Your Shopping Cart | Your Account Information | Catalog Quick Order | Customer Service | Order Status | Contact Us


AboutBlogOur Radio Show SEARCH   KEYWORD

Happy Birthday, Chester Morris!

Chester Morris starred in several Boston Blackie movies during the 1940s (Alias Boston BlackieBoston Blackie and the Law, etc.). In a number of these films, Morris allowed his character Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black to be quite a skilled practitioner of prestidigitation.  (That’s a fancy way of saying “magician.”)  Chet had a lifelong love for magic, and he would often entertain USO audiences during WW2 with feats to astound their very eyes.  Morris made the mistake of revealing a few tricks of the trade, however, in a 1947 Popular Mechanics article entitled “There’s Magic Up Your Sleeve.” That didn’t earn him many fans among the magician brotherhood.  Still, the actor born John Chester Brooks Morris in NYC on this date in 1901 remained quite popular with movie audiences, particularly with the Boston Blackie franchise.

Show business was in the blood of Chester Morris’ family: his father was Broadway stage performer William Morris and his mother was stage comedienne Etta Hawkins.  Young Chester dropped out of school at the age of 15 to try his luck among the footlights, appearing alongside future The Mayor of the Town star Lionel Barrymore in The Copperhead (1918).  Around this same time, Morris also made his first feature film, An Amateur Orphan (1917).  Chet would go on to a grace a few more stage productions, like Thunder (1919) and The Mountain Man (1921), then joined his parents, sister and two brothers on the vaudeville circuit with a popular comedy sketch entitled “The Horrors of Home.”

Chester Morris worked alongside his family for two years before returning to a solo stage acting career with the likes of The Home Towners (1926) and Yellow (1927).  Spotted by a talent agent while appearing in the play Crime (1927), Morris was signed to a motion picture contract. With his very first talkie, Alibi (1929), he earned his first and only Best Actor Oscar nomination.  Chet went on to appear in several of the period’s prestigious releases, among them The Divorcee (1930), The Big House (1930), The Miracle Man (1932), and Red-Headed Woman (1932).

By the mid-1930s, Chester Morris’ star had started to wane…although he was still a dependable leading man, his cinematic output tended to lean toward that of the B-movie variety.  Morris was in some very good second features: he’s the star of Three Godfathers (1936), a remake of several films that used Peter Kyne’s novel as inspiration. (The 1948 version starring John Wayne is perhaps the best known version, seeing as it has become a Christmas favorite.) Chester also headlines the cast of two memorable B-thrillers in Five Came Back (1939) and Blind Alley (1939).  Many of Morris’ features rarely rose above those of I Promise to Pay (1937), Law of the Underworld (1938), and Smashing the Rackets (1938), but he continued to be a reliable box office draw.

Columbia Pictures’ Boston Blackie franchise—which got underway in 1941 with Meet Boston Blackie—would prove to be the catalyst in reviving Chester Morris’ career.  He made 14 Boston Blackie films between 1941 and 1949, portraying Jack Boyle’s reformed safecracker and jewel thief.  The popularity of the movie series would result in a radio series, Boston Blackie, that premiered as a summer replacement for Amos ‘n’ Andy over NBC in June of 1944.  Morris reprised his film role on the program, with Richard Lane joining him as Inspector Farraday, Blackie’s nemesis in the movies.  Though the Morris Blackie lasted just the summer, Boston Blackie resurfaced in April of 1945 as a syndicated series from the Ziv production stables. This time Richard Kollmar would play Blackie, with Maurice Tarplin as Farraday and Lesley Woods as Mary Wesley, Blackie’s lady friend.

Boston Blackie was not Chester Morris’ only radio work.  He appeared on many of the popular dramatic anthologies of the time, notably Family TheatreThe Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreThe Silver Theatre, and Suspense.  Morris was also a guest on many of the popular comedy-variety programs of the era, including Amos ‘n’ AndyThe Charlie McCarthy ShowDuffy’s TavernThe Harold Lloyd Comedy TheatreThe Kraft Music Hall (Bing Crosby), and Maxwell House Coffee Time (George Burns & Gracie Allen).  Rounding out Chester’s appearances on radio are credits for Calling All CarsThe Shell ChateauThe Texaco Star Theatre, and Welcome Travelers.

Although Chester Morris did some non-Boston Blackie work in films—titles like Secret Command (1944), Rough, Tough and Ready (1945), and Blind Spot (1947)—Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture (1949), the last of the Blackie films, put him a state of semi-retirement where the silver screen was concerned.  Morris turned his attention towards television, appearing on live anthology telecasts like Robert Montgomery Presents and Kraft Theatre, as well as making guest spots on popular programs such as RawhideNaked CityBen Casey, and Route 66.  (Morris also starred in a 1960 summer series, Diagnosis: Unknown.)  In addition, Chet returned to the stage, with productions like Blue Denim (1958), Advise and Consent (1960), and The Subject Was Roses (1964) to his credit.  Before his death in 1970 at the age of 69, Chester Morris went out on a high note with a nice supporting turn (as ‘Pop’ Weaver) in the 1970 drama The Great White Hope, which was released after his death.

We invite you to check out one of the funniest half-hours in the place “where the elite meet to eat” on Duffy Ain’t Here. In the May 11, 1949 Duffy’s Tavern broadcast, “Archie the Manager” (Ed Gardner) mistakes guest Morris for the notorious “Whistling Sam”!  In addition – although these programs are not from the 1944 NBC summer series — Radio Spirits has on hand two Boston Blackie collections, Boston Blackie Delivers the Goods and Death Wish. These feature Dick Kollmar in the role that Chester Morris made famous in motion pictures.  Happy birthday, Chester!

Happy Birthday, Mary Lee Robb!

Actress Mary Lee Robb’s first professional radio job in 1947 was a small one.  She was hired to play Pearl, the daughter of Abner Peabody (Norris “Tuffy” Goff) on the long-running comedy serial Lum ‘n’ Abner.  In a 1988 interview with author-historian Chuck Schaden (Speaking of Radio), Robb still remembered the two lines she had as Pearl: “I do” and “Don’t cry, Papa.”  (It was Pearl’s wedding day, you see.)  The recitation of those two lines netted her a fat fee of $45…but in order to join the radio actors’ union, Mary Lee had to fork over $75.  Fortunately for the actress who was born in Streator, Illinois on this date in 1930, there would be more radio work to follow—notably her beloved role as Marjorie Forrester Thompson on The Great Gildersleeve.

Though born in Streator, Mary Lee Robb spent her younger years in Chicago.  Her father Alex was an NBC executive there, as manager of the network’s Artists Service Bureau. (He had some experience with performers, having been a one-time manager of Amos ‘n’ Andy’s Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll…back in their Sam ‘n’ Henry days.) When the network relocated Mr. Robb to Hollywood, he enrolled the young Mary Lee in University High School in Los Angeles.  Upon graduation, the young actress attended UCLA to study drama. However, she was also receiving training in radio performance at the Geller Radio Workshop (formerly the Max Reinhardt Workshop).  She left UCLA in her sophomore year to actively pursue a radio acting career.

One of Mary Lee Robb’s fellow Geller Workshop students was Louise Erickson, the A Date with Judy star who was also playing the role of niece Marjorie Forrester on The Great Gildersleeve.  Mary Lee was also working on the Gildersleeve program, though she was hired to perform “off-mike babble”—where actors huddled around a microphone making “crowd noises.”  Then came the day that’s become a cliché in a million old movies: Erickson was running late and was going to miss a vital dress rehearsal.  Robb volunteered to read the Marjorie part so that the broadcast could be timed properly.  For one brief moment, it looked as if Mary Lee was going to have to go on the air to replace the tardy Louise…but Louise made it on time for the broadcast with five minutes to spare.  Still, Mary Lee made such a favorable impression as a “temporary Marjorie” that when Louise left The Great Gildersleeve at the end of the 1947-48 season, the show’s creative minds hired Robb as her replacement.

By the time Mary Lee Robb got the job as Marjorie, she was already starting to build a radio resume.  On occasion, she provided the baby cries for little Robespierre, the baby brother of Snooks Higgins on Fanny Brice’s The Baby Snooks Show.  Robb also had a recurring role on Maxwell House Coffee Time as Emily Vanderlipp—the teenage girl who lived next door to George Burns and Gracie Allen. (Robb credited George Burns with teaching her everything she knew about comedy timing.)  The actor who played Emily’s boyfriend on George & Gracie’s half-hour was Richard Crenna, who Mary Lee would “marry” on The Great Gildersleeve (Dick played Marjorie’s boyfriend Bronco Thompson).  Other shows on Robb’s aural c.v. include Family TheatreFather Knows BestFibber McGee & MollyThe Railroad HourRed Ryder, and This is Your FBI.

Mary Lee Robb’s other recurring radio gig was on The Penny Singleton Show, an NBC summer series starring the former Blondie actress as a war widow attempting to balance her work as a realtor with raising her two daughters.  Robb portrayed the older daughter Dorothy (also known as “DeeGee,” age 13), while her younger sister Sue (8) was played by Sheila James Kuehl (who would go on to portray Zelda Gilroy on TV’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis).  Rounding out the cast of the Singleton show were Jim Backus (as Penny’s real estate partner), Gale Gordon, Bea Benaderet, and Sarah Selby.

In her half-hour interview with Chuck Schaden in 1988, Mary Lee Robb shared fond memories of The Great Gildersleeve, particularly the story arc in which Marjorie became Mrs. Bronco Thompson.  The cast went all out for the May 10, 1950 event, dressing up in full wedding regalia for the studio audience. (Look magazine even featured the Gildy cast preparing for the nuptials in a May 23rd article entitled “Gildersleeve Gives the Bride Away.”) When Schaden jokingly asked her if her dedication extended to Marjorie’s pregnancy, Robb laughed and said: “That would have been going a little too far, I’m afraid.”  (Mary Lee didn’t marry in real life until 1952, with a second union in 1983.)  Mary Lee remained with the Gildersleeve program until the birth of her daughter Alexandra in 1954, when she decided to retire from show business. (Although, one source reports she later did voiceover work with the Disney studios.) Robb would become a longtime member of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters, participating in radio recreations and discussion panels until her passing in 2006 at the age of 80.

Radio Spirits features much of Mary Lee Robb’s signature radio work on The Great Gildersleeve collection For Corn’s Sake (liner notes by you-know-who), but there’s also a classic Gildersleeve outing on our new situation comedy compendium Great Radio Sitcoms.  Happy birthday, Mary Lee!

Happy Birthday, Ronald Colman!

In February of 2012, an auction by Nate D. Sanders Memorabilia successfully sold fifteen Academy Awards Oscars for a total of slightly over $3 million (a record-breaking amount at that time).  The top ticket item was Herman Mankiewicz’s 1941 screenplay statuette for Citizen Kane, which went for $588,455.  But I’m willing to bet that there were a few smiles on the faces of old-time radio fans when the Best Actor Oscar that Ronald Colman won for 1947’s A Double Life sold for $206,250.  Listeners of The Jack Benny Program remember fondly the difficulties experienced by Jack when he was robbed of Ronnie’s Oscar on the legendary March 28, 1948 broadcast (“Your money or your life!”).  That actor, who went temporarily Oscar-less, was born on this date in 1891. In addition to his immensely successful film career, Ronald Charles Colman enjoyed fame on radio in such series as Favorite StoryThe Halls of Ivy., and the aforementioned Jack Benny Program.

Young Ronald Colman was born in Richmond, Surrey, England and educated at boarding school in Littlehampton.  (It was here where he first developed his interest in acting.) Colman later considered studying engineering at Cambridge, but he had to abandon his plans. His father, Charles, had passed away in 1907, putting the family in a bit of a financial pinch.  Ronnie took up acting on an amateur basis.

Ronald Colman would take a leave of absence from his clerking job in London’s British Steamship Company to join the London Scottish Regiment in 1909.  Among his fellow soldiers in that same regiment were Claude Rains, Herbert Marshall, Cedric Hardwicke, and Basil Rathbone.  Colman took some shrapnel in his ankle in the Battle of Messines during World War I. He didn’t lose the leg, but he did acquire a limp (which he gamely tried to hide throughout his stage and movie career).  Mustered out of the Army in 1915 due to his injuries, Ronnie recovered sufficiently to start performing on stage by 1916. He appeared in such productions as The Maharani of Arakan (1916), The Misleading Lady (1917), and The Little Brother (1918).

1920 found Ronald Colman in America, where he appeared in the play The Dauntless Three.  He also married his first wife, Thelma Raye, a union that lasted until 1934.  Colman appeared in a string of mostly forgettable stage productions for about two years…until director Henry King caught his performance in La Tendresse and asked him to star opposite Lillian Gish in the 1923 melodrama The White Sister.  The movie would make Ronnie a star, and though he had worked previously in features during his time in Britain, Colman would now entirely abandon the stage for the flickers.  Among his silent movie successes were such feature films as The Dark Angel (1925), Stella Dallas (1925), Lady Windemere’s Fan (1925), Beau Geste (1926), and The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926).

Silent films weren’t able to take advantage of Ronald Colman’s rich mellifluous voice…but with the advent of the talkies, Colman made up for lost time when his first two sound films—Condemned (1929) and Bulldog Drummond (1929)—won him recognition from his peers in the form of a Best Actor nomination.  (Ronnie would later be nominated two more times—for 1942’s Random Harvest and the aforementioned A Double Life, which won him his trophy.)  Colman enjoyed a string of box-office hits throughout the 1930s: Raffles (1930), Arrowsmith (1931), Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934), Clive of India (1935), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Lost Horizon (1937), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), If I Were King (1938), and The Light That Failed (1939), just to name a few.

Ronald Colman’s resonant speaking voice was a natural for radio, and one of the first programs on which he regularly appeared was The Circle, a short-lived “talk show” that premiered over NBC Radio on January 15, 1939.  Despite a powerhouse celebrity lineup that included Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, and Groucho & Chico Marx (and later Basil Rathbone and Madeleine Carroll), The Circle departed the airwaves in July of that same year. The program was memorably dismissed by writer Carroll Carroll as “radio’s most expensive failure.”  Colman’s next big radio venture was Everything for the Boys, a dramatic anthology written, produced and directed by radio’s enfant terrible, Arch Oboler.  Premiering over NBC on January 18, 1944, Everything featured a variety of mini-plays that dramatized classic stories and adapted motion picture films…with some originals from Oboler thrown in for good measure.  The collaboration between Colman and Oboler soon soured, and hostilities between the two men made working on the program a nightmare.  It bowed out on June 13, 1944 and was replaced the following week with a musical variety series that eventually became The Dick Haymes Show.

On December 9, 1945, Ronald Colman made the first of many guest appearances on The Jack Benny Program.  The show’s writers came up with the brilliant comic device of having Ronald be Jack’s next-door neighbor. The contrast between the cultured Colman and the vulgar Benny was a recipe for classic comedy. The proceedings were helped immeasurably by adding Ronnie’s second wife (they married in 1938) Benita Hume into the mix.  The Colmans didn’t appear on every broadcast, but made enough visits between 1945 and 1951 to become semi-regulars. The high point of their guest spots occurred on the March 1948 broadcast mentioned in the first paragraph.  When Jack is mugged for Ronnie’s Oscar, he tried to disguise its loss by “borrowing” Oscars from guest stars over the following weeks (like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra) in an attempt to avoid Colman’s wrath.

Ronald Colman’s guest appearances on The Jack Benny Program did wonders for his stock in radio.  Favorite Story, a syndicated radio program that had premiered in 1946, brought Ronnie aboard to host the dramatic anthology, and he continued in that capacity until it left the airwaves in 1949.  Colman’s most high-profile radio gig followed not long after; he and Benita Hume were the stars of The Halls of Ivy, a comedy-drama about a small Midwestern college. Created by Fibber McGee & Molly’s Don Quinn, the show aired over NBC from January 6, 1950 to June 25, 1952.  (Ivy would later transition to TV in the fall of 1954 for a single season.)  Colman’s radio resume also includes such favorites as Academy Award TheatreArch Oboler’s PlaysColumbia Presents CorwinCommand PerformanceThe Doctor FightsThe Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy ShowGood News of 1940The Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreHallmark PlayhouseHedda Hopper’s HollywoodThe Lux Radio TheatreMaxwell House Coffee TimeThe Radio Hall of FameRadio’s Reader DigestRequest PerformanceThe Sealtest Variety TheatreThe Silver TheatreSuspense (including the classic broadcasts of “August Heat” and “The Dunwich Horror”), The Theatre Guild of the Air, and Theatre of Romance.

By the 1940s, Colman had entered a period of semi-retirement where motion pictures were concerned.  True, he was active with features like Random Harvest (1942), The Talk of the Town (1942; one of my favorites), Kismet (1944), The Late George Apley, and A Double Life (both 1947) — but by the start of the 1950s, he limited his participation to Champagne for Caesar (1950) and The Story of Mankind (1957), his cinematic swan song.  Colman made a few small screen appearances on such shows as Four Star Playhouse and The General Electric Theatre…and even reprised his “next-door neighbor” role on two of Jack Benny’s television shows.  Sadly, acute emphysema took Ronnie in 1958 at the age of 67.

In 1960, Ronald Colman received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for his work in motion pictures and the other for television.  Our birthday boy never got his due for his admirable devotion to the medium of radio, but Radio Spirits has on hand an 8-CD collection of broadcasts from his signature series The Halls of Ivy in School Days.  Ronnie’s superlative performance in “The Dunwich Horror” is available on our Suspense set Beyond Good and Evil, and in addition there’s “The Living Book” (04/04/44), a broadcast of Everything for the Boys to be found on The Bob Bailey Collection.  Happy birthday, Ronnie!

Happy Birthday, Conrad Binyon!

“Why are you so extra nice to me?” asked sixteen-year-old Conrad Binyon of his mother in 1947.  Ma Binyon wouldn’t admit it…but she was still trembling from her son’s recent experience involving a crash landing with a friend on an aviation trip to Arizona.  Binyon—born Conrad Ambress Binyon on this date in 1931—had just become a newly-licensed pilot at that tender age, and his adventures into the wild blue yonder were just some of the many extracurricular activities in which the youngster was engaged.  Conrad (still with us as of this writing at the age of 89) was best known as a child performer, with regular roles on such radio favorites as One Man’s Family and The Mayor of the Town.

As a youngster growing up in Los Angeles, Conrad Binyon and his family moved around to various homes in central Hollywood, allowing Conrad to walk or bicycle to both the CBS studios (located on Sunset Boulevard at that time) and to movie studios in the neighborhood.  His mother Ann got him into show business early (Binyon made his motion picture debut at the age of six in 1937’s Life Begins with Love) by encouraging his participation in productions at a local playhouse. His work there led to an audition with NBC and that was followed by a tryout for Carlton E. Morse’s popular radio serial One Man’s Family.  Conrad began playing Henry Herbert “Hank” Murray in April of 1939, the son of Barbour daughter Hazel. “Hank” was the “good” half of twin brothers, with his sibling “Pinky” being the more interesting (because he got into a lot of trouble).  Binyon would play the role until he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force (as a licensed pilot, he was a natural) at the age of 21.

Conrad Binyon portrayed Alvin, the “precocious” nephew of “Major” Amos Hoople (Arthur Q. Bryan) in the early broadcasts of Major Hoople—a 1942-43 NBC Blue sitcom based on the popular newspaper comic Our Boarding House.  He also essayed the role of Chester A. Riley, Jr. during the halcyon days of The Life of Riley (starring William Bendix). It’s interesting to note that Riley wasn’t the only comedy program on which Conrad played a character named “Junior.” He could also be heard as Junior Nebb on the Mutual program The Nebbs (also based on a popular comic strip) and Junior Anderson on the syndicated The Anderson Family.  In addition, Binyon regularly appeared on the Saturday morning children’s favorite Smilin’ Ed and His Buster Brown Gang. Conrad’s old-time radio resume includes such classics as The Cavalcade of AmericaCommand PerformanceFashions in Rations (The Billie Burke Show), The Great GildersleeveThe Halls of IvyHollywood Star TimeI Want a DivorceI Was ThereMystery in the AirThe Penny Singleton ShowThe Smiths of HollywoodSuspense, and Sweeney & March.

Conrad Binyon’s most fulfilling radio gig came in 1944 when he played Roscoe “Butch” Gardner on The Mayor of the Town. This popular comedy-drama starred Lionel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead and had been airing since 1942. (It would eventually be heard over all four networks—CBS, NBC, ABC, and Mutual—during its seven-year-run.)  “Butch” was the ward to Barrymore’s “Mayor Russell,” and became sort of a surrogate son to the childless official.  Binyon told author Axel Nissen in 2007: “The character of Butch didn’t stem from the show’s beginning.  I seem to recall about three years or so playing the character, who was introduced as a boy who lost both his parents in an auto accident.  Prior to that, the story line involved the mayor in city administration plots, police investigations, and fraud schemes against citizens.  The Butch character became the mayor’s ward and turned the plot line more into a family-like situation.”  In a 1991 interview with old-time radio historian Chuck Schaden, Conrad also reminisced fondly about doing “A Christmas Carol” on Mayor, with Lionel giving his all as Ebenezer Scrooge. (Binyon performed as the kid Scrooge asks to buy the Christmas goose toward the story’s end.)

Conrad Binyon was a busy radio actor, but he still made time for the occasional part in motion pictures. Author Nissen relates that Conrad was “no pretty, delicate Dickie Moore type, nor was he a comedically cute George ‘Spanky’ McFarland.”  Instead, Binyon “was your typical, straight-haired, fresh-faced boy next door,” which served him well — not only in radio but in credited roles in the likes of The Boy from StalingradGood Luck, Mr. Yates, and The Underdog (all three released in 1943).  Claude can also be glimpsed in such favorites as The Glass Key (1942), The Meanest Man in the World (1943), Since You Went Away (1944), Courage of Lassie (1946), and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949).  His last film role was a bit as an elevator boy in My Blue Heaven (1950). He enlisted in the Air Force and spent a twenty-year career there before retiring.  Binyon had no desire to return to show business, though—he told Schaden: “I looked at it, and it was doing quite well without me.”

When Conrad Binyon landed the role of Butch on The Mayor of the Town, he was forced to relinquish his regular gig as Junior on The Life of Riley—but Radio Spirits comes to the rescue with Magnificent Mug, a Riley collection of early broadcasts featuring our birthday boy in one of his signature radio roles.  You can also check out Conrad on the Suspense set Beyond Good and Evil and our Halls of Ivy audio compendium School Days.  Happy birthday, Conrad!

Happy Birthday, Lionel Stander!

Lionel Stander, the character actor best remembered by fans as chief-cook-and-bottle-washer Max on the TV detective drama Hart to Hart, also had a lengthy radio career—notably playing “stooge” to Fred Allen on The Hour of Smiles and Town Hall Tonight in the 1930s.  Stander—born in The Bronx on this date in 1908—used his trademark gravelly voice and skill with dialects (he was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants) to become a valued member of “The Mighty Allen Art Players.”  But Lionel had some deficiencies in the “on-time-for-rehearsals” department; he was late so often that Fred joked his employee was probably preoccupied with printing pamphlets in his apartment.  This was a reference to Stander’s leftist politics—Lionel Stander was a pro-labor activist at a time when such beliefs could get a performer blacklisted…and in Stander’s case, they did.  However, his later success on Hart to Hart also allowed him to get the last laugh.

Lionel Stander’s 1994 obituary in The New York Times noted that “he attended everything from the Little Red Schoolhouse to military and prep schools,” but also that he never graduated from any of them.  In addition, he briefly attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while working as a newspaper reporter in Charlotte. (At UNC Stander appeared in a pair of student dramatic productions.)  His acting career, he later confessed, came about because a role in e e cummings’ Him required someone capable of shooting craps, at which the reluctant thespian was quite skilled.  From this debut, Stander went on to a number of productions staged on Broadway, notably Singing JailbirdsRed Rust, and The House Beautiful. (Dorothy Parker memorably tagged the latter “the play lousy”).

Many stage performers in New York were able to find additional work in movie shorts produced by the Vitaphone Studio, and Lionel Stander was no exception.  He worked with such comedians as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (In the Dough [1933]), Jack Haley (Salt Water Daffy [1933]), Shemp Howard (Smoked Hams [1934]), and Bob Hope (The Old Grey Mayor [1935]).  At the same time, Lionel was also making inroads in the aural medium with his work for Fred Allen and Eddie Cantor. (Stander was one of several actors who used a Russian dialect to play Cantor violinist Dave Rubinoff…who suffered from mike fright).  His radio work, he later recalled, led to his hiring at RKO as a Russian dialectician (it took a while before producers realized he was an English-speaking actor).

A nice showcase in the 1935 Noel Coward film The Scoundrel was the catalyst for Lionel Stander getting more movie work, including Hooray for Love (1935), We’re in the Money (1935), If You Could Only Cook (1935), and The Milky Way (1936).  He was under contract to Columbia Pictures, who cast him in the classic 1936 comedy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. They also used him as legman “Archie Goodwin” in the studio’s two Nero Wolfe films, Meet Nero Wolfe (1936) and The League of Frightened Men (1937).  (Lionel would reprise not only his role in Deeds but a part in A Star is Born [1937] when both films got the Lux Radio Theatre treatment in 1937.)  Stander continued his radio appearances on shows headlined by Bing Crosby and Al Jolson, but his commitment to political causes (like raising money for the Scottsboro Boys and the Spanish Loyalists) started to get him unwanted attention in Tinsel Town.  Because Lionel supported the Conference of Studio Unions—which was engaged in a bruising fight with the mob-connected International Alliance of Stage Employees (IATSE)—Columbia head Harry Cohn labeled him a “Red” and suggested that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) fine any studio who renewed Stander’s contract.

Although the House Un-American Activities Committee is often associated with the 1950s and the ”McCarthy era,” HUAC really had its origins back in the late 1930s as a special committee investigating “Reds” in the motion picture industry.  Lionel Stander was among the first performers to fall under the HUAC microscope (along with Fredric March, James Cagney and several others).  Lionel would later be publicly cleared of any Communist activity by a district attorney after “secret” grand jury testimony was publicly published in 1940, but since suspicion by HUAC remained, there was a three-year stretch before his next movie gig.  Radio was a bit more accommodating. 1941 briefly found Stander as the star of The Life of Riley—not the better-known William Bendix vehicle, but an entirely different sitcom (Lionel’s character was named “J. Riley Farnsworth”).  Lionel later became a cast member on The Danny Kaye Show (1945-46) as a character jokingly referred to as “the sandpaper Sinatra.”  (Stander appeared with Danny in the 1946 comedy The Kid from Brooklyn, which also featured Eve Arden—also a Kaye Show cast member.)  Stander made regular appearances on such shows as The Mayor of the Town and Joan Davis Time, and rounding out his radio resume are credits like Crime Does Not PayFavorite StoryForecastG.I. JournalThe Gulf Screen Guild TheatreThe Jack Paar ProgramThe Lincoln Highway Radio ShowThe Rudy Vallee Sealtest Show, and Stage Door Canteen.

Lionel Stander had nothing but praise for director Preston Sturges, who cast him in films like The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947) and Unfaithfully Yours (1948). If not for Sturges, Lionel’s sole source of income would have been contributing voices to Walter Lantz cartoons (you’ll hear Stander in several Woody Woodpecker shorts as “Buzz Buzzard”).  Stander was among the many show business personalities listed in the pamphlet Red Channels, and when actors Larry Parks and Marc Lawrence “named” Lionel in their testimony before HUAC, Stander demanded the opportunity to clear his name.  (Lionel later tried to sue Lawrence for slander but was informed that Marc had congressional immunity.)  When Stander finally appeared before HUAC on May 6, 1953, he insisted that the TV lights and cameras be turned off, declaring “I only appear on TV for entertainment or for philanthropic organizations and I consider this a very serious matter that doesn’t fall into either category.”  Stander didn’t hold back with regards to his testimony before the committee: “I am not a dupe, dope, mope, moe or shmoe.  I was absolutely conscious of what I was doing, and I’m not ashamed of anything I ever said in public or in private.”

Lionel Stander took a heroic stand…but it cost him his role in the road company version of Pal Joey, with influential red-baiters (like Walter Winchell) putting pressure on the producers to fire Stander. (Lionel later quit the show to save them the aggravation).  He did land the occasional film job (he’s the narrator for the 1961 neo-noir Blast of Silence and he has a nice turn in The Loved One [1965]), as well as a nice Broadway gig (The Conquering HeroLuther). However, he had better luck in Europe, where his film resume included such features as Cul-De-Sac (1966), A Dandy in Aspic (1968), and Once Upon a Time in the West (also 1968).  In the 1970s, Lionel began making appearances in American films like New York, New York (1977) and 1941 (1979)…but it was Robert Wagner (who had given Stander a rare working gig in a 1968 episode of Wagner’s TV series It Takes a Thief), who insisted that Stander be cast as “Max” on Hart to Hart. (For his work on the show, Lionel won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor—Series, Miniseries or Television Film in 1983.)  He would go on to reprise his role from the series in five Hart to Hart TV-movies before his death of lung cancer in 1994.

Radio Spirits invites you to experience today’s birthday boy in his signature role as Max in the DVD boxset Hart to Hart: Movies are Murder Collection.  There were eight TV movies produced for TV between 1993 and 1996 after the success of the 1979-84 original, and Lionel Stander appears in the first five.  You can also hear Lionel in “A Piece of Pie,” a 1946 audition for what eventually became The Damon Runyon Theatre in the collection It Comes Up Mud.  Happy birthday, Lionel!

“…the stars’ own theatre…”

The glamour of the motion picture industry often disguised an uncomfortable truth—that it was an enterprise that rarely had any further use for those movie colony individuals who had fallen on hard times.  To lend a helping hand to their former colleagues, luminaries like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith banded together in 1921 to create the Motion Picture Relief Fund (MPRF—now known as the MPTF, to incorporate television).  Joseph M. Schenck served as the first president, with Pickford as vice-president and a board of trustees that included Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille, Harold Lloyd, and Hal Roach.

The advent of talkies really required the MPRF to step up their game, as many individuals were now unemployed due to the changes (especially performers whose voices simply couldn’t conform to the standards of the new medium).  Appeals for donations to the fund would be the focus of various charity balls, motion picture premieres, fashion shows and the like.  Mary Pickford, to meet the increasing demand for assistance, instituted the Payroll Pledge Program—a plan whereby deductions from anyone making over $200 a week would be automatic, with studio workers pledging one-half of one percent of their earnings.  Six years later, participation in the PPP would expand to include talent groups, unions, and producer representatives.

The Screen Actors Guild sought to improve this donation effort by requiring compulsory contributions from its “Class A” members.  Jean Hersholt, president at that time, was determined to raise more money for the MPRF (he wanted to expand the Fund to include covering the costs for medical care). He suggested, along with Music Corporation of America (MCA) founder Dr. Jules C. Stein, the creation of a radio program where major stars would appear, donating their salaries to the MPRF.  With members of both the Directors and Writers guilds agreeing to also contribute their services for free, the result was The Screen Guild Theatre—which premiered over 61 CBS radio stations on this date in 1939.

The January 8, 1939 inaugural broadcast of The Gulf Screen Guild Show featured a powerhouse lineup of big-name talent: Judy Garland (who sang Sweet or Hot?), Jack Benny, Joan Crawford, Reginald Gardiner, Ralph Morgan, and George Murphy as master of ceremonies.  (Roger Pryor would replace Murph as the show’s host in the fall of 1939 and remained in charge for the remainder of the series’ Gulf Oil run.)  Screen Guild started out with a variety format in its early broadcasts before gradually transitioning to adaptations of motion pictures, much in the vein of The Lux Radio Theatre.  Lux, however, had an hour for its presentations…The Screen Guild Theatre had half that, which presented a challenge to charitable writers who often had to compress film narratives to fit the tight time frame (22 minutes sans Gulf commercials).

The Gulf Screen Theatre presented a radio adaptation of The Blue Bird (which would be released in 1940) on the December 24, 1939 broadcast with star Shirley Temple (her $35,000 salary was donated to the MPRF).  The story goes that, as Shirley launched into her rendition of Someday You’ll Find Your Bluebird, a woman in the audience stood up with a handgun, intending to do America’s favorite movie moppet bodily harm.  (She was disarmed, thankfully; purportedly the woman lost a daughter in childbirth on the same day Temple was born and she was convinced that Shirl had stolen her child’s soul.)

The Gulf Screen Guild Theatre became an immediate hit — attracting big-name Hollywood celebrities so quickly it looked like Suspense’s waiting room.  Promoted in magazine articles as “the only sponsored program on the air which gives all its profits to charity,” the money generated from the show would soon allow Jean Hersholt to purchase (in 1940) the property that would house the future Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital (which opened in 1948).  By the summer of 1942, the MPRF had received $800,000 in contributions and, at the end of The Screen Guild Theatre’s 13-year run, the amount in the kitty was a little over $5 million.  (Hersholt’s success in establishing the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, by the way, is the reason why the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was inaugurated by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1956—an honorary Oscar given to those individuals “whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.”)

Gulf Oil, the original sponsor of The Screen Guild Theatre, dropped the series in 1942 (uncertainties in the market due to WW2 contributed to this). The Lady Esther cosmetic company start paying the bills in the fall with an all-star broadcast of Yankee Doodle Dandy (featuring James Cagney, Rita Hayworth, and Betty Grable) on October 19, 1942.  The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre continued to be one of radio’s most popular shows, with adaptations of films like Casablanca (with stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Heinreid), Theodora Goes Wild (star Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in the Melvyn Douglas role), and a memorable version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Edgar Bergen telling the tale to Charlie McCarthy (and Jane Powell as Snow White!).  Lady Esther would withdraw sponsorship in 1947 due to a decline in the cosmetics industry, so Camel cigarettes opened up its checkbook for a season on CBS before jumping networks to NBC a year later.

The change in both networks and time slots caused a slide in the ratings for The Screen Guild Theatre. After finishing its run for Camel it moved to ABC in the fall of 1950 (with a September 7 premiere of Twelve O’Clock High and Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Millard Mitchell, and John Kellogg reprising their film roles) in a now hour-long format.  The ABC run ended on May 31, 1951 and the “Screen Guild” appellation was applied to some CBS anthology series (Stars in the AirHollywood Sound Stage) before The Screen Guild Theatre returned on March 13, 1952.  The show’s final curtain call was on June 29, 1952.

Jack Benny was among the first celebrities to appear on The Screen Guild Theatre and he made a memorable return on an October 20, 1940 broadcast in which he tries to finagle his way into co-starring with Claudette Colbert…despite objections from Basil Rathbone and director Ernst Lubitsch.  This premise would appear again on both Jack’s radio and TV programs, and is available on the Radio Spirits collection Jack Benny: Be Our Guest.  You can also find Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre adaptations of The Maltese Falcon (from September 20, 1943 with stars Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre) and The Glass Key (July 22, 1946 with Alan Ladd reprising his starring film role) on Smithsonian Legendary Performers: Dashiell Hammett.  In addition, Sydney Greenstreet also stars in Screen Guild Theatre’s adaptation of 1944’s The Mask of Dimitrios (from April 16, 1945) on Nero Wolfe: Parties of Death.

The Robin Hood of Modern Crime

His creator described him as “a buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for-leather blue eyes and a saintly smile.”  That creator was author Leslie Charteris, and the “buccaneer” in question was Simon Templar—a roguish ex-thief who had gone straight and now made it his mission to relieve the “ungodly” (those individuals he felt adhered to a moral code that couldn’t match his own) of their ill-gotten gains by redistributing that wealth among the less fortunate.  Templar was nicknamed “The Saint” (it might have been the smile, though it’s spelled out in his initials—S.T.) and was introduced in Charteris’ 1928 novel Meet the Tiger.  Radio audiences, however, started following Simon’s adventures over NBC Radio on this date in 1945 with the premiere of The Adventures of the Saint.

“He claims he’s a Robin Hood,” observed a victim in one of Charteris’ Saint short stories, “but to me he’s just a robber and a hood.”  In his early literary escapades, Simon Templar made short work of crooked politicians and other assorted miscreants, taking as compensation a modest ten percent (he must have been an agent before getting into his current line of work) and returning the rest to the injured parties (or donating the “boodle,” as he termed it, to worthy charities).  By the 1940s, Charteris had his hero working on behalf of the U.S. government, giving Nazis what-for.  The post-war Templar would see another transformation as he became more of a global adventurer.  There was a dark side to “The Saint,” as he was not above terminating an adversary if innocent lives would be saved in the bargain.  Leslie wrote both Saint novels and short stories/novellas until 1963. (A number of scribes penned additional books until the final one, Salvage for the Saint, was published in 1983).

Leslie Charteris, in addition to his novels and short stories, found work in the 1930s as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Among his contributions to the cinema were screenplays for such films as Midnight Club (1933), River Gang (1945), and Two Smart People (1946).  But as a hard-working Tinsel Town scribe, Charteris also persuaded one of the majors, RKO, to produce a film based on one of his Saint novels—which was released in 1938 as The Saint in New York (starring Louis Hayward as Templar).  A follow-up hit theatres in 1939, The Saint Strikes Back, with George Sanders as the titular thief…and Sanders would play Templar in four additional features.  Hugh Sinclair finished out the Saint franchise with The Saint’s Vacation and The Saint Meets the Tiger (both in 1941).

The silver screen success of The Saint played a major role in stoking interest in a radio version of Charteris’ sleuth.  It should be noted, however, that the premiere of The Adventures of the Saint on January 6, 1945 was Simon Templar’s American debut. Earlier radio incarnations featuring the character were heard in other countries, including a 1940 venture (heard on the BBC Forces Band) with character actor Terence de Marney.  Character great Edgar Barrier was the first performer to essay The Saint on American radio, in a thirteen-week series heard over NBC for Bromo Seltzer.  In June of that same year, Brian Aherne was elevated to “Sainthood” in a CBS series that served as a summer replacement for The Jack Carson Show. In this version, Louise Arthur was heard as Patricia Holm (Simon Templar’s love interest in Charteris’ early novels).  Charteris went on record with praise for Aherne’s interpretation of the character, opining that the actor “would have been just as good on film.”

The actor most old-time radio fans remember best as The Saint (mostly due to the unavailability of the Barrier and Aherne shows) is Vincent Price. He began playing Simon Templar on a sustained program that aired over CBS’ West Coast network for about a year beginning July 9, 1947.  After a year’s hiatus, Price returned on July 10, 1949 for Ford Motors on Mutual until May 28, 1950. The Adventures of the Saint then relocated to NBC two weeks later.  Vincent would play The Saint on this NBC incarnation until May 20, 1951 until Tom Conway took over the role. (Conway was the brother of George Sanders, who had portrayed Templar briefly in motion pictures.)  Actor Lawrence Dobkin was heard on the NBC Adventures of the Saint as a colorful cabbie named Louie, with many of “Radio Row’s” standout actors turning up in supporting roles (Lurene Tuttle, Harry Bartell, Peggy Webber, etc.).  On October 14, 1951, The Saint wrapped up his last American radio caper…although additional versions would later be broadcast in Australia, Switzerland, South Africa, and Norway (and over the BBC in 1995).

One of the most comprehensive histories of radio’s The Adventures of the Saint was written by Ian Dickerson: The Saint on the Radio.  It is a must-own reference, featuring fastidiously detailed episode guides for each of the American incarnations and two complete Saint scripts: “The High Fence” (the first episode featuring Brian Aherne, originally broadcast June 20, 1945) and “No Hiding Place” (11/20/50, with Vincent Price).  Radio Spirits has but a few copies of this book left…so strike while the iron is hot if you’re a fan.  You’ll also find a classic Saint adventure with Mr. Price (“The Horrible Hamburger,” 09/10/50) on our sleuthing compendium Great Radio Detectives.

Happy Birthday, Humphrey Bogart!

“The young man who embodies the sprig is what is usually and mercifully described as inadequate,” noted legendary critic Alexander Woollcott of an actor’s second appearance on Broadway in 1922 in a play entitled Swifty.  Woollcott (who would eventually go on to radio fame as The Town Crier over CBS Radio in the 1930s) had a reputation for pulling no punches. However, it’s fun to speculate what his reaction would be had he lived long enough to see that actor named by the American Film Institute as the greatest male star of classic American cinema in 1999.  The thespian for whom Woollcott had such sour acclaim was born on Christmas Day in 1899 in NYC as Humphrey DeForest Bogart.

Humphrey Bogart’s film persona was that of a “tough guy” (and later, the cynical anti-hero) so his fans certainly enjoyed the irony that their favorite star had actually been born to wealth and privilege.  His father Belmont was a cardiopulmonary surgeon and his mother Maud a commercial illustrator. (Her drawing of Baby Bogie was used in an advertising campaign by the Mellins Baby Food company.)  Humphrey attended New York’s Delancey School until the fifth grade, when he then transferred to the prestigious Trinity School.  From there it was on to one of the nation’s leading preparatory schools, the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA.  Phillips was considered a steppingstone to Yale, but Bogart wouldn’t get that far.  He was expelled after three semesters for “incontrollable high spirits”—or in layman’s terms, he was a disciplinary problem.

A lifelong love of boats and the sea inspired Humphrey Bogart to join the U.S. Navy at a time when World War I was underway.  It was in the service that Bogie would receive that trademark scar on his upper lip (thanks to a flying wood splinter).  Humphrey returned home to learn that his father had lost a good portion of the family fortune through careless investments, and that necessitated the junior Bogart getting a job quickly.  He tried being a stockbroker for a time, but a job offer from producer William A. Brady (a family friend of the Bogarts, whose son William, Jr. was one of Bogie’s pals) would point him toward a career in show business.  Humphrey started out as a manager of one of Brady’s touring companies until one night he accepted a dare from actor Neil Hamilton (you know him as Commissioner Gordon on Batman) to take his place in a play for one performance.  While Bogart froze with fright during that experience, after complaining about his meager salary in backstage work, Brady suggested he take up acting.

Bill Brady must have sensed that Humphrey Bogart had a talent for playing callow juveniles due to his theatrical inexperience, because he and other producers who cast Humphrey soon made good use of his limited talents.  (It’s been said that Bogart originated the timeworn cliché “Tennis, anyone?” in one of those productions.)  Toward the end of the 1920s, however, Humphrey had started to outgrow those juvenile roles. Fortunately, his stage experience made him an ideal candidate for “the talkies,” as Hollywood began hiring theatre veterans left and right.  Bogart signed a contract with Fox in 1930 for $400 a week, but his five-film output (including 1930’s Up the River, co-starring Spencer Tracy and directed by John Ford) didn’t result in stardom, and the studio dropped his option.  Humphrey would move back and forth between East and West Coasts, appearing in plays and features (like 1932’s Three on a Match).

A role in the Broadway production Invitation to a Murder (1934) impressed producer Arthur Hopkins, who remembered Humphrey Bogart when it came time to cast the character of gangster Duke Mantee in Robert Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest (1935).  The star of Forest was actor Leslie Howard, who was so impressed by Bogie as Mantee that he promised Humphrey he would do what he could to make sure he would reprise the role when Warner Bros. planned their silver screen version. (Warner had actually announced that Edward G. Robinson would play Mantee in the film, but Leslie informed the studio that if they didn’t get Bogart they wouldn’t have Howard.)  Humphrey’s solid turn in Petrified Forest started to get him noticed among the moviegoing public.

The Petrified Forest may not have produced the kind of immediate results for Humphrey Bogart that, say, The Public Enemy (1931) did for James Cagney (or Little Caesar [1930] for Edward G. Robinson for that matter)…but it gave the actor steady employment as a bad guy in features like Bullets or Ballots (1936) and Kid Galahad (1937).  Bogie could play the hero on occasion (Marked Woman [1937]), and in underappreciated films like Black Legion (1937), Humphrey gets involved with a KKK-like organization with tragic results. He really shone in Legion, and was praised by the National Board of Review for that performance. But many of his Warner Bros. efforts cast him in unrewarding secondary roles, and Bogart started to chafe at his treatment by the studio.  Warners often “punished” their obstreperous star with dismal vehicles like Swing Your Lady (1938; a ”hillbilly” musical) and The Return of Dr. X (1939; Bogie’s a zombie!).  “I’m known as a guy who squawks about roles, but never refuses to play one,” Humphrey once remarked to a reporter.  The actor took the advice of a friend that “if you’re always busy, sometime someone is going to get the idea that you must be good.”

It’s become Hollywood legend that George Raft (who co-starred with Bogie in Invisible Stripes [1939] and They Drive by Night [1940]) was apparently every bit as responsible for Humphrey Bogart’s stardom as Bogart was.  Raft turned down the leads in High Sierra (1941; George was purportedly a superstitious man and the death of the main character in Sierra spooked him) and The Maltese Falcon (1941; Raft wouldn’t do a “remake” and he also didn’t want to work with novice director John Huston), allowing Bogart to step in and star in two of his finest films.  Bogart’s first romantic lead in Casablanca (1942) would also garner him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor…even if the studio did have to hide the fact that his leading lady, Ingrid Bergman, was taller than her male co-star.  Humphrey was now a full-fledged film star, and his teaming with young Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946) made them both firm favorites with moviegoers.

One of Humphrey Bogart’s earliest radio appearances was on a June 28, 1934 broadcast of Rudy Vallee’s The Fleischmann Yeast Hour, where he performed in a truncated version of his Broadway hit Invitation to a Murder (along with Walter Abel and Gale Sondegaard).  Humphrey would return to Vallee’s show on several occasions, and throughout the 1930s and 1940s parodied his “tough guy” persona on shows headlined by Phil Baker (Take It or Leave It), Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Al Jolson.  Bogart would also reprise film roles (not to mention appear in original plays) on the popular radio anthologies of the era, notably Academy Award TheatreThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe Gulf/Lady Esther/Camel Screen Guild TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreSuspenseThe Theatre Guild of the Air, and The Theatre of Romance.  Rounding out Bogie’s radio resume are guest appearances on the likes of Command PerformanceHedda Hopper’s HollywoodMail CallThe Shell ChateauShirley Temple Time, and Stagestruck.

Humphrey Bogart’s prominence in movies like Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948) handicapped him when it came to committing to a weekly radio series—though he did participate in a September 17, 1949 audition entitled “Dead Man,” which featured him as both host and performer.  Bogie wouldn’t be heard regularly on radio until 1951-52, when he and Lauren Bacall (now Mrs. Bogart) starred in the syndicated adventure Bold Venture.  As soldier-of-fortune Slate Shannon, Bogart owned both a hotel and the boat of the program’s title…and engaged in weekly escapades with his “ward,” Sailor Duval (Bacall) in the Caribbean.  Mr. and Mrs. B were able to record 3-4 episodes a week ahead of broadcast (netting a nice $4,000 per episode) and Bold Venture went on to become one of Ziv Syndication’s most popular shows, broadcast over 400 radio stations at the peak of its popularity.

Despite now critically-acclaimed turns in movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and In a Lonely Place (1950), Humphrey Bogart would be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar just twice more after his first nod for Casablanca. The second time was the charm for Bogie; his thespic peers awarded him a trophy for his role as a drunken boat captain in The African Queen (1951), and his third and final nomination also recognized his seamanship as martinet Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg in 1954’s The Caine Mutiny.  By the time of Mutiny, however, Humphrey’s health had begun to deteriorate from a lifelong habit of heavy smoking and drinking.  After his cinematic swan song in The Harder They Fall (1956), Bogart succumbed to esophageal cancer in January of 1957 at the age of 57.

Humphrey Bogart was not the type of actor to toot his own horn about his films, but he had uncharacteristic praise for The Maltese Falcon. “[I]t is practically a masterpiece,” he went on record as saying. “I don’t have many things I’m proud of…but that’s one.”  Radio Spirits’ Smithsonian Legendary Performers: Dashiell Hammett collection features our birthday boy in a September 20, 1943 broadcast of The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre that reunites him with co-stars Myrna Loy, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet in a half-hour radio version of that classic film.  You’ll also hear Humphrey and the missus josh with Jack Benny (from January 5, 1947) on the RS set Jack Benny & Friends and he’s one of several high-wattage celebrities profiled in the 4-DVD compilation Hollywood’s Greatest Screen Legends.  Happy birthday, Bogie!