Old Time Radio

DUFFY’S TAVERN “Archie Gets Engaged.” CBS-East Coast/Syndicated. 31 August 1954 (Season 1, Episode 18.) [I am using Martin Gram’s log for this information.]  Ed Gardner (Archie), Pattee Chapman (Miss Duffy), Alan Reed (Finnegan), Jimmy Conlin. Recurring: Veda Ann Borg (Peaches La Tour). Guest Cast: Barbara Morrison. …

   “Hello, Duffy’s Tavern, where the elite meet to eat. Archie the manager speakin’. Duffy ain’t here — oh, hello, Duffy.”

   Duffy’s Tavern, very much a one-man operation, that of creator, director, writer, producer and star Ed Gardner, was a long running radio for many years (1941-51), a movie (Ed Gardner’s Duffy’s Tavern, 1945) before a one season run (26 episodes) in 1954 co-produced by Hal Roach, Jr.

   While the radio show was noted for its well-known guest stars every week, the radio show was a bare bones operation, with very little movement outside of the tavern itself. “Archie Gets Engaged” was in all likelihood not the official title of this particular episode, but it is what it is generallyl known by. It can be seen here.

   It begins with Archie thinking of matrimony, and in particular with a stripper he knows by the name of Peaches La Tour (the most delightfully voluptuous Veda Ann Borg). Being more interested in monetary matters than love, she most sensibly turns him down, since love is all he has to offer. Being so emphatically turned down in such a fashion, Archie decides to bite the bullet and proposes instead to the very rich (and not nearly as voluptuous) Mrs. Van Clyde (Barbara Morrison) instead.

   The complications that follow are amusing, but not laugh-out-loud funny, except for Alan Reed’s slapstick portrayal of the slow-witted Finngan, one of the tavern’s regular habitues. (Possibly not an acceptable character today, but allow me this indulgence. I grew up when a lot of comedy was built around the antics of The Three Stooges, Lou Costello, Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis, and so on.)

   Another aspect of the show was the use of well-mangled wordplay. In the opening conversation Archie has on the phone with Duffy, he asks the latter for his advice on “maritime” relations. Talking about the chances that Peaches will accept his proposal, he says he’s not sure she will accept him or not, “With a dame like that, things are on one minute, off the next.”

   The jokes and the reactions to them are reflected by a lot of exaggerated eye-rolling. Worse, from my point of view, is the fact that Ed Gardner, never the greatest of actors, was an aging 53 when the TV series was filmed, and it shows. The show was meant for radio. As a television series, it may be best to call it a relic of its era and leave it at that.

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF NERO WOLFE “The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds.” NBC, 30 minutes. March 9, 1951. Sydney Greenstreet, Harry Bartell. Story: Mindret Lord.

   As a radio series The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe was heard for one short season on NBC, running from October 20, 1950, to April 27, 1951. There had been two earlier versions: The Adventures of Nero Wolfe, a 1943–44 series on ABC starring Santos Ortega and Luis van Rooten, and The Amazing Nero Wolfe, a 1945 series on Mutual starring Francis X. Bushman, but there’s no denying that Sydney Greenstreet was well nigh perfectly cast for the role.

   For a season of only 26 shows, though, the series went though quite a few people playing Archie. Besides Harry Bartell, they included such well known radio voices as Gerald Mohr, Herb Ellis, Lawrence Dobkin, Lamont Johnson and Wally Maher. It probably didn’t matter to radio audiences all that much who played the part back then, however. The combo of Nero Wolfe and Sydney Greenstreet was, I’m sure, all they needed.

   I’m not so sure about the stories, though, not if this is an example. It begins with a sneak thief named Willie Inch asking Wolfe to help him prove he didn’t kill the lady of the house after he’d burgled it, and quite successfully, too. It’s too bad he left fingerprints behind, as well as the body of the lady.

   And oh, yes, a small fortune in diamonds is also missing, but Willie Inch did not take them. Someone else had larceny on his (or her) mind the very same evening. There is also a beautiful young woman involved. She claims to be a writer and wants to do a story about Wolfe. Archie demurs, saying that a fellow named Rex Stout is already writing up his adventures. After Wolfe proves she’s a fraud, that doesn’t stop Archie for making a play for her — to his regret.

   But the ending is very weak and terribly rushed. Something could have made of the gimmick involved, but as it was, that’s all is was, only a gimmick. The trappings of the Wolfean stories are there, but there’s not solid enough in this episode to make me want to listen to another. I’ll stick to the books, and the Maury Chaykin-Timothy Hutton TV show that was how on A&E a while back. As an adaption of one of my favorite detective series, it was most satisfactory.

FRANK M. ROBINSON “The Girls from Earth.” Novelette. First published in Galaxy SF, January 1952. Illustrations by Emsh (Ed Emshwiller). Reprinted in The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1953 edited by Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty (Frederick Fell, hardcover, 1953); and Stories for Tomorrow: An Anthology of Modern Science Fiction edited by William Sloane (Funk & Wagnalls, hardcover, 1954). Radio: Adapted for X Minus One by George Lefferts: NBC, 16 January 1957. Cast: Mandel Kramer, Bob Hastings, John Gibson, Jim Stevens, Dick Hamilton, Phil Sterling. Announcer: Fred Collins. Director: Daniel Sutter.

   This is mostly a story about how mail order brides helped civilize the Old West, only transposed in time and space to mining settlements barely managing to survive on worlds far from Earth. The ratio of men to women in such places is at least 5 to 3. Strangely enough, the ratio of women to men back on Earth also 5 to 3, in reverse.

   There is a problem here waiting to be solved, and the solution is easy. Except for one thing. How, and who, is going to implement it? And how will the contingent of men waiting for their new brides accept them, and vice versa? The details you may read for yourself online here, and probably elsewhere as well. (Follow the link.)

   At this much later date, while the story can still be enjoyed for its more humorous overtones, any larger appeal may only be of historical interest. In 1952 science fiction was just beginning to move away from scientific puzzles to be solved, if not out and out space opera. In their place were coming stories based on situations and dilemmas as they were expected to rise in the future, but on a more personal level. As is the case here.

   In the radio adaptation, streamlined to just over 20 minutes, the implementation of the plan to solve the problem described above is carried out by a couple of con men, hoping to make their fortune by taking off with the money put down of the miners working on Mars before the women from Earth actually arrive. The end result is the same. It’s just gotten to in a slightly different way.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY JORDAN “The Man from Cairo.” CBS, 01 January 1950. Cast: Jack Moyles as Rocky Jordan, Jay Novello as Captain Sam Sabaaya of the Cairo police. Guest cast (uncredited): Parley Baer. Sponsor: Del Monte Foods.

   When I started collecting radio shows on reel-to-reel tape, back in the early 70s, there were only a haphazard scattering of shows available, with very little in the way of documentation available for the anything you gladly picked up here and there from other traders and collectors.

   Things change. For many year I had only one show from this series (1948-50, 1951), plus two fifteen minutes episodes from its predecessor A Man Named Jordan (1945-47), which took place in Istanbul, rather than Cairo, the setting of the later series. Today almost all of the second run are available online, at the click of a mouse. Check out, for example the links here at archive.org.

   Whether Istanbul or Cairo, either setting was to listeners here in the US as exotic a place as they’d ever hope to be, and the producers of the show made sure the stories they told took full advantage of it. There also was no mistaking the resemblance to the movie Casablance: all of Rocky Jordan’s adventures were always based in and around the Cafe Tambourine, always the center of nefarious business.

   The writers of “The Man from Cairo” had a bit of extra fun with this one. The hapless tourist who happened to stop by Jordan’s cafe is not from Cairo, Egypt, but from Cairo, Illinois. A taker of home movies, he has enjoyed his stay, but he has one complaint: nothing exciting has happened. And of course as soon as says that, action begins, but he’s never on the scene when it does. Does he believe Rocky when he’s told that his life may be in danger? In a word, No.

   As the man from Cairo, Parley Baer is not credited in the role, but no one who’s listened to a lot of OTR, including his role as Chester Proudfoot in the long-running Gunsmoke on radio will mistake his most talented voice. A lot could be told in only 30 minutes on the radio, and this particular episode is no exception. Follow the link above to hear it for yourself.

by Michael Shonk

THE AVENGER. WHN transcribed services. July 18, 1941 – November 3, 1942. Cast: Unknown except for Humphrey Davis as Mac. Written, directed and produced by Maurice Joachim. Other writers, directors and producers unknown. Some episodes based on stories in THE AVENGER pulp magazine by Kenneth Robeson (Paul Ernst); plots by Henry Ralston.

THE AVENGER. Syndicated, Charles Michelson syndication. October 25, 1945. Cast: James Monks as Jim Brandon (Dick Janiver may have also performed the role) and Helen Adamson as Fern Collier. Writers: Gil and Ruth Braun. Produced by Charles Michelson- Walter B. Gibson involvement uncertain.

   As with much of entertainment history, there are conflicting alleged facts when one examines old-time radio and The Avenger is no exception. Let’s start with a couple of important sources of confusion. The WHN version is based on the Street & Smith’s pulp hero and the 1945 version has a different character and premise, created by Gil and Ruth Braun. Walter B. Gibson (THE SHADOW) was involved in the creation of the Street & Smith pulp character and while he was involved in some way with the 1945 AVENGER, there is some doubt he wrote any of the episodes.

   If you have any questions about S&S THE AVENGER, the place to start looking is Howard Hopkins’ GRAY NEMESIS (2008).

   In 1939 Street & Smith was searching for a new hero to follow the success of The Shadow and Doc Savage. Business Manger Henry W. Ralston, editor John L. Nanovic with writers Walter B. Gibson (THE SHADOW) and Lester Dent (DOC SAVAGE) created The Avenger. Paul Ernst was asked to write the series. He turned it down.

   Howard Hopkins (GRAY NEMESIS) wrote Ernst took the job after “Nanovic gave him the cash, the idea, and the plots.” The cash was $750 a book. Ralston, Nanovic, Gibson and Dent supplied the idea, but who did the plots for the pulp?

   In ON THE AIR – ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OLD-TIME RADIO John Denning claimed Henry Ralston supplied plots for the radio series. Could Ralston have done it for the pulp version too?

   Using the house name of Kenneth Robeson, Paul Ernst would write the first twenty-four pulp magazine adventures.

   The S&S The Avenger was millionaire adventurer Richard Henry Benson. After he lost his wife and daughter to criminals, Benson became The Avenger and devoted his life to fighting evildoers everywhere.

   The Avenger led a group of crime fighters called Justice Inc.: Algernon Heathcote “Smitty” Smith electronic genius, Fergus “Mac” MacMurdie chemist, Nellie Gray young blonde martial arts expert, married black couple and college graduates Josh and Rosabel Newton and later on Cole Wilson engineer and sort of a Benson copy. Reportedly Josh, Rosabel and Cole never appeared in the radio series.

   THE AVENGER magazine lasted from September 1939 until September 1942. There were five short stories in CLUES DETECTIVE (1942-43) and a novelette in THE SHADOW (August 1, 1944); all six written by Emile Tepperman.

   According to “Billboard” magazine (June 19, 1943) publisher Street & Smith was looking for a way to keep its titles alive as print sales fell and radio listener numbers rose. Street & Smith would provide scripts to a radio station for free. The station would produce the show paying royalties only if the series was sponsored. Various S & S titles turned to radio including Doc Savage (WMCA – New York) and The Avenger (WHN – New York). The 1943 article stated, “…deals currently working are airing of DOC SAVAGE, weekly half-hour on WMCA; THE AVENGER, being showcased on WHN…”

   According to the “NY Times” radio logs (source: J.J. Newspaper Radio logs) the series aired on Tuesday at 9:30 pm or Tuesday at 9 pm beginning July 18 1941 and the last episode I can find in the logs was November 3, 1942

   According to “Broadcasting” (September 22, 1941) WHN had chosen THE AVENGER as their first series to syndicate. The WHN version of THE AVENGER was a transcribed series airing live on Tuesday (it aired at 9:30-10 and moved to 9-9:30pm December 9 1941).

   One of the chapters in GRAY NEMESIS deals with the radio series. “Broadcasting Benson” by Doug Ellis (1988) helps answer many of the questions about the radio series, but needs some updating. Among his sources were the “New York Times” radio logs and the few remaining scripts.

   Ellis noted the series was syndicated and appeared on other stations but makes no mention of what stations. After reading the “New York Times” radio logs, Ellis noted the series lasted sixty-two weeks but there were only twenty-six stories produced, and reruns and station pre-emptions filled the rest of the run.

   However the series may have lasted longer. The twenty-sixth episode aired January 6. 1942, Yet In “Billboard’ (May 16 1942) columnist Jerry Lesser wrote he was replacing Wendell Holmes on THE AVENGER, but he offered no clue what part he would play. “Variety” (September 16, 1942) reported Bill Zucker joined the cast of THE AVENGER. Both were hired after the twenty-sixth and alleged last original episode reportedly aired.

   Little is known about the cast. John Dunning’s ON AIR claimed an unknown New York actor played The Avenger and the only known cast member was Humphrey Davis who played Mac. Maurice Joachim who wrote, directed and produced at least four of the episodes was also a successful radio actor and could have been part of the cast.

   From the surviving scripts we know some of the episodes adapted Paul Ernst’s stories but the series also had original stories. The titles of the seven surviving scripts are TEAR DROP TANK (an original story for radio), THE HATE MASTER, RIVER OF ICE, THREE GOLD CROWNS, BLOOD RING, THE DEVIL’S HORNS, and THE AVENGER (YELLOW HOARD). The scripts are reprinted in Doug Ellis’ PULP VAULT issues 1-5.

   October 2001 at the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention a group of fans called Radio Active Players recreated the lost radio show’s episode based on Paul Ernst’s YELLOW HOARD from the script called THE AVENGER. The Players were Tom Powers, Richard McConville, Carol Smith, Marc Yelverton and Rich Harvey. The production can be heard on YouTube and is better than one would expect and recommended.

   YELLOW HOARD was the pulp series’ second story. It would introduce Nellie Gray to Justice Inc. The team in the pulp at that time included Benson The Avenger, Smitty and Mac. The radio version had Nellie as an established member of Justice Inc with Benson, Smitty and Mac.

THE AVENGER (September 9, 1941)

   Nellie Gray’s father Professor Gray had led a group of men in an archaeological dig in Mexico where they had discovered a group of clay bricks with mysterious writing. The men divide up the bricks and return to United States with hopes of solving the mystery of the writing on the bricks.

   Someone using strange peanut shaped explosives began to kill for the Mexican bricks. Justice Inc would solve the mystery of the bricks and bring the bad guys to justice.

   YELLOW HOARD is a pulp thriller at its best. Pages filled with non-stop action, violence, danger, death, and endless twists and too much to fit in a half hour weekly radio series.

   Changes were made from minor points such as the pulp’s Aztec treasure was turned into a Mayan treasure in the radio versions to Nellie being arrested for her father’s murder being dropped from the radio story. Maurice Joachim’s script may have lost much of the pulp’s atmosphere but it got close enough to make the radio version entertaining.

   However I wonder if the stories would have worked better as a radio serial such as CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, FLASH GORDON, SUPERMAN and TARZAN.

   Today many questions remain unanswered or the answer doubted. How many episodes were there? Who was in the cast? Who wrote the series? Did S&S ever publish the radio’s original stories? If there were more than twenty-six episodes could any of those episodes had featured Josh, Rosabel, or Cole? If it was syndicated could a copy still survive?

   In 1945 Street & Smith’s AVENGER was gone except for maybe an appearance in THE SHADOW comic book. A new syndicated radio series aired featuring a new and different character that would steal THE AVENGER name and THE SHADOW premise.

   “Broadcasting” (October 25, 1945) reported Charles Michelson Inc NYC who distributed THE SHADOW planned to add a new series called THE AVENGER. According to “Broadcasting” there were fifty-two episodes of the thirty-minute open-end transcribed series available to stations for local sponsors. (Today many believe only 26 were made and all survive.)

   “Billboard” (October 12, 1946) mentioned Gil and Ruth Braun had sold the idea for the radio series THE AVENGER after Gil had gotten out of the Army. No mention of The Shadow’s pulp writer Walter B. Gibson.

   According to RADIO DRAMA AND COMEDY WRITERS 1928-1962 by Ryan Ellett (McFarland & Co.) Gil and Ruth Braun wrote all the episodes. Today it is commonly believed Walter B. Gibson also wrote for the series. According to Ellett, Gibson did not write for the series, but he was involved in some unknown way.

   My guess is Gibson may have provided some of the plots. Some of the plots were worthy of THE SHADOW, but the stories and writing lacked Gibson’s style. Magician Gibson was too fond of magic to write scripts that explained magic away with science.

   The Avenger was biochemist Jim Brandon. Brandon had invented a telepathic indicator that allowed him to catch flashes of other people’s thoughts and a secret diffusion capsule that when broken allowed him to be invisible with the power of black light. Aided by his version of Margot Lane the beautiful assistant Fern Collier, the two fought crime, and annoyed whatever police detective was in charge (usually the hot-tempered and stupid Inspector White).

   The plots ranged from standard murder mysteries to weird science fiction. The series is almost a direct copy of THE SHADOW but changed the one thing that made THE SHADOW a success. Instead of a mysterious hero with magic powers learned in the mystical Orient like The Shadow, Jim Brandon was a dull scientist who explained it all with science, sucking all the fun and atmosphere from the stories.

HIGH TIDE MURDER (October 25, 1945)

   The premiere episode starts out slow with Jim and Fern burdened with too much exposition. Inspector White can’t solve the murders of jewelry salesmen until Jim and Fern join in and THE AVENGER goes to work.

   The music by Doc Whipple at beginning and end was a placeholder available for stations to add local commercials.

   The production was average with decent acting. The writing was its weakness. The series often talked down to the audience with the characters often over-explaining what happened and why.


   An over-the-top evil mad scientist is searching for human brains to build his army of robots. Fern has fallen into the villain’s clutches and only The Avenger can save her.

   Golly gee whiz even the kids in the audience laughed at how bad this episode was.

THE CRYPT OF THOTH. (December 13, 1945)

   A great example of what could have been a spooky mystical mystery turned into a dull procedural. A scientist is killed inside the Crypt of Thoth. Is he a victim of the Ancient Egyptian God of Death? Maybe if this was an episode of THE SHADOW but we are stuck with THE AVENGER who explains in boring detail how it was done.

   Today there are twenty-six surviving episodes of Jim Brandon The Avenger. Few except OTR fans remember him and many of them mix him up with the pulp hero.

   Meanwhile Richard Henry Benson remains alive today. Much of his survival is due to the 1973-74 Warner Brothers Paperback Library reprints of Ernst’s twenty-four THE AVENGER stories. With the series success in paperback the publisher turned to Ron Goulart to write twelve more adventures.

   The character has appeared in comic books, from THE SHADOW comic in the 1940s to DC comics off and on since the late 1980s.

   Today publisher Moonstone has kept the character alive in comic books, short story collections and novels. More are on their way.

   Paul Ernst’s version of THE AVENGER remains my favorite of all pulp series. Few pulps share modern day approved social views while maintaining the pulp’s sense of adventure and justice.

THE SHADOW “The Man Who Murdered Time.” Mutual Radio Network. January 1, 1939. William Johnstone, Agnes Moorehead. Sponsor: B. F. Goodrich Tires.

   In this, the first adventure of The Shadow (aka Lamont Cranston) in 1939, the man who can control men’s minds so that they cannot see him, deals with a mad scientist (there is seldom any other kind on the radio) who has invented a time machine. Dying of an incurable disease, he has by the flip of a switch found a way to set the entire world back 24 hours so to relive the day, December 31, over and over again.

   And thus the series delves deeply into science fiction, rather than a pure detective mystery. I always find it interesting to see how writers try to explain their time travel stories to mass audiences; this time the analogy is to a railroad track that time travels down. The scientist in this one simply bends the track into a circle, so the day repeats itself, with no one the wiser.

   Except for Lamont Cranston, whose powers of “invisibility” from the Orient also mean the scientist’s machine does not affect him; or at least he is fully aware that the time has curled back on itself. And because Margot Lane is dancing in his arms at the time, she also is aware of what is happening.

   All this makes for a story that’s pure nonsense,of course, but it’s one that’s still very entertaining to listen to, perfectly timed for a New Year’s Day broadcast.

PAUL AYRES – Dead Heat. Bell, hardcover, 1950. No paperback edition.

   I am always very hesitant in saying that any book is the first and/or only one in a particular category, but off the top of my head, I don’t know of any other mystery novel that was based on a radio series, that being Casey Crime Photographer, which was of course based on the character created by George Harmon Coxe.

   I don’t know how this book happened to come about. Perhaps Randy Cox, our resident expert on all things Casey, will leave a comment to tell us more. As for the author, one supposedly Paul Ayres, he was in real life writer Edward S. Aarons, of Gold Medal’s “Assignment” series fame. In 1950, however, he’d written only one book under his own name; before then he was always Edward Ronns.

   You have to be of a certain age to have listened to the radio when the program was on the air. It ended in 1955 — after having started in 1943 — but since we did not have a local CBS outlet nearby when I was young, I never heard it until I started collecting OTR shows on tape in the mid-70s. Nonetheless, the book brought back quite a few memories from that later time and era:

   The characters were Casey, of course; his girl friend Ann Williams, who also worked for the Morning Express; and Captain Logan of Homicide. Every so often the action stops and they all find their way to the Blue Note cafe, where Ethelbert was the bartender and Herman played the piano.

   From the title and cover image above you might possibly guess that Dead Heat takes place in the world of horse racing, and it does, but it also takes place i the dead of summer, and the whole city of Boston is sweltering in the heat. Murdered is a jockey who has made a mess of his two currently overlapping love affairs, but who is also known for being scrupulously honest. This makes the timing of his death very suspicious: it’s before a race that if he were riding, he’d be a cinch to win.

   Aarons’ prose is clean and uncluttered, very descriptive, and since the plot is not all that complicated, the book takes no time at all to read. It probably isn’t as rewarding as one of Coxe’s own stories about Casey, but I enjoyed it immensely.

         February 5, continued.

   Since Ronald Reagan was speaking on the nation’s economy tonight, the start of the next program was delayed so that I ended up missing only the first couple of minutes. Thanks, Ronnie.

   Unfortunately, I did miss Magnum, P.I. altogether.


  A LOVE LETTER TO JACK BENNY. NBC Special, 120 minutes. Jack Benny (archival footage), George Burns, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson (all as themselves). Director: Norman Abbot.

   Most of this two-hour special seemed to be taken from Benny’s various farewell specials which he continued to do after he stopped doing a weekly series. (And I’ve just realized why. Wasn’t his weekly series on CBS? Right. Up until 1964, Jack Benny’s entire TV career was on CBS. He switched to NBC for a Friday night series in 1964-65, and from then on only the specials for NBC.)

   I happen to think that Jack Benny very well may have been the funniest person to appear o radio. He was a huge success on television as well, but on TV he depended more on guest stars than he ever did on radio. and this show reflected that perfectly. Besides lengthy clips showing the hosts of this show in action with Jack, we also see Jack with Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Dean Martin, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan (the second time tonight), and on and on.

   On radio, and early pre-color TV, The Jack Benny Show depended almost entirely on Benny, and particularly on the character of Benny his writers created for him, and on his “family” of regulars: Don Wilson, Rochester, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, and of course, Mary Livingston.

   Obviously on a TV special of this magnitude we can’t really expect to see more than 15 minutes of so of three men sitting around listening to the radio. But I do get the uneasy feeling that someone who had never heard of Jack Benny before tonight might have gone away from watching this show believing that, yeah, he was funny but (without experiencing the close familiarity of Benny’s character, built up over a long period of time on radio and early TV) not that funny.

by Francis M. Nevins

   Suppose all the readers of this column were gathered together in one room. At the front, standing before the lectern or podium or whatever the hell you call it, I pose a question: Any of you know something about Tom Everitt? Almost everyone in the room would probably answer: “Tom Whoveritt?” Perhaps one or two who had read my book THE ART OF DETECTION and were blessed with a photographic memory might say: “Wasn’t he the guy who provided the plots for Manny Lee to turn into Ellery Queen radio scripts after Fred Dannay dropped out and before Anthony Boucher came aboard?”

   Indeed he was. But aside from that fact, and the titles of more than thirty EQ scripts that were based on Everitt plot synopses, virtually nothing is known of him. While working on THE ART OF DETECTION I had ransacked the Web looking for a little more information about this mystery man but with no luck. Then out of the blue not long ago I received an email from a total stranger who, in the course of researching something else entirely, had unearthed more information about Everitt than I could have used even had I known of it in time to put it in the book. But there’s no reason I can’t summarize it here. Thank you, Jonathan Guss, for making this month’s column possible.

   John Thompson Everitt, whom I’ll call JT just to make things simple, was born in Yonkers, New York on December 11, 1908. His ancestors had arrived in Massachusetts by 1643 and had settled in the New York City area near Jamaica by 1650. JT’s father, Charles Percy Everitt (1873-1951), was a well-known rare book dealer, and Charles’ brother Samuel Alexander Everitt (1871-1953) was a partner in the Doubleday publishing house until his retirement in 1930. JT’s older brother Charles Raymond Everitt (1901-1947) also went into the publishing business, working at Harcourt Brace and later, until his early death, at Little Brown, the publisher of a volume of memoirs by his and JT’s father (THE ADVENTURES OF A TREASURE HUNTER: A RARE BOOKMAN IN SEARCH OF AMERICAN HISTORY, 1951).

   In 1930 JT graduated from Yale, where he was known as a soccer player. A year later he was hired by the CBS radio network to write for its March of Time program. By 1940 he had moved into the advertising side of radio at the Young & Rubicam agency where, among many other jobs, he was tasked with handling a prospectus from the NBC radio network on The Green Hornet, for which NBC was seeking a sponsor. Apparently he was still working at that agency when he became involved with the Ellery Queen series.

   Since its debut in June of 1939, every one of the scripts for the series had been written by Manfred B. Lee based on plot synopses prepared by his cousin and EQ collaborator Fred Dannay. (More precisely, every one except “The Dauphin’s Doll,” first broadcast around Christmastime 1943 and written by Manny alone.) Early in 1944 Fred’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. The burdens of taking care of two young children, plus editing a large annual anthology of short mystery fiction and running Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (EQMM), which had been launched in the fall of 1941, soon made it impossible for Fred to continue coming up with a plot a week for the radio series.

   He was several synopses ahead when he dropped out, and Manny squirreled these away for use in emergencies, relying most of the time on recycling earlier scripts under new titles and condensing 60-minute scripts from the show’s first season (1939-40) into its current half-hour format. But these ploys couldn’t go on indefinitely. Somebody had to be found to take over Fred’s function.

   How TJ came into the picture remains unknown. Possibly it was through his older brother Charles, who was working at Little Brown, publisher of the Queen novels and anthologies since 1942. Perhaps it was due to the connections Fred and Manny had retained with the advertising and publicity businesses where they’d gotten their start. Whether he was the first man brought in to assume Fred’s function as plot provider remains unclear.

   We don’t know exactly how many Dannay synopses Manny had in reserve, but several of the episodes dating from late 1944 strike me as too outrageous to have stemmed from Fred. Take, for example, “Cleopatra’s Snake” (October 12 & 14, 1944). As backstage observer of a live production of Antony and Cleopatra for experimental TV, Ellery becomes a key witness when the genuine poisonous snake being used in the death scene (yeah, right) bites to death the actress playing Cleopatra.

   Now let’s consider “The Glass Sword” (November 30 & December 2, 1944), in which Ellery tackles the case of the circus sword swallower who died when the sword in his stomach broke while the lights were out. Was it Everitt who cranked out the synopses that Manny turned into these scripts? Was it another Dannay substitute? Or, wacko though they are, could they have originated with Fred after all? For more information, keep reading.

   The earliest EQ script that we know came from a synopsis by Everitt was “The Diamond Fence” (January 24, 1945), which involves the murder of a middleman for stolen gems and the disappearance of five diamond rings from the scene of the crime under impossible circumstances. A substantial excerpt from this episode survives on audio as a “sneak preview” from the Armed Forces Radio Service.

   From that point at least through the end of March, every script Manny wrote was based on Everitt material. It was during these early months of the last full year of World War II that Manny enlisted Anthony Boucher (1911-1968) to take over Everitt’s function. It was an ideal choice. Boucher had already published seven novels in the Queen vein and had had short stories published in EQMM. Also, as we know from comments in various of his mystery reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle, he was an enthusiastic fan of the radio series.

   Since Tony lived in Berkeley, California and Manny on the east coast, collaboration on EQ radio scripts required vast correspondence between the two. This correspondence, archived at Indiana University’s Lilly Library, documents their work together in microscopic detail. The only aspect of it that concerns us here is Manny’s continual snarky remarks about Everitt, of which I’ll quote a few.

   On May 3, 1945, about six weeks before the broadcast of the first Boucher-Lee collaboration, Manny tells Tony that he’s “washed up” with Everitt, who “will do four more for us, and then he’s through. This by mutual agreement.” On the 17th of the same month, he says: “We want to avoid some of the weaknesses resulting from our present man’s so-called efforts….” And on the 24th he lets Tony know how he really feels about Everitt: “….At the end of our association with our ‘man,’ as I like to call him—hating his smug, treacherous guts as I do!—we’re finding more trouble…and sloppier submissions on his part even than usual….”

   On January 24, 1946, he describes one of the Everitt synopses he had to deal with as “a bad outline which I bought only because I was desperate …and bought and paid for it with the mental reservation that I’d probably have to do a thorough re-working job on it. I was a noble prophet.”

   But, simply because the EQ radio formula was so complex and demanding and Boucher with all his other commitments couldn’t conjure up a new plot synopsis on a weekly basis, Manny was forced to make further commitments to Everitt. “This was a desperation move,” he tells Boucher on October 30, 1946, “as his stuff always gives me headaches, but good….I had to do something in self-protection. I heartily wish now I hadn’t made that commitment…. But it can’t be undone and I can only hope that he doesn’t come through, so that I can order more from you.”

   Almost a year later Manny is still reluctantly dealing with Everitt now and then and, in a letter to Fred Dannay dated November 4, 1947, griping about it just as loudly. Discussing the possibility of repeating some of the scripts based on Everitt synopses, he describes Everitt as “such a son-of-a-bitch that, even though our rights to repeat the material without payment are clear, he would raise a considerable stink in the business if we didn’t pay him an extra fee….[F]or the most part he got tremendously overpaid in the original payment—the bulk of the creative work was done by me, out of sheer necessity.”

   If Manny were to offer a token fee of perhaps $50 per episode recycled, Everitt “would start haggling and chiseling and his tongue would wag plenty in the business….” What business Manny is referring to becomes clear later in the same letter. “[Y]ou don’t know…what 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….”

   As his correspondence with both Fred and Boucher demonstrates, at least during the radio years Manny was a Type A personality with a genius for getting hot under the collar, and the insane pressure of putting out a program every week probably shortened his life.

   Whether he was being too harsh on JT is hard to judge. One of the few living persons to have seen any of the Everitt material Manny turned into scripts is Ted Hertel, who helped choose the scripts included in THE ADVENTURE OF THE MURDERED MOTHS (2005). In connection with that project he was erroneously sent the synopses for “The Right End” and “The Glass Sword,” both with Everitt’s name on them.

   To judge by Ted’s comments, what Everitt gave Manny to work with was just as bad as Manny said it was. In an email to me he described the synopses as “so poorly written, so amateurish, that they could not possibly have been the work of Manny in any form.” (The scripts Manny based on these synopses were broadcast respectively on November 16 and 30, 1944.)

   Only one episode Manny based on an Everitt synopsis is available on audio. In “Number 31″ (September 7, 1947) Ellery tries to crack the secret of international mystery man George Arcaris’s success at smuggling diamonds into the Port of New York and to comfort a wonderfully dignified black woman by solving the murder of her son, the servant for a wealthy man-about-town. The cases seem unconnected until Ellery discovers the number 31 popping up in both.

   It’s an excellent episode, but how much credit should go to Everitt remains a mystery since no one in the last 70 years has seen his synopsis. I wouldn’t be surprised if the black woman was entirely the creation of the staunchly liberal Manny Lee.

   To the best of my knowledge the only Everitt radio work besides his EQ plots was a single script for The Shadow. In “The Creature That Kills” (January 6, 1946) Lamont Cranston, alias The Shadow, investigates the theft of priceless papers from the 20th-floor laboratory of a brilliant young scientist under impossible circumstances.

   It turns out that the thief, a master criminal with a Sydney Greenstreet voice, had an accomplice in the form of a trained 27-foot python which slid down the side of the building from the window directly above the scientist’s lab, got hold of the papers, then slid back up the wall to its master. What a snake! Do I detect here the same kind of wackiosity that pervades the EQ scripts about Cleopatra and the glass sword?

   In 1947 Everitt returned to radio full-time as Eastern program manager for the ABC network. We don’t know if he wrote any more for the medium, but Jonathan Guss mentions one script he contributed to the golden age of live TV drama, “Revenge by Proxy” (Colgate Theatre, May 14, 1950). The cast included Nancy Coleman, Phil Arthur, Bernard Kates and Victor Sutherland. As chance would have it, the following week’s drama, “Change of Murder,” was based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich.

   Everitt died on November 2, 1954, at age 45. Today he seems to be totally forgotten, perhaps deservedly so. The most that can be claimed for him is that he figures as a footnote in the Ellery Queen story. But at least now that footnote has been written.

by Michael Shonk

   I have a fondness for the unusual in fiction. Mainstream popular fiction bores me. Take me somewhere I didn’t expect to be or have never been, and I will forgive the creative talent for a lot. Below are four crime-fighters that may not be the greatest radio detectives but are worth listening for their attempt to be different.

JOHNNY FLETCHER MYSTERY – “Navy Colt.” NBC, March 28, 1946. Written by Frank Gruber, based on the Frank Gruber novel of the same title. Cast: Albert Dekker as Johnny Fletcher, Mike Mazurki as Sam Cragg. *** Johnny and Sam are working a book scam when a beautiful young woman hires them to punch a man in the nose. Soon Johnny and Sam find themselves wanted by the police for murder.

   The script in this complex mystery is filled with wisecracks and an occasional clue, making for a fun listen.

   Pulp, mystery and western fans most likely recognize the name Frank Gruber, and maybe have read one or more of the fourteen comedy-crime books in the Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg series.

   The books not only led to this radio audition episode but also a Republic studio film in 1946 with the same cast. While this episode mentions a second episode for this proposed NBC radio series there is no evidence it was ever made.

   There was a radio series with Johnny and Sam on ABC (1948) with Bill Goodman as Johnny and Sheldon Leonard as Sam.

TALES OF FATIMA. – “A Time to Kill.” CBS, May 28, 1949. Written by Gail Ingram. Cast: Basil Rathbone as himself, Francis DeSales as Police Lieutenant Farrell. Basil’s plans for a weekend break from his role in a Broadway play are spoiled when someone tries to kill him.

   The story is full of twists including Basil hearing a murder over the phone as well as a radio announcement that Basil was dead. It makes the plot confusing, but the series’ appeal is its humor.

   It is also one of two radio detectives to have a voice from beyond help solve the mystery. Here the ancient spirit of Fatima gives Basil and the audience a clue (the other was Rogues Gallery where Eugor talks to Rogue as the PI recovers from being knocked out).

   Basil Rathbone shows his sense of humor in this series that smashes the fourth wall to tiny tiny little bits. Not only is Fatima an ancient Spirit who helps the audience and Basil solve the case, but Fatima is also the name of a cigarette and the series sponsor.

   This recording is from the podcast Great Detectives of Old Time Radio and worth a visit for any radio fans.

THE WHISPERER -“Policeman In Danger” NBC, July 29. 1951) Written by Jonathan Price. Cast: Carleton G. Young as Philip “The Whisperer” Gault, Betty Moran as Ellen Norris, and Paul Frees as Lt. Denvers. *** The Whisperer relays “The Syndicate” orders to local gang member to kill the bothersome Police Lt. Denvers. Gault and Ellen know and like the detective rush to save him.

   The Whisperer was a summer replacement series based on the characters and stories by Dr. Stetson Humphrey and his wife Irene.

   While playing college football Philip Gault was injured, leaving his voice a gruesome whisper. Gault decided to go undercover in the local Central City syndicate and destroy it. Then Doctor Lee with his nurse Ellen was able to restore Gault’s original voice. Gault decided to stay The Whisperer and use the information he learns to continue his fight against organized crime.

   Each week The Whisperer would relay “The Syndicate” orders to the local Central City gang then Gault with Ellen at his side would prevent the Mob’s plans from succeeding.

   The show played its strange premise straight with dialog that could be witty or awkwardly out of date. Uneven but fun, The Whisperer remains an odd crime-fighter worth a listen.

A VOICE IN THE NIGHT – “Case of the Worried Detective” Mutual, August 8, 1946. Written by Bob Arthur and David Kogan. Cast: Carl Brisson as himself. *** Carl’s weakness for beautiful women and a need to find a place to stay lands him in the hands of a Mob boss who demands Carl solve the murder of one of the Boss’s gang members.

   Only two episodes are known to exist and both are terrible. Little is known about A Voice in the Night beyond that it is one of radio’s strangest PI’s.

   International star Carl Brisson plays himself as the Golden Oriole nightclub owner and singer. The series’ focus is on Carl singing for the nightclub audience. Eventually Carl takes a break to share one of his crime-solving cases.

   Nothing really works in this series that mashes together the music series and the mystery. The acting and writing is awful and seems unsure whether to take Brisson tales of crime solving seriously.

   One of the appeals of mystery and crime fiction is the range of the protagonist, from brilliant to lucky, from serious to comedic. I will always have a weakness for the odd and different.

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