Old Time Radio

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.

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.

FRANK M. ROBINSON “The Girls from Earth.” Novelette. First published in Galaxy SF, January 1952. Illustrations by Emsh (Ed Emshwiller). Reprinted in The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1953 edited by Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty (Frederick Fell, hardcover, 1953); and Stories for Tomorrow: An Anthology of Modern Science Fiction edited by William Sloane (Funk & Wagnalls, hardcover, 1954). Radio: Adapted for X Minus One by George Lefferts: NBC, 16 January 1957. Cast: Mandel Kramer, Bob Hastings, John Gibson, Jim Stevens, Dick Hamilton, Phil Sterling. Announcer: Fred Collins. Director: Daniel Sutter.

   This is mostly a story about how mail order brides helped civilize the Old West, only transposed in time and space to mining settlements barely managing to survive on worlds far from Earth. The ratio of men to women in such places is at least 5 to 3. Strangely enough, the ratio of women to men back on Earth also 5 to 3, in reverse.

   There is a problem here waiting to be solved, and the solution is easy. Except for one thing. How, and who, is going to implement it? And how will the contingent of men waiting for their new brides accept them, and vice versa? The details you may read for yourself online here, and probably elsewhere as well. (Follow the link.)

   At this much later date, while the story can still be enjoyed for its more humorous overtones, any larger appeal may only be of historical interest. In 1952 science fiction was just beginning to move away from scientific puzzles to be solved, if not out and out space opera. In their place were coming stories based on situations and dilemmas as they were expected to rise in the future, but on a more personal level. As is the case here.

   In the radio adaptation, streamlined to just over 20 minutes, the implementation of the plan to solve the problem described above is carried out by a couple of con men, hoping to make their fortune by taking off with the money put down of the miners working on Mars before the women from Earth actually arrive. The end result is the same. It’s just gotten to in a slightly different way.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY JORDAN “The Man from Cairo.” CBS, 01 January 1950. Cast: Jack Moyles as Rocky Jordan, Jay Novello as Captain Sam Sabaaya of the Cairo police. Guest cast (uncredited): Parley Baer. Sponsor: Del Monte Foods.

   When I started collecting radio shows on reel-to-reel tape, back in the early 70s, there were only a haphazard scattering of shows available, with very little in the way of documentation available for the anything you gladly picked up here and there from other traders and collectors.

   Things change. For many year I had only one show from this series (1948-50, 1951), plus two fifteen minutes episodes from its predecessor A Man Named Jordan (1945-47), which took place in Istanbul, rather than Cairo, the setting of the later series. Today almost all of the second run are available online, at the click of a mouse. Check out, for example the links here at archive.org.

   Whether Istanbul or Cairo, either setting was to listeners here in the US as exotic a place as they’d ever hope to be, and the producers of the show made sure the stories they told took full advantage of it. There also was no mistaking the resemblance to the movie Casablance: all of Rocky Jordan’s adventures were always based in and around the Cafe Tambourine, always the center of nefarious business.

   The writers of “The Man from Cairo” had a bit of extra fun with this one. The hapless tourist who happened to stop by Jordan’s cafe is not from Cairo, Egypt, but from Cairo, Illinois. A taker of home movies, he has enjoyed his stay, but he has one complaint: nothing exciting has happened. And of course as soon as says that, action begins, but he’s never on the scene when it does. Does he believe Rocky when he’s told that his life may be in danger? In a word, No.

   As the man from Cairo, Parley Baer is not credited in the role, but no one who’s listened to a lot of OTR, including his role as Chester Proudfoot in the long-running Gunsmoke on radio will mistake his most talented voice. A lot could be told in only 30 minutes on the radio, and this particular episode is no exception. Follow the link above to hear it for yourself.

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.

   â€œBroadcasting” (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.)

   â€œBillboard” (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.



   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.

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