Nero Wolfe and Night Beat

Nero Wolfe: The Deadly Sellout Originally Aired January 5, 1951

Mystery writer Rex Stout created fictional detective Nero Wolfe in 1934. Nero Wolfe is a big guy–5’11” tall and is frequently said to weigh “a seventh of a ton” (about 286 pounds). Due to his size, he tried to solve crime from home without visiting crime scenes. Wolfe relied on his assistant, Archie Goodwin, who did the leg work, interviewing witnesses and gathering clues for interpretation by Nero Wolfe at home. Wolfe had his definite eccentricities. Known for his particular tastes and love of gourmet food, Nero Wolfe is fed by Fritz Brenner, an exceptionally talented Swiss cook. Also an avid reader, Wolfe doesn’t have a television in his home, he doesn’t like to be called by his first name or to be touched all the while keeping a rigid schedule of eating and tending to his orchids and seems to go into a trance while he solved crime with his mind.

The Adventures of Nero Wolfe made his larger than life old time radio show debut on July 5th, 1943. The detective show proved to be a natural for classic radio. The plots and verbal word-play make this really an entertaining series. Throughout the show’s run, Santos Ortega, Luis van Rooten, Francis X Bushman and Sydney Greenstreet all filled the shows (and big suit) of Nero Wolfe. A large assortment of actors played the part of Archie Goodwin. The Adventures of Nero Wolfe show stayed on the airwaves in different versions for eight years (1943 – 1951)

Night Beat brings us Mentallo, The Mental Marvel from May 1, 1951

Night Beat aired on NBC from February 6, 1950 until September 25, 1952, sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and Wheaties. Frank Lovejoy starred as Randy (originally “Lucky”) Stone, a reporter who covered the night beat for the Chicago Star, encountering criminals and troubled souls. Listeners were invited to join Stone as he “searches through the city for the strange stories waiting for him in the darkness.” It is generally regarded as a “quality” show, and it stands up extremely well. Frank Lovejoy was a powerful and believable actor with a strong delivery, and his portrayal of Randy Stone as tough guy with humanity was perfect. The scripts were excellent, given that they had to cover much in a short time. There was a good supporting cast, orchestra and sound effects. “The Slasher,” broadcast on 10 November 1950, the last show of season one, has a very loosely Ripper-derived plot in which Stone searches for an artist.
Supporting actors included Joan Banks, Parley Baer, William Conrad, Jeff Corey, Lawrence Dobkin, Paul Frees, Jack Kruschen, Peter Leeds, Howard McNear (who was on EVERYTHING, it seems), Lurene Tuttle, Martha Wentworth and Ben Wright.
The format was recreated, with Lovejoy as Stone, on an episode of the television anthology series, Four Star Playhouse (“Search in the Night” airing on November 5th, 1953).

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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Katharine Hepburn in Little Women

This series originated on radio in the 1940s as Theatre Guild on the Air. Organized in 1919 to improve the quality of American theater, the Theatre Guild first experimented with radio productions in Theatre Guild Dramas, a CBS series which ran from December 6, 1943 to February 29, 1944.

Actress-playwright Armina Marshall, a co-administrator of the Theatre Guild, headed the Guild’s newly created Radio Department and in 1945, Theatre Guild on the Air embarked on its ambitious plan to bring Broadway theater to radio with leading actors in major productions. It premiered September 9, 1945, on ABC with Burgess Meredith, Henry Daniell and Cecil Humphreys in Wings Over Europe, a play by Robert Nichols and Maurice Browne which the Theatre Guild had staged on Broadway in 1928-29.

Within a year the series drew some 10 to 12 million listeners each week. Presenting both classic and contemporary plays, the program was broadcast for eight years before it became a television series.

In 1933, Katharine Hepburn won her first Oscar in Morning Glory, as a young actress who rejects romance in favor of her career. That same year, Hepburn played Jo in the Big-screen adaptation of Little Women, which broke box-office records, and for which she won the Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival.

In 1950, Hepburn signed on to play Rose Sayer in The African Queen, a prim spinster missionary in Africa (around the time of World War I), who convinces Humphrey Bogart’s character, a hard-drinking riverboat captain, to use his boat to destroy a German ship. The African Queen was shot mostly on location in Africa, where almost all the cast and crew suffered from malaria and dysentery, except director John Huston and Bogart, neither of whom ever drank any water. Hepburn disapproved of the two men’s drinking and drank gallons of water each day to spite them. She wound up so sick with dysentery that, even months after she returned home, the actress was still ill. The film gave Hepburn her fifth Best Actress nomination, but she lost to Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire.The trip and the movie made such an impact on Hepburn that later in life she wrote a book about filming the movie: The Making of The African Queen: Or, How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind, which made her a best-selling author at the age of 77.
In this version of Little Women, Hepburn plays the parts of both the Narrator and Jo.

Enjoy!

Next time: X minus One and Gunsmoke

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Show #3 Bold Venture and Box 13

Bold Venture: The Carlos & Juan Story
With his sidekick and ward, the saucy Sailor Duvall, tagging along, Slate Shannon encounters tough situations while experiencing “adventure, intrigue, mystery and romance in the sultry settings of tropical Havana and the mysterious islands of the Caribbean.” The original air date for this episode was December 31, 1951.

Bogart’s Maltese Falcon was dramatized on radio by The Screen Guild Players in 1943, Academy Award Theater in 1946 and the Gulf Screen Guild in 1950. In the latter version, Lauren Bacall played the part originally dramatized by Mary Astor.

Box 13: The First Letter, originally broadcast on August 22, 1948.
“Adventure wanted, will go anywhere, do anything — write Box 13, Star-Times.” ran the advertisement newspaperman-turned-mystery novelist from Dan Holliday, who found out new ideas for his fiction in the many exploits made possible by the letters he received. Played by “The Star of Paramount Pictures” Alan Ladd and created by Ladd’s company, Mayfair Productions, Box 13 premiered In New York City, December 31, 1947, on Mutual’s New York flagship, WOR.

Sylvia Picker appeared as Holliday’s secretary, Suzy, while Edmund MacDonald played police Lt. Kling. Supporting cast members included Betty Lou Gerson, Frank Lovejoy (who we will hear from in many future programs) and Lurene Tuttle. Vern Carstensen, who directed Box 13 for producer Richard Sanville, was also the show’s announcer.

This episode, The First Letter, was Originally broadcast on January 7, 1948.

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