Old Time Radio


BULLDOG DRUMMOND “The Case of the Double Death.” 16 April 1945. Mutual, sustaining. Ned Wever as Bulldog Drummond.

   One of old time radio most famous introductory openings: Echoing footsteps, a foghorn, shots, and several blasts of a police whistle, then: “Out of the fog … out of the night … and into his American adventures … comes … Bulldog Drummond.”

   Other than Drummond himself, the only other recurring character is Denny, Drummond’s aide-de-camp, so to speak, first or last name not known, nor the actor who played him at this time of the run. I have possible names, but it’s been too long since I’ve been a regular OTR listener to hazard a guess.

   It is also not clear, based on this episode only, what official capacity Drummond has in this country, if any. I generally consider him a gentleman adventurer who consistently gets into trouble.

   He’s friends enough with the warden of a nearby penitentiary where a notorious gangster is to be executed, however, to be asked to witness the death, but Denny arrives too late, his hat and umbrella having been stolen while they were eating before hand, then falling asleep on a train while going back and getting another.

   When the two arrive back home together they find a dead man in the living room. Not knowing what else to do before figuring out a plan of action, they return the body to his hotel room, where they set up a trap for the killer with the dead body as bait, and … well, check the title, and a rather complicated story suddenly makes sense. Well, sort of. It’s the kind of story that’s a puzzler all the way through until the end, when, if you start to think about it, why did the killer make it all so complicated?

   It’s still fun to listen to, though.

   The series ran first from 1941 to 1949, then was picked up again for the 1953-54 season, with Cedric Hardwicke in the leading role. It ran first locally on WOR New York, then expanded nationwide to the Mutual network, sometimes with a sponsor, other years only sustaining.

THE SHADOW “Death Rides a Broomstick.” Mutual, 02 March 1941. Bill Johnstone (Lamont Cranston, a/k/a The Shadow), Marjorie Anderson (Margot Lane). Script: Jerry Devine. Sponsor: Blue Coal.

   Packed into this short 30 minute drama is boatload of old pulp clichés, beginning with a woman accused of being a witch in the Scottish highlands in 1741. Before she is burned to death at the stake, she issues a curse upon the McCavery clan responsible: “death to all male descendants still living 200 years later,” which is when the story then takes up.

   

   Add a mysterious dark mansion where Margo and Lamont are greeted but turned away by a gangster who calls himself The Smiler, a open graveyard outside, an escaped convict who is a prisoner inside, a dingy tavern by the sea filled with all sorts of thugs, a twist in the tale, ending with the curse fulfilled and a spooky cackle in the air.

   Pure nonsense of course, but with the lights turned down low, nonetheless a lot of fun.

OTR News from Karl Schadow:

   
   As heralded several weeks ago on this blog, audio of the previous “lost” series, Stay Tuned for Terror is now making its way across the web. It was a 15-minute show entirely written by Robert Bloch, with many of the episodes being adaptations of stories Bloch wrote for Weird Tales. You can find them here: Archive.org

   Moreover, there are two articles that expand the history of the series including comments regarding the extant recordings. The first was published in the Old Time Radio Researchers periodical, The Old Radio Times

   With the second posted on Dave Truesdale’s Science Fiction/Fantasy website: Stay Tuned for Terror

OTR News from Karl Schadow:

   

   There is great news for fans of THE AVENGER. A 1941 episode of the WHN production featuring Richard Henry Benson has now been posted online:

   While this particular exploit has been on collectors’ shelves for years, it has not been widely circulated nor publicized. This rendition is from the earlier series that is much different than the Brandon version (a takeoff of The Shadow) which is most familiar to listeners. The WHN program is more loyal to the characters in the pulps.

   The YouTube presentation includes brief historical notes on both the Benson and Brandon series. The video was designed to stimulate interest in THE AVENGER and the BLOOD ‘N’ THUNDER journal.

THREE FROM THE BEEB:
A British Dramatic Radio Review
by David Vineyard.

   

         1. Dead Man’s Bay by P. M. Hubbard. BBC Saturday Night Theater.
         2. Fire, Burn by John Dickson Carr. BBC Saturday Night Theater.
         3. The Silver Mistress by Peter O’ Donnell. 15 Minute Serial in 5 Parts

   Radio drama lasted far longer outside the US in most countries with the BBC keeping up the tradition even today with adaptations of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and recently Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe (both starring Toby Stephens who replaced Ed Bishop as the BBC’s Marlowe) among others and even the Saint in adaptations of Leslie Charteris’s novels.

   The great thing is many of these shows both modern and from the past are available to listen to on YouTube and at Internet Archive presenting a rich mixture varying from classic mystery, romance, adventure, science fiction, horror, and mainstream plays and books, sometimes with unknown cast and others more familiar names.

   BBC’s Saturday Night Theater was a rich series producing original and adapted radio dramas from a variety of sources including many outstanding mystery writers.

   P. M. Hubbard (Philip Maitland Hubbard) was a successful mystery writer whose career, though short (1963 to 1979) included numerous highly regarded suspense and adventure novels such as Kill Claudio, High Tide, The Dancing Men, and Causeway Bay, varying from international intrigue, to straight adventure, to some decidedly left hand turns into near Gothic or horror fiction along the way.

   Dead Man’s Bay is an original play written  by Hubbard for the BBC about Peter Robinson, an ordinary fellow who falls in with Joe Benson, a bad sort, who convinces Peter, against the wishes of his wife Letty, that his beloved sail boat and knowledge of local waters means he could pick up some much needed money with a little side of smuggling.

   Avoiding the excise man is an old British tradition practiced less as crime than a sort of game played for centuries by British smugglers and subject of many a classic tale from Daphne DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn to Graham Greene’s The Man Within, Russell Thorndyke’s Dr. Syn books, and Geoffrey Household’s comedic “Brandy for the Parson.”

   Also along the rugged coast where Peter plies his game with the Inland Revenue is a top secret British installation referred to only as The Establishment. Peter and Letty’s close friend Jim Hardwicke is in charge of security there and Peter’s wastrel brother Ricky, who knew and loved Letty before she met Peter, a Naval officer under him.

   But when Joe Benson reveals to Peter he has really been smuggling dope in from France and threatens blackmail to force Peter to make one last run and something occurs at the Establishment that has police roadblocks up all over the area Peter confronts something more sinister than even dope smuggling and a heartbreaking choice.

   There are no surprises in the story. You will likely be well ahead of the cast in figuring where it is going, but the story is told in bright smart dialogue and the atmosphere and storytelling make for an entertaining and vivid drama.

   Fire, Burn, John Dickson Carr’s classic historical mystery comes with a strong adaptation by John Kier Cross (author of, among others, a fine collection of his own weird fiction), and explores once again Carr’s fascination with the Berkeley Square (after the classic play and films) plot device of a romantic minded man thrown back in time through little but sheer will and his adventures there.

   This time the gentleman is Scotland Yard’s John Cheviot who gets in a taxi in 1960’s (the date of the radio play) London and after a bump on the head finds himself in 1829 London just appointed to the newly formed Police under Robert Peel as Superintendent of the Detective Force, and for his first case assigned to solve the mystery of who stole the bird seed from an influential dowager.

   Almost before you or Cheviot can digest this humiliation, he finds himself witness to an impossible crime, the murder of one Margaret Renfield (a witcherly type of whom Edmund Kean, the actor, once quipped ‘Fire burn and cauldron bubble’ in reference to), concealing evidence to protect his mistress, dueling with the most dangerous man in London, and determined to use modern methods to solve the crime, even though he is rapidly forgetting the John Cheviot from the 1960’s.

   Cross manages to hit all the right notes from the novel in a quickly paced hour and eighty six minutes, replete with a raid and brawl in a London gaming house, and a classic impossible crime solution. There is even an epilogue from the book explaining who was real in the story and the real life crime Carr based the book’s solution on.

   You can almost feel the fog in your chest and see the gaslit streets of 1829 London.

   There have been five books in the Modesty Blaise series adapted for the fifteen minute daily serial, a BBC feature that tends toward lighter popular fare, but with no letup in quality. These are faithful adaptations of the popular books with Modesty and Willie Garvin and the other characters from the books brought vividly to life.

   The Silver Mistress came about midway in the book series and features Modesty and Willie’s friend and sometime boss Sir Gerald Tarrant kidnapped and held prisoner in the haunted mountainous region of France. Along with Tarrant’s aide Fraser they set out to find Tarrant and rescue him leading to one of Modesty’s most deadly fights in the darkness of an underground cave system with a freezing cold river running through it.

   As you can imagine the radio drama plays that scene for full blooded fun.

   All the Blaise adaptations have been good and faithful, but this one works particularly well as radio drama.

   Radio drama differs from audiobook versions of the same material in that it moves at a much faster pace (it can take up to eleven hours or more to listen to many audiobooks), and because a good radio play choreographs not only the dramatic highlights, but also allows for a varied cast of talented voice actors to bring the material to life.

   Entertaining as it can be for an author or actor to perform an audiobook well (Stacy Keach reading Mike Hammer or Kevin Conroy Travis McGee come to mind), it can’t rival a cast of talented actors and sound crew giving full performances.

   There are many other examples to sample easily found at the two sources I mentioned including books by Mary Stewart, Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Andrew Garve, Michael Gilbert, Joyce Porter, C. S. Forester, and many other names familiar to this blog. It’s a particularly attractive way to revisit an old favorite you might not want to reread, but one you don’t want to forget either and often adds a new dimension to the original.

THE ADVENTURES OF FATHER BROWN “The Three Tools of Death.” Mutual, 22 July, 1945. Karl Swenson (Father Brown), Bill Griffis (Flambeau), Gretchen Douglas (Nora, the rectory housekeeper). Based on characters created by G. K. Chesterton.

   Sherlock Holmes came first, and Father Brown may not be quite as famous, but he’s caught the fancy of reading, listening and viewing audiences almost contiguously since 1910, and that’s not a bad feat at all. He’s still read – and watched – even today.

   The radio this episode was part of was probably only a summer replacement show. Wikipedia says “The program was broadcast Sundays at 5 p.m. on Mutual from June 10, 1945, to July 29, 1945.” Not a lot more is known about it for sure – it’s always a challenge when only two episodes are known to exist, the other being “The Mystified Mind” (August 13, 1945).

   Based on this episode, however, the writers of the series had a good idea of what the appeal of Father Brown was, and it’s an excellent detective story too. Dead is a clergyman who had a very productive life bringing cheer and happiness to thousands as part of his public ministry. His death is no accident. At the scene of the crime – for that it what it is – are found a rope, a fragment still found around his leg; a gun that has been fired three times; and a bloody razor. His only visible wound, however, is an battered skull, incurred perhaps when he fell out of a second story window and down a steep embankment.

   Assisting Father Brown is Flambeau, a former criminal now a PI, but while he’s puzzling over the facts, Father Brown does the opposite and studies the inner nature of the people involved. This is rather a unique approach, I think, to the usual cops and robber programs on the air then, or programs with weird things happening only to explained safely away at the end.

   If the link continues to work, you can listen to this episode here.

MEET MISS SHERLOCK “The Case of the Dead Man’s Chest.” CBS, 07 July 1946. Sondra Gair as Jane Sherlock, and Joe Petruzzi played Peter Blossom, a lawyer and her fiancé, with William Conrad as a homicide captain named Dingle.

   Meet Miss Sherlock had two runs as a summer replacement show for CBS, perhaps on the West Coast only. The first is said to have been on the air from July 3, 1946, to September 26, 1946 while the second one ran from September 28, 1947, to October 26, 1947, but that early date for the first run must be in error. The date given for this episode is correct, as a missing man is declared dead exactly seven years after his disappearance on July 7, 1939. (See update below.)

   This is a problem with getting cornet information about old radio show. You have to rely too much on second-hand data. No matter. We’re lucky to have any examples of shot-lived radio shows such as this one to listen to today. (There is one other I know about: 46-09-12 “Wilbur And The Widow,” with a broadcast said to be September 12, 1946.)

   As a feather-brained, if not out-and-out screwy amateur detective, Jane Sherlock has a strange occupation for her to keep running across dead bodies: she’s a buyer for her fiancé’s mother’s shop on Broadway. In this episode, when she buys a large rosewood chest at an auction, she discovers two things: a lot of people want to buy it from her, and and secondly, a skeleton of a man is inside.

   The first half of the show showed some promise, but the second half does its best not to fulfill that promise, and for me, I’d have to say it succeeds. There are too many people involved, and Miss Sherlock, for the most part is pushed to the side, without much involvement. It’s always fun to recognize Bill Conrad’s voice in one of these old radio shows, though. It’s so distinctive you couldn’t miss it if you tried.

   You can listen to this particular episode here.

   And one source of general information about the series is here.

       —

UPDATE: The presumed date for this episode, July 7, 1946. was a Sunday, and the show (or at least the next episode, as announced) was on a Wednesday. It may be that the date assigned to this episode was incorrectly done based on the internal evidence I mentioned in paragraph one.

UPDATE #2. See Michael Shonk’s comment #2. in which he gives me the correct date for this episode: July 17 (not 7), 1946. Lots of other information in his comment about the company and cast of both runs of the series, too. Be sure to read it.

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM DRAKE, GUARDIAN OF THE BIG TOP. “The Invisible Thief.” Mutual, Summer replacement show, June 1949. Air date: a Wednesday. Probably the second show of the series. Vince Harding as Tom Drake, and Fred Rains as his sidekick, Eddie Roth.

   Kids’ shows on OTR such as this one don’t show up very often, so when one does, I’m always happy to hear about it. Tom Drake was a 1949 summer replacement on Mutual for Superman, airing M-W-F and alternating with Bobby Benson on T-Th. I remember listening to the latter, since it lasted longer, but 1949 was maybe a year or two early for me to have been listening.

   The circus that Tom Drake works for is having problems with a thief in this one, an invisible one who sneaks into the performers’ tents and steals things with no one ever seeing him (or her). Since only small things are missing, Drake thinks the thefts are meant to be diversion for something bigger that is being planned.

   He’s wrong, though, and I had it figured out within the first three or four minutes. You may, too, if you listen to it here, but if I (or you) were eight or nine, maybe we’d both be fooled a while longer. Interestingly enough, there were no commercials for the show, only promos to get the show’s young listeners to call their friends in to listen too. To me the show seems far too tame to get a lot of kids excited about it. It lasted only for the one summer.

   For more information about the show, go here.

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.

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