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“Look out, Jerry—he’s got a gun!”


For Nick and Nora Charles, the famed imbibing couple created by Dashiell Hammett in the 1934 novel The Thin Man, sleuthing was a walk in the park; Nick was a retired gumshoe, and knew a little bit about the in-and-outs of detecting. But Jerry and Pam North—the other well-known twosome who investigated murder and mysteries—were strictly amateurs; Jerry was a run-of-the-mill book publisher who constantly found himself pulled into cases by his irrepressible spouse. Together, Mr. and Mrs. North would headline one of radio’s most successful mystery-comedy programs—one that premiered on this very date seventy-two years ago.

MrMrsNorthAuthor Richard Lockridge introduced us to the Park Avenue Norths in a popular series of short vignettes first published in The New York Sun in the mid-1930s, then in short stories featured in The New Yorker—which were collected together in book form with Mr. and Mrs. North in 1936. In 1940, the Norths’ destiny took a detour not unlike the plot of a film noir. Lockridge’s wife Francis assisted him with The Norths Meet Murder…and the success of that book led to twenty-five additional collaborations that ended only when Mrs. Lockridge passed away in 1963.

norths4The Norths Meet Murder became the basis of a 1941 Broadway play (starring Albert Hackett and Peggy Conklin) written by Owen Davis, Sr.…and its success inspired an audition record for a potential series (with Conklin and Carl Eastman in the title roles) that reverted back to the original New Yorker format of humorous romantic comedy. It was MGM who brought Pam and Jerry to the silver screen in January of 1942 in Mr. and Mrs. North, with the emphasis reverting back to mystery. Gracie Allen, on a rare vacation from husband George Burns, played the scatterbrained Pam (William Post, Jr. played spouse Jerry). The movie would spark additional interest in another radio go-round, premiering on NBC on December 30, 1942 for Jergens lotion and Woodbury cold cream. Cast in the roles of Mr. and Mrs. North were Joseph Curtin and Alice Frost.

norths1The appeal of Mr. and Mrs. North was fairly easy to appreciate: an average couple up to their necks in murder and mayhem each week. The fact that the Norths were amateurs distinguished them from the professionalism practiced by Nick and Nora, whose program debuted a year earlier over NBC. Indeed, Mr. and Mrs. North’s popularity over the airwaves would soon overtake The Adventures of the Thin Man; North averaged a weekly audience of 25 million listeners a week, seriously threatening the mystery show forerunner, Mr. District Attorney. There was sort of a sly subversive undertone to the program in that Pam and Jerry often accomplished what specialized law enforcement could not; as Jim Cox noted in his reference book Radio Crime Fighters: “No explanation was given, of course, as to why a couple of misfits could be so successful in their preoccupation while the professionals thrashed about ineffectually.”

lovejoy8Pam and Jerry’s pal on the force was Lieutenant Bill Wigand (initially played by Frank Lovejoy, then Staats Cotsworth and Francis De Sales)—a first-rate cop who was a bit shy around the opposite sex (Pam was always trying to play matchmaker for the bashful detective). Wigand grudgingly got used to the fact that people simply had a bad habit of kicking off whenever the Norths went anywhere. Wigand’s aide-de-camp was Sergeant Aloysius Mullins (Walter Kinsella), a bumbling cop in the Barney Fife tradition who often bewildered his superior due to the fact that the easily exasperated Mullins was married with a family of eight children. The strong characterizations of Mr. and Mrs. North contributed to the show’s success; other individuals who populated the colorful cast included the loquacious cabbie Mahatma McGloin (Mandel Kramer) and problem child Susan, Pam and Jerry’s 14-year-old niece (Betty Jane Tyler).

britton15Mr. and Mrs. North won the Edgar Award (presented by the Mystery Writers of America) for Best Radio Drama in 1946 (tying with Ellery Queen), the year the series got its pink slip from NBC (it went off the air in December). But the married sleuths got a reprieve in July of 1947 when CBS began airing the series as a Tuesday night staple for Colgate-Palmolive. Often advertised as “mystery liberally sprinkled with laughs,” Mr. and Mrs. North performed quite well for their new network—and Curtin and Frost continued as Jerry and Pam until the beginning of the 1953-54 season, when Richard Denning and Barbara Britton inherited the roles. Denning and Britton were by that time appearing in the TV version, which ran on CBS from 1952-53 and a short season on NBC in 1954. A year later, Mr. and Mrs. North solved their last radio case when CBS cancelled their show, along with their fellow sleuthing brethren Casey, Crime Photographer and Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons.

20518To celebrate the North’s radio anniversary, Radio Spirits offers two collections of the popular program featuring broadcasts from both the Curtin-Frost years and the Denning-Britton collaborations: Bet on Death and Touch of Death. We also have on hand an 8-DVD box set featuring thirty-two of the couple’s exciting television cases as well. Happy 72nd anniversary to radio’s most engaging amateur sleuths!


  1. carrico says:

    No, Pam. He’s just happy to see you.
    (Oops, couldn’t resist. Thanks, Mae West.)

  2. […] solid as the domestic Sally (Frost is probably best known as Pam North on radio’s long-running Mr. and Mrs. North) and Ted de Corsia is his usual distasteful and Brylcreemed self as the callous studio head.  […]

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