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Review: A Close Call for Boston Blackie (1946)

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A Close Call for Boston Blackie begins in a particularly jaunty mood: Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black (Chester Morris) and his sidekick The Runt (George E. Stone) are riding back to Blackie’s apartment courtesy of Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) and his aide de camp, Sergeant Matthews (Frank Sully). It seems that Blackie’s Galahad-like gallantry got him into trouble by stranding him and The Runt in the middle of nowhere with no transportation; fortunately, Farraday happened along to help him out of the jam. His longtime cop nemesis even warns him to stay away from women because they eventually lead to trouble…a bit of advice that Blackie could have used in any number of the previous Boston Blackie vehicles. (Come to think of it, the ones to follow as well.)

closecall1No sooner have they arrived at Blackie’s apartment when Blackie and The Runt come to the aid of yet another damsel in distress—it’s Geraldine “Gerry” Peyton (Lynn Merrick), an old girlfriend of our hero, who’s being manhandled by a pair of thugs outside the apartment building. Blackie and The Runt spirit Gerry upstairs…and find another surprise waiting inside—an abandoned baby! (Blackie: “Is this one of your ideas?” Runt: “Now wait a minute, Blackie—if this were one of my ideas do you think it would be that good-looking?”) Gerry claims the child is hers; the product of a marriage between her and her no-account husband John (Mark Roberts), who’s just been paroled after doing a two-year stretch in the pokey. In fact, Blackie warned Gerry before she wed the ex-con that he was nothing but trouble…and John proves his point by arriving unannounced at Blackie’s digs, ready to start some fireworks. The true fireworks begin when John is shot and killed by a man later identified as Smiley Slade (Erik Rolf)…though in typical Boston Blackie fashion, our reformed jewel thief isn’t able to convince Farraday that he had nothing to do with the murder.

closecall2Short on plot (Gerry and Smiley are working a con with the baby to secure a large financial payoff from John’s father) but long on comedy, A Close Call for Boston Blackie (1946) is an enjoyable lark—within its one hour running time, the Boston Blackie players run through their usual paces with frenetically hilarious situations and clever disguises. The Runt, in charge of watching the baby until Blackie can square himself with Farraday, is forced to borrow a waitress’ uniform from his girlfriend so he can go on an errand of mercy and obtain milk for the little shaver. Blackie adopts the persona of the late Mr. Peyton’s father Cyrus in an effort to trap Gerry and Smiley…and Matthews dons the same getup! (Farraday has his dumb-as-a-sled-track detective do this to prove to Blackie that he’s got some Moxie; that he can round up the guilty parties before the closing credits roll…and that he wasn’t joking about dames being nothing but trouble.)

closecall7B-picture veteran Lew Landers holds the directorial reins on Close Call, which guarantees that the proceedings (scripted by Ben Markson from a Paul Yawitz story…with additional dialogue from Malcolm Stuart Boylan) will be fast and funny, and the supporting cast plays it to perfection as well. Lynn Merrick is great as Blackie’s latest femme fatale, with Erik Rolf solid as her confederate in crime. One of the members of their gang, Hack Hagen, is played by character great Charles Lane (you know him as Homer Bedloe on Petticoat Junction); he’s the actual father of the tyke used in the set-up but Hack sadly suffers a tragic fate. Russell Hicks, Emmett Vogan and Kathryn Card are also on hand—I Love Lucy fans might recognize Card as Mrs. McGillicuddy, Ricky Ricardo’s mother-in-law.

closecall6But just as character favorite Iris Adrian walked off with Boston Blackie’s Rendezvous (1945), A Close Call for Boston Blackie is the victim of further onscreen larceny with the presence of Claire Carleton, who plays The Runt’s ditzy blonde girlfriend Mamie Kerwin. Reluctantly dragooned into helping her man and Blackie out of the hot water they’re in with Farraday, Blackie tells her “Well, if you’re arrested, Mamie—we’ll come visit you and we’ll send you flowers and candy.” “Never mind the flowers,” Mamie replies sharply. “If I get pinched, you’ll need ‘em yourself!”

I’m a little biased about the fun that Claire provides in Close Call because she’s been a longtime favorite of mine. You can see her display her comedic talents in many of Columbia’s two-reel comedies (notably the Three Stooges’ Fright Night [1947] and Schilling & Lane’s Two Nuts in a Rut [1948]) and movies like Lady of Burlesque (1943), Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943), Crime Doctor’s Man Hunt (1946) and It’s a Great Feeling (1949). Claire had a serious side, too; she’s the waitress fired for stealing in 1945’s Mildred Pierce…and the secretary who dallies with Willy Loman in the 1951 version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Death of a Salesman.

20588A Close Call for Boston Blackie is one of three films in the long-running Columbia Pictures mystery-comedy franchise available on DVD (on a manufactured-on-demand disc from Sony Home Video) and while it’s not quite in the same league as another Blackie vehicle released on MOD, One Mysterious Night (1944), Close Call’s lighter moments most certainly make up for whatever plot shortcomings there are in the finished product. We encourage you to rent it for an evening of fun…and Radio Spirits would also like to remind you that our Boston Blackie collection, Outside the Law, is available for purchase—with several broadcasts featuring the actors who portrayed Blackie and Inspector Farraday in the movies, Chester Morris and Richard Lane.

Happy Birthday, Ted de Corsia!

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If you’ve seen this popular character actor’s mug in any movie on Turner Classic Movies I guarantee you it’s a most familiar one. He’s the sneering, Brylcreemed thug from a countless number of film noirs, notably The Enforcer (1951)—where he plays a member of a murder-for-hire operation who’s agreed to turn states’ evidence on behalf of crusading D.A. Humphrey Bogart. Born Edward Gildea De Corsia on this date in 1905, Ted de Corsia relied on his impressive size, gravelly voice and streetwise Brooklyn origins to effectively play onscreen menaces…though he could on occasion play a good guy, like a prison warden (Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison) or judge (A Place in the Sun). Many individuals are unaware, however, that de Corsia had a long career in radio…where he displayed an amazing range that lent himself to roles like that of Scotland Yard inspector Peter Black on the CBS Radio crime drama Pursuit.

decorsia10Ted’s father (Edward G. de Corsia) was a vaudevillian who hailed from Texas, and the younger de Corsia lived a life on the road with his family, attending school in various stopovers in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc. At the same time, Ted gained acting experience as a child actor in several road companies, and during the Depression found steady work in radio. De Corsia became a frequent presence on The March of Time, where he imitated the likes of President Herbert Hoover, Huey Long, and Benito Mussolini. One of his steady gigs over the ether was on The Adventures of Ellery Queen in 1939, playing the role of Sergeant Velie, and in addition he starred as a lovestruck Brooklyn cabbie on a short-lived situation comedy in 1941 entitled Joe and Mabel. (De Corsia, a dedicated Dodgers fan, purportedly asked the announcer on this last program to keep him updated on the team’s game progress whenever it was relevant to the broadcast.)

decorsia11De Corsia’s radio resume is a lengthy one; he appeared on such favorites as The Adventures of Maisie, Bold Venture, Boston Blackie, The Cavalcade of America, The Columbia Workshop, The CBS Radio Workshop, The Story of Dr. Kildare, Escape, Frontier Gentleman, Hallmark Playhouse, Let George Do It, The Line-Up, The Molle Mystery Theatre, Murder Clinic, Mystery In the Air, Night Beat, Pat Novak for Hire, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Rogue’s Gallery, The Shadow, The Silent Men, The Adventures of the Saint and This is Your FBI. Occasionally, Ted would land the lead role on series such as McGarry and His Mouse and That Hammer Guy. From 1949 to 1950, de Corsia also played the lead on Pursuit, a solid mystery series that centered on the exploits of Scotland Yard Inspector Peter Black (though he went by “Inspector Harvey” in the pilot and premiere episodes of the show). De Corsia was joined on the series by radio veteran Bill Johnstone as Chief Inspector Harkness (who served as Pursuit’s narrator), but Ted’s stint on the program was fairly brief: he handed over the role to John Dehner in March of 1950…possibly due to his burgeoning film career.

decorsia9A finer film debut could not have been concocted for Ted de Corsia than that of the blackmailing Sidney Broome in the Orson Welles-directed cult noir The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Ted’s next film appearance was also a memorable one: harmonica-playing Willie Garzah, an ex-wrestler whose murder of a young model leads to a confrontation with police on the Williamsburg Bridge in Jules Dassin’s seminal The Naked City (1948). Film noir was definitely de Corsia’s calling; he acted in such movies as Mr. Soft Touch (1949), The Turning Point (1952), Crime Wave (1954), The Big Combo (1955), Slightly Scarlet (1956), The Killing (1956—outstanding as a cop-gone-bad) and Baby Face Nelson (1957). In addition, Ted played an assortment of up-to-no-good guys in Westerns like The Outriders (1950), Gunfight at Dodge City (1957), The Lawless Eighties (1957), Gun Battle at Monterey (1957) and Noose for a Gunman (1960). Every once in a while, to break the bad guy monotony, Ted would fall back on his incredible range and take on interesting roles like those in It Happens Every Spring (1949), Three Secrets (1950) and From the Terrace (1960).

decorsia7On the small screen, Ted guest starred on many hit TV series—and indulged his fondness for Westerns playing parts on Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, Maverick, Lawman, Sugarfoot, Rawhide and Daniel Boone. He turned up everywhere, on sitcoms like Get Smart and Green Acres and science-fiction favorites like The Outer Limits and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Before his death in 1973 at the age of 69, de Corsia went out on a memorable note…literally. In the 1972 movie The Outside Man, he plays a mobster named Victor who’s killed by hit man Jean-Louis Trintignant early in the film, but later has an encore in a shootout scene around his bier (he’s been embalmed seated in a chair, holding a cigar).

20740Here at Radio Spirits, we invite you to sample some of Ted’s splendid radio performances (especially if you’re only familiar with his film career!). He’s present and accounted for in our collections Escape to the High Seas, Frontier Gentleman: Life and Death, Gang Busters: Cases of Crime, Night Beat: Lost Souls, Pat Novak for Hire: Pain Gets Expensive, Romance, The Saint Solves the Case, Stop the Press! and Suspense: Tales Well Calculated. De Corsia’s regular role as Lieutenant Walter “Walt” Quincy Levinson can be heard in our latest Richard Diamond, Private Detective set Shamus…not to mention Homicide Made Easy and Mayhem is My Business. Finally, the birthday boy gets first-hand knowledge that “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit” in three collections starring The Shadow: Crime Does Not Pay, Radio Treasures and Strange Puzzles. Happy natal anniversary to one of the best character actors from the past!

Review: Boston Blackie’s Rendezvous (1945)

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As he and his sidekick The Runt (George E. Stone) settle in for the night, Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black (Chester Morris) gets an unexpected visit from his wealthy friend Arthur Manleder (Harry Hayden). Manleder needs Blackie’s help in the matter of his homicidal nephew James Cooke (Steve Cochran), who had been a guest at a mental institution until his recent crashout. As Arthur elaborates further on Jimmy’s past, the young Cooke is shown listening outside on a fire escape in Blackie’s apartment—and when Blackie calls it a night (after assuring Manleder he’ll look into the matter), Jimmy makes himself at home by entering Blackie’s bedroom. Jimmy’s story is that his uncle is purposely concocting a story questioning Jimmy’s sanity in a plot to keep him from receiving a large inheritance. Blackie tries to persuade Cooke to give himself up—and Jimmy’s reaction is to choke Mr. Black unconscious, then help himself to Blackie’s wardrobe.

rendezvous8Jimmy makes his way to a dance hall to meet a young woman named Sally Brown (Nina Foch), with whom he’s been corresponding during his incarceration. He’s informed that Sally isn’t working that evening, so he agrees to have a few dances with her roommate, Patricia Powers (Adele Roberts). He convinces Pat to go off with him so that the two of them can be alone. In the meantime, Blackie and The Runt follow clues left by Cooke and are hot on his trail; eventually they stumble onto the final resting place of Ms. Powers, who’s been strangled by Jimmy. Fans of the Boston Blackie movie franchise will not be surprised to learn, however, that our hero encounters Inspector John Farraday (Richard Lane) at the murder scene…and like so many times in the past, Farraday has fingered Blackie as the strangler.

rendezvous2The last part of the previous sentence goes a long way toward explaining why Boston Blackie’s Rendezvous (1945) is one of the weakest entries in Columbia’s successful movie series. Blackie is a reformed jewel thief and safecracker…but he’s not a murderer, and you would think that Farraday would realize this. Even an actor as solid as Dick Lane has difficulty making the audience believe that he’s convinced of his nemesis’ guilt. Rendezvous has other problems with its narrative as well: for example, in the opening scenes Jimmy explains to Blackie that his uncle Arthur has told people he’s insane in order to take his inheritance. We know from earlier Blackie vehicles that while Manleder is a man of considerable means, he’s also a gentle, kindly soul: a straight-shooter, firmly supportive of his friend and always in his camp. (Having a different actor—Harry Hayden—play the role shouldn’t make any difference.) The screenwriter of Rendezvous, Edward Dein (who later directed the 1955 cult classic Shack Out on 101), thereby makes no bones to those watching that Cooke is cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs—when ambiguously suggesting Jimmy’s guilt of the strangulation murder might have been more effective.

rendezvous3Also telegraphing his punches is director Arthur Dreifuss, who held the reins on the previous entry in the Blackie series, Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945). Watch for the scene in Blackie’s apartment forty-five minutes in when Farraday gets on the phone to corroborate Blackie’s alibi—there’s a photo of B.B. prominently displayed on the desk, which catches Farraday’s eye (and produces an amusing grimace). There’s a reason for the photo, and all will be made clear at the film’s climax. (Farraday is also holding the phone’s receiver upside down, something that didn’t induce director Dreifuss to go for a retake.)

rendezvous5Actor Steve Cochran, who also figured prominently in Booked on Suspicion, plays the crazed Cooke in Rendezvous…and while there’s certainly no doubting his capability for onscreen violence and projecting a sense of menace, his attempt to portray Jimmy as a sensitive, poetic soul isn’t quite convincing. The leading lady of Rendezvous—who, for a nice change, doesn’t double-cross Blackie toward the movie’s conclusion—is Nina Foch, who was just earning her stripes as a Columbia starlet in programmers like The Return of the Vampire (1943), Cry of the Werewolf (1944) and the Crime Doctor series entry Shadows in the Night (1944). Her next film release after Rendezvous—apart from a bit role in Columbia’s A Thousand and One Nights (1945)—would be the B-picture classic My Name is Julia Ross (1945)…which led to such successes as The Dark Past (1948), The Undercover Man (1949) and Best Picture Oscar winner An American in Paris (1951). A few years later, Foch would score her sole Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1954’s Executive Suite. (Queried in later years about Rendezvous, Nina couldn’t remember too many details…and I can’t say I blame her.)

rendezvous1Boston Blackie’s Rendezvous isn’t completely without merit: it features a scene-stealing performance from character great Iris Adrian, who played gum-chewing blonde wiseacres in nearly a million films (Lady of Burlesque, The Paleface) and also appeared on radio programs alongside Abbott and Costello and Jack Benny. Adrian is Martha, the ticket taker at the dance hall, and provides most of the film’s necessary lighter moments. You’ll also catch veteran Joe Devlin as a cab driver—Devlin, who could have been Jack Oakie’s twin brother, made a comfortable living in the movies portraying Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (he bore an uncanny resemblance to Il Duce) in The Devil With Hitler (1942), They Got Me Covered (1943), Natzy Nuisance (1943) and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944).

rendezvous7I got a chuckle out of seeing Tom Kennedy in a small role as a doorman outside the dance hall who gives Blackie information on Jimmy’s whereabouts (Kennedy was working steadily at Columbia at that time, appearing in a good many two-reel comedies with Shemp Howard), and Three Stooges nemesis Philip Van Zandt plays a psychiatrist who “analyzes” Blackie, thus allowing star Morris to do a few of his amateur magic tricks. Chet also trots out a blackface routine when he and Stone disguise themselves as cleaning women, which got me to wondering if Morris resorted to that bit of business more than Eddie Cantor, believed to be the onscreen record holder. (On top of this, one of my favorites, Clarence Muse, sadly plays “straight man” to the blacked-up Blackie and Runt.)

20588Next month: Blackie comes to the rescue of an old flame in A Close Call for Boston Blackie (1946)—one of only three movies in the series available on DVD (in a manufactured-on-demand disc from Sony Home Video), so you can watch it ahead of time and follow along in your workbooks. While I’m on the subject of availability, Radio Spirits’ fine collection of broadcasts from the Boston Blackie radio series—Outside the Law—is just what you need to enjoy the adventures of the former-thief-turned-crimefighter. Several of the shows on the set feature Chester Morris and Richard Lane in the roles they’d make famous in the movies. Grab a copy today…or two, in case you need one for a friend!

Happy Birthday, Hanley Stafford!

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The actor who achieved his greatest fame on radio as the best foil Fanny Brice’s Baby Snooks could ever wish for was born on this date in 1899 as Alfred John Austin. His birthplace of Hanley in Staffordshire provided all the inspiration he would need for his chosen stage name: Hanley Stafford.

stafford5Hanley and his parents immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada in 1911, and it was during his time in The Great White North that he developed his ambition to be an actor. You see, he had enlisted in a Canadian military platoon at the age of 16 and was injured in World War I…during his convalescence, he formed a theatrical group, which led to his later finding work with the Winnipeg Permanent Players. After that, he got a job with a stock company that toured western Canada. The life of an actor was not a secure one, however; when the company folded he found himself toiling in wheat fields in order to earn enough money to return to Winnipeg. Stafford’s interim jobs also included hauling freight and being a stenographer.

stafford2Hanley and his first wife Doris—along with his only son, Graham, who was one at the time—entered the U.S. in 1922 (he became a naturalized citizen three years later). He landed villainous roles in B-westerns and, after doing that for a few years, eventually made his way back to the stage. He received rave notices for his appearance in Six Characters in Search of an Author, and the positive buzz from that led to more parts…and eventually an engagement as an actor-director with Los Angeles’ Shelby Players. Then the Great Depression hit, and Stafford found a life preserver in the medium of radio.

Hanley Stafford’s early days over the airwaves were marked by a constant presence in many programs produced for syndication; some of the shows he appeared on include The World Adventurer’s Club, Strange Adventures in Strange Lands, The Last of the Mohicans and Police Headquarters. In the 1932 serial Tarzan of the Apes, Hanley took on three roles—Count Raoul de Conde, Lord Tennington and Karanoff! He could also be heard on Chandu the Magician and The Further Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon, and toward the end of the 1930s, Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police and The Shadow of Fu Manchu (as Nayland Smith). In addition, Hanley was one of several familiar radio voices who appeared in the holiday favorite The Cinnamon Bear (he was Snapper Snitch, the Crocodile). Hanley eventually began to make the rounds of network radio, notably on daytime dramas like John’s Other Wife (on which he was “John” for a few years) and Big Sister; he also played the titular role of Thatcher Colt on the NBC Sunday afternoon crime drama from 1936 to 1937. Some of the other series on which he guested include Big Town, Calling All Cars, The Court of Human Relations, The John Barrymore Theatre and The Palmolive Players.

stafford3It was 1938 when Hanley Stafford landed the gig that would make him famous. The legendary Fanny Brice had become quite a sensation on radio playing the child terror known as Baby Snooks (Higgins) on the 1936 series The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air, with broadcast veteran Alan Reed as her father, Lancelot “Daddy” Higgins. When Brice wanted to move to the West Coast, Reed elected to stay put…and Hanley auditioned for the part, much to Fanny’s delight. “He was perfect,” she reminisced in later years. “We didn’t need to hear anyone else.” Brice and Stafford performed Baby Snooks sketches on the Good News program from 1938 to 1940, then on Maxwell House Coffee Time from 1940-44 (a show she shared with comedian Frank Morgan). Baby Snooks then became a half-hour situation comedy on CBS for General Foods from 1944 to 1948, and for Tums on NBC from 1949 until Brice’s death in May of 1951.

brice&stafford5Playing opposite Brice soon made Stafford one of the “go-to” guys in radio for stack-blowing, as the poor put-upon “Daddy” would be driven to distraction by his daughter’s bratty antics. The Snooks gig undoubtedly led to Hanley’s other recurring radio role as J.C. Dithers on the situation comedy Blondie. Who could ever forget Dithers bellowing “Bumstead! I’ll run your little finger through the pencil sharpener!” Hanley used his exposure with Fanny to work alongside such radio comedians as Jack Haley (on his Log Cabin Jamboree), Fred Allen (Town Hall Tonight), W.C. Fields (Your Hit Parade) and Eddie Cantor (It’s Time to Smile). In addition to all this, Hanley also made time for guest appearances on such shows as The Halls of Ivy, Presenting Charles Boyer, The Screen Guild Theatre, Suspense and The Railroad Hour.

stafford11Hanley Stafford’s work in radio kept him pretty busy, so he only made sporadic appearances in motion pictures like The Light That Failed (1939) and Life with Henry (1941). But after the passing of Fanny Brice, he began to get more roles in movies like Three Guys Named Mike (1951), Lullaby of Broadway (1951), A Girl in Every Port (1952), Just This Once (1952), Here Come the Marines (1952—with the Bowery Boys), Francis Covers the Big Town (1953) and The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953). His notable guest appearances on the small screen include such favorites as Maverick, The Millionaire, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne and 77 Sunset Strip—his final appearance on TV was in an episode of The Lucy Show. Hanley Stafford passed away in 1968 at the age of 68…less than two weeks from his sixty-ninth birthday.

20697Here at Radio Spirits, we remember Hanley for what is unmistakably his greatest radio role: the long-suffering Daddy Higgins, tormented to no end by his mischievous daughter Baby Snooks. Why. Daddy?—with liner notes composed by yours truly—features skits and sketches from the duo’s successful stint on Maxwell House Coffee Time. The latest collection, Smart Aleck, concentrates on their appearances from the Good News program. Author Ben Ohmart contributed the liner notes for Aleck, and has also compiled two wonderful books—The Baby Snooks Scripts and The Baby Snooks Scripts Volume 2—that contain original scripts written by the man who also gave us John and Blanche Bickerson, Philip Rapp. Happy birthday, Hanley!

Happy Birthday, Lawrence Dobkin!

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There are eight million stories in the naked city…and today we’ll highlight one of them, by celebrating the 95th birthday of the actor who narrated those tales on one of television’s most memorable police procedurals. Before becoming the “voice” associated with the Naked City series, Lawrence Dobkin—born in NYC on this date in 1919—was a veteran of radio, stage and movies, possessing some of the most distinctive tones in any broadcast medium.

dobkin5Larry began acting at an early age. In fact, he broke into radio in order to finance his studies at the Yale School of Drama (his roommate was Richard Fleischer, future film director and son of cartoon innovator Max). Dobkin’s prolificacy over the airwaves was astonishing: he emoted on many big-time broadcasts including The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Broadway is My Beat, Doctor Christian, Jeff Regan, Investigator, Let George Do It, The Line-Up, The Man Called X, Night Beat, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, The Story of Dr. Kildare, Tales of the Texas Rangers and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Dobkin also made the rounds of the prestigious anthology programs—notably on Escape, where he was practically a regular—but also on The CBS Radio Workshop, Family Theatre, The First Nighter Program, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Lux Radio Theatre, The NBC University Theatre, Romance, Suspense and The Whistler.

Lawrence Dobkin circa 1958Lawrence Dobkin was one of five actors to play the legendary Ellery Queen on radio; he solved cases as the super sleuth over ABC from 1947 to 1948. Dobkin was also a regular on The Adventures of the Saint as Simon Templar’s cabbie sidekick…and once stepped into the shoes of Mr. Templar in an episode entitled “The Fish Case” (09/02/51) when the star of the series, Tom Conway, was incapacitated by drink. Larry was also one of several actors to play famed sidekick Archie Goodwin to the corpulent Nero Wolfe (played by Sydney Greenstreet) in a celebrated crime drama broadcast on NBC from 1950 to 1951. In 1951, he sidekicked for Dan Duryea (and in the first episode, Charles McGraw) in a summer replacement for Inner Sanctum, The Man from Homicide.

dobkin8One show that Larry Dobkin frequented, even though he wasn’t technically a regular, was the dean of radio westerns: Gunsmoke. Along with John Dehner, Vic Perrin, Harry Bartell, Jeanette Nolan, Sam Edwards, Virginia Gregg, Barney Phillips and so many other talented veterans, Dobkin could usually be counted on to pick up a script weekly. Well, let’s put it this way—if an episode didn’t feature Larry in a supporting role that week it was cause for concern. Dobkin would later turn up on the many radio westerns that followed in the wake of Gunsmoke’s success and dotted the landscape in radio’s waning era: Fort Laramie, Frontier Gentleman, Luke Slaughter of Tombstone and Have Gun – Will Travel.

dobkin7Lawrence Dobkin’s first credited film role was in 1949’s Not Wanted, playing an assistant district attorney in the directorial debut of actress Ida Lupino (she did not receive credit for taking over for the ailing Elmer Clifton). He did not possess matinee idol looks, but his bald pate was perfect for playing all sorts of authority figures (doctors, lawyers, police sergeants)…and if push came to shove, he could always wear his toupee. His C.V. in movies is far too lengthy to list here, but some of our favorite Dobkin film appearances include D.O.A. (1950), Angels in the Outfield (1951—as a rabbi), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Deadline – U.S.A. (1952), Them! (1954), The Killer Is Loose (1956), The Ten Commandments (1956—as Hur Ben Caleb!), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Portland Exposé (1957), and The Defiant Ones (1958). You’ve also heard him narrate classics like Broken Arrow (1950) and The Robe (1953). And in North by Northwest (1959)—my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film—he plays the U.S. intelligence official who observes: “It’s so horribly sad…why is it I feel like laughing?”

dobkin4Perhaps he was inspired after watching Lupino start her directing career in Not Wanted…but Lawrence Dobkin started to flex his muscles behind the camera by the late 1950s. He wrote episodes for such series as The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor and The Rifleman, produced the series Klondike and Temple Houston, and helmed a number of episodes from hit series such as The Real McCoys, 77 Sunset Strip, The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, The Andy Griffith Show, The Donna Reed Show, Felony Squad, The Mod Squad, Emergency!, Cannon, Barnaby Jones and The Waltons. Though Larry was comfortable as the unseen narrator on Naked City, he occasionally stepped in front of the camera to play Dutch Schultz in three episodes of The Untouchables. He also appeared on the likes of I Love Lucy, Have Gun – Will Travel, Rawhide, The Streets of San Francisco (he played a memorable bad guy in that series’ pilot, a former horror film actor turned psycho)…and of course, Gunsmoke. Larry was also the only person to direct an episode of the original Star Trek series (“Charlie X”) and later appear in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Mind’s Eye”).

20745Before his death in 2002 at age 83, Lawrence Dobkin remarked on his radio days: “The few of us who are left kept telling each other we never had it so good.” He’ll certainly get no argument from us, but we’re most fortunate that Larry’s radio legacy survives in the form of several Radio Spirits collections: The Saint is Heard, Night Beat: Lost Souls, Defense Attorney, Frontier Gentleman: Aces and Eights, The Man from Homicide, three sets of Suspense (Around the World, Tales Well Calculated, The Ties That Bind) and two sets of The Adventures of Nero Wolfe, The Case of the Midnight Ride and Other Tales and Parties for Death. Be sure to keep an ear peeled for our birthday boy in Fort Laramie: Volume Two, The Whistler, The Whistler: Root of All Evil, Escape to the High Seas, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Let George Do It, Jeff Regan, Investigator: Stand by for Mystery, The Line Up: Witness and Broadway is My Beat: Neon Shoals. Happy birthday, Larry!

Happy Birthday, Edmond O’Brien!

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Born 101 years ago on this date in New York City, Redmond O’Brien would go on to become one of the movies’ most beloved and respected character actors…after dropping the “r” in the first part of his name, that is. Edmond would make a standout debut in the 1939 film classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and go on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1954’s The Barefoot Contessa. But old-time radio fans know that O’Brien also took on the role of “the man with the action-packed expense account” on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar from 1950 to 1952.

obrienyoungIt has been said that while growing up in The Bronx, Edmond O’Brien was a neighbor to the legendary magician Harry Houdini, who encouraged Eddie’s own amateur aspirations to prestidigitation. Dabbling in magic instilled in the young man a desire to study acting and, after majoring in drama at Columbia University, O’Brien made his Broadway debut at the age of 21 in Daughters of Atreus. Ed’s deep voice and mature looks gave him an advantage in the theater—he was able to play roles much older than his actual age. He excelled in a number of Shakespearean productions: he was “The Gravedigger” in John Gielgud’s Hamlet, “Mark Antony” in Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater presentation of Julius Caesar, and “Mercutio” to Laurence Olivier’s “Romeo” when Larry produced Romeo and Juliet.

obrien2His stage experience convinced RKO’s Pandro S. Berman to cast him in Hunchback…but after that auspicious debut, most of O’Brien’s film work consisted of fairly standard vehicles such as Parachute Battalion (1941) and Obliging Young Lady (1942). Ed really wouldn’t come into his own in movies until he finished a stint in the service (he’s billed as “Sergeant Edmond O’Brien” in 1944’s Winged Victory) and was cast in a 1946 film based on Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers.” Because of the need to flesh out the details for a full-length feature, O’Brien played the role of an insurance investigator (a foreshadowing of things to come?) looking into the death of a former boxer (played by Burt Lancaster in his film debut). The Killers would establish the actor’s solid noir credentials, and Ed appeared in subsequent “Dark City” films such as The Web (1947), A Double Life (1947) and An Act of Murder (1948).

obrien8Edmond O’Brien would receive another plum assignment at Warner Brothers in 1949 when he landed the part of an undercover cop who ingratiates himself with James Cagney’s psychotic criminal in the gangster classic White Heat. A year later, the actor continued his streak of film noirs with entries like Backfire (1950), 711 Ocean Drive (1950) and Between Midnight and Dawn (1950)…and a movie that features one of his finest performances, D.O.A. (1950). In that classic crime tale, Ed is Frank Bigelow, an accountant whose casual notarization of a bill of sale ends up being his death warrant when he’s slipped a radioactive poison; the unforgettable opening has Bigelow stumbling into a police station, babbling that he wants to report a murder…his own!

edmondobrien1950 was also the year that Edmond O’Brien took on the role of “America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator” on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Ed was no stranger to radio; he had impressive showcases on programs like Suspense and Escape, and made appearances on the likes of Arch Oboler’s Plays, The Lux Radio Theatre, Hallmark Playhouse, The NBC University Theatre, Family Theatre, Screen Directors’ Playhouse and The Cavalcade of America. In fact, if things had worked out differently, O’Brien might have become the star of the program eventually known as Night Beat; he had appeared on a May 19, 1949 audition record for the series (which eventually starred Frank Lovejoy in the fine dramatic offering that ran from 1950-52).

obrienoscarEdmond O’Brien left Johnny Dollar in the capable hands of actor John Lund in 1952, and continued his impressive string of film performances that included offbeat roles as the titular husband of The Bigamist (1953) and “Casca” in MGM’s all-star presentation of Julius Caesar that same year. (O’Brien even had a couple of turns behind the camera, co-directing 1954’s Shield for Murder and later Man-Trap in 1961.) The actor finally received tribute from his peers in 1955 when he was awarded a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as sweaty press agent Oscar Muldoon in 1954’s The Barefoot Contessa (all those years of perspiring in noirs finally paid off!). Ed would continue to make impressions in such memorable classic films as 1984 (1956), The Rack (1956), The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), The Great Imposter (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Seven Days in May (1964—for which he received a second Best Supporting Actor nomination), Fantastic Voyage (1966) and The Wild Bunch (1969).

obrien5Edmond O’Brien kept busy on the small screen as well: the programs are not rerun much, but he was the star of a 1960-61 syndicated detective series entitled Johnny Midnight and later played lawyer Sam Benedict on a short-lived NBC series from 1962-63. Ed also guest starred on such hits as Laramie, The Virginian, Mission: Impossible, It Takes a Thief, The Name of the Game, The High Chaparral, The Streets of San Francisco and McMillan & Wife. His last feature film before retiring was 1974’s 99 and 44/100% Dead; he passed away at the age of 69 in 1985.

19881You can hear today’s birthday boy in three broadcasts of the radio series he starred in from 1950-52 in our collection The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: “The Yankee Pride Matter” (10-14-50), “The Woodward Manila Matter” (11-25-50) and “The Hannibal Murphy Matter” (11-03-51). When you’re done with that, curl up with some of Edmond O’Brien’s finest forays on the silver screen; we highly recommend The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Killers, A Double Life, White Heat, D.O.A., The Hitch-Hiker and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance…just for starters, you understand! Happy birthday, Ed!

Happy Birthday, Kenny Delmar!

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The man born in Boston, Massachusetts on this date in 1910 would soon make a big name for himself as the long-winded stooge for a well-known radio comedian who also had roots in the Boston-Cambridge area. Kenneth Frederick Fay Howard would later change his handle to Kenny Delmar, and though he eked out a successful career as a radio actor and announcer on many shows, we remember him best as Senator Beauregard Claghorn, Southern politician and the first person to answer the door when Fred Allen took a stroll down “Allen’s Alley” in the mid-1940s. “Somebody, I say, somebody knocked!” Claghorn would bellow, signaling to the listening audience that while Allen may have been the star of The Fred Allen Show, he’d be lucky to get in a word edgewise as long as the bellicose Claghorn was filibustering.

orphansDelmar may have been a Beantown native, but his mother Evelyn put down stakes in New York City while Kenny was still in infancy. She made a living in vaudeville with her sister as The Delmar Sisters, and young Kenny developed a flair for the buskin around the age of eight. You can spot him in the 1921 film Orphans of the Storm—directed by D.W. Griffith—as the younger version of Joseph Schildkraut’s character. However, he had difficulty finding more movie work after that auspicious debut. He continued his career on stage until the Depression, when he briefly worked in his stepfather’s business, and would later go on to run a dancing school—marrying one of the ballet instructors, Alice Cochran.

delmar9Delmar would eventually gravitate toward a career in radio in 1936, possessing a fine, strong voice that served him well as an announcer on the likes of The March of Time and Your Hit Parade. It’s likely that working on Time is where he made the acquaintance of wunderkind Orson Welles, who used Kenny’s considerable talents in many of his Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcasts. Delmar would play The Secretary of the Interior on the legendary October 30, 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast…but because he used his “FDR voice” (at Orson’s request) many listeners were convinced it really was the President they were hearing. Kenny also played Commissioner Weston on The Shadow in both the Welles and Bill Johnstone years. He was also heard on such programs as The Columbia Workshop, The Cavalcade of America…and The Jack Benny Program, as one of the commercial spokesmen for Lucky Strike.

delmar2Kenny’s famous Senator Claghorn character was inspired, as he related the tale, by a Texas cattle rancher who had picked Delmar up one day as Kenny was hitchhiking his way to California. The garrulous cowman like to boast about his spread (“Son, I own five hundred head of cattle—five hundred, that is.”) and memorably punctuated his habit of telling old groaners with “That’s a joke, son—I say, that’s a joke!” Realizing that this encounter was a dream come true for an actor, Delmar filed the man’s speech patterns and mannerisms in his memory bank and would call upon them whenever he played a character he tabbed “Dynamite Gus” at parties. On The Alan Young Show, where Kenny performed as both announcer and one of the regulars, he borrowed the “Gus” voice for a character named Councilman Cartenbranch.

delmar4Minerva Pious, an actress who played many characters on Fred Allen’s program—most notably Pansy Nussbaum, the Jewish housewife who lived in Allen’s Alley—suggested to her boss that Delmar’s windbag politician might be just the ideal replacement for a similar target of ridicule on the program known as Senator Bloat. The actor who played that role, Jack Smart, had left Allen’s program at the end of the 1943-44 season for Hollywood. So when Fred returned to the airwaves in the fall of 1945, “Allen’s Alley” had a new resident in Claghorn—a representation of the Old South that folks prayed would never rise again. The Senator would only drink from Dixie Cups and refused to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel; his favorite actress was Ann Sothern and he never—ever—listened to Mr. and Mrs. North. After just one month on the show, Claghorn became a sensation who’d inspire novelties like T-shirts and compasses (that only pointed South) and songs like “That’s a Joke, Son” and “I Love You, That Is.”

delmar8The Claghorn character enabled Delmar to briefly resurrect his movie career, which had been dormant since 1921. He played the verbose politico in It’s a Joke, Son!—a 1947 film produced by the British-based Eagle-Lion studios. The mildly amusing vehicle that co-starred Una Merkel (Adeline Fairchild on The Great Gildersleeve) and June Lockhart as, respectively, Beau’s wife and daughter. It performed well at the box office, but didn’t usher in any future film work for its star (Delmar’s only other notable entry on his movie resume is 1962’s Strangers in the City).

delmar5In addition to “tooting the Claghorn” every week, Kenny Delmar served as Allen’s announcer and foil on the program, and would play secondary characters when needed. Kenny was Ginny Simms’ announcer for a brief stint, and performed on other shows with the likes of Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Eddie Cantor and Henry Morgan. When the Allen show rang down the curtain in 1949, Kenny could still be heard on such series as The Magnificent Montague, The Theatre Guild on the Air and The Adventures of the Abbotts—and he made a big splash on Broadway as Hominy Smith in the hit musical Texas, Li’l Darlin’. Delmar also made inroads into television, guest starring on the likes of The United States Steel Hour and Kraft Theatre, but was more comfortable voicing a number of characters on cartoon shows. On King Leonardo and His Short Subjects he was the canine detective known as The Hunter (or as he pronounced it, “The Hun-tah!”); on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales he played the titular ex-military man on the segment The World of Commander McBragg (“Quite.”). Delmar also worked occasionally on Underdog (he was Colonel Kit Coyote of Go-Go Gophers fame) and narrated the adventures of The Beagles, a rock ‘n’ roll band of canines loosely based on some popular British music group.

20206Kenny Delmar spent his remaining years eagerly reminiscing about Radio’s Golden Age on venues like Same Time, Same Station—and finally left this world for a better one on July 14, 1984 at the age of 73. Radio Spirits has plenty of Kenny’s classic comedy performances in our box set The Fred Allen Show, and you’ll recognize his famous voice among the commercial spokesmen for Lucky Strike in many of our Jack Benny collections: Jack Benny International, On the Town, Neighbors, No Place Like Home, Maestro, Tall Tales, Wit Under the Weather, Remotes, Drawing a Blanc, Oh, Rochester! and Be Our Guest. Check out Kenny in some of our Shadow sets as well: Knight of Darkness, Radio Treasures, Crime Does Not Pay and Strange Puzzles. On video, Kenny appears as a cookie sponsor in the uproarious Car 54, Where are You? classic “A Star is Born in the Bronx”…which you can find on that sitcom’s second season DVD set. Happy birthday to you, Kenny—happy birthday, that is!

Happy Birthday, Don Wilson!

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On this date in 1900, the man who enjoyed an association with comedian Jack Benny for over thirty years was born in Lincoln, Nebraska—a man we know as Don Wilson. As Jack’s announcer, Don rhapsodized over the virtues of Jell-O, Grape Nuts and Lucky Strike throughout Jack’s long radio run, and would become an invaluable member of Benny’s repertory company along with Mary, Phil, Dennis and Rochester. And yet…there was a lot more to Don than just the endless series of “fat” jokes his boss would tell at every opportunity.

wilson9Described by old-time radio historian John Dunning as “a roly-poly Gargantuan,” Wilson stood over six feet and weighed around two hundred and twenty pounds. On radio, his employer often kidded him mercilessly about his size. What Benny never mentioned was that his announcer was a first-rate athlete; Don had played football at the University of Colorado before breaking into radio in 1923 (as a singer, no less, over KFEL in Denver) and later in life proved to be an excellent amateur duffer, frequently winning golf matches in Southern California with fellow NBC announcer Bud Stevens. By 1929, Wilson was working for KFI in Los Angeles, and soon after distinguished himself as an emcee, announcer and sportscaster (for the Rose Bowl games from 1930 to 1933), covering the Summer Olympic Games in the City of Angels for NBC in 1932.

wilson8Wilson had the announcing duties on Music by Gershwin, a quarter-hour on NBC Radio in 1934, when Benny heard him and insisted he come to work on his new series The General Tire Program. Don’s deep, resonant voice would become one of the Benny program’s trademarks, and his infectious belly laugh also put him in good stead with Jack, who loved to hear laughter from his cast and crew. Don’s relationship with his boss was also unique in that he appeared to be the only one of Jack’s employees who worried about losing his job—while Mary, Rochester and Phil weren’t shy about tossing insults and wisecracks at the Lord and Master, Don was a bit more deferential. The only area where Don would brook no disagreements was in the frequent battles he had with Benny when his boss would be mistaken about a statement of historical fact or improper usage of grammar; it was established that Wilson was the most educated member of the cast, and he wouldn’t hesitate to call out his employer when Jack was wrong.

wilson6It might have seemed that Don Wilson only had to show up for work on Sunday nights—but the announcer made the rounds on other programs, too. Don could be heard on a variety of syndicated programs, including network series like Tim and Irene and The Packard Hour, and the top shows from the Armed Forces Radio Service, Command Performance and Mail Call. He was Ginny Simms’ announcer for several years, and worked the daytime program Glamour Manor—which starred Kenny Baker, a one-time tenor on the Benny show. Other radio celebrities that allowed Don to make their sponsor’s announcements include Fanny Brice (as Baby Snooks), Victor Borge, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Jim & Marian Jordan (as Fibber McGee & Molly), Frank Sinatra (Light Up Time), Tommy Riggs & Betty Lou and Alan Young.

wilson2Jack brought Don to television with him in 1950, and while Benny toned down a few of his “Don-is-fat” jokes for a new medium (mainly because the audience could now see that Don wasn’t as enormous as described on radio), Wilson proved to be both the loyal employee and perfect foil. A running gag on the TV show would have Don decked out in some ridiculous get-up, generally resulting in his becoming enraged and prompting him to throw a tantrum by comically stamping his foot. Don also got big audience laughs in several shows that featured his fictional son Harlow (played by Dale White), whom Don was always shamelessly exploiting on Benny’s show. (Wilson’s fourth wife, Lois Corbett, also did double duty as his TV spouse…which she had previously done on radio as well.)

wilson4Don was often called upon to appear in movies featuring his boss—he appeared in Broadway Melody of 1936 and was seen joshing in the opening credits of Buck Benny Rides Again. His unmistakable voice is featured in the Benny vehicles Man About Town and Love Thy Neighbor…and in the 1958 Warner Brothers cartoon parody of The Jack Benny Program, The Mouse That Jack Built. But Wilson had a very impressive film resume despite the fact that he was typecast as an emcee and/or announcer; his vehicles include Meet the Missus, Du Barry Was a Lady, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Dick Tracy, Radio Stars on Parade, The Kid from Brooklyn, The Senator Was Indiscreet and Sailor Beware. He plays a sheriff in the 1941 B-western The Roundup, a romantic role (!) in Swing It Soldier (also 1941)…and perhaps his most famous acting gig, as gregarious boss J.C. Kettering in the Joseph Cotten-Marilyn Monroe noir Niagara (1953). Don also did the occasional guest shot on such TV shows as Death Valley Days, Harrigan and Son and Batman.

20714“Just tell them I want to send a candygram…” Don made that phrase a memorable one thanks to his TV commercial gig as the Western Union Candygram spokesman from 1969 to 1971. As for us old-time radio aficionados, we’ll always remember him as the man who took such pleasure in introducing his parsimonious boss on radio week after week. There’s beaucoups of Benny here at Radio Spirits: a new collection entitled Jack Benny International, and old favorites On the Town, Neighbors, No Place Like Home, Maestro, Tall Tales, Wit Under the Weather, Remotes, Drawing a Blanc, Oh, Rochester! and Be Our Guest. Don’t forget to check out our Jack Benny-Fred Allen compilation, The Feud, and the Shout! Factory DVD collection The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes as well!