THE AVENGER IN RADIO: RICHARD BENSON vs. JIM BRANDON
by Michael Shonk


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE AVENGER (September 9, 1941)

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIGH TIDE MURDER (October 25, 1945)

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

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

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


THE MYSTERY OF THE GIANT BRAIN. (November 1, 1945)

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

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


THE CRYPT OF THOTH. (December 13, 1945)

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


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

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

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

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

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