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“The world doesn’t make any heroes outside of your stories.”

A collaboration between author Graham Greene (his only original screenplay), producer David O. Selznick, and movie director Carol Reed resulted in a true cinematic masterpiece: 1949’s The Third Man.  The film tells the tale of American pulp Westerns writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), who is summoned to postwar Vienna at the behest of his old chum Harry Lime (Orson Welles).  Harry has a job offer for his pal, but no sooner has Holly touched down that he learns Lime was the victim of an automobile accident while crossing the street.

Stunned by the news of his friend’s death, Martins refuses to take the “official” word of authorities, witnesses, and Harry’s girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli)—all of whom insist Lime has drawn his rations.  Holly’s subsequent investigation into the matter reveals that Harry is very much alive…but that he’s living on borrowed time, culminating in an unforgettable climax involving a chase through Vienna’s sewers.

The character of Harry Lime, as portrayed by Orson Welles, is barely in The Third Man, yet he’s such an indelible presence that his company is felt throughout the entire film.  (Lime’s introduction in the movie also constitutes one of the silver screen’s most memorable entrances.)  As such, Welles would later be recruited by British producer Harry Alan Towers to reprise his role in a radio drama based on the movie.  That program, which aired in the U.S. as The Lives of Harry Lime, premiered over tiny “pirate station” Radio Luxembourg on this date in 1951 and was later heard as a product of (Harry) Lang/Worth Syndication.

At the risk of spoiling The Third Man for those of you who haven’t seen it, the Harry Lime character meets his demise in those same Vienna sewers in the film…and as such, the radio adventures of Harry were prefaced by a reminder that these were escapades that took place before the events of the film.  “Harry Lime had many lives…and I can recall all of them,” Welles would often muse at the beginning of each broadcast. “How do I know? Very simple…’cause my name is Harry Lime.”  The character of Lime also underwent a slight change in the radio version, transformed from the film’s amoral scoundrel to a more lovable, steal-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor con man (a “prince of knaves” as described by John Dunning in On the Air).  Harry may have been a dyed-in-the-wool rogue, but he was a Simon Templar/Boston Blackie type of swindler—his victims were even greedier, so he remained sympathetic while fleecing them.

Radio Spirits’ Martin Grams, Jr. notes in his book Radio Drama that both The Lives of Harry Lime and The Black Museum (another series featuring Orson, in which he functioned as narrator) benefited from larger budgets than the usual syndication fare, which allowed performers like Sebastian Cabot and Dana Wynter to make guest appearances.  The Lime series was directed by Tig Roe and penned by Ernest Bornemann, though star Welles made the occasional script contribution, notably the premiere installment, “Too Many Crooks.”  (Another Welles effort, “Man of Mystery,” became the plot for Welles’ 1955 film Mr. Arkadin [a.k.a. Confidential Report].)  The opening and closing theme for the series was the same zither music composed and performed by Anton Karas that was featured in the 1949 film; a popular instrumental, The Third Man Theme was a chart-topping single in 1950.

The complete run of The Lives of Harry Lime (the British title was The Adventures of Harry Lime) was later made available for U.S. syndication, with all 52 episodes extant today.  In January of 1959, a small screen version based on the feature film premiered in syndication. It starred Michael Rennie portraying Harry and a pre-Lost in Space Jonathan Harris appearing as Lime’s confederate, Bradford Webster.  A co-production between the BBC and NTA Film Network, the TV Third Man would generate a total of 77 telecasts during its run from 1959 to 1965.

In honor of its 69th anniversary, Radio Spirits invites you to celebrate with a purchase of The Third Man: Lives of Harry Lime, an 8-CD set featuring the first 16 broadcasts of the radio show.

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