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.
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins
The golden oldie I picked to reread last month was The Bowstring Murders (1933), the only John Dickson Carr novel ever published under the byline Carr Dickson. I wouldn’t rank it among Carr’s top ten or even the top thirty but thought it was on the whole satisfactory, taking place almost entirely in an eerie 15th-century Suffolk castle full of the Poe-like atmosphere that the young Carr loved to generate.
Is it truly golden? According to Doug Greene’s biography The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995), Carr wrote Bowstring in New York “at white-hot speed” after his English wife Clarice discovered she was pregnant and also in order to finance a long visit to England for the family.
Greene calls the novel “badly flawed .. John Gaunt [the criminologist who solves the murders] is sharply drawn, but the plot…is unconvincing.” He correctly describes the explanation of the seemingly impossible murder of Lord Rayle as “a creative variation of the solution in [Carr’s first novel] It Walks by Night…”
He was surprised by “how many mistakes Carr makes about England” but the ones he cites strike me as trivial: the servants “all speak a strange sort of Cockney” and after Lord Rayle’s murder the Bowstring footman fails to address the dead man’s son and successor to the title as “Your Lordship.”
Greene also mentions “some sloppy lines” in the book but quotes only one, from Chapter 12: “With one gloved hand, he dived behind the body.” Does that sentence rise to the lofty heights of an Avalloneism? Personally, I don’t think so.
What bothered me most about the plot (am I giving away too much here?) is that, in order for the crucial gimmick to work, a cowled “white-wool monk’s robe” of the sort which the “more than half-cracked” Lord Rayle wore while wandering around Bowstring must be concealed by the murderer in an ordinary briefcase.
S. T. Joshi in John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study (1990), is no fonder of The Bowstring Murders than Doug Greene. He calls the novel a “confused and shoddily written work” and both the book and its protagonist “spectacular failures.” (Greene, as we’ve seen, disagrees with Joshi about John Gaunt.)
Joshi’s main complaint is that “the solution depends vitally upon our knowing the exact plan of the house, which is not provided.” Obviously there was no such plan in whatever edition Joshi read, and there’s none in the only edition I have (Berkley pb #G-214, 1959).
But there are several references to the local inspector making a drawing of Bowstring Castle, and I have a hunch that the sketch does appear in the original hardcover edition. If someone reading this column can tell me whether I’m right or wrong, please speak up.
If anyone decides to read the novel on the strength of this discussion, they should first go here and download the detailed diagram of the castle that Wyatt James, 1944-2006 (known to Internet mystery fandom as Grobius Shortling) kindly prepared for Carr fans who don’t have a copy of that first edition. And, if my hunch is wrong, even for those who do.
In my mailbox recently was a book that was sent from Japan but has an English as well as a Japanese title: The Misadventures of Ellery Queen. This 400-page anthology, edited by Yusan Iiki and published by Ronsosha Ltd. Of Tokyo, brings together a huge assortment of parodies and pastiches of the immortal EQ, written by such authors as Jon Breen, Ed Hoch, James Holding, Josh Pachter, Clayton Rawson and, if I may be so immodest as to say it, me. (Anyone remember “Open Letter to Survivors”?)
The most recent story in the volume, and probably the finest Queen pastiche ever written, is “The Book Case” (EQMM, May 2007) by Dale Andrews and Kurt Sercu, in which Ellery at age 100 proves that his body may be feeble but his mind is sharp as ever.
Years ago Josh Pachter put together an anthology, also called The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, but could never find a publisher for it. The appearance of this new volume, coupled with the failure of Pachter’s book to find a home, provides an excellent demonstration of how tall Queen still stands in Japan and how deeply he’s sunk into oblivion almost everywhere else.
Thinking about the role of genetics in mystery fiction, we at once conjure up the DNA testing scenes in countless TV forensic series. But the subject has also figured in the Golden Age of the whodunit. In the 60-minute radio drama “The Missing Child” (The Adventures of Ellery Queen, CBS, November 26, 1939).
Ellery’s solution hinges on his assertion that it’s impossible for two blue-eyed parents to have a brown-eyed child. That was a common belief at the time, and was also crucial to the solution in an Agatha Christie story of the same decade (“The House at Shiraz,” collected in Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective, 1934).
But it’s flatly not true, as Fred Dannay and Manny Lee must have discovered sometime in the ten or eleven years following broadcast of the drama. How do I know? Because the fact of its falsity is central to one of the later EQ short stories, “The Witch of Times Square” (This Week, November 5, 1950; collected in QBI: Queen’s Bureau of Investigation, 1955).
Genetics mistake and all, the original script is included in that indispensable collection of Queen radio plays The Adventure of the Murdered Moths(Crippen & Landru, 2005).
In a column posted back in 2006 I waxed nostalgic for a paragraph or two about Boston Blackie (1951-53, 58 episodes), starring Kent Taylor in perhaps the earliest and certainly one of the finest action-detective TV series, most episodes featuring one or more elaborate chase-and-fight sequences shot on Los Angeles streets and locations.
Eighteen of the 26 segments that made up the first season were directed by Paul Landres (1912-2001), whose action scenes, brought to life by master stuntmen Troy Melton and Bill Catching, were of eye-popping visual quality, especially considering that each episode was shot in two or at most three days.
Until recently it’s been next to impossible to find decent VHS or DVD copies of Blackie segments, all of which have long been in the public domain. Which is why I was delighted to discover recently that at least twenty episodes are now accessible on YouTube — and that many of them were digitally restored last year.
I especially recommend the earliest segments like “Phone Booth Murder” (#2), “Blind Beggar Murder” (#5), “The Cop Killer” (#6), and “Scar Hand” (#11), all directed by Paul, whom I met when he was in his mid-eighties and who was the subject of a book of mine that came out about a year before he died.
Paul would have been 100 this month, and to celebrate his centenary I’ve prepared a DVD tribute that will be presented at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland on August 11.
In one of the tapes I made with Paul he vividly described an accident that took place while he was shooting the climax of “Phone Booth Murder.” His description is now preserved on my DVD, accompanied by the climactic sequence itself.
If any readers of this column check out this episode and are interested in what went wrong and how Paul responded to the crisis, I’ll include his comments in my September column.