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:
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.
ON THE AIR: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning (Oxford University Press, 1998)
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 seriesBig Townwith 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
ADVENTURES OF THE FALCON – RADIO vs. TV
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.
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.
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.
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
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.