Old Time Radio


A REVIEW BY JIM WIDNER:         


JOHN DUNNING – Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime. Scribner, hardcover, 2001. Paperback reprint: Pocket, 2002.

   In John Dunning’s 2001 thriller, Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime, one of the characters says of radio:

JOHN DUNNING

    “And listen, the best that radio can do hasn’t even begun yet. Think of it in the Darwinian sense. Radio crawled out of the sea in nineteen twenty, and all this time we’ve been struggling to breathe air, not water. We haven’t even gotten our legs yet but maybe it’s time we at least begin to struggle to stand.”

   Radio — dramatic radio — in a sense is one of the characters in the book. One of the main characters, Jordan Ten Eyck, is a writer who discovers the power of dramatic radio writing while he finds himself in the midst of a cracker of a thriller involving Nazi spies, murder and mystery surrounding a fledgling radio station, WHAR, in fictional Regina Beach, New Jersey. The time is 1942.

   Dunning, as most old time radio fans know, is no stranger to radio or old-time radio. He is the author of two encyclopedias of the Golden Age of Radio: Tune in Yesterday and On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio.

   He also was the host of a radio show, Old Time Radio, in Denver for many years. But Dunning also is a writer of mystery thrillers. This Nero Wolfe Award winner is the author of several other suspense stories, among them Booked to Die and The Bookman’s Wake.

JOHN DUNNING

   Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime tells the story of Jack Dulaney, aka Jordan Ten Eyck, and Holly Carnahan. The two were in love years ago but drifted apart after the death of their friend and Jack’s rival, Tom Rooney. Now Jack wants to find Holly again, and with the help of an often-inebriated radio actor friend, Marty Kendall, he begins his trip across America to Pennsylvania, where Tom, Jack, and Holly all lived at one time and was Holly’s last known address.

   But Jack encounters only suspicious characters and death along the way and, eventually, finds himself in Regina Beach, New Jersey at radio station, WHAR, looking for work and Holly’s father, Tom Carnahan. It is there that Jordan begins his career as a radio writer and with the WHAR radio community — Rue, Pauline and Hazel, radio actresses; Livia, a sound artist; and Waldo, creator of the magnificent black program, Freedom Road.

   Woven into the story is Jordan’s journey into the discovery of the power of radio drama:

JOHN DUNNING

    “Now he saw what he had was the rough draft of a half-hour radio play. He felt a surge of inexplicable excitement as he took the next logical step, prose into script in the middle of the page, and again his fingers were flying and all his new awareness was there in the words. He understood demands and restrictions that had never given him a conscious thought, and he saw the story anew. The opening could not linger. Leisure was fine for depth in prose but a story for the ear must begin with the first spoken word of the encounter that will drive it.”

   Jordan discovers the power of radio and nothing, it seems, can hold back his thirst for creation as scripts and ideas continue to flood out of him. Later, he discovers that he can move beyond even that thirst by directing his own work. Dunning, through Jordan, makes the power of radio drama come alive.

   All the thrill and excitement of the production both as listener as well as participant is explored. Meanwhile, Jordan becomes absorbed in the mystery of what became of Holly’s father, who disappeared from the radio station before their arrival and of one of the radio actor’s, March Flack, who disappeared in 1936. And what about the station’s seemingly ominous owner, Mr. Harford?

JOHN DUNNING

   Jordan begins to write powerful and politically explosive scripts to the encouragement of the radio owner and management who hope to return the station to a glorious time before the war. His excitement begins to affect the actors and technicians as production reaches fever pitch.

    “Jordan felt the play unfolding in his mind, the cotton fields stretching across most of the known world. He moved his hand: the sun went down. He raised a finger: the new day dawned in an explosion of sound, of horses and rowdies and the unmistakable din of a railroad yard. He stood like God and the universe rolled out at his feet. If he pointed left, Livia gave him London, a different kind of clatter with steel rims on cobblestones and a British flavor to the babble. He swept that away with a thrust of his arm, and in the cross fade sat Charity, three thousand miles away… He couldn’t remember a greater moment as it grew into the evening. This was it. Live radio.”

   Surrounding this is Jordan the detective trying to find out what really happened at the station several years before. Using the power of his radio scripts, he attempts to seek out the truth from those who were there.

JOHN DUNNING

   Jordan and Holly both become targets and become wrapped into the intrigue endangering them. The mystery of the German Schroeder boys, George and Peter, the attempts on his life, the mystery around the radio writer, Paul Kruger and his script about the Boer war all need answers for Jordan. The book is full of wonderful characters with stories to tell, who carry their own sense of mystery with them.

   There are a number of writers who have written stories framed around early radio, but if you are both a fan of old time radio as well as a mystery thriller fan, then this book will definitely entertain.

   John Dunning is a superb writer. As a mystery writer, he is new to this reviewer, but he is certainly an author I will seek out again.

Copyright 2001, 2010 by James F. Widner.


Editorial Comment:   Jim Widner has long been involved with Old Time Radio, both as a collector and as a researcher, author and indexer. His web site is devoted to OTR in a historical context at Radio Days. For several years he has also produced a podcast called the Radio Detective Story Hour. Follow the links to each.

      Adapted from an email from David Vineyard:

   Just a heads up for hardboiled fans. BBC7 is currently reading Dashiell Hammett’s Nightmare Town and beginning Sunday will air a full length (90 minute) dramatization of The Big Sleep (Ed Bishop of UFO as Marlowe).

   A dramatic series of Father Brown with Andrew Jack is winding down and there are dramatizations of Poirot and Lord Peter (Ian Carmichael) on going. There is also a scheduled dramatization of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday coming up.

   They recently completed two Dick Francis thrillers and a reading of Edmund Crispin’s Frequent Hearses. They are also concluding The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and about to start Casebook.

   You can still catch the Hammett reading from the beginning for the next three days.

Editorial Comment:   I used “Old Time Radio” as the category to put this post in, rather than create a new one, even though it’s not really correct. After checking out everything that’s available to listen on the BBC7 site, all I can do is wish that days were ten times longer, or if not that, perhaps I needn’t get seven or eight hours of sleep every night?

A TV Review by MIKE TOONEY:


“Let’s Kill Timothy.” An episode of Peter Gunn (Season 1, Episode 17). First air date: 19 January 1959. Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn), Lola Albright (Edie Hart), Herschel Bernardi (Lieutenant Jacoby), Hope Emerson (Mother), Mel Leonard (Casper Wellington), Henry Corden (Vladimir Sokolawsky), Arthur Hanson (George Tate), Frank Richards (Tiny Walsh), Peter Brocco (Sam the drunk), David McMahon (Mike the desk sergeant). Story: Blake Edwards. Teleplay: Lewis Reed. Director: Blake Edwards.

   Timothy is a most unusual individual: modest, unassuming, reticent to a fault. He is also many things to many people.

PETER GUNN

   To Peter Gunn, Timothy is an unexpected baby sitting charge. To Lieutenant Jacoby, he’s a “thing” that indecorously invades his office.

   To Casper Wellington, Timothy is both a friend and the way to fabulous wealth, while to George Tate and Tiny Walsh he’s worth kidnapping and gutting like a fish.

   But through it all Timothy maintains his composure. He may be a little guy three feet tall and three hundred pounds — but he can fend for himself. Of course, practically no one can ward off two burly brutes intent on kidnapping; when that happens, even his foreflippers are of no avail.

   You know, if things keep going the way they have been, Timothy could soon be up on a grand theft felony charge. You have to wonder if the California penal system is capable of providing enough fish for an upwardly mobile but healthy young seal ….

   The normally drop dead serious Peter Gunn series veers into comedy with this one, and the whole thing works beautifully as director-creator-writer Blake Edwards shows he can do funny stuff with the mystery genre. Maybe this was him warming up for Inspector Clouseau.

   The best scene is at the police station, first with a drunk being booked, and then in Jacoby’s office when Gunn leads Timothy in, who immediately makes himself at home by flopping down on the couch. Gunn and Jacoby have an entire conversation without Jacoby once referring to the seal until the very end, but even then he doesn’t state the obvious a nice piece of underplaying by everybody concerned.

   When Gunn is trying to locate Casper Wellington, he goes to one of his snitches, “artist” Vladimir Sokolawsky (Henry Corden), who is as surreal as any of his “artwork.” Like Victor Buono, Corden (1920-2005) could always do over-the-top superbly, and in his one bizarre scene he nearly steals the show.

   Mother was played in 25 Peter Gunn episodes by a fine character actress, Hope Emerson (1897-1960). In this show, she gets to “sing” “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” but the less said about that the better. (You’ve been warned.)

Note: According to the Internet Movie Database, this Peter Gunn episode was based on a Richard Diamond radio program, “Timothy the Seal” (5 February 1950).

Editorial Comments:   Click on the link provided to listen to the radio program that Mike mentions. The series, which starred Dick Powell as medium-boiled PI Richard Diamond, was on radio for several years. Many more episodes can be found here: http://www.archive.org/details/RichardDiamond2.

   The movie Gunn was reviewed here on this blog by Dan Stumpf about a month ago.

      Adapted from an email from David Vineyard:

   Don’t know how many of you care for this sort of thing, but if you check out the BBC7 site this week they are airing an eight part adaptation of the Paul Temple mystery Paul Temple and the Gilbert Case. Currently there are also adaptations of two of Agatha Christie’s Poirot’s, a new Biggles (starting Thursday), John Creasey’s The Toff and the Runaway Bride, and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.

   Previously they’ve done Ashenden, Bulldog Drummond, The Scarecrow, and many more. They also have original crime programs and adaptations of more recent writers’ works.

   The episodes run about thirty minutes and are full cast productions. Thought I’d give everyone a heads up.

   The Gilbert Case finds Paul and wife Steve’s holiday plans interrupted when the father of a murdered girl asks him to try and clear the young man, Howard Gilbert, convicted of murdering her and facing the death sentence. “I know you, you enjoy sticking your neck out.”

   Honestly there’s too much to listen to, but you can pick and choose the ones you really like, and they can be downloaded to an MP3 player or IPod as well.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


JOHN ROEBURT – Corpse on the Town. Graphic #27, paperback original, 1950. Revised edition: The Case of the Hypnotized Virgin. Avon #730, pb, 1956. Reprinted: Belmont/Tower,1972.

JOHN ROEBURT Jigger Moran

   About to check in to his terminal in New York City, cab driver J. Howard Moran, better known as Jigger, agrees to take a trunk to the Railway Express Office. An unknown someone meanwhile has informed the police that the trunk in Jigger’s cab contains a corpse. Which it does, the body of a young woman whose face is battered beyond recognition.

   Apparently Jigger. a disbarred attorney in Illinois and a private eye without a license, has investigated other crimes before, though this is his first recorded case. He and his reluctant assistant, Red, “free-lance journalist and improvident writer of plays, features, fiction, columns,” try to determine the woman’s identity and find her killer.

   As the police follow Jigger closely with the thought that if they can’t convict him maybe he will be able to pin it on someone else, Jigger manages to come up with the answer.

JOHN ROEBURT Jigger Moran

   For his novel Tough Cop, Roeburt won an Edgar, or so the publisher of this novel claims. I have not been able to identify either the category or the year. This one is no prize winner, but it has its amusing moments.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 3, Summer 1992.



Bibliographic Data:   It is perhaps no surprise that Bill was unable to discover the category for which John Roeburt won an Edgar, as the publisher’s claim is not true, as he surmised might have been the case.

   It may be as obscure as an MWA award can get, and was apparently not for Tough Cop at all. It came in 1949, and it was for Best Radio Drama, the actual title of which I have not discovered, even with the resources available to me on the Internet. It was, however, for one of the episodes of the Inner Sanctum series. (I do not believe that it was for the entire series, but perhaps I am wrong about that.)

    Bill erred in saying that Corpse on the Town was Jigger Moran’s first recorded case. Not true; it was his third and last. The first two were published in hardcover; only Corpse was a paperback original:

       The Jigger Moran series —     [Taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.]

    Jigger Moran (n.) Greenberg, hc, 1944.
    There Are Dead Men in Manhattan (n.) Mystery House, hc, 1946.

JOHN ROEBURT Jigger Moran

    Corpse on the Town (n.) Graphic, pbo, 1950.

   Old Time Radio collector and historian Randy Riddle has come up with another interesting program on his podcast/blog. It’s an Armed Forces rebroadcast episode of Hollywood Startime from 31 March 1946 entitled “Strange Triangle,” an adaptation of the noir film of the same name.

   It stars two of the three original leading players, Signe Hasso (as a truly seductive femme fatale) and John Shepperd. Replacing Preston Foster as the narrator and leading protagonist, though, is Lloyd Nolan, a fellow still known for a long list of B-movie mystery roles. Also in the radio cast is Lurene Tuttle, whose voice OTR fans will immediately recognize as that of Effie from The Adventures of Sam Spade radio program.

   The radio version of Strange Triangle suffers from being cut down in time from a 65 minute movie to only 25 minutes actual air time, but it’s still good entertainment. Give it a listen (click on the link above).

   Not only has Old Time Radio collector and historian Randy Riddle posted an episode of Casey, Crime Photographer I’d not heard before, but it’s a locked room mystery to boot. Casey, played by Staats Cotsworth in this program, was based on the character created by mystery writer George Harmon Coxe.

   Here’s Randy, as he describes it on his podcast/blog:

    “In this post, we hear ‘Woman of Mystery,’ program 61 in the series, broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Service as Crime Photographer and originally heard on CBS on November 9, 1950. It’s one of those ‘locked room’ mysteries, where Casey’s keen sense of observation come in handy to discover how a woman was murdered.”

   Unfortunately Casey solves the mystery only seven minutes into the program — or does he? Listen and see.

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