The Saint and I Was A Communist for the FBI

The Saint: A Real Gone Guy 6/2/50

The Saint was first brought to life on the radio in 1940 by Terence (aka Terrance) De Marney on Radio Athlone. It was then a five-year wait before NBC picked up the option which featured Edgar Barrier as Simon Templar, alias The Saint. In 1945, Brian Aherne took over the role when the show switched over to CBS. Then in 1947, probably the most famous Radio Saint of all-time, Vincent Price, added his golden voice to the role. Vincent Price was once quoted as saying the most difficult thing about the show was coming up with new and unique ways to get conked on the head. After a large number of episodes, Price finally left and his replacement Barry Sullivan only lasted a few episodes before the show was cancelled. It was resurrected due to public demand, with Vincent Price returning to save the day. In 1951, Tom Conway (George Sanders’ brother), of The Falcon and Sherlock Holmes fame, played The Saint for the last few episodes, with Lawrence Dobkin stepping in for a single episode when Conway was unavailable. Between 1953 and 1957, Tom Meehan starred as The Saint on Springbok Radio in South Africa with fresh Engligh-language adaptations of the original Charteris stories. These stories were so popular that many films (starring Tom Conway’s aforementioned brother, George Sanders), a successful television series starring Roger Moore as Simon Templar and one ghastly film with Val Kilmer in the title role were made. The 1997 film was deservedly panned by critics as well as by myself. The Saint returned to radio with new episodes in 1995, with Paul Rhys portraying Templar in three scripts taken directly from the original Charteris stories.

I was a communist for the FBI: The American Kremlin 6/11/52

fbiThroughout most of the 1940’s, Matt Cvetic worked as a volunteer undercover agent for the FBI, infiltrating the Communist Party in Pittsburgh. In 1949, his testimony helped to convict several top Party members of conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. Cvetic sold his account to The Saturday Evening Post and it was serialized under the title I Posed as a Communist for the FBI. It later became a best-selling book. In 1951, Warner Brothers released a film based on these accounts entitled I Was A Communist For The FBI, starring with Frank Lovejoy as Cvetic. In 1952, in the midst of the Red scare of the 1950’s, the Frederick W. Ziv Company produced the syndicated radio series with the same title as the movie. It was produced without assistance from the FBI, which refused to cooperate. I Was a Communist for the FBI consisted of 78 episodes syndicated by the Frederick W. Ziv Company to more than 600 stations, including KNX in Los Angeles, California, with original episodes running from April 23, 1952 to October 14, 1953. Each episode ended with Dana Andrew’s well-remembered words, “I was a Communist for the FBI. I walk alone”.

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Fibber McGee & Molly and Boston Blackie

Chester Morris as Boston Blackie
Fibber McGee and Molly was an American comedy series which maintained its popularity over decades. It premiered on NBC in 1935 and continued until its demise in 1959. Jim and Marian Jordan, real-life husband and wife, met when they were their teens, married in 1918 and stayed together until Marian’s death in 1961. For station WMAQ in Chicago, beginning in April 1931, the Jordans and their writer Donald Quinn created Smackout, a 15-minute daily program which centered on a general store and its proprietor, Luke Grey (Jim), a storekeeper with a penchant for tall tales and a perpetual dearth of whatever his customers wanted: He always seemed “smack out of it.” Marian Jordan portrayed both a lady named Marian and a little girl named Teeny, as well as playing musical accompaniment on piano. During the show’s run, Marian Jordan voiced a total of 69 different characters in it. Smackout was picked up by NBC in April 1933 and broadcast nationally until August 1935.
The Fibber McGee & Molly show made good use of running gags, probably the most well remembered being McGee’s junk-filled closet, the contents of which always crashed down on anyone that happened to open the door.
This show, Big Money for Old Books, centers around Fibber’s Horatio Alger collection and originally aired 2/17/1948.

Boston Blackie: Polly Morrison’s Gun Collection
After several months of shows, I thought it was time to “come home” and present home town-guy Boston Blackie on the Matinee. Boston Blackie is old, much older than even the radio and film series which many of us have seen and heard. The original tales of Blackie were written by Jack Boyle in the early 20th Century. “The Price of Principle” was a short story in the July 1914 issue of The American Magazine. Boyle’s character also turned up in Cosmopolitan. In 1917, Redbook published the novelette “Boston Blackie’s Mary,” and the magazine brought the character back with “The Heart of the Lily” (February, 1921). Boyle’s stories were collected in the book Boston Blackie (1919), which was reprinted in 1979 by Gregg Press. There were even early film adaptations of the stories done in the silent era. Columbia Films revived the Boston Blackie film series in 1941 with a 58 minute story starring Chester Morris, who plays Blackie in our show tonight. The radio series began in 1944 as a summer replacement for Amos & Andy on NBC. It was revived on Mutual (starring Richard Kollmar) in April of 1945 and ran until 1949. But even then, Blackie was not finished as the show was developed into a television series in 1951 which ran for 58 episodes. As late as 2009, Boston Blackie is still thrilling audiences, this time in Graphic novel format. Boston Blackie: Bloody Shame (Moonstone Noir) by Stefan Petrucha (Author), Kirk Van Wormer (Illustrator), Chris Burnham (Illustrator) is available today at many bookstores and online. This episode originally aired on July 28th, 1944.

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Sherlock Holmes and Dragnet


The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes aired from October 2, 1939 to July 7, 1947. Most episodes were written by the team of Dennis Green and Anthony Boucher. Originally, the show starred Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. John H. Watson and were on the air weekly on Mondays from 8:30 to 9:00pm.

After 220 episodes. Basil Rathbone was eager to separate himself from the show to avoid being typecast as Sherlock Holmes and even though the show’s sponsor Petri Wine offered him generous pay to continue, he decided to move on. Once he did, the sponsor did as well. Tom Conway took the starring role though Nigel Bruce got top billing. The new sponsor was Kreml Hair Tonic for Men, and the new series lasted 39 episodes. Tom Conway was replaced mid-season by John Stanley. The show was later sponsored by Clipper Craft menswear.

This episode, Murder By Moonlight, originally aired on October 29, 1945.

Dragnet: The Big Little Mother, Originally aired October 6, 1953
Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. This case requires Sgt Joe Friday and his partner Smith to catch a woman who has been using forged checks to buy children’s clothes for the past six years.

Dragnet was created and produced by Jack Webb, who starred as the terse Sergeant Joe Friday. Webb had starred in a few mostly short-lived radio programs, but Dragnet would make him one of the major media personalities of his era.

Dragnet had its origins in Webb’s small role as a police forensic scientist in the 1948 film He Walked by Night, itself inspired by the violent 1946 crime spree of Erwin Walker, a disturbed World War II veteran and former Glendale police department employee. The film was depicted in semidocumentary style, and Marty Wynn (an actual LAPD sergeant from the Robbery Division) was a technical advisor on the film. Inspired by Wynn’s accounts of actual cases and criminal investigative procedure, Webb convinced Wynn that day-to-day activities of police officers could be realistically depicted in a broadcast series, without the forced sense of melodrama in the numerous private-detective serials then common in radio programming.

Webb frequently visited police headquarters, drove on night patrols with Sgt. Wynn and his partner Officer Vance Brasher, and attended Police Academy courses to learn authentic jargon and other details that could be featured in a radio program. When he proposed Dragnet to NBC officials, they were not especially impressed; radio was aswarm with private investigators and crime dramas, such as Webb’s earlier Pat Novak for Hire. That program didn’t last long, but Webb had received high marks for his role as the titular private investigator, and NBC agreed to a limited run for Dragnet.

The first several months of broadcasts were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the program’s format and eventually became comfortable with their characters. Friday’s first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a longtime radio actor. Raymond Burr was on board to play Chief of Detectives Ed Backstrand. When Dragnet hit its stride, it became one of radio’s top-rated shows.

Webb insisted on realism in every aspect of the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated and sparse, influenced by the hardboiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving but didn’t seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step by step: From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. The detectives’ personal lives were mentioned but rarely took center stage. “Underplaying is still acting”, Webb told Time. “We try to make it as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee.” Los Angeles police chiefs C.B. Horrall, William A. Worton, and (later) William H. Parker were credited as consultants, and many police officers were fans.

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