” was the series’ first episode.

MEET STEVEN MOORE. Written and directed by William N. Robson. Star: Nick Dawson. *** After getting another not guilty verdict for yet one more man all thought was guilty, Moore learns the D.A. and others are working to get him disbarred.

   So he is less than thrilled to find a beautiful woman wearing a bloody coat hiding in his apartment. Of course he decides to represent her, even if as he says she is guilty.

   The episode sets up the premise and characters well. It was the fall of 1939, and this must have seemed a fresher idea than it does now. Fans of old time radio are probably surprised to hear William N. Robson wrote and directed this. The script holds up; there are a few minor flaws, but this was 1939 and radio was still young and developing.

   William N. Robson would become one of the top director/producers in radio history. In a career spanning four decades he won six Peabody awards and worked on such series as Escape, Suspense, The Man Behind the Gun and Voice of America (with Edward R. Murrow). By this time he was all ready well known for his work on Columbia Radio Workshop, one of the best radio shows of the 1930s. He had returned from England where he had produced some radio shows for the BBC (“Broadcasting” February 1, 1939). Soon he would be the director and producer of popular radio series Big Town with Edward G. Robinson. I can’t find any mention of how long he stayed with Beyond Reasonable Doubt. I can’t even find the series listed on any of his bios.

   The next episode’s credits mention only star Nick Dawson. The announcer set up the series premise, main character, and story. Then he introduced Nick Dawson who as character Steven Moore talked to the audience, recapping the last episode.

THE WOMAN IN THE BEDROOM. A rich playboy has been murdered in his penthouse apartment and the woman last seen with him has escaped. That woman is now hiding in defense attorney Moore’s bedroom. Homicide detective and the victim’s hotel doorman have trailed the woman from the murder scene to Moore’s apartment.

   Clues for this murder story drop in as Moore constantly outsmarts and out talks the Homicide Detective and witness. After his fun Moore heads to his bedroom to turn the girl over to the frustrated cop. But it is not that easy for Moore and he found himself facing a possible charge of accessory after the fact to murder.

   The acting here was nothing special. Dawson failed to make lawyer Moore likable and seemed to drift in and out of a Clarence Darrow impression.

   Nick Dawson (George Coleman Dawson) was a famous radio writer/producer/actor during the 1930s. He had begun in early radio with CBS as a programmer then began to produce his own shows. He was best known for his work with Elsie Hitz as one of radio’s most popular romantic serial couples starring in series such as Follow the Moon, Magic Voice and Dangerous Paradise.

   In “Broadcasting” (September 25, 1939) there was news of Vicks Chemical Co. (Vick’s VapoRub) plans to sponsor Beyond Reasonable Doubt, a fifteen-minute series that would air three times a week on six California stations. William N Robson would direct. The October 1st issue of “Broadcasting” added more information. Seven NBC-Pacific Blue stations would carry Beyond Reasonable Doubt beginning October 4, 1939. The transcribed serial was scheduled to air on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 6-6:15pm (PST). Duncan Coffee Company supported the series on seven Texas stations beginning October 2, 1939.

   Starting January 2, 1940 Vicks moved Beyond Reasonable Doubt to a new time, 9-9:15 pm (PST) on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Vicks carried the series on eleven NBC-Pacific Blue stations (“Broadcasting” December 15, 1939).

   In an ad for the series in “Broadcasting” (January 1, 1940) strong ratings (C.A.B. – Crossley) for Beyond Reasonable Doubt at three California stations was highlighted as with news Vicks had renewed the series for another thirteen weeks.

   “Broadcasting” (April 15, 1940) reported series production company AMP Recording Studio had sold the transcribed serial to stations in St. Louis, Dayton, and in Australia and New Zealand. Meanwhile, Vicks stopped its sponsorship of Beyond Reasonable Doubt with the March 29, 1940 broadcast at 78 episodes.

   I have been unable to determine whether the series went beyond 78 episodes but I doubt it. While the series is somewhat dated Beyond Reasonable Doubt deserves some attention, if only as a forgotten series in the career of William N. Robson.

FOUR FORGOTTEN TV AND RADIO SPY SERIES

by Michael Shonk


WORLD OF GIANTS. ZIV Productions, 1959; syndicated. Cast: Marshall Thompson as Mel Hunter, Arthur Franz as Bill Winters and Marcia Henderson as Miss Brown.

SPY SHADOW. NBC, 1967-68. Depatrie-Freleng Productions with Mirisch-Rich Television. Voice Cast: Ted Cassidy, June Foray, Shepard Menkin, Don Messick, Paul Frees. Producers: David H. Depatie and Fritz Freleng.

FORTUNE HUNTER. Fox, 1994. BBK Productions Inc. / Columbia Pictures Television. Cast: Mark Frankel as Charlton Dial, and John Robert Hoffman as Harry Flack. Created by Steven Aspis. Co-Executive Producers: Steven Aspis & Paul Stupin. Executive Prodcuers: Frank Lupo & Carlton Cuse.

MR. I.A. MOTO. NBC Radio, 1951; sustaining. Cast: James Monk and Mr. I. A. Moto. Produced by Carol Irwin or Doris Quinlan. Announcer: Fred Collins or Ray Barret. Director: Harry W. Junkin. Writers include Harry W. Junkin, Robert Tallman and Jim Haines.

* * * * * * *


WORLD OF GIANTS (WOG). “Special Agent.” Teleplay by Donald Duncan and Jack Laird; story by Donald Duncan. Directed and produced by Otto Lang. Guest Cast: John Gallaudet and James Seay *** While on a mission behind the Iron Curtain, American spy Mel Hunter suffered an accident that shrank him to six inches. “Special Agent” is the series first episode and is the story of Mel’s first case as a six-inch man. Mel and his normal sized partner Bill search an office for secret papers.

   There are two episodes available on YouTube – the first and last. Both are slow paced and clumsily written, even for the late fifties era. Direction and special effects did what they could with the limits of technology at the time. Drama was mocked as the most serious threats to life of our hero spy came from a cat and a falling pencil.

   According to Broadcasting, (July 28 1958, August 18 1958 and July 28 1958) WOG was originally scheduled for the 1958-59 fall season on the CBS network. It would have aired on Wednesday following Invisible Man. Production problems caused the series to be delayed. The 1958 season was a bad time for network’s ad sales; the networks were still struggling with the fallout from the quiz show scandals. Both Invisible Man and World of Giants were replaced by the live drama Pursuit. WOG would finally air in syndication starting September 1959 and last only thirteen episodes.



SPY SHADOW. “Evila the Terrible” Credits can be found here on the Big Cartoon Database. *** Villain Evila is trying to take over the World again. Her servant has invented a hypnosis ray gun that Evila uses to obtain everyone’s jewels and money. Interspy agent Richard Vance is sent to stop his old flame.

   This poorly animated and written Saturday morning cartoon is bad enough to be fun to watch. Spy Shadow was a segment of Saturday morning cartoon series, Super President Show. (Super President was the President of the United States and when needed turned into costumed superhero Super President who could change his molecular structure to any form).

   Spy Shadow featured Richard Vance, an agent for an organization named Interspy. Thanks to his training in mysterious Tibet, Vance and his shadow could separate to fight Super-villains. The episodes usually began with the villain succeeding in his/her/it evil plot of the week. Vance would try to stop the crime and bad guys. Vance would fail and get captured. The villain would usually leave Vance in an over complicated death trap. Vance’s shadow would separate from his body and save the spy/detective from the trap. The only thing that could stop the shadow was darkness, as the shadow needed light to exist.

   Both Spy Shadow and Super PresidentT episodes can be found on YouTube.




FORTUNE HUNTER. “Red Alert.” Written by Carlton Cuse; directed by Mike Levine. Guest Cast: J.G. Hertzler and Karen Witter. *** The plot has a mad man seeking to free the Ukraine from Russia by blackmailing the World with nerve gas. The nerve gas had last been seen stored in an out of date Russian satellite that had crashed in South Carolina.

   “Red Alert” featured a better than average script for the series by Carlton Cuse (Lost). Frankel offered some appeal as a cut-rate Bond while Hoffman was less hammy than usual. Karen Witter was terrible as the 90s stereotype – the female brilliant scientist/kick ass soldier with a beauty queen’s looks.

   I would not be surprised that this series still has fans, especially young men who grew up during the 90s. Fortune Hunter is a typical example of the 1990s Action TV series with a style best described as 90s version of Stephen J. Cannell does James Bond.

   However Fortune Hunter lacked any originality. The premise was a rip-off of TV series Search (1972, NBC). Former top British spy Charlton Dial now worked for Intercept Corporation, a private company specializing in high-risk assignments recovering objects. Dial was the field agent who had special contact lens and earpiece that allowed comedy relief and Intercept tech Harry to monitor Dial’s activity as a one man “Probe Control.” And not surprisingly the series had a fondness for gadgets.

   While all thirteen episodes were filmed and reportedly successfully aired around the World, Fox pulled it off the air after only five episodes aired. “Red Alert” was the last to air on Fox.



MR. I. A. MOTO. “The Bazaloff Paper.” Written and directed by Harry W. Junkin. Produced by Carol Irwin. Cast: James Monk as Moto. Guest cast: Ross Martin and Connie Lembeke. *** Moto is in the Far East searching for a murdered scientist’s paper that could change the balance of power in the Pacific.

   The character of Mr. Moto first appeared in a series of books written by John P. Marquand. I have a great fondness for the film version of Mr. Moto as portrayed by Peter Lorre. Both the books and films are still remembered today, but the same can not be said about the NBC radio series.

   The radio series was well-written, racist, sexist and an excellent example of the culture at the time. Japanese-American Moto worked as an international secret agent fighting communism and crime all over the world.

   The series aired on NBC in 1951 without a sponsor. It was a difficult time for radio, as TV was replacing it as the public’s favorite home entertainment. The focus of NBC was more on TV, and while the network produced 23 half-hours without a commercial sponsor, NBC paid little attention to promoting the series. Because of this there remains some confusion and questions about Mr. I. A. Moto.

   For example, there are two versions surviving of the same story – “Bazaloff Paper” and “Kuriloff Paper.” Some believe one was for the West Coast and the other for the East Coast. Others believe one was a rehearsal copy and the other the final air version. Here are both versions:

               Bazaloff Paper:

               Kuriloff Paper:

   More details about Mr. I. A. Moto can be found at The Digital Deli Too.

CRIME DOCTOR. Columbia, 1943. Warner Baxter, Margaret Lindsay, John Litel, Ray Collins, Harold Huber, Don Costello, Leon Ames. Based on the Crime Doctor radio series created by Max Marcin. Director: Michael Gordon.

THE CRIME DOCTOR’S COURAGE. Columbia, 1945. Warner Baxter, Hillary Brooke, Jerome Cowan, Robert Scott, Lloyd Corrigan, Emory Parnell, Stephen Crane, Anthony Caruso, Lupita Tovar. Director: George Sherman.

   Crime Doctor began as a radio program, running on Mutual from 1940 to 1947. Four of them are available online on the archive.org website. Listening to the first of them, “Eddie Brooklief’s Money,” I was not impressed.

   After twenty minutes of story in which the killer is completely identified to the listeners, Benjamin Ordway, the Crime Doctor, comes on to give the police the evidence they need to close the case, in only a couple of minutes of airtime. Frankly, I heard nothing in this episode to explain how the series managed to stay on the air for as long as it did.

   This may or may not have been the pattern of the other three shows, however, nor for that matter, all eight years the program was on the air. The original premise, as I understand it, was that before he became a prominent psychiatrist and a rehabilitator of criminals, Dr. Ordway was a criminal mastermind who somehow came down with amnesia and became a figure of good on the other side of the law.

   Crime Doctor was the first in a series of ten movies starring an aging (and ailing) Warner Baxter as Robert Ordway, and in retelling the basic premise as I outlined it above, once again I was less than impressed. In the film, Ordway’s former colleagues in crime had a falling out with him, and tried unsuccessfully to bump him off, without, however, knowing where their $200,000 in stolen money is.

   But, hence the amnesia, which the aforesaid former colleagues do not know whether to swallow or not, even after ten years have gone by and Ordway is head of the state parole board. It all sounds kind of silly, and it did even as I was watching it. Perhaps they tried to squeeze too much story in only 65 minutes of running time, as large gaps of story are sometimes skipped over between scenes.

   The Crime Doctor’s Courage, the fourth of the movies, has a serious case of split personality. In the first half the new wife of a man whose first two marriages ended in tragedy during their honeymoons asks Dr. Ordway for help. She would like to know if she should be worried.

   Compounding her concern is the brother of the first wife, who accuses Gordon Carson outright of murder. After a confrontation, Carson goes into his room, locks the door, and is shot to death. Suicide? The Crime Doctor proves it couldn’t have been.

   At which point the brother-in-law disappears (as far I could tell), and the focus of the story becomes the Braggas, a mysterious brother and sister, the highlight of whose dancing act consists of the sister vanishing into thin air during a portion of it.

   There are also hints that they may be vampires. They sleep in coffin-shaped beds, stay away from mirrors and are never seen in the daytime. After some confusing transition scenes and lot of action in an old dark mansion, the real killer is caught. How he manged to carry out the locked room gimmick, I’ll never know.

   Keep me in the Still Not Impressed column.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. BBC Radio 4, 25 July 2015. Toby Stephens as James Bond, John Standing as M, Lisa Dillon as Tiffany Case, and Martin Jarvis as Ian Fleming. Dramatized by Archie Scotney, based on the novel by Ian Fleming. Directed by Martin Jarvis. Available online for the next two weeks on BBC 4 Extra. Earlier adaptations of the Bond novels are available in full form on YouTube.

   So far the BBC have adapted Dr. No, You Only Live Twice (Michael Jayston as Bond), Goldfinger (with Ian McKellan as Goldfinger), From Russia with Love, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Alfred Molina as Blofield) in 90 minute adaptations of the novels. Of course much gets left out, but these are dead on and not too slavish. Diamonds opens by using a scene cutting technique letting us in on Bond’s assignment while at the same time using Fleming’s evocative opening chapter from the novel.

   Most of the adaptations open with Fleming telling the story and then become straight radio adaptation.

   Listening to this one the thing that stands out for me is that, dated as it is, Fleming manages to write as good a horse-racing thriller and Vegas novel as most I have read, with much more detail and background than most. His skill as both journalist and spy shows in these details that often have the authentic feel of well written intelligence reports (it is no accident many spies become writers, one of the skills is communication).

   That feeling of being in on something you shouldn’t be hearing is as important to the Bond novels as the sex, sadism, and snobbery, and the Saturday morning serial plots. The Fleming Effect, as it is known, works even on radio.

   If your favorite Bond novel got short changed by the film series in terms of things you wanted to see (Diamonds certainly did) this is the authentic Bond and Toby Stephens is excellent playing Bond as more a man and less an icon. It is a fine dramatic performance and not merely a reading with Stephens ably managing to let us know when we are hearing Bond’s thoughts and not spoken dialogue by a mere change of tone. Fleming’s voice intrudes only when absolutely needed.

   It may also remind you that the best of Fleming lay in his ability to write prose that kept readers turning pages. These adaptations show just how well Fleming could do that even without pounding music scores, over size sets and set pieces, beautiful scantily clad women, and iconic actors.

   I won’t get into the plot. I’ll just point out the full cast radio dramatization gets it right. If you enjoy radio drama these run just under ninety minutes and are fast paced and well done. They are an improvement over the many readings of the novels available in audiobook form.

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