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Review: Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945)

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Businessman Arthur Manleder (Lloyd Corrigan) has just acquired a rare book store from owner Wilfred Kittredge (George M. Carleton)…but his investment is in jeopardy when Kittredge takes ill and his doctor (Edward Keane) prescribes a strict regimen of bed rest. The doctor’s diagnosis has come on the eve of a book auction, and without Kittredge’s participation the turnout will be less stellar than usual. But Manleder’s pal, reformed safecracker/thief Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black (Chester Morris), has a solution—he’ll disguise himself as Kittredge, and no one will be the wiser. To compensate for his inexperience with rare books, he’ll rely on some coaching from one of the store’s clerks, Gloria Mannard (Lynn Merrick).

suspicion5As the event gets underway, the E-ticket item is a rare (and autographed) first edition of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, sold on consignment to the shop by a man named Porter Hadley. Unbeknownst to Manleder and “Kittredge,” however, the book is a counterfeit…and when it’s sold to collector Alexander Harmon (Douglas Wood) for the princely sum of $62,000, an enraged Harmon reports the fraud to Inspector John Farraday (Richard Lane) once he learns of the deception. As is his modus operandi, Farraday is convinced that Blackie is behind the deed…so when he and sidekick Inspector Matthews (Frank Sully) happen upon Blackie leaning over the dead body of Hadley it’s pretty much done, sold, Bob’s your uncle, as far as Farraday is concerned.

Blackie naturally sets out to clear his name…a daunting task, to be sure—but since Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945) runs a mere sixty-six minutes it shouldn’t take him too long. (The title is also a bit of a misnomer—Mr. Black is never at any time escorted to the police station for the titular processing.)

suspicion1Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion is an average entry in the popular Columbia movie franchise; its brief running time is a plus, since the plot isn’t too compelling (to be honest, the only truly compelling bookstore in motion pictures is the one in The Big Sleep). But the actors are certainly game, and much of the pleasure in watching Booked on Suspicion is the jovial camaraderie between friendly nemeses Blackie and Farraday—Farraday is always convinced his antagonist isn’t on the level, but at least he maintains a sense of humor about it. Suspicion would be the swan song for character great Lloyd Corrigan as Arthur Manleder; the actor always did a first-rate job in portraying the eccentric financier, whether it be performing amusing bits of business or transforming a simple sentence into one long spoonerism. The Manleder character would return for one more Blackie film (Boston Blackie’s Rendezvous, with actor Harry Hayden in the role) before they retired him from the series.

After one go-round as Inspector Matthews (in the previous entry, One Mysterious Night), Lyle Latell handed off to Frank Sully the part of the stupefyingly dense cop sidekick; Sully would play Matthews in the remaining Blackie entries in which the character was featured. Frank, who always reminded me of an older Earl Holliman, later turned up in a number of late-period Three Stooges shorts at the same studio—but he’s perhaps best recognized as Noah Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

suspicion2Lynn Merrick plays the femme fatale on Booked on Suspicion; for some odd reason our hero never quite learns not to trust the leading ladies in these movies, and Merrick’s Gloria is no exception. Lynn makes a return appearance (as a different character, of course) in A Close Call for Boston Blackie (1946), and she can also be seen in Voice of the Whistler (1945). Gloria is revealed to be the late Mr. Hadley’s accomplice; she entered into a partnership with him in order to raise enough money to help her husband Jack Higgins (a convict on the lam) continue to elude the cops. Higgins is played by Steve Cochran in his feature film debut; Columbia shared his contract with Sam Goldwyn, and Goldwyn used him as a bad guy in Danny Kaye vehicles like Wonder Man (1945) and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). Cochran would go on to make a lot of noise at Warner Brothers, where his best remembered roles include movies like White Heat (1949), The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) and Tomorrow is Another Day (1951).

20588The Boston Blackie film franchise often distinguished itself by featuring directors that went on to bigger and better things. Sadly, this would not be the case for Suspicion helmer Arthur Dreifuss. Beginning as a choreographer, he went on to direct many a B-picture for Producers Releasing Corporation, as well as “Jungle” Sam Katzman at Monogram (he did a lot of their teenage melodramas and musicals in the late 1940s). Dreifuss’ best-known directorial effort remains the 1962 feature based on Brendan Behan’s play, The Quare Fellow (starring Patrick McGoohan), but he’ll return to sit in the director’s chair next time for Boston Blackie’s Rendezvous (1945). And don’t forget—there’s plenty of Chester Morris-Richard Lane action on Outside the Law, our popular Boston Blackie CD collection!

Happy Birthday, Marie Wilson!

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The actress born Katherine Elizabeth (Marie) Wilson on this date ninety-eight years ago in Anaheim, California is an example of what show business types like to call an “overnight sensation.” And to think—it only took thirty-one years to accomplish this feat. Marie Wilson had been working in motion pictures since 1934; the only setback was that many of these vehicles were strictly B-picture affairs, titles with which only a die-hard movie buff would be familiar. Wilson’s stock in the entertainment industry would change in a New York minute (if you’ll pardon the pun) with the April 11, 1947 premiere of a CBS Radio sitcom created by “reformed introvert” and gag writer Cy Howard: My Friend Irma.

marie6Before achieving her future destiny as America’s favorite “dumb blonde,” Marie Wilson paid her dues with uncredited parts in films like the Laurel & Hardy operetta Babes in Toyland (1934) and the Thelma Todd-Patsy Kelly short Bum Voyage (1934). Being in motion pictures was a lifelong ambition for the young Marie, who had set her sights on an acting career when her family moved to Hollywood after the death of her father. Educated at the Miss Page School and the Hollywood Cumnock School for Girls, Wilson moonlighted as a salesgirl at a department store while looking for work in movies. A chance meeting with director Nick Grinde proved to be the starlet’s big break. He married her and cast her in several of his movies (the aforementioned Hal Roach Studios films, plus Ladies Crave Excitement and Public Wedding). He also secured her a contract with Warner Brothers, where she started to turn heads in such vehicles as Colleen (1936), Satan Met a Lady (1936) and Boy Meets Girl (1938).

marie8Marie’s last film for Warners was The Cowboy Quarterback (1939); after that, she freelanced at several studios while at the same time appearing on stage with comedian Ken Murray as a stooge in his successful “Blackout” stage revues of that era. Her film credits at this time include Broadway (1942), Shine On, Harvest Moon (1944), Music for Millions (1944) and The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947). And then came My Friend Irma, a situation comedy created by writer Cy Howard—which cast Marie as the dizzy flaxen-haired roommate of the more sensible and down-to-earth Cathy Lewis; both women were secretaries sharing an apartment in New York City, with their lives populated by an array of memorably eccentric characters. (If you don’t examine it too closely, you might notice a slight similarity between Irma and the stage/movie hit My Sister Eileen.)

marie10Lewis played Jane Stacy, the level-headed member of the pair, who worked for the wealthy Richard Rhinelander III and had pretty much set her sights on marching Rhinelander down the aisle while an organ played “Oh, Promise Me.” “What good will that do if he’s got two other wives?” Irma Peterson (Wilson) once asked her roomie innocently when Jane brought up the subject of rice-and-old-shoes. Irma was just one in a long line of daffy radio dames (like Gracie Allen and Jane Ace); sure, she drove Jane to distraction at times…but her sweet nature and naïveté usually kept her best bud from introducing her to Mr. Pillow in the wee a.m. hours. Irma wasn’t quite as ambitious in the boyfriend department as her pal; her steady was a loafer named Al (played by John Brown). Although he seemed quite proud of the fact that he depended on the dole for his sole means of support, it was Irma’s fervent ambition to become “Mrs. Al.”

alanreed11Other regulars on the program included Professor Kropotkin (Hans Conried), the girls’ upstairs neighbor who was constantly kvetching about the state of his living quarters…and landlady Kathleen O’Reilly (Jane Morgan, Gloria Gordon), who was not only the object of Kropotkin’s complaints but the target of many of his sarcastic barbs as well. Because My Friend Irma featured both girls hard at work at their respective jobs, their bosses were also a frequent presence on the series: Irma worked for attorney Milton J. Clyde (Alan Reed), who probably would have sacked her years ago were it not for the fact that he was at the mercy of her unorthodox filing system. As mentioned, Jane’s employer was Richard Rhinelander III (played by Leif Erickson, Donald Woods and Brooks West) and Richard figured heavily in the plots…as did his disapproving mother Helen, played by Myra Marsh.

marie9There were a great many factors involved in the success of My Friend Irma, from its first-rate scripting to superlative performances by its cast of accomplished farceurs…but what really made the series a favorite among radio listeners was its fortuitous scheduling after CBS’ The Lux Radio Theatre on Monday nights. Two years after its debut, the program was the subject of a successful movie adaptation that bears the distinction of being the film that launched the career of comedy duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. A follow-up, My Friend Irma Goes West (1950), was released a year later…and a television version in 1952. In the meantime, Marie Wilson was able to capitalize on her “dumb blonde” fame with starring vehicles like A Girl in Every Port (1952) and Never Wave at a WAC (1953). But Marie’s onscreen antics soon got competition from a singer-actress who staked out a similar claim to lovably ditziness: Marilyn Monroe. Both the radio and TV versions of Irma ended in 1954, and after that Wilson’s film output was limited to small roles in The Story of Mankind (1957) and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962). Wilson didn’t want for work; she did a lot of road theater and summer stock appearances in tailor-made vehicles like Born Yesterday and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and guest-starred on such shows as Burke’s Law and Love, American Style. Her last regular television gig before her death in 1972 from cancer at the age of 56 was providing a voice for football wife Penny McCoy on the Hanna-Barbera series Where’s Huddles?—which allowed her to work alongside her one-time Irma boss Alan Reed.

20590Radio Spirits features a My Friend Irma collection in On Second Thought: sixteen half-hour hilarious broadcasts spotlighting Marie Wilson’s signature radio role as the gal who put the “B” in “blonde, beautiful and bewildered” with Cathy Lewis (and Joan Banks) as her BFF Jane and a cast that also includes John Brown, Hans Conried, Gloria Gordon, Alan Reed, Leif Erickson…and Bea Benaderet as the unforgettable Amber Lipscott. One listen and you’ll know why Radio Mirror chose Irma as their “Favorite New Comedy Program of 1947.” (And besides—I wrote the liner notes!) Happy birthday, Marie!

Happy Centennial Birthday, Parley Baer!

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Simply put, the actor born on this date one hundred years ago in Salt Lake City, Utah possessed one of the most distinctive voices in the multiple mediums of radio, TV and movies. Let me illustrate with a personal example. Many years ago, I was worked on some project in the living room of my home in Savannah, GA and to have some noise on in the background, put on a DVD of the 1951 Cary Grant-Jeanne Crain movie People Will Talk. I was pretty engrossed in what I was doing, but the moment Grant’s character walked into a hobby store with the intention of buying a train set, I looked up upon hearing the voice of the salesman who spoke to him. “Parley Baer!” I shouted out…and then felt kind of silly, because I was the only person in the living room at the time.

parley7After studying drama at the University of Utah, Parley achieved the dream of every young boy: he ran away to join the circus. He was quite an adept ringmaster, employed at various times by Circus Vargas and Barnum & Bailey—and years after his radio and TV success, kept his hand in serving on the board of the community L.A. Circus. The big top is also where he met the future Mrs. Baer; Parley courted circus aerialist-bareback rider Ernestine Clarke, and married her in 1946—they were together for fifty-four years until her passing in 2000.

A stint as an announcer for Salt Lake’s KSLM got Baer interested in radio, and he began getting jobs on such series as The Whistler and The First Nighter Program. Parley would go on to appear on nearly every major dramatic anthology series, among them The Damon Runyon Theater, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Lux Radio Theatre, The NBC University Theater and The Railroad Hour. He was versatile enough to do comedy, scoring supporting roles on shows like Shorty Bell, Granby’s Green Acres (he was the original Eb!) and The Truitts, and guesting on the likes of Fibber McGee & Molly, Our Miss Brooks and Those Websters. It’s difficult to name a series that didn’t give Parley a script to hold at one time or another; he graced such popular programs as Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Confession, The Count of Monte Cristo (as manservant Rene), Dragnet, The Man Called X, Night Beat, Pat Novak For Hire, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, The Six Shooter, Suspense, Tales of the Texas Rangers, This is Your FBI and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

parley6If Parley Baer had a mentor in radio…it might arguably be producer-director Norman Macdonnell. Norm used Parley frequently on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, The CBS Radio Workshop, Escape, Fort Laramie and Romance. On Honest Harold, the sitcom Harold Peary did for CBS after departing The Great Gildersleeve, Baer played Harold’s pal Pete, and the actor later essayed the role of Doc Clemmens, the best friend (who often narrated the stories) of the titular hero on Rogers of the Gazette. Parley would also work for Macdonnell on what would later be acknowledged as his signature radio role as Chester Wesley Proudfoot in the dean of radio westerns, Gunsmoke.

parley8As originally written, Chester didn’t actually have a name—star William Conrad complained that Parley’s part in the audition script was simply designated as “Townsman,” and he explained it was silly to call him that when he had to address him. So Conrad came up with “Chester,” and Baer later ad-libbed the remainder of his moniker in another episode. In numerous interviews, the actor unhesitatingly described playing Chester on Gunsmoke as the highlight of his professional career—a complete contrast to Dennis Weaver, who played the “dependable non-thinker” (Baer’s description) on television, and who eventually became dissatisfied with what he considered a limiting, confining trap. Like so many radio veterans, Parley Baer embraced acting in the medium as a pure joy—he continued to perform on such 1970s revivals as The Sears Radio Theater (a.k.a. The Mutual Radio Theater) and played the recurring roles of Reginald Duffield and Uncle Joe Finneman on Adventures in Odyssey in the 1980s/1990s.

parley4By the beginning of the 1950s, Parley was ready to flex his thespic muscles as a movie character actor; his first credited roles were in the films Comanche Territory and Union Station, and he later appeared in the likes of Air Cadet (1951), Away All Boats (1956), The Young Lions (1958), The FBI Story (1959), Wake Me When It’s Over (1960), A Fever in the Blood (1961), Gypsy (1962), Bedtime Story (1964), Those Calloways (1965), Skin Game (1971)…and one of his personal favorites, the controversial Sam Fuller-directed White Dog (1982). He’d continue to play small roles and bit parts in films until 1995; one of his most memorable valedictory roles was as the Senate majority leader in the 1993 comedy Dave.

parley9Parley would become a frequent presence on the small screen as well, guest starring on such TV successes as Have Gun – Will Travel, Perry Mason, The Lucy Show, Hogan’s Heroes, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, The Virginian, Bewitched, WKRP in Cincinnati and Newhart. On The Andy Griffith Show, Parley played Mayberry mayor Roy Stoner (reuniting him with his one-time Gunsmoke colleague Howard McNear), a by-the-book stickler for the rules who frequently created conflict for Sheriff Andy Taylor. Baer also appeared on The Addams Family in several episodes (as city commissioner—and later mayor—Arthur J. Henson) and had a recurring role on The Dukes of Hazzard as Doc Appleby. His best remembered boob tube gig is undoubtedly that of Ozzie and Harriet’s neighbor Herb Darby on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet; later, in the 1990s, he made multiple appearances on the daytime drama The Young and the Restless as Miles Dugan when that series prominently featured a story arc on senior citizens. Even when Parley wasn’t appearing on a proper TV program chances were you could catch him voicing the Keebler Elf in that cookie company’s popular commercials.

parley5A major stroke in 1997 ended Parley’s acting career, and he finally shuffled off this mortal coil in 2002 at the age of 88. But his radio legacy is a rich one; among the Radio Spirits collections on which you can hear the amazing Mr. Baer: The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Defense Attorney, Escape (Escape to the High Seas), Fort Laramie Volume Two, Frontier Gentleman (Aces and Eights), The Line Up (Witness), The Mutual Radio Theater, Night Beat (Lost Souls), Our Miss Brooks (Boynton Blues), Pat Novak for Hire (Pain Gets Expensive), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Mayhem is My Business), Romance, The Six Shooter (Gray Steel), Suspense (Tales Well Calculated) and The Whistler (Notes on Murder, Root of All Evil). Today’s birthday boy also appears on all of our Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar sets: Confidential, Murder Matters, Phantom Chases, Wayward Matters…and The Many Voices of Johnny Dollar. Happy centennial anniversary to one of our favorite character actors!

Happy Birthday, Bill Goodwin!

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There are announcers…and there are personality announcers. The latter were integral to the success of any comedy program during Radio’s Golden Age; not only did they dutifully promote the sponsor’s product, but they were also called upon to play a more participatory role in the weekly shenanigans in the show. Don Wilson, when he wasn’t hawking Jell-O or Grape Nuts or Lucky Strike, was important to the plot that unfolded during each half-hour of The Jack Benny Program. Harlow Wilcox stopped by 79 Wistful Vista each week not only to praise Johnson’s Wax or Carnu, but to needle the laird and master of that residence, Fibber McGee. Harry Von Zell was a foil for Fred Allen, Eddie Cantor, Joan Davis and Dinah Shore before becoming the whipping boy on George Burns and Gracie Allen’s popular TV sitcom.

goodwin5Since I’ve mentioned Burns and Allen, it seems only fitting to mention that their longtime announcer Bill Goodwin celebrates what would have been his one-hundred-and-fourth birthday today. Born William Nettles Goodwin in San Francisco in 1910, Bill can be heard working alongside George and Gracie as early as an extant September 26, 1934 broadcast (when the couple’s show was known as The Adventures of Gracie and was sponsored by White Owl cigars). But he moonlighted with other funsters at the same time, working for Joe Penner’s Cocomalt show and at Jack Oakie’s College (which also meant that he handled the announcing chores for Oakie’s companion program, The Camel Caravan with Benny Goodman). Bill was also the announcer for Hollywood Showcase briefly in 1938, and yucked it up with Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton when those two brought their movie act to radio in the sitcom Blondie.

goodwin1Goodwin’s best known radio gig at that time was as announcer and stooge for Bob Hope, whom he worked with during the comedian’s early years in radio (1938-41), and later rejoined in the 1950s (after George and Gracie chose to concentrate solely on TV). Because Bill was Bob’s announcer, it only made sense that he fill the same role on A Date with Judy when that sitcom was Hope’s summer replacement in 1941. Throughout the 1940s, Bill Goodwin would work alongside the likes of Edgar Bergen (and Charlie McCarthy), Milton Berle (on Three Ring Time), Gracie Fields, Al Pearce and Frank Sinatra. In select summers (because he was employed by Burns and Allen), he handled the chores on Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou and Paul Whiteman Presents. Other shows on which Bill made appearances include Command Performance, Mail Call, The Columbia Workshop, The Silver Theatre and The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre.

goodwin7As George and Gracie’s announcer and foil, Bill Goodwin was a master of the integrated commercial—sneaking in plugs for Swan Soap and Maxwell House Coffee with effortless aplomb. Bill was also a sounding board for Gracie’s weekly bit of wacky, and loved to toss barbs at George…usually on the subjects of his age and how he owed much of his success to his wife. Goodwin also fancied himself quite the ladies’ man, and would offer up his expertise on charming the fairer sex to bandleader Meredith Willson, who was a complete washout where women were concerned.

Because of his popularity on the Burns and Allen program, Bill Goodwin attempted to strike out on his own in two unsuccessful solo ventures. He played an insurance salesman on CBS’ The Bill Goodwin Show (also known as Leave it to Bill), but despite the presence of radio veterans like Jim Backus, Bill Johnstone, Shirley Mitchell, Elvia Allman and Mary Jane Croft, the sitcom came and went rather quickly. The following year, Bill sent up the private eye genre as an inept (and inebriated) gumshoe named Johnny Fletcher, heard briefly on ABC (and co-starring Sheldon Leonard). A quiz show, Dollar a Minute, was hosted by Mr. G for a single season from 1950-51. Of course, by that time Bill was touting Carnation Milk on George and Gracie’s behalf on the small screen, so he certainly wasn’t browsing the want ads for work.

'To Each His Own'Besides, Bill Goodwin was already hard at work establishing his bona fides as a movie character actor. Amusingly, he turns up in two entries in the Blondie franchise (so it must have seemed like Old Home Week for Bill, Penny and Arthur), Blondie in Society (1941) and Blondie Goes to College (1942). You’ll recognize him as the hotel detective in Spellbound (1945), and as Olivia de Havilland’s business partner in To Each His Own (1946), the film that won Livvy her first of two Best Actress Oscars. Other Goodwin performances can be viewed in Incendiary Blonde (1945), The Stork Club (1945), The Jolson Story (1946), It’s a Great Feeling (1949), The Life of Riley (1949), Tea for Two (1950), Lucky Me (1954) and The Opposite Sex (1956). A film that’s been previously discussed here on the blog, So This is New York (1948), also includes Bill Goodwin among the all-star cast (as a megalomaniacal Broadway star)…and was recently released to DVD and Blu-ray this month by Olive Films.

20560It’s quite ironic that Bill Goodwin, who garnered appreciative laughs by ridiculing his boss George Burns’ age, would actually leave this world for a better one before his famous employer—Goodwin died of a heart attack in 1958 at the age of 47. But his underrated prowess as a comedic straight man lives on in such Burns & Allen Radio Spirits collections as Treasury, As Good as Nuts and Burns & Allen and Friends. (Bill gets plenty of time to say a few words in Volumes 1 and 2 of their television show, too.) And for a change of pace…our birthday boy shares a microphone with Bergen and McCarthy in the set Homefront Charlie. Happy birthday, Bill—you’re good to the last drop!

Review: One Mysterious Night (1944)

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It costs only a dollar—1/100th of a C-note—to gaze at a display of precious gems at the Carleton Plaza Hotel, an event that’s fundraising for the war effort…and that features the Blue Star of the Nile as its main attraction. But that attraction won’t be around for long—a couple of hoods, Paul Martens (William Wright) and Matt Healy (Robert Williams), put the snatch on the diamond with the help of the Carleton’s general manager, George Daley (Robert E. Scott). The audience is aware of this, of course, but Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) is not—and after being called on the carpet by the commissioner (Edward Keane), Farraday falls back on the old reliable of publicly accusing Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black (Chester Morris) of the theft.

night8We’ve already been clued in as to Blackie’s innocence…but even without that information we know our hero is the victim of a baseless accusation, since he and his sidekick The Runt (George E. Stone) are working legitimate jobs in the tool factory owned by their pal Arthur Manleder (Harrison Greene). When Blackie goes to police headquarters to confront Farraday and clear his name…that’s when his cop nemesis reveals his true intentions. He knows that Blackie is the only person who can ferret out the people responsible, and he deputizes the ex-jewel thief to carry out this mission.

night2It will certainly be strange for Blackie to be working with the encouragement of the police department for a change…but Farraday starts to have second thoughts when a series of events, including the murder of Daley, suggests that Blackie might be in on the caper after all. Throw in a doggedly determined female reporter, Dorothy Anderson (Janis Carter), and some truly offbeat set pieces…and you have the makings of one of the best vehicles in Columbia’s Boston Blackie franchise: One Mysterious Night (1944).

What makes Night such an engaging Boston Blackie entry is that while it contains many of the elements audiences have come to expect from the film series, it throws in some amusing twists to make the entry a particular standout. Blackie dons several of his legendary disguises to track down the thieves, and there’s a riotously funny moment where he and Runt, posing as phone repairmen, converse with a salesclerk (Ann Loos) working the hotel’s newsstand. “The nursery’s at the other end of the lobby,” she tells Blackie, suggesting that The Runt is his “little boy.” Blackie corrects her, letting her know The Runt is his assistant. “That half-pint?” she asks.

night4“Why not?” responds Blackie. “I got him for half-price.” Our hero’s first attempt at going undercover, earlier in the film, resulted in his unmasking by reporter Anderson…and he’s hauled back to headquarters, much to Farraday’s frustration—which increases when Blackie tells him he has no other recourse but to let the press (and public) know that he’s “escaped.” “I can see the headlines now,” Farraday wails. “’Blackie Escapes Farraday After Three Hours in Jail’.” Sure enough, after a scene dissolve, Blackie and Runt are perusing a newspaper with that very headline.

night7Night also brings back many of the favorite supporting characters from previous Blackie entries…but audiences might be a bit perplexed by the fact that they have new faces. Lloyd Corrigan is sorely missed as Arthur Manleder. The character puts in but a brief appearance, and he’s played by Harrison Greene for this go-round. Joseph Crehan is adequate as pawnshop owner-fence Jumbo Madigan (played in previous Blackie movies by Cy Kendall). Lyle Latell takes over for Walter Sande as the unbelievably dense Sergeant Matthews. Latell’s Matthews is convincing evidence that they’ve lowered the I.Q. test requirements for the police force…but after seeing a couple of plainclothesman play gin rummy in Jumbo’s shop—oblivious to the fact that two of the “mannequins” are actually Martens and Healy—it could be concluded that there’s a systemic problem.

night5Janis Carter is the leading lady in One Mysterious Night; the Columbia starlet appeared in two of the Whistler films discussed previously here at Radio Spirits, The Mark of the Whistler (1944) and The Power of the Whistler (1945). But she’s a bit overshadowed by the actress playing Eileen Dailey, George’s concerned sister—it’s Dorothy Malone in one of her earliest film roles before going on to Academy Award-winning glory with Written on the Wind in 1956. Also uncredited is character great Minerva Urecal (as the manager of an apartment building with an all-female clientele), who later appeared on such TV shows as The Adventures of Tugboat Annie and Peter Gunn.

night1Honestly, there are some really unusual touches in this—witness the spinning street sign after the opening credits, without any explanation as to why it’s twirling on its axle. The crisp, snappy direction of Night is courtesy of Oscar Boetticher, Jr. This is his third feature film, but the first on which he received official credit. Oscar is probably more familiar to movie buffs as “Budd.” He helmed a number of entertaining B-films—like The Missing Juror (1944) and Behind Locked Doors (1948) —before achieving critical success with Bullfighter and the Lady in 1951, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Motion Picture Story (which he shared with Ray Nazarro). However, he’s most revered for a series of low-budget westerns made in tandem with cowboy great Randolph Scott and producer Harry Brown. Seven Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1957), Ride Lonesome (1959), and the like have acquired considerable cache with fans of the genre.

20588One Mysterious Night is one of three Boston Blackie films available on DVD, part of Sony Home Video’s manufactured-on-demand series (MOD). Next up in the catalog: Lloyd Corrigan returns to his Arthur Manleder role for the last time in Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945), which finds the whole gang mixed up in bookstore shenanigans involving a rare first edition by Charles Dickens. As always, we encourage you to check out our CD collection Outside the Law and listen to the radio adventures of the man who’s an “enemy to those who make him an enemy…friend to those who have no friends.”

Happy Birthday, Jackson Beck!

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Though he personally considered himself foremost an actor, radio veteran Jackson Beck—born in New York City on this date in 1912—remains best known for announcing in his unmistakable, deep voice: “Yes, it’s Superman—strange visitor from the planet Krypton who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men!” Beck joined Mutual’s popular The Adventures of Superman in 1943, and stayed on as the show’s announcer-narrator until its cancellation in 1950. As we will see, however, Jackson was in the Man of Steel’s circle of friends both before and after his seven-year radio stint.

beck1Beck was the son of silent film actor Max Beck, and began his radio career as far back as 1931, when he worked on the daytime drama Myrt and Marge. Jackson became one of the medium’s most reliable narrators, heard frequently on The March of Time and serving as the announcer on The Adventures of Babe Ruth. The actor never ventured far from his home base of NYC, and was part of the city’s extensive pool of first-rate radio performers, which allowed him to appear on such New York-based shows as The Brownstone Theatre, Bulldog Drummond, The Busy Mr. Bingle, Casey, Crime Photographer (as Inspector Logan), Cloak and Dagger, Creeps by Night, The FBI in Peace and War, Grand Central Station, Hercule Poirot, Inner Sanctum, Joe and Ethel Turp, The Joe DiMaggio Show, Life Can Be Beautiful, The Man Behind the Gun (replacing Everett Sloane as the show’s narrator), Matinee Theater, The Mysterious Traveler, Valiant Lady, Words at War, Woman of America, X-Minus One and You are There. Even as the curtain was about to close on radio in the 1960s, Beck could be heard on some of the medium’s last remaining programs like Have Gun – Will Travel, Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar…and participated enthusiastically in the radio revivals of the 1960s/1970s with appearances on Theater Five and The CBS Radio Mystery Theater.

BlutoBefore landing the Superman gig, Jackson Beck was already associated with the comic strip character: he provided the voice of Perry White in the series of theatrical animated cartoons produced by Max Fleischer beginning in 1941. When Paramount took over the Fleischer outfit—and renamed it Famous Studios in 1942—Beck stayed on the payroll, voicing the father of cartoon heroine Little Lulu and Buzzy the Crow, a minor star paired with the company’s Herman the cat (of Herman and Katnip) in a series of shorts that aren’t revisited much today (Beck was asked to use a dialect voice for Buzzy). Jackson can also be heard in several of the Casper, the Friendly Ghost shorts and Little Audrey cartoons…but most members of that generation know his unmistakable tones in Bluto, the nemesis of cartoon star Popeye. (Once again, Beck was ahead of the curve—he played Bluto on the spinach-eating gob’s short-lived radio series in the mid-1930s.)

beck3On Superman, even though he became immortal as the program’s announcer-narrator (“I’m still often asked to recreate the famous opening today,” he once observed, “It’s nice to be part of a legend”), Jackson got the opportunity to do more than just observe the adventures of the visitor from Krypton. He provided the voice of Beany Martin, the Daily Planet’s copyboy, and whenever Supe got a visit from the Caped Crusader, Jackson would play the part of Batman’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth. The actor would achieve major success with an association in radio fare aimed at juvenile audiences; he served as a narrator on Mark Trail and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, and played Tank Tinker on Hop Harrigan. From 1942 to 1945, Beck was the first actor to portray O. Henry’s “famous Robin Hood of the Old West,” The Cisco Kid. Beck also flexed his thespic muscles as one of radio’s popular gumshoes; from 1948 to 1950, he played S.S. Van Dine’s famed creation Philo Vance in a series syndicated by prolific producer Frederic W. Ziv. Jackson’s Superman co-worker Joan Alexander emoted beside him as his assistant Miss Deering, and George Petrie played district attorney Frank Markham. Beck also briefly played the titular sleuth of The Casebook of Gregory Hood over Mutual in 1949.

king-leonardo-of-bongo-congoIf you’ve ever watched Woody Allen’s 1969 mockumentary Take the Money and Run, you no doubt know that Jackson Beck served as the movie’s tongue-in-cheek narrator of the plight of hapless criminal Virgil Stark. Allen was a fan of Beck’s; he later used the actor’s vocal talents as the on-the-spot newsman in his homage to those thrilling days of yesteryear, Radio Days (1987). Unlike his fellow narrators Reed Hadley and Paul Frees, Jackson rarely did much acting before a television camera. However, he did make an exception in the late sixties with a brief appearance on the daytime soap The Edge of Night as mobster Willie Saffire. Still, Beck maintained a presence on TV: he was the narrator of the 1958-59 series Steve Canyon, and voiced the characters of King Leonardo and Biggie Rat in the fondly remembered cartoon series King Leonardo and His Short Subjects.

beck7Jackson also returned to past triumphs: he reestablished his inner Bluto when a series of made-for-TV Popeye cartoons were produced in the 1960s, and was reunited with Clayton “Bud” Collier and Joan Alexander for The Adventures of Superman in 1966 (Beck was the narrator, and once again played editor Perry White—but he also took on additional work as the Man of Steel’s evil nemesis, Lex Luthor). Throughout the 1980s/1990s the actor served as the narrator on the G.I. Joe cartoon series and was everywhere in the advertising arena, serving as an enthusiastic pitchman for Little Caesar’s, Thompson’s Water Seal, Brawny paper towels and Infusium shampoo. He passed away only a few days after his 92nd birthday in 1994.

19905The adventures of our birthday boy in his signature role as Philo Vance are available in a nice Radio Spirits collection, and you can also enjoy hearing him on Bulldog Drummond: Out of the Fog. Jackson is also featured in all three of our The Adventures of the Falcon sets: Count Me Out Tonight, Angel, Private Eye to Super Spy and Shakedown (with liner notes by yours truly!). You’ll also enjoy hearing Jackson on the Words at War collection, featuring WWII dramas with the likes of Lesley Woods, Maurice Tarplin and Lon Clark, and Beck rings down the Final Curtain in our set of Suspense programs from the final years of “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills.” Happy birthday to the multi-talented Jackson Beck!

Happy Birthday, Harriet Hilliard!

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If actress-singer Harriet Hilliard—born on this date in 1909—had kept her birth name of Peggy Louise Snyder…do you think anyone would have been comfortable referring to her long-running radio and TV sitcom as The Adventures of Ozzie & Peggy? Nah…that doesn’t sound quite right. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, young Peg was a show business veteran at the age of only six weeks—her parents were also troupers, and her actress mother carried her on stage so that she could make her thespic debut. Peggy started acting regularly at the age of three, and by the time she was ready for high school graduation she opted to join the Castle Ballet at New York’s Capitol Theater. Back in those vaudeville days, performers did it all: acting, singing, dancing—qualities that certainly came in handy when she was hired by Ken Murray (and later, stage legend Bert Lahr) to be the “straight woman” in his act.

harriet10In 1932, Ms. Snyder made the acquaintance of a young bandleader named Ozzie Nelson…who came up with the then-novel idea of including a female in his musical aggregation. “He wanted to do musical comedy duets at the bandstand,” Harriet later told Chuck Schaden in a 1989 interview. “He said the boys would have something to look at as well as the girls!” As it turns out, Ozzie did his share of looking as well; after renaming Peggy “Harriet Hilliard,” the two of them participated in a whirlwind summer courtship that would later lead to forty years of holy matrimony beginning in 1935.

harriet3Ozzie had never intended to get into the band leading business—it was merely a sideline for him while he considered putting his law degree to use by hanging out his shingle. But the income from his band proved so lucrative that he stayed in show business, and Harriet was the perfect partner for him. They were among the first couples to trade song lyrics back-and-forth in a nonchalant, casual manner. While Harriet vocalized, she also pursued an acting career. She was under contract to RKO and appeared in several films for the studio—the most famous being the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical Follow the Fleet (1936).

Another film from Harriet’s RKO resume was The Life of the Party (1937), a musical comedy romp that featured the talents of radio comedian Joe Penner…who had been Ozzie & Harriet’s radio co-worker at one time. The couple regularly appeared with Joe on The Bakers Broadcast from 1933 to 1935, and inherited the program when Penner made a rather unwise career move to leave the show. The Nelsons were joined by “Believe it or Not” creator Robert L. Ripley for the 1935-37 seasons, and stayed for another year after that with cartoonist Feg Murray until the show was cancelled in June of 1938.

harriet1Three years later, the Nelsons landed a plum gig on The Raleigh Cigarette Program…as the musical entertainment supporting comedian Red Skelton. Premiering in the fall of 1941, Skelton’s program would soon become one of the airwaves’ top comedy shows, and Harriet was often pressed into service to play the female characters on Red’s half-hour of hilarity. For example, when Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper greeted his girlfriend with “We-e-e-e-e-lll Da-a-a-a-i-i-sy June!”—it was Harriet who voiced the object of Clem’s affection. Harriet was also the mother of Junior, “the mean widdle kid.” Ozzie & Harriet’s exposure on the Skelton program allowed Mr. Nelson to join his wife in that acting thing, and the duo made a number of entertaining pictures together, notably Sweetheart of the Campus (1941) and Honeymoon Lodge (1943). Solo, Harriet proved a most fetching leading lady in vehicles like the Boston Blackie programmer Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941) and an entertaining entry from The Falcon franchise, The Falcon Strikes Back (1943).

ozzie&harriet1Red Skelton’s induction into the military at the end of the 1943-44 radio season would prove to be a small setback for Ozzie & Harriet. That is, until Fibber McGee & Molly creator Don Quinn suggested to Ozzie that he write his and Harriet’s own program. And so on October 8, 1944—the ninth anniversary of “America’s favorite young couple”—The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet premiered over CBS Radio. It would stay with “the stars’ address” until 1948, when it moved to NBC for a season…and then from 1949 to 1954 finished out its twelve-year radio run on ABC. When Ozzie & Harriet first went on the air, it was a “wild” (Harriet’s description) sitcom about a bandleader and his young wife—but over the years, it morphed into a gentler family situation comedy, particularly when the Nelsons’ real-life sons, David and Ricky, finally convinced their dad to let them play themselves on the show (before that, the roles had been essayed by professional child actors).

ozzieharriet3After an eight-year hiatus from the motion picture screen, Ozzie and Harriet teamed up again—along with David and Ricky—for Here Come the Nelsons (1952), a wacky comedic romp that in essence served as a pilot for the Nelson family’s successful transition onto the country’s television screens in the fall of 1952. The series would become one of the ABC Network’s most durable hits, lasting fourteen seasons and allowing viewers to literally watch the family members grow up, with Ricky becoming a teen music idol and David…well, becoming whatever he was, I guess. All kidding aside—The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet gets a bad rap for being the epitome of WASPy blandness (several critics have joked that the “Adventures” in the title is a misnomer unless you find picnics and games of backyard catch adventuresome), but the show is actually funnier than most people remember. And while Harriet may have been reduced to the role of straight woman…she could land a good zinger on her hubby from time to time.

img0153AWith the cancellation of their long-running sitcom, Ozzie and Harriet were content to limit their small screen appearances to guest roles on such series as Love, American Style and Night Gallery. The couple did attempt a TV comeback in 1973 with a syndicated sitcom entitled Ozzie’s Girls that had a fairly short shelf life (and there was a reason for that). With the passing of her husband in 1975, Harriet retired to the Laguna Beach, California beach home that the family had built for them in 1954. She was content to play a motherly “elder stateswoman” role in pop culture…while occasionally guest starring on the likes of The Love Boat and Happy Days. Hailed almost unanimously as one of television’s all-time “Top Moms,” Harriet Hilliard Nelson passed away of congestive heart failure in 1994 at the age of 85.

20520If you’re still skeptical about what I said regarding how underrated The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet was as a TV show, I invite you to check out some of the DVDs available here at Radio Spirits. I will admit, however, that the Nelsons really hit their stride in radio—one of their funniest broadcasts, from October 31, 1948 (“The Haunted House”), is available on the potpourri collection Happy Halloween! You can also listen to Harriet and her husband emote on guest broadcasts of Suspense (Tales Well Calculated), as well as enjoy them in their prime in the Red Skelton collections I Dood It! and Stick Around, Brother. “I’ve often said,” observed Harriet of Red in her interview with Chuck Schaden, “when his timing was so right, I used to get chills down my back. It was like listening to a great symphony. Such a talent!” But he owed a lot of that to you, Harriet Hilliard Nelson…and for that, we wish you a most happy birthday.

“I get ten a day and expenses…they call me the Lyon’s Eye.”

webb2During his stint at San Francisco’s KGO in the mid-1940s, John Randolph “Jack” Webb earned his initial radio bona fides as the star of Pat Novak for Hire, a West Coast crime drama whose adherence to the hard-boiled detective tradition often bordered on delirious parody—much to the delight of listeners and fans. Webb played Novak from 1946 to 1947 before moving on to Los Angeles for a shot at bigger fame and fortune. In the summer of 1947 he retooled the Novak character as the titular investigator of Johnny Modero, Pier 23—heard over Mutual Radio from April through September of 1947.

Before Jack created the seminal police procedural Dragnet in the summer of 1949, he would take one more crack at Pat Novak…this time on a coast-to-coast version on ABC from February to June of that same year. And in between Johnny and Pat, Webb completed his gumshoe triumvirate with Jeff Regan, Investigator—a private eye program first heard over CBS Radio on this date sixty-six years ago.

yarboroughJeff Regan actually began as a secondary character on the program; the inaugural broadcast was announced in newspapers as Joe Canto, Private Eye, with the titular sleuth played by Webb’s future Dragnet co-star, Barton Yarborough. Canto and Regan were operatives with the International Detective Bureau, a small investigations firm in the City of Angels founded by disgraced lawyer Anthony J. Lyon. Lyon, portrayed by actor Wilms Herbert (who played both Sergeant Otis Ludlum and Francis the butler on Richard Diamond, Private Detective), was little more than an ambulance chaser who bestowed the lofty title on the company to give it a touch of class. Rarely did any of Lyon’s employees venture into international waters…and while the other investigators were mentioned from time to time (including Canto, who gradually receded into the background after the first episode), it often seemed as though Regan did most of the legwork. This might explain the P.I.’s disdain for his boss, though he managed to keep it together with a sardonic sense of humor.

webb5The series allowed Webb to emote in the clipped, no-nonsense style that was rapidly becoming his radio trademark. The scripts (by Webb and E. Jack Neuman) were compelling and the direction (Gordon T. Hughes) crisp. Jeff Regan frequently featured members from the graduating class of Radio Row: Betty Lou Gerson, Hans Conried, Jeff Chandler, William Conrad, Marvin Miller, Lurene Tuttle, Herb Butterfield, Larry Dobkin and Herb Vigran were just a few who guested from time to time. (In addition to Herbert and Yarborough, actress Laurette Fillbrandt appeared on occasion as Melody, the firm’s long-suffering secretary.) Much to CBS’ dismay, however, Jack was determined to jump-start Pat Novak on ABC after Regan finished its run in December of 1948…despite the fact that Jeff Regan was in high demand with the network’s listenership.

graham4Regan producer Sterling Tracy resurrected the series in October of 1949 for the network…though the show retreated to become a West Coast entity only. Actor Frank Graham was brought in to replace Webb; Graham was an up-and-coming vocal talent who had appeared on such programs as Lum & Abner and The Whistler, but was probably better known for his contributions to animated cartoons. He narrated and provided voices for the likes of Walt Disney, MGM, Warner Brothers and Columbia (he was the voice of the Fox and the Crow in that studio’s popular franchise).

nelsonAnthony J. Lyon was also replaced. Jack Benny Program player Frank Nelson stepped into the role, playing Lyon as a bit more buffoonish than the original Wilms Herbert incarnation, and shared a first-rate chemistry with Graham. The scripts were written by Neuman and Adrian Gendot, and later William Fifield, William Froug and Gilbert Thomas assumed the task. The work was as solid and witty as it was for the first go-around. The only problem was…Graham wasn’t Jack Webb, and the fate of the show suffered a bit from this (admittedly, Graham had huge shoes to fill). Had both Franks originated the roles of Regan and Lyon, it might have been a different story. The show’s ratings did remain respectable, and there was every expectation the program would continue.

Tragedy struck the show in September of 1950. Actor Graham, who was supplementing his Regan success as the host of the radio anthology Satan’s Waitin’ (not to mention his announcing chores and cartoon vocal duties), committed suicide on September 2nd via carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage…a photo of his then-girlfriend, Disney animator Mildred Rossi, clutched in his hand. It was a devastating end to a most promising career, and the decision was made by the network to discontinue the series as a result.

20637Frank Graham’s stint as Jeff Regan, Investigator is the focus of a new Radio Spirits collection: Stand By For Mystery. The twelve episodes also feature Frank Nelson as Anthony J. Lyon, and spotlight such radio favorites as William Conrad, Arthur Q. Bryan and Lurene Tuttle. Of interest on this set is an April 26, 1950 broadcast (“It All Comes Back to Me Now”) that features the third actor to essay the role of “The Lyon’s Eye”: actor Paul Dubov, who substituted for Graham on a number of occasions. We invite you to enjoy hard-boiled radio drama at its very best!