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“Extra, extra—get your Illustrated Press!”


The Golden Age of Radio—and this may be a good or bad thing, depending upon your opinion of the Fourth Estate—was a regular breeding ground for newspaper folk.  Superheroes like The Green Hornet and Superman were journalists when they weren’t out fighting crime (the “Har-nut” was newspaper editor Britt Reid, and Superman’s Clark Kent punched a time clock at The Daily Planet).  The aural medium also brought us the dramatic sagas of Front Page Farrell and Casey, Crime Photographer, not to mention Chicago reporter Randy Stone of Night Beat fame.  Real-life tales of newspaper scoops were even featured on the anthology program The Big Story.  Head-and-shoulders above them all, of course, was Big Town—which premiered over the airwaves on this date in 1937.

bigtown4Big Town was created as a vehicle for actor Edward G. Robinson.  Eddie G. had actually played an editor in the 1931 film Five Star Final (one of Robinson’s finest roles), but moviegoers knew him best at the time for his gangster portrayals in movies like Little Caesar (1931), Smart Money (1931), and The Last Gangster (1937).  An attempt to escape his typecasting as a bad guy, Big Town starred the actor as “fighting managing editor” Steve Wilson of the Illustrated Press, a crusading newspaper operating in Big Town (yes, that was the name of the burg).  (Eddie G. didn’t entirely shed his “bad guy” image—in some of the early Big Town broadcasts his Wilson comes across as a bit of louse.)  Created, written and directed by former newspaperman Jerry McGill and sponsored by Rinso, there was no question that Big Town was a star showcase—as related in an anecdote by actor Jerry Hausner in Leonard Maltin’s The Great American Broadcast:

Edward G. Robinson [the show’s star] had a card table with a typewriter on it. The author of that week’s script had to sit there all day long, every day, and rewrite as we went along. He’d read a line and Eddie’d say, “I don’t like that one, cut that out, change this, change that.” He was a stickler for all these things, and that’s what made it a good show, but we had to sit there while this was being done. They rewrote and rewrote all week long, and if you were cut out, they waved you goodbye and you didn’t get any money at all. You had no protection of any kind. If your part stayed in and it was a minor supporting role, you wound up with $15, $20 for the week, $35 if you had a good part.

robinson-trevorBig Town was a blend of no-holds-barred melodrama and socially conscious soap-boxing, as Robinson’s Wilson crusaded against society’s ills and on behalf of freedom of the press.  Controversial subjects tackled on the program included examinations of racism, drunk driving, and juvenile delinquency.  The show’s memorable opening intoned from an echo chamber: “The power and freedom of the press is a flaming sword! That it may be a faithful servant of all the people…use it justly…hold it high…guard it well…”  Listening to surviving broadcasts today, a new generation might be puzzled by the adversarial approach of the paper’s reporters (no cozy palsy-walsy with the individuals they’re supposed to cover)—but this was a time when periodicals actively pursued investigative journalism, “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” to use one of my favorite quotes.

trevorHaving a big name like Eddie G.’s on any radio program would be a feather in that show’s cap…but Big Town was graced with another silver screen presence in Claire Trevor, who played Lorelei Kilbourne, the paper’s society columnist (and Steve Wilson’s love interest).  Though Trevor’s performance in Dead End (1937) was just making the rounds in movie theatres shortly before Big Town’s debut, the actress wouldn’t really make it big until two years later opposite John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939).  (While working on Big Town, Robinson and Trevor would star in 1938’s The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, and later teamed up for Key Largo [1948]—the film that would win Claire a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.)

Other Big Town regulars included Ed MacDonald (as “fearless, imaginative reporter” Tommy Hughes), Gale Gordon (as District Attorney Miller), Paula Winslowe (as Wilson’s secretary Miss Foster, also played by Helen Brown), Lou Merrill, Cy Kendall and Jack Smart.  As for co-star Trevor, she would exit the program in 1940 (she later complained that her role had been reduced to two lines: “I’ll wait for you in the car, Steve” and “How’d it go, Steve?”).  Ona Munson took over as Lorelei…but by 1942, the program had put out a classified ad for a new Steve Wilson despite still ruling the ratings roost.  A decision had been made to move the show to New York, and Edward G. Robinson decided not to follow it.

carlon-pawley2In the fall of 1943, with the series now sponsored on CBS by Sterling Drugs (Ironized Yeast, Bayer), Robinson was replaced by Broadway veteran Edward J. Pawley, with Fran Carlon as Lorelei.  (Pawley would play Steve until the final months of the program in 1952, when Walter Greaza inherited the role.)  New characters were introduced to the program, notably a colorful cabbie named Harry the Hack (originated by Robert Dryden, but also essayed by Mason Adams and Ross Martin), who knew the back alleys and byways of Big Town (it was a big town, you know) like the back of his hand.  There was also a blind piano player named Mozart (Larry Haines) who owned a small bistro and provided underworld tips to Steve and Lorelei on the side, along with Willie the Weep (Donald MacDonald), a waterfront denizen who sobbed when he talked.  Other New York acting vets included Lawson Zerbe (as the Press’ photographer, Dusty Miller), Ted de Corsia, Dwight Weist (who doubled as the show’s announcer), Bill Adams, Bobby Winckler and Michael O’Day.

icoverbigtownWhen Big Town moved to NBC in the fall of 1948, the sponsorship reverted back to Lever Brothers (though this time they pushed Lifebuoy soap instead of Rinso detergent).  Its popularity was such that it inspired a short-lived B-picture franchise at Paramount beginning with Big Town (a.k.a. Guilty Assignment) in 1947, and followed by I Cover Big Town (1947), Big Town After Dark (1947), and Big Town Scandal (1948).  Phillip Reed played the silver screen Steve Wilson, with Hillary Brooke portraying Lorelei.  (The Big Town films were produced by William C. Thomas and William H. Pine…whose talent for low-budget filmmaking earned them the nickname “The Dollar Bills.”)  Big Town later transitioned to the small screen on October 5, 1950 on CBS-TV, then moved to NBC in 1954 for two additional seasons.  (The boob tube incarnation was then laid to rest in reruns, appearing under three separate titles: Byline: Steve Wilson, Headline and Heart of the City.)  The radio version of the long-running series finally added its “-30-” on June 25, 1952.

21121Radio Spirits’ Big Town collection Blind Justice not only features the premiere episode of the popular series, but previously uncirculated episodes and a pair of broadcasts from the Pawley-Carlon years.  You can also check out the first Big Town feature film on Big Town Collection, which is supplemented with two episodes from the TV version of the show, starring Mark Stevens as Steve Wilson.  In Big Town: Volume 1 and Big Town: Volume 2, it’s Patrick McVey as the “fighting managing editor,” aided and abetted by the lovely Jane Nigh as Lorelei.  Grab all these collections and use them justly…hold them high…guard them well!

Happy Birthday, William N. Robson!


Though September 30, 1962 is often acknowledged as the date when The Golden Age of Radio came to a close, director-producer-writer William N. Robson had a decidedly different take in an interview with Dick Bertell in 1976.  “The great period of radio was from 1937, ’38 really, through the war,” Robson reminisced.  “It was only seven years—the golden age of radio. ‘Suspense’ and ‘Escape’—those are the things one does later because one has all the skills at his fingertips.”  Since Robson worked on both Suspense and Escape—not to mention prestigious radio dramas as The Columbia Workshop, The Man Behind the Gun, and The CBS Radio Workshop—he might know what he’s talking about.  But we definitely know what we’re talking about when we state that Robson—born in Pittsburgh, PA on this date in 1906—was one of the aural medium’s most amazing talents.

privatejonesBill Robson was a Yale man, graduating in 1928 and full of promise.  His writing career began with a contract at Paramount Pictures, co-penning the screenplay for a Lee Tracy-Gloria Stuart comedy entitled Private Jones (1933).  Robson also started his involvement in radio at the same time in November of 1933 with a CBS West Coast series entitled Calling All Cars, which he wrote and directed.  A program that depicted actual crime stories (many years ahead before the celebrated Dragnet), Robson recalled in Leonard Maltin’s The Great American Broadcast a fascinating anecdote about a San Quentin prison break that took place in January of 1935, in which four members of the prison’s Board of Governors were taken hostage by the escapees.  Asked via a phone call at 2:30pm to dramatize the incident on Calling All Cars, Bill agreed—thinking he had three days to work up a treatment…

robson6That’s when executive Dick Wiley informed him they had an open hour at 5pm, and since they already had actors and an orchestra rehearsing (for another show) why not do it then?  Robson and his team completed a script in time to meet the deadline; with a minute to air the news came down that the real-life escapees had been rounded up (inside a cemetery in Petaluma).  This report wouldn’t hit the newspapers until after 8pm, however, prompting a giddy Robson to exclaim: “I had scooped the newspapers!”  (“Dramatization of the San Quentin Prison Break” was later redone on The Columbia Workshop in 1936.)

robson3Robson’s work on Calling All Cars won him a friend and admirer in Irving Reis, who suggested Bill move to New York and take over his duties on the innovative and experimental Workshop in 1937.  Among Robson’s best-known contributions to Workshop: “S.S. San Pedro” (09/05/37), “Ecce Homo” (05/21/38), “The Story of Radio” (04/17/39), and a September 28, 1939 broadcast of Archibald MacLeish’s famed “The Fall of the City” (previously dramatized on the series in 1937).  Bill also directed episodes of Edward G. Robinson’s radio drama Big Town, in addition to working on such programs as Then and Now, The American School of the Air, Americans All—Immigrants All, What Price America, and The Twenty-Second Letter.

robson4In the fall of 1942, William Robson embarked on one of his most prestigious radio series: The Man Behind the Gun, a weekly program that dramatized stories from WW2, ranging from the invasion of Sicily to the Canine Corps.  Gun put a human face on the conflict for the listeners at home, and featured the work of writers like Ranald MacDougall and Arthur Laurents (later a successful playwright) while utilizing the talents of actors such as Frank Lovejoy, Jim Backus, and Jackson Beck (who narrated many of the broadcasts).  Beck had nothing but effusive praise for Robson, calling him “the best director I ever worked for.  The word ‘bravura’ was invented for Robson: rough, tough, broad, expansive, a guy who knew what the hell he wanted and knew how to get it.”

shortybellBeck’s appraisal for Bill’s work was shared by others: The Man Behind the Gun earned Robson his first George Foster Peabody Award (radio’s equivalent of an Oscar) in 1943, and Bill took home a second trophy that same year for the documentary Open Letter on Race Hatred, which Time magazine called “one of the most eloquent programs in radio history.”  Robson’s fine work continued on series like One World, Four for the Fifth, and Doorway to Life (an early attempt to examine the psychological problems unique to children)—yet he wasn’t always driven by prestige series; he wrote and produced one of the medium’s first “adult westerns” in Hawk Larabee, and directed-produced a newspaper comedy-drama starring Mickey Rooney in Shorty Bell.

robson2The anthology series “designed to free you from the four walls of today for a half-hour of high adventure” premiered in July of 1947, and William N. Robson was the first director-producer of Escape.  (Robson also flexed his writing skills on that show with contributions like “Operation Fleur de Lis” and “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” adapted from the Ambrose Bierce short story.)  Bill also directed and wrote broadcasts of Suspense and The Whistler, and produced and/or directed such series as Pursuit, Beyond Tomorrow, T-Man, and The Adventures of Christopher London.  But because he served as the New York director of the 1947 broadcast Hollywood Fights Back—a blistering rebuttal to the goings-on of the House Un-American Activities Committee—Robson found himself listed among many of his fellow radio artists (including Himan Brown and Mitchell Grayson) in the anti-Communist publication Red Channels.  There were other charges leveled against Bill—the man who won a Peabody for The Man Behind the Gun, mind you—but none of them had any real merit.  Show business, however, does not adhere to anything resembling logic, and his career stalled for a number of years.

robson1By 1955, apparently all was forgiven.  Robson started working again for such shows as Romance (he also returned to Suspense as director-producer from 1956 to 1959) and enjoyed another prestigious assignment in The CBS Radio Workshop (a noble but short-lived attempt to resurrect The Columbia Workshop).  Although Bill took on television assignments with scripts for Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion and Highway Patrol, he remained a creature of radio, directing broadcasts of Luke Slaughter of Tombstone and contributing scripts to another oater, Have Gun – Will Travel (the radio version).  Robson would get the last laugh on those who smeared him as a Red; he was chosen by his friend Edward R. Murrow to be the chief documentary writer-producer-director at The Voice of America, where his work garnered him four additional Peabody Awards.  William N. Robson departed this world on April 10, 1985 at the age of 88.

20944The exemplary work of one of radio’s true giants is well represented here at Radio Spirits.  You can sample William N. Robson’s genius on the Escape sets Escape Essentials, Escape to the High Seas, and The Hunted and the Haunted, while entertaining yourself with “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills” in the Suspense collections Around the World, Final Curtain, Ties That Bind, and Suspense at Work. Today’s birthday celebrant is also featured in our Romance compilation, and on Fort Laramie, you can listen to one of that series’ finest episodes in “Never the Twain” (05/06/56), an effective treatise on anti-racism written by Bill himself.  Happiest of birthdays to you, Mr. Robson!

Happy Birthday, Damon Runyon!


The Oxford Dictionary defines the term “Runyonesque” as “of, relating to, or characteristic of Damon Runyon or his style, language, or imagery; especially characterized by plot or language suggestive of gangsters or the New York underworld.”  For those were the denizens of Broadway that Runyon wrote about in his humorous and sentimental tales.  The author was born Alfred Damon Runyan on this date in 1880 in Manhattan…Kansas (NOT New York)…but you’d never know that from his short stories, which centered on the various gamblers, boxers, actors, grifters and hustlers that populated the Great White Way.  Damon’s literary contributions provided fodder for movies, television…and particularly radio, in the form of The Damon Runyon Theatre.

youngrunyonDamon Runyon was born to be a newspaperman.  No doubt due to the amount of printer’s ink in the blood of his family: his grandfather had been a printer in New Jersey and his father a Manhattan editor (before being forced to sell his paper and move west in 1882).  The Family Runyan eventually put down stakes in Pueblo, CO by 1887.  Pueblo is where young Damon spent the largest part of his youth—that’s where you’ll find Runyon Lake, Runyon Field, and the Damon Runyon Repertory Theater Company, in case you’re making room on the itinerary for your next vacation.

Most accounts note that the young Damon only got as far as the fourth grade scholastically, but this didn’t keep him from pursuing a journalism career.  He began working for various Colorado and Rocky Mountain newspapers under his father’s tutelage before that was interrupted in 1898 when the teenage Damon enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight in the Spanish-American War.  The life of a doughboy didn’t discourage Runyon’s literary aspirations, though—he was pressed into service to write for both the Manila Freedom and Soldier’s Letter.  When his hitch was up, he returned to Pueblo and got his first job as a reporter for The Pueblo Star.  Damon then moved on to the Rocky Mountain area, beginning with a stint as a reporter and sports editor for The Denver Daily News.  There were a lot of newspapers that employed the future author between 1900 and 1910 (Runyon also contributed short stories to Collier’s and McClure’s), and somewhere along the way, the spelling of “Runyan” was changed to the now-familiar “Runyon.”

runyonreporterDamon Runyon relocated to New York in 1910.  He perfected his sportswriting skills at the Hearst-owned New York American, where his “beat” included covering both boxing and the New York Giants.  Runyon had dropped the “Alfred” from his byline by this time and, after leaving the American, he started a syndicated newspaper column titled Th’ Mornin’s Mornin’…later to be called The Brighter Side.  Damon also continued to indulge his short story ambitions, and his submissions began to grace such publications as The Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan.  His contributions to sports journalism would win him two important honors: induction into the writers’ wing of The Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967, and The International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002. (Runyon was the man who nicknamed pugilist James J. Braddock “The Cinderella Man.”)

ladyforadayposterNicknames came naturally to the author—in Damon Runyon’s world, the inhabitants go by such unforgettable monikers as “Dave the Dude,” “Harry the Horse” and “The Seldom Seen Kid.”  In addition to “Runyonesque,” the term “Runyonese” was coined to describe these characters’ one-of-a-kind vernacular:  a mixture of formal speech and offbeat slang (peppered with terms like “roscoe,” “snoot” and “pineapple”), generally spoken in the present tense and often devoid of contractions.  Many of Damon’s tales would be adapted for the silver screen; the earliest appears to be Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day (1933), based on his “Madame La Gimp”—it was remade by Capra in 1961 as Pocketful of Miracles.

markerOne of Runyon’s best-remembered short stories, “Pick a Winner,” figured in the plot of four feature films.  The first was in 1934, when “Winner” was adapted as Little Miss Marker (1934), one of Shirley Temple’s earliest vehicles.  “Winner” surfaced again in 1949 (as Sorrowful Jones, starring Bob Hope) and 1962 (40 Pounds of Trouble, starring Tony Curtis) before returning to its Little Miss Marker title in 1980 (in a version starring Curtis and Walter Matthau).  Damon’s “The Lemon Drop Kid” was filmed in 1934 (with Lee Tracy) and 1951 (Bob Hope).  “A Slight Case of Murder,” a 1935 play that Runyon co-wrote with Howard Lindsay, met moviegoers in 1938 with an Edward G. Robinson film and, later, with the 1953 remake Stop, You’re Killing Me, with Broderick Crawford.

guysanddollsThe most familiar of Damon Runyon’s works to achieve silver screen status is Guys and Dolls (1955).  Inspired by the 1950 Broadway success (winner of the Tony Award winner for Best Musical), which was co-written by former Duffy’s Tavern scribe Abe Burrows (with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser).  Two separate Runyon stories inspired this hit: “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure.”  Other “Runyonesque” feature films include Princess O’Hara (1935—remade in 1943 with Abbott & Costello as It Ain’t Hay), Professional Soldier (1935), The Big Street (1942), Butch Minds the Baby (1942), Johnny One-Eye (1950), and Money from Home (1953).

20440On radio, Damon Runyon owes a debt of gratitude to Alan Ladd.  Sure, Runyon’s stories had been previously featured on such programs as The Columbia Workshop, The Harold Lloyd Comedy Theatre, The Radio Reader’s Digest, and The Screen Guild Theatre—but it was Ladd and his business associate Bernie Joslin who conceived the idea of a weekly dose of Damon after experiencing syndicated success with their company Mayfair Productions (responsible for Ladd’s Box 13).  The Damon Runyon Theatre, a half-hour anthology, would draw upon inspiration from the author’s inexhaustible portfolio of colorful tales.

brown2Theatre had originally been planned for actor Pat O’Brien to host…but when Pat was called back to complete reshoots on The Boy with Green Hair (1948), Mayfair had to go with their second string—radio veteran John Brown got the nod to narrate the tales as “Broadway.”  In retrospect, Brown was the perfect choice: he was already playing a Runyonesque character on My Friend Irma as Al, Irma’s shady loafer boyfriend.  A total of fifty-two episodes of The Damon Runyon Theatre were produced; though the series began in October of 1948, the syndicated shows were still rerun as late as 1951.  CBS later brought a television version of the show to its schedule from April 1955 to February 1956.

21049Sadly, the man who inspired The Damon Runyon Theatre would never get to hear how well his stories fared on that series; Damon Runyon died in 1946 at the age of 66.  So you’ll have to do the heavy lifting for him: Radio Spirits features a collection of Runyon’s classic tales on Damon Runyon Theatre: Here is Broadway, as well as an earlier compendium, Damon Runyon Theatre: Broadway Complex (I wrote the liner notes!).  Both of these sets are “more than somewhat” essential listening, and you can enjoy them with your ever-loving doll (or guy).  Celebrate the birthday of one of America’s beloved authors with a nice slice of cheesecake (from Mindy’s, of course)!

Happy Birthday, Everett Sloane!


In the 1941 movie classic Citizen Kane, Kane’s business manager Mr. Bernstein makes an observation that remains in the memories of movie fans long after Kane’s final reel has unspooled: “One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off.  A white dress she had on.  She was carrying a white parasol.  I only saw her for one second.  She didn’t see me at all, but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.”

sloane6Citizen Kane was the feature film debut of actor Everett Sloane (who played Bernstein).  Today is the anniversary of his debut on Earth, when he was born in Manhattan, NY in 1909.  Although Sloane would never be mistaken for a leading man, he enjoyed a fruitful career as a respected character actor on stage, in movies, and on TV.  (He even dabbled in songwriting and directing.)  Since radio is an aural medium, however, Everett could play as many handsome male leads as his heart desired over the ether…and suffice it to say, he was one of the busiest actors to ever stand in front of a microphone.

Everett Sloane once remarked to an interviewer: “I never got the idea of becoming an actor until I was about 2 years old.”  It’s nice to know Everett carefully took the time to consider his options.  At age seven, he made his footlights debut in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (he played Puck)—but his first professional gig wouldn’t happen until 1928, in a play performed at The Cherry Lane Theater in New York’s Greenwich Village.  Sloane had been enrolled at The University of Pennsylvania, but left in 1927 to join a stock company in Moyland, PA.  An actor’s life is not an easy one, and because thespians thrive on little luxuries like food, clothing, and shelter, young Everett found a job as a stockbroker’s runner on Wall Street for the princely sum of $17 a week.  A year later, that ballooned to $140 a week when he was promoted to manager’s assistant.

sloane11Sloane, however, became one of the many victims of the Wall Street Crash in 1929; because his salary was slashed in half as a result of that financial disaster, he aggressively began looking for acting jobs…and found a welcome home in radio.  His first gig was on a broadcast of WOR’s called Impossible Detective Mysteries.  Further opportunities on shows such as 40 Fathom Traveler followed, and in 1935 Everett became a member of the large cast of performers on the highly-rated The March of Time.  Also appearing on Time was a young Orson Welles, who cast Sloane in his 1937 Mutual radio production of Les Miserables, and later made him a member of his renowned Mercury Theater company.  This insured that Everett worked steadily on such Orson-dominated shows as The Shadow (he often played Shreevy the cab driver) and The Mercury Theater on the Air (and later, when Theater had secured a sponsor, The Campbell Playhouse).

At the same time that Everett Sloane was emoting on The March of Time, the actor made his Broadway debut in a production of Boy Meets Girl…and he followed that success with such plays as All That Glitters (1938), Native Son (1941—the last of the Mercury Theater productions), and A Bell for Adano (1945).  A 1946 revival of The Dancer gave Everett his first opportunity to direct, and in 1960 a revue entitled From A to Z (with a book co-written by Woody Allen) featured a number of songs contributed by novice tunesmith Sloane.  (The cast of that production featured Hermione Gingold, Elliott Reid, Stuart Damon, Bob Dishy, and Larry Hovis.)

sloane1It’s safe to say, however, that radio was Everett’s bread-and-butter—his acting over the airwaves netted him at one time an annual income of $50,000, and Sloane himself estimated that in his first fifteen years in the business he performed on an average of twenty shows a week.  Everett was heard on daytime dramas like Betty and Bob, Central City, The Guiding Light, Pretty Kitty Kelly, This is Nora Drake, and Valiant Lady.  He was a cast member of The Goldbergs for eight years (as son Sammy), having previously appeared on Gertrude Berg’s The Heart of Glass in 1935.  Sloane also made the rounds on many an anthology show, including The Cavalcade of America, The CBS Radio Workshop, Columbia Meets Corwin, The Columbia Workshop, The Ford Theatre, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, The MGM Theatre of the Air, The NBC Star Playhouse, The Philip Morris Playhouse, The Radio Reader’s Digest, Studio One, and The Theatre Guild of the Air.

Everett Sloane sidekicked as Denny on Bulldog Drummond alongside his fellow Mercury Theater thespian George Coulouris (who played the title role), and at one time was Dr. Benjamin Ordway on radio’s Crime Doctor (a role played previously by another Mercury alum, Ray Collins).  Other shows on which Everett appeared include The Adventures of the Abbotts, The Affairs of Peter Salem, Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Cloak and Dagger, Crime and Peter Chambers, Crime Does Not Pay, The Danny Kaye Show, The Falcon, Inner Sanctum, The Man Behind the Gun, The Molle Mystery Theatre, Mr. Ace and Jane, The Mysterious Traveler, Stroke of Fate, Suspense, Treasury Agent, True Detective Mysteries, Words at War, and You Are There.  Beginning in July of 1953, Sloane was heard as Captain Frank Kennelly on Twenty-First Precinct, a part he played until 1955 (when James Gregory took over).

sloane2Somehow, Everett Sloane missed out appearing in Orson Welles’ second directorial movie effort, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).  But he more than compensated for this with a role in Journey Into Fear (1943—film buffs still debate whether Welles directed this one despite the credit of Norman Foster), and made a memorably formidable villain (a criminal defense attorney confined to crutches) in Orson’s cult noir The Lady from Shanghai (1947).  (Everett also appeared with Orson in 1949’s Prince of Foxes.)  Many of Sloane’s finest moments onscreen were Orson-free, however: a sympathetic doctor in The Men (1950); a mysterious mob figure in The Enforcer (1951); and a ruthless boss in Patterns (1956).  Everett’s other film appearances include The Big Knife (1955), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Lust for Life (1956), and The Disorderly Orderly (1964).

dicktracyEverett made many inroads into television as well…though one of his more prolific gigs harkened back to his radio roots: he was the voice of Dick Tracy in an animated cartoon series produced in 1961 (in addition to providing voices on The Adventures of Jonny Quest).  Sloane also flexed his directorial muscle on episodes of Lawman, 77 Sunset Strip, and Hawaiian Eye, while making the acting rounds on the likes of Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, and Zorro.  (Ever whistle the theme to The Andy Griffith Show?  Its official title is “The Fishin’ Hole,” and it was written by none other than Everett himself.)  Sloane had just completed an episode of Honey West when, plagued by fears that he was going blind, he took an overdose of sleeping pills and died in 1965 at the age of 55.  (Ironically, he had played a character who committed suicide in a similar manner in 1960’s Home from the Hill.)

21317It was a tragedy for fans of radio, TV, and film when Everett Sloane took his own life…yet we can take solace in the actor’s rich radio legacy.  Radio Spirits features today’s birthday celebrant in The Shadow collections Hearts of Evil (our newest release!), Knight of Darkness, Radio Treasures, and Strange Puzzles.  A May 9, 1948 production from The Ford Theater and featuring Mr. Sloane can be found on Stop the Press!, and you can round out your listening tribute with the sets Barry Craig, Confidential Investigator, Bulldog Drummond: Out of the Fog, Inner Sanctum: Shadows of Death, and The Mysterious Traveler: Dark Destiny.  Happy natal anniversary to one of our favorite actors!

Happy Birthday, Lamont Johnson!


I’m certainly not the first person to observe that the best directors—whether they work in film, television, theater, or elsewhere—are often those with an extensive background in acting…and today’s birthday celebrant, Lamont Johnson, certainly proves to be a solid example of this.  Born Ernest Lamont Johnson, Jr. in Stockton, CA on this date in 1922, Lamont would become a highly respected film director (The McKenzie Break, Cattle Annie and Little Britches).  He would go on to enjoy even more success on the small screen, with eleven Emmy Award nominations for directing and producing, winning two trophies each for the miniseries Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story (1985) and Lincoln (1988).  Here’s where things get interesting: Johnson got his show business break before a radio microphone; as radio’s Lord of the Jungle (Tarzan).  He certainly had an easier time of it than, say, movie Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller.

johnson3Lamont Johnson’s interest in radio acting began as a member of the kiddie troupe on Let’s Pretend…but it really blossomed while he was attending Pasadena City College.  By the time he transferred to UCLA, he had made his stage debut at the Pasadena Playhouse.  A hip injury kept Johnson out of the service during WW2, so to “do his bit” Lamont joined the USO and was sent to entertain troops in Europe.  His future wife, actress Toni Merrill, was in the same USO troupe (the two of them had met at Pasadena City College) and the couple eventually tied the knot in Paris in 1945.

Even before his return to the States, Lamont had already expressed an interest in directing stage plays (which he did at local theatres).  Still, to make sure there were adequate groceries on the Johnson household’s table, he relied on radio as his main source of income.  He was a member of the cast of The Adventures of Frank Merriwell, and played Ms. Warren’s first beau on the offbeat daytime drama Wendy Warren and the News (the program would begin with a legitimate newscast, then segue into the soap opera content).

johnson1Johnson’s radio resume includes appearances on such radio favorites as The Adventures of the Saint, Broadway’s My Beat, The Clock, Crime Classics, Defense Attorney, Escape, The Man Called X, The Man from Homicide, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (one of several actors to play legman Archie Goodwin), Night Beat, The Silent Men, Suspense, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Lamont’s voice—described in his 2010 obituary in The Independent as “richly sonorous” and “virile”—made him an ideal announcer, a function that he fulfilled on shows like Life Can Be Beautiful, The Six-Shooter, Tales of the Texas Rangers, This is Your FBI, Truth or Consequences, Vic and Sade, and The Whistler.

tarzanLamont Johnson’s best-remembered role in the aural medium was as the lead on Tarzan, a transcribed series that began in 1950 as one of several series from syndicator Commodore Productions (at the time enjoying great success with Hopalong Cassidy).  By January of 1951, Mutual made room for Tarzan on its schedule, and from March 22, 1952 to June 27, 1953 the series aired over CBS Saturday evenings, sponsored by General Foods/Post Toasties.  It was at this point in Johnson’s career that he also began appearing in films like Retreat, Hell! (1952), Sally and Saint Anne (1952), The Human Jungle (1954), and The Brothers Rico (1957).  Universal had signed him to a contract, but Lamont never made the impact on audiences that his fellow studio contractees Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, or Jeff Chandler did.  He gravitated toward acting on television, and from there it was just a short walk to working behind the camera.

johnson2Lamont’s first television assignment was to tackle a one-hour adaptation of Wuthering Heights for NBC-TV’s daytime Matinee Theater, and his success paved the way for 77 additional live productions for that series over the next two years.  Johnson then moved seamlessly into the world of taped television programs, helming episodes of programs like Have Gun – Will Travel, Peter Gunn, Naked City, and Dr. Kildare.  His work for The Twilight Zone still resonates with fans of that iconic series years later, with classic episodes like “Nothing in the Dark” and “Kick the Can.”

Johnson’s debut as a feature film director was 1967’s A Covenant with Death, a legal thriller with a promising plot that was ultimately sabotaged by its leaden pace.  Lamont followed it with The Mackenzie Break (1970), an exciting thriller with the novelty of German prisoners busting out of an Allied POW camp.  Many film critics agree that The Last American Hero (1973), a docudrama featuring Jeff Bridges as the legendary stock-car-racer Junior Johnson (though Bridges’ character in the film goes by “Junior” Jackson), represents the director’s finest achievement on the silver screen…eclipsing other Johnson-directed efforts such as A Gunfight (1971), You’ll Like My Mother (1972), and One on One (1977).

thatcertainsummerLamont Johnson received the first of his eleven Emmy Award nominations in 1970 for My Sweet Charlie—a controversial telemovie for its time, with an interracial romance at the center of its plot.  Lamont had to settle for a Directors’ Guild Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for that project, which he shared with assistant director Ralph Ferrin.  Johnson courted controversy again three years later with That Certain Summer, the first TV-movie to tackle the taboo subject of homosexuality—and was again nominated for an Emmy, but lost (though he added a third DGA trophy).  Lamont’s other Emmy-nominated telefilms include The Execution of Private Slovik (1974—the story of the only American soldier executed for treason since the Civil War), Ernie Kovacs: Behind the Laughter (1981), and The Kennedys of Massachusetts (1990).  Johnson’s direction of 1975’s Fear on Trial, adapted from John Henry Faulk’s autobiography about his experiences on the blacklist, was also nominated for an Emmy…and had great verisimilitude for the director, who once found his name on such a list.

19576“Projects about human problems, about the testing of the human experience, about the pressures which exist upon human beings in a difficult world, are what really involve me,” Lamont Johnson was once quoted as saying. “The traps people get into and have to battle out of are the elements of drama with which I like to deal.”  Johnson left this world for a better one in 2010, but his radio legacy is well preserved by Radio Spirits in the following collections: Broadway’s My Beat: Great White Way, Broadway’s My Beat: Murder, Broadway’s My Beat: Neon Shoals, Crime Classics, Crime Classics: The Hyland Files, Defense Attorney, The Man From Homicide, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, The Six-Shooter: Gray Steel, and The Six-Shooter: Special Edition.  Happy birthday to the multi-faceted Lamont Johnson!

“…the Texas plainsman who wandered through the western territories, leaving behind a trail of still-remembered legends…”


In Leonard Maltin’s anecdotal old-time radio page-turner The Great American Broadcast, there’s a photograph of Parley Baer chatting with Academy Award-winning actor James Stewart—and in the caption underneath Maltin notes that Stewart was “one of the best of the Hollywood stars who moonlighted on radio.”  Most old-time radio veterans solidly agreed with this assessment.  Dick Beals had high praise for Jimmy’s thespic skills behind a microphone, observing that Stewart “was a total professional as a radio actor and never tried to draw attention to himself as the star.”

shooter5Stewart demonstrated that he had impressive radio chops as far back as the mid-30s, appearing on the likes of Hollywood Hotel and The Lux Radio Theatre. As a contract player with M-G-M, he made regular visits to the studio’s Good News program between 1937 and 1940.  But Jimmy wouldn’t commit to a weekly series until the 1950s—when transcribed programs made it easier to work around celebrity schedules—and when he did, he was the star of one of radio’s best “adult westerns,” premiering on this date in 1953: The Six-Shooter.

The origins of what became The Six-Shooter go back a little further than its official premiere date; the pilot was originally broadcast on April 13, 1952 as an installment of NBC’s Hollywood Star Playhouse (1950-53).  Star Playhouse took a different tack from the other dramatic anthologies on the air (Lux, Screen Directors’ Playhouse, etc.), presenting original half-hour plays with big Hollywood names instead of the usual movie-adaptation-with-original-star(s) formula.  (For example, an August 31, 1952 episode of Star Playhouse, “Statement in Full,” served as the radio drama debut of Marilyn Monroe.)  The reaction to Stewart’s Star Playhouse episode was most positive, and NBC commissioned an audition for a possible series on July 15, 1953.  (Much of the same script was used, only a subplot from the Star Playhouse presentation—a Wells Fargo robbery that propels the initial plot—was excised.)

shooter3“The man in the saddle is angular and long-legged,” went the show’s standard opening. “His skin is sun-dyed brown…the gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl, its handle unmarked. People call them both ‘The Six-Shooter.’”  Except for his horse, Scar, drifter Britt Ponset (Stewart) was the series’ only recurring character, with The Six-Shooter functioning as something of a Western anthology.  Ponset was not a lawman, but an easy-going cowpoke who roamed around doing odd jobs to keep body and soul together…never looking for trouble, though it frequently found him.  The character of Ponset was strikingly similar to those individuals played by actor Stewart in the Anthony Mann-directed movie westerns of the 1950s (Winchester ’73, Bend of the River)—reluctant heroes who functioned in a morally ambiguous universe.  Ponset helped to round up criminals and right wrongs, but refused to look at the world as good or bad, black or white.

shooter4The scripts for the series were written by Frank Burt (credited as the creator), who playfully used sources like Cinderella (“If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit”) and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (“Britt Ponset’s Christmas Carol”) for inspiration.  Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar’s Jack Johnstone directed The Six-Shooter, and the music came courtesy of Basil Adlam—who composed the memorably haunting theme “Highland Lament.”  Though The Six-Shooter arrived a little late to make a significant amount of noise in Radio’s Golden Age, a lot of the blame for its brief run can be placed on the shoulders of the show’s star.  After four episodes of sponsorship by Coleman Home Heaters, the show became a sustained program…with NBC scrambling to find another sponsor to pay the bills.  According to Jack Johnstone: “Chesterfield begged and begged and begged for months trying to get sponsorship, but Jim didn’t feel that because of his screen image that it would be fair…for him to be sponsored by a cigarette.  There was another advertiser who wanted very much to sponsor the show, but again Jim, and MCA, which owned the show, said no.”

restlessgunWithout an “angel” to write checks, The Six-Shooter eventually climbed into the saddle and rode away on June 24, 1954.  This was not the end to the series, however; in the fall of 1957, NBC-TV premiered The Restless Gun—a small screen oater clearly derived from the radio program.  (Like its radio inspiration, Restless Gun first aired as a pilot on an anthology show…on a March 29, 1957 telecast of CBS’ The Schlitz Playhouse of Stars.)  The main character was now known as “Vint Bonner,” and played by former Fox-movie-musical-turned-tough-guy John Payne.  Producer David Dortort—creator of the later Bonanza and The High Chaparral—recycled many Six-Shooter scripts (with Frank Burt receiving credit in the form of “based on characters created by”).  Restless Gun was a Top Ten hit in the Nielsen ratings in its first season (#8), but in its sophomore year the numbers took a dip and it was cancelled on June 22, 1959.  (Reruns of the series were a weekday/Saturday morning staple on ABC until September 1960.)

19198Fortunately for old-time radio fans, the entirety of The Six-Shooter’s thirty-nine episodes—not to mention its original Hollywood Star Playhouse broadcast and the July 15, 1953 audition—survived those all-too-familiar ravages of time and neglect.  Radio Spirits offers up twenty episodes of the series on The Six-Shooter: Grey Steel (the July 15, 1953 audition is in this set), and the collection The Six-Shooter: Special Edition wraps it up with the remaining twenty.  We invite you to enjoy this fine, underrated western series featuring one of Hollywood’s exemplary actors: James Stewart.

The Strangest of Puzzles


Walter Brown Gibson leaned back in his chair for a well-deserved stretch after spending a number of hours hunched over his trusty Corona typewriter.  He had just put the finishing touches on his latest contribution to The Shadow Magazine, a Street & Smith publication that resulted as a by-product from the introduction of CBS Radio’s The Detective Story Hour in July of 1930.  The S&S-sponsored program was supposed to boost sales of their Detective Story Magazine, but because the unseen narrator of those broadcasts—known as “The Shadow”—became so popular with listeners, the company decided to launch another publication based on the character.

shadow1Gibson was in the right place at the right time.  An author/editor with an insatiable interest in magic and the occult, he had submitted several of his fiction stories to Street & Smith for consideration for Detective Story…yet he was genuinely surprised when the company asked him to contribute a 75,000-word tale for what would be the premiere issue of Shadow Magazine.  That story, “The Living End,” would be the start of Gibson’s prolific fiction-writing career; he had previously written articles on the subject of magic for a number of newspapers, in addition to designing crossword puzzles.  As a nod to his lifelong interest in the art of prestidigitation, he adopted the pen name of “Maxwell Grant”—derived from the names of two of his fellow magicians, Max Holden and U.F. Grant.

It wasn’t easy maintaining the over 1,500,000-word output that Walter wrote yearly for the monthly Shadow mag, but Gibson was fortunate in that he enjoyed what he did—describing himself as “a compulsive writer.”  Yet even the most dedicated scribe knows when to “take five,” or what he himself termed as “pauses” once he had reached “the peak of progress.”  He had done so earlier that evening, celebrating dinner with friends on the occasion of his birthday (September 12, 1897).  Afterward, he returned to his typewriter in order to take up where he left off.  It was now nearing the midnight hour, and it was time to recharge the batteries in order to begin another day of writing come the following morning.

gibsonshadowHe leaned over to turn off the lamp on his desk…and that’s when he heard it.  A laugh.  A rather sinister-sounding laugh, to be sure…only Walter wasn’t actually sure he heard it.  With a second attempt to dim the lights, he heard the laugh again.  It definitely wasn’t his imagination this time.  Then a voice broke the stillness.

“Who knows…what evil…lurks in the hearts of men?  The Shadow knows…”

There was another burst of sinister chortling, and Gibson chuckled to himself as well; he recognized the words as the standard opening to the radio program on which he often served as a consultant.  All that was missing was the familiar strains of Saint-Saëns’ “Omphale’s Spinning Wheel.”

“Well, this is certainly an interesting birthday joke,” Walter called out to the voice.  He looked around the room for signs of electrical equipment or even a filter microphone.  Gibson knew enough about the art of illusion to recognize a leg-pulling when he experienced one.

“It’s no joke,” the voice replied.  “This is The Shadow.”

“Sure.  And I’m Chandu the Magician.  Look, it’s a little late for pranks, my invisible friend…and I’ve got a busy schedule tomorrow.  So why don’t…”

gibson1“Surely you wouldn’t begrudge me an opportunity to meet with my creator,” returned the voice.  “Do I refer to you as ‘Walter Gibson’ or ‘Maxwell Grant’?”

Gibson thought for a moment.  Either the individual behind this practical joke had gone to elaborate extremes to try and convince him that a character he had created had come to life…or his rigorous work schedule was giving him a not-to-be-ignored sign that he was due for a long rest.  Walter could see no upside to the latter part of that equation—so why not play along?  Sooner or later, the person behind “The Shadow” would give himself away.

“Okay,” Gibson finally acquiesced.  “Let’s talk.”

And talk they did—for the better part of…well, as to the time frame Gibson couldn’t say.  Admittedly, Walter dominated the conversation: giving his mysterious guest a lively and detailed account of his life, with a heavy concentration on his interest in magic and his boundless enthusiasm for the written word.  He felt a little funny describing for “The Shadow” how he came to create the character, combining the escape talents of the legendary Harry Houdini and the powers of hypnosis practiced by Tibetan mystics.  He also added the expertise of renowned magicians like Blackstone (for which he would later contribute scripts in a 1948-49 Mutual quarter-hour radio drama) and Howard Thurston to create illusions…just for a little spice.

shadow3The oddest part of the conversation was when Walter Gibson suddenly realized that, in fact, Margo Lane was not “the only person who knows to whom the voice of the invisible Shadow belongs”—he created the character, so understandably he knew the Shadow’s identity as well!  “Aren’t you afraid that I’ll reveal to the world that you’re really Lamont Cranston?” Walter asked his mystery guest.  “Or I should say, former WWI aviator Kent Allard—if you’ve read any of my novels.”

The Shadow gave out with a laugh…not a sinister one, but a hearty guffaw that said “You got me there, pal.”  Gibson was relieved that his creation seemed to possess a sense of humor.  What at first was an effort to show he was a good sport about a practical joke turned out to be one of the most enjoyable evenings the author had ever spent with someone who may or may not have actually been there.  He even entertained his invisible guest with some magic tricks; though he wasn’t able to tell whether or not The Shadow actually enjoyed his efforts.

Then Walter Gibson awoke with a start.  He was seated in his favorite chair in the room where he wrote—though, in truth, he wrote everywhere…keeping typewriters in every room of the house, since he never knew when inspiration would strike.  The evidence would seem to suggest that he had nodded off shortly after completing his Shadow novel, and that his conversation with the character had all been a crazy dream.

He chuckled to himself and, returning to his typewriter, he noticed that there was a sheet of paper already in place—a habit he had adopted to make certain that he kept up his prolific output.  For a moment, he thought about transferring the events of his dream to the page…and then Gibson hesitated.  “No one would believe it,” he muttered to himself…as he embarked upon yet another well-written flight of fancy.

21317Today, Radio Spirits salutes the man responsible for creating one of the aural medium’s most enduring crime fighters on what would have been Walter Gibson’s 119th birthday.  You’ll find a goodly number of his Shadow story reprints by “browsing the stacks”, and the broadcast adventures of the mysterious hero who knows “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit” are available in the following collections: Bitter Fruit, Dead Men Tell, Dream of Death, Knight of Darkness, Radio Treasures, Silent Avenger, and Strange Puzzles.  Our latest compilation of Shadow broadcasts, Hearts of Evil, will be released soon; I was pleased to contribute the liner notes for this set, as well as indulging in a little frivolity today for Mr. Gibson’s natal anniversary tribute.

Happy Birthday, Charlie Cantor!


The actor best known for making his weekly entrance on Duffy’s Tavern with a cheery “Duhhh…hello, Arch!” was born on this date in Worchester, MA in 1898.  Charles “Charlie” Cantor was radio’s most beloved dunce, Clifton Finnegan—whose name was inspired by Clifton Fadiman, the host of the erudite radio quiz show Information Please.  That, however, is where the similarity ends: Finnegan was a well-meaning dimwit who frequently found himself embroiled in the weekly shenanigans at Duffy’s, always instigated by “Archie the Manager” (Ed Gardner).  Finnegan wasn’t ever going to be appearing on any kind of quiz show in his lifetime…unless it was It Pays to Be Ignorant.

charliecantorAt the height of his radio career, Cantor was one of the medium’s most dependable second bananas.  Like most people in the entertainment field, he had a little show business in his blood—he worked a little in vaudeville (where he did a blackface act) and as a song plugger during his school vacations (attending a number of New York institutions, finally obtaining a B.A. from NYU), and one of his hidden talents was a none-too-shabby proficiency playing barrelhouse piano.  Upon graduation, he landed his first job as a shoe salesman—he was not going to be a starving artist, but rather a success in the business world.  Sadly, his experience with big business left him flat broke, and so he turned to nightclub work…which ended up being his ticket to radio.

Charlie Cantor’s first work over the ether was as an actor for New York’s WHN in 1921.  Cantor found radio a delight, and his talent for dialects ensured that he would never lack for work.  By the mid-1930s, Charlie had established his second banana bona fides as one of the “Mighty Allen Art Players” on Fred Allen’s Town Hall Tonight.  He also appeared on shows headlined by Phil Baker, George Jessel, Eddie Cantor (no relation, of course), Walter O’Keefe, Fred Waring, Benny Goodman, Tim & Irene Ryan, and Kate Smith (he and his fellow Allen Art Player Minerva Pious even performed as a duo on Kate’s show in 1941).  Cantor didn’t just run through his repertoire of dialects on comedy and variety shows, however; he emoted on such dramatic programs as The Shadow, Gang Busters, and Dick Tracy.  An article from The Pittsburgh Press in 1943 made mention that “A few years back, before he decided there could be too much of a good thing, Charlie was on 22 shows a week—seven of them on Wednesday.”

piouscantorbrowndouglas2By the 1940s, Charlie had started to taper off his radio assignments despite regular roles on The Amazing Mr. Smith (as Herbie the valet) and Meet Mr. Meek (as Meek’s boss, Mr. Barker).  His work on Fred Allen’s show (now known as The Texaco Star Theatre) kept him pretty busy, particularly in December of 1942 when Allen instituted the “Allen’s Alley” segment on his show.  Cantor played one of the first denizens of the Alley, an amiable dunce who answered to “Socrates Mulligan.”  (Charlie also occasionally played “Rensaleer Nussbaum.”)  He’d portray Socrates for two years before Fred took his hiatus in the 1944-45 season.  When Allen returned to the airwaves in the fall of 1945, however, he would be forced to find a replacement…because by that time Charlie was devoting a lot of time to what would become his signature radio role.

cantor5Charlie Cantor joined Duffy’s Tavern while Texaco Star Theatre was in its first season.  Seemingly surrounded by a force field of stupidity, Cantor’s Clifton Finnegan became one of the most popular characters on star Ed Gardner’s successful sitcom.  On one Yuletide-themed broadcast, Finnegan explains to Archie that he’s been having trouble selling raffle tickets as part of a charity sponsored by the tavern— “I’ve been to every house on the block,” he complains.  “Well…have you been off the block?” Archie asks his pal.  “Arch…for years!” is Finnegan’s reply.  In later years, the Duffy’s scribes introduced Finnegan’s kid brother Wilfred (played by a young Dick Van Patten) to provide support for Cantor’s unforgettable characterization.  Cantor remained with the show until it left the airwaves in 1951; he even made the move to Puerto Rico when Ed Gardner decided to relocate the show there for tax purposes.

cantor13In addition to his work on Duffy’s, Charlie Cantor was a regular on The Alan Young Show, playing another mental giant named “Zero.”  Cantor was Solomon Levy on Abie’s Irish Rose, Uncle Louie on The Baby Snooks Show, and Uncle Buckley on The Life of Riley.  He also made guest appearances on other popular comedy programs, including Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show, The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show, Meet Mr. McNutley, My Friend Irma, and The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.

Charlie had made sporadic appearances on Jack Benny’s radio program, beginning in the 1930s, often as a heckler named “Logan Jerkfinkel.”  When Jack moved to television, Cantor inherited a role that had originally been  played on radio by Elliott Lewis, a character described by Jack’s writers as a “mooley.” (If anyone looked like a “mooley”…it was Charlie Cantor.)  The mooley often turned up during Jack’s traditional Christmas shopping trek to a department store, where he would ask: “Duhhh, can I help youse, huh?”  Once asked by Jack how he wound up selling perfume, the mooley replied, “I woik in da fertilizer department, but once’t a munt they sends me up here to even t’ings out.”

cantor7Other radio programs on Charlie Cantor’s resume include Command Performance, G.I. Journal, Jubilee, The Lux Radio Theatre, Mail Call, Orson Welles’ Radio Almanac, The Radio Hall of Fame, Request Performance, The Revuers, and Truth or Consequences.  Radio was good to Charlie, and because he made such a good living emoting in front of a microphone, his movie appearances were infrequent.  He did reprise his Clifton Finnegan role for the 1945 silver screen version of Duffy’s Tavern, and also graced the casts of Stop, You’re Killing Me (1952), The Great Imposter (1961), and That Funny Feeling (1965).  Cantor made a successful transition to the small screen as radio faded.  In addition to his appearances on The Jack Benny Program, he worked on the likes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, December Bride, The People’s Choice, and Harrigan and Son (with a recurring role as “Gimpy”).  In 1966, a week after his 68th birthday, Charlie Cantor passed away.

20788Our birthday celebrant demonstrates just why he was in demand as one of radio’s top stooges with guest appearances in the Bergen & McCarthy collection The Funny Fifties, and a March 7, 1949 broadcast of My Friend Irma, available on the CD set On Second Thought.  Of course, you’ll really want to check out the work he did with the great Fred Allen in the compilations The Fred Allen Show and Jack Benny vs. Fred Allen: The Feud.  We’ve saved the best for last: make a pilgrimage to “where the elite meet to eat” and drop into Duffy’s Tavern; Duffy Ain’t Here…but Charlie Cantor definitely is as the immortal Clifton Finnegan.